Sunday, January 26, 2020

Patriots 2019 Regular Season Awards

Sorry this is late, but the season ended abruptly, they missed the playoff Bye, and I had a vacation and the flu to slow me down the last week+.

But in any event, it's time to look back on the 2019 season and honor the most valuable, most improved, and best newcomers in each of the three phases of the game.

Here goes...


Most Valuable Offensive Player: Tom Brady
Honorable Mention: Julian Edelman

Brady wins this honor by default because no one else played very well this year. And despite all the media consternation about Brady's attitude and lack of off-season team-related prep, the simple fact is that without TB12, the Patriots would have probably gone 8-8 and missed the playoffs.

If you think of those close games they won: one-score victories over Buffalo (twice), the Eagles, and the Cowboys, it's pretty easy to see them dropping from 12-4 to 8-8 without Brady's over-60% completions and 3-to-1 TD-to-Interception ratio. I for one never take this for granted. For context, check with the folks in Tampa Bay or Cleveland.

Even in a down year, Edelman was the cog that made the Patriots offense run, when it ran, that is. He only started 13 games, but even not playing as much he totaled 100 catches for 1117 yards and 6 touchdowns. But perhaps most important were his 54 first downs -- keeping the chains moving and the team on the field.

Most Improved Offensive Player: Joe Thuney
Honorable Mention: Rex Burkhead

I'm going mostly on reputation and film nerds here. Thuney has started every game for the Patriots for four years: 64 out of 64, plus the playoffs. And Pro Football Focus had him rated the third-best guard in the entire NFL. He'll likely be gone in free agency, but this was a chance to honor him before he left.

Burkhead played in more games this year (13, versus 8 last year), improved his yards-per-carry (from 3.3 to 4.6), and had almost twice as many catches (27 versus 14). His durability was up, and so were his numbers. And I'd add that he was much more integral to the offense at points this year; whereas he was always an afterthought in the past.

Offensive Newcomer of the Year: Elandon Roberts
Honorable Mention: none

When blocking back James Develin went down for the year, it took a few weeks but the Patriots eventually replaced him with linebacker Elandon Roberts. Roberts mostly did a very good job blocking, and even had a touchdown reception (and a nice catch at that).


Most Valuable Defensive Player: Stephon Gilmore
Honorable Mention: Kyle Van Noy and Lawrence Guy

Gilmore is a defensive player of the year candidate for the entire NFL, so it stands to reason he'd win this for the team. His 20 passes defended and 6 interceptions led the team, he had two returns for touchdown, and his 44 tackles ranked fourth on the team.

Van Noy and Jamie Collins transformed the linebacking core into a real strength this year, but Collins couldn't sustain it for the entire year. Van Noy finished with 41 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and 3 fumble recoveries.

Of the defensive linemen, Guy was the most consistently impactful on the game. Sometimes it's hard to tease out which lineman played the best. But Guy's 35 tackles and 3 sacks are actually very good for a defensive lineman in the Patriots scheme.

Most Improved Defensive Player: Van Noy
Honorable Mention: Jason McCourty

Van Noy for all the reasons listed above.

McCourty because you saw what happened to the defense when he got injured late in the year. He was their second-best corner most of the season, and when he went down, the D started to give up more big plays and points. In the games he played over 10% of the snaps, the team gave up 10.8ppg. In the other six games, they gave up 19.5ppg.

Defensive Newcomer of the Year: Jamie Collins
Honorable Mention: Chase Winovich

Collins shot out of the gate like a rocket, dominating enough that *he* was the one in the conversation for defensive player of the year early on. In the first eight games, he had 6 sacks, 4 passes defended, 3 interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), and 2 forced fumbles. I wish he would consider coming back, but reports are he'll be one-and-done, taking the biggest free agent deal he gets on the open market this Spring.

Winovich's 17 tackles and 5.5 sacks, along with his never-quit motor, earned him a lot of respect on the team and around the league. By season's end, he was occasionally being double-teamed -- a sign that respect for him was growing around the league.

Special Teams

Most Valuable Special Teams Player: Jake Bailey
Honorable Mention: Matthew Slater 

The Patriots made a tough call when they cut long-time punter Ryan Allen, who was my MVP of Super Bowl LIII just a few months before being let go. It paid off handsomely. Rookie Jake Bailey placed second in the NFL in punts downed inside the 20 yard-line, and he was an actual weapon in the field-position game.

He also took over kickoff duties when Stephen Gostkowski went down with injury. And aside from three kick out of bounds, he was mostly flawless there. In a year when a touchback gave teams the ball at the 25 yard-line, Bailey gave up an average starting position of the 19.5 yard-line. He even booted a perfect onside kick in the KC game that could have given the Pats a shot at a win. (Unfortunately, it bounced off Brandon Bolden's hands and out of bounds.)

Slater's running mate Brandon King missed the entire season with a quad injury. And early in the year, Slater looked like he was trying too hard, and he made several mistakes because of it. But he got his bearings back and was just as dominant the second half of the season as he'd ever been.

Most Improved Special Teams Player: Joe Cardona
Honorable Mention: Coach Joe Judge

Long-snapper Cardona was picture-perfect this season. I don't remember a single bad snap, though I do recall several bad holds by Bailey. This was after Cardona was a liability during the Patriots 2017/18 playoff run. He had three bad snaps against Tennessee and messed one up in the Super Bowl loss to the Eagles.

I don't have notes on 2018 year, but my recollection is that he wasn't quite right in that season, either. However, nary a bad snap was seen this year, even though he had to work with a new punter and four different field goal kickers.

Usually this space is reserved for players. But Joe Judge was something very special this year, so I thought he merited inclusion. The Patriots blocked a franchise-record 4 punts, the most by any NFL team since 2014. He also had to integrate a new punter, teach that punter to kickoff, and go through four different field goal kickers.

His performance got him the gig as head coach of the Giants. Not a bad promotion from a guy I've called "overmatched" in previous years.

Special Teams Newcomer of the Year: Jake Bailey
Honorable Mention: Justin Bethel

Bailey for all the reason mentioned earlier.

Bethel was cut by the Ravens mid-season. The Patriots scooped him up off waivers and he was as good as Slater the rest of the year. The two were quite the dynamic duo, bringing back memories of how Slater and King would go back-and-forth for the team lead in special teams tackles.


That is about it. Next year's entry should be a dandy -- looks like an absolute ton of turnover this off-season. And maybe we'll have to retire the "Non-Brady MVP" award, depending on what TB12 decides to do.

Statistical Oddity: One week after he was cut by Baltimore, Bethel recovered a punt that was fumbled by those same Ravens in the Patriots loss to that team. The fumbling player... Cyrus Jones, who was drafted by the Patriots. It really is a small NFL world.

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 0-0!

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