LONGSHOTS: Pats now see more clearly what needs to be done for ’09
by Dave Long
After what has to be the shortest summer on record, the pro football season arrives this week. It comes after an eventful off-season that saw Scott Piloi, Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels and four key defensive players from the Super Bowl-winning teams depart, as well as the surprising cut of what we were told was a promising quarterback taken in the third round in 2008. Especially in light of the trade of former back-up and last year’s savior Matt Cassel. Many are still predicting Super Bowl, though I’m not one of them as I firmly am in the wait-and-see category.
Be that as it may, here are some of the main story lines for the year as the Pats rebuild the defense on the fly while trying to stay in the hunt for the Super Bowl at the same time.
What’s the Deal at QB: This is a two-parter. The first is how Tom Brady’s surgically repaired knee stands up to real game action and how quickly he’ll shake off the rust. The second is I’m a lot more surprised they’re going with an undrafted rookie free agent as Brady’s back-up than I am that they parted ways with Richard Seymour. While Brian Hoyer looked good against the Giant scrubs in the second half on Thursday, he didn’t when he played against the varsity in the first half. Yes, the coaches see him every day in practice and it played a big role in the surprising cuts of Andrew Walter and Kevin O’Connell, and Coach B had the foresight to keep FOUR QBs in 2000 when he saw something in the not-quite-ready-for-prime-time Brady his rookie year — but this seems like a HUGE gamble to me. Especially in light of what happened in the third series of last year.
See More Clearly: It’s weird but I feel good about the surprising trade of Seymour. Not because it makes them better this year. I’ll be surprised if it does. But because it’s an exclamation point to what I’ve been saying since mid-way through the 16-0 season, when the incredible offense kept it under the radar by keeping the D off the field so much. But it’s clear Coach B now gets that after giving the Giants scores in the last two possessions of the Super Bowl loss and being unable to hold a BIG lead in the second half of the year against the Colts in the AFC title game the year before — the D was no longer Super Bowl caliber. And while Seymour wasn’t the issue, it’s a statement the needed overhaul is clearly underway.
Is Seymour Leaving NOW Too Big a Blow? The only thing I’m surprised about is the timing. I thought it would be before the draft. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a surprising, emotional hit to the players. But so was Lawyer Milloy’s being cut three days before the start of 2003 season. Almost everyone thought that might really cost them. And it did — for one game. But they regrouped to win 18 of their next 19. And while the big fella is a better player than Milloy, I suspect emotionally they’ll regroup to play on. Whether they can fill the hole it creates, only time will tell and we’ll watching closely in the coming weeks.
The Defense Leadership Vacuum: Just as big a story will be cleaning out the entire leadership contingent on defense in less than one year. With Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison retiring and Mike Vrabel and Seymour traded, who steps into the breach?
Return to the ’60s New York Giants: Who’d have ever expected the Patriots under Coach B would become totally dependent on its offense? It’s like what the Giants were when Fran Tarkenton was their QB and they had to score a boatload every time out because they were just awful on defense — where they once scored 42 points and still lost by 30 to the Redskins! Given the changes mentioned above especially in the secondary and at linebacker, I’m afraid Brady and company will have to score a lot to make the playoffs. First to keep the defense off the field and second to keep up with the points given away by the young defense. Luckily with Brady, Randy Moss, Wes Welker and a deep group at running back they’ll do it, which should make them fun to watch.
Thought They Don’t Like High Picks: This was the urban myth bandied about by the media after they traded out of the first round last April. It’s true they’re a high risk given the cost of what high picks inexplicably are paid, but they didn’t seem to mind taking Jerod Mayo a year earlier, did they? So it’s probably the ’09 first round they didn’t like and not the first round in general — which, duh, still gives the best shot to get a top player — like Seymour, Mayo, Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren. And if they don’t have “value” at the 2011 pick they got for Seymour, they can also wheel and deal to get more lower picks.
“Value” is like Pitch Count: Not literally, but it’s the trendy thing to say of a draft pick or a player trade. Coach B uses it. On his way to ESPN’s new Boston-specific Web site, Mike Reiss uses it in the Globe all the time and I, for some reason, hate the phrase almost as much as baseball’s almighty pitch count. Not that it matters to anyone, but as George Costanza likes to say, I just wanted to share.
J.D. Drew of the Patriots: I like Adalius Thomas. He comes to play and isn’t soft, injury-prone or unlucky like the rap on Drew. It’s just that he’s monumentally overpaid for the production he’s provided. And while you can get away with that in no-salary-cap baseball, in the NFL mistakes like that prevent you from getting necessary parts. He hasn’t been the sack guy or been moved all over the field as was said to justify his big money signing. So it’s time to deliver or he’s the next one shipped out as a salary cap casualty.
The Race: I’m not overwhelmed by TO’s arrival in Buffalo and Miami’s chances to follow up its surprise season with another, since it brought along with it a tougher schedule in 2009. Both the fish and the Jets are a game above or below .500 and the Bills farther back than that.
Predictions: (1) Before it’s over the best running back will be BenJarvus Green-Ellis. (2) At the bye week they’re 4-3 at best. (3) With Seymour and his contract gone, Vince Wilfork will be signed before the season is over. (4) Josh McDaniels gets fired in Denver. (5) They go 11-5 at best and make the playoffs. After that, it’s up to how much the defense improves.
Enjoy what should be an interesting season to watch unfold.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.