Welcome to another installment of Enemy on the Ship, a series of articles where I am graciously given the time and effort of a writer or blogger for the teams the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face in 2013, and they share their thoughts on the team they cover, and how they’ll do against the Bucs in 2013.
For a look at the New England Patriots, we’re joined by Joe Soriano, editor of Musket Fire. You can find his website here, and his Twitter here. Here’s what he had to say about the Pats and how they’ll do against the Buccaneers.
Leo Howell – The Patriots have been a team under the spotlight this offseason, with some big story lines that have left their mark on the roster. Tell us how the 2013 Patriots will have changed from the 2012 version. Is the net result positive or negative for the team?
Joe Soriano – That’s a question we’ve all been trying to debate quite some time, and there’s really no consensus among Pats fans. To be honest, this team has more upside, but the issue is the fact that there are a number of uncertainties. How healthy will Rob Gronkowski be? Can Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce get things going quickly and can they even pan out at all? What is Alfonzo Dennard’s future? Can the offense replace Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez and will Danny Amendola stay healthy? Overall, the Pats secondary looks deeper and more talented than last year with Aqib Talib in for a full year and Adrian Wilson providing an upgrade, and the wide receivers are actually more deep, just with more uncertainties. This team has a chance at being a lot better than it was last year (ie Super Bowl winners), but they could also stagnate and lose the division to the Miami Dolphins. I think the Pats are going to be about as good as they were and have them marked with the Vegas odds as an over/under 11.5 team.
LH – Tom Brady will be throwing the ball to some new names this season, but that’s certainly not something he’ll have any problem with. Who will be the top receiving threats for the Patriots, especially early in the season against the Bucs?
JS – Since the Pats and Bucs play early in the regular season, the easy answer for the top threat is Danny Amendola. He’s looked terrific thus far in the offseason and is the only sure-fire thing at the position (we all saw that in minicamp and in OTAs). If Gronkowski plays (I fully expect him to), then he’s obviously somebody the Bucs will have to watch for and will likely have their hands full trying to cover. Aside from those two, Jake Ballard would be as good as they come as a No. 2 TE, Aaron Dobson could be a big factor if he can get a handle on things quickly (for what it’s worth he was poor in minicamps), and Julian Edelman is a sleeper who brings versatility to the position.
LH – Chandler Jones is a player some NFL fans have an eye on as a potential breakout player on defense. What do you expect from Jones, and from the front seven in general in the upcoming season?
JS – Chandler Jones is somebody who will disappoint me if he doesn’t have a breakout season in 2013, because he looked great before an ankle injury last season. OK fine, he wasn’t “great”, but he was probably the favorite for DROY before the injury and proved some scouts wrong by quickly showing an ability to stifle the opposition’s running game. Jones still needs to work on his pass rushing which was overrated by some fans last year, but he is already a high-impact run defender and should be a high-impact pass rusher in his second year. By 2014, we could be talking about Jones as an elite DE in this league.
As for the pass rush, it’s going to get better. The interior rush is already light year’s ahead of where it was in terms of talent last season, and that’s something the Patriots made sure to do right away. Tommy Kelly is an elite pass rushing DT when his head is on straight, and Armond Armstead is a pass rusher who has the talent equal to a second-round pick. A former USC star, Armstead is a CFLer worth keeping an eye on as a rookie, and both are much better pass rushers than Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick. The Patriots knew they needed to upgrade in that department, and they certainly did. The pass rush was a huge weakness for this team last season, and I expect it to be about average next season. The young guys on the roster like Jamie Collins and Jake Bequette are still not there yet for this pass rush to take off.
LH – The running game may redeem whatever shortcomings the Pats have on offense. How does the depth chart set up for 2013 at running back, and which runners have a chance to make the biggest impact in the upcoming season?
JS – Ah, you want me to talk about LeGarrette Blount. The Patriots depth chart at RB is cut-and-dry at the top two spots with feature back Stevan Ridley as the No. 1 and Shane Vereen as the explosive, change-of-pace No. 2 who will fill out the Danny Woodhead role (and more as a receiver). Leon Washington is likely going to be used exclusively as a return specialist, which is something the Pats really needed (an elite returner). The fourth roster spot at RB will go to either Blount or second-year RB Brandon Bolden, who would give the Pats a bruising back as opposed to Blount, who is an explosive, agile, home-run back (I am trying to spread the word to Pats fans that Blount is not a bruising back). If both can impress, then both will make the roster and give the Pats 5 RBs. Most beat writers believe Bolden has a leg-up on Blount, but I would like to see Blount get his head on straight, focus with the Pats, and channel that 1,000-yard season he had as a rookie in 2013. I think Bolden or Blount would be perfect foils for Ridley, who shouldn’t be carrying the rock 290 times every season (you have to keep backs fresh these days). Bucs fans like to stop by on my site and talk about how Greg Schiano did Blount wrong and how Blount can do big things in New England, and I usually agree with both accounts. For Blount, the toughest thing is making the roster, the rest should fall into place.
LH – How will the Bucs meeting with the Pats turn out this season? Do you see the Patriots continuing to own the Bucs, or could the Buccaneers turn things around this season against New England?
JS – Oh man, any given Sunday right? You know, this could end up being a trap game with the way these two teams’ head coaches know each other, and the fact that the Pats had a “WTF Game” (as termed by a Pats Pulpit commenter following the loss) in Week 2 against the Arizona Cardinals. Let’s get this out of the way first, the Pats are better team. But the better team doesn’t always win, and the Bucs could surprise the Pats if Josh Freeman gets the deep ball working well with Vincent Jackson (I would love to have that guy, he was definitely worth the high price the Bucs paid for him) and Lavonte David and the defense can shut down Ridley. More than that would have to happen, of course, like the Pats forgetting how to run routes, but the Bucs have a better chance than some Pats fans might think or care to admit.