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To say that the New England Patriots had more than their share of challenges to overcome during the offseason would be an enormous understatement. How many teams could withstand the loss of their two top tight ends, as well as the bulk of their receiving department? Not very many... but this is no ordinary team.
It all starts and ends with quarterback, Tom Brady. He is the heart and soul of this Patriot team. Certainly, big Vince Wilfork and the beast, Jerod Mayo make up the rock of an improving defense, one of the keys to any chance at a New England trip to the Super Bowl. But is there any doubt that Brady makes this team the championship caliber crew that has dominated the AFC East since 2001?
But now you take away his weapons and ask him to do the impossible... and he just might pull it off! We have talked about this a lot: Julian Edelman is the only receiver left from the 2012 squad, except for Matthew Slater who primarily plays on special teams. And even Edelman has had limited time with Brady due to injuries that kept him off the field for seven games and in the nine games in which he did appear, he had a mere 235 yards on 21 receptions, scoring only three touchdowns. He did add another TD on 263 return yards.
The rest of New England's receiving corps consists of part—time veteran Danny Amendola (just as much of an injury risk as Edelman) and a bevy of rookies. I don't want to beat a dead horse, but that is not the picture of a championship roster.
So... an easy start to the season benefits the Patriots by allowing all these new faces to get used to each other. Time and reps is the only answer for unfamiliarity. When you consider the number of rookies, especially UFDAs like Kenbrell Thompkins and Zach Sudfeld, there just wasn't enough prep time to work out all the kinks.
The Patriots run a complicated system, and growing pains are to be expected in a Belichick/McDaniels playbook. But let's be fair; none of the draft picks taken by Bill Belichick were rated as high as they were chosen. They are in over their heads, and none were expected to fill such important roles so soon.
And then there are the injuries; perhaps the hardest thing to account for is the injury bug. And when it involves your all—universe tight end, you just have to question the football gods. I thought that the Patriots should have kept Daniel Fells to account for the temporary absence of Rob Gronkowskli, but Belichick had other ideas. Perhaps he was counting on being able to weather the early (and easy) storm until the reappearance of Gronk.
But then to lose Zach (Baby Gronk) Sudfeld and Danny (I wish I could stay on the field and be the number one receiver) Amendola put a huge wrinkle in the plan. Add in (again) more minor injuries, to Aaron Dobson, Matthew Slater, and several others just stretched the ranks even thinner.
Gronkowski and Sudfeld will return soon; and Amendola and Vereen will not be far behind. A field full of playmakers will encourage a more positive attitude in Mr. Brady.
But there is another aspect that might not be so apparent: the defense. This is a relatively young unit that needed just as much time to gel as the very, young offense. With veterans like Wilfork, Mayo, and Rob Ninkovich populating the front seven, younger guys have great examples to watch and from which to learn. They have a solid group of linebackers that helps both the front line and the secondary.
Aqib Talib is in his first full season with New England, and the Adrian Wilson experiment was a bust; so it is even more important that this unit (the Patriot secondary) gets plenty of time to work out their coverage schemes. There are rookies like Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan trying to get into the lineup. And second year players like Alphonso Dennard and Tavon Wilson are still trying to establish themselves as playmakers.
Again, time and reps are the only answer for creating a cohesive unit on the field. Three relatively easy games help these guys to get used to what each one of them is expected to do on a myriad of plays.
Now, I have not mentioned the running game, and for good reason. In my opinion, it is the fleet of running backs that is the strength of this team right now. Despite the perception that Stevan Ridley is fumble—prone, he remains one of the most effective backs in the league. Did you know that 14 other runners have dropped the rock like Ridley? And one of those... is Adrian Peterson!
It is unfortunate that Shane Vereen got injured, but Ridley is a good back and deserves to be on the field doing what he does best. He will rack up the yards and score TDs- that is for certain! A strong running game will give the receiving corps the support it needs to blossom and gel and whatever other metaphors you want to use.
And last but not least, this team is not peaking too early. A little bit of struggle at the outset will teach them to dig a little deeper and work a little harder- two things that Belichick preaches with a passion. No one will give up- Brady won't let them. And his determination will carry them into the tougher part of the schedule, which approaches quickly.