Posts Tagged ‘NFL’

New England Patriots

New England Patriots

5. They’re still mentally tough.

Will the Patriots experience a Super Bowl hangover? No way, not here. Not with Belichick’s philosophy of “today, not yesterday or tomorrow,” and especially not with Tom Brady’s competitiveness and demeanor.

At training camp, the competitive juices are already flowing; there is yelling and clashing. The motto going around camp is “finish” and that alone signifies that the team is already in focus.

The hunger is there, just as always, and should that fail there’s always BSPN to light another fire under their feet.

One other good thing is that incoming players have already picked up Patriotspeak, which is to say they’ve picked up on the mindsets and attitude of what it means to be a Patriot. One only needs to listen to Fernando Bryant and his excellent imitation of a broken answering machine:

“I just want to go out there and make plays whether it’s at safety or linebacker, whatever you want to call it, I’m fine with it.”

As any coach will tell you, half the work of their job is selling the player on the system and the philosophy. This is not the case in New England, despite the Super Bowl meltdown and the overblown spygate issue.

Bryant’s auto-recital is a great sign: The Patriots’ system and philosophy have survived everything.

4. The offense is the same, and possibly even better.

Can someone explain to me just how Donte Stallworth’s departure is going to stall the offensive machine?

Not only did he start the year as the No. 3 option, but in the second half of ’07, his productivity on the charts sank so fast, it made the Titanic’s nose dive look lame.

In his spot, the Patriots have two good receivers competing: Chad Jackson, who is poised for a breakout year, and Jabar Gaffney, who has caught some big-pressure passes (’07 vs. Ravens and ’08 vs. Chargers, amongst others).

But this is beside the point, because we should expect the focus of the offense not to rely on WR sets so much this year, but rather develop more balance. This should bring more rushing and more TE sets.

This definitely will not be the same offense as last year, and that should set a few teams back on their heels.

3. The defense is younger.

Most pundits out there seem to harp on Asante Samuel’s departure, along with his 16 interceptions. One writer has even gone as far as to call it a “cavernous void.”

Samuel’s legendary reads and gambles will be missed, but he covers just one part of the field.

The biggest change to the defense has been youth and speed. I would be surprised if Mayo doesn’t prove to be an immediate impact on the field with his triple threat (power, speed, and smarts).

What people don’t seem to realize is that Mayo got picked at No. 10 because he was largely under the radar as a semi-declared junior. His college numbers are similar to most draftees at that position, and don’t forget that he was in the highly-competitive SEC.

His insertion into ILB moves Thomas outside to where he is at his best as a pass rusher. When you add recently-hired Dom Caper’s excellent skills at creating innovative pass-rushing schematics to the mix, you get a really different approach, and definitely different looks.

Wheatley has been a nice surprise, as he has been holding his own against first string in the absence of Webster, who has been held out of recent practices. He’s looked especially strong against Moss, where he appears unintimidated and extremely competitive.

Don’t forget Merriweather, who is poised to have a breakout year. He has demonstrated that he is serious by taking steps to address his butterfinger problems.

Another great acquisition is Tank Williams, who is yet another hybrid (ILB/CB) who could rush or drop back, causing confusion for opposing offenses.

My guarantee here is to expect an exciting, dynamic, and attacking defense with potent sub packages.

2. Every game is a Super Bowl, but they know how to deal with it.

Last year, as an undefeated season became more and more probable, other teams were gearing up to play the Patriots as if it were their Super Bowl. This was especially true for the teams that were not going to end up in the playoffs.

Of course, the Patriots anticipated it, but it is one thing to anticipate it and another to experience it. This time around, however, they have that experience under their belt and have already started adjusting and anticipating it.

Their PUP list is larger than usual, with people going on and off of it. Harrison has come off it, and expect Vrabel and Welker to come off it just in the nick of time.

Players are also sitting out practices (except for walkthroughs). This makes for a well-rested squad for the regular season, ready to take on those “Super Bowls” with experience and confidence.

1. They’ve already evolved; other teams are going to have to adjust again to keep up.

For a lot of people, last year’s Super Bowl spelled the death of the Patriots dynasty, including Mr. Gap-Tooth himself (he claims that “The Win” hasn’t gone to his head, so we must conclude it got there through his tooth-gap).

