The 2011 season ended with heartbreak in New England as the New England Patriots fell to the New York Giants in the super bowl for the second time in five years. There were major holes in the defense of the Patriots this past season which is a rare sight in the “Belichick Era” in New England.
We are used to seeing a smart, tough, veteran group leading the Patriots to great season’s year in, year out.
Last season however we had to watch a young, sloppy, immature defense get carried all the way to the super bowl off of the arm of Tom Brady. Sure Vince Wilfork and others gave the defense some pushes from time to time but if you go back and watch the games it isn’t hard to notice the Patriots often won ugly. This was evident in the 6,577 yards they let up, which was 31st in the league.
Rather than walking away with their heads down however, Bill Belichick and the Patriots front office came out swinging this off season. New England started off very strong giving Tom Brady a clear number two option by signing wide receiver Brandon Lloyd who can pull off some of the most amazing catches you will see in today’s NFL. This position was a clear need after the Ocho Cinco experiment had failed. The very next day the Patriots picked up the solid offensive guard Robert Gallery who I expect to see starting now that Nate Solder will be starting in the Left Tackle position. For the outside receiver spot opposite of Brandon Lloyd the Patriots brought back two New England vets in Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney to compete with Deion Branch and Chad Ocho Cinco for the spot. Also expect to see the Rookie wide out Jeremy Ebert make some noise in the preseason games. The team capped off the offensive acquisitions by signing the former Colts running back Joseph Addai, who is widely regarded as the best pass-blocking running back in football.
Now as for the defense, it seemed as though there would be too many holes to fill. But I think what the Patriots have done is perfect. They started off by going out and getting the veteran speedy safety from Miami, Will Allen. This is going to be their biggest addition from my perspective. Maybe he won’t be a stat stuffer during the season, but his leadership is outstanding and a veteran in a backfield full of guys still very new to the pros is going to be vital.
And then there was the draft….
One of the best drafts based on team need that I have seen in years. First let’s take a look at their needs by position, DL, LB, CB, and S. Now let’s look at the positions they drafted in order, DL, LB, S, DL, DB, CB, and WR. Not to mention the first two picks, which Bill Belichick TRADED UP FOR, defensive end Chandler Jones and inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower are both phenomenal prospects who will make immediate impacts.
The best pick by this team however, didn’t come until the seventh round where they found the Nebraska star cornerback Alfonzo Dennard fall right into their laps. I can clearly remember watching Nebraska face off against South Carolina where a blood bath began between Dennard and the physical receiver Alshon Jeffery. Where throughout the entire game both players were going back and forth, while the commentators were praising the two as being top five players in their positions. Before the game could come to a close however, the two star athletes got into a minor scuffle and were both ejected from the game. Dennard has an attitude that needs adjusting but the talent to be a star. The Patriots are known for putting players in elite shape, and keeping them out of the public eye. With any luck, we should see the same effects rub off onto Alfonzo. The Nebraska coach is even on record saying he would put his “reputation on the line” for Dennard, so there is more than just a punk underneath those shoulder pads. I believe the Patriots have found themselves the steal of the year in Dennard.
With these key off season acquisitions, I fully expect the Patriots to find themselves in a position for another run at the title. The New England Patriots are my pick for the 2012/13 Super Bowl, and I don’t see anyone who can stand in their way. Not even a Manning; either one.