Friday, November 23, 2007

A Different Beast

Since 2001 the Patriots are a league best 40-8 in post-Thanksgiving games.

Those teams of past years were built to grind games out and run out the clock with tight leads in the fourth quarter with the likes of Antowain Smith and Corey Dillon. They had a punishing defense which got harder to penetrate the closer an opponent came to the goal-line. While the defense punished, an underrated offensive line mauled.

Brady hit the pass plays that were needed to win, and Adam Vinatieri could always be relied on to get the big kick as the weather worsened.

The team was built for the elements - to excell in the harsh winters. There was little finesse in the sledgehammer that Belichick and Pioli built. The team wasn't built for prolific records, it was built to win championships.

Then, last year the season died in a dome on a dropped pass that would have iced the game. Reche Caldwell.

And Pioli and Belichick gave the team a face-lift on offense and created a different sort of beast to play on the new turf in Gillette.

Belichick said that the Pats hadn't done anything different this off-season, but that wasn't really true. He and his right hand (personnel) man assembled on offense that is decidedly un-Belichick-ian.

Suddenly an outdoor stadium is fielding a very dome-like offense. It is a team built for an aerial assault unlike any previously seen in the NFL - Brady is outing the lie to the statement that Manning is the best quarterback in the league, the Greatest Show on Turf now sounds like it violated truth in advertising laws, and Randy Moss is reminding everyone why he was once considered the best young receiver in the league.

Through ten games that Pats have scored 411 points. In 1998, the Vikings led by Moss, Chris Carter and Daunte Culpepper scored a record 556 points. If the Patriots keep up their average of 41.1 per game, they will shatter the existing record, finishing with 658 points scored. Moss already has 16 touchdown receptions on the season. The record held by Jerry Rice is 22 - Moss, if this pace keeps up, will likely break that in the 14th game of the season, and should finish with between 25 and 26 touchdowns on the season.

Brady is on pace for 4895 yards (second only to Dan Marino's 5084 in 1984 - and don't think that if Brady is within 150 yards of that record in the third quarter of the Giants game that Belichick wouldn't keep him in) and 61 touchdowns. Manning finished his best season with 49. In addition to that, Brady is currently on pace to tie Drew Bledsoe for the franchise record for completions in a season with 400 (1994), and annihilate the league record for completion percentage in a season (held by Cincinnati's Ken Anderson - 70.55, 1982) at 73.9.

But all of this is contingent on one thing - can the team keep the pace up?

As previously noted, this offense is built like it was made to play in a dome, rather than in Foxboro, and the weather begins to turn nasty after Thanksgiving in the greater Northeast and four of the Pats remaining six games are at the Razor. The other two are in the Meadowlands against the Giants and in Baltimore. They host the Eagles, Jets, Steelers, and Dolphins.

Of their remaining schedule, only the Giants and Steelers have winning records. Both have solid running games, as do the Dolphins - important in the sleet and snow that comes down in these areas in December.

Watching the team one thing is obvious. None of the teams remaining on the schedule match up well with the Patriots rapid-fire attack. The Steelers have been awful on the road, dropping games to mediocre or substandard teams like the Jets, Broncos, and Cardinals. Baltimore has no offense, the Giants pass defense couldn't keep up with Dallas - it's unlikely to keep up with the Pats. The Eagles, Jets, and the Dolphins are just shadows of their former selves.

The Patriots could stumble - it has been a common occurrence for teams that have seemed invincible this late in the season, but I think it's unlikely.

No. If anything is going to be a problem for the Patriots, it's not going to be the opponent on the other side-line. It's going to be the elements. How does the deep passing attack adjust to the snow and wind of Gillette and Giants Stadiums? Can Wes Welker get in and out of his low, sharp cuts on a wet and icy field?

If the elements are too much to overcome for the passing attack, does Belichick forgo a number of the aerial records, and begin pounding the ball with Laurence Maroney, Heath Evans, and Kyle Eckel? Does this become the fight at the end of Rocky II with Mickey yelling at Rocky to switch back to southpaw?

1 comment:

eric said...