2011 NFL Division Preview
New England PatriotsThe defense will be good, no doubt about it, but if they can get above average performances from guys like Leonard and Bart Scott, this Jets team is going to be one tough team to beat come playoff time.
Better or Worse in 2011: Worse, I guess, just because it’s hard to think any team is going to get 14 or more wins
So huge disclaimer here, I’m a Pats fan. Have been since before I can remember. My dad, who’s been a fan since the Boston Patriots played in Harvard Stadium, invented “The Sports Watching Club” just to con me and my brother into watching the Patriots with him when we were so young we weren’t even in school yet.
I always try to be objective when I critique the Patriots, but it’s hard, I’m either too easy or too hard on them. So take what I have to say here with a grain of salt, like you always should when an author isn’t even trying to hide their fan allegiances.
Ok, disclaimer aside, this Patriots team is primed to make a serious run at a Super Bowl in 2011. They have the best quarterback alive, a deep receiving group, and a re-stocked running back corps. The defense has been the weak link for a few years, but now their young players have grown into their roles and the coaching staff is really starting to get into their groove game planning and play calling to their strengths.
The reality is that as long as Tom Brady stays healthy the Patriots are going to be a championship contender, and this could be the year that the defense finally doesn’t let him down in the playoffs.
Important Acquisitions: Chad Ochocinco, Stevan Ridley (R), Brian Waters
Toughest Player Losses: Alge Crumpler
Key Player: Benjarvis Green-Ellis
The “If” Factor: Low, this offense comes back with all the key pieces in place
2010 Offensive Ranking: 11th Passing, 9th Rushing
The Patriots offense is lead by one of the best quarterbacks in the league. While Tom Brady is a guy that elicits all kinds of reactions from fans, his results can’t be denied.
The team once again has a good group of running backs, having replaced veterans like Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk with draft picks Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. Ridley is a shifty runner who isn’t afraid of contact and Vereen is a good pass catching third down type. They’ll be solid backups for the two undersized first string ball carriers Benjarvis Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead.
The receiving group is again coming into the year with several question marks, like can Ochocinco pick up the offense and can Deion Branch still be effective, but we’ve seen before that Tom Brady can make his receivers better and he doesn’t need to be throwing to superstars to put up points. One way that the Patritos will make up for their lack of depth at receiver is to use their two second year tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, in the passing game.
One thing that could stop this offense from being one of the best around could be the ability of the offensive line to protect Brady. The left tackle, Matt Light, struggles against top level speed rushers coming off the corner and his backup is an untested rookie in Nate Solder. Logan Mankins is as good as they come and I’m glad the team was able to lock him up for the long term. Dan Koppen is solid at center, but the right side of the line scares me. Dan Connelly is good against the run but can struggle in pass protection and Sebastian Vollmer is another project that has plenty of size but the jury is still out whether or not he has what it takes to be an every down tackle in the NFL.
This offensive unit would be average at best if you swapped out Brady for an average quarterback, but with Brady under center they’ll put up the type of points it will take for New England to get back to double digit wins.
Important Acquisitions: Albert Haynesworth, Shaun Ellis, Mark Peterson, Andre Carter
Toughest Player Losses: Tully Banta-Cain, James Sanders, Brandon Merriweather
Key Player: Jerod Mayo
The “If” Factor: Actually kinda high, I can’t believe how much I’ve already talked myself into guys like Spikes and Cunningham
2010 Defensive Ranking: 30th Passing, 11th Rushing
The big question for 2011 is what defensive front will this Patriots team line up in. In the past they’ve used an ever adapting 3-4 system to confuse opposing blocking schemes and create mismatches along the other team’s offensive line.
This year they brought in a plethora of players who fit into the 4-3 more than they do the 3-4, so the rumors have run rampant that the Pats will be using an old school 4-3 this year. I’m on record as suggesting that New England may show more 4-2-5 than anything else (which they did in the first half of the last preseason game against the Detroit Lions), but all signs point towards them unleashing an aggressive, attacking style 4-3.
They have all the pieces in place, from defensive lineman who can demand double teams (Wilfork, Ellis and Big Al) to the linebackers who can get after the other team’s offensive backfield (Mayo, Cunningham and Spikes), to the defensive backfield (Chung and McCourty) that can take advantage of the mistakes that front seven will create.
