Wednesday, November 12, 2003

2003 Mid-Season Update

Okay then, here's my take on the season so far.

The 7-2 record does accurately reflect how good the Patriots are (unlike Dallas's 7-2 record); but the schedule-maker worked in their favor a few times. They played Philly, the Jets, the Giants, and Denver at just the right time. Those teams were hitting low ebb when we played them (for various reasons), and were thus a bit easier to beat. But I give the Pats a lot of credit because they could have become one of those "low ebb" teams after the Week One thrashing by Buffalo. They could have made excuses or pouted or taken a few weeks off or just given up -- but they're made of tougher stuff than those other teams. The didn't let the Milloy distraction get worse and didn't let the injury list slow them down.

They had big road wins against Philly, Miami, and Denver, and their victory over Tennessee was just as impressive. I think Cleveland and the Giants are more dangerous than people think, and the Buffalo game was lost when the schedule came out (as I said in my pre-season preview, it had nothing much to do with the Lawyer Milloy situation). The Washington loss still bothers me, but mostly because Brady threw three really stupid interceptions and they only lost by 3 points. I hope that loss doesn't cost them anything in the playoffs (home field, first-round bye, etc.).

Overall, the offense has been okay but not overly impressive. Brady has been a bit up-and-down (7 INTs in their two losses, only one INT in all their wins), but he's throwing the long pass much better and is his usual efficient self in the short passing game. The young receivers stepped in nicely when Troy Brown and David Patten were injured, and the Daniel Graham/Christian Fauria tight end combo has worked very well. Graham has a chance to be a great tight end. The offensive line has pass blocked very well, and shown flashes of being good at run blocking; but overall, the only way to describe the running game is disappointing. Antowain Smith hasn't shown much, and Kevin Faulk got injured trying to be an every-down back. I don't know how the running game will play out, but when the weather gets colder and windier, they're gonna need it to work better than it has (the Tennesse game notwithstanding). One other factor of note is that since they moved Damien Woody from center to guard, he's been a run-blocking monster.
I read someone who thought he should go back to center, but I think guard is a better fit for him.

The defense has been outstanding. At certain points in the season, they had changed every position player from the 2002 defense -- with Willie McGinest and Richard Seymour changing position -- except Tedy Bruschi. The secondary is all new, the starting linebackers are different, and the defensive line moved everyone around to accomodate Ted Washington and enhance Seymour's skills by moving him to the outside. And you know what: change is good.
Last year, the Pats gave up 41 TDs; they're on pace to give up 25 this year.
This unit is the major reason they are 7-2 this year as opposed to 5-4 at this point last year. They hit hard, they're faster than last year, and they play cohesively as a unit. And Richard Seymour has become one of the best defensive lineman in the league. Every week he makes big plays, and the week he missed, they gave up 100 yards to a running back for the first time this year. Bruschi is Bruschi -- the heart of the defense. And the young players (especially Ty Warren and Jarvis Green) have rejuvinated and re-energized Willie McGinest and Anthony Pleasant. And they added a ton of speed in the secondary. Rodney Harrison gets to plays that Lawyer and TeBucky missed, Tyrone Poole opposite Ty Law works great, and the other safety played cornerback in college, so you know he's fast. All in all, a terrific group that plays hard every week and has often made up for a sputtering offense.

Special teams haven't been anything special. Adam V. has missed some field goals (some in bad weather), Ken Walter's punts have been terrific one week and dismal the next, and they've just had too many penalties on special teams. Bethel Johnson has added blazing speed to the kick-return game, and they have had some decent punt returns. But I'll trade those for the stupid penalties (like their three holding penalties on punts that gave the other team the ball back). They've got to clean up this aspect of their game if they want to make a playoff run. A new punter might be a nice start, but he holds for Adam; and when the Pats tried Brady as a holder (in the preseason), it just didn't work.

So, overall, the Pats first half rocked; they're 7-2 for the first time since 1978, and their second-half schedule includes only three teams with winning records (Dallas, Indy, and Miami) -- and two of those games are at home. Barring severe injuries (how much worse could it get?), they should win at least 10 games and be in the playoffs, and they've got a great chance to win 11 or 12 and get a first-round bye. There are no cakewalks in the NFL, but if the Pats keep their focus they should beat Houston, Jacksonville, and Buffalo. They've got a great chance to beat Dallas and Miami (both home games), though they might have more trouble against Indy and NY Jets. I still think they'll beat the Colts (they've always had their number; just one of those things), and who knows if the Jets will be playing for anything by late-December.

Hope you enjoyed the first half. Look for me Sunday night -- I'll be the one at the stadium... the tall guy... ummmm, the one cheering... cheering really really loud... ummm, nevermind.

Keep the faith,

- Scott

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