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New England Patriots: Questions for 2009, Part I

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I try not to play armchair Head Coach.  Bill Belichick is one of the best and smartest coaches of the last decade, so who am I to even think I know what I'm talking about?  Well, this is a fan site - we discuss and debate the team we love.  So sometimes, I have no issues sitting at my computer, tapping away about things I can only understand as a fan.  So be it.  For now I'm Bill.  Not in a weird, creepy, existential sort of way but in a...

Questions after the jump.

  1. Will the departure of Josh McDaniels hurt?  Josh was with New England for a long time.  There are some things about him that make me cheer and other things that infuriate me.  For example: In Super Bowl XLII, it was clear the Giants were getting into the backfield far too often.  We could call this an offensive line breakdown, but I believe McD should've adjusted and instructed Brady to checkdown more, go for the options and slants.  Instead, he stuck with the game plan.  Maybe Belichick's stats guru, Ernie Adams, instructed him to do so.  Who knows.  On the cheering side, he took the 2008 team, racked with injury after injury, and made a contender out of it.  We lot Tom Brady, Laurence Maroney for roughly 12 games, and LaMont Jordan for a significant portion of the season.  Josh also had to work hard with Cassel to keep us competitive.  Bill O'Brien, technically the Quarterbacks Coach, could be the heir apparent to OC.  Will Belichick whisper plays in his ear or will O'Brien take the reins?
  2. Will Defensive YAC be a problem again?  In 2008, we were hammered by defensive YAC (yards after carry).  Leading the league (not a good thing for defense YAC) with 7.3 yards per carry when rushing the passer, we simply had trouble reading plays and bringing down receivers once they had the ball in their hands.  Handling the middle of the field is typically the responsibility of the inside linebackers, Tedy Bruschi and Jerod Mayo in this case.  Sometimes the strong safety (Rodney Harrison or Brandon Meriweather in 2008) is used to support the ILB's.  Could the use of Tank Williams in a hybrid safety/linebacker role help with this problem?
  3. Will our new wide receivers take the heat off?  Let's face it - the receiving tandem of Randy Moss and Wes Welker is tops for the Patriots, if not the league.  I hate the term #1 and #2 (I prefer to differentiate receivers based on roles), but it's the truth.  Greg Lewis and Joey Galloway are the prospects for removing pressure from Moss and Welker.  The term decoy comes to mind.  Let's face it: teams would be stupid to not swarm Welker and/or Moss.  If Galloway can run the sidelines and make opposing backfields nervous, all the better for Moss.  If he can be productive, backfields will be scrambling to figure out how to cover two deep threats.  Greg Lewis will be an ideal decoy for Welker.  He's productive with slants, can go downfield, and will, in my opinion, be deadly in the middle.  Many predict the three wideout set of Welker/Galloway/Moss as deadly, but what about Welker/Lewis/Moss?
  4. Where's our workhorse running back?  I find it somewhat crazy many rival fans don't realize what a strong rushing attack the Patriots had in 2008.  Sixth in the NFL and first in the AFC East, New England quietly put up one heck of a season on the ground.  So why don't we get any credit?  Because many teams in the NFL mistakenly rely on one star back for the majority of their production, ex: Colts.  Their reliance on Joseph Addai will kill them when he's out as he was for four games in 2008.  The Colts ranked an abysmal 31st.  To the contrary, the Patriots have used a backfield-by-committee approach and it works.  The question should actually be, "Do we NEED a workhorse running back?"
  5. Are we all set at nose tackle?  Technically, Vince Wilfork is under contract and has to play for 2009.  The Patriots don't need to negotiate a contract until then.  But, it is good business sense to work it out as fast as possible.  I believe a lot of players in this situation are big, whiney, babies.  They're looking to get out of something they signed years back (Jay Cutler, anyone?) and get a bigger slice of the pie because they did well.  So, if they did poorly, would they allow the team to re-negotiate a lesser contract?  Anyway, I think Wilfork is approaching this with class by trying to get all this stuff out of the way before the season starts.  Both the team and Vince know he's valuable, so why not work it out before it becomes a distraction?  The next question would be if we DO have issues with Vince, will Ron Brace be up to the task?

That's it for now.  As I was writing this, I realized there's FAR more than five questions to grapple with, so I added a "Part I" to the title.  Look for a "Part II" fairly soon.  What questions do you have?  Are these the right ones to worry about?