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Question From A Patriots' Fan: "So we do not know who this Pats team is?"

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Poster Karmax posts a question for the post-season: "So we do not know who this Pats team is?"

Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

One of the things I love about this site is the conversation that happens down in the trenches of the posts.  In fact, I'd rather chat down there, than write anything up here.  Once in awhile though, someone will raise a point that needs a little longer explanation than is suitable for a comment in a post.

Today's comment came from Karmax,

So do we know who this Pats team is?

It's a great question and an honest question.  It also cuts straight to the uneasiness surrounding this years playoffs.  Exactly what team will show up in two weeks?

When the season started we had all hands on deck minus our beloved fullback, James Develin.  The offensive line wasn't completely gelled, but it wasn't for a lack of bodies.  Tom Brady hit the field like a man possessed and passed the ball to 7 different people in the season opener against the Steelers: 2 tight ends, 3 receivers, and 2 running backs.  Dion Lewis was breaking guys off at the ankles, Gronk was a 3 TD machine, and remember that 4 TE goal line package?  Who the hell could stop that?  The offense was point and click, and Brady was getting the ball out faster than most guys could get out of their three point stance.

The playoffs won't feature that Patriots team.  Dion Lewis won't see the field until next year, and at this point all we can do is hope he won't lose too much of his shimmer and shake.  Hooman was shuffled off and with A.J Derby on IR, and Chandler hobbled, the TE count dropped way below the requisite 4 for the goal line package.

With the injuries to Edelman and Amendola, much of the pointiness and clickiness of the offense went away.  While both are expected to be back for the playoffs, a big question surrounds what percentage to place by each name?  Is it a 80% Edelman and a 90% Amendola?  If the percentage drops low enough, will Keshawn Martin and Brandon LaFell continue to be more viable alternatives?  We've seen that the last couple weeks and that's not pretty.  Is it the reality though?

There are two real questions surrounding Gronk.  One for the coaches and the other for the NFL.  For the coaches, how much will Gronk be sent on routes, and how much will he be asked to block?  It's a great question to have to ask about a tight end, because it shows just how well rounded the guy is.  The point is the offense is a lot scarier when Gronk is running down the field.  Both for the defense because he is that much of a difference maker and for the fans, because with this offensive line, we wonder whether Brady will die without Gronk's help on the blocking front.

The second question about Gronk concerns whether the NFL referees will continue to remove him from the field.  Will any defender that touches him draw OPI regardless of where Brady goes with the ball?  Will he continue to have three defenders draped on him every route without drawing DPI ever?  In short, has the NFL FO deemed the use of Gronk illegal in the playoffs?

Having mentioned the offensive line, who will be suiting up and where will they be playing?  We've have something like 6 guys start at LT since Nate Solder went to the IR.  Any week we have either 2 centers or no centers depending on how well you believe they played, and pretty much every body has been plugged into every hole with more or less (mostly less) effectiveness.  Brady has been hit more times than a Pinata at a fourth grader's birthday party ... or should it be called fiesta.  No, the look on Brady's face on the sidelines screams, "No soy fiesta."

What the heck, we'll just hand off to:

  • James Develin - IR
  • Dion Lewis - IR
  • LeGarrette Blount - IR
  • Joey Iosefa - breaks tackles - I mean OUR tackles.  Right Vollmer?
  • Brandon Bolden - which leads directly to special teams becoming "special"
  • James White - as long as it isn't between the tackles
  • Steven Jackson - who isn't as "Ram Tough" as he used to be

Ok, so we've got a little uncertainty on offense.  We've still got Brady, right?  Right?  RIGHT?!?!?!?!

Um, he's sick.  My best friend's sister's boyfriend's cousin's girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with this girl who saw his O-line trying to kill him with Suh.  I guess it's pretty serious.

Thank you, Simone.  Anyone else having 2007 flashbacks?

Surely we can rely on our special teams, right?  I mean Belichick values special teams more than just about ANYBODY in the league.  Punts blocked for TDs?  Punt returners did what?  Again?  And again?  Enough about special teams.

Remember the circle defense that had no corners?  Remember how Belichick had grabbed pretty much every safety on the face of the Earth?  Some of those guys on the bottom of the depth chart don't know how to defend a rub route.  Some of those guys on the top are a step slow due to injuries.  How safe are we feeling about our safeties right now?

Oh, and we have corners.  Butler has looked great in some games and been burned in others.  Ryan with some safety help has been a find, but remember not all of our safeties are helpful.  After that we have the corner du jour that the opposing QB is going to target over and over and over and over....  Much of our defensive success is going to rely on our third corner.  Who is that again?

How much better will our defense be once Collins and Hightower are healthy and together?  Will they BE completely healthy?  Will Mayo play the complementary role, or will they give more snaps to, dare I say it?, Freeny?  You know the guy that takes a bad angle while the pass is completed over his head?  Ok, I should be more specific because we've seen some of that off and on all year long.

While the defensive line has shown some real flashes from the likes of Hicks and Sheard, Chandler Jones abdominal issue has made him a non-factor for awhile now.  To make a real splash we're going to need all cylinders firing and hitting the quarterback with 4 bodies or less.  How many games have we seen that?

There are question marks surrounding the Patriots right now; not the least of which is: What is this team's identity?

That won't be answered anytime soon as the team has entered its own little cocoon somewhere in the bowels of Gillette stadium.  Questions about player's health, the team's strengths, etc.  will be met with a glare and/or a chuckle of derision by the Hooded One.  We won't know who these Patriots are until they emerge in two weeks for their first playoff game of the season.    Considering the last two games have resembled a dung beetle and a stink bug, I'm really not sure what to expect.  I just hope it's something beautiful.