Farewell June 2013

Normally, I embrace the month of June.  In fact, it is my favorite month of the year.  Summer begins, warm weather, trips to the beach, hell my birthday is in June.  However; June 2013 was simply awful for a Boston sports fan.  I, myself, can’t wait until Monday morning when I can turn the calendar to July.

Since I started blogging (even dating back to the McKeon and the Mongoose days), as a Boston sports fan, I have primarily been able to write about successes, champions, and legendary athletes. Boston fans have seen two World Series’ trophies, four Lombardi trophies, 1 Stanley Cup, and 1 Larry O’Brien trophy.  We have also seen three out of the four teams we root for lose more than one championship game or series.  None of that pain or disappointment comes close to what Boston fans have endured over the month of June.  Where do I even begin?

Aaron Hernandez

The most notable detrimental event in June is Aaron Hernandez being charged with the murder of Odin Lloyd.  Sure as a Patriotsap_aaron_hernandez_mi_130728_16x9_992 fan this bothers me.  But as a human being it down right pisses me off.  I hold true to the belief set forth by Robert DeNiro’s character, Lorenzo, in A Bronx Tale. “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent.”  That is just what Hernandez is, wasted talent.  This kid was given everything out of the womb from a physical standpoint.  Bill Walton would refer to him as “the biggest winner of the genetic lottery known to man.”  Hernandez is 6’1, built out of granite, and has amazing agility.  He was given everything: A full scholarship to the University of Florida, drafted by the best organization in the NFL, to play with the best quarterback in the history of the NFL, and as of last August given a sizable contract.

In life, all Hernandez had to do was stay in shape.  Everything was given to him.  He never pulled an all nighter trying to finish a term paper in college.  He never had to sit in a cubicle hearing a boss drone on about TPS reports. Hell the guy probably never had to clean his house or even take out the garbage.  He was living the American Dream; being paid millions of dollars to play a game. And he blew it all.

I have to wonder when it will all hit Aaron.  He will no longer enjoy his mansion in North Attleboro.  He will no longer be able to eat at 5 star restaurants.  He will never hear the roar of 60,000 fans cheering as he catches a pass from Tom Brady.  It is all gone.

Boston Bruins

Back in the middle of May, the Boston Bruins pulled off an improbable comeback over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.  Down 4-1 with eight minutes left, the Bruins came from behind to shock the world and advance to the second round against the New York Rangers.  The Bruins skated past the Rangers in 5 games setting up a date with the powerhouse Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final.  Most experts believed the Bruins would have a hard time beating the Penguins because of their offensive juggernaut. The Bruins proved all the naysayers wrong, owning the Penguins in 4 games.

The Bruins advanced to play the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final.  The Bruins looked to be a team of destiny.  The Andrew Shawmiracle comeback over the Leafs, the dismantling of the Rangers, and sweeping the Penguins.  Gregory Campbell helped kill off a penalty for 1 minute skating on a broken leg.  All the plots to the beautiful story line were in place.

The Bruins came to Boston down 3-2 for Game 6. Milan Lucic scored a goal late in the third period.  It looked as though the Bruins, the improbable Bruins, would force a Game 7 in Chicago.  The with 1:15 left in the game, Brian Bickell beat Tuukka Rask to tie the game.  17 seconds later, Dave Bolland beat Rask to put the Blackhawks ahead and bring the Cup back to Chicago.  I will not attempt to get fancy in describing my feelings as these events unfolded on June 24 (the night before my birthday).  The Bickell goal felt like a wild mule kicked me square in the genitals.  The Bolland goal felt like I lost those genitals 17 seconds later.

After the Bruins were able to shock the Maple Leafs, I was convinced they were going to win the Stanley Cup.  They destroyed the Rangers resulting in John Tortorella receiving a pink slip.  Their win over the Penguins cemented my belief the Cup was coming home to Boston.  Then I sat there on my couch on June 24, watching Andrew Shaw lift the Cup over his head on the TD Garden ice.

How can that be?

Boston Celtics

I made a promise to myself I would not watch a single second of the NBA Final because I did not want to give David Stern his much desired television rating.  My problem, however, is my access to Twitter.  Tuesday, June 18, the Spurs were 5 seconds away from beating LeBron James and the Miami Heat for the NBA title.  My twitter feed blew up.  I could not resist temptation.  I had to tune in to see the sad faces of LeBron, Wade, and Bosh.  I even had my tweet all lined up.  Not 6, Not 5, Not 4, Not 3, Not 2!  1!  I tuned into the game just in time to see Chris Bosh tip a rebound out to Ray Allen, yes Ray Allen above all people, bury a three from the corner to send the game into overtime.  Why did it have to be Ray Allen?  Former member of The Big Three.  The guy who left town to take less money because he did not want to play in Boston in anymore.  The guy who abandoned Pierce and Garnett to go play with the Celtics’ biggest rival.  Why did it have to be Judas Shuttlesworth?

