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Post by Tony on Sat Jan 18, 2014 2:57 pm

When you think of the big boys of the AFC East you think of the Patriots and why not? They've been steamrolling it for the better part of the Belichick era..or at least they have until this year. While the Pats have not quite fallen off the trail to date in the regular season it is clear that this year is not what everyone anticipated and expected it to be. They currently hold an 8-4 record through 14 weeks which translates to the Patriots having a mere single game lead over the Bills, a 2 game lead over the Dolphins, and a 3 game lead over the Jets (Not accounting for head to head game impact). This year seems to be more of a lease arrangement with the option to buy rather than an outright owning of the division that we have grown accustomed to. The question of how much longer it indeed be owned for will be is quite valid. A losing streak by the team in New England against a winning streak by any other team or combination of others can see them slip and slip quickly in the standings. You should never doubt the Patriots in any situation as history has proven, but you can't safely rule out the train being derailed eventually. The regression the Patriots are experiencing this year can somewhat effectively be attributed to a couple points that we'll toss around below. Their offensive inefficiency regarding the running game specifically and a couple of interesting to say the least trades.

The Patriots have always, more or less, been a high powered offense focused on the passing game, it has always started with Brady, obviously, but especially in recent years the running game has mattered more and more to the Patriots method of play. This season that has gone out the window. While the passing efficiency is largely apparent with the Golden Boy placing 4th in the league for passing the team unfortunately ranks dead last in rushing. This is a team that last year rumbled on the turf, throughout the regular season, to rank 7th in rushing. The Patriots do not have a 400 yard ball carrier on the season whereas the league has 11 running backs with 1,000 yards or more. A metric of comparison can make the context even more bleak by going a step further looking at the grouping of 33 of backs in the NFL with 400 or more yards on the season. It’s quite a surprise that there can be 33 backs across 31 teams with 400 or more yards yet it will take the Patriots at least one more week to make that total no less than 34 over 32. As a point of interest several other running backs stand poise to increase the total along with the Pat’s Vereen such as the Steeler’s Vick Ballard who has 395 yards to his credit or, rather ironically, Knowshon Moreno with 350.

It's a running joke in the league that BB picks his starting running back's name out of a hat before each game. BB's hat trick must have applied to nearly the entire season though as Vereen, who last year was a sometimes runner and most of the time change of pace back/pass receiver, has handled essentially the entire load since the short lived free agent signing-turned-trade of Knowshon Moreno. Stevan Ridley, the Pats running back who gained 1,200 yards last year, has a few carries for about 30 yards the entire season. His work this season is roughly 1/50th of his production the previous season in yardage alone. It's a mess in New England and their running game that will need to be addressed in the closing stretch of the season if the Patriots do not desire to be watching the playoffs from home.

As mentioned, one of the potential causes of the Patriots dysfunction this year might involve a number of seemingly innocuous trades. Noted quickly just above us was that the Patriots traded Knowshon Moreno. Moreno, a former first round pick, was dropped by the Broncos and quickly scooped up by the Patriots to compete and add a new dimension to the running game. It was a short-lived experiment as he was soon shipped out to the other conference for a 2nd round pick from the Packers, coincidentally enough another elite team that is floundering. It's largely unknown what might have happened if he remained longer than a few games in the regular season before being shipped out for a 2nd round pick, but given the dismal situation talked about above it's hard to imagine he wouldn't have helped. Maybe it might have been more of the same albeit with a different name yet that doesn't seem quite likely given Knowshon's stat line moving around in the NFC North. He has 350 yards in the middle of a running back committee that has (including him) 4 running backs with 28 or more carries. That’s not a bad resulting workload and while it is an assumption he’d be able to replicate it New England, it’s not unbelievable. The Pats level of success through the end of the season and in the playoffs combined with the drafting success of the pick will tell the tale of how good or bad this decision was.

The other apparently minor trade the Patriots made that may have some say in how the scheme of the 2013 season will play out was the deal that shipped off another short lived free agent signing, Danny Amendola...to the Bills. They received another 2nd round pick as compensation which is rather reminiscent of the trade of Bledsoe (For those of you who don't remember Drew Bledsoe, the former Patriot great, was shipped there for a 1st round pick) many a year ago. Amendola as we all know was supposed to be the heir apparent to Wes Welker who moved on to the Denver Broncos in the offseason. While the Patriots passing offense isn’t exactly floundering without him they also don’t have a true slot threat to distract the defense nor, aside from Gronkowski, do they really possess a threat that causes the defense to gameplan. No Patriots WR has more than 38 catches and their current slot receiver hasn’t broken the 30 catch mark through 13 weeks. It’s far from a near doomsday situation like with the running back crew, but it does leave a bit to be desired.

Seeing as the Patriots are still very much in contention it is clear these moves weren’t near a blow-up of the team, though there certainly were rumors of many being shopped...which is another story entirely, but they are indeed perplexing and they did change the potential makeup of the rest of the season.

Now then. Enough of the pessimistic talk. The Patriots aren’t exactly the Jaguars. Something that the Pats should be proud of this season is their marked improvement of their defense. Ranking well into the bottom half the league last year the Patriots have essentially turned everything around this year ranking 5th in total yards allowed, 14th in passing yards allowed, 4th in rushing yards allowed, 6th in points allowed, 7th in sacks, and the list of improvement and exceptional execution could go on. Years have gone by of the Patriots experimenting with young defensive players and ensuring they had the time to mature into what is in front of the organization - an elite defensive unit. Second year players such as Chandler Jones and Alfonzo Dennard, and Dont’a Hightower have their starting jobs locked down. Those three young players alone have racked up 100 tackles and 5 sacks (cumulatively). Of course veteran leaders that the Patriots drafted to execute Bill’s defensive game plans such as Jerod Mayo (50 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 INT) and Kyle Arrington (30 tackles, 3 INTs) are around to provide the stability and environment for everyone’s continued success. It’s a well-oiled machine where every man does his job and keeps up with one another. It’s the most progress the unit has made in years and the fans should be elated to see it happen.

With all that has been said the final comment can only be....the Patriots are the Patriots. Yes, the running game is in the dictionary has a definition of futility and yes they have made trades that as outsiders don't quite make sense to us, but as detailed their defense has finally taken the step to act forcefully and become a power to be reckoned with. Nothing negative that was talked about or was overlooked combines to make a considerable enough impact to sway the tide truly against the Patriots. We have no reason to think they won't survive a little adversity nor do we have reason to believe they won't capitalize on their chance come playoff time should they make it. Trust in Brady, Trust in Belichick, trust in the Patriot way. They're here to stay folks and that's just something that's not going to change.


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Post by Rox on Sat Jan 18, 2014 3:06 pm

Nice read, I really have to work on my running game. maybe should've kept moreno.

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Post by nehnty-five on Sat Jan 18, 2014 4:49 pm

roxodon wrote:Nice read, I really have to work on my running game. maybe should've kept moreno.

WEll, I do indeed need a new Defense Hint hint

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