Tonight is the last preseason game vs the New England Patriots. We have done a Q&A with Foxboro Blog's Ricky Keeler. As of this post going live, I am still without Cable/Internet/Phone/Water (thanks Irene!), so may miss this game as well. Nasty. Keep those Giants cards and letters coming!
1) Has the Belichick aura lost its luster? Or is this just the lingering effects from the necessary turnover of an aging roster?
I don't think the Belichick aura has lost its luster. The team did go 14-2 a year ago with a young defense. The offense is aging to some degree, but this defense is going to just get better and better over the next 4-5 years. Bill still has a great defensive mind, but he makes offensive decisions that make you scratch your head. However, it is still Belichick we trust around Foxboro. There is some turnover that has to be made, but not as much as you might think. Brady still has 5-7 good years left, young running backs. Maybe WR and OL would be aging, but that's about it.
I thought the Patriots did a good job this offseason. Yes, the jury is still out on Albert Haynesworth because he has not played yet, but since he has started practicing, that is a good sign. In the draft, the Patriots thought ahead. They knew that most of these rookies were not going to contribute this year due to the compressed offseason as you can. They thought ahead for the future, which is a good thing to have guys that will help now, but also help down the line. The underrated moves might be the signings of Shaun Ellis and Andre Carter. Ellis is experienced in the AFC East and Carter has looked strong in the preseason. New England focused mostly on defense minus Ochocinco and that is what they had to address. Ocho, I think will have a good season, but the chemistry so far between him and Brady, or lack thereof, does concern me a little bit.
That's the main question surrounding the Patriots this year. I think they will get more than they did last year, which is a whole lot better. The key will be in the new 4-3 sets, to get some pressure on the ends and even lining up Haynesworth against an offensive tackle will definitely help. The Pats still don't have that outside linebacker, but they hope internally they can get help from Jermaine Cunningham and Eric Moore on the outside. The X-Factor in all this might be if Belichick decides to use all-pro middle linebacker Jerod Mayo to get after the QB and he has been good at that so far in the preseason.
Absolutely! I think they have the ability to do that because they have so many quality running backs. BenJarvus Green-Ellis (A.K.A The Law Firm) is coming off of a 1,000 yard season and will build on that progression this year. The thing that he and Danny Woodhead do so well is that they fight for that extra yard and have the ability to break tackles to keep the play going. The guy to watch is rookie RB Stevan Ridley. Ridley was taken in the 3rd round out of LSU and with the age of Kevin Faulk, Ridley will become the guy they go to on the goal line. He has shown progression in that role with three touchdowns in the preseason. The Pats are a pass first team and they don't have the flashy names at running back, but they do run the ball effective enough to set up the play action.
Not a lot of the rookies have been able to practice in camp. Unfortunately, Cannon will probably not contribute this year and I bet the rest of the NFL is praying for him to get back on the field. 2nd round pick CB Ras-I Dowling and 3rd rounder RB Shane Vereen have not seen much of the practice field, so that is a concern. Nate Solder, however, is a beast on the offensive line. He is tall and its tough to get by him. If the Patriots need help at RT or RG, Solder can be versatile and play those positions. I loved the Ryan Mallett pick and he is proving teams wrong for not picking him. We will see him a lot against the Giants and he can throw in the pocket with the best of them. If he is able to get rid of distraction and learn from Brady, he can help the Pats in the future or help another team in the future.
This Patriots team does have some issues as I previously discussed, but I think this is a team that can still win the AFC East and get to Indy in February. When you have Brady and Belichick, that is always a good place to start. The offense will be its usual machine self and the defense will gradually improve as the season progresses. Right now, I like New England to win the division over the Jets and win the AFC. But, Pittsburgh, the Jets, and the Chargers will be tough tasks to beat as well. Look for the Patriots to make a run at the AFC title and maybe even a 4th Lombardi Trophy in the last 10 years.