NFL Monday Morning Madness (Friday Edition): For Patriots, this too shall pass (again)

It appears the mind-boggling dynastic run of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick is over, again. Finshed, again. Gone in a blink of the eye this time.

Three games into a 2018 season that may be one of the last for two greats with a closing window, and the end result has already been decided. The AFC East will be surrendered to the Dolphins, the AFC title belt passed on to the Chiefs or Jaguars, and the label of the league’s model franchise now passed on to the Eagles of Philadelphia.

With a 66-year-old head coach and general manager, and a 41-year-old QB, we all could have seen this coming, right?

This was going to end abruptly, Right?

Except this isn’t the end. The Patriots will rally to win home games versus the Dolphins, Colts, and Chiefs in the next 18 days to pull to 4-2. They’ll win the AFC East, clinch one of the conference’s top two seeds, and at the very least, compete in their eighth straight AFC Championship Game come January 2019.

Admittedly, this is their bleakest start since 2014. Sitting at 1-2, with what looks to be their thinnest roster (in terms of talent) in some time taking the field, it’s logical to be extremely concerned with the 2018 Patriots. Concerned, but not panicked. As advertised in the past seasons of 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017, this too shall pass.

Adversity builds character, and each and every time this team has been challenged during the Brady-Belichick era, they’ve climbed out of their funk and delivered.

At some point, this will end. There’s no denying that. But with two offensive saviors on the way, and the return of two of their three best defensive players imminent, the team hated from New York City to Seattle (and everywhere in between) will start rolling like a downhill tire, whether it seems logical or not at the moment.

The saviors — Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon — won’t fix this offense by themselves. It’s foolish to completely lean on a 32-year-old receiver coming back from an ACL tear, and another with off-the-field issues as serious as such.

But for a team relying on Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett at WR1 and WR2 at the moment, the addition of the trusty Edelman in the slot, and outside-the-numbers Gordon will lift this offense tremendously.

The group is dormant, not broken. With superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski doing his best to deflect double coverage on the field, and news of his almost-departure (via a proposed trade to the Lions) last spring, no other pass catcher has been able to get consistently open. Only the reliant James White, a scatback, has earned Brady’s trust outside of Gronk.

“Guys who can make plays are the ones who should be involved,” Brady told the media after the loss. The quote seemed to be a shot at offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ apparent force-feeding of rookie running back Sony Michel, which has limited White’s snaps. White hauled in a 10-yard score from Brady on a third-and-8 (the only touchdown of the night)

With news of Rex Burkhead heading to injured reserve with a neck injury, the role of the team’s traditional RB1 now lies with the rookie. Michel will improve, but Brady would certainly like to see more of White on the field, and he’ll love to have Edelman back, and for Gordon to contribute.

Edelman will add an immediate presence in the middle of the field. Before his suspension kicked in, the slot receiver looked quick in his preseason snaps. The numbers for Brady with and without Edelman are glaring (see tweet above) and to have one of his best friends back to create separation from man coverage, and finding holes in zone coverage on third down will dramatically change this offense for the better.

In Gordon, the potential is there for a legitimate WR1 capable of stretching the field. If he can quickly acclimate to McDaniels’ system, the former Brown will draw defenses’ focus away from Gronk. Additionally, Gordon gives Brady an option to throw jump balls to the 6-foot-3, 225-pound athletic freak. That’s something they haven’t had since Moss, outside of Gronk in the red zone.

With Gordon and Edelman set to push others down the depth chart, expect Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson to be pushed down the depth chart to WR4 and WR5. Hogan will also return to the outside. He has been in his usual spot in two-WR sets but he’s also been out of place in the absence of Edelman, as McDaniels has had him in the slot. It’s apparent he’s not very affective in that role. With Gronk, Edelman and Gordon set to take attention away from Hogan, the third-year Patriot now goes from the No. 2 pass catcher to the No. 4 slot. Hogan should be able to win some of those matchups, as opposed to struggling against CB1’s.

The most important thing in favor of the offense turning this around, is the fact that Brady will have Gronkowski, Edelman and White back together for the first time in almost two years.

*****

Defensively, the team looks admittedly slow with a lack of talent. Once looked at as a two-out-of-four decision, the Patriots have retained only Dont’a Hightower and have jettisoned Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins and Malcolm Butler.

Hightower looks gimpy, but the vitriol put on him by Patriots twitter is unnecessary. The 28-year-old is a Super Bowl hero on two different occasions. He’ll ease back into it, and will serve better as either a full-time edge rusher or back at middle linebacker now that rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley is on injured reserve.

With Trey Flowers and Patrick Chung scheduled to return the defense should get a much-needed boost, in time for a very important three game home stretch ahead.

While Stephon Gilmore has still allowed a few scores, he’s a legitimate CB1. The issue is on the other side, where the team needs Eric Rowe back, and even then, they are in some trouble. As of now, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson and others have not been able to fill that role. But Belichick (and de facto defensive coordinator Brian Flores) will figure out a plan to cover up that deficiency, and others, en route to fixing things in the back end.

Conclusively, the defense will tighten up, but talent is missing. They’ll go through a run in November and December where the bend-but-dont-break mentality makes fans wonder if their defense is back. But like Super Bowl LII has shown, they don’t currently have the talent to shut down a team with superior talent such as the Rams, Chiefs, Eagles and Vikings.

Still, all is not lost, as Belichick can coach the unit just well enough to remain sturdy, as opposed to completely breaking like last February.

*****

In terms of team morale and personnel, they seem to be at their lowest point. But brighter times will come soon for these Patriots. Edelman will walk through that door (or run out of the tunnel). Gordon will provide an offensive presence on the outside.  Hightower will return to his former self, and the Patriots will return to their winning ways. For it is not over for this great empire. This too, shall pass.

Rams roll, are they Super Bowl LIII bound?

The tour de force that is the 2018 Los Angeles Rams continued on Thursday night, with a 38-31 win over the Vikings. One could argue the Vikings are the second-most talented team in the NFL — behind the Rams — and the Rams absolutely crushed them.

Jared Goff has clearly made an astounding leap in Year 3, and the addition of Brandin Cooks (who’s sorely missed in New England) as the team’s new WR1 has been a smart one. Sean McVay is on another level in terms of offensive scheming right now. Everyone has a major role. Robert Woods is the perfect possession-type WR2, while Cooper Kupp is the league’s best slot receiver at the moment, until Julian Edelman returns next Thursday for the Patriots.

Then there’s Todd Gurley. NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks listed every team’s ‘offensive engine‘ this summer, and he had Todd Gurley as the Rams’ ambassador. Gurley can score from the backfield or as a receiver running pristine routes versus linebackers and safeties. He’s virtually a combination of a RB1 and WR2.

NFL.com’s Adam Rank said the 2018 Rams are the most complete team since the 2007 Patriots. After watching tonight, I may have to agree. This team has the look of a team that should dominate from start to finish this season. They are the overwhelming Super Bowl LIII favorites as of now, in my opinion.

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