As we all know the Heat went on to beat the Spurs and win their second straight NBA title.

On the local front, the Celtics traded Doc Rivers to the Clippers for a 1st round draft pick.  I am yet to determine how I feel about NBA Finals Game 6: Los Angeles Lakers v Boston Celticsthis. The beef between Bill Simmons and Rivers further complicates things.  I have long been a fan of Doc Rivers.  I am on the fence about Simmons.  Some days I like him, most days I find him wildly annoying.  As it stands now, I find myself being annoyed with Doc Rivers.  He essentially asked out-of-town because he did not want to be apart of a rebuild.  Knowing he did not want to be apart of a rebuild, he had no problem signing a 5 year contract for $35 million last season.  Obviously KG and Pierce would not be around for those 5 years.  He obviously knew a rebuild was happening.  Instead of owning up to him quitting on the current Celtics, he has made many excuses as to what went down between he and Danny Ainge leading up to this trade.

There is a lot of Ray Allen in Doc Rivers.  The both feel the need to be liked by the fans.  They can’t handle the fact Boston fans may be upset with them.  Ultimately, I am glad the Celtics received compensation for Rivers.  But the bottom line is Rivers did quit on the Celtics and he is currently trying to protect his reputation with Celtics fans by saying it was not his idea to leave town.

After Rivers asked to be dealt to the Clippers, the writing was on the wall Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett would be moved as well. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce Believe it or not, I have mixed emotions about this one.  Paul Pierce has been a Boston Celtic since I was 13 years old.  I can’t remember what the Celtics were like without him.  I remember when he slipped to the 10th pick in the 1998 draft.  I was ecstatic,  That ecstasy lived on for the last 15 years.  Anyone who knows me, knows I will argue Pierce is a top five player over the course of his career.  Seeing him don a Brooklyn Nets uniform will be difficult.  Seeing him be coached by Jason Kidd will blow my mind.  It is not hard to forget the Nets were Celtic rivals in the early 2000’s.  Right at the center of that rivalry? Paul Pierce and Jason Kidd.

Seeing Kevin Garnett go will be difficult as well.  I remember working as a camp counselor the summer of 2007 when Garnett was traded to the Celtics.  I walked around the camp with a radio, listening to WEEI, as the trade talks heated up.  Garnett brought an unparalleled intensity to Boston.  It was impossible not to get fired up along with him when you were at the Garden.  Credit Garnett for getting that building as loud as it got most nights.  Without Garnett, there is no Banner 17 hanging from the rafters.

#34 will hang from those same rafters one day.  I hope #5 does as well.  They were great Celtics.  Great isn’t even the word.  There are no words to describe Pierce and Garnett.  Their last move as Celtics?  Bringing home three first round picks to help rebuild the franchise.  It does not get any better than that.   Damn it, I hope they knock off the Heat next year.

June was an awful month in Boston. July 2013, I welcome you with open arms.

I can be followed on Twitter @ScottieNTCF

2013 New England Patriots Roster Breakdown – May Edition

In this post, I’m going to take a look at the potential 53 man roster for the New England Patriots for the upcoming 2013 season.  Obviously, it is May so many things will change between now and the beginning of the season.  However, if the season were to start today, this is how I see the roster shaking out.  For each position, I will list the players in order from starter to backup (i.e. 1) starter, 2) backup, etc.).  Let’s do it…

QUARTERBACK: 2 (2)

1)    Tom Brady

2)    Ryan Mallett

Analysis: This one is a no brainer.  Brady is the man, and no one in the league could compete for his position.  The thing to watch at quarterback for the Pats this offseason is the  performance of Ryan Mallett.  While some believe Mallett was drafted to be groomed as Brady’s potential replacement, I think Mallett was brought in 1) Because they saw great value when they selected him in the 3rd round in 2011 and 2) They saw him as a potential trade chip for a higher draft pick than he was originally selected.  If Mallett performs this preseason, he could get dealt to a team that has a big need at QB.

