When the monarch dies, there is a new monarch ready to take his place. The line of the king goes unbroken. In the military, when the leader is killed, the next in command becomes the leader. Why did I bring this up? There are a number of talking heads out there that say the Patriots have lost their defensive leaders. Some even say we've lost the heart of the defense because the Super Bowl stat leaders are now gone. My point is that the leaders are still there and have already assumed their roles.
More after the jump.
First, let's look at the necessity of removing the previous leaders from power. After all, there can be only one king.
It also allows Meriweather to play a more vocal, confident role in the secondary. Harrison, Sanders and linebacker Tedy Bruschi have all commented on his improved communication in the defensive backfield. Of course he jokes that he still understands his role in the unit.
"I’m not bossing them around. That’s Hot Rod," he quipped of Harrison. "Can’t nobody boss the leader around."
Meriweather knew the pecking order and knew his place in it. When Harrison went down last year, Meriweather and Sanders lead the secondary. They could because the leader wasn't there. Whatever you may think of the secondary last year, the leaders remain. Meriweather's safety blitz last year was his first (that was Harrison's job), but definitely not the last. The keys are now in his hands.
So, how did Meriweather read the play and time his blitz so perfectly? As Belichick indicated, Meriweather got back to basics. He used his eyes, ears, and instincts to make the game-saving play.
"I was trying to disguise it and show late," he said of his pre-snap position near the line of scrimmage. After nearly four full quarters of studying the Seahawks’ up-temp West Coast offense and listening to the cadence of Wallace, Meriweather found something he could use.
"I had a key on how they snap the ball, what sound they go on and everything ... Once you realize that, you just go off of them," he explained. "I just kind of timed it up pretty good and I hit the hole right on time."
That was the same game that Bruschi went out for the season. Who picked up the slack then? Seau? No, it was Mayo who wore (and still wears) the green dot.
MAYO LEADS IN TACKLES
NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year JEROD MAYO led the Patriots with 139 tackles (93 solo) according to the team's tally based on coaching film breakdown. Mayo led second-place Vince Wilfork by 54 tackles. According to press box statisticians (who tally unofficial tackle totals at each NFL game), Mayo was credited with 126 tackles (98 solo) this season, a total that led all NFL rookies and ranked 10th in the NFL. Mayo's total of 126 tackles ranked fifth in the AFC.
Our first 4 tacklers are back, we've lost the next four: Vrabel, Hobbs, Bruschi, and Seymour.
Next is Ty Warren, followed by Deltha O'Neal (anybody want him back?), then Hot Rod.
We've lost our sack leaders, but last year's sack total was nothing to write home about. Other guys will step up to provide pressure, now that the leaders have gone. Mayo, for instance, didn't blitz at all last year (that was Tedy's job).
Jerod Mayo will make the Pro Bowl. We will look back on the 2009 season as the year Mayo truly arrived as the next great middle/inside linebacker. The 23-year-old was a beast in training camp, and he continued that dominance into the preseason. And he’s not just making gains on the field. At the start of his second season, he already sounds like a leader, calling the rest of the linebackers "his guys" and becoming notorious for his long hours in the film room.
"You talk to Jerod, he’ll want more on his shoulders. He’s that type of player. He wants to be good. He wants to be really good," said former teammate Tedy Bruschi. "You can really see that he desires to be a good player."
Last year, quite obviously, was a changing of the guard. The leadership transitioned to younger men with more upside. Instead of worrying about the defense, let's look at it as an opportunity to see how the new leaders perform, or even who they are. Even Belichick can't say:
But you have a combination of players, and every single team has its own chemistry, its own leadership, its own dynamics within the team. Even if you have the exact same people from one year to the next, still there would be something that would be different in the next year. I don't know, it would be something; somebody would emerge, the roles would change somehow or another and there'd be a little bit different set of dynamics. That's always the case, so how this team develops its personality, leadership, how it integrates, the chemistry of the team is something we'll all have to see. It's not something that can be legislated by a coach. I can't sit there and say, ‘Well, you two guys are going to be friends, you are going to be the leader of these three guys, you're going to be the leader of this group, you guys are going to do this.' That's something that a team evolves into, and it's not a straight line. It's not necessarily from point A to point B. Sometimes that happens through circumstances or just the growth of in individual or how the team perceives it. It will be interesting to see how that happens. It's interesting every year, not just at this position or with this particular situation. We don't always have the same captains each year. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't, but sometimes even the leadership role within the team - even if the captains are the same or they're sitting on the same side of the ball - changes from year to year or throughout the course of the year.
As our guys go into battle, leaders will emerge, heroes will emerge, and we will get to see it unfold. Just as we did before the first Super Bowl win. Let the games begin.