Hi gang, what a good season all told. Here is a little breakdown for you all. Feel free to add.
QB -- The offense is a tale of two teams. In the first half of the season, the Pats offense was in the bottom third consistently and hovered around the bottom fifth at times. This is due to Cassel's progression as a QB. At first he had major trouble hitting his spots and holding the ball. It really hurt the team. But he got better. And so did the offense. That they finished ranked 12th in passing says a lot considering they were 29th at one point. Cassel went from a deer in the headlights, to a game manager, to an accurate passer to eventually being a guy who can actually throw a strike in the clutch. He deserves a pay day, because he has proven more than ANY college QB has at this point. He seems like a great, humble guy and I hope he gets a good contract on a team that can win (in the NFC of course). His biggest weakness (getting rid of the ball) improved week to week, and his sense of timing developed as well. He is very accurate on the short routes and when decisive has a quick release. Also, he really developed into his own player. He is a running threat. Perhaps not elusive open field running a la Vick, and deft scrambling like Steve Young, but he can hit a fair stride in open space, isn't afraid to get hit, and this gazelle like running ability only adds to his other attributes.
WR -- We knew the skill players could play. Wes Welker had as MVP caliber season, and I am convinced that without him this team doesn't get close to where they are. Randy was Randy. Although he dropped a few at midseason, and had trouble generating chemistry with Cassel on the deep balls, finishing with 69 rec for 1008 yards and 11 TDs on an off year, without your starting QB, tells you everything you need to know about Moss. He is great, and he even stepped his game up on downfield blocking this season and was key in springing other players for large gains. All told, I love his game. TEs only get mentioned because perhaps more than any other spot they were a failure. Watson was on again off again with his injury, and still hasn't learned to avoid the alligator arms that cost NE QB's at least a couple picks a season. I will never forgive him for his open field fumble against the Jests as it may have cost NE a shot at the playoffs. David Thomas' first nearly full season proved that he is a decent option only and is really a #2 at best.
RB -- Man is Maroney's stock low right now. He has been the "man" of sorts for a few seasons, and had a great 2008 postseason. But he wasn't missed that much this season. Sammy Morris, Lamont Jordan, Kevin Faulk and BenJarvus Green-Ellis were very effective in his stead. All told, statistically they performed as well as the vaunted Chris Johnson/LenDale White combo from Tennessee. This is a very good performance considering that the unit lost Maroney, Morris, and Jordan for the season fo significant chunks. I won't say, "anyone" could run the ball behind this line, because it takes away from the gutty running style these guys represent. Special mention goes to Kevin Faulk who truly was a force this season. Is it just me, or is he getting better with age? I remember when he was a young buck struggling for reps and in and out of the dog house because of his fumbe-itis.
OL-- I won't place the *all* of burden of the enormous sack total (48) on the line, simply because Matt Cassel's improvement also improved that total. Except for a five sack blip against the Steelers, Cassel really transformed at the midseason, and figured out how to move the ball on time. As a result the second half average would lead to 24 sacks on the year. That would be good for 8th in the league. Add to that the fact that the running game placed 6th in yardage and average and 4th in scoring, while using no less than five different starting RBs and I think this unit proved again that they are a very versatile group of lineman, who may not be the best, but are one of the best and a true cost effective Jack of all.
DL-- This unit was the anchor, and truly proved its depth and worth. Richard Seymour (as predicted) returned to form registering 54 tackles and 8 sacks. It is a pity the NE won't have the ~$10million per to re-up this guy because he is still the best 3-4 defensive end period. That said, when Ty Warren went down we really saw what he means to this defense. Less any one of Warren, Fork, and Sey, and this team turns from a dominant run defense into two great run defenders and a guy named Wright who keeps getting turned around by driving O-lineman. Wilfork is still the man, and at the point of attack no one is better. Mike Wright (who is a FA) is a great 3rd down option, as he can get after the QB, but in extended time this year he really showed us he wasn't a four down lineman.