RUNNING BACK: 4 (4)

1)    Stevan Ridley

2)    Shane Vereen

3)    LeGarrette Blount

4)    Leon Washington

Analysis: Ridley earned the starting spot after his performance throughout the 2012 season, however some late season fumbling issues forced the Pats to bring in some insurance at the running back position (Blount) to at least compete with Ridley for the top spot.  Shane Vereen will pick up where Danny Woodhead left off, and will produce at a higher level than Woodhead did.  Ridley’s biggest area of improvement needs to be in pass protection, where Woodhead excelled.  Leon Washington is kept on as a return specialist/emergency/change of pace back.  Blount beats out Brandon Bolden for a spot on the roster and will look to be used in short yardage and goal line situations.

WIDE RECEIVER: 6 (5)

1) Aaron Dobson [outside]

1) Josh Boyce [outside]

1) Danny Amendola [slot]

2) Julian Edelman

2) Donald Jones

3) Matthew Slater

Analysis: This is by far the toughest position to predict the roster breakdown for on the 2013 Patriots.  With so much change that has occurred at the position, determining the direction that Pats will go is tough.  In my opinion, this is how the depth chart will stack up in September.  I think that Dobson and Boyce will both make a smooth transition and earn starting spots on the outside, while Amendola is already penciled in as the starting slot receiver.  Julian Edelman makes the team for two reasons: 1) Familiarity with the system and 2) Depth in the slot (although Boyce can play the slot as well.  The position battle to watch here will be between Donald Jones, Michael Jenkins, and newly signed Lavelle Hawkins.  I think Jenkins’ skill set has diminished to a point where he won’t produce on this team.  Hawkins had some issues with coachability and offensive knowledge in Tennessee, which is the recipe for being cut here in New England.  That leaves Jones, who has proven he can produce in the division and has good speed and size.  Slater isn’t going anywhere.  He is a lifer with the Pats.

TIGHT END: 4 (4)

1) Rob Gronkowski

1) Aaron Hernandez

2) Jake Ballard

3) Michael Hoomanawanui

Analysis: The top two spots here are set in stone for the next 5-6 years.  Gronkowski is still dealing with forearm issues, which now has me concerned that he will not be ready for the start of the season.  Here’s my prediction: Gronkowski starts the season on the PUP list in an effort to get that forearm back to 100% (and because they know they can afford to miss Gronk for 6 weeks).  With that said, the Pats are utilizing the two tight-end set more than any team in the NFL, so they are forced to carry 4 (at least) on their roster.  After Gronk and Hernandez, the next two spots are up for grabs.  The Pats made a great move and grabbed an injured Jake Ballard off of waivers from the Giants, and the greatness of that move will be realized this year.  Ballard is a mammoth of a human (6’6″, 275 lbs), but is as a good receiver (2011: 38 rec, 604 yards, 4 TDs) as he is blocker.  The Pats re-signed Hoomanawanui to a one-year, $1.323 million contract this offseason, so I think that gives him a leg up over Daniel Fells for the 4th tight end spot.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE: 4 (4)

1) Nate Solder [LT]

1) Sebastian Vollmer [RT]

2) Will Svitek

2) Marcus Cannon

Analysis: The top two spots here are filled by returning players in Solder and Vollmer.  After that, I see Svitek as a near lock to make the roster considering he is guaranteed to make at least $500,000 this season even if he is cut.  Svitek has the versatility to play both tackle positions and has been a good back-up for several years in the NFL, while also having started 16 games throughout his career.  Marcus Cannon will be the other backup tackle.  Cannon played decently in limited action last year, and should continue to develop this offseason.  Some believe the Pats will look to move Cannon inside to guard, which could shift the depth chart at tackle a bit.

OFFENSIVE GUARD: 3 (4)

1) Logan Mankins [LG]

1) Dan Connolly [RG]

2) Nick McDonald

Analysis: I see the Patriots only needing to keep 3 guards on the active roster for a couple of reasons: 1) McDonald has the versatility to play both guard positions and 2) Cannon can bump inside and play guard as well.  Mankins and Connolly are locks at both starting guard positions, while McDonald has been a good, versatile backup over the last couple of seasons.  Over his career, McDonald has lined up at all 5 offensive line spots, and worked a lot on playing center last offseason.  This is a great advantage for the Pats, considering that they usually only keep one center on the active roster (Connolly has also played center in the past).  Nick’s brother Chris will push him for a spot on the 53-man roster, however I think Chris makes his way onto the practice squad.

CENTER: 1 (1)

1) Ryan Wendell

Analysis: Not much analysis required here.  As mentioned previously, McDonald and Connolly have both played center in the past, so if Wendell happens to go down, the Pats have options.

