The Patriots defensive coach is Dean Pees, a veteran coach with over 30 years experience at many levels of college and professional football. Pees is in his third year in the Patriots system, and brings a lot of respect on the defensive side of the ball. The think about Pees is that he was the linebackers coach before becoming the defensive coordinator. He was hands-on with the heart and soul of the Patriots defense, and that really hasn't changed much.
Although Pees took some time getting used to the role of DC, his extensive experience and knowledge of the system has won him the respect of the team's defensive leaders from Richard Seymour to Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi. There really hasn't been a major change in coaching on defense since Mangini and Crennel left, although there are differences in style.
Leberfeld: Do you think the Patriots will get back to the Super Bowl this year? If not, why?
Scott: That's the question. If you asked me if I thought the Patriots could beat Denver and Indy, I would have told you yes, but it depends. That's the same answer for their shot at making it to the Super Bowl. The biggest concern for the team is the ability to overcome mistakes (INTs, fumbles…) and injuries.
When the Patriots play mistake-free football, or even minor mistake football, I think they can beat anybody. There's no team in the NFL I think is head and shoulders above the Patriots in talent. But with that being said, New England has shown vulnerability. Take away some of the turnovers in that Indy game, and the outcome would have been different and we would be talking about who can stop New England rather than will the Colts go undefeated. Yet the fact remains, New England DID make those mistakes, and it's entirely possible they'll do it again.
I believe New England will get their house in order for a postseason run that will get them back to the Super Bowl. Denver is a tough team and probably the biggest challenge if the game is in their house. Indy has shown a weakness, but you have to give Peyton Manning the ultimate respect. Baltimore may be a bit overrated, and teams can find a way to get to Steve McNair. San Diego I think can give the Patriots fits because of their aggressive defense and LT. The only other challenger is KC at this point, and I think New England can get to Huard/Green to disrupt their offense enough to beat them.
So with that being said, yes, I think the Patriots can get back to the Super Bowl if they play a mistake-free game against whichever team they meet in the postseason.
Leberfeld: What has made the Patriots two-headed monster at running back so effective this year?
Scott: Good question. The change of pace option has always been there with Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk, but the addition of Maroney adds a dimension the Patriots haven't had in a while – power and speed. One thing we noticed early on is that the Patriots offensive line is blocking better this year than last. When they open a hole for Maroney or Dillon, the Patriots win the battle of linebacker vs running back in both cases.
Dillon is a grind-it-out, smash-you-in-the-mouth type of back. His style is to wear down the defense. Then the Patriots put in a guy like Maroney against the same defender who's expecting a run up the gut and the kid just blasts through the hole with an amazing burst of speed. Similar to Kevin Faulk, Maroney sees a hole and he's through it in a heartbeat, which enables New England to get gains of over 4 yards on average.
Pick your poison. Get hit by Dillon who doesn't' go down on the first contact, or try to get to the hole before Maroney to stop him from getting into the secondary. Although many people say they know the difference when one back or the other is in the game, it's not that easy for a defender to adjust their style of tackling based upon who's in the lineup. They may know who's in, but the way the Patriots change things up with plays, formations and personnel has defenses on their heels.
When teams crash the line to plug the holes they find that the two-headed monster can be tamed. The Patriots' opponents just haven't been able to do that on a consistent basis at the right times.
Leberfeld: What type of season is Junior Seau having, after being coaxed out of retirement?
Seau has the same issues he's had in Miami when the point of attack is based right at him. If a team can wall off Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour or Ty Warren, then they can gain yardage against Seau up the middle. On plays that flow however, Seau has an amazing nose for the ball. The guy still has it.
We've seen a lot of linebackers in New England try to play inside backer and aside from Tedy Bruschi, Ted Johnson and Mike Vrabel, the replacements success has been hit or miss. Seau gets it. There's few lapses or mental mistakes, and he's much better than what the Patriots had there the last couple years after Johnson's retirement.
Watching him, you'd never know Seau is 37. The guy is phenomenal. He's not the biggest, the fastest or the strongest; he's just a playmaker. He's been a very pleasant surprise for the Patriots.
10) What type of 3-4 nose tackle has Vince Wilfork turned into?
Looking at Vince Wilfork, you'd think that the guy is too big to move. He carries a load with him, but he has the ability to move. His size enables him to take on double teams and still hold position. The guy has improved significantly since coming out of Miami.
The question about Wilfork was technique and stamina. He's addressed both with his ability to get to the ball and fight through blocks at the point of attack. When New England lost Ted Washington (6-5, 365) in 2004 and then Keith Traylor (6-2, 340) in 2005, there was concern if a guy like Wilfork (6-2, 330) could hold down the fort in the center. Wilfork has learned from those veterans and improved his technique so he's no longer blocked out of the play. He's improved his gap control and he forces offenses to account for him.
Wilfork is younger than Traylor and Washington, and he has the ability to shed blocks to get to the running back. Having Richard Seymour on one side and Ty Warren on the other has really helped him in the middle. He's been a big part of the Patriots defense. Considering how many times he gets double-teamed to keep him out of the play, he deserves consideration as one of the elite NT's in the league.
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