What We Know about the New England Patriots

In New England, Head Coach Bill Belichick has put together a veteran team which relies on this amassed cast of characters to lead the team to success. During an era where the salary-cap is a major component in building or tearing the structure of a team apart, the Belichick-led Patriots simply retool.

Early season injuries to starting cornerbacks Ty Law and Tyrone Poole would have taken down a lesser team. But, heading into the Super Bowl, the Patriots have lost but two games the entire season. Fielding a defensive backfield of castoffs, unknowns, and inexperienced players, New England has stayed and player their defensive scheme, not wavering from the plan.

When mentioning the New England Patriots, you regularly think of Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and running back Corey Dillon. As a perennial playoff contender, this New England organization is a model of success. After years of being bypassed due to their late season success, coaches from the Belichick's staff are being recognized and rewarded.

Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis will depart from the organization following the Super Bowl, for the Notre Dame Head coaching position. As well, in what may be the worst kept piece of news-worthy information late this season, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel is expected to be named the head coach of the Cleveland Browns after the Patriots battle the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl.

While Belichick keeps his hands in all aspects of the team, these two coordinators have been with the veteran coach long enough to know exactly what to scheme from week-to-week. The process actually is a simple one in New England. Weis and Crennel devise a game-plan, meet with Belichick for input, then implement the game-plan with the players.

Implementing the plan, which can drastically change from week-to-week under the tutelage of the Belichick regime, has been successful due in part to the veteran leadership within the roster. From Willie McGinest, to Tedy Bruschi, to safety Rodney Harrison, the message is a simple one ---- do what it takes to win on Sunday.

To win next Sunday in Jacksonville, the Patriots will not alter the strategy which has led them to their third Super Bowl appearance in four years.

Despite the loss of key personnel in the defensive backfield, New England will continue to press-up in man-to-man coverage on the receivers. What makes this scheme successful for the Patriots is the cover-two played behind the corners, and an excellent group of linebackers that are never out of position. This pressing scheme should keep the Eagles wide receivers at bay, as they are not a unit which shows the consistent ability to create separation.

The linebackers and Harrison could be the keys to success for the Patriots against the Eagles. Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb shows the tendency to look towards running back Brian Westbrook first and foremost in the short passing game. With standout receiver Terrell Owens not expected to play due to surgery on his lower leg, a McNabb-to-Westbrook offensive show is expected.

Better than average as a running back, Westbrook is expected to create problems for the Patriots defense due to elusiveness and quickness. Whether lined-up in the backfield or as a receiver (which will be often), New England will have to account for him on every play. The Patriots have shown the tendency to body-up against a player of Westbrook's talents, often chucking at the line of scrimmage to disrupt the timing of the offensive play. This is where the New England linebackers generally impose their will.

There may not be a better coaches group in the game today. The New England linebackers are expected to situational pass-rush, man-up on backs coming out of the backfield until released to the safeties, and drop into the passing lanes in short pass defense. There is not a defense in the league today which strings out a play from sideline-to-sideline as well as the New England Patriots defense.

And then there is the New England mystic. The Patriots disguise base plays extremely well, they are exceptional at converging to the ball, and keep the play in front of them. Rarely does this Patriots defense get beaten deep, but given time McNabb has the talent to attack the rather inexperienced (exception being Harrison) New England defensive backfield.

Offensively, much like the New England defense, this is a team effort. While Brady receivers the acclaim and notoriety, the Patriots receivers and linemen are a lunch-pail bunch. Limiting turnovers and penalties, the Patriots are persistent and consistent. Getting wide receiver David Givens back from a knee injury elevated this New England offense with a significant threat in the vertical passing game, which has kept teams from attempting to load the box with seven-to-nine defensive players, all of which has provided some relief and running lanes for running back Corey Dillon.

The Patriots are workmanlike on the offensive side of the ball and are expected to attack a physical Philadelphia defense on the perimeter. Philadelphia will come off the bus blitzing and if the Patriots can slow the Eagles defensive rush, the short-passing game should be successful early. The Eagles will press and attack even more if they are unable to slow down the New England short-game, thus opening up the opportunity for big-plays downfield for the cool and collected Brady and Company.

At the end of the day, this game could come down to the Patriots ability to fend off the defensive pressure the Eagles will bring to the table. Philadelphia defensive ends Jevon Kearse and Derrick Burgess could create mismatch problems for New England offensive tackles Matt Light and Brandon Gorin. Defensive tackles Corey Simon and Darwin Walker are quick and physical, which only leads us to believe the Patriots will utilize the short-passing game and quick hitting rushing from Dillon to handle the pressure.

The only question which remains unanswered is, will the Patriots handle the pressure.

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