DEFENSIVE END: 5 (6)

1) Chandler Jones [Right DE]

1) Rob Ninkovich [Left DE]

2) Jermaine Cunningham

2) Justin Francis

3) Jake Bequette

Analysis: For consistency purposes, I am creating this depth chart based on the assumption that the Pats will primarily play a 4-3 defense in 2013.  Obviously, they often switch between defenses, however, I’m projecting all players as they fit into a 4-3.  At defensive end, Jones and Ninkovich get the starting nod, just as they did in 2012.  The battle at defensive end starts with the second string guys.  Unlike some other positions where the second stringers don’t see the field much, back-up defensive lineman are becoming much more important in the NFL.  High-powered passing attacks are forcing defenses to rotate lineman to keep fresh bodies on the field that can get to the quarterback.  For the Pats, pressuring the quarterback is a top priority in 2013.  There will be a battle for the back-up spots at defensive end this off-season.  Jermaine Cunningham showed flashes of the player expected when he was taken in the second round of the 2010 draft.  A 4-game suspension derailed some of that success, however I think his performance last season warrants him making the team in 2013.  Justin Francis went from being an undrafted free agent signing to top back-up performer for the Pats in 2012 (10 tackles, 3 sacks).  Jake Bequette only played in 3 games last year, however he was awarded practice player of the month in October of last season and is expected to make a bigger impact in 2013.  A prospect to watch here is 7th round pick Michael Buchanon.  Buchanon has the athleticism to rush the passer in the NFL, however he needs to ass some bulk in order to hold up in the run game.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE: 4 (4)

1) Vince Wilfork

1) Kyle Love

2) Tommy Kelly

2) Armond Armstead

Analysis: The surprising release of Brandon Deaderick a couple of days ago makes me think that the Patriots have something in one of their young defensive tackles that we don’t know about yet.  Vince Wilfork is considered one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL, and will remain a staple on the New England defensive line for years to come.  I believe that Kyle Love has earned a starting spot on this team.  Love has a Wilfork-like build (6’1″, 320 lbs) and is in the game on 1st and 2nd down to simple take up blockers.  On third down is where Tommy Kelly and Armond Armstead come in.  Kelly is a formidable pass rusher from the defensive tackle position (14.5 combined sacks between 2010-2011) and will hopefully fill a Gerard Warren-like role for the 2013 Pats.  Armstead comes from the CFL through USC.  Armstead had a heart attack as a senior at USC and was never cleared to play college football again.  Therefore, he had to go through the CFL to make his way to the NFL.  Armstead had 44 tackles and 6 sacks in the CFL last year.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: 3 (3)

1) Jerod Mayo

1) Dont’a Hightower

2) Jamie Collins

Analysis: Jerod Mayo, one of the NFL’s best inside linebackers, make the transition to the outside in the Pats 4-3 defense in 2012, and seemed to not miss a beat.  Mayo amassed 147 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and 1 interception.  Opposite Mayo, 2012 1st round pick Dont’a Hightower had a good first season in New England, ending with 60 tackles and 4 sacks.  I expect Hightower to become a more efficient pass rusher in 2013 and be most effective on first and second down.  Then there is 2013 2nd round pick Jamie Collins.  As mentioned in a previous post, I think Collins can contribute most on 3rd down as a rookie.  As a former safety, Collins has fluid hips as an outside linebacker and should be able to cover backs, tight ends, and slot receivers more effectively than the bigger Hightower (Collins: 6’3″, 250 lbs; Hightower: 6’2″, 270 lbs).  Niko Koutouvides and Jeff Tarpinian, former contributors for the Pats, will be competing primarily with inside linebackers for a roster spot as none of the aforementioned outside linebackers will be released.

INSIDE LINEBACKER: 3 (3)

1) Brandon Spikes

2) Dane Fletcher

3) Mike Rivera

Analysis: 2013 is a huge year for Brandon Spikes.  Spikes is in the 4th year of his rookie contract, and needs to prove he is worth the next contract he will get from either the Patriots of another team.  Spikes has already displayed great run-stopping ability in the NFL.  The problem is that Spikes is considered by some to be a 2-down linebacker.  2-down linebackers don’t usually get big-time money in the NFL.  Dane Fletcher was cementing himself as a good backup and possible future starter for the Patriots before he tore his ACL last season.  The Pats thought highly enough of Fletcher to re-sign him (he was a restricted free agent) this off-season.  Mike Rivera his filled in well for the Pats over the last couple of seasons and will be competing with rookie 7th round pick Steve Beauharnais for the 3rd spot on the depth chart.

