Back To Football, Patriots Face Tough Road to Repeat
Written By: Tom Rowe
Despite everyone wanting to talk endlessly about “Deflategate”, there is an actual football season to discuss this year. The 2015 season is just around the corner and the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots will be the opening act against the Pittsburgh Steelers, with or without Tom Brady. Though most will focus on the potential loss of the Super Bowl MVP to be the biggest impact on the roster, there are many other issues that could end up being the Patriots achilles heal on their road to repeat as Champions, most notable to this writer is the new secondary Head Coach Bill Belichick has constructed.
Through the course of 5 seasons prior to 2014, the Patriots ranked 28th or worst in the NFL in total passing defense, giving up an average of over 325 passing yards a game against some of the NFL’s below average offenses. This caused New England to take the aggressive approach in Free Agency, which they rarely ever do under their Head Coach’s reign. After losing 2 AFC championships and Super Bowl XLVI to the New York Giants, the arrivals of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in 2014 brought new life into a Pats secondary, in talent, skill, and character. The team regained a nasty reputation when defending against the pass, that was reminiscent of the Championship teams of 2001, 2003, and 2004. It was such a dramatic and effective change it helped the Patriots win their first title in 10 years. Now with Revis returning to the Jets and Browner’s transition to the New Orleans Saints, the Patriots now have collection of rag-tag Defensive backs to replace the pro bowl tandem that brought Lombardi number 4 back to Foxbrough.
The signings that instantaneously followed the releases of Browner and Revis were the most eye opening to the Pats approach to 2015. Robert Alford played for the Atlanta Falcons before signing the 1 year deal with New England. Though he should skill and awareness in zone coverage schemes, he was still ranked as the 3rd, sometimes 4th, cornerback on an Atlana Roster that couldn’t stop a nose bleed in 2014. The Falcons ranked 32nd, worst in the NFL when defending the pass and though Alford was one of the bright spots with 3 INT’s, second most on the team, his inconsistent nature would leave the Atlanta Defense snake bitten at times. The other addition to the New England Corner depth chart, Bradley Fletcher has issues of being inconsistent himself. In 2014, being a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles, Fletcher gave up the most yards in the NFL for an individual defensive back. He ranked 101st out of 108 corners in 2014 when recorded in pass defensive efficiency, allowing 1,072 yards and 9 touchdowns, both NFL worsts. He showed signs of progressing in 2013, the year prior, allowing only 722 yards as a starter, but the drastic change over the year cannot be settling to Patriots fans who look for a Patriots repeat in 2015.
The signing of LB Jabaal Sheard and drafting of DT Malcom Brown is a clear sign to bolster the front 7’s pass rushing efforts and help compensate for a poor cast of defensive backs that will be set in many soft zone coverage schemes, mark my words. But with the health of both Donte’ Hightower and Jerod Mayo nowhere near what it should be by opening week, the inconsistent ethics and skills of Chandler Jones, and now the gaping hole in the interior of the front 4 with the departure of Vince Wilfork, the thought that it will be more than enough to continue on without the elite presence of guys like Revis and Browner is a fools dream.
The way it looks on paper to me, this defense will not be able to carry the Patriots as the 2014 squad did numerous times. The offense will once again have to be asked to do too much in gathering wins throughout the season as they did in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Plus, if Tom Brady is to miss 4 games due to the NFL’s suspension, we could see some ugly football in the first month from the defending champs, most likely worst than last September as an inexperienced Jimmy Garapolo will be playing in a trial by fire-like scenario. Until proven wrong, I currently don’t see how the Patriots could realistically repeat in the Super Bowl as you also look thoroughly at the new additions and improvements teams around the NFL are making to their respected offenses. From Miami, Buffalo, and Indianapolis in the AFC, to Seattle, New York, and Dallas in the NFC, the Patriots will face a very tough path to Santa Clara, one that an angry and motivated Tom Brady may not be enough to conquer.