2011 NFL Predictions: Can New Pieces Take New England Patriots to Title? Part 2

Erik ManzelliContributor IIAugust 18, 2011

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 02:  Jerod Mayo #51 of the New England Patriots congratulates Vince Wilfork #75 in the second half against the Miami Dolphins on January 2, 2011 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

On paper and in theory, New England Patriots fans should feel very optimistic how the team reloaded on both sides of the ball. The team did a good job hanging onto the vets they needed to keep, reloading the receiver position and re-emphasizing the running game. 

Let's look at the defense. For the first time in four years, I'm confident that the D is good enough to win in the playoffs. The Patriots' original plan to remake the defense with young talent was the smart and safe move to do.

As we know, the average NFL career is only about three-and-a-half years long. One season in the league can rapidly age a player. By 2007, the defense was starting to get old. The fact that age, injury, declining skills and retirement were going to affect the Richard Seymour/Mike Vrabel/Rodney Harrison/Tedy Bruschi D was inevitable. 

The plan to bring in young talent across the board was a good idea, but the results were mixed.  The Patriots had some really successful picks like Jerod Mayo, Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty and Brandon Spikes. On the flip side, there were also some mistakes, like Terrence Wheatley, Shawn Crable, Darius Butler and Tyrone McKenzie.  

Your franchise quarterback is now 34. The question is, what's the right thing to? Offensively, the team is in good shape, so you take a long look at the defense, identify any holes and plug them with proven vets.

Realistically, how many more elite years does Tom Brady have left? I'd say perhaps two to four before he starts to fade out. We don't know if there's another defender out there that could hit him the wrong way and end his career.

Try to win now. I don't care if it means the Pats are going to be in horrible shape cap-wise down the road. It's worth the risk. 

Does it make any sense to draft pass rushers when the lockout has cut the offseason short? No.  Grab guys who can play right away. Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson of the New York Jets shredded the Patriots for 119 yards and a TD on 27 carries in the Pats' 2011 playoff loss.

In the 2010 playoffs against the Ravens, Ray Rice and Willis McGahee cut through the Patriots for 221 yards and three TDs on 42 carries. 

How many impact defensive lineman did the team have in 2010 besides Vince Wilfork? Not many. The Pats' changes on D pass the logic test. Revamp the center of the defensive line first. Bring in Albert Haynesworth to go with Vince Wilfork, which should plug up the middle.

The two of them should blow linemen up and clog lanes for running backs to run through. If something bad happens to Haynesworth, Gerard Warren is a nice plan B. Kade Weston, Myron Prior and Brandon Deaderick are good depth guys to have.

The addition of Albert Haynesworth should make the run defense a hell of a lot better. Teams will be forced to pass in order to try and win. Once the inside of the line was improved, they added a couple of guys to be outside pass rushers.

The quarterbacks the team faces (like Chad Henne and Ryan Fitzpatrick) will presumably be forced to make quicker decisions, which means more turnovers, incompletions and sacks.  Watching Shaun Ellis harass Brady made me kind of jealous. I wished the Patriots had a guy like him to go crush Mark Sanchez. 

Wilfork and Haynesworth will tie up blockers and allow guys like Mayo and Mark Anderson free reign to make plays. I'm not worried that the guys the Patriots signed are done. More often than not, some of the allegedly "washed up" players the Patriots bring in are guys playing in spots that don't adhere to their strengths.

Look at Heath Evans, Junior Seau and Wes Welker. Miami thought those guys were expendable, and look at the great production New England got out of them. This is why we should be stoked about Shaun Ellis (4.5 sacks and a forced fumble in 15 games) and Andre Carter joining the Patriots. 

It's pretty simple. Rather than sit back and wait for quarterbacks to make mistakes, they'll try and force the QB to play faster. Things should be a hell of a lot easier for the secondary. 

One of the more famous adages is that history repeats itself. In 2001, Belichick brought in numerous free agents on defense, like Terrell Buckley, Roman Phifer, Anthony Pleasant and Bobby Hamilton. The results were fantastic, and we all know how well that season ended.

This past offseason, the team has brought in many vets on D.

Let's hope history repeats itself.