There might not be a team that had more hype than the Miami Dolphins going into this year and yet here they sit, 1-3 with a fired head coach. His replacement, TE coach Dan Campbell, was drafted a year AFTER QB’s Matt Hasselbeck and Peyton Manning, who will start this week for their respected teams. What brought Miami back into the foray of a rebuilding team with a new coach yet again? What has caused their inability to find stability in a franchise that was considered one of the best in the first part of the Super Bowl era? It all starts at the top, but here are five instances that show why they are still years away from contending:
Lack of consistency in regards to coaching. There might not be a more prima donna owner than Stephen Ross, who is too involved and has made awful hires for his head coaches (Joe Philbin, Tony Sporano, Cam Cameron, and Dave Wannstedt) and GM’s (Jeff Ireland, Nick Saban (who was both HC and GM). By constantly going through unreliable, unestablished coordinators as their coaches and then forcing Saban back to the college ranks is why this team has not gotten ahead.
Poor decisions regarding drafting and free agency. The biggest blunder, of course, is trading for an injured Dante Culpepper instead of signing Drew Brees. The trades for AJ Feely and Brandon Marshall also backfired. Drafting Jake Long over Matt Ryan, and the first round busts of CB Jason Allen, Dion Jordan and WR Ted Ginn. Also, giving up on CB Vontae Davis, who is now one of the best CB’s in the league, is something that still haunts them. Also, paying DT Ndamukong Suh $100 million and WR Mike Wallace a lot of money for less than desirable results. All awful decisions.
The development of Ryan Tannehill has been troubling. He is someone that got paid a lot of money for not really doing much after having a good 2014 (albeit statistically). He looks to have regressed (his completion percentage went from 66% last year to 56% so far this year)and now with recent reports of berating practice squad players for intercepting him shows that he has a long way to go when it comes to be a leader.
So, bad leadership from the Top down to the Quarterback shows that Miami is an organization that has a lot of deep seeded issues. All of these factoids show that they are a team is trending down and due to consistent mistakes in every facet of the organization. If they are to fix the issue, they need to a complete overhaul and try to build a team with a coach/GM that have the same mindset and an owner that will stay out of their way. Kraft learned this in New England in regards to Bill Parcells and due to Stephen Ross’ arrogance, I doubt that will happen anytime soon.
Currently, the Jets and Patriots are tied atop of the AFC East with the Dolphins and Bills at 1-1. Is the AFC East much different than last year? The Bills look like a typical Rex Ryan team, a lot of vibrato after beating the most overrated team in the NFL in Week One and then crashing to earth against a team with actual talent. The Jets are undefeated, yet struggled against the hapless Colts and destroyed the dangerous tandem of McCown/Manziel in Cleveland. Miami snuck by Washington and lost to the Jags. Not saying the Patriots don’t have faults (i.e. their run defense), but it seems like the flaws of these teams will do them in again. Even though it’s early, Pats fans should get their popcorn ready and enjoy this season.
The run defense has been the biggest issue so far this season. The Steelers and Bills both ran very well against New England and Belichick and Company have noted this. Bringing in two defensive tackles (6’1, 340 LB Ishmaa’ily Kitchen and 6’6 330 LB Kendrick Ellis) of note means that they recognize this as an issue. It would be interesting to see if they sign one of these players, but the trio of Alan Branch, Sealver Siliga and Malcom Brown aren’t cutting it at the moment. How can this be resolved? It’s tough to say, since the Patriots morph their scheme to fit their opponent. Although, it seems as it could be something that gradually improves as the season goes on. Luckily, the next three opponents (Jaguars, Colts and Cowboys) have trouble running the ball. That could be enough time, with the bye mixed in, for Belichick and Matt Patricia to figure out what they can do to improve the defense.
The addition of Keshawn Martin last week means a few things: depth at WR and reliability on special teams. Martin is a special teamer that is also a solid returner (25.1 YPG on kick returns, 8.9 on punt returns with a TD). This addition could mean that they want current return men Amendola and Edelman to more focus on being the top 2 receiver options for Brady until LaFell comes back. With the use of Aaron Dobson in the last game (7 catches, 87 yards), adding Martin is a solid move across the board.
