Projecting Patriots Starters vs Steelers

bradypanthers

Today was a great day for the Patriots and their fans. That isn’t something you usually hear after a loss. Luckily the fourth preseason game is pretty much meaningless, and Judge Richard Berman delivered a win of a different kind.

Having said that, this isn’t about “deflategate”. The most important part of Judge Berman’s ruling might be its effect on Tom Brady’s legacy, but what it means in the short term is that the reigning Super Bowl MVP will play every game this season.

Brady is obviously a lock to start, as are many other holdovers from last year’s Super Bowl team. There are some new faces, especially on defense, that will play with the first team a week from tonight.

Nobody can predict exactly what Bill Belichick is thinking, but let’s try to project who might be seeing the bulk of the snaps next Thursday night:

Starting Offense: The Patriots are known as a team that uses multiple formations on offense to confuse the defense, but they were actually in 2-tight end sets more often than any other team in the league in 2014. So for the purposes of this projection that’s the formation that the starting offense will be in. New starters will be in bold.

LWR Danny Amendola
RWR Julian Edelman
LT Nate Solder
LG Josh Kline
C Bryan Stork
RG Ryan Wendell
RT Sebastian Vollmer
TE1 Rob Gronkowski
TE2 Scott Chandler
QB Tom Brady
RB Jonas Gray

Not much has changed from the 2014 offense. Danny Amendola starts for the injured Brandon LaFell. When LaFell returns it’s his job to lose. Josh Kline gets the nod at left guard for the time being until either rookie Shaq Mason or Tre Jackson earns the spot. Kline has been one of the better offensive linemen on the team this summer, and has earned the start. Mason and Jackson both look like promising prospects, but their youth showed this preseason. Jackson struggled with run blocking. Mason, as expected, had issues with pass protection. The other new addition to the offense is tight end Scott Chandler. Chandler is just average in the running game, but provides another big target for Tom Brady. Their hookup in the third preseason game gives Patriots fans something to look forward to. With LeGarrette Blount suspended for the first game of the season, Jonas Gray will be the teams lead back. Gray has looked good in the preseason, averaging an impressive 6.3 yards per rush.

Starting Defense: We all know about the roster turnover at the cornerback position, but the Patriots might also have a few new starters along the defensive line. The prediction for the Patriots base 4-3 defense:

LDE Jabaal Sheard
DT Sealver Siliga
DT Dominique Easley
RDE Chandler Jones
SLB Jamie Collins
MLB Jerod Mayo
WLB Dont’a Hightower
LCB Malcolm Butler
SS Patrick Chung
FS Devin McCourty
RCB Tarell Brown

Sheard and Easily have been two of the team’s best players on either side of the ball in the preseason. Easily has been dominant at times in his snaps so far. A far cry from his performance last season that saw play in just 26% of snaps. It’s possible that injuries lingered over from his college days, and now he’s fully healthy. Sheard looks like a free agency steal thus far. He has been effective in both run defense and rushing the passer earning him a spot over the well-liked Rob Ninkovich. Nink will still see plenty of snaps, as the Patriots will have the luxury of rotating linemen in and out. The defense gets some much-needed help with the return of Jerod Mayo. If Mayo can remain healthy (has played in just 12 games since 2013), the Patriots starting linebackers might be the best trio in football. Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler might not be a number one CB yet, but he’s acting like one so far, and is the teams best coverage man. Newcomer Tarell Brown has played well in August, and edges out both Logan Ryan and Bradley Fletcher. With a lack of star talent at the position, expect the Pats to rotate, and stick with the hot hand. The real questions for this defense are who comes off in the nickel, who’s the third CB, and how capable players like Rob Ninkovich factor into a crowded front seven?