Friday, September 7, 2018

Under-informed Patriots 2018 Primer!

Two days! That's all you have to wait, is two days before the Patriots start their annual romp through the AFC East. And unfortunately, you won't have as much info from me as usual; life has been much too busy for me. But even though I watched only about 45 total minutes of preseason football, I thought I'd share a few things I see in the coming months.

So here goes... the first ever Under-informed Patriots Primer! (Note: this just makes me like the rest of the media, so how bad could it be?)

The Offense

What Changed

1. At left tackle, Nate Solder is gone after starting five of the last six seasons, replaced by Trent Brown, who by all accounts did okay during the preseason.

But what you have to keep in mind is that it mostly doesn't matter. Solder was never great, neither was Matt Light (the man Solder replaced). Both were serviceable and good enough as long as they had Tom Brady's quick release to relieve the burden on them.

The sky isn't falling, even if Brown is only mediocre. Because this position has never been great since Bill Belichick arrived here. And it probably won't be great again this year. But it won't matter, because it never has before.

2. Last year's depth at receiver has been replaced by this year's uncertainty. Gone are Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell (we hardly knew ye), and Julian Edelman (suspended for the first four games).

Without Edelman, the team could suffer one extra loss in the first month, so they might go 2-2 instead of 3-1. But the addition of Cordarrelle Patterson gives them a legitimate deep threat to compliment all-time tight end Rob Gronkowski. And when Edelman returns, they could have a more diverse passing attack than they had last year.

What Stayed The Same

1. Last year the QB depth chart at season's end was Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer. The calendar might have changed, but the depth chart hasn't. Hoyer looked dreadful in the preseason, and Brady looked sharp. You can probably guess that the team will go as far as Brady can take them. Full stop.

2. Both Grokowski and Brady got incentive-laden extensions in the off-season. But that shouldn't change much for either of them. Gronk is still most effective close to the end of the offensive line, and hopefully the Patriots figured that out in their off-season film study.

3. There are new faces at running back, sure... but it's mostly going to be about the same. James White is a decent replacement for Dion Lewis (not quite as shifty, but reliable), and Rex Burkhead and James Develin are back for another year.

The biggest surprise was seeing Mike Gillislee cut after just one year. He never made the impact the team was hoping for after signing as a free agent in 2017.

4. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels sold his soul to bail on the Colts head coaching job and stay as OC here. Some think he's the heir apparent to Belichick, but I have other ideas... read on to find out.

On Defense

What Changed

1. Last year's defensive coordinator, Matt Patricia, left for Detroit. And even though the title isn't officially his, linebackers coach Brian Flores is calling the defensive signals this year.

I expect the team to improve defensively, because Flores seems more aggressive with blitzes, and that usually translates to better defense in year one under a new DC. The preseason featured more edge rushers in one-gap ("get the quarterback") mode, so you might see more of that in the regular games.

No telling how it will go in the long run, but for 2018, the defense should have more turnovers and play more man-to-man defense than last season.

(And note: Flores would be my choice to replace Belichick if Bill left in the next few years. He's coached a bunch of position groups, and done a great job every time. And unlike McDaniels, Flores made things work without depending on Tom Brady to bail him out.)

2. The absolute disaster at linebacker (after Dont'a Hightower) was somewhat mitigated by fifth-round 2018 pick Ja'Whaun Bentley. He made some really big plays in the preseason. And even though there will be growing pains during the year, he seems to grasp the defense and he has to be an improvement over Kyle Van Noy.

3. At cornerback, former Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler left for more money. And even though he was their second cornerback last year, I don't expect things to change much in the secondary. The Pats schematic play at corner will be the same as it always is.

They will put Stephon Gilmore alone on the second-best receiver of the other team, and the best receiver will be covered by Eric Rowe (or whomever) with double-team help. People forget that they used Darrelle Revis this way, even though he was considered one of the best corners in the league. It isn't an insult; it's just the way defense is played these days.

What Stayed The Same

1. The safeties look exactly the same, perhaps with the addition of Devin McCourty's twin brother Jason to the mix. They didn't play all that well against the 1s from the other team in the preseason. But expect them to do better as they get more time with the revamped cornerback rotation.

2. Even though there are a few new names, the defensive line looks about the same. Big and beefy inside, and fast and explosive outside.

Predicting The Season

As usual, here are my predictions of all 16 games, before the first snap of the season. Someday I'll go back and find out how well I do at this, but for now, just remember that these predictions are worth just as much as the paper they are printed on.

First Quarter

The first two games are a coin-flip. But I expect them to go 1-1. If they lose to the Texans to start the year, Belichick will pull out all the stops to make sure they beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville. And if the Pats beat the Texans, then they will likely lose to the Jaguars. If forced to choose, I'd pick a win over Houston and a loss in Jacksonville.

After that, the Lions are a tough spot on a Sunday night in Detroit, especially because they have the same OC as last year. Expect QB Matthew Stafford to look like Nick Foles in the Super Bowl, and the Lions to win in a shootout.

The next game is a division home game with the Dolphins; chalk up a win to bring the team to 2-2.

Second Quarter

The Colts come to town on a short week for a Thursday night game, which the Patriots should win.

And giving Belichick 10 days to prepare for second-year Kansas City QB Patrick Mahomes is unfair; make it a 4-2 start.

Likewise the Bears and Bills pose no threat to the Patriots. They are both in rebuilding mode, so the home team should be 6-2 at mid-season.

Third Quarter

I hate to predict a loss to the Packers the following week, especially since I'll be at that game. But that's what it feels like; a great offense that the Pats defense won't be able to stop.

The Patriots should bounce back with a win in Tennessee the following week, even if Mike Vrabel is the head coach across the way.

That sets them up to beat up on the Jets in NY after a bye week on November 25. They should have plenty of film on rookie QB Sam Darnold, and the bye week seals the deal.

The Vikings come to Foxboro the next week, and Kirk Cousins gets his first look at a Belichick defense. Minnesota is likely to come back to earth after last year, and this should be a win for the Pats.

Fourth Quarter

A lot of years the next two games would look problematic: at Miami and at Pittsburgh. But the Dolphins are in full rebuild mode, so that game should be a Patriots win, even though it can be tough to play in Miami.

The Steelers still have a ton of offensive talent, and they'll want revenge for last year's regular-season loss, so put that down as the Patriots fourth defeat.

The last two games are gimmes at home: Buffalo followed by the Jets. If the games matter to the Patriots playoff ceding, they will win both of them. If not, they could lose the last game because they sit the starters.

That puts them at 12-4 (or 11-5 if they don't need those last two games). Should be enough to earn a first-round bye, and if Brady stays upright, the division is all but assured.

Statistical Rebuke of Last Year: Under Bill Belichick, the Patriots stood at 15-0 in playoff games against teams they had not played during the regular season that year. Unfortunately, the Eagles made them 15-1 at the worst possible time -- in the Super Bowl :(

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 0-0!

No comments:

Post a Comment