As the Patriots continue another machine like march to their 12th divisional title in the last 15 seasons, you have to really marvel at the Patriot way. Every season for the last 5 years, the pundits predict that the Pats have lost too much, gotten too old, don’t have enough weapons, etc., etc., and so forth. And then they are in the playoffs after winning the AFC East title. Again. This Patriots team seems no different than the 2011 team – Brady, Belichick, and 52 other players that are largely unknown, but win a lot of football games. One could easily declare 50 guys on any Patriots team UBIC’s.
UBIC – Offense
????, RB (#??) New England running backs are not complete unknowns, far from it. LeGarrette Blount and Shane Vereen have had some good moments, stretches, and even decent seasons in the NFL. Before he went onto IR, Stevan Ridley was becoming fairly well known amongst fans that play fantasy. Jonas Gray has even kicked in one dominant game this season, before Blount’s recent return.
No, it is not that the RB’s are unknown and obscure (at least in all cases) or that New England does not run the ball. They do run the ball often, as their ranking of 12th in rushing attempts verifies. The UBIC in this case is that in any given game, nobody outside of the New England locker room (and perhaps a lot of people IN it) knows which back is going to touch the ball most during the game.
Consider… The Patriots leading rusher in Shane Vereen with 346 yards in 12 games played with 5 "starts". Among the active players, Jonas Gray comes in second with 336 yards in 5 games with 2 "starts". Blount has rushed for 136 yards on 22 attempts, since re-joining the team two weeks ago. Adding those numbers up, one might conclude that New England does not run the ball that well. That would be an incorrect conclusion. The Patriots are 21st in the league in rushes per attempt, which is not great, but certainly better than the Bolts. They have also scored 10 times on the ground.
It is expected with Blount returning to the fold that he will be the primary battering ram back and closer if the Pats get a lead late in the game. Vereen is a GREAT receiver out of the backfield and specializes in 3rd down and pass play packages. Jonas Gray is used as a change of pace. Of course, this is assuming that Coach Belichick stays with those roles and as any fantasy owner can attest, trying to figure out how coach hoodie will use his RB’s in the Patriot offense leads to psychotic episodes.
?????, WR(#??) As is the case with the running game, figuring out which wideout will get the most targets in any given Patriots game is pretty much a futile exercise. The team leaders in receptions are the TE (Gronkowski), the slot receiver (Edelman), and the aforementioned Vareen out of the backfield. For wide receivers, New England specializes in guys that are journeymen or just slightly better than journeymen. Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola, and Tim Wrght have all been involved, in some degree or another, with providing receptions out of the WR position.
While many credit LaFell with igniting the New England passing game back in week 5, he has not exactly set the world on fire and ranks 3rd on the team in targets and receptions. This fits the offense Tom Brady has run through most of his career. Brady has only had one big gun receiver in his time, Randy Moss, and that was only for 3 seasons. In fact, the Patriots offense during the Brady/Belichick era pretty much resembles a pack of identical, anonymous clones. Those clones all answered to a guy that wore a hoodie, too.
UBIC - Defense
Jamie Collins, ILB (#91) Collins gets the nod over several other worthy players, due to his leading the team in tackles with 55. He has also assisted on 31 other take downs, forced 3 fumbles, defended 2 passes, and has one sack this season. At 6’4" and 250 pounds, Collins is a little taller and slimmer than most ILB’s in the NFL, but he is a Belichick type of player. He has good football IQ, is a hard worker, and gives max effort on every play.
Collins was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2013 draft out of Southern Miss. He appeared in all 16 games in 2013 (mostly on special teams) and started 8 games at the ILB spot. Patriots rookies do not typically start many games for NE, but the Patriots coaches liked what they saw in Collins. On a defense not noted for speed, Collins is one of the faster men on the team.
Look for Collins to be paying special attention to Mathews on Sunday night. His biggest job will be shutting down the run. This is another one the ILB’s in this league that see a lot of action for their teams, due to tackling ability and athleticism. In 3-4 schemes, the performances of these men are critical to the overall success or lack of success of the defense.
?????, CB (#??) Again, the character of this team is to have near unknowns playing valuable roles on the team and simply doing their jobs effectively. Darelle Revis will be on the field often Sunday night and he is very much a known player. The other CB’s that will hit the field and who they will be expected to cover is what is not known here. It could be Logan Ryan (12 games, 5 starts). It could be Brandon Browner (6 games, 6 starts). If healthy enough to play, it could be Kyle Arrington (12 games, 3 starts). The match-ups that some, all or none of these guys will be looking for is also unknown.
Welcome to plug and play, mix and match corporate football…