New England Patriots 2014-15 Team Preview
The New England Patriots reached the AFC Championship game, but ended up falling to the Denver Broncos. Tom Brady continues to age, as all do, and is now the ripe age of 37.
The roster is talented, but aging.
The team still has persistent questions at tight end, but Brady will keep this team in contention. The multitude of solid signings are enough for New England to be the favorite in the AFC East once again.
Odds to win Super Bowl: 15/2
Odds to win AFC: 3/1
Odds to win AFC East: -300
Betting Odds courtesy of Bovada
The Pats last season were a heavily rush dependent team. 53 percent of the offensive plays were running plays and the team ranked 9th in the NFL in rushing yards (129 per game). The Pats basically ran the same four pass plays every time the ball was thrown, but there were variations in the formations. It helped when Rob Gronkowski was active (though just seven games), because it gave Brady a real passing target to open up further options to run.
The Pats may do a lot of three-receiver sets with Brandon LaFell giving New England a bigger body at WR.
The team selected Jimmy Graoppolo with its second-round pick (62nd overall). This will be Brady’s immediate backup, and he’ll try to cultivate Graoppolo’s talent. He’s not really any threat to push Brady out, at all. In 2013, Brady had 4,323 yards, 25 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. However, it was a decline for Brady, whose passing percentage had not been lower since 2003. He was sacked the most he had been since 2001, 40 times.
Graoppolo is the highest selected QB under Bill Belichick and is a great plan B if Brady happens to battle injuries in his final NFL seasons. He’s likely a backup for the next four seasons, and last year’s backup Ryan Mallett fades to complete irrelevance.
The Patriots were a great running team last year, and averaged 4.4 yards per attempt, simply powering it down the field. The running approach was done by committee, with Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount (no longer with team) and occasionally Brandon Bolden or Shane Vereen (though the latter two were primarily used as pass targets). Losing Blount in free agency is a bit of a blow, but fourth round pick James White can fill the role. White is an excellent pass target, which will further help the Pats since the team was so run-dependent last season.
Ridley’s four turnover stint towards the end of the season got him benched, but he’ll be heavily utilized this season and has a lot of pressure as the primary ball carrier, with an even heavier load.
As far as pass targets for Brady, his best remains Gronkowski. The team averaged seven points more per game with their starting tight end. He may not be ready for the start of the season.
Brady sat out the opening exhibition game so Jimmy Garoppolo got some early looks. JG completed 9-of-13 passes for 157 yards with one interception, and a QB rating of 135.7. Malett lingered behind, completing just 41 percent of his passes while also being sacked for a loss of five yards.
The Pats only gave Ridley two carries in the game, while Jonas Gray saw a team-high 9 carries, but managed just 12 yards (1.3 yards per carry). With the Pats best two players sitting this one out, it’s hard to draw any real conclusions about how the offense will function when fully loaded.
The offensive line returns all five starters from last season. The unit allowed 40 sacks last season, which was the 12th fewest in the NFL. However, Brady had not been sacked that many times since 2001, and the interior was mostly to blame. Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly were inadequate and left guard Logan Mankins was a wild card with his inconsistent play. The Patriots will need much more reliability out of those three linemen. The team drafted the top center in NCAA football, Bryan Stork, in the 4th round.
The Patriots vacillate between the 3-4 and 4-3 defenses. The reason the team has been able to do this is because it has versatile linemen like Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones. First round pick Dominque Easley will be easily integrated into one of the best units in football. The line isn’t known for blitzing, but that may increase slightly this year.
The secondary will play more press-man coverage since Darrell Revis and Brandon Browner introduced to the defensive unit. The team’s secondary and linemen are its strengths, while its defensive line is just about average. Overall, the Patriots are strong defensive team and keep down opponent’s scoring to give Brady a chance to win the team games.
The Patriots really don’t have any great kickoff returners to speak of. But kicking is one of the Pats’ strengths, conversely. Stephen Gostowski made 38-of-41 field goal attempts and was perfect from within 40 yards. Punter Ryan Allen wasn’t great with his distance (17th at 39.9 yards), but he had none blocked all season, nor were any of his punts returned for TDs.
While the team lacks great kickoff returners, Julian Edelman is one of the top punt returners in the league. He averaged 10.7 yards per return last season. Losing Blount also is a blow to the special teams, and the Pats will have to eventually find a kickoff returner. The best option may end up being either Vereen or 7th round pick Jeremy Gallon.
The Pats were one game away from a Super Bowl appearance last season, yet the team’s desire for more titles can’t be quenched. Brady is a winner, and the team has a winning culture, which can’t be underestimated in the NFL. Brady considers anything less than a Super Bowl appearance a wasted season. The team is among the favorites, but Bovada gives both the Seahawks and Broncos a better chance of winning the title this season.
The team is heavily reliant on its free agent signings panning out, but the veteran leadership will not be lacking. Gronokowski’s health is imperative, as the team is far better with its TE on the field. It requires integrating parts, staying healthy, and ultimately riding the arm of Tom Brady and his continuing legendary career.