The biggest surprise this year is how well the interior offensive line has played. Guards Josh Kline, Tre Jackson, Shaq Mason and Center David Andrews have exceeded everyone’s expectations. With handling some talented defensive linemen in the first two weeks (Cameron Heyward, Marcel Dareus, Mario Williams to name a few) has been impressive to say the least. The biggest surprise has been Andrews, who is undersized (6’3, 285), yet has held his own. The MVP (outside Brady, of course) has to be OL Coach Dave DeGuglielmo. Having 3 rookies ready in the interior of an offensive line that has protected Brady and opened up holes for surprising RB Dion Lewis (Having Mason play FB might be the definition of smash mouth). Filling in for a HOF coach in Scarnecchia hasn’t been easy, but DeGuglielmo has stepped up and done an admirable job. As the season progresses, it’d be interesting to see if the rookies can keep it up and keep the dominance streak going.
For the last few seasons in the NFL the AFC East has been the New England Patriots and a bunch of other guys. Right now they are the only NFL conference without a loss. Yup, 4-0 while beating some formidable foes to get things started. Many were predicting the Steelers were back, but the Patriots took care of that notion. The Colts had Luck on their side, but that was all as the rejuvenated Bills put them in their place.
The Dolphins didn’t exactly impress in their 17-10 win over the clueless Washington Redskins and the Jets…well, they destroying the Browns, who haven’t won an opener in about 320 years! Both still have a lot to prove to the skeptics.
Last year the Jets (Raiders), Bills (Bears) & Fins won their openers while the Pats lost (to Miami). One of the few times the Patriots have been on the bottom of the pack!
While the NFC South has been an embarrassment, the teams in the AFC East have slid under the radar. 2015 could be different! While the beasts in the east are nowhere near the NFC West (Seattle, St.Louis, Arizona & SF), Miami, NY & Buffalo have all taken a step up, while the Patriots remain the favorite.
Strength Of Schedule
Here’s where I throw out a bunch of mean nothing statistics. You can browse over this paragraph in the reading room when you have nothing else to do (well, you’ve got something to do, but you know what I mean). It can certainly be misleading, but, based on strength of schedule, courtesy of CBSSports.com, the Patriots (#22*), Buffalo (#19*), Jets (#18*) and Miami (#17*) all have relatively easy schedules. (* represents strength of schedule with #1 [Pittsburgh] hardest and #32 [Atlanta] easiest) Yes, they do play each other twice so, theoretically, with the division stronger it could mean more in-conference losses for each and that will be important if tie-breakers decide who’s in and who’s out at the end of the regular season.
Whew, now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at the match-ups.
This year’s common opponents:
The AFC East matches up with the relatively weak AFC South (Tennessee, Indy, Jacksonville & Houston) and, with Indianapolis’ poor/soft showing in their opening loss to the Bills, they all could run the table. The Colts looked incredibly soft in Buffalo, but you know they’ll play better with Andrew Luck at QB. Look for a lot of shootouts in their games as they still can’t stop anyone.
It’s another story when the AFC East plays the NFC East, with possible powerhouses Dallas and Philly (yeah, I know, they didn’t look good on the road in their opening loss to the Falcons), the always tough Giants (Eli doesn’t make those same “dumb” decisions against the Pats) and the helpless Redskins.
If all goes well, that schedule might give the AFC East teams as many as 6-8 wins. If they split games against each other their win total climbs to 9-11. Now, I know that’s a big leap after one game, but, hey it could happen and no one would be shocked…except Patriot and Colt fans.
The Patriots beat the Steelers (whatever happened to the Steel Curtain? It’s turned to tin) and have the always tough Broncos in Denver coming up. Manning’s arm still looks dead, but playing the game at home is definitely to their advantage. The Bronco’s offense will be different under Head Coach Gary Kubiak and Peyton will have to adjust to the short, clock killing style Kubiak likes.
Miami faces Baltimore’s tough defense at home and the enigmatic Chargers on the road
The Jets have it easy beating Cleveland at home and the Raiders (who have no home advantage) on the road
Buffalo has the most difficult twosome, pairing off with Cincinnati at home and the powerful Chiefs in KC (my sleeper team this year).
