Monday, January 4, 2016

Patriots Live Scrimmage Over, Brady Promises "Different Team" In Post-Season

The New England began the 2015 season a literal juggernaut, going 10-0 and becoming the odds-on favorites to defend their World Championship - then the cruel and heartless injury bug bit them hard.

How hard? Well hard enough that that the Patriots went 2-4 in their final six games, sporting blowout wins over Houston and Tennessee sandwiched between a pair of two-game losing streaks to finish the season 12-4 and securing the second overall seed in the American Football Conference as they limp into the playoffs...

...hardly the way any team wants to enter the post-season, but as head ball coach Bill Belichick is fond of saying, you can't make it to the Super Bowl if you don't make the tournament. Besides, quarterback Tom Brady has promised us a "Much different team" in the playoffs than the one we witnessed struggling mightily down the stretch - and how do we know this is true?
Jackson needed live game snaps to acclimate himself to New England

Quite simply stated, the Patriots have been using the final two weeks of the regular season as an extended live scrimmage.

And the scary thing, is that even though they were just going through the paces - playing situational football and putting themselves in position to work on the two things that have been a bitch-kitty for the team, special teams and the running game - their defense kept them in the game long enough to take the Jets to overtime two weeks ago and to keep pace with the Dolphins on Sunday until the last few minutes of the contest.

But make no mistake, the Patriots had plenty to play for and they certainly would have liked to have won both games, but they weren't going to pull out all the stops to do so.

How else can you explain that fact that the team who had compiled an average of 393 total yards per game in the first fourteen games while clinching both the AFC East title and a first round bye and scoring 32 points per game suddenly went so far south that their averages in the final two games fell to averages of 150 yards and 17 points less?

Such a precipitous slide could not be explained any other way.

Oh sure, you could say the lack of receiving threats has handicapped this offense. You could say that the offensive line is so porous that a matador would have more success protecting Brady and you could say that the running game is more like a casual stroll through the park, and you could say that the play calling has been about as imaginative as a teen horror film script - and you would be right...

...but since when would Belichick allow such things to permeate the core of his football team without making some adjustments to the game plan throughout the course of the games?

Consider: the Patriots' lone touchdown drive against the New York Jets was a classic four-minute offensive series toward the end of the game that started with excellent field position and was promoted by big plays from tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back James White to tie the score at 20 with two minutes remaining in the game...

...and their lone touchdown against the Dolphins was the result of the increasingly shifty White taking a short pass in the flat, breaking a tackle and sprinted 68 yards to set up a two-yard touchdown run by new Patriots' running back Steven Jackson.

That's it. A touchdown by the defense and a handful of field goals is all the scoring that the Patriots have done in two weeks.

And if it appeared to you that the Patriots weren't trying or didn't care, you would be wrong. They do indeed care very much about what they are doing on the field, its just that in this particular instance, they were just getting some work in with their healthy core players, Brady taking the lead so as to not make the players on offense work with Brady's backup when they need the reps with him, particularly Jackson and White.

The media is going ape shit over the Patriots' woes, with former teammate Rodney Harrison stating that teams no longer fear playing the Patriots. His running mate, and former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy speculated that Belichick is so concerned with protecting Brady that he allowed only five pass plays to be called in Sunday's season finale, and only 21 for the entire game.

Of course, there is concern about protecting Brady, but these national media pundits are not seeing the big picture, though Harrison did get one thing right when he said that injured wide receiver Julian Edelman is more important to the function of the offense than even Gronkowski.

And THAT is something that needs to be addressed in the offseason, as no team should be so reliant on one player for their success, but in the short-term, Edelman is scheduled to be back on the field for the Patriots' divisional round playoff game after having nearly three months to recover from a fractured bone in his foot.

In fact, by the time Saturday January 16th rolls around, every player on the 53 man roster should be healed to the point that they can contribute well, and the team can return to being the juggernaut they were in the first ten games of the season.

That said, for the next two weeks, Foxborough Free Press will be previewing every position on their field and what has to happen for the Patriots to defend their title in San Francisco, the sight of Super Bowl 50 in early Frebruary.

Next up: Part 2, The offensive line...

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