Thursday, September 4, 2003

2003 Season Preview (9/4/2003)

Some quick thoughts on the up-coming Patriots season:


The Patriots had a very good off-season. Of the six most significant defensive acquisitions in the NFL, the Pats made three: Rosevelt Colvin, Ted Washington, and Rodney Harrison. Colvin, the most sought-after free agent this year, makes the defense younger, faster, and more versatile. Harrison hits hard and will keep teams from going over the middle against the Pats. And Washington (the most important pickup) is a proven run-stuffer -for evidence of that, the Eagles couldn’t run at all with “Big Ted” on the field, but the Pats had trouble stopping the run in the three preseason games he missed.

The switch to 3-4 is simply cosmetic. Of the four linebackers, any or all of them could be rushing the passer, and any defensive lineman could be dropping into coverage - especially Richard Seymour or Dan Klecko (when he gets on the field). The one caveat about the defense is that with Otis Smith likely replaced by a rookie and Tebucky Jones replaced by whomever, we could see more downfield plays against us. However, that’s only true if the QB has time, and I think the plan is to make sure he doesn’t. And don’t panic with Lawyer Milloy gone; Rodney Harrison is basically a Lawyer clone, and from what I’ve heard, Rosevelt Colvin will help fill the leadership void.


On offense, there is less change and that’s probably a good thing. The Pats didn’t run the ball well last year, but that was largely because they didn’t truly commit to it and often fell behind and had to pass to catch up. They passed the ball well, with Tom Brady leading the league in several categories. The improved defense should help the offense become more balanced, and thus more dangerous - and that should help the running game as much as anything. Besides, I think Antowain Smith has something to prove after last year, and he made one adjustment that was obvious in the pre-season, he ran more north-south - which is what he needs to do to suceed.

If Damien Woody starts the season, the O-line will be similar to last year - but with another year of experience. The addition of Bethel Johnson will help them stretch the field, and Daniel Graham should help lessen the load on Troy Brown. The Pats also acquired Larry Centers for more third-down punch. We’ll see more Kevin Faulk which can only help a team that was near the bottom of the league in rushing yards. And last, but definitely not least, Tom Brady had an outstanding preseason, with 6 touchdowns and no interceptions. And even though he could have had a couple of INTs, he could also have had a few more TDs. He wasn’t perfect, but he showed no lingering effects of the late-season shoulder separation, and made good decisions most of the time.

Special Teams

The Pats special teams is largely intact from last year. Adam Vinatieri’s kickoffs have been about 3 - 5 yards longer, and it appears Ken Walter will return as the punter/holder. Chicago made mincemeat of their kickoff coverage in the last preseason game, but don’t read too much into that. The Pats held back kick coverage regulars to avoid injuries, and Chicago has some of the best special teams in the NFL. Besides, they covered kicks very well against their three other preseason opponents. The kick return team will benefit from Bethel Johnson’s speed, and Troy Brown will likely benefit from not having to return punts all the time.

The Schedule

The Pats start out with a tough game in Buffalo. Bledsoe always starts the year hot, and the Bills are improved. The game in Philadelphia the following week is winnable. They whacked the Eagle’s first team in the preseason and the Eagle’s play on Monday night the previous week. Vinny and the depleted Jets in Foxboro and Washington on the road shouldn’t be too much trouble. So, as I see it, they could start 3-1 or 4-0, depending mostly on the Buffalo game.

Their toughest stretch of the season is Tennessee and the Giants at home (10/5 and 10/12), followed by games at Miami (10/19), at home against a disciplined and solid Cleveland team (10/26), and then at Denver on Monday night (11/3) - always tough, although Belichick has shown the ability to plan well against the Broncos in Denver (beating them in 2000 and barely losing despite four fourth-quarter INTs by Brady in 2001). Of course, I’m hoping for 5-0, but might have to settle for 3-2 or 2-3.

The second half of the season? Well, if they can beat the Jets on 12/20, they could run the table. “Tuna Bowl: Dallas” happens after a bye week, Houston is still an expansion team (though that could be a “trap” game, being a road game the week after we play a Sunday night Tuna Bowl), we always have Indy’s number, Miami will be crashing by then, Jax is rebuilding, and Bledsoe will be fading at the finish like he always does. Sounds like a long winning streak to the end, if you ask me.


So, a 3-1 start, 3-2 middle, and 5-2 or 6-1 toward the end, that adds up to 11-5 or 12-4. Either one wins the division and 12-4 gets a first round bye - and they both sound pretty sweet to me. And they better do it this year. This may be the last year the Patriots have Charlie Weiss and Romeo Crennel as offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively. If the Pats have a good year, look for at least one of them to get a head coaching job. That, of course, makes this year a crucial one for the Pats. Everything is in place for them to make another playoff run, and they better do it now before Richard Seymour is a free agent, Romeo Crennel is coaching Baltimore, and Lawyer Milloy is playing for someone else… ooops, nevermind.

All in all, should be a great year.


- Scott

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