Let’s face it, after one game no one knows what will shake out down the road. The only thing that seems certain is its great to have football back and lawsuits set aside for a while.
Please, don’t bet the family jewels (if you have any) on what I write, ’cause basically I’m just like you…A longtime fan who thinks he knows more than he does!
The AFC East for a long stretch of time has been ragged on for not being very relevant, outside of the New England Patriots. Some followers have discounted the Patriots reign of success because of the lack of competitors in the division. However, this past offseason there was a great amount of turnaround on all four teams within the division, which should make things a lot more interesting this upcoming season. So without further a due, here is my full breakdown of each team in the AFC East, with with a prediction of their final record and playoff standing.
New England Patriots: Once again the New England Patriots enter the season as the favorites to win the AFC East. Nevertheless, with the departures of Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, and Kyle Arrington the secondary is now a work-in-progress that could cost the team some games early on in the season. In addition, with Vince Wilfork signing with the Houston Texans and Dan Connolly retiring, both sides of the line of scrimmage are in a transition period with a lot of young players that are still a bit unknown.
If the Patriots offensive line can figure out some early struggles, like they did very well last year, the offense as a whole should be very explosive. With weapons such as Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, and Brandon LaFell all with at least a year or more in the Patriots system under their belt, the offense should be able to move the ball up and down the field very effectively.
Also, the offense should not have to pick up the slack for the defense constantly if the front seven of the defense lives up to their potential. With young talented players on the rise like Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and Jabaal Sheard, along with unproven players such as Dominique Easley and Chandler Jones with potentially high ceilings the front could carry the defense and allow Bill Belichick to, “turn the dogs loose.” Something they haven’t been able to do for a long stretch of time.
Prediction: 12-4, second spot in AFC Playoffs.
Buffalo Bills: Certainly one of the most talked about teams in the offseason, the Buffalo Bills are now filled with all sorts of bravado with new head coach Rex Ryan. Buffalo added tons of fire power on offense, with continued additions to their already strong defense. With Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, and Marcell Dareus plugging up the interior, with an extremely talented player such as Jerry Hughes coming off the edge, the Bills should cause all sorts of headaches for opposing quarterbacks. The secondary still has some question marks in Buffalo, but Rex Ryan has been known to make up for a weak secondary with his phenomenal pass rush.
The Bills offense can be described with in one word, speed. With speedy wide receivers such as olympic track star Marquise Goodwin, along with Percy Harvin, and future superstar Sammy Watkins the passing game has some burners that can really stretch the field. To add to the insanely fast wide receivers, the Bills added Lesean McCoy via a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. McCoy along with grizzled veteran Fred Jackson will contribute greatly to Rex Ryan’s run heavy offense. Also, McCoy can come out of the backfield and be effective in the passing game.
The biggest question for the Bills this season is the quarterback position. A three-way competition has spurred throughout training camp between Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel, and Tyrod Taylor. None of those three will strike great fear in any opposing team, especially the New England Patriots who are their biggest competition in the division. Unfortunately, their lack of quarterback talent will lead to their offense not reaching their full potential.
Prediction: 10-6, sixth spot in AFC Playoffs.
New York Jets: Much like the Buffalo Bills, the New York Jets have added a lot of new talent to the roster along with some old friends. The biggest additions of course being Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, and Brandon Marshall. In addition, the Jets now have a Todd Bowles as head coach who was the architect of the defense in Arizona that is now one of the league’s best.
On offense, the Jets have a plethora of weapons starting with an elite wide receiver such as Brandon Marshall whom they acquired through a trade with the Chicago Bears this past offseason. Marshall is a freakish athlete that is a threat to score anytime he is on the field. The only problem is keeping his head on straight.
To compliment Marshall the Jets have a solid veteran in Eric Decker and promising rookie Devin Smith, who was a great player on Ohio State’s national championship team last year. Again, the Jets biggest question mark will come at the quarterback position. With Geno Smith now out for a long stretch of time, the team will have to rely on veteran cast off Ryan Fitzpatrick to lead them. That is something that fans of the Buffalo Bills and Houston Texans will tell you not to be over confident about.
