Saturday, January 3, 2015

Patriots 2014 Regular Season Awards

Hello all,

The playoffs give the 2014 Pats a chance to be special, but before we get to that, here are the much-coveted YourPatriots Regular Season Awards for 2014. Enjoy the Bye Week, and look for my Patriots Playoff Preview next week!

The Offense

Most Valuable Offensive Player: Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski
Honorable Mention: Julian Edelman

Brady could probably retire this award until he himself retires. In 2014, he had one bad game and one bad half, and for the most part, killed it for the other 14 games. His TD/INT ratio was 33-to-9, and it was amazing that he was sacked just 21 times behind a very shaky offensive line. Additionally, his movement in the pocket and occasional scrambles might have been the best since his knee injury, six seasons ago.

Gronkowski’s play improved throughout the year, as he recovered more fully from last season’s knee injury. His 12 touchdowns were nearly double the second-best player on the team (Brandon LaFell had 7), but his dual-threat status is the reason he shares this award with Brady. Gronkowski blocks better in the running game than most of the offensive linemen, and the mismatch he presents in the passing game means teams can’t load up either way when he’s on the field.

Edelman missed the last two games, but he was Brady’s lone target early in the year, when the offense sputtered. And even with his injuries the last few weeks, Edelman led the team with 92 catches (and he was also pretty good in the kicking game).

Most Improved Offensive Player: Rob Gronkowski
Honorable Mention: None

As if often the case, this comes a year after the player missed significant time with injury. Gronkowski played just 7 games last year, compared with 15 in 2014, so his numbers were significantly better in this campaign. He more than doubled his receptions (39 to 82), touchdowns (4 to 12), and nearly doubled his yards (592 to 1124). And his run-blocking was even more ferocious this year; hard to believe because he was already one of the best blocking tight ends in football.

There is no honorable mention, because most of the offense took a step back this year.

Offensive Newcomer of the Year: Brandon LaFell
Honorable Mention: Bryan Stork, Tim Wright

After replacing Brandon Lloyd with rookies in 2013 (to mixed results), the Patriots brought in LaFell in 2014, and he proved very well suited to the offense. He picked up things quickly enough to gain Brady’s trust, and he ended the season with 74 catches for 953 yards, and 7 touchdowns. His receptions also became first downs 68% of the time (50 of 74), keeping drives alive and offering an alternative to Edelman on third-downs.

Stork took over at center in week 4, against Kansas City. And while that game was a disaster, he helped solidify things in the weeks after, and the line gelled while he was in there.

Wright came over in the Logan Mankins trade, and he’s been a steady contributor. With just 26 receptions he might not get mentioned here, but he had six touchdowns on those receptions, scoring 23% of the time he caught a pass. And he provided another target to take pressure off Gronkowski in the passing game.

The Defense

Most Valuable Defensive Player: Darrelle Revis, Jamie Collins
Honorable Mention: Vince Wilfork

(Note: what a year for this category; players like Dont’a Hightower, Chandler Jones, and Brandon Browner don’t even get a mention. How good was the defense: they gave up 24 points in the fourth quarter of their two September losses, and just 38 in the fourth quarter in the other 14 games combined!)

Everything changes on Revis Island. He came to be a shutdown corner, and that’s exactly what he was. Week after week, he took on the other team’s best or second-best receiver, and the result was always the same: that receiver had a very, very bad day. Also, his presence freed them to double-team other receivers or devote more players to stopping the run, allowing more aggressive gameplans and play.

NESN did a great analysis, indicating that QBs who targeted Revis were the equivalent of Cardinals’ QB Ryan Lindley (link). Their combined stats against Revis for the year: 37 of 78 (47.4%), 532 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, and a 67.9 QB rating. Revis delivered what he promised, and then some.

Collins was already playing at a Pro Bowl level when inside linebacker Jerod Mayo went out for the year with an injury. All Collins did was lead the team in tackles (116), notch 4 sacks, and tie for the team lead with 2 interceptions. Collins was all over the place, stuffing the run, blitzing the QB, covering backs and tight ends in the passing game, and even calling the defensive signals in four games.

His second year in the league, Collins has arrived. And if Mayo can return from injury, he, Collins, and Hightower will make quite the starting linebacker group.

