INSIDERS: Patriots Keys To Success

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick knows success can be fleeting. Games in the NFL are never as easy as they may look on TV, and sometimes it's only a play or two, which changes the outcome. Belichick's Patriots head into 2005 with a new group of players looking to be part of the team's success. Some of these newcomers will be vital keys to the team's fortunes, while others will be part of the supporting cast.

INSIDERS: Pats Keys To Success
By Scout.com Staff

To suggest the Patriots hope to become the first team in the Super Bowl era to win three straight world championships would be accurate but misleading. While that honor would forever cement their place alone in history, it also is far from their minds as they set to open the 2005 season.

Perhaps the biggest reason New England has won three of four Super Bowls, beyond the brilliant play of QB Tom Brady and the coaching of Bill Belichick, is its short-term focus. That approach will drive them again this season.

Offensively, the Patriots are a deep team with some emerging young talent capable of causing fits for opposing defenses. Brady has a multitude of experienced, capable receivers that includes Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch and three tight ends -- Benjamin Watson, Daniel Graham and Christian Fauria -- all capable of making plays in the passing game. The 2004 Pats finished four points shy of the franchise scoring record and with running back Corey Dillon, who set a Patriots record with 1,635 rushing yards last season, already in midseason form, that scoring mark should fall this year.

Defensively, Belichick has built a deep secondary that lacks star power, but one that should be able to match up with any spread formations. New England spent the summer working hard on dime coverage with six defensive backs, but to take advantage of the talented secondary, it must stop the run with second-year man Vince Wilfork on the nose and two new players -- Monty Beisel and Chad Brown -- at inside linebacker. While the coaches always speak of team defense, the performance of those three players in the middle of the 3-4 will be critical.

When all is said and done, however, New England should be trying to knock off Indy and Pittsburgh once again to earn a Super Bowl berth.

Three keys for the season:

  1. Inside run defense. The fastest way up the field is in the middle and Wilfork, Beisel and Brown must make sure opposing runners do not have inside rushing lanes. The defense is relatively new to all of them and will be tested early by power running teams like Carolina and Pittsburgh.

  2. A fast start. The Patriots open the season with a brutally tough schedule from which they must emerge above .500. After a home game against the Raiders, the Pats go to NFC favorite Carolina, to Pittsburgh, play host to San Diego and then travel to Atlanta and Denver before enjoying the bye to lick any wounds.

  3. Brady's health. New England has a deep roster, but the backup quarterback situation is grim. Doug Flutie, 42, is not the young playmaker he once was and rookie Matt Cassel wouldn't stand a chance in a regular season game at this point in his development. There was speculation that Brady battled a sore arm this summer, but he denied it.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

TE Benjamin Watson. This athletic freak of nature who has 4.4 speed has been hyped as a player than can cause matchup problems and fits for defenses. After missing almost all of his rookie season with a knee injury, it's time he stays healthy and proves he is worth more than talk.

DT Mike Wright: The undrafted rookie free agent earned a roster spot with a strong camp and the 295-pounder out of Cincinnati will likely back up Vince Wilfork. He saw his playing time increase throughout the summer and also contributed on special teams. He beat out former Steelers defensive lineman Rodney Bailey.

WR Tim Dwight: He replaced David Patten in the offense as the team's regular deep threat. Patten scored seven touchdowns last season and stretched defenses. The Pats have more WR depth this year and might not need 7 TDs from him, but he will need to consistently stretch defenses and make big plays as a punt returner, an area the Patriots struggled in last season, averaging 5.8 yards per return.

PLAYER NOTES

--DL/FB Dan Klecko survived the final cutdown despite seeing limited action in the preseason because of a leg injury. He was deemed to be on the bubble, but his versatility kept him around, at least for now. He can play on the line, stand up at linebacker and play fullback in short-yardage situations.

--CB Duane Starks has not played since being hurt in the preseason opener and his status for the season opener isn't known. But New England kept six cornerbacks on its 53-man roster and can survive without him.

--LB Mike Vrabel, who missed the last three preseason games with a left leg injury, should be in uniform to start the season. He will see snaps at ILB and probably OLB as well.

--WR Andre' Davis was hurt in the preseason finale, but the team did not reveal the extent of the injury. The Patriots kept six receivers and will likely only have five active for game day. Davis might be the odd man out at the start of the season.

--G Logan Mankins started training camp as the starter at left guard and only solidified his position throughout the summer with consistently solid play. He may eventually be a tackle in New England, but the 32nd pick in the 2005 draft has shown he's capable of contributing immediately.

--S James Sanders was hurt in the preseason finale and his status is unclear for the start of the season. Healthy, Sanders is likely on the bubble for a spot on the game day 45-man roster, but the Patriots did not reveal the extent of his injury.

--LB Tully Banta-Cain, who has been a regular special teams contributor the last two seasons, was helped off the fieed with a left leg injury during the preseason finale against the Giants. His return was announced as probable, but Banta-Cain did not return. His status is unclear.


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