On defense, the Jets have possibly more all around talent than any team in the National Football League. When you have the best cornerback in the game in Darrelle Revis on your roster, you can do all sorts of things because he essentially takes away the opposing offenses number one target. On the other side of Revis, the Jets have Pro-Bowler Antonio Cromartie who is also a menace for quarterbacks and wide receivers to deal with.
Based off of those two players alone the Jets should have a top three secondary. In addition to their secondary, the front seven of the Jets will be one that can get to the quarterback. With Muhammed Wilkerson coming off the edge, and first-round pick Leonard Williams who was considered to be the best overall player in the draft.
In the end however, the Jets will probably not live up to there potential simply because they are the Jets and their locker room is already starting to collapse. With Sheldon Richardson likely out for the season because of his antics, and Geno Smith not commanding the respect of his teammates, Todd Bowles already seems to be letting the inmates run the asylum. That is something that has not bode well for former head coaches of the NYJ.
Prediction: 7-9, Miss playoffs.
Miami Dolphins: The Miami Dolphins have given the New England Patriots the biggest run for their money over the past couple of seasons. Head coach Joe Philibin has been able to keep his team in the playoff race until mid December, and then his squad falls apart. This was never more evident than last December when they had a chance to make a statement against the Patriots in Foxborough. The Dolphins came out with zero energy and fell flat on their face getting walloped by a score of 41-13.
This past March, Miami made arguably the biggest move of the offseason by signing perennial Pro-Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to a six-year, 114 million dollar contract. Their defensive line should be able to get in the backfield with ease with Cameron Wake coming off the edge, and Suh up the middle.
Furthermore, the Phins extended fourth-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill to a six-year 97 million dollar contract extension. Therefore, the Dolphins are spending big cash to protect their most valuable assets.
However, when you spend big money like that you can be left vulnerable at other positions. For example, Miami continues to have a weak offensive line, in a division with three stout defensive fronts. What good is your expensive quarterback if you cannot keep him upright. Also, the Dolphins offense is not exactly filled with offensive power, and Tannehill is not the type of player that can make players around him exceedingly better.
Overall, the Miami Dolphins on paper seem to have a very talented roster, but they just don’t have the coaching. That will be proven this year once again when Miami fans are disappointed that their team is golfing in January once again.
The Dolphins are probably the most stable team in the division outside of the Patriots. They have the pieces in place to make a substantial run, but there are some serious questions that the team hasn’t answered. Should the Patriots be afraid of being dethroned by the Dolphins? Let’s look at the strengths and weaknesses and decide:
Why should the Patriots be afraid: On offense, Joe Philbin has given the reigns over to QB Ryan Tannehill and have signed him to a large extension (6 year, 95 million) as a sign of good faith. He has improved every year and threw for over 4,000 yards last year. The Dolphins acquired WR Kenny Stills in a trade, signed TE Jordan Cameron and drafted WR DaVante Parker in the first round to improve his weapons. Second year Jarvis Landry looks like a future stud and adding a healthy Lamar Miller gives him a capable runner.
On defense is where the strength is. There might not be a more underrated and dangerous player outside of Cameron Wake and to add one of the best defensive tackles in DT Ndamukong Suh gives them a dangerous duo to team up with steady DE Olivier Vernon. This is a dangerous defensive line that can wreak havoc across the line. CB Brett Grimes is an incredibly talented CB that teams up with probably the most underrated safety in the game with Reshad Jones. He is solid against the run and is excellent in coverage. These core players are the keys to a dominant defense that has the potential to carry them far.
Why shouldn’t the Patriots be afraid: Despite the optimism, there are some glaring holes that the pundits aren’t really addressing. When it comes to the offense, Tannehill might be overpaid, but he produces enough to warrant his new contract. With that, they have only solid offensive line starter with C Mike Pouncey. LT Brandon Albert is 30 and is coming off a major knee injury. Last year’s rookie RT Ja’Wuan James was overwhelmed and they have no real proven starter at either Guard spot. It doesn’t matter who is playing QB, RB or WR, if they can’t protect Tannehill, they are going nowhere. Lamar Miller has trouble staying healthy and they don’t have proven depth behind him. This means that is truly ALL on Tannehill’s shoulders and if you have watched him play, you can question why the team would do that.
