Five thing we learned (or already knew) about the 2011 Patriots

By Andy Lindberg 

The New England Patriots have put together another great season, clinching a first round playoff bye to this point with one game yet to play in the regular season.  Here are five things we have learned (or already knew) over the course of this season.

1.  Rob Gronkowski is a freak.

Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end I have ever seen wear a Patriots uniform, even over the great Ben Coates.  In his second season in the NFL, Gronkowski has amassed 1,219 receiving yards and 16 total touchdowns (15 receiving and 1 rushing).  He has broken the record for touchdowns caught by a tight end in a single season at the age of 22.  He cannot be covered by anyone it seems, as his tackle breaking ability and balance combined provide for a devastating combination and the ultimate red zone target.  His ability as a blocker is overlooked as well, pushing defenders clear on off-tackle runs by BenJarvus Green-Ellis.  Gronkowski still has one game left to play to add to his record-breaking season.

2.  The Patriots’ defense is freakishly bad.

I understand why Vince Wilfork and other New England defenders are sick and tired of being berated on all levels by the media and other teams.  They, however, need to understand why.  They’re bad.  Two games ago the Patriots had to start Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater at defensive back.  Both are wide receivers.  The Patriots are dead last in total defense.  Surprisingly, the team that is second to last in total defense are the Green Bay Packers, the reigning Super Bowl champs and a 14-1 team.  Apparently, defense isn’t needed to win championships anymore.  The Packers, however, force copious amounts of turnovers (they lead the league with 29 interceptions).  The bend but don’t break philosophy can only last so long, as teams like Pittsburgh and Baltimore pose a serious threat to New England in the playoffs.  This offseason, the Patriots need to finally address their pass defense issues and need to draft accordingly.

3.  Tom Brady under duress is a bad time.

Some quarterbacks are fine under pressure.  Tom Brady is not one of those quarterbacks.  Brady can sense pressure better than anyone else in the league.  He’ll step up in the pocket, maneuver as best he can, heck, he’ll even run for extra yards.  But if you plant Brady on the ground consistently, you’re going to beat the Patriots.  Ask the Giants of ’07, the Ravens of ’09, the Jets of last year.  All of those teams beat New England in the playoffs by consistently frustrating Brady.  The Patriots almost lost to the Dolphins this past week and even got shut out in the first half because Brady nearly became a permanent member of the turf on the field.  When given enough time, Brady will work wonders.  Frustrate him, and you’ve won the game.

4.  The above being said, Tom Brady can still bring it.

Tom Brady is still putting up career numbers, setting a personal best in passing yards (4,897) and with one game to go, will likely throw for over 5,000 yards this season.  His 36 touchdown passes match last year’s totals, but what Brady is doing more of is taking the ball himself and running with it, notching three rushing touchdowns this season.  Watch out, Tebow.  The question remains, at 34-years of age, how much longer will Brady be able to keep putting up premier numbers?  The Patriots would be wise to draft a successor within the coming years.

5.  Brian Waters was the pickup of the year for New England.

Waters, a 34-year old former pro-bowl right guard, was let go this past off-season by the Kansas City Chiefs.  The Patriots were quick to scoop Waters up and he paid immediate dividends, solidifying the right side of the offensive line for Brady and contributing to a line that has only given up 28 sacks this season.  Waters has played in all 15 games to this point and come playoff time will be even more important now that Logan Mankins is hurt.

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