(with thanks to Sayre111589 for providing an awesome outline)
The New England Patriots are coming off what can only be described as a surreal journey in 2008. The season started with a season-ending injury to Tom Brady. His replacement? Matt Cassel -- a 3rd year backup who had not started a football game since high school. Cassel went on to lead the Pats to an 11-5 record, throwing for 21 TDs and 11 interceptions, and earning an 89.4 quarterback rating. Under Cassel’s leadership, the Pats just missed the 2008 playoffs.
Following the season, the Pats lost OC Josh McDaniels to Denver. Then, worried about whether or not Brady would be able to return on time, Belichick and the Pats placed the franchise tag on Cassel, only to turn around and try to trade him. One of the trade discussions was the now infamous 3-way trade with Denver which ignited the firestorm that eventually led to the departure of Jay Cutler from Denver. The Pats have also added a new special teams coordinator during the off-season: Scott O’Brien who was in the same capacity with the Denver Broncos in 2008. Other coaches have received new assignments. No new OC has been named as of the writing of this article.
Most MSM pundits graded the Pats draft favorably. Belichick traded down more than once and even came away from the draft with an extra 2nd round pick for 2010. Most saw the 2nd round selection of CB Darius Butler as a good move, the 3rd round selection of Brandon Tate as questionable. Overall, the Pats were seen as having done a good job of getting quality players.
Visiting the Pats Pulpit (the New England Equivalent of MHR) showed fans that were reasonable confident and guardedly optimistic. There was a lot of confidence expressed based on the return of Brady – though a few were concerned that there would be a drop off in his production after not playing for a year. Bodden and Springs were expected to have huge impacts at the corners, the return of Tank Williams at safety was expected to be a good thing, and the tandem of Lewis and Galloway at WR was seen as an upgrade of the WR corp. There was a fair amount of concern expressed over the fact that 11 of the Pats 14 OL have contracts that expire in 2009. However, this was also seen as a good thing since it was believed that these players would be “playing their hearts out” to secure a roster spot in 2010 (either with the Pats, or with another team). Finally, opinions were expressed that not making the playoffs in 2008 was actually a good thing since it gave the players additional time to recuperate from injuries and prepare for 2009.
And now, for a look at the team:
Quarterback: Tom Brady (Starter), Kevin O’Connell, Matt Gutierrez, Brian Hoyer
It is anticipated that Brady will be back and at 100%, though he most likely will have a less than typical year. Matt Constant, a writer for Bleacher Report is predicting that Brady will throw for 3500 yards with 20 TDs and less than 15 INTs. O’Connell is expected to make the 2nd string. He is described as a large player with good speed. Should Brady go down again, it is anticipated that O’Connell would be able to duplicate Cassel’s achievements and secure more wins than losses. Gutierrez is viewed as okay, but if he has to play for an extended time, he will most likely prove to be inadequate. Undrafted College Free Agent Brian Hoyer is expected to challenge Gutierrez for the 3rd QB position.
Running Back: Laurence Maroney (Starter), Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, BenJarvus Green-Ellis
This group is viewed as being a statistically good running back corp. The situational play-calling used by Belicheck is expected to keep them fresh throughout the game. The running back stable amassed 2278 yards in 2008, with an average of 4.4 yards per game, and 19 touchdowns. The corp was also responsible for 684 receiving yards and 3 receiving touchdowns. Most pundits expect similar numbers from them in 2009.
Fullback: David Thomas (starter)
The fullback position in the New England scheme was largely used as a blocking back. There is little indication that this will change in 2009. On the current roster, Thomas is listed as a tight end. The only fullback listed is Eric Kettani, a rookie out of Navy.