A year removed from playing in just four games in 2013, Wilfork returned with a vengeance. He started slowly, still recovering from an achilles injury. But he started every game this season, anchoring a line that did a great job against the run and was mostly very good against mobile quarterbacks.

The line never gets the glory or the stats in the defense. But they deserve some recognition for taking up blockers so their teammates could make plays.

Most Improved Defensive Player: Dont’a Hightower
Honorable Mention: Sealver Siliga, Jamie Collins, Vince Wilfork

2013: Mayo went down with injury, and Hightower replaced him. Result: defensive disaster!
2014: Mayo went down with injury, and Hightower replaced him. Result: no problem!

Hightower was overmatched inside when he moved to MLB last year, but that experience clearly helped him this season. He shed blockers much more effectively this year, making tackles at the line or for a loss, where last year those tackles were five- or six-yards downfield.

It was a shame Mayo got injured, because Hightower was absolutely crushing it at outside linebacker as the season began. And a starting-three that had Hightower and Collins bookending Mayo would have been a joy to behold. But once Hightower moved inside, there was no drop-off, and that represents a vast improvement over last season.

Siliga increased his number of games played (from 5 to 7) and tackles (9 to 17) from last year. And his impact against the run was significant; he and Wilfork closed down the middle and forced backs to the outside, where both linebackers and cornerbacks would clean things up.

Collins and Wilfork both improved, for reasons mentioned earlier.

Defensive Newcomer of the Year: Darrelle Revis
Honorable Mention: Brandon Browner, Akeem Ayers

When you are new to the team and get named Most Valuable Defensive Player, it’s pretty much a rule that you win this award, too. I will add that Revis has been excellent in run support, shutting down outside runs as effectively as Ty Law in his heyday.

Browner didn’t play until week 7 against the Jets, but his physical style of play set a tone for the defense and gave them a weapon against larger receivers and tight ends. If he’d kept his composure and cut down on his penalties, he might have been mentioned in the defensive MVP discussion.

Ayers came to the Patriots through a trade, mostly brought in to shore up the defense when Chandler Jones was knocked out with an injury. He started four games and he moved seamlessly between defensive end, outside linebacker, and inside linebacker. It was like he was born to play this defense; he had a sack of Peyton Manning against Denver, and an important interception in the San Diego game. Not bad for a mid-season pickup.

Special Teams

Most Valuable Special Teams Player: Stephen Gostkowski
Honorable Mention: Matthew Slater

Gostkowski made 35 of 37 field goals, and his only impactful miss came in the Green Bay game (a five-point loss). It is difficult to quantify how important it is to have a trustworthy field goal kicker. Gostkowski isn’t quite as clutch as his predecessor (some guy named Vinatieri), but his kickoffs are usually not returned, and his field goal percentage is among the league best every year.

Matthew Slater had another excellent year in coverage. He has slowed down just a bit, missing some tackles that he would have made in previous seasons. But even those misses set up tackles by his mates on special teams. And in the return game, he moved to different spots depending on the opponent, making a significant difference in the Denver game specifically.

Most improved Special Teams Player: Danny Amendola
Honorable Mention: Brandon Bolden

After not returning kicks in 2013, Amendola posted a 24.1 yard average on kickoff returns this year, along with an 8.3 yard average on punt returns. His 81-yard kickoff return sparked the Patriots early in the Detroit game, the ensuing touchdown giving the team a 14-6 lead. And taking on some of the punt-return duties should pay dividends, as it reduced the wear and tear on Julian Edelman.

Where Slater’s tackle numbers were down, Bolden did a great job filling in. He was great in kickoff coverage, and had six special teams tackles on the season, and I never saw him out of his lane.

Special Teams Newcomer of the Year: Jonathan Casillas
Honorable Mention: Rob Ninkovich

Casillas was a mid-season acquisition, and he did a great job bring speed, energy, and tackling ability to the kickoff coverage unit. In fact, he account for some of the drop-off in tackling numbers for Slater, as Casillas got there first on several plays.

Ninkovich gets a mention for filling in at long-snapper against Green Bay, when Danny Aiken was out for the week with a concussion.

Those are the awards for this year. Congratulations to all the winners, and good luck heading into the playoffs.

Enjoy the games this weekend!

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 0-0!

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