Saturday, August 30, 2014

Patriots' Post-Cuts Analysis - Maintaining the Status Quo On Offense

The grizzled old gunslinger Brady is poised to lead the perhaps the most talented offense in his tenure
The gig is up, the news is out - just like every other team in the NFL, the New England Patriots complied with the league's mandate to trim their roster to 53 players on Saturday afternoon, and there really weren't many surprises.

That came on Tuesday when the Patriots swapped long-tenured Logan Mankins for Tampa Bay's Timothy Wright and a fourth round draft pick, leaving the left guard spot a question mark for the first time since 2005 - which has to be painful for Mankins since he was the first draft pick following the last Patriots' title, and the team looks to be loaded to the gills with enough talent to accomplish that feat again.

That said, Mankins is gone and - other than former power back LeGarrette Blount - he is the lone missing incumbent from last season's AFC Championship losing team, and a quick peek at the roster tells one that the Patriots' maintained the status quo, with only four rookies making the offensive depth chart, and all of them reserves.

The one thing that prevented the Patriots from a trip to their sixth Super Bowl appearance under coach Bill Belichick was tough luck on the injury front, and it appears that Belichick made use of his roster to ensure if the team suffers through a heavy injury season again, that they can keep right on rolling.

That's how talented this offense is on paper - and next Sunday, we get to see it on the turf.

Quarterback (3)

12 - Tom Brady 
15 - Ryan Mallett 
10 - Jimmy Garoppolo (R) 

Naturally, there was little doubt about Brady, but there was considerable conjecture regarding the depth behind him - mainly, who was going to be the Greatest's backup - and while that question still is not answered, it should be made apparent next Sunday about 45 minutes from kickoff when the team must submit their active roster for the season opener at Miami.

Patriots' fans shouldn't be shocked no matter who makes the 46 man gameday roster, as both have proven capable reserves.  Of course, there is still the possibility that one of the two is dealt - Mallett most likely if there is a deal made.

Running Backs (5)
Rumors of Ridley's demise were greatly exagerated

22 - Stevan Ridley 
34 - Shane Vereen 
38 - Brandon Bolden  
46 - James Develin  
28 - James White (R)  

Maintaining the status quo is the theme of the running back depth chart, as four of the five incumbents from last season remain on the team, despite innuendo that Ridley had fumbled his last in Foxborough, at least as a Patriot - but Ridley's "fumbling problem" is actuality a media embellishment, though it is certain that Belichick would prefer that no footballs hit the turf for any reason.

Ridley is the Patriots' lone power back, though Bolden has flashed at times in that capacity - while Vereen and White have to have defensive coordinators up nights trying to figure out how to manage coverage on two speedy pass catchers at the same time as putting two bodies on Gronkowski and dealing with any assortment of receivers that Brady can send wide.

Tight Ends (2)

87 - Rob Gronkowski 
47 - Michael Hoomanawanui 

Again, status quo.  As far as pure tights are concerned, these two are it.

Gronkowski is the best tight end in the league when he's on the field and Hooman is a gritty combo that contributes in short yardage and on special teams - but when one adds hybrids in fullback James Develin and freshly acquired wide receiver Tim Wright, the position takes on a whole new look.

Develin is a powerful end-of-the-line type that specializes in the athletic pull-and-wham technique to free up running backs through the hole and has surprisingly soft hands and some speed in the pattern, while Wright is a big, reasonably fast possession receiver who specializes in the underneath stuff, and worked out of the slot about two-thirds of the time last season in Tampa.

Put all of that together, and you have as diverse a group of "tight ends" as you will find in the NFL.

Julian Edelman is ready to reprise his role as the top pass catcher
Receivers (8)

80 - Danny Amendola 
11 - Julian Edelman 
17 - Aaron Dobson 
19 - Brandon Lafell  
85 - Kenbrell Thompkins  
18 - Matthew Slater 
81 - Tim Wright
84 - Brian Tyms

A point that can not be stressed enough is the fact that this is perhaps the most diverse and, by nature, the most explosive set of pass catchers in the NFL.

There are no big names, just an assortment of large targets in 6' 4" Wright and Tyms, 6' 3" Dobson and Lafell and 6' 1" Thompkins - and smallish, quick munchkin types in Edelman and Amendola, and when combined with the receiving talents of the gargantuan tight end Gronkowski and the turbo-twins Shane Vereen and James White curling out of the backfield, that's just too much for any defensive coordinator to deal with.

Of course, Tyms is serving a four-game suspension to begin the season and is purportedly going to be training with former Patriot Randy Moss while on the bad-boy shelf, and Wright hasn't even had time to find some new digs, but they will both contribute sooner or later.

Nate Solder leads a line that will be without Mankins for the first time since 2005
Offensive Linemen (10)

77 - Nate Solder 
62 - Ryan Wendell 
63 - Dan Connolly 
76 - Sebatian Vollmer 
61 - Marcus Cannon 
67 - Josh Kline 
64 - Chris Barker 
65 - Jordan Devey   
71 - Cameron Fleming (R)   
66 - Bryan Stork (R) 

As was mentioned in a previous article, the Patriots seem to be falling back on their look from last season - or mashing the default setting, as it were - retaining four of the five incumbents from 2013.

The lone omission is, of course, Logan Mankins who will now endure a losing team for the first time in his career - which is sad, but it is the nature of the NFL, particularly when you won't play ball when the team asks you to restructure your contract.

Regardless, Mankins is gone and now it is on Belichick and his staff to find the proper mixture along the line to get the running game going, something that happened rarely in the preseason - and something that needs to happen with regularity in the regular season, because it matters not how many weapons one has at receiver, if you can't run the ball, you can not be consistently successful.

There is talk of moving Vollmer from right tackle to left guard and replacing him on the end with Marcus Cannon, who is coming into his contract year and needs a big season.  That's a lot of beef scrapping in the trenches, and one has to wonder if the stretch zone blocking scheme that the Patriots employ is going to give way to a drive blocking scheme to take advantage of the heft.

Whatever the case, where the offense always starts up front, it needs to be fixed.  Quickly.

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