Wide Receiver: Randy Moss, Wes Welker (Starters), behind Moss: Greg Lewis, Matt Slater, Julian Edelman, behind Welker: Sam Aiken, Joey Galloway, Brandon Tate
Most pundits see this as a very deep receiving corp. Moss and Welker are expected to carry the team – though there is some question as to how well Welker will be able to hold up in this role. Slater is seen as a largely special teams player. Edelman is a converted quarterback, so there is some speculation that he will be used in a number of trick plays. In 2008, the receiving corp amassed 2885 yards and 21 touchdowns. There is some speculation that these numbers might not be quite as high in 2009.
Tight End: Ben Watson (Starter), Chris Baker, Tyson DeVree, Brad Listorti
Again, this is viewd as a fairly deep corp. Opponents can expect New England to use a fair number of 2 tight end sets. Watson produced 209 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns. Expect around the same number for the tight ends in 2009.
Offensive Line: (Starters) – Matt Light (LT), Logan Mankins (LG), Dan Koppen (C), Stephen Neal (RG), Nick Kaczur (RT)
T his is an OL that took some criticism in 2008 for giving up 48 sacks, which placed them 28th in the NFL in protecting their quarterback, yet it is still viewed among the Patriots faithful as a group that still protect their quarterback. One of the Patriot’s commentaries even described the O-line as one of the strongest in the league. As mentioned above, the fact that 11 of them will be playing for contract renewals may breath new life into them and will lead to a better showing.
Overall the defense looks to be solid. Some pundits suggest that the Pats have addressed their major holes through the draft and free agency. Inside and outside linebackers are the only consistently mentioned need. It would appear that New England can be expected to post numbers similar to what they did in 2008: around 20 points per game and 300 yards per game.
Defensive End: Ty Warren, Richard Seymour (starters), LeKevin Smith, Kenny Smith, Jarvis Green.
Nose Tackle: Vince Wilfork (starter), Mike Wright, Titus Adams, Ron Brace, Jake Ingram, Myron Pryor, Darrel Richard
Outside Linebackers: Pierre Woods, Adalius Thomas (starters), Tully Banta-Cain, Vince Redd, Angelo Craig, Shawn Crable, Tyrone McKenzie (IR – Knee)
Inside Linebackers: Jerod Mayo, Tedi Bruschi (starters), Gary Guyton, Eric Alexander
Cornerbacks: Shawn Springs, Leigh Bodden (starters), Terrence Wheatley, Mike Richardson, Jonathan Wilhite, Darius Butler
Free Safety: James Sanders (starter), Raymond Ventrone
Strong Safety: Brandon Meriweather (starter), Antwain Spann, Tank Williams, Patrick Chung
Everything that I read indicated that this would be a solid unit, with no major flaws.
Kicker: Stephen Gostkowski
Punter: Chris Hanson, Tom Malone
Long Snapper: Nathan Hodel (a new player in this spot due to the departure of Loni Paxton to the Broncos)
Holder: Chris Hanson
Kick Returner: Ellis Hobbs
Punt Returner: Wes Welker
2009 Premature Prediction:
The following points and predictions are highlights from the article “Thoughts on the New England Patriots Schedule – Part One” by Professor Todd on Pats Pulpit.
Information drawn from article “Thoughts on the New England Patriots Schedule -- Part One” by Professor Todd on Pats Pulpit
The Patriots will play 7 games against teams that made the playoffs in 2008. 5 of those games will be in Foxborough. (Atlanta, Baltimore, Miami, Tennessee, Carolina at home, away at Indianapolis and @Miami). Professor Todd sees their roughest stretch as being @Indianapolis, NY Jets, @New Orleans, and @Miami, due to the stresses of travel. The Patriots play 4 teams that have rookie head coaches (NY Jets, Tampa Bay, Denver and Indianapolis). Todd believes that Miami, Atlanta, Baltimore, Tennessee and Carolina will be worse this year than in 2008. He also believes that New Orleans, Jacksonville and Buffalo will be better.
Todd believes the Pats have a chance to be 7-0 going into their bye week, and have a strong chance to finish either 12-4 or even 14-2. Many pundits are predicting that New England will be the team in the AFC that will have to beat to make it to the Super Bowl.