NFL Preseason: 5 Areas of Concern for the New England Patriots
In the preseason, teams dissect their roster, looking for strengths, weaknesses and areas that need improvement. While the Patriots had a huge offseason haul and are in a great position to succeed in 2011, there are five concerns that head coach Bill Belichick needs to address.
Before the offseason, it was clear that the Pats needed pass rushers and a go-to wide receiver. By trading for Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco, and signing Shaun Ellis and Andre Carter, New England did a terrific job of answering their question marks.
MVP quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots could very well be representing the AFC in Super Bowl XLVI. However, these five problems bear very close monitoring as we inch closer to what is sure to be an entertaining-as-hell NFL season.
5. New England Patriots: The Lack of Depth at the Offensive Guard Position
Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly are both very good offensive guards. In fact, Mankins might be the best one in the NFL.
The fact remains, however, that injuries are extremely prevalent in the NFL, and having sufficient depth is a must.
Consider this: if Mankins or Connolly goes down this season, their replacements will be either Rich Ohrnberger or Thomas Austin. The Pats did select massive guard Marcus Cannon in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, but due to his recovery from cancer, he can not be seriously counted on just yet.
Listen, I know it might be nitpicking to say that New England doesn't have depth at offensive guard. However, going back to the 2007 Super Bowl against the New York Giants, I think we can all remember how much quarterback Tom Brady missed his starting right guard, Stephen Neal (he injured his leg and missed the second half).
Offensive guards are totally unappreciated, and if one of these guys goes down, the Pats will be in trouble.
I also worry about Dan Connolly taking on a full workload; he has only started 17 games in his entire career.
4. New England Patriots: The Lack of Depth at the Safety Position
This is another case of nitpicking. Brandon Meriweather, Pat Chung and James Sanders are all good. I think as a unit they are one of the best in the league (I ranked them eighth). But the losses of Jarrad Page and Brandon McGowan are pretty worrisome.
Sergio Brown was OK in a few games last season, but he is atrocious in coverage. As for Bret Lockett, I'm surprised he's even on the team after what happened with him and Kim Kardashian. The Patriots hate distractions. I guess that even the Pats realized that their safety depth was lacking, because Lockett is expected to make the opening day roster.
The three main safeties (Meriweather, Chung and Sanders) all played more than 70 percent of the defensive snaps last season (per Mike Reiss), so what happens if one of them goes down?
Again, this is the NFL. Injuries happen.
The Patriots are understocked in the safety department. The road to the Super Bowl would be pretty tough with Brown or Lockett playing significant minutes, that's for sure.
3. New England Patriots: The Lack of Depth/Talent at Outside Linebacker Position
Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham and Eric Moore just aren't going to cut it in the NFL.
As of right now, via Yahoo! Sports, the Patriots are expected to be in a 4-3 alignment that starts Brandon Spikes as the middle linebacker, with Jerod Mayo and Rob Ninkovich on the outside.
I am totally in love with the idea of Mayo playing outside linebacker. In fact, it's something that I've written about before. However, is it fair to say that the Pats may be overrelying on Spikes?
Spikes is a dominant run-stopper, but he couldn't cover an NFL wide receiver if his life depended on it. He's too slow laterally. Spikes should be in the lineup against all running plays, no doubt, but when the Pats play a team that spreads it out, then what?
The other linebackers are going to have to step up.
Unfortunately for Pats fans, it is unfair to expect Cunningham, Moore and Ninkovich to be significant contributors. They aren't starters. They are going to be given extensive playing time this year, but I highly doubt they will bring much to the table.
The Patriots missed out on Matt Roth in free agency, who could've given them a huge boost. Instead, the Pats must hope that one of those guys overachieves.
Last year, it was Ninkovich (sort of...he was awesome against the Dolphins at least). Who will it be this season?
2. New England Patriots: Will Leigh Bodden Pick Up Where He Left Off?
Leigh Bodden was the New England Patriots' most consistent and effective cornerback in 2009.
That's not saying much though, considering how disastrously bad that defense was. Bodden had five interceptions, but three of them came in one game against Mark Sanchez. He only had 56 tackles, a pretty low number for a No. 1 corner. He was good, but he was by no means great.
This season, all the Pats need from Bodden is "good." They have "great" on the other side of the field with dazzling second-year cornerback, Devin McCourty.
If Bodden fails or is not fully healthy, then the Pats will have to rely on Kyle Arrington again.
Arrington, a special teams ace, filled in admirably after an injury knocked Bodden out for the whole 2010 season. Unfortunately, he just isn't that talented. He was constantly attacked on third downs, and he was part of the reason the Pats had a league-worst 47 percent third-down rate last year (53 percent of the time, the other team got the first down).
If he ends up back in the starting job, then opposing quarterbacks will feast on him once again.
Ras-I Dowling would have been a solid replacement, but the shortened camps make him less likely to play a role for at least the first half of the season. He could be Bodden's backup by Week 12 though.
Even if Bodden is just OK this season, the New England secondary will be one of the best in the league. However, he must stay healthy.
1. New England Patriots: Will Albert Haynesworth Stay in Shape?
The New England Patriots have built their 2011 defense on the premise that Albert Haynesworth remains healthy/motivated.
Risky move, Mr. Belichick.
By now, everyone has heard of all of the problems that can arise with Haynesworth. He doesn't stay in shape. He loses interest. He takes plays off. He's injury prone.
Listen, the haters are going to hate. Haynesworth is in a great situation in New England, and if this doesn't motivate him then nothing will. He has a chance to be one of the defensive leaders for a top NFL team. That isn't something you get the chance to do every year.
Belichick should put Haynesworth in position to have a Pro Bowl year, and with his talents, a Pro Bowl is certainly not out of the question.
But one question will linger as long as Haynesworth is on the team:
Will he keep himself in good shape, and will he remain focused?
If he does, and the overwhelming response from NFL experts is that he will, the New England Patriots should be well on their way to another stunning year, and chance at the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Let me know what you think in the comments section below.
Thanks for reading!