LB -- Oh, so many injuries, so hard to evaluate. Let’s start with the good. First, Mayo had a DROY type campaign. 128 tackles, four passes broken up and one fumble rec, when you are the only real threat in the middle of the field is stupendous. He ahs great sideline to sideline speed and will only get better. Let's hope this season's first rounder turns out as good. In his absence Adalius Thomas really illustrated what he brings to the club. The defense was great in the first half, and started to slide after his loss. In what was essentially 8.5 games he had 34 tackles 4 passes defended and 5 sacks. This is probowl stuff. I will never forget him sacking Leon Washington and Brett Farve like a rag doll . . . that is right . . . two guys. I can’t wait till he is healthy again. Tedy Bruschi showed that his decline is real. He made some decent tackles in the field, but was not a run stuffer, and certainly not the dynamic player of old. Mike Vrabel had a decent "workman like" season, but was never the force he was in 2008. I think his spot on the roster is one that could use an upgrade soon, also as he is a free agent in 2010. But just because his stats have dropped precipitously, and without a really good excuse, doesn’t mean his value has plummeted. He was so valuable to the team calling plays and setting the edge. He Qb-ed the defense after Bruschi and Rodney went down and played a number of roles in the middle four. Just accept that his sack total was cut in third. If NE could pick up a true edge rusher (Suggs anyone?) he merits a look at MIKE after his performance, based on size and skillset. Among the remainder, two names pop out. Junior Seau and Gary Guyton. What a pick Guyton was. He wasn't a difference maker, but showed he could be given time to develop. And Seau may have lost a step in the open field, but BAR NONE, was still the best stack and shed linebacker the Pats had last season, and that was after missing the first twelve weeks or so.
CB -- Another spot with frequent changes. Let’s start bad, and work our way up to mediocre. Deltha O'neal was a miscarriage. He was truly terrible at press (and this says a lot because the Pats haven't had a press corner since Law left) and was often missing in zone. I have never seen a man get turned around so frequently, yet still have the gall to laud himself for average defense. Wheatley, who was an injury concern due to two college wrist surgeries, looked good until he . . . . . . wait for it . . . promptly hurt his fr1gg1n wrist. So no eval, all that can be said was that it looked as if he was going to be starting in his rookie season, which says something about his ability. Wilhite came on as the season went on, beating out O'neal doesn’t mean much, but it is good enough to mention. Hobbs is Hobbs. A great cover guy, who doesn't have the size to punch it up at the LOS. He is a great number two, if you have a number one who can either side and move with the other team's ace receiver. He is also a great returner but more on that later.
S/FS - Wow. I thought Harrison would be done, but he was really good when he was in here. Too bad he is really done now. James Sanders was adequate. You cannot have pro-bowlers at every spot, and I wouldn't mind having him come back if NE couldn't upgrade on the cheap. Brandon Meriweather will be a force in the AFC. He built up a lot of momentum, and after not starting the first few games he became the best player in the back eight over the final stretch. In just eleven starts he had 83 tackles, four picks, two sacks and two fum. I hope BB and Pioli don't make the same mistake they made with Samuel and lock this kid up before he becomes a beast that is really unaffordable. He isn’t Reed or Polomalu yet, but he is getting there.
What else can you say but that the "Ghost" has been the most accurate NFL kicker since he started, and was the NFL's leading scorer this season. He is great. Hanson is average. He was better this season than last, but then he really didn't have to be good last season. His average is middling, and his placement inside the 20 was 20th best. Part of this is due to the fact that he didn't have many opportunities and because BB is very aggressive and will perhaps try 4th down conversions and FGs where other teams might punt. Part is because he can't generate the tremendous backspin that say, Lechler can. Ellis Hobbs spearheaded an elite return game. I say elite as in #1. Best in the bigs. He is a such a valuable player, and does a lot for the team in two phases. People pick on him because he isn’t a shutdown corner, but he is one guy I hope signs a team friendly contract, because his value might not equate into the kind of dollars he could ask for on the open market.
BB deserves coach of the year. 42 different starters? That is two short of TWO full 22 man rosters. The problem is, so was Sparano and a few others. Deen Pees was too hot and cold, and McDaniels has yet to figure out that on 3rd and short you don't call a play that takes five horizontal yards to develop in the backfield. All in all, I won't complain about their performance. Given the injuries these guys did great!