Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Patriots Get Even Thinner with Moss Departure

You have no doubt read or heard that the Patriots traded Randy Moss to the Minnesota Vikings, a home-coming for Moss, who started his NFL career there.  The Pats reportedly received the Vikings 2011 third-round pick, and the Vikings received a deep-ball threat they desperately need before their 2010 season crashes and burns.

Moss' departure is a double-edged sword for the Patriots.  The pessimists say they lost their only deep threat, a receiver with 50+ touchdowns in three years and who commanded double coverage by all but the most talented defenses.  The optimists say that Brady threw to Moss much too often and will point to his pouting on the sidelines and post-game rant after the opening day win as distractions the team can live without.

As usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  I have criticized Brady for chucking passes to Moss even when he was covered, hoping Randy could come down with the ball or at least knock it down.  That worked in 2007; but in 2009 it twice led to bad interceptions in games the Patriots lost (Indy and Miami).  But I have also praised Moss for playing hurt and accepting the decoy role as other Patriots receivers benefited from his presence.  No chance the Patriots go 11-5 with QB Matt Cassel in 2008.

But when I read the news, I thought the new Patriots were aptly described in the title of a Stephen King novel.  "Thinner" was published by King under a pseudonym in 1984, and in it, the main character is cursed with becoming continually thinner.  It continues until he is barely able to walk and awaits his fate of inevitable heart failure while a close friend frantically tries to find a way to save him.

And that describes perfectly this Patriots team.  They once sported depth at most positions that was the envy of the league.  Richard Seymour goes down, plug in Jarvis Green and keep going.  Ty Law gets injured, put in rookie Randall Gayand the victories continue to pile up.  Lawyer Milloy leaves for more money and Eugene Wilson steps in and they win the Super Bowl.

But the 2010 version is dangerously thin at several key positions.  With the departure of Moss, they are one injury away from double coverage on both Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez. One linebacker injury, and Gary Guyton starts the next game... and the opposing team salivates.  A suspension in the defensive backfield and Ty Law *might* be walking through that door; and he *will* be old and gray.  Another of their thirtysomething running backs goes down and I expect a call from Belichick, asking if I can learn the playbook by next week.

They is also a huge gulf between the starting and backup quarterback, and the defensive line is already "by committee" -- so an injury there would put Ron Brace into that rotation... not good, people.

From a top-to-bottom talent level, the Patriots were stout and hearty in 2004.  But since then, they looked a little lanky in 2005, and pale and peaked in 2006.  They got a top-line talent infusion in 2007, but the aging defense got rickety in 2008, and the gulf between starters and backups was positively cavernous in 2009.

It might not come back to bite them, but trading Randy Moss left them shakily thin at yet another position.  My most recent "Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom" was "Brandon Tate... worth the wait."  That better be true; because if he and Hernandez can't stretch the field, it'll be a lot tougher for Wes Welker to get eight catches a game, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis to average 4.6 yards a carry.

Here's hoping the Patriots can avoid key injuries or suspensions.  Otherwise, the season might end as horribly as "Thinner" did -- and trust me folks, it was not a pretty ending to that story.

Keep the faith,

- Scott

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