After a heartbreaking loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl 52, the New England Patriots decided to take a slow and easy approach to the offseason roster building, rather than the fireworks they launched the last offseason.
While the offense may not be as explosive as it was last year, the defense, on paper, should perform better than last year’s discouraging group.
Let’s take a look at the three strengths and three weaknesses of the 2018-2019 New England Patriots, as currently constituted.
After watching longtime blindside protector Nate Solder sign a record-breaking contract for an offensive lineman with the New York Giants, there is some uncertainty as to who will be manning down the left tackle position.
La’Adrian Waddle did a good job replacing the injured Marcus Cannon at right tackle throughout most of last season, he did have injury problems of his own, however. And first-round selection Isaiah Wynn is projected to be a guard at the pro level, due to his lack of length.
It looks like there will be a three-way battle for the position between Waddle, Wynn and the newly acquired Trent Brown. For Tom Brady, who will be turning 41 years old before the new season, let’s hope the competition breeds the best out of the three participants.
I thought one of the least underplayed stories of Super Bowl 52 was how well the Patriots offensive line handled the potent Eagles pass rush. And while they have lost Solder at left tackle, the interior trio of Joe Thuney, David Andrews, and Shaq Mason remain one of the best in the league.
Mason especially, proved himself to be one of the best guards in the league, absolutely shutting down Fletcher Cox in the Super Bowl, who’s known as a one-man wrecking crew. He’s always been a road grader in the running game and has improved his pass protection by miles.
Marcus Cannon had a terrific 2016 campaign, that earned him a contract extension, but went down after seven starts last year. If the Patriots can find out a solution at left tackle, the offensive line should continue to stay at top form.
Both the secondary and front four play should improve, with additions like Jason McCourty, Adrian Clayborn, as well as the return of Derek Rivers. Not much of the same can be said about the linebacking core.
While Dont’a Hightower will be returning after a pectoral injury cut his season short last year, the rest of the linebackers do not inspire much confidence. Players like Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts continually got exposed with regular playing time, especially in the passing game.
It was thought that they would be in the market, either in free agency or through the draft, to add a playmaking linebacker, but it seems like they are banking on Hightower staying healthy and returning to top form. Let’s see if the gamble pays off.
Despite the decision to keep ex-Patriot defensive back Malcolm Butler on the bench in Super Bowl 52, a decision many think cost head coach Bill Belichick his sixth ring, Belichick is still the best head coach in the league.
Josh McDaniels, after leaving the Indianapolis Colts at the alter, returns as the offensive coordinator. McDaniels is a top offensive coordinator in the league and is close to a lot of the offensive stars, such as Brady, Julian Edelman, and Rob Gronkowski.
We shall see how Brian Flores, the linebackers coach but effectively the defensive coordinator, handles the extra responsibility. However, whether he rises or fails, the coaching staff will always be a strength of the Patriots, as long as the hoodie patrols the sideline for them.
There is no denying that there is tension in the Patriots locker room. This isn’t talk radio fodder or made up drama in order to aggravate Patriots fans. There is serious tension, mainly between Brady and Belichick.
Ultimately, at the end of the day, winning will heal everything. If the Patriots cruise to another AFC East title game, a bye week in the postseason and win another Super Bowl ring, the tension will go away and both parties will be happy.
However, let’s see what happens if they hit a two or three-game losing skid. Will they crumble at the first sign of adversity or will they stick together? One thing owner Robert Kraft has going for him: nobody is better at pushing out the outside noise and handling adversity like Brady, Belichick, and the Patriots.
How predictable was this one? He may be turning 41 years old soon, but fresh off his third MVP award, Brady seems to be like a fine wine. Brady faded towards the end of the 2017 campaign, but the second half of the AFC Championship and his Super Bowl performance were as good as they get.
He may have lost some of his weapons, but as long as he has either Edelman or Gronk, he’s going to turn in another Brady-like performance. If he has both? Expect another MVP season from the greatest of all time.