CORNERBACK: 6 (7)

1) Aqib Talib

1) Alfonzo Dennard

2) Kyle Arrington [Nickel Corner]

2) Ras-I Dowling

3) Logan Ryan

3) Marquice Cole

Analysis: Unlike 2012, I’m projecting that the Pats only carry 6 cornerbacks in 2013 simply because they are overloaded at safety (and I believe a couple of their safeties could play on the inside at corner).  The Patriots got lucky this off-season when Alfonzo Dennard got sentenced to only 30 days in prison (starting in March 2014).  Dennard will look to build on a successful rookie campaign and start opposite of the $5 million man (Talib) in 2013.  Newly resigned Kyle Arrington played well enough over the past few seasons to earn 4-year $16 million deal this off-season.  Arrington will play, and is most effective in the nickel.  After than, the battle begins.  Logan Ryan is essentially a lock simply because of the position that he was drafted this season.  2013 is a make or break season for Ras-I Dowling.  If he is able to stay healthy and contribute, we may begin to realize some of his talent.  However, another injury may lead to Dowling’s release.  Marquice Cole gets the nod as the 6th corner because of his special teams prowess.  Rookie free-agent Brandon Jones could push for Cole’s roster spot if he proves that he can perform on special teams.

SAFETY: 5 (4)

1) Devin McCourty [FS]

1) Adrian Wilson [SS]

2) Tavon Wilson

2) Duron Harmon

3) Nate Ebner

Analysis: As I mentioned earlier, the Pats have an overload of safeties on their roster.  I project that 5 safeties will make the final 2013 roster, which is one more than last season.  I believe it is time that Devin McCourty makes the official switch to safety.  McCourty has performed well as a part-time safety over the last couple of seasons (although he was basically full-time last year), and it looks like the Pats think he may be a long-term solution at free safety.  I still think McCourty could be a good corner in the NFL, however I don’t get paid to make those decisions.  Adrian Wilson will get the start opposite of McCourty and will provide a physical presence that the Pats have lacked since the Rodney Harrison days.  At 6’3″, 230 lbs, Wilson has lost a step over his career, but McCourty’s responsibility will be to cover, Wilson will be asked to hit.  Behind those two, 2012 second round pick Tavon Wilson earns a roster spot after showing some promise in his rookie campaign (41 tackles, 4 interceptions).  Wilson also has the ability to drop down and play over the slot receiver, which will be useful as the Pats are only keeping 6 corners.  2013 3rd round pick Duron Harmon makes the roster over 2012 starter Steve Gregory.  Gregory was serviceable in 2012, although I think the Pats will decide to move in a new direction in 2013.  Special teams standout Nate Ebner gets the nod as the 3rd string safety due to his special teams ability (him and Slater are essentially the new Larry Izzos).

SPECIALISTS: 3 (3)

PK) Stephen Gostkowski

P) Zoltan Mesko

LS) Danny Aiken

Analysis: No change here from 2012.  The Patriots have brought in 2012 Ray Guy Award winner Ryan Allen to compete with Zoltan Mesko, however I expect Mesko to win that battle.  Some believe Allen may make the practice squad, which speaks to his talent as punters don’t often take up a spot on the 7-man practice squad.

PRACTICE SQUAD: 7 (7)

1)    Michael Buchanon, DE

2)    Matt Stankiewitch, C

3)    Chris McDonald, OG

4)    Brandon Jones, CB

5)    Steve Beauharnais, LB

6)    Jason Vega, DE

7)    TJ Moe, WR

Analysis: At this point in time, practice squad predictions are nearly impossible considering that training camp hasn’t even started yet.  However, in true Mattyoshow fashion, I’m giving it a shot.  Michael Buchanon is a raw talent out of Illinois that needs time in the weight room to bulk up.  I truly think Buchanon will push Jake Bequette for a roster spot at defensive end, but will wind up on the practice squad.  Matt Stankiewitch was a 25-game starter at Penn State at center, and certainly benefitted from Bill O’Brien’s tutelage during his last year at Penn State.  Stankiewitch is determined to learn to play guard in the NFL to improve his versatility and subsequently his odds of making the active roster.  Chris McDonald, younger brother of the aforementioned Nick McDonald, was a 39 game starter for the Michigan St. Spartans and will look to carve a position out at guard in the NFL.  Brandon Jones, yet another Rutgers product, will compete for an active roster spot this season, but will most likely end up on the practice squad.  Steve Beauharnais is an instinctual linebacker that ha a nose for the football.  Beauharnais doesn’t project as a 3-down linebacker, but a year in the weight room could lead to him competing for a roster spot in 2014.  Jason Vega is another CFL product signed this offseason.  Vega is a former Northeastern product (via Brockton) that amassed 66 tackles and 12 sacks in the CFL in 2012.  Missouri product TJ Moe draws comparisons to Welker simply based on his skill set and skin color.  Moe is bigger than Welker (6’0″, 200 lbs), stronger (26 reps at the combine), and maybe even more agile (Combine best 6.53 3-cone drill).  Moe could use a year of seasoning on the practice squad, however in 2013 he could look to replace Julian Edelman on the roster.

