Friday, September 07, 2007

Football Time

Again, another day of news black-out, and besides noting that another US government review is extremely pessimistic about any broad strategic or political progress defined as anything other than a slowdown in the rate of disintegration in Iraq, I can only write about the upcoming football season. I am a Patriots fan first, and then, luckily, the Steelers are my second choice team. So this decade has been very friendly to my fandom, and the upcoming year should be a good year also.

I am looking forward to the Patriots season as they are loaded on the defensive line with young talent which is proven. The loss for the first six to nine weeks of the season of All-Pro DE Richard Seymour is surprising not a massive loss as the other DE, Ty Warren had significant flashes and stretches last year where he played better than Seymour, and Jarvis Green is a super-back-up who would be starting as a 3-4 DE on all but one of the other 3-4 defensive teams. The remaining depth looks to be pretty solid with surprising contributor Mike Wright holding the other DE position and a multitude of positional flexibility backing up Vince Wilfork in the middle.

My one big concern with the Patriots' defense is the age in the linebacking corps. The first month I am not worried as the accumulation of nagging injuries and fatigue should not be the dominant depth tester (instead catastrophic injuries are predominant) but by December, the 30+ year old starters may be in trouble. I like the addition of Adalius Thomas and thus the shifting of Junior Seau from a starting to a specialist role, but I do not trust the remaining back-up inside and outside linebackers.

The loss of Rodney Harrison for the first four games is not ideal, but given his recent injury history, the rest may be beneficial. One of last years' weaknesses, the lack of safety depth has been corrected with the addition of rookie Brandon Merriweather, and the return to health of Eugene Wilson and Randall Gay has made the window of risk much smaller now than during the second half of the AFC Championship game.

On offense, the Patriots should be scary by Week 5 as the influx of new receivers, and a new zone blocking philosophy will take some time to jell. As a fan, I have been spoiled by watching an elite quarterback evolve and grow into the start of his probable prime in Tom Brady. I expect the Patriots to throw less to tight end Ben Watson, and to extend the vertical dimension of the passing attack despite the fact that Tom Brady is at best an adequate 25+ yard plus thrower compared to an exceptional short thrower.

Now moving onto the Steelers --- I am not sure what to expect from them this year. I don't know how the defense will be as it seems that the drafting of rookie linebacker Lawrence Timmons in the first round is indicative of a move away from the 3-4 over the next couple of years as he is too small to take on guards as an interior linebacker, and he'll get crushed at the point of attack on outside runs. Unless he is just a dedicated speed edge rusher, the 3-4 does not make a massive amount of sense for this guy. However if the Steelers are looking to move over the course of a couple years to a TAMPA-2 system, Timmons makes a whole lot of sense.

I also do not believe the Steeler's secondary will be better than adequate. The corners regressed last year, and the free safety play was adequate when really good play is needed to cover for Polamalu's freelancing. I think the defensive line will be the strength of this defense, especially at nose tackle as Casey Hampton is an immovable object, and back-up Chris Hoke has been more than adequate when he has been the starter in the past. Aaron Smith at end is exceptional, while Keisel is adequate on the other side.

As for the offense, it could be scary good assuming the line issues are worked out. Holmes and Ward can both stretch the field while also forcing defenses to respect the intermediate slants, curls and square-ins. Willie Parker has proven that he can last a full season as a 20+ carry a game back, and Roethlesberger can not need another appendectomy and is less likely to be in another serious motorcycle wreck, so he'll probably continue to improve.

Finally, the Colts looked real good last night, and the defense that they had on the field looked real solid. They should be able to get deep in the play-offs as they try to defend their title.

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