IT’S FINALLY HERE, IT’S FINALLY HERE. After such a long offseason, professional football finally, kicks off with the Kansas City Chiefs visiting the reigning champions the New England Patriots. Kickoff will occur at 8:30 pm in Foxborough, MA.
The Patriots are currently the favorite to not only return to the Super Bowl but to win it all again. However, there are a few key differences between the 2016 Champion Patriots and the new 2017 Patriots. Here are 3 areas to focus on when watching the game today that could be a sign of how things will shake out for the rest of the year.
Running Back Battles
In 2016, LeGarrette Blount carried the ball 299 times according to NFL.com. Dion Lewis had the second most carries with 64. Blount has since departed for Philadelphia to play for the Eagles. So the lingering question now is: Who’s the workhorse back? There is no simple answer to this question. The Patriots will likely take a running back by committee approach to the ground game. However, a clear cut lead back usually emerges in these situations.
There is no simple answer to this question. The Patriots will likely take a running back by committee approach to the ground game. However, a clear cut lead back usually emerges in these situations. The easy bet is probably on the former Bill, Mike Gillislee, to be the early down or goal line back. That being said, Rex Burkhead flashed in the preseason as being more than capable. Not to mention that Dion Lewis is electric in open space when healthy. Honestly, God help you if you have to tackle Lewis one on one. And of course let us not forget Super Bowl hero James White. While James is more of a pass catcher, his ground game seemed to improve as the season went on.
The Patriots are particularly deep at the receiving position this year. So there 2 major questions here: Who breaks out? And who takes over for Julian Edelman?
The former is probably a tough question. The easy answer is Brandin Cooks since everyone is expecting him to have a 2007 Randy Moss type season. While Cooks certainly has the talent to break out, there still is the issue of his chemistry with Brady. It may take time to develop that connection with Tom. There is also the issue of defenses focusing more on Brandin Cooks now that Julian is out for the year.
Which leads us to the next question, who takes over for Julian? Edelman is Brady’s favorite receiver and security blanket. When things are tight, Brady forces it to Edelman; Just like Tommy throwing into double coverage down the middle in Super Bowl 51. Luckily, Edelman made a miracle catch to bail out TB12 from what should’ve been an interception. Danny Amendola is usually the initial train of thought; especially since the two are like the same player. Except one has better hands (Danny), and the other is a better route runner and slightly faster (Julian).
However, Danny is a bit fragile. There is no way Amendola can take a full season of the hits that Jules makes a career out of. Instead, expect to see Chris Hogan take over the Edelman role. I think the Dorsett trade points to this. Before it could have been the plan to have Hogan play more on the outside and/or take deeper routes as well as Cooks to open things up underneath. Dorsett fills that role while Hogan transitions to more of an Edelman slot-type role.
There is no way to sugar coat this: the Patriots pass rush sucks. It sucked in 2016 and continues to suck in 2017. At least it seems like that after 4 preseason games. While we could be wrong it is more probable than not that the pass rush sucks. Belichick tried to address this issue through the draft with two defensive ends. Unfortunately, Derek Rivers, the highest draft pick the Patriots had, tore his ACL in training camp. Along with Rob Ninkovich retiring, and the Patriots pass rush is looking anemic again.
It seemed like the plan was to have Dont’a Hightower play more of a pass rush role to assist the defensive ends. The addition of David Harris seemed to point towards this a bit as well. Except linebacker Shea McClellin is now on injured reserve so the linebacker position is starting to look anemic as well.
In classic Belichick fashion, Bill traded for a nobody buried on another team’s depth chart. The Patriots traded for defensive end Cassius Marsh from the Seattle Seahawks. Hopefully, Marsh can come to New England and kick start his career with the rest of the misfits.