New England Patriots' Benjamin Watson (84) celebrates his touchdown catch in against
the Carolina Panthers Aug 28, 2004 (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
Defense is Good, but Offense could be Scary
By Scout.com Staff
The Patriots had a consistently productive if not overly dominant offense in 2004,
ranking fourth in the NFL in points per game. First-year New Englander Corey Dillon
revitalized the rushing attack with a franchise record 1,635 yards on 345 carries
with 12 touchdowns to combine with a diverse passing attack that had carried the
unit in previous seasons.
So there weren't a lot of things that needed changing
on the Tom Brady-led unit as the team prepares to challenge football history by
seeking an unprecedented third straight Super Bowl title and fourth in five seasons.
With the heart of the unit returning, including key cogs like Dillon, Brady, wide
receiver David Givens and Super Bowl XXXIX MVP wide receiver Deion Branch, most
of the changes in the unit this spring have been minor and deal more with the
overall depth of the group as a whole.
Arguably the most movement heading
into the new season could come on the offensive line. Starting left guard Joe Andruzzi, the veteran mainstay of the group since joining the team in 2000, departed
via free agency to join former Patriots coaches Romeo Crennel and Jeff Davidson
with the Cleveland Browns. With that need in mind New England selected a pair
of relatively versatile offensive linemen on draft weekend, using the last pick
in the first round on Fresno State's Logan Mankins and a third-round selection
on Toledo's Nick Kaczur. The 6-4, 307-pound Mankins played left tackle for the
Bulldogs, but is expected to compete for the open slot at left guard as a rookie.
Kaczur could also compete for playing time alongside returning starters Matt Light,
Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal and Tom Ashworth. Light, Koppen and Neal are virtual
locks for starting jobs if healthy, Ashworth's hold on the right tackle spot is
tenuous at best.
The other position that saw the most offseason movement
was wide receiver where the team lost veteran David Patten to the Redskins in
free agency, but added veterans Tim Dwight and former Chicago top-10 draft pick
David Terrell. While Branch and fellow fourth-year receiver Givens likely have
a stronghold on the top two receiver spots, the free agent newcomers will battle
returning veteran Troy Brown, third-year speed burner Bethel Johnson and 2004
fifth-round pick P.K. Sam. A second-round pick in 2003, Johnson has yet to develop
into a contributor on the offense and the newcomers could serve as a wakeup call
for the talented athlete who's spent portions of his first two NFL seasons in
Bill Belichick's doghouse.
The only addition New England made to the backfield,
a group that consists of Dillon, returning third-down specialist Kevin Faulk and
versatile fullback Patrick Pass, was the signing of free agent return specialist
and occasional backfield contributor Chad Morton. While Morton will likely have
to earn a roster spot in the return game, possible beating out Johnson, he has
worked as a change of pace type back in his career. Faulk is still the first option,
but Morton could add depth in a pinch.
New England didn't add to its talented
tight end crop this offseason per se, but the return of ultra athletic 2004 top
pick Benjamin Watson from a knee injury that cost him all but one game of his
rookie season might make it seem that way. Watson showed incredible athleticism
and play making ability in his limited action last preseason and in the season
opener and he could combine with dominating blocker Daniel Graham and reliable
veteran Christian Fauria to form one of the most productive tight end trios in
As Belichick has said on a number of occasions in recent years
the spot on his team that he worries about least is the one held down by kicker
Adam Vinatieri. The epitome of clutch in recent years, Vinatieri currently wears
New England's franchise tag. The two sides have been trying to hammer out a long-term
extension since last fall. Based on NFL rules the team now must wait until after
July 15 to sign the kicker to a deal, but even if the sides can't reach an agreement
before the season the two-time Pro Bowler who set a career-high in leading the
NFL with 141 points in 2005 isn't going anywhere any time soon.
as it may be for the rest of the NFL, the New England offense that has taken a
backseat to the team's defense at times in recent seasons could soar to new heights
in 2005. The one true hurdle the unit may face, and biggest change for the team
overall, is dealing with the departure of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.
Now the head coach at Notre Dame, Weis excelled in play calling and utilizing
his various offensive weapons to form an unpredictable and game plan oriented
attack. The team did not replace Weis on the staff and Belichick is expected to
handle the play calling duties in 2005. It will be interesting if the future Hall
of Fame head coach, who called plays for the Browns at times during his tenure
in Cleveland, can orchestrate the offense with the success that Weis has had.
If he can, the talent is in place around Brady to make for one of the most productive
offenses in the game.
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