Belichick Knows The Patriots Face a Tough Road

New England Patriots head Coach Bill Belichick isn't in the mood to talk about repeating last year. nor is he even considering a response to questions about three Super Bowls in a row. All that's on the mind of one of the most successful head coaches in the NFL, is next week and the Oakland Raiders. When asked about when he'll have a good idea how good the team is, Belichick indicated about six weeks from now.

PHOTO: New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick blows his whistle during practice at training camp Aug 10, 2005 (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Belichick Knows The Patriots Face a Tough Road
By Dave Fletcher

Bill Belichick has done his best to hammer home the point to the media this preseason that he won’t know exactly what he has for a football team until Week 6. The timeframe seems like a logical benchmark for no other reason than New England’s bye week falls on Week 7.

But a closer look at the schedule suggests that Coach Belichick has an even more concrete reason for applying a six-week litmus test to this team: run defense. New England will face four of the top six rushing offenses from last year before it begins division play against Buffalo in Week 8 after the bye.

Aside from the Chargers’ Ladainian Tomlinson, the list of running backs New England will face isn’t packed with guys whose statistics will carry a fantasy team. But based on team philosophies, the Patriots’ ability to neutralize their opponent’s running game is guaranteed to be tested. If Eric Mangini’s revamped linebacker corps truly aren’t as equipped to stop the run as Ted Johnson and Tedy Bruschi, Pats fans won’t have to wait long to find out.

Here are the crib notes on what the Patriots will be up against in the first six weeks:

-- Oakland: The worst rushing team in the NFL in 2004 acquired former Jets backup Lamont Jordan, who has burned New England in the past while spelling Curtis Martin.

-- at Carolina: 28th in the NFL in rushing yards last year, but enters the 2005 season with three very worthy running backs in Stephen Davis, Deshaun Foster and Nick Goings, who showed flashes of brilliance last season while filling in for the injured Davis and Foster.

-- at Pittsburgh: Second in the NFL in rushing in 2004, head coach Bill Cowher would run the ball every down if he had his way. Whether Jerome Bettis and/or Duce Staley are healthy enough to play by Week 3 is still very much in doubt. The Patriots may catch a break if Willie Parker gets the start for the Steelers.

-- San Diego: Tomlinson shredded the Patriots for nearly 100 yards in one half the last time he faced New England in 2002 as a rookie. He’s even better now and figures to carry the ball at least 25-30 times.

-- at Atlanta: The best rushing team in the NFL last year thanks to Michael Vick and Warrick Dunn, who combined for over 2,000 rushing yards.

-- at Denver: It’s hard to say who will emerge as the primary ball carrier for the Broncos by Week 6, but Mike Anderson, Quentin Griffin and Tatum Bell have all done the job well at one point or another for Denver (No. 4 in rushing yards in 2004).

So what will Belichick have learned by the sixth game of the season?

He will have a better idea how Chad Brown and Monty Beisel have assimilated to the stop-gap 3-4 defense. He’ll see how much progress Vince Wilfork has made in his second season on the defensive line. He will know how well the Patriots are equipped to containing a mobile quarterback. Most importantly, he’ll have a better idea about his team’s toughness up front against team’s that don’t make any secrets about their intentions to pound the football.

With Corey Dillon, the Patriots know they are capable of pounding the football and grinding down the clock. Whether that favor will be returned by their opponents is a question Belichick knows he will have an answer for by mid-October.

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