On defense, there are some huge holes that they haven’t addressed. The back 7 leaves a lot to be desired. They have a promising LB in Jelani Jenkins and a solid starter with MLB Koa Misi, but they are both unproven and there isn’t a starter outside of him. Grimes is a great corner, but he’s 32. How much longer can he play at an elite level? Also, who is playing opposite him? Right now, their biggest acquisition was slot CB Brice McCain. That’s not the most encouraging sign for anyone. FS Louis Delmas has shown flashes but can’t stay healthy and is coming off an ACL tear.
What does all this mean? There’s obvious talent there in Miami, but it’s too lofty to expect much more than .500 for this team. There is a lot of holes on this team and questions aplenty across the offensive line, secondary and line-backing corps. If they get these resolved, they are definitely a team to be reckoned with, but are still most likely a year away.
Ted Wells, the “independent” investigator who has become famous/infamous for his report which led to star quarterback Tom Brady’s four-game suspension, is under fire from another former member of the AFC East. Former Miami Dolphins offensive line coach Jim Turner is suing Wells over his report done on the Dolphin’s bullying scandal a year ago. The report eventually led to Turner being fired.
The scandal occurred mainly between guard Richie Incognito and tackle Jonathan Martin. Incognito was accused of bullying/harassing Martin constantly in the locker room. Turner claims that Wells falsely accused him of creating an environment that allowed bullying and harassment to occur even though Wells knew this was false. Turner also alleges that the NFL hired Wells and his law firm to essentially find a few individuals to blame, while they were well-paid and well-positioned for future NFL cases, as has become evident with Well’s role in Deflategate.
Richie Incognito came out hard against Wells recently as well, saying, “I just think it’s bogus, the whole system in how it’s set up with Roger and the complete, absolute power he has. He has so much power and he hires independent investigators who are obviously not independent. They come in with an agenda and they come in looking to find facts to back up their argument. All the facts are slanted in their favor. Ted Wells came in with a mission against me. Ted Wells came in slanted against me and everything in his report was slanted against me. There were some things in there that would have helped my cause that were left out, [like] teammate testimony, stuff like that. You see that in Brady’s case. There’s a lot of stuff that got left out. There’s a lot of misinformation.”
It’s certainly understandable why Incognito would be so outspoken. The guard was suspended the final eight games of the 2013 season after the bullying scandal, and was a free agent for the entire 2014 season before the Buffalo Bills signed him in February. Turner was fired by the Dolphins in the wake of Well’s report on the issue, and has been unable to find another job in the NFL since. He believes the report has negatively and unfairly affected his reputation and ability to find work since, and possibly forever.
This is now the second instance where a federal lawsuit calls into question whether or not Ted Wells truly worked as an independent investigator for Roger Goodell and the NFL. This is also a big portion of Tom Brady’s lawsuit against the NFL involving Deflategate. As the old saying goes, once is an accident, twice is a trend, three times is a problem. While this is only the second time, it certainly reflects badly on both Ted Wells and the NFL.
Before last year with Darrelle Revis and the early 2000s with Ty Law the Patriots pass defense has tended to struggle and lacked a true shutdown corner. With Revis leaving New England and returning to the New York Jets the Patriots may again go into the 2015 season without a shutdown corner. Last season, New England ranked 17th in pass defense but the numbers didn’t really show how good and effective the Patriots secondary and defense as a whole was in 2015, with the Patriots often leading early in games and by a good margin teams were forced to throw the ball the whole game. Lets take a look at the Patriots pass defense throughout the Belichick era both with and without a shutdown corner and what we could expect to see out of this years defense.
In Belichick’s first year as coach the team ranked 21st in pass defense allowing 220 passing yards per game. The league wasn’t as big of a passing league at the time compared to how it is now. The secondary was lead by cornerback Ty Law and safety Lawyer Milloy who each led the team in interceptions with two a piece during the teams disappointing 5-11 season. The team also ranked 21st in rush defense, which is a compelling reason why the team finished at 5-11 with a poor pass and rush defense.
