Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pivotal Pats

The Patriots entered their bye week at five and one, looking like one of the strongest teams in the league and probably the best in the AFC. Brady, as you'd expect, has been instrumental to their success, but which other players will be most important going forward?

BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The Patriots are trying to balance their attack, which means more touches for the Law Firm. He's responded well thus far--he rushed for a career high 136 yards against the Jets' stout run defense. Most importantly: he knows how to hold on to the ball. Turnovers have cost the Patriots dearly, creating the defeat against Buffalo and nearly another against Dallas.

Albert Haynesworth. I'm with you, Pats fans--he looks slow and out of shape, like he's been gobbling up Burger King instead of opposing linemen. But against the Cowboys, when he was reported to finally be healthy, he looked sharper, and even put Romo under some pressure when the Belichick dialed up the blitz. Two tackles--his current total for the season--is embarrassing, but if Haynesworth can return to anywhere close to his old ability, he will certainly be an asset.

Chad Ochocinco. I had to do these two back to back. Listen, I'm not making the case that Ochocinco will finish the season as a top receiver, nor am I suggesting that the Patriots can't win without him. But if Ocho does emerge, then the receiving corps becomes considerably more flexible--so far, Welker and Hernandez have been our most dangerous deep threats.

Jerod Mayo. He's an obvious selection. The Patriots have missed their defensive leader, and fill-in Gary Guyton has been mediocre. Mayo should be healthy enough to return from injury after the bye, and that could be the final piece of the puzzle for a defensive that is growing in confidence.

Rob Gronkowski. Another no-brainer, maybe, but bear with me: since Hernandez has returned from injury, Gronkowski's role has shifted towards run blocking. It's yet another thing he does exceptionally well, and he's still getting looks from Brady in important moments. But the Patriots have been at their most dangerous--and most versatile--with both tight ends running routes.

(HONORABLE MENTION: Scott O'Brien. I couldn't technically include him in this list, because he's not a player, but the Patriots' special teams coach needs to make some changes. They have looked extremely vulnerable on kick and punt returns--the coverage must be examined.)

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