Check out below to see who among the coaching staff and front office will be hanging their report cards on the refrigerator and who will be forging their parents? signatures. Earlier, NESN.com graded the Patriots? offense, defense and special teams.
By the numbers, the Patriots were better offensively under Bill O?Brien in 2009 than Josh McDaniels in 2008, but the Patriots improved as 2008 progressed while they seemed to lose their way late in 2009. The Pats were far worse in the second half of their losses this season, meaning they failed to effectively adjust to defenses as games went on. That?s another way of saying the Patriots? offense was just too predictable.
They often relied on the passing game too much, even when they were running well, and they had a hard time getting Randy Moss involved against rolling defensive coverages. And there were too many times when the play call got sent in late to Tom Brady, who often ran up against the play clock and got flagged for delay of game. Bottom line, the Patriots had too many offensive deficiencies, and too many signs pointed to O?Brien being behind them.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees did a pretty good job with so many new parts. Granted, the defense had a difficult time trying to establish a pass rush, but it wasn?t for a lack of trying and they didn?t have enough talent on the edge to give Pees what he needed. Late in the season, Pees and Bill Belichick brought back an old scheme, using a mix of roving linebackers and defensive backs to confuse the opposing quarterback and offensive line, and that was the best adjustment the coaching staff made all year.
While the special teams units weren?t overly spectacular, they were at least consistent. Players also raved over how much they enjoyed playing for coordinator Scott O?Brien, who added some fire and excitement to the unit in his first year on the job.
Of course, Belichick is the guy behind his assistants, and he deserves the same credit and blame. He gets good marks for leading a team with so many different players — although, to be fair, Belichick was the architect of the overhauled roster — to a division title, especially in Brady?s return from knee surgery. But there were reports and suggestions that indicated Belichick had lost some of his control in the locker room, and that led to the LateGate storyline in December.
And finally, Belichick and his staff were badly outcoached on three occasions in 2009 — Week 5 against McDaniels and the Broncos, Week 12 against the Saints and Sunday against the Ravens. Granted, Belichick has become the master of full-scale coaching assaults on his opponents, but it?s not very common he takes this many beatings in a single season.
FRONT OFFICE (Draft: A-; Free agency/trades: C-)
The Patriots couldn?t help the fact that director of player personnel Scott Pioli left for Kansas City or that linebacker Tedy Bruschi and safety Rodney Harrison retired, but the front office — no doubt led by head coach Bill Belichick — was forced to scramble to replace three integral pieces of the organization?s Super Bowl success. They made some solid signings: cornerbacks Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs, safety Brandon McGowan, linebacker/special teamer Rob Ninkovich and cornerback/special teamer Kyle Arrington.
It also appears the Patriots had their best draft in years, selecting tackle Sebastian Vollmer, cornerback Darius Butler, wide receiver Julian Edelman, safety Pat Chung and long snapper Jake Ingram. The jury is still out on wide receiver Brandon Tate and linebacker Tyrone McKenzie, who looked like a good product until suffering a season-ending knee injury in rookie camp.
But there were also some poor front-office decisions. Trading defensive lineman Richard Seymour might pay off down the road, but the Patriots couldn?t generate any pressure on the edge without Seymour all season. Plus, he made a huge impact in the locker room, and the Patriots lacked strong veteran presence in 2009. Ditto for linebacker Mike Vrabel, who was curiously included in the trade that sent Matt Cassel to the Chiefs.
Then, there were the free-agent whiffs. The Patriots hoped wide receivers Joey Galloway and Greg Lewis could fill in for Jabar Gaffney, but that didn?t pan out in the least bit. They overstated Galloway?s value and believed they could slot any old receiver in with Tom Brady with unabridged success. When it didn?t work, the third receiving position turned into a committee approach that struggled to gain any steam.
Every team makes dozens of personnel decisions each offseason, and none will ever hit on every single one of them. The Patriots, though, had some miscalculations that were too much to overcome.