The following season is one all pats fans will remember, the year the franchise won its first Super Bowl championship, the year our franchise quarterback took the realms and the dynasty in New England started. That year the Patriots ranked 24th in pass defense but allowed less yards per game than it did the year before allowing 218 yards per game. Again, the league was more run oriented compared to the way the NFL is today. The team was again lead in the secondary by Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy and despite the low ranking in pass defense allowed less yards than the year before and had 22 interceptions as a team, returning 5 for touchdowns. The high interception total showed how with a top safety and corner the team was able to be more aggressive in play making.
The Patriots suffered a Super Bowl hangover in the 2002 season missing the playoffs for one of the three times in the Belichick era. Despite not making the playoffs the teams pass defense increased tremendously improving to the 11th ranked pass defense in the league allowing 198 yards per game. Where the Patriots increased in pass defense they decreased in rush defense ranking 31st in the league allowing 137 yards per game.
The Patriots secondary had a new look to it in the 2003 season compared to the seasons before. Veteran safety Rodney Harrison and cornerback Tyrone Poole both signed with the team in the offseason, drafting safety Eugene Wilson in the second round, cornerback Asante Samuel in the 4th round and releasing veteran safety Lawyer Milloy prior to the start of the season. Milloy signed with division rival Buffalo Bills and started off the year by beating the Patriots 31-0, which I’m sure made the Patriots question their decision to release Milloy. The team ended up ranking 15th in pass defense at the end of the year allowing 202 yards per game. The teams run defense had a huge improvement from the year ranking 4th in rushing yards allowing only 86 yards per game. Behind the teams strong defense the team went on to win their second Super Bowl in three years.
2004 was a tough season for the Patriots secondary suffering many injuries, which forced wide receiver Troy Brown to the defensive side of the ball to play corner. Brown played well and better than I and I’m sure most people expected and was the model of the “Patriot Way”, doing anything you can to win. Brown ended up finishing tied second on the team in interceptions with 3, with his first coming against former Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe. The only member of the secondary to play in all 16 regular season games was safety Rodney Harrison. The team ranked 17th in pass defense allowing 212 yards per game despite all the injuries and went on to win their third Super Bowl ring in four years and started the Patriots dynasty.
Veteran cornerback Ty Law left the team in free agency, which made the Patriots bolster a new look secondary for the 2005 season without Law. Without Law the teams secondary struggled ranking 31st in the league in pass defense allowing 231 yards per game. The teams rush defense also struggled in 2005 ranking 25th in run defense. With Law leaving in free agency the Patriots struggled with not having a true shutdown corner despite Asante Samuel playing well and molding into a future number one corner.
After the defensive struggle in 2005, the team improved in both pass and rush defense ranking 12th in pass defense and 5th in run defense in 2006. The defense was led by corner Asante Samuel who had 10 interceptions on the year and became a dangerous threat for opposing quarterbacks to throw at and taking away one side of the field. Injuries again hit the Patriots secondary in the 2006 season with a variety of injuries to multiple members of the defense.
The Patriots had their famous 16-0 Regular Season and rewriting the whole record book while doing so. With Tom Brady and the offense setting new records every week and gaining the majority of the attention, the Patriots defense had one of if not their best defense statistically in the Belichick era. The team ranked 6th in passing allowing 190 yards per game and the run defense ranking 10th allowing 98 yards per game. Harrison and Samuel were again leaders of the New England secondary. Sadly what this team will be remembered for will be for falling just short of the perfect season with their only loss coming against the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. As well as the defense played all year they struggled in the Super Bowl against the Giants. The defense as a whole struggled and the offense didn’t play as well as they did all year long. If it also wasn’t for a miracle helmet catch by Giants receiver David Tyree the Patriots may have ended up winning the Super Bowl and completing the “perfect season”.
