Can the Patriots Find the Winning Formula Once More?

Football season is just right around the corner, and I can finally feel the excitement building itself up to a state of catatonic bliss culminating with the season opener in September. Many of you who have read my essays on film and philosophy would have you believe those are probably my biggest passions in life, but the truth is I am far and away a bigger football fan than I ever will be a filmbuff or philosophy geek. Football is where my heart belongs, and even Albert Camus would agree, although for a different kind of football.

With the season now approaching at a steady speed and the buzz around the league growing more each week, I feel like it’s time to participate in this extensive collection of takes passing through the internet these days. Many fans are already glued to their teams and I am no exception, with my beloved New England Patriots taking the field for training camp this past week. The developing quarterback competition taking place in Foxborough has me intrigued in how it will play out during the season. Rookie Mac Jones appears to be making strides and exceeding expectations with his play, while veteran Cam Newton has been stellar as well. Holy shit, I just realized Cam Newton is a 10-year veteran. He has part of the rookies playing the first year I ever watched football on a religious basis in 2011. My goodness, I just hit the proverbial “I’m getting old” moment in the middle of writing this. Fantastic, just what I fucking needed.

Bill Belichick has recently double down on his decision to make Cam his starting quarterback for the season when talking in a press conference this past Saturday, even amidst the rumors and growing speculation that Jones is the real deal. Both QBs have had a great training camp, with plenty of highlights to spare. There’s a fantastic video on Jones going through his progressions in a quick and decisive manner, showing the poise of a veteran QB. Newton recently delivered the good on a fantastic 50 yard throw a couple of days after which also made headways across the internet. Results from them seem to be promising, leaving only the question of what to make of their offensive weapons.

During the offseason, the Patriots acquired a bevy of weapons from both sides of the football, with the stand-outs on offense being TEs Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, and WRs Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor. All have had pretty stellar careers with plenty of ups and downs, and are definitely looking to revitalize their careers with the Pats. Agholor was a key factor in the Eagles’ Super Bowl title in 2017, but has had his struggles with drop passes in many instances since. Henry has been spectacular as both a blocker and pass catcher during his time in the league, only he has struggled with injuries throughout his entire career, never having completed an whole season of play since entering the league in 2015. Both Kendrick and Smith have been key contributors in great teams that have made long runs in the playoffs the last couple of years, adding veteran and championship experience into the mix.

It’s important to note that none of these players are considered the best at their position or even come close to scratching a 1,000-yard season, but their collective usage has the chance to generate countless of mismatches across the field. Opposing defenses are going to have a very tough time lining up against these players just based on the number of possibilities they can create. Agholor is a great deep threat while Bourne is a terrific route runner. Henry is very physical both as a blocker and receiver as well as Smith. What they allow the Patriots offense to do is stretch the field and force the defense to spend time and effort at trying to stop them individually. This, along with a stable running game anchored by RBs Damien Harris and Sony Michel, bodes very well for them.

A burning question mark is vividly present with three year WR and first round draft choice N’Keal Harry. For years Patriots fans have to torturously remind themselves he was taken ahead of studs like A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf. His time in New England has not been the most productive, to say the least. Harry recently requested a trade from the Patriots, and while it is still a high probability he will be traded, there is no indication this will happen soon. For now, Harry is in a to-be-determined phase, where maybe he steps up or maybe he doesn’t. Everything seems to indicate that if he plays his cards right he can be a serviceable member of an offense that has great potential to be elite.

Completing the acquisitions on defense are LBs Matthew Judon and Kyle Van Noy. Judon is one of the best linebackers in the league and already a two-time Pro Bowler, while Van Noy was a key member of the Patriots team that won the Super Bowl two years ago. Their additions to an already loaded defense (which will also bring back veteran Dont’a Hightower who missed last season due to COVID) can really put this team in a great position to succeed.

The Patriots are an interesting team in the way they are composed. Based purely on paper they absolutely have what it takes to be one the best teams in the league, but their dynamic is definitely going to be a more balanced approach. They made some pretty spectacular moves that puts them in a very good roster position where there doesn’t seem to be an overall weakness other than the lack of a top 5 offensive weapon. The approach has proven to work consistently in the NFL, only it produces many games where the score is close. I could see them making a deep playoff run if their defense is the most pivotal part of the team. Seeing as how this is Bill Belichick, and he has proven to be nothing short of one of the greatest defensive masterminds in the history of football, the odds for them to do a number to many teams as a unit is strong.

What has me worried is the idea that this style of play no longer works in the modern NFL, where offenses are more powerful and dictate how the game goes more than just mere smash mouth football, where physical domination is more important than scheming. Oh, who the fuck am I kidding, it’s fucking football we’re talking about here. Of course the formula still works, just look Super Bowl 53 for Christ’s sakes. There will always come a point in one game or another where neither offense can get something going and we will have a strategic defensive battle the rest of the game. I can think of many instances from last season at the top of my head where this was the case. Games against the Bills, Jets, and even Chiefs come to mind. At the end of the day it seems I’m getting to far ahead of myself with these observations. There isn’t much you can say at this point of the season other than the expectations of the Patriots’ team unity to shine through for the rest of the way. Now there’s nothing to do but wait.

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