The Patriots are coming off a season in which they went to the AFC Championship, losing to Peyton Manning and the Broncos. For most NFL fans, the Patriots being in the AFC Championship was a surprise, considering the few weapons Tom Brady had at his disposal. What Brady and Bill Belichick did with that offense last year with what they had to work with, was phenomenal.
With this, the Patriots have added players on both sides of the ball that should help out the Patriots for the 2014 campaign. Some of these players have higher expectations and need to have success this year. I won’t be talking about Brady, Rob Gronkowski or Darrelle Revis because we know what to expect from them. I will talking about players that either had a bad 2013 campaign and need to bounce back and need to produce in order for the Patriots to be a Super Bowl contender.
5. WR Brandon LaFell
LaFell spent his previous four seasons with the Carolina Panthers, catching 49 passes, for 627 yards and five touchdowns in his last season as a Panther. Though these are average numbers, LaFell’s production will need to improve with the Patriots. LaFell is entering an offense that had only one reliable weapon throughout the season in Julian Edelman and didn’t have much of a deep ball threat. LaFell’s versatility to either lineup outside or in the slot and ability to go deep, gives the Patriots that deep ball wide out they’ve been looking for. The fact is that he’s the ONLY guy the Patriots signed this offseason that can go deep, makes the importance of him producing that much more.
4. S Patrick Chung
Chung is coming off a below average season only recording 63 total tackles and three pass deflections in his one season in Philadelphia. Chung was cut by the Eagles in order to make room for former Saints S Malcolm Jenkins. Chung was signed by Philadelphia Eagles, after being cut by New England after having a subpar season recording 44 total tackles, five pass deflections and two interceptions. Getting a second chance with New England, Chung has to prove himself as the Chung from 2009-2011, in which he had some success. If not, the Patriots may have to plug in second-year player Duron Harmon or third-year player Tavon Wilson for that final spot in the secondary.
3. RB Stevan Ridley
The pressure put on Brady is heavily dependent on how Ridley performs this year. Ridley had a rough start last year rushing for 174 yards on 47 attempts in the first four games of the season. Ridley did return to form during weeks 5-9, rushing for 388 yards and seven touchdowns, but lost the trust of Bill Belichick after having a fumble lost in every game in weeks 9-12 (Bye week 10). After week 12, Ridley saw little action on the field, giving the majority of the touches to now Pittsburgh Steeler LeGarrette Blount. With Blount a Steeler, this means the majority of the touches are going back to Ridley. Ridley has to return to his 2012 form, which saw him rush for 1,263 yards for 12 touchdowns, in order to take pressure of Brady and the rest of the pass offense. If Ridley troubles continue, we may see a repeat of Brady carrying the offense in 2014.
2. WR Danny Amendola
Amendola didn’t live up to his five-year, $28 million deal in his first season as a Patriot in 2013. He only had 54 receptions, for 633 yards and two touchdowns, and only had three games in which he caught 60 plus yards. Injuries was also an issue, as Amendola tore a muscle in his groin week 1 against Buffalo, causing him to miss weeks 2-4 and a concussion suffered against New Orleans that forced him to sit out week 7 against the Jets. The point is, he needs to step it up to give Brady another reliable weapon on offense. The Patriots didn’t sign him to a five-year contract to only catch two touchdowns; it’s unacceptable. The Pats need him to stay injury free and to produce in order for the Patriots to have a legitimate chance of being Super Bowl XLIX.
1. The Defensive Line
Yes, I did say I would be focusing on individual players and not a group of players. The defensive line last year was just so awful, that everybody should be accountable, even Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich who had to play over 95 percent of snaps on defense due to the lack of depth at DE. Their run defense ranked 30th in rushing yards allowed per game with 134.1 yards. This is straight out pitiful. The Patriots did lose Vince Wilfork (week 4) and Tommy Kelly (week 5) last season which definitely hampered their ability to defend the run. Still, the Patriots run defense was overall awful and lacked depth at DE.
The Patriots did address this issue by resigning Wilfork, signing veteran DE Will Smith and drafting hybrid defensive lineman Dominique Easley with the 29th overall pick. Smith provides depth at DE and will give Ninkovich and Jones a break, while Easley’s ability to play both DE and DT could make him a flexible piece that Belichick can move around and still be effective. These additions should improve the horrific run defense of the Patriots from last year. They NEED to stop the run if they want the Patriots season to end in University of Phoenix Stadium battling for the Lombardi trophy.
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