Coming off a devastating loss in the Super Bowl the Patriots were looking to return and were the early season favorites to win the Super Bowl in 2008. Then quarterback Tom Brady went down in the first quarter of week 1 with a torn ACL and MCL. The offense was now set to look different without their MVP quarterback. In free agency that year cornerback Asante Samuel left New England to join the Philadelphia Eagles. Safety Rodney Harrison only played in 6 games before being injured and out for the year. The defense was now led by rookie linebacker Jerod Mayo and 2nd year safety Brandon Meriweather and cornerbacks Deltha O’Neil (who was terrible at this point in his career), the inconsistent Ellis Hobbs and Jonathan Wilhite. With all the injuries and lack of a true number one corner the Patriots defense was better than ultimately expected. The defense ranked 11th in passing allowing 201 yards per game and 15th in defense allowing 107 yards per game. Even with the multitude of injuries on both side of the ball the team still finished at 10-6 but missed the playoffs after the Jets lost in week 17 to the Dolphins, which sent Miami to the playoffs. This helped show how great of a coach Bill Belichick is, doing as good as he did with the amount of injuries the team had and after losing arguably its best defensive player in free agency and still play well.
Veterans Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison retired prior to the 2009 season, which left New England with a loss of leadership and two key members of the teams defense, as well as trading star defensive lineman Richard Seymour to the Oakland Raiders. The team was also playing with Leigh Bodden, Jonathan Wilhite and Shawn Springs at cornerback, which is not very good to say the least. Wilhite struggled since the time he was drafted and Springs and Bodden were older veterans that were past their prime and weren’t nearly as productive as the team was hoping they would be when signed in free agency. Despite the lack of star power, especially in the secondary the team wasn’t too bad as a whole on defense ranking 12th in passing allowing 210 yards per game and ranking 13th in run defense allowing 110 yards per game. Again this showed that Belichick doesn’t need a “star” corner to lead his team.
The Patriots 2010 defense was ugly to say the least. The team ranked 30th in pass defense allowing 259 yards per game. One bright spot was rookie cornerback Devin McCourty, who had 7 interceptions on the year and looked like he could be the shut down corner New England was missing the past few seasons. Despite the terrible pass defense the team played fairly well against the run ranking 11th in the league allowing 108 yards per game.
New year, same problems, the 2011 Patriots were again TERRIBLE against the pass ranking 31st in the league allowing 293 yards per game. It was ugly to watch, I remember watching the game against the Peyton Manningless Indianapolis Colts and Dan Orloksky was at quarterback and they just kept driving up the field and scoring. I remember my dad and I yelling at the TV and asking each other “are we really going to lose to the f***ing Colts?” before he threw the TV remote at the ground and broke it out of anger. The lone bright spot from the year before, Devin McCourty had a huge sophomore slump and couldn’t have covered me if I was out on the field. The defense was so bad andlacked depth that wide receivers Julian Edelman and matthew Slater were both playing in the secondary, and were playing better than just about all the other members of the secondary. New England played in way too many shoot-outs and close games this season. The offense would get up big to start the game and then the defense would play a prevent zone and just couldn’t stop anybody, it was painful to watch. Despite the terrible defense the Patriots still made it to the Super Bowl after a heroic pass deflection by Sterling Moore and a shanked Billy Cundiff field goal in the AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens. New England again went onto lose to the Giants in the Super Bowl after a Wes Welker drop that would have sealed the victory for New England and another lucky pass by Eli Manning where his receiver again made an amazing catch bailing out Manning.
Yet again New England’s secondary struggled against the pass in 2012. Devin McCourty continued to struggle at cornerback, which prompted the team to move him to safety, where he has played great since, and make a mid-season trade for cornerback Aqib Talib. Adding Talib was huge for New England giving them a true number one cornerback and someone who could take away an opposing teams top receiver. Despite the acquisition of Talib the Patriots still ranked 29th in pass defense allowing 271 yards per game. If Talib was never acquired the rankings surely would have been lower. Talib was good during his time in New England besides constantly being banged up, especially in the big games. The Patriots ended up losing to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship after a Talib injury sidelined him and forced Devin McCourty back to corner halfway through the game and forcing Kyle Arrington, a slot corner, to cover wide receiver Torrey Smith, a speedy deep threat.