Why? It was the perfect blueprint for how the potent offense can be derailed with a smart defensive game plan. What many people mistook for an aggressive rushing Giants defense was actually disguised to cover what eventually and frequently ended up as one-on-one matchups overpowering on the edges to create collapses up the middle.

However, you can trust that the Patriots know that opponents will study that strategy to death, and consequently they will depart from last season’s offense.

I would be surprised to see the three wide set used more than a handful of times in the entire year.

People are wondering who is going to get cut as far as the deep RB corps goes, but don’t be surprised to see them stick with five RBs and multiple backfield looks (with a smaller TE group).

One thing people overlook about LaMont Jordan is his ball-catching ability, so don’t be surprised to see him used in a Faulk-like capacity, or as a TE hybrid. Imagine them both being used on the field!

Also, expect to see Moss work out of the slot more. I don’t anticipate another undefeated season, but as they say “never say never.”

I expect at least a 15-1 or a 14-2 season. Regardless of what happens, the NFL is a quarterback’s league, and as long as the Patriots have Brady, anything can happen.

One way or another, I am happy to predict another season of suffering for the Hatriots.

They are the two biggest players on the Dallas Cowboys‘ roster, even though they are obviously not the most well-known.

Just how big are they? Well, it’s reflected in their physiques — and their nicknames.

Flozell “The Hotel” Adams, the 340-pound left tackle, and Leonard “Bigg” Davis, the 353-pound right guard, were both Pro Bowl offensive linemen last season. They help do the dirty work, protecting Tony Romo and opening holes for running back Marion Barber.

Adams could have been a free agent during the offseason after 10 years with the Cowboys, but never hit the open market. He instead signed a $43 million contract through 2013 that virtually guarantees he will play his entire career in Dallas.

When Adams decided to stay, that meant Davis got to remain at right guard, where the former No. 2 overall pick and Texas native flourished in his first year with the Cowboys. Davis had six disappointing seasons in Arizona, the last three at left tackle for the Cardinals.

“That kept this thing with continuity,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “He’s such an anchor and means so much to us, Leonard Davis, that Flo’s departure might have disrupted that.”

The Cowboys will return with all five starting offensive linemen, including two-time Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode, guard Kyle Kosier and tackle Marc Colombo.

Adams has been to four of the last five Pro Bowls, missing only in 2005 when he was limited to six games because of a knee injury. Those are the only games the 33-year-old Adams has missed in his career.

No player has been on the Cowboys roster longer than Adams. Only linebacker Greg Ellis, the first-round pick in 1998 before Adams was drafted in the second round, has been in Dallas as long.

“It’s amazing when you think about that, because guys get shipped around a lot over the years, especially after the first four or five,” Adams said. “I’m still working as hard as I always have, and I’m just hoping to do the best I can.”

Adams has been a constant, fending off blockers and protecting a dozen different quarterbacks — from Hall of Famer Troy Aikman to Romo. Adams is one of the team’s strongest players, and by the count of coach Wade Phillips allowed only one sack all last season.

“You don’t have to worry about him, I think that’s a good statement,” Phillips said. “Sometimes you tend to overlook him because they do a good job all the time.”

While the Cowboys roster has been overhauled the past few years, Jones hasn’t had to worry about left tackle, considered the most important for protecting quarterbacks from defenders.

“I’ve appreciated him for a long time,” Jones said with a smile.

Davis was signed to a nearly $50 million, seven-year deal when he became an unrestricted free agent in 2007. The Cowboys wanted him to play guard, and to have as protection should Adams not be at left tackle for some reason.

Davis would have been willing to move back outside, if needed. But he’s happy that Adams stayed and he can remain at guard, the spot he’d now like to play the rest of his career.

“There is no jumping around. Guys have got to take me on. There’s no running around, so to speak,” Davis said. “And, for the most part, the guys I am playing against, I have more athletic ability than those guys.”

But other defenders better watch out when the 6-foot-6 Davis starts moving around. Even with his big body, Davis is so agile that the Cowboys likely will have to do more pulling blocks this season.

“Leonard is a real football player that can dominate in a lot of areas,” Phillips said. “We found out that’s what he can do besides just dominating a defensive tackle. He can pull and help us on off-tackle plays and even outside plays.”