Mayo is the most important of the bunch, this could be the year that he steps up and joins the ranks of the elite linebackers in the NFL.
If he does, this New England defense will be back to the level it needs to be to help their high flying offense to a championship.
New York Jets
Better or Worse in 2011: Worse
This Jets team, if nothing else, is always interesting. They were one of the most talked about teams again this offseason, either being actually involved or rumored to be involved in pretty much every big time free agent. While some of the rumors turned out not to come true, like pairing the two best cover corners in the league together on the same defense, some of the rumors turned out to be very real, like signing the player with the highest “if factor” around in the newly free man Plaxico Burress.
The Jets have been knocking on the door of the NFL elite for a few years now, is 2011 the year they finally kick the door down and force their way into the club?
Well, I’ll say possibly but not likely. Possibly because they should be in contention for a wild card spot and we’ve all seen that once you get in the playoffs anything can happen. Not likely because they’ve gotten a lot of breaks the past few years and still haven’t been able to get all the way to the Super Bowl, and this year’s squad isn’t as talented as last year’s was.
The defense will continue to carry the load, but the team is only going to get over the AFC Championship game hump if quarterback Mark Sanchez can continue to progress and get better.
I just don’t see him, or this team as a whole, having that kind of top end potential. Then again, after what we’ve seen out of them in the last two playoffs, I wouldn’t want to be facing them come January.
Important Acquisitions: Plaxico Burress, Derrick Mason
Toughest Player Losses: Braylon Edwards, Brad Smith
Key Player: Mark Sanchez, this team will only go as far as he can take them this year
The “If” Factor: Very high
2010 Offensive Ranking: 22nd Passing, 4th Rushing
This Jets’ offense is about as old school as you’re going to see on an NFL field. They run the ball well, mostly because they run it a lot. They were 4th in yards gained on the ground last year, but they were second in the league in rushing attempts.
They run as much as they do because up until now their quarterback, Mark Sanchez, hasn’t shown the ability to spread the field vertically with his arm. He has weapons around him, the Jets being back their number one option in Santonio Holmes and have high hopes that Plaxico Burress can at least replace what they lost in Braylon Edwards. The key guy here will be tight end Dustin Keller, a good receiver who has the potential to put up big numbers if he becomes the second option for Sanchez.
The running game will again be based around Shonn Green, but whether it can move the chains at the same level as it did in 2010 will center around whether or not LaDanian Tomlinson has anything left in the tank. Most people, me included, thought he was done going into last year, but he proved us all wrong. Will this be the year that his legs let him, and the rest of the Jets, down?
If so it’s going to be a tough year for this offense. Sanchez has yet to show that he is anything better than a mediocre NFL quarterback who can take advantage of defenses bringing extra defenders out of pass coverage to stop the run. If those same defenses no longer feel the need to take those players out of the coverage schemes, Sanchez is going to be forced to show that he has the ability to be the guy in charge of moving the ball.
Important Acquisitions: None
Toughest Player Losses: Shaun Ellis, James Ihedigbo
Key Player: Jim Leonard
The “If” Factor: Low, this defense is good because of its scheme is ahead of the curve
2010 Defensive Ranking: 6th Passing, 3rd Rushing
For the past two years, or more specifically since Rex Ryan took over as head coach, the Jets have had the most destructive defense in football. Destructive doesn’t always mean best, but it can certainly mean a few extra wins.
They bring back all of the key players from the past two years, including two of the best one-on-one cover guys in the league, Revis and Cromartie. One has his own island and one has more kids than he can count on both hands, put them together and you get a unique set of corners that gives Rex Ryan the ability to use the other 9 players all over the field, because both of the corners can lock down whoever is lined up in front of them.
That’s a huge advantage, and that’s the reason why this defense gets so much pressure on quarterbacks and plugs all the holes in the running game. I mean, when you look at the rest of this defense you have to ask yourself how they’ve been so good? The rest of the players are decent at best, but it’s the schematic advantages that Revis and Cromartie give this defense that puts those average players in above average positions to be successful. If you gave Rex Ryan dominant lineman and linebackers, like he had back in the day in Baltimore, this defense would be truly dominant, even in today’s era of high scoring offenses.
The one player who is underrated on this squad is safety Jim Leonard. Leonard is a guy who Ryan had as a young player in Baltimore, then brought him to the Big Apple because he’s a tough guy who is always in the right place in this complicated defensive scheme.