Wednesday, January 8, 2014

New England Patriots on Paper: The Spirit of '76

The New England Patriots are experiencing a renaissance.

As are their fans, though this brief period of awakening conjures a time far earlier than most fans care to remember - the glass half-full crowd fondly reminiscing the 2004 championship team with Corey Dillon grinding out yards and Ty Law shutting down the opposition's top receiving target...
Blount's running style conjures memories of the 1970's Patriots' teams

...while the glass half empty people recall with horror the 2006 squad that went 12-4 after losing their top receiving talent in the offseason and making due with castoffs, then losing to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Title game despite carrying a 21-3 lead into the locker room at halftime.

And while the Patriots did lose their top receiving talent from last season, and have a grinding running game that has gained traction the last couple of weeks of the season, and also have a shutdown corner that can take away the opposition's top receiving talent, the 2013 edition of the New England Patriots are unique.

Unique in it's ability to morph into whatever they need to be to succeed.

In the first quarter of the season, the Patriots posted a 4-0 start - albeit perhaps the ugliest undefeated start in NFL history, as the offense struggled to break in the new group of pass catchers and the coaching staff struggling to identify what a comfortable balance looked like, falling back on a stout, deep defense that kept the opposition in check just enough for the offense to pull out the win...

...the second quarter a quagmire of pain, veteran starters on both sides of the ball dropping like flies, the offense still struggling for an identity, losing for the first time on the season, first to the Cincinnati Bengals in monsoonal rains and then to the rival New York Jets in overtime - only a miraculous last-second win over the New Orleans Saints keeping them from a three-game losing streak.

The win over the Saints giving pattern to the third quarter of the season, a protracted "feeling out" period that saw a streak of improbable comebacks from impossible deficits following a blowout of Pittsburgh and a disputed loss to the Panthers...

...leading into the final quarter of the season, where an identity finally formed into a winning combination - offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels finally accepting the fact that the Patriots were a smashmouth, physical running team whose passing game fed off of the grinding play action.

And that's where they sit now - a team that has discovered it's identity in it's ability to control the line of scrimmage by running the ball on offense and stopping the run on defense - exactly the old school approach that makes this team different from any other Patriots' team since the franchise's first taste of success in the mid-to-late 1970's...

...the Fairbanks' teams, the teams that ran the ball 65% of the time, the teams that took pleasure in ramming the ball down the opposing defense's collective throat - a style that lacks flash but is full of substance, perhaps unappealing to new-age fans but palate-pleasing to the old school crowd.

Can the Patriots win a title with such an approach?  Statistics tell us that no one can run the entire playoff gauntlet being that run-heavy, but given that this Saturday's opponent, the Indianapolis Colts, rank 25th in the NFL against the run while ranking 13th against the pass, New England could get to the AFC Championship game riding the legs of LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley...

...and to advance to the Super Bowl in that manner might not be that difficult either, provided the running game opens up the play action effectively - and given that the big game will in all likelihood be played in some sort of adverse weather conditions where violent ground acquisition is key, the power running could very well carry the New England offense to the promised land.

In the end, like it or not, the New England Patriots have carved out an identity of a power-running, play action offense with a complimentary opportunistic defense that should have their secondary healthy and intact and a refocused front seven that is much better against the run than their ranking of 30th in the league would have you believe.

Boring to some, but for those that got our indoctrination to the game of professional football by watching the likes of Sam Canningham, Andy Johnson and Don Calhoun running behind John Hannah, Leon Gray and Dr. Bill Lenkatis, nothing could be more beautiful...

No comments:

Post a Comment