Week 9 – The Mattyoshow Review

In this segment I will provide a weekly review for the previous weekend’s Patriots game, as well as my prediction for next weekend’s game.

-I want to start this post by congratulating the Cleveland Browns for winning Super Bowl XLV.  It was a majestic scene as Mangini got doused with Gatorade, the offensive coordinator was flopping around the field like a fish out of water, and the players were hugging each other, expressing their pure joy after spending an entire season working towards this one goal…Seriously Cleveland?  I know it was a big game for you.  The Patriots had the best record in the NFL, this game has probably been circled on your calendar’s since the schedule was released.  But a Gatorade bath in the first week of November?  You’re better than that Cleveland…or at least we thought you were.

-The lack of a deep threat finally reared its ugly head in Sunday’s loss in Cleveland.  I’ve been calling out this receiving corps for three weeks now, and we finally got to see how much the offense is hindered when you can’t get a receiver behind the defense.  The four longest completions of the day, 22, 22, 26, and 22 yards went to Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Danny Woodhead, and Sammy Morris respectively.  That means every pass completed over 20 yards were essentially dump off passes where the receivers ran after the catch.  Welker was blanketed for the fifth week in a row.  Without a deep threat, this offense will continue to struggle.

-BenJarvus Green-Ellis did his best Houdini impersonation today, disappearing a week after having the game of his career.  Nine carries just isn’t enough to get his guy rolling.  Granted, being down the whole game almost forced the Patriots into a no-huddle offense, where the majority of plays were passes, giving Woodhead more playing time.  But still, nine carries for BJGE isn’t enough to establish the run game, isn’t enough to force the defense into respecting the run, isn’t enough to make the play action pass effective, and isn’t enough to get victories.

-So much for the improving and impressive run defense for the Pats.  Hillis ran into, over, and around New England’s front seven early and often, leading to a career day (29 carries, 184 yards, 2 touchdowns).  Jerod Mayo again led the team in tackles, but he seemed to be one of the few Patriots even attempting to slow Hillis down.  Tully Banta-Cain, Rob Ninkovich, and Jermaine Cunningham were all terrible at attempting to set the edge.  I counted at least five or six times that Banta-Cain flew up the field and Hillis ran right underneath him.  If the Pats want to be considered among the elite teams in the league, their run defense can never have another performance like that again.

-Colt McCoy was 14-19 for 174 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions….unacceptable in my opinion.  When facing a rookie quarterback it is imperative that you not only confuse him, but force him into turnovers.  Colt McCoy was eerily accurate on Sunday, completing severely tight passes through small windows, and often on crucial downs.  I am aware that the Pats defense is essentially as young as McCoy, but Belichick’s scheme needs to be complicated enough to put his defense in places to make plays off of mistakes.  I failed to see it on Sunday, and that was very disappointing.

-NEXT WEEK’S PREDICTION – Patriots 18 – Steelers 17

Who’s the Answer?

By now, almost all sadness and anger surrounding the Randy Moss deal has vanished.  The focus of Patriot fans not lies squarely on who will fill the void that opened when Randy Moss departed to Minnesota.  Rumors have been swirling about Vincent Jackson, Deion Branch, and even Larry Fitzgerald.  All of these crazy scenarios being thrown around got me thinking about who, realistically, will be filling the Moss void.

Vincent Jackson

I said it last Wednesday and I’ll say it again, there is no shot that Vincent Jackson winds up in New England.  The trade just doesn’t make sense for either side.  Tom Curran was throwing it out there that the Pats and Chargers were exploring a Vincent Jackson for Logan Mankins deal.  In what world do we live in where a Pro Bowl guard is a suitable trading asset in return for a Pro Bowl wide receiver?  Then there were rumors that Belichick was stockpiling picks so he could deal them away for a guy like Jackson.  I think that we have learned over the years (especially on ever-frustrating draft day) that the Patriots love draft picks.  They may value draft picks more than any other team in the NFL.  Coach Belichick becomes giddy like a school girl when the opportunity presents itself for him to trade down in the draft and grab an extra pick.  So would it make much sense for Belichick to give up a second and third rounder (if not more) for Jackson?  I don’t think so.