With having a full season of Aqib Talib the Patriots pass defense improved drastically ranking 18th in the league allowing 239 yards per game. With Talib at corner allowed McCourty to play the center fielder role and roam around the secondary. Talib played like the top corner in the NFL for most of the 2013 season. Another bright spot for New England’s defense was rookie cornerback Logan Ryan. Ryan led the team with 5 interceptions and showed a lot of promise for the future as a playmaker and potentially improving into a number one corner for the Patriots. Talib was again injured during the AFC Championship game against the Denver Broncos and the Patriots went on to lose to the Broncos and be eliminated from the playoffs.
And lastly we have last years 2014 pass defense. Last years pass defense was great and the best that I have seen and can remember the Patriots having. Darrelle Revis was, well Darrelle Revis, he shut down any receiver he was matched up against. Brandon Browner provided the physicality and swagger that the defense needed, always giving big hits and being physical with the receiver he was matched up against even if it would draw the occasional pass interference call. Kyle Arrington played a key role as the teams slot corner and did it very well most of the year. Second year rookie Logan Ryan, like Devin McCourty, had a sophomore slump and didn’t play nearly as well as he did during his rookie year. He was constantly getting beat by receivers and didn’t play the ball as well as he did the year before. Then there was Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler who played well when he was on the field and was a good depth player. Butler is now most popular for his Super Bowl interception, throughout the year Butler was impressive in limited action and showed very good man coverage skills. And with this secondary with the shut down corner in Revis and great complimentary number two corner in Browner the Patriots went on to win their 4th Super Bowl.
Based on the past teams during the Belichick era the team has won their Super Bowls with a top, shutdown corner. After losing Revis, Browner, and Arrington in free agency the secondary is set to look a lot different than it did in 2014. The current cornerbacks on the Patriots roster who are expected to make the roster and potentially play key roles for New England’s defense this upcoming year are Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, free agent signee Bradley Fletcher, Robert McClain and Derek Cox, as well as safety Devin McCourty who some have suspected could make the switch back to corner with the current cornerback depth.
Ryan and Butler have spent time in New England and are expected to be the team’s two starting cornerbacks to start the 2015 season. Ryan is looking to bounce back after struggling last year and go back to the form he showed as a promising rookie in 2013 when he recorded 5 interceptions and played a big part of the teams defense. Butler will look to continue to shine after his game-winning interception in the Super Bowl. Butler already has high expectations heading into the 2015 season and time will tell if he will live up to the hype that has surrounded him since the Super Bowl.
Bradley Fletcher spent the 2013 and 2014 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles after spending his first 4 seasons in the league with the St. Louis Rams. Fletcher was inconsistent last season with the Eagles, with not much safety help over the top and would occasionally be beat on the deep ball with a lack of safety help. With safety Devin McCourty giving hep over the top to corners Darrelle Revis and Aqib Talib the past few seasons, McCourty could also look to help Fletcher and transition Fletcher to potentially be a number one corner for New England. The Patriots are hoping that with the help of McCourty he could transition into that and not be the corner who was beat repeatedly by Dez Bryant and was seen crying on the sidelines at one point after constantly being targeted by Romo and beat by Bryant.
Robert McClain is a smaller corner at 5’9 and has primarily been a special teamer throughout his career. He played more defensively last year after injuries to Falcons corners. McClain could be used as a slot corner to replace Kyle Arrington, who was released by the Patriots this offseason and signed with the Baltimore Ravens. With McClain’s experience at both corner and special teams gives him a better chance to make the Patriots roster with Bill Belichick’s love for versatile players.
Derek Cox has been a journeyman throughout his NFL career playing for the Jaguars, Chargers and brief stints with the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens. Cox was a member of the Ravens briefly last year and didn’t see the field before being released by the time. Cox is a bigger corner like Fletcher (Cox 6’1, Fletcher 6’0) and has been inconsistent throughout his career, like Fletcher. Cox is said to be more of a zone coverage defender than a man defender off the line of scrimmage. Cox role in New England is still unknown and isn’t a roster lock by any means but could provide nice veteran depth to the Patriots secondary.
Without a true number one corner to start the year the Patriots defense will look to rely more on their pass rush then the team has the past few seasons. The team is also expected by many people to switch to a zone defensive scheme rather than a man scheme like they have the past few seasons when they had a top corner.
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