Monday, August 13, 2007

More of my writing (8/13/2007)

The Cold, Hard Football Facts posted an email/story I sent them earlier this year, and I thought you might be interested.

Here's a link:


- Scott

Friday, August 10, 2007

Patriots 2007 Pre-season Update (8/10/2007)

There's been a lot of change since last year, and I'll go over the important stuff in my Season Preview. At the moment, Asante Samuel is still holding out, Randy Moss is still holding his hamstring, and despite that, I'm holding out hope for a great season. That season is four weeks away, so I thought I'd let you know what I'll be watching for in the next four unimportant games (aka "the NFL Pre-season").

1. The Safety Dance

Four years ago, the Patriots drafted cornerback Eugene Wilson in the second round and promptly moved him to safety. Two Super Bowl wins later, it's worked out pretty well, with Wilson looking brilliant at free safety but surprisingly lost at strong safety (when Rodney Harrison is out). This year, the Patriots drafted safety Brandon Meriweather in the first round, and initial reports out of Foxboro are that he's put in a lot of practice at cornerback instead of safety.

What gives? It looks like the Patriots are preparing to play much of the season without Asante Samuel, and they might have two safeties ready to step in at cornerback should it become necessary.

What I'll be looking at is whether either player gets any time at cornerback during the pre-season games. It won't necessarily be early in the game (when the starters play), but if Wilson (#26) or Meriweather (31) get eight or more plays at cornerback during any part of the game, it will be a clear indication that the Pats plan to use them that way for parts of the regular season. For a clue to which position they are playing, watch to see if either one lines up on the outside of the formation, covering the wide receivers.

2. Back-to-Backers

Last year, the Patriots lost the AFC Championship game because they were too thin at linebacker. Eric Alexander covering Dallas Clark was just a joke (Clark had 6 receptions for 137 yards -- yikes!), and the Patriots had to address that need in the off-season. And they did -- twice! They signed Adalius Thomas, a 30 year-old super-Backer from Baltimore and re-signed Junior Seau, who was playing very well for the Patriots until he was injured against Chicago last year.

That gives them three out-standing linebackers (Thomas, Mike Vrabel, Rosevelt Colvin) and two excellent linebackers (Tedy Bruschi, Junior Seau) -- four of whom know the defensive system cold and have proven themselves in the Patriots lineup. What I'll be looking for is how they use them in combination. With Thomas in the fold, they could move Vrabel back outside where he is better or play more 4-3 with Thomas on the line and Bruschi in the middle.

Look for whether Vrabel (50) is playing next to Bruschi or on the line, and watch for where Thomas (96) lines up. The Pats are probably working on schemes that they won't show during the pre-season; but it will be interesting to see if having Thomas gets Vrabel back to his best position.

3. Sophomore Slump?

The 2006 Patriots got major contributions from three rookies and were teased by the talents of two more. Running back Laurence Maroney, offensive lineman Ryan O'Callaghan, and kicker Stephen Gostkowski all seem like battle-tested veterans now, as all three were starters for much of the last season.

What I'll be looking for from these three is as follows: Gostkowski (3) needs to continue his high-and-deep kick-offs and a slightly improve his 80% field goal rate. O'Callaghan (68) has to stay healthy, and the Patriots will probably play him sparingly if they think he is their RT of the foreseeable future. Maroney (39) will definitely be used sparingly in pre-season, but I'll look to see if he regained his burst of speed and is willing to knock over tacklers at the end of a run.

The two teasers were tight end Dave Thomas (86) and receiver Chad Jackson (17). Jackson was injured all last season, so watch for how much playing time he gets in the pre-season. Thomas had a few good games at the end of last year, and with Daniel Graham gone, I'll be looking to see how many snaps he gets with the starters over the next four games.

4. Brady... No, Not That One -- *Kyle* Brady

Tight end is definitely a position in flux. Graham is gone, and they brought in Kyle Brady to replace him in the running game (for about 1/5-th the price). In the pre-season, watch where Brady (88) ends up after a running play. He should be used to seal the edge or plow downfield, so after the play, he shouldn't be behind the line of scrimmage. If he's mostly downfield, that is a very good sign.

5. Troy Brown Junior

Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth, Kelley Washington... all exciting possibilities, yes. But I'll be watching Troy Brown's heir apparent, Wes Welker. Troy's diminishing speed has hurt his ability to run off defenders and make space in the defense; and that is exactly where Welker (83) excels. For years, he has killed the Patriots (and many other teams) with short catches over the middle, and now he's on *our* side -- woo-hoo!

Keep an eye on how many times Welker catches a short pass over the middle for a first down in the pre-season, and you'll have a good idea of how "in sync" he and Tom Brady are.

There are other questions that will be answered this pre-season, but these are the ones I will be concentrating on to pull myself through the interminable pre-season. Hope you are all well and that this email helps you enjoy the "practice games" a little bit more. Look for my Season Preview email the week before opening day (9/9 in New York against the Jets).

Keep the faith,

- Scott