Aside from those ridiculous rumors, Vincent Jackson is in the middle of a contract holdout.  The 27 year old, sixth year receiver reportedly wants to make around $9-$10 million a year.  Over his six year career, Jackson has amasses 3,400 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns.  Over Randy Moss’ 13 year career, he has amassed 14,604 yards and 151 touchdowns.  Let us consider what these players, on average, have produced per season.  Over six years, Jackson has averaged 567 yards and 4 touchdowns per season.  Over 13 years, Moss has averaged 1123 yards and 12 touchdowns per season.  So, if you wouldn’t pay Randy Moss $10 million a year, why again are you willing to give it to Vincent Jackson?

Oh, you want to pay Vincent Jackson because he isn’t a “problem player” like Moss?  If Vincent Jackson became a member of the New England Patriots today, he would be facing a 6-game suspension because of violations of the league’s substance abuse policy (3 games) and because the Chargers placed him on the roster-exempt list because of his holdout (3 more games if he plays for another team).

Then you want Vincent Jackson because he is younger, and projects to be more productive at 28 and 29 than Randy Moss and 34 and 35?  First off all, Randy Moss’ 2008 and 2009 were both more productive than Jackson’s 2008 and 2009 seasons.  Secondly, Chargers’ current number one wideout Malcom Floyd is on pace to have about 1,100 yards and 9 touchdowns; a season very similar to Jackson’s 2009 campaign.  Is Malcom Floyd not worthy of a $10 million a year contract?  Or maybe is the Chargers number one wideout (regardless of the name) a beneficiary of San Diego’s wide open, gin-slinger type offense?

Chance of Vincent Jackson winding up in New England – 0%

Deion Branch

The possibility of Deion Branch winding up in New England is certainly greater than the Jackson deal happening, but I wouldn’t say that it is a sure bet either.  Ever since Branch left New England after the 2005-2006 season, he has not lived up to the label as a number one wideout.  People tend to forget that in Branch’s best season with the Pats (2005-2006) he racked up only 998 yards and five scores.  That certainly isn’t a season to be scoffed at, but a wideout worthy of a first round pick in a trade?  I’m not buying it.  But, the Pats have been thanking the Seahawks for that deal ever since they drafted Brandon Meriweather with that pick in 2007.  Anyways, Branch has some familiarity with the system, but it has changed dramatically since 2006.  But, you can’t overlook the chemistry that he and Brady had.  Chemistry that lead to Branch being the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX (an epic 11 catches for 133 yards).

Branch would be a good fit to come in and help the Pats.  No one is going to replace Randy Moss, but Branch could provide some speed on the outside to try and help keep some of the coverage off of Wes Welker underneath.  And, at a price tag of a 5th or 6th round pick, Branch might be somewhat of a steal.

Chance of Deion Branch winding up in New England – 30%

Larry Fitzgerald

You are coach Ken Whisenhunt, and you know that your team isn’t doing much this season (even at 3-2 currently).  Your starting quarterback is an undrafted rookie.  What other reason do your fans have for coming to the game other than to watch Larry Fitzgerald play?  It took a first, third, and sixth round pick from the Cowboys to get Roy Williams away from Detroit.  I can’t even imagine what you would have to give Arizona for Fitzgerald, probably something like a 1, 2, and 4…if not more.  The Pats have the picks to do it, and I would love to see Fitzgerald in a Patriot uniform, but I can’t see Belichick making a deal even remotely close to that.

Chance of Larry Fitzgerald winding up in New England – 1%

Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Tate, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, etc.

The most plausible way to fill the void left by Randy Moss is by using the talent that the Patriots have amassed at the offensive skill positions.  Much has been made of Aaron Hernandez’s and Rob Gronkowski’s success as rookies so far in New England.  With Moss now gone, I can easily see each’s respective role growing.  Hernandez is a bigger version of Wes Welker.  He isn’t really fast, but he has exceptional quickness for a guy that is 6’1” 245lbs.  Hernandez can run through the middle and up the seam to try and keep the linebackers and safeties of opposing teams honest, and away from Welker.  Gronkowski is more of a mauler than Hernandez, but he has great hands for a big guy.  Look for Gronkowski’s size to be taken advantage of in both the run and pass game.  More two and three tight end sets will be seen to pound the ball with BJGE, as well as deploying Gronkowski into the end zone as a red zone target.  Brandon Tate has shown glimpses of electricity so far this season, and his role will look to expand with Moss’ departure.  Tate is not one of the few, if not the lone deep threat for the Pats (depending on Taylor Price’s contributions as the season progresses), and will be used as just that.  The deep ball will not be thrown as often in this new-look offense, but when it is thrown Tate is the most likely recipient.  Julian Edelman hasn’t played much so far this season, but we saw some of his ability last season when filling in for the then injured Wes Welker.  Edelman and Welker’s skill set are comparable, so similarly to Hernandez, look for Edelman to run a lot of those underneath routes to take some coverage away from Welker.

