New England Patriots Preview: Patriots seek to capture elusive Super Bowl
Published: Monday, September 3, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 3, 2012 19:09
The motto for the New England Patriots this season is “Super Bowl or bust.” This is nothing new for head coach Bill Belichick’s team, but with a revamped defense and the signing of wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, Belichick has made it clear that the Patriots are built to avenge last year’s loss in the Super Bowl and hoist the coveted Lombardi Trophy.
The Patriots, with the drafting of defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont’a Hightower in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft, are gearing toward a gameplan that focuses on getting after the opposing team’s quarterback and making more game-changing plays. Belichick, who usually trades down in the draft to accumulate more picks for the future, traded up twice in the first round to select both Jones and Hightower. Belichick was clearly impressed with these two players, believing that they could make an immediate impact for this season and beyond.
Jones and Hightower look to start in a new 4-3 Patriots defense that encompasses four defensive lineman and three linebackers. The Patriots have historically operated under a 3-4 defense, but due to a greater emphasis on passing over the past several years, the team will use faster and quicker defensive ends to sack the quarterback. Defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who often played outside linebacker in last year’s defense, will play alongside Jones on the new defensive line.
While Hightower will join linebackers Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes to give the Patriots a young and solid core of linebackers, the 31st ranked secondary will warrant the most attention after surrendering 4,703 passing yards in the regular season last year. Cornerbacks Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington will be aided by the return of second-year cornerback Ras-I Dowling, who played only two games last year after suffering a season-ending hip injury. The safety position was a revolving door last year due to constant injuries, but safety Patrick Chung will be welcomed by safety Steve Gregory, who was signed as a free agent, as well as safety Tavon Wilson who was drafted in the second round.
While there are so many questions on the defensive side of the ball, there should be fewer on offense, as the Patriots boast an aerial attack under quarterback Tom Brady that helped produce the third-most points in the league last year. Tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, both of whom signed contract extensions with the team during the offseason that will keep the duo in Foxborough until at least 2018, will continue to work the middle of the field. Wide receiver Wes Welker will look to lead the league in catches for the second year in a row.
The signing of Lloyd should make the offense even more exciting than last year’s explosive corps, given he will be Brady’s best deep threat since wide receiver Randy Moss. The Patriots’ Achilles heel on offense last year proved to be the inability to repeatedly send a receiver for deep passes, but Lloyd should fill that void and give Brady yet another target to throw to.
However, in order for this offense to reach its full potential, the offensive line must protect Brady better than it has in the preseason. Without left tackle Matt Light, who retired after the Super Bowl, as well as right guard Brian Waters, who has yet to report to the team, questions about the line that has often been considered a strength for the Patriots remain.
The offensive line must also create enough holes for the Patriots’ running backs to burst through and increase yardage. Second-year running back Stevan Ridley should assume the bulk of the carries after running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis signed with the Cincinnati Bengals during free agency.
The pieces are in place for the Patriots to win their first Super Bowl since 2004, but before jumping to that Super Bowl, the journey beings Sunday in a road match in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans.