The New England Patriots are no stranger to being one of the top teams in the entire NFL. Over the past few seasons, however, they have struggled to find an equal identity on both offense and defense. If one was strong, the other was weak, leaving the team vulnerable to the opposition. This season, the Patriots have made moves on both sides setting themselves up to be a top team in both categories. The question still remains, however — which will be better?
Both the offense and the defense have some Pro Bowl caliber talent. For the offense there is of course Rob Gronkowski, the nearly unstoppable tight end. Though it is still not entirely clear when he will be available, his return alone could make the Patriots’ offense top tier.
In addition to Gronkowski, wide receiver Julian Edelman and running back Stevan Ridley also made a splash last season. Due to injuries and other circumstances, Edelman increasingly became one of Tom Brady‘s favorite targets, connecting for six touchdowns and 1056 yards, both career highs. Ridley struggled holding on to the ball but still managed seven rushing touchdowns and 773 yards.
These three, along with WR Danny Amendola and RB Shane Vereen, have had the pleasure of playing alongside each other for at least two years now. Although they have struggled to find a rhythm at times last year, having Gronk back and the familiarity among teammates should strengthen team morale.
Defensively, the Patriots may be the most improved team in the AFC. Adding Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner at cornerback is a clear advantage. Revis, the former AFC Defensive Player of the Year and five-time Pro Bowler, brings not only experience but motivation to prove himself. Revis had a fairly quiet year during his one season tenure with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Now playing for a team he once despised, he is looking to prove his talents to both fans and himself. Revis was undoubtedly the most important acquisition for the Patriots in the offseason.
Browner, who has made a strong showing at training camp thus far, will also be a staple for the New England defense. He joined the Patriots just after winning the Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks, a game that he did not play, however, due to an indefinite suspension for violating the NFL’s performance enhancing drug rules. This suspension was ultimately overturned and Browner is now only suspended for the first four games of this season. His eagerness to get on the field in Week 5 will hopefully show in his first official game as a member of the Patriots.
Among those returning to the Patriots’ defense are Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Chandler Jones and Logan Ryan. The mix of young talent and veteran leadership has showed in the past, but due to a plethora of injuries last season, the two were never given the proper opportunity to gel. Jones led the defense in sacks, and Ryan led the way in interceptions. The two stepped up in the absence of both Mayo and Wilfork due to injury, and if these four can stay healthy, the defense could be top five in the NFL.
This may be the first time in several years that both the offense and the defense for the Patriots are top 10 in the league. The leadership on both sides is incredible, with Brady and Wilfork taking charge of their respective sides. Last year, the defense took the biggest hit of the two, suffering more injuries than ever before, or so it seemed. If good health prevails and the acquired offseason talent can live up to expectations, there is no doubt the Patriots will be a defensive team for the 2014 season.