Ten most important Patriots in 2013-14 season
Kinda need him around. Fairly important to the cause. And for the smooth-brained folks who like to point out that the Patriots won 11 games in 2008 without Brady? Try to remember how many games they won the year before. That would be 16. That’s a 32 percent dropoff. Or 18 games if you want to include the playoffs.
It’s been 10 seasons since Big Vince fell on an Edgerrin James fumble in the 2004 season opener. A lion in winter – or at least autumn – there’s not been much slippage for the Patriots best defender and defensive conscience. We don’t always see the same joie de vince we used to on the outside, but in the confines of the team he is indispensable.
Amendola’s indispensable because A) the slot receiver in this offense is always a pivot point whether it’s Chrebet, Brown or Welker filling the role B) with so many of his fellow receivers young enough to be opening up their first checking accounts, you need a little maturity out there, a little know-how. And Amendola knows how.
A mere look at the Patriots defensive third-down conversion rates pre-Aqib and post-Aqib tells you all you need to know about his value. Pre-Talib, here’s the rate at which opposing offenses converted on third down. 36, 29, 50, 53, 54, 33, 53, 30, 64. Post-Talib? 50, 30, 23, 29, 36, 27, 38, 27, 42. One shutdown corner, one guy who can be sicced on a good wideout makes everybody else’s job that much simpler. There aren’t many shutdown corners out there.
I heard a guy on my afternoon drive-time radio saying Thursday that he wasn’t convinced on Rob Ninkovich. A host. Blink. Blinkblink. If you’re unable to identify the defensive player who routinely has made the most impactful plays at the most critical junctures in games of import over the past three seasons, you don’t want to admit that.
He is the stabilizing force on this defense. His athleticism is underrated as is his ability to make plays when untethered and allowed to blitz. The team’s best defensive communicator and smartest player. If the team plays with more risk-taking defensively – as I expect them to – he could have a huge season.
Screw the fumbles, Stevan Ridley is a back any team in the NFL but four or five would stampede to sign. Without him, at least there’s some depth this season – thinking of LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden and Shane Vereen – but Ridley is the best pure running back of the group and the Patriots need that this season. A lot.
No blind-side protection, no Brady. No Brady, no hope. Solder, now into his third season, keeps getting more comfortable and stronger. Coupled with Logan Mankins on the left side, the Patriots are formidable.
The cornerback turned free safety put his hand on the rudder of a direction-less group and fixed it up nice. It became plain McCourty plays better with the play in front of him than in chase mode. No sin there. Just a strength. He’s indispensable because, behind him, it’s Tavon Wilson and/or Duron Harmon. Young players who don’t have the same ability McCourty does to align the secondary and communicate when the play has begun. And if that goes away, so too does the improvement.
If a defense wants to clutter the area between the line of scrimmage and 10 yards down field, beating up Amendola and loading up against the run, someone has to make them pay. And that someone has to be on the outside with the ability to work the sidelines, get downfield and get off jams. Thompkins – in his verrrrrry early returns – showed that ability. I’m not sure who else can.