Chance of the aforementioned players being the main replacement for Randy Moss – 69%

Trading a sure-fire Hall of Fame player like Randy Moss is never an easy thing to over come.  But, it is important to realize that for Belichick to make this move he has to have a lot of confidence in the young offensive weapons that are currently on the roster.  Look for more emphasis on the run and play action passing, but to be completely honest, I don’t foresee much of a dip in the offensive production out of New England, even without Randy Moss.

Super Bowl or Bust?

As we look forward to the 2010 NFL season for the New England Patriots, it is hard to ignore the past.  Between 2001-2009 the New England Patriots were the most successful franchise in the NFL.  The Pats amassed three Super Bowl titles (2001, 2003, 2004), no losing seasons, the only sixteen game undefeated regular season in NFL history, seven AFC East titles, four AFC Championship game victories (out of five appearances), arguably the greatest offensive season of all time, and compiling 111 wins.  There is little argument against the New England Patriots being declared the team of the decade.  But, as successful as the past decade has been for the Patriots, 2010 is a new season that brings about its’ own set of challenges.  Even though it is time to look ahead towards the future and leave the past in our rear-view mirror, the past decade can certainly be used as a building block that the New England organization can mold its’ future with.

As for the 2010 season, there are certainly a number of questions that need to be answered before 1pm on Sunday September 12th when the Cincinnati Bengals come to town to open the season.  The biggest question, in my opinion, may lie under center with number 12.  2010 will mark Tom Brady’s second season since returning from a torn ACL and MCL suffered in the 2008 season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs.  Almost 4,400 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions (Brady’s 2009 statistics) are certainly nothing to scoff at, but at times last season (particularly towards the end of games) Brady’s play become sloppy and lacked the crispness that has always defined his play.  The Patriots success will rely completely on the play of Tom Brady (as it has over the past 4-5 seasons).  I expect Brady to return to his 2007 self (granted expecting 50 touchdown passes is quite outrageous) and play like the Tom Brady that we have come to know and love.

The running game has been a question mark since the Patriots drafted Laurence Maroney with the 21st overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft.  Sammy Morris is returning from an injury plagued 2009 season, as is Fred Taylor.  I’ve been calling for Belichick to put more influence on the run game for three seasons now, and I’m going to call for it again.  Establishing the run with three very capable running backs will do nothing but open up alleys for the passing game.  But, I expect little to change with the Pats’ philosophy and for them to use the run sparingly as usual.

I have lofty expectations for this group of receivers/tight ends for the upcoming season.  Randy Moss is a year older, but he is still a number one wideout in the league and will put up good numbers.  Welker has undergone arguably one of the fastest recoveries from ACL surgery for a professional athlete ever.  It is complete truth when they say every ACL surgery that gets done, the surgeons get a little bit better and the recovery time becomes a little bit shorter.  I think it will take a few weeks for Welker to get his head back on straight (you need to expect at least a minimal amount of apprehension towards making sharp cuts on his bad knee), but after week four or five I expect him to be back to his old self.  Torry Holt has certainly lost a step, but he will provide a target on the opposite side of the field from Moss that the Pats haven’t had since Stallworth left.  I am very excited about the contributions that will come from Brandon Tate, Taylor Price, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez.  I expect Hernandez to make the biggest contribution right out of the gate.  He has the perfect body type/athletic ability/skill set to excel in the “H-Back” position (similarly to Chris Cooley).  But, Gronkowski will be the starting tight end by the end of the season, and I expect Tate to contribute to the team by that time as well.  Coming from a small school, Price may need time to develop and master the playbook, but his speed alone makes him a great asset.

The Logan Mankins contract situation is certainly something that worries me.  Mankins seems prepared to sit out for a while, and as one of the best guards in the league, the Patriots cannot afford that loss.  Nick Kaczur has some experience and was supposed to fill Mankins’ spot at left guard, but an injury has sidelined him thus far in training camp.  Aside from Mankins, the offensive line will look the same as last season.  I’m excited to see how much Sebastian Vollmer has developed with one offseason of NFL workouts and preparation under his belt.  Matt Light becomes more and more of a liability every season.

Within the next couple of days I will preview the 2010 New England Patriots’ defense and special teams, as well as provide my expectations for the 2010 season as a whole.