The New York Giants face the New England Patriots Thursday night in their preseason finale. The score of the game is completely irrelevant, but what happens during the game will impact many players on the roster bubble for both teams. Let’s learn more about the Patriots from our friends at SB Nation’s Pats Pulpit. Head honcho Rich Hill answers our “Five Questions” this week.
Ed: If there is one thing, or one main thing, what separates Bill Belichick from the way other coaches run their teams?
Rich: Belichick always preaches flexibility in his players and its his own flexibility that separates him from other coaches and general managers. He’s willing to admit when he’s wrong and move on from those mistakes as quickly as possible. He’s able to change his offenses and defenses on a weekly basis to match his opponent and he can change the fundamental make-up of the roster to take advantage of market inefficiencies. Just this year, we’re watching him make a move back to a 3-4 front because 4-3 defensive ends are so expensive and 3-4 outside linebackers are back to being undervalued. He added former college 3-4 outside linebackers like Shea McClellin, Kyle Van Noy, and Harvey Langi on cheap deals and Dont’a Hightower played there, too. No other coaches or general managers are as light on their feet at Belichick.
Ed: Tom Brady says he wants to play until he's 45. How long do you think he can play? Or, how long will Gisele let him play?
Rich: I think Brady will have a slow downward trajectory, barring injury. He should play at his current high level for another year or two, but I would expect the decline to be more apparent late in 2018 and in 2019, and for him to fall out of the “best quarterback in the league” discussion by 2020. He can float around in the bottom of the top 10 for another couple years, but once he is considered “average” he’s going to hang it up. Bill Belichick will tweak the roster to make Brady look good by adding Brandin Cooks and keeping Rob Gronkowski and bolstering the run game and offensive line, but if Brady remains healthy I don’t see why 45 is an unrealistic goal. He just won’t be the same Brady at that point.
Ed: The Patriots seem to have answers for every problem. How will they deal with the loss of Julian Edelman?
Rich: There are a few directions they can go. They can insert Danny Amendola in the slot and hope he can perform the same role. They can go two-tight end with Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen out there with Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan and offer a little more versatility, with Brady leaning more on Cooks, Gronk, and Hogan for targets. Or maybe the Patriots increase their running plays - not just to preserve Brady’s arm for later in the season, but to soften up secondaries for other receivers to get open.
Edelman can’t be replaced in a one-for-one sort of deal, but the Patriots were able to overcome the loss of Gronkowski in 2016 by: 1) having back-up Martellus Bennett play more; 2) increasing targets to Edelman and Hogan and running back James White. Look for a similar replacement method in 2017.
Ed: If you could take one Giants player NOT NAMED ODELL BECKHAM JR. and put him in New England's lineup who would it be? Why?
Rich: The top three players that come to mind are all on the defensive side of the ball. SS Landon Collins would be a nice complement to Devin McCourty, but Patrick Chung does a solid job already. The Patriots pass rush is a big question mark right now with three of the four edge defenders from 2016 no longer with the team (Rob Ninkovich retired; Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard left in free agency). The team has theoretically changed their defensive front to account for that loss, but adding a player like Olivier Vernon or Jason Pierre-Paul would certainly help a lot.
So if I had to take one, it would be Vernon.
Ed: You asked me for one, so I will return the favor. Who will be the Patriots' breakout player in 2017?
Rich: If Trey Flowers is already known because of his Super Bowl performance, I’ll change my player to Chris Hogan. He will have a greater role in the offense with the loss of Julian Edelman and he’s entering his second season with the team. He’s a huge deep threat and the Patriots have started to use him on more levels of the offense. With Brandin Cooks taking the top off of defenses and Rob Gronkowski pulling linebackers up the seam, look for Hogan to generate a lot of yards after the catch underneath.