Finishing up some work on Friday, I had ESPN's "NFL Live" program on and was interested to hear the discussion when the topic turned to the Patriots.
Entertaining host Wendi Nix tossed it over to analysts Trent Dilfer and Darren Woodson, and Dilfer projected some of the early challenges for quarterback Tom Brady in returning from injury, and how the team's offense might look different early in the year.
I turned my recorder on, because when the informative Dilfer talks, there is usually something to be learned. Here is the first part of Dilfer's analysis:
"Any great competitor -- and you have to put Tom Brady at the top of that list -- is going to convince himself that he is fine. He has had almost an entire year before he goes into this [training] camp to rehab this knee, and I know he's invested a ton of emotional and physical energy into his rehabbing his knee so he can be better than ever. So in his mind, he's going to be perfect. But any time you suffer a catastrophic injury, your body does not respond as fast as your mind. So it's the burden of the organization and the coaching staff to manage him and to make sure -- early in the year especially -- that they limit his opportunities. They can take care of him so he doesn't get carried away."
After Woodson talked about Brady adjusting to live action and stepping up into the pocket when defenders could come into contact with his knee, Dilfer then talked Xs and Os as video rolled of the Patriots' offense.
"I'm excited to see it. What we're used to seeing is the precision New England Patriots, the precision passing game, Tom Brady in the middle of the football field, but I think that may change this year. In years past, they put a huge horizontal stretch on the football field, they make the defenders cover the entire width of the football field. This creates a lot of air in the defense. When there is air in the defense, the intermediate completions are almost freebies. Also, when you're in the single-back set, you get great run matchups because the defense can't fit properly. They mess up their run fits and you get big gashes in the run game. More importantly, the ultimate offense is based on the vertical passing game and this is what you're going to see this year with the Patriots. Them going deep. It will no longer be precision Tom Brady, but it's going to be vertical Tom Brady, because this is how you manage his opportunities early in the year. You limit some of his first- and second-down throws by running the football, getting that defense to start playing downhill on you a little bit -- creating those matchups on the outside. And when you get those matchups on the outside, you're in big trouble [as a defense] when you have Joey Galloway and Randy Moss. I think huge yards per attempt numbers from Tom Brady this year because of the matchups he'll have."
This theory has been mentioned in the past by e-mailers to the Patriots mailbag on Boston.com -- that the Patriots might be more of a running team early in the year to protect Brady.
My personal feeling has been that there won't be major changes in the team's approach, but Dilfer's convincing, informative opinion has me reconsidering that thought.