The New England Patriots are cruising at 6-1, owning the NFL’s league best record. It’s something New England apparently expected, reports the Monday Morning Quarterback’s Albert Breer.
Breer had a number of fascinating notes in the column. Let’s break it all down.
“The Patriots believe that every season there’s a better-than-good chance they’ll win their division and play more than 16 games,” Breer writes. “That confidence has created an inherent advantage that they’ve quietly worked to take advantage. And here’s how: Knowing that the season won’t crumble if they have a bad week in September or October has given them flexibility to experiment early.
“One example was taking the unorthodox step of rotating offensive linemen (to help develop depth at a spot where it’s difficult, thanks to the 2011 CBA rules) the past two seasons. They did scrap that one. In five of their seven games this year, they’ve remained completely stagnant at the five line spots, with the exceptions relating to injury management.”
This season, the Patriots appear to have settled on left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Joe Thuney, center David Andrews, right guard Shaq Mason and right tackle Marcus Cannon. But Bill Belichick has cycled through a number of young players this season. Defensive tackle Vincent Valentine, linebacker Elandon Roberts, defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton, newly acquried cornerback Eric Rowe and widoeut Malcolm Mitchell have also seen extended roles during the team’s games throughout the season.
The strategy has also allowed the Patriots to provide extended rests to star players. They’ve been extremely cautious with Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Dion Lewis’ injuries, for example.
Breer also wrote the Patriots are withholding their full-fledged offensive playbook.
“It’s also fair to see where this idea could extend into on-field strategy, too, with the team tinkering or holding back what it calls offensively or defensively, with an eye on the higher-stakes parts of the season,” Breer notes. “Before the opener, Bill Belichick told the New England media, ‘I don’t think you really know your team until the middle of October.’ In years past, we’ve heard him reference Thanksgiving as a time when you can figure out who the real contenders are.
“All of this, plus the reduction in offseason work, explains why the Patriots have really started to use the time they get early in the year in a way few other teams can, to develop their roster. And this year, since they like the depth they have and carry the experience of falling just shy last year, they’ve pushed it to another level.”
If the Patriots’ high-flying offense isn’t even using it’s full playbook yet, look out, NFL.