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THE WAY I SEE IT: THE 2012 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

July 20, 2012
INDIANA SPORTS PAGE



THE WAY I SEE IT:  by Troy Derengowski, EIHSS Sports

THE  2012 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

It’s hard to believe the New England Patriots haven’t won a Super Bowl Championship in the last seven seasons.  2011 was another near miss.   A championship was as close as a near touchdown pass to TE Rob Gronkowski.  If that catch is made, we would be talking about another Super Bowl for head coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady.  You can’t blame the offense for the near miss but you can blame the defense.  This may have been the worst defense the Patriots have had in years, ranked 31st in the NFL.  That’s why New England went to work to fix the problem in the draft picking six defensive players with their first six picks.  Belichick is a defensive minded head coach so last season was a hard one to swallow.

OFFENSE:  Tom Brady will be 35 when this season begins.  He hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down but time is running out for another championship.   Josh McDaniel is back after stops in Denver and St. Louis and will likely handle the play calling duties.  This offense will be very good again this season if Brady stays healthy and the running attack gets better.  BenJarvis Green Ellis is gone so the running back expected to get most of the reps is inside power back Stevan Ridley.  Ridley has a good burst and great vision.  His biggest fault right now is ball security.  Ridley had some late season fumbles that put him in the Patriots doghouse.  After Ridley the Patriots have Danny Woodhead who saw his production fall in 2011.  Shane Vereen was injured last season so the Patriots didn’t get a good look at him.  Former Colts RB Joseph Addai was signed in the off season and if he stays healthy he could also get some carries, especially in third down situations.

The receiving corp lacks a deep threat.  Wes Welker remains Brady’s top target mainly because he runs great routs and had excellent hands.  Welker has a knack of finding the holes in the opposing defenses.  Brandon Lloyd is expected to start on the outside.  Lloyd doesn’t have breakaway speed but can make some spectacular catches.   The Patriots also brought in Jabar Gaffney who was with the team from 2006 to 2008.  Gaffney has been very productive over the last three seasons.  Veteran Donte Stallworth is also expected to make a contribution simply because he understands the offense.  Stallworth played in New England in 2007.  TE Rob Gronkowski is simply a match-up nightmare.   He has great hands, doesn’t make mistakes and is a very effective run blocker.  Aaron Hernandez is very versatile and has excellent open field skills.  Former  Bronco Daniel Fells will be used primarily as a run blocker and veteran Bo Scaife will compete for a spot in training camp.

The offensive line is as consistent as any offensive line in the NFL.   Consistent despite the amount of  shuffling because of injuries.  Nate Solder showed why New England took him in the first round last season.  He’s athletic and very impressive as a pass blocker.  Tackle Sebastian Vollmer must stay healthy because of his ability to run block. Pro Bowler guard Brain Waters is one of the most consistent linemen in the NFL.  Waters is smart and has plenty of experience driving defensive lines off their feet.    Longtime center Dan Koppen resigned after coming off a broken ankle.  Koppen is Mr. Dependable when healthy.    Dan Connolly will be fighting for a starting spot because of his versatility.  Robert Gallery was added as a free agent.

DEFENSE:  Coach Bilichick switched to a 4-3 defense last season but still managed to use multiple fronts.  This unit is strong up the middle at defensive tackle and linebacker and as I mentioned, the draft was used to improve the defense.   The defensive line is anchored by Vince Wilfork who is showing no signs of slowing down.  The Pro Bowler has been extremely solid for the last several seasons as a run destroyer.  Wilfork can play inside or outside in the 4-3.  DT Kyle Love is underrated.  Love eats up space much like Wilfork.  The Patriots traded up to get DL Chandler Jones who is an athletic pass rusher with great length and explosiveness.  DE Brandon Deaderick has a big body with a high energy motor.  They added former Bengal Johnathan Fanene who had 6 and a half sacks last season.    Jerod Mayo got a contract extension from the Patriots after a solid season in 2011.  The LB is very underrated but goes about his business getting the job done.  Mayo is always around the football and is a playmaker who can run with tight ends and receivers.  MLB Brandon Spikes made some very big plays last season and works best against the run.  Rookie Dont’a Hightower will get a chance to start on the outside.  He is a physical run stopper and has the ability to rush the QB off the edge.   Rob Ninkovich has a high motor who can rush the QB and has excellent instincts.  Dane Fletcher, Jermaine Cunningham and Tracy White will look for playing time.  The secondary took many hits in 2011 and could really use some help this season.  Devin McCourty went into a slump after a solid rookie season.  He really struggled running with receivers and lacked ball skills that he showed in his rookie season.  Kyle Arrington has a nose for the ball but lacks the skills to be a week by week starter.  Second year pro Ras-I Dowling has good size but is injury prone.  Veteran Will Allen will compete with Sterling Moore and Alfonso Dennard for more playing time.  Safety was a revolving door in 2011 because Patrick Chung was out.  Chung is smart, instinctive and a hard hitter but isn’t at his best as a coverage man.  New England signed Steve Gregory who can help be a cover man.   Sergio Brown, Josh Barrett and Tavon Wilson will also look at playing time. 

SPECIAL  TEAMS:  Kicker Stephan Gostkowski returned to form after an injury in 2010.  He must get better in his kick-offs though since only 40% of his kick-offs resulted in touchbacks.  Good special teams bailed him out.  Punter Zoltan Mesko had another solid season finishing third in the league with a 41.5 yard average. 

FINAL SUMMARY FOR 2012:   This is going to be a better New England team this season than they were in 2011 simply because they focused on defense in the draft.  The offense will be powerful with Brady and Bilichick working together.  There appears to be a gap between the Patriots and the rest of the AFC East so winning the division shouldn’t be a problem.   This team is going to look to avenge last years’ Super Bowl loss.

2011 RECORD: 13-3.  Lost the Super Bowl to the NY Giants

PROJECTION FOR 2012: 13-3.  AFC EAST CHAMPIONS


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