By Sterling Pingree
The Patriots have reached the midway point in the season and Sunday night in Denver begins the second half of their season. While I don’t want to admit that football season is halfway over, I do have some thoughts and questions about the team as it currently stands.
- Pass catching running backs are the new slot receivers. The Patriots have been known for guys like Troy Brown, Wes Welker and Julian Edelman, but with Edelman’s injury, they’ve had to lean on other areas of the offense. James White is having a career year catching the ball and in the limited amount that we’ve seen Rex Burkhead play, it appears that he is a major focus of Josh McDaniels’ offense. The question I have is, was this always the plan? New England let Blount walk, added Gillislee and Burkhead to White and Lewis while creating incredible depth at the position. Lewis, White and Burkhead have all proven to be reliable pass catchers and with injuries to Edelman, Mitchell and now Hogan, lining up shotgun right could be the new slow machine in the Patriots offense.
- Brandin Cooks hasn’t been quite as advertised, but has been pretty good. Whenever the team adds a fast, big-play receiver, Pats fans get visions of Randy Moss in their heads. Cooks has been productive this season, but probably not exactly in the ways that fans envisioned. My question is, have we seen all there is to Brandin Cooks in this offense? That’s not a criticism, he’s been productive in the offense, but he’s a field stretcher in an offense that doesn’t stretch the field all that much. Part of me thinks that Belichick and McDaniels are “keeping the Corvette in the garage” and are saving something teams haven’t seen yet for the playoffs. That could be wishful thinking, but I believe there is more gears to Brandin Cooks that we haven’t seen thus far.
- The defense has to continue to improve. The Patriots defense has improved from its putrid start but it’s still pretty shaky. The defense appears to be making some strides in a positive direction, however it’s been one step forward and two back as the team put Dont’a Hightower on IR and found out that Shea McClellin will not play this season. November and December is a time where the Patriots’ defense generally is rounding into form, but with these injuries that’s going to be tougher to accomplish this season than ever before. More defensive questions: Is Stephon Gilmore coming back a plus? Is Johnson Bademosi good? Is Jonathan Jones more than a good special team’s player? Does Alan Branch have anything left? Can Kyle Van Noy be the leader of the front seven? Will this stretch of games where the team is down so many keys pieces finally shine a brighter light on how good of a player Devin McCourty is? Is Deatrich Wise the new Trey Flowers?
- The Patriots are 6-2, but their schedule down the stretch has a chance to be a beast. 5 of their final 8 games are on the road, including one stretch where they only play at Gillette once in 6 weeks before coming home for the final two games at home against the Bills and Jets. The toughness of this scheduling might be the Pats toughest opponent this season. If they can win their next three at Denver, at Oakland in Mexico City and home against Miami on the 26th, at 9-2 they’d unquestionably be in the AFC driver’s seat. That’s a big if as they have to cross time zones, borders and Ndamukong Suh, before playing 4 divisional games in 5 weeks.
As Bill Belichick has said, November is football season.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.