I've been traveling the blogosphere and looking at concerns other team's fans have to deal with, and it occured to me that even during the lockout, I have a lot to be thankful for as a Patriots fan.
1. My team's owner isn't Jerry Richardson who insulted pretty much every player available at the start of this CBA fiasco. It's not Virginia Halas McCaskey or any of the other members of the lucky sperm club who happened to have a daddy who owned an NFL franchise that they could run into the ground. It's not Al Davis or Ralph Wilson who were once well respected but would be better served by having someone competent running their franchise. Along those lines it's also not Stephen Ross (and the Rossettes? - whatever you call the other hundred Dolphins "owners") or one of the multitudes of other owners that have no clue about running a franchise (Dan Snyder anyone).
Instead it's Robert Kraft who has done a great job of not only building a franchise, but leaving it alone when it comes to football decisions. He hired the right guys and held them accountable. He also seems to be one of the driving forces on the owners side toward getting a deal done. He probably started by tying up Jerry Richardson in a closet somewhere.
2. We don't have to hope a stadium gets built to keep the Pats in Foxborough. Between the firm belief that SOME team will end up in L.A., and a number of teams looking to get a stadium deal done, there are fans like those of the Vikings, Jaguars, and Chargers wondering what the future of their team might be. The Pats, well, they're sitting pat.
3. My team is not getting a new head coach this year. Occasionally a new coach experiences first season success. Rarely do they experience multiple seasons of success (Harbaugh with the Ravens is one such success story). Instead we have boring old Bill Belichick and can virtually guarantee a winning season, a shot a the playoffs, and the possibility of winning it all. When's the last time the Pats were a bottom feeder? Bill's first year. Yeah, that thing about new coaches.... We don't have to worry about that.
4. My team just got a shiny new quarterback ... and with any luck, he'll NEVER see the field because we've got a first ballot Hall of Famer tossing the rock. Oh, and his contract is done (unlike Manning's). At least ten teams have questions at QB (and more probably should), but the Pats aren't one of them. Instead we ask heady questions like, "When Brady's done in 5 years, who will our QB be?", or, "When should we draft our QB of the future." With us, we know that if we can keep number 12 upright, we have a chance to win every damn Sunday (or Thursday, or Saturday, or those Monday night games....)
5. We seem to have found a running game using a back that isn't ancient in RB years. He'll likely be reasonable to re-sign, and Woody makes a nice complement. Faulk may still have a year of tread left if they want him, but other than that, we've got two rookies we haven't even kicked the tires on. No retreads here.
6. We don't have a proven deep threat ... and better yet, we don't need one. We got rid of our "proven deep threat" last year and won 14 games. It's nice to have, but the Pats really never won a Lombardi with a "proven deep threat". We had one in 2007, and that didn't get us a ring either.
What we're missing is solid receiver depth. Guys that make plays whenever their number is called, whereever their number is called. Like Edelman who only caught 7 of his 14 attempts (he was targeted 40 less times in 2010 than in 2009). He can be a beast with the ball in his hand, but he needs to make sure he catches it once it's there. While I'm blasting Julian, I might as well hit Wes who dropped the most passed of any wide receiver last year, yet still had a 69% catch rate. Brandon Tate's catch rate is 52% (just a tad above Edelman's) of his 46 targets. Branch, by comparison, had a 66% catch rate on his 92 targets.
As a group, our offense left a lot of football on the field, and Brady is right there with them. There were VERY few deep balls that were on target (could be poor route running, but his deep ball hasn't looked good since 2007). The good news is that all of that is fixable; deep threat or no. Our offense works best catching the ball and moving the chains. Add in Herdo and Gronk and you have a team that can exploit mismatches if they catch the ball when the opportunity arises. Our success is all in their hands.
7. We've got very few free agents to sign:
Law Firm (who should be reasonable to sign): Ok,
Thomas Clayton, Kevin Faulk, Fred Taylor, and Sammy Morris are all free agents as well, but the Pats don't need them to succeed. We might try to get Faulk one more ring.
Logan Mankins (who was franchise tagged): It seemed like the cold war was thawing between Logan and the Pats, so he might still get a long term deal, but either way we should have his services THIS year.
Shayne Graham - Not needed with the Ghost back. Oh, and Gostkowski's back which means better field position out of the kicking game. Gerard Warren - Probably not needed.
With so many teams needing to hustle to sign their free agents, ours has a pretty small shopping list. We probably have more rookies to worry about than veterans.
8. We don't have a proven pass-rusher. That's a good thing? Yeah, if that's all you got to complain about. There are a lot of teams that have more questions than answers, we have more answers than questions. When I look at pass rush, I use the Mississippi rule. At the snap I count, 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, etc. until the QB is pressured or he completes the pass. If the pass goes out before 3, that's on the secondary. How many guys can get past an experienced blocker in 3 seconds? That was the story in 2008 - our secondary sucked swamp water. Ellis Hobbs and Deltha O'Neal as starters? Really? If there is no pressure by 6, that's on the front 7 - all of them. In between, they share the blame.
The Pats went from having a lousy secondary in 2008 , to potentially having an elite secondary in 2011. Sure there are some ifs: if Bodden is healthy and McCourty plays as well or better then we're very good, if Ras-I is decent on the outside (especially against taller WRs), then we're even better, and if Butler makes headway as a slot-stopping corner, we're golden.
The early signs point to a secondary that will be special, and if so, we just added some time to the QB dumping the ball (watching last year we were a Mississippi away many times). Add in some experience and stability at DE (with Warren, Wright and others back), and we've added pressure without a change in personnel at OLB. I'd really be surprised if we don't see an increase in pressures, QB hits, and sacks with the same guys and more experience in the system. What we had last year was good enough for 14 wins, and that's with backups at CB and DE.
9. With so few holes on the team, and so few free agents to sign, the Pats will be among the teams least affected by the lockout. Add to that the positions they drafted need the least time to come up to speed (RB, OL, and CB mostly), and even our rookies might be contributors this year.
10. It looks like when all is said and done, there will be Patriots football in 2011. I see us winning at least 4 of 6 in the division. At least 3 of 4 in the AFC West, and 2 of 4 in the NFC East. That leaves Indy and the Steelers which at worst is 1 of 2. That's a minimum of 10 wins and good shot at the playoffs even if we don't have the division. Not many fans can say that. They hope it and dream it, but they can't say it. I think this season will be well worth the wait.