Nate Caminata, roarreport.com: What has been the biggest change to the 2011 team from last year and what kind of impact has that had?
Jon Scott: The Patriots are headed into a season without Randy Moss at wideout. Since 2007, the year Brady and Moss broke NFL records for most Touchdown passes thrown (50) and received (23), New England's passing attack has been centered on who is matching up against Randy Moss. While that changed in 2010 when Moss was traded to Minnesota, the need for a deep threat remained. The 2011 Patriots have nearly abandoned that line of thinking in favor of multiple match-ups featuring tight-ends, backs and quicker, harder to cover receivers like Wes Welker. With the addition of Chad Ochcinco this year, defensive backfields will have plenty of targets to cover… making the team nearly as dangerous in 2011 as it was in 2007.
NC: Challenges thus far in training camp/preseason:
Scott: So far the Patriots have been trying to sort out a defensive line that had serious flaws in 2010. Into the mix were thrown veterans like Andre Carter, Albert Haynesworth, Marcus Stroud and Mark Anderson. Even Gerard Warren is back for another season. The team has been working on ways to get multiple big bodies lined up on the defensive line, while not completely abandoning their base 3-4 defense. With the talent up front, the one unknown is how the reserve linebackers will fare if the team switches to more 4-3 fronts during the season.
Scott: The team clearly needs to fix their penchant for giving up big yards on third down plays. The defensive secondary had a tendency to play too soft on those critical downs, yielding easier than expected first down conversions. The team ranked near the bottom of the league in 2010. Another area of concern has been the team's inability to stop a strong running game. The defensive line has changed significantly which should help, but coordinating the new faces will be a challenge.
|New England Patriots defensive lineman Gerard
Warren (62) reacts during a preseason game at Raymond James
(Fernando Medina-US PRESSWIRE)
Scott: Defensive line depth. Too much talent at one position isn't necessarily a bad thing. If Hayneswworth can show he can play, this could turn from a team weakness into a team strength. Tight Ends are another position of strength. Though the team parted ways with a superb blocker in Alge Crumpler, the two key tight ends on the roster (Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski) have provided nearly all the talent required at the position. Gronkowski is a solid pass catcher in the red zone, and continues to develop as a blocker. Hernandez is a bit undersized as a blocker, but provides wide receiver-like matchup problems for defenses. Offensive line is another area of depth. With Nate Solder making his rookie debut in preseason, the team has shown that investments in the offensive line have paid off. Sebastian Vollmer, Dan Connolly are two other key parts of the line that were still developing as of 2010.
2011 Outlook: ...
Scott: Projections have New England competing for a chance at another Super Bowl this year. With the improvements to the defense and at running back, it's not hard to envision that happening. As long as Tom Brady remains healthy and there are no significant injuries to key positions, New England will certainly be in familiar territory; competing for a division/conference championship. A conservative prediction would put their record at 12-4
Why this game matters: ...
Scott: Tune-ups are always important. The Patriots are no exception to this rule. Bill Belichick will continue to test his team's ability to execute the system correctly. There is no substitute for actual game play, and Belichick understands this well. Expect the team to take a long look at substitutes in the starting lineups to see if the necessary depth is there. Positions battles are usually won/lost by the third week of preseason, adding another dimension to this game.
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