10 QUESTIONS - Lions vs Patriots Part 1
10) Quite simply: With parity, free-agent losses and coaching defections, how have the Patriots managed to be as consistently successful as they have the past few years?
Jon Scott: One thing a lot of competitors wonder about the New England Patriots is the team's ability to find success in a highly competitive world like the NFL with so much change. Whether it's losing all of the team's receivers save Troy Brown from their first Super Bowl win to their last, or breaking in a new running back every other year from Antowain Smith, to J.R Redmond, to Corey Dillon and so on. The thing that's been constant for the Patriots is Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
Belichick inherited some decent player when he arrived in New England. Willie McGinest, Tedy Bruschi, Troy Brown and Adam Vinatieri were in New England awaiting the right coach to lead them. But it was the decision to draft and start Tom Brady over Drew Bledsoe that has enabled the Patriots to continue their success.
As long as the team's core Bruschi, Brady, Seymour, Vrabel and a few others stay together, they can teach the new guys what to do, and make up for coaches who leave the team. But keeping Brady healthy and on the field has probably enabled the team to continue its success more than any particular factor.
9) What is the Patriots' fan perception of former Michigan QB Tom Brady, and how significantly has he ingrained himself in New England football lore?
JS: Tom Brady is Mr. Superbowl. Although some feel that Drew Bledsoe should be the one in the pictures holding the Lombardi Trophy, it was Brady's quick reflexes and ability to get the ball to the right receiver in dire situations that has fans abuzz over the former Wolverine. Although he's not as big of a celebrity as some other NFL quarterbacks, he has a tremendous following among the fans.
The thing about New England is that it's full of a lot of hard-working, blue-collar fans who believe hard work is the way to success. They see in Brady - as well as Tedy Bruschi and a few others - a guy who is humble, grounded and willing to put in the hard work necessary to win. There's not much, if any, showboating by Brady.
He just recently passed Steve Grogan in the Patriots record books. While many recall Grogan's similar work ethic and willingness to take serious punishment to make a play, it's the trophies that Brady brought to New England that vault him above the quarterbacks of the past. Even though he still trails Drew Bledsoe in a number of Bledsoe's team records, he's far surpassed Bledsoe's popularity, or even Grogan's for that matter.
8) One thing Lions' fans know plenty about is struggling young receivers, and New England seems to have one in rookie second-rounder Chad Jackson, who is on pace for around 20 receptions. What has the patience level been with Jackson both with the fans and the team? Why has he struggled?
JS: Jackson got off to a poor start early on when he stayed out of camp and then got hurt when he first started to practice with the team. The hype was out there that Jackson would save New England from the disastrous off-season the team had losing both David Givens and Deion Branch. When Jackson sat out from a hamstring injury, some immediately questioned his status and wondered what the deal was.
When Jackson returned, he tried to come back a bit early and suffered another setback. When that happened, fans questioned his toughness. Some in the media questioned his dedication, and there have been concerns over his maturity level.
Receivers usually take a while to learn offensive systems, and with Tom Brady, a receiver better know what he's supposed to be doing out there on the field or he won't see the field. The Patriots offense is based on guys being the right place at the right time and knowing when to make adjustments. Jackson was far too raw to be given starter status, and the injuries have only held him back. Although he's made progress recently, he still has a ways to go and probably won't really start to "get it" until next year.
7) What will New England miss with the injury to LB Junior Seau, and how are they managing the linebacker core to spell his absence? Additionally, do you believe Seau will call it a career?
JS: We wondered what Seau brought to the table as a formerly retired and injury-prone linebacker when he arrived in New England back in August. What we found out is that he has more football instinct than any other player the Patriots tried to fit at the position since Ted Johnson retired (2004). Seau has a passion to play every down 100% that is infectious. He was a positive locker room presence and the team will miss his energy in the middle.
Mike Vrabel has been moved back inside to take Seau's spot. Vrabel worked at inside backer during camp, picking up from where he saw action in 2005 when Tedy Bruschi was sidelined.
Seau's injury looked pretty serious when reviewing the tape. It appeared that the bones in his forearm broke as he tackled Cedric Benson. If they did- and the team's decision to immediately move him to IR suggests as much - then it may be too much to overcome at this point in his career. If he can heal, then it's a matter of if he has the willpower or the drive left in him. Watching him this season, you'd think he would, but only time will tell.
6) Rod Marinelli has been credited with surrounding himself with talented coordinators. It seems Bill Belichick as written the book on it, however. How has Belichick coped with losing coordinators almost annually, yet remaining as productive on both sides of the ball?
JS: That's a good question. Belichick doesn't hire assistants to bring in a new scheme or run a portion of the team in a new way each time he hires a coordinator. He works with them to instill the schemes and the concepts that the team has employed successfully in the past. Belichick hires guys he has a history with, usually. It makes the communication better and the ability to adapt to changing conditions (injuries, player losses ) easier.
The Patriots strategy to building a coaching staff isn't about bringing in a new guy with a successful history and a fresh set of ideas. It's about promotion from within and bringing guys onboard who are willing to learn the team's existing concepts and infuse them with their own set of improvements. Guys like assistant head coach Dante Scarnecchia don't get enough credit. Scarnecchia was there before Belichick and he runs the show with the offensive line. Guys like Pepper Johnson grew up in Belichick's system, and breath the concepts every day, like air. It's what they refer to as the "Patriot Culture."
Look for part 2 where Jon addresses the impact that losing Deion Branch and Adam Vinatieri had on the Patriots, how the Lions are viewed from the outside, Matt Millen's struggles and a prediction for the game.