New England Patriots: 5 Things to Look for in Week 1 to Signal Success in 2012
Fresh off (another) stinging Super Bowl defeat at the hands of the New York Giants, and with an offense that now features more weapons than an episode of Game of Thrones, anything but a return to the championship game will be a disappointment.
While Week 1 is our first real look at the new team and there's still time to work out any kinks that may emerge, it's never too early to evaluate what we need to see if we can expect this squad to live up to the hype.
Here are five things to look for in Week 1 that will signal success in the coming season as a whole.
1. Tom Brady on His Feet
Preseason games must be taken for what they're worth, and they're not worth a lot. But if there's one thing that this year's preseason has Pats fans talking about, it's the offensive line.
Having allowed 10 sacks over the course of four preseason games, the ability of the guys that are paid to keep Tom Brady on his feet has certainly been called into question. Gone are the days of the Brady & Co. Visa commercials, when the big boys that protected him were nearly as recognizable as Brady himself.
Due to the holes left by retirees like Matt Light and unexplained no-shows like Brian Waters, there has been a changing of the guard up front. With a 35-year-old Brady running the high-powered offense that is the Pats' clear strength, keeping him upright and healthy will be this unproven offensive line's necessary contribution to a successful season.
Hopefully, they waste no time in figuring out how to get it done.
2. Looks to a Variety of Receivers
While the emergence of Stevan Ridley and/or Shane Vereen in the New England running game will be interesting to watch, we all know this offense will do its damage through the air. If we know it, you’d better believe opposing defenses know it, too.
They key is to spread the ball around to a degree that they simply can’t stop everyone. With the depth of receivers the Patriots have, that should not be too hard.
On Sunday, try to keep fantasy interests aside and simply hope to see the ball in the hands of a variety of different receivers. Whether it’s Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez continuing to redefine the tight end position, Wes Welker slicing through the defense from the slot or Brandon Lloyd hauling in the deep ball, the Patriots have enough weapons to overwhelm any defense.
Hopefully, Brady is in tune with all of them, in which case they should be unstoppable.
3. Defensive Rookies Playing Beyond Their Years
Drawing attention and setting records with their offense, recent Patriots teams have been admittedly porous on defense. In terms of yards per game, last year’s team was the second-best in the league offensively and the second-worst defensively.
Thanks to the dominance of the offense, the defense hasn’t held the team back from being a perpetual contender. But wouldn’t it be nice to couple that offensive powerhouse with a capable D? Thanks to some newcomers, namely defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont’a Hightower, that luxury might soon be a possibility.
The pair of rookies looked promising during the preseason, so why wait? Let’s hope these guys can help redefine the New England defense right from the get go.
Hopefully Week 1 shows us that rookies Jones and Hightower can play like they’re not…well, rookies.
4. Some Swagger in the Secondary
Patriots fans, answer this question honestly: Who was on the field the last time you were truly confident that the secondary could make a stop in a crucial, long-yardage, obvious passing situation?
If names like Ty Law and Rodney Harrison are popping into your head, that should tell you something.
The New England secondary has been a circus of injuries and no-name substitutes for so long that we’ve pretty much gotten used to it. But let’s hope that this year guys like Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington and Patrick Chung, all with two years or more under their belts, can stay healthy and restore at least a bit of our confidence in the pass protection.
If they can’t do it in Week 1 against a rookie quarterback (Jake Locker) who’s playing without one of his best wide receivers (suspended Kenny Britt), it’s time to worry once again.
5. A Good Old-Fashioned Blowout
Again, expectations are sky high for this year’s Patriots. They’ve also been blessed with one of the easiest schedules in the league, and their Week 1 matchup against Tennessee is no exception. This game should not be close.
If Bill Belichick has taught us anything over the years, it’s that no opponent should be taken lightly. The Patriots work one week at a time, and that’s part of the reason they’ve been so successful.
But there’s nothing wrong with hoping for an absolute steamroller of a victory to kick off the 2012 campaign. In Week 1 (and Week 2 against the Cardinals, for that matter) let’s look for the defense to build confidence, the offense to click on all cylinders and the Patriots to instill a feeling that this, once again, is our year.
Hopefully we still feel the same in February.