Thursday, January 14, 2010

Patriots 2009 Regular Season Awards

A home playoff loss shouldn't overshadow a 10-5 record, an AFC East division title, and all the players who performed well in the regular season. So here are my 2009 Patriots Regular Season Awards.

The Offense

Most Valuable Offensive Player: Wes Welker
Honorable Mention: Tom Brady, Sebastian Vollmer

Welker wins in a walk. He missed almost three full games and still led the NFL in receptions (123) and yards after the catch (not an official stat), and was second in receiving yards. He was uncoverable most of the year, notching 71 first downs, 32% of the team's first downs via the pass, and was clearly Tom Brady's most reliable target. He wasn't the most feared receiver in the league; but he was probably the most consistent.

Brady ended the year with a playoff clunker, but without him they would not have won close games against Buffalo (twice) or Baltimore, and thus would not have made the playoffs. Vollmer, a rookie, stepped in for injured players at several positions along the offensive line, and performed like a seasoned veteran every time, even dominating several great pass rushers.

Most Improved Offensive Player: Wes Welker
Honorable Mention: None

If you throw out the last game of the year, Welker increased his yards per game by almost 40%, accounted for 52% more first downs per game, and he did all that without a true threat opposite Randy Moss.

The rest of the offense was probably worse in 2009, so no honorable mention.

Offensive Newcomer of the Year: Sebastian Vollmer
Honorable Mention: Julian Edelman

Sebastian was a real find in the draft, and might allow Matt Light to move to right tackle next year (his natural position). Vollmer absolutely dominated some of the best pass rushers this year (Dwight Freeney in Indianapolis and Elvis Dumervil in Denver), was a stud on running plays and showed great versatility filling in on three line positions.

Edelman's injury was one of the season's big disappointments. He led NFL rookies in catches through six weeks, but missed four of the last ten games with injuries and finished back in the pack. It would have been interesting to see him with a full season.

The Defense

Most Valuable Defensive Player: Tully Banta-Cain
Honorable Mention: Brandon Meriweather, Vince Wilfork

After a two-year hiatus in San Francisco, Banta-Cain came back this year and accounted for 10 of the team's 31 sacks on the year; he was really their only pass rushing threat. He also finished seventh in total tackles, improved at holding the edge against the run as the year progressed (except the playoff game), and used his speed to track down plays from behind, something I thought he should have done all along.

Meriweather played great in some games (Titans) and terrible in others (Saints), and he needs to stop going for knock hits and just make the tackle more often. But his stabilizing influence on a young secondary was invaluable. Wilfork played great when he was in there; but he missed three entire games and most of a fourth.

Most Improved Defensive Player: Gary Guyton
Honorable Mention: Mike Wright

Guyton played in 15 games as a rookie in 2008, but he graduated to a 16-game starter in 2009. And he made the most of the extra playing time, more than doubling his tackles (from 34 to 85), recording the first 1.5 sacks of his career, and holding down the fort until Jerod Mayo returned from injury.

Wright probably didn't expect to become a starter, but the trade of Richard Seymour and injuries to Wilfork and Ty Warren gave him more playing time. He rewarded the team with career highs in tackles (35), sacks (5.0), and even knocked down two passes. He is a high-motor guy who didn't always play great, but showed he is worthy of more time on the field.

Defensive Newcomer of the Year: Brandon McGowan
Honorable Mention: Leigh Bodden, Darius Butler

McGowan is a hitter who brought a new attitude to the defense, forcing fumbles and making big hits to help win games (Buffalo, Baltimore, and Jacksonville). As the year went on he made fewer big plays (partly due to shared playing time with James Sanders), but he was second on the team in tackles and had three crucial forced fumbles.

Leigh Bodden was the best free agent corner added this year. He knocked away twice as many passes (18) as the second best defensive back (Meriweather with 9), tied for the team lead in interceptions (5) and scored a touchdown on one, and had some great plays against top receivers. Butler didn't start until late in the year, but he was the only defensive back who improved every time he played.

The Special Teams

Most Valuable Special Teams Player: Jake Ingram
Honorable Mention: Stephen Gostkowski

This is where you ask, "Jake who?" Ingram replaced long-snapping stalwart Lonie Paxton. And guess what; you'd never know the difference. He missed by just a bit on his first field goal snap of the season, but never had another bad one all year. Not too shabby when you are replacing a 10-year veteran who was one of the acknowledged best in the game (and a local "snow angel" legend to boot!).

Gostkowski did miss more field goals this year (5 instead of 4), but he averaged almost 4 more yards per kickoff, and he forced more touchbacks (21) than any previous campaign. Mostly rock solid -- he even made some special teams tackles :)

Most Improved Special Teams Player: Matthew Slater
Honorable Mention: None

Slater's numbers dropped from 2008, but he helped fill the void left by the departure of Larry Izzo, and it was my sense that he did a better job in coverage, even though he recorded fewer tackles. In most years he would be an honorable mention, but there was not a lot of improved play on special teams this year, so he scores top honors for the category.

Special Teams Newcomer of the Year: Jake Ingram
Honorable Mention: Kyle Arrington, Pat Chung

See above for information about Ingram; his impact can't be minimized.

Arrington was cut by Tampa Bay earlier in the year and found a place on the Pats special teams coverage units. He played only the last eight games, but was around the ball making tackles on a regular basis. Rookie Pat Chung started out shaky (some bad penalties), but toward the end of 2009 he was contributing more on special teams.

That is it for the regular season awards. Keep an eye out for my season-ending questions post, and until then...

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 0-0!

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