2015 NFL Playoffs: Chaos Theory And The New England Patriots

NFL: Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots

Patriots’ Head Coach Bill Belichick walks the sideline during the second half of New England’s 41-13 win over the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium last month. (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

NEPD Staff Writer: Ken Vetrano

Chaos theory is the study of unpredictability. Basically trying to discover all potential possibilities and outcomes for a given situation. The NFL playoffs may be the ultimate experiment in testing said theory. Many variables exist within the annual contest, and a lot is determined by circumstance and not necessarily skill. One wrong hit, or blown call can alter a teams’ Super Bowl hopes dramatically.

The Patriots have faced plenty of these variables the past couple seasons, and unfortunately were not equipped to make the proper adjustments in time. This season however, things seem to be different in Foxboro. New England now has the personnel depth at most positions to compete in wars of attrition, while balance on both sides of the ball spreads responsibility among the roster evenly. The offense doesn’t have to compensate for the defense and vice versa.

That being said, some variables are tougher to overcome than others. It’s hard to gauge how officials are going to call a game, and if certain calls don’t go the Patriots’ way, there’s not much they can do about it. Typically refs call a looser game during the playoffs, and keep the yellow laundry tucked away. Either way, that’s an aspect of the game New England has zero control over. However, as unpredictable as injuries are, teams can still control their own fate by how they handle loosing players. In my opinion, there are four injuries that would be most difficult for them to overcome, but not as impossible as they would have been in the past… so let’s account for those variables.

Rob Gronkowski

In the event Rob Gronkowski gets hobbled again, the Patriots offense will definitely stumble, but not fall over. Tim Wright is a more than capable receiver, and offers an exceptional catch radius in the red zone. He’s nowhere near the caliber of blocking TE as Gronk, but incorporating an extra lineman at TE can solve that problem on running downs. New England is also armed with better four WR sets than they’ve had in recent memory. Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen spread out is enough to get by without the big guy. The main reason why? They only need to be efficient and not explosive since the defense won’t break on them.

Vince Wilfork

Vince Wilfork taking a ride on the cart would be another mammoth sized blow to the team, just not a fatal one. Alan Branch could fill Vince’s role inside, whether playing the 0-technique or shading the inside gaps depending on the formation called. Sealver Siliga being back also softens that loss. Their run defense would obviously suffer, but I believe Belichick could do enough to scheme around the injury to avoid it becoming a catastrophic subtraction.

Darrelle Revis

Darrelle Revis exiting for the locker room would be disasterous. Could they still truck along without #24? Yes, but without Alfonzo Dennard, I’m not sure they have enough quality depth to patch up the leaks left by Revis’s absence in the secondary. Logan Ryan has been too inconsistent this season to be trusted. Malcolm Butler might have a bright future ahead of him, but is still very green. Kyle Arrington has played great this year underneath and has been much improved covering outside as well, I’m just not sure he could consistently handle the increased responsibility. Brandon Browner is in the same boat, he’s played good for New England, but if asked to man up on faster, quicker receivers he will get beat.

A lot would be determined by how exotic Belichick gets with blitz packages, and if pass rushers could win one on one battles more. With the way Akeem Ayers, Jamie Collins and Don’ta Hightower have been used at times rushing the quarterback, I feel they could somewhat mitigate the loss of Revis with more pressure. New England’s front seven would be all hands on deck to make sure their secondary remains less susceptible to big plays. They may not be able to replace what Revis does, but there’s still enough talent on the defense to win if he’s lost.

Any Linebacker

Any injury at the linebacker position could cripple the Patriots because they don’t have enough depth or talent behind their starters. New England’s defense would become less versatile, and have to rely heavily on defensive backs in the run game. Their secondary however is stout enough to act as a crutch, and keep the defense upright overall.

Disclaimer: I did not include Tom Brady, because if #12 goes down everything is over. Don’t need to elaborate much, but the loss of him would demoralize the whole team. Emotionally getting over that loss would be just as tough as replacing his production. 

What do you guys think? Are these injuries too much for Brady and company to overcome? Or are there other injuries you think would be just as difficult to get passed, but maybe not impossible?

Whether you agree or disagree, there is no question that the New England Patriots are better prepared this year to deal with the inevitable chaos, also known as the NFL playoffs.

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15 Responses to “2015 NFL Playoffs: Chaos Theory And The New England Patriots”

  1. Russell says:

    I also would point out if WR Lafel goes down, the Patriots become only slot and TE recievers, that Tom has worked with. This would greatly change the D in defending the Patriots, and WR Tymes would have to be the guy , and Tom has had very little time throwing to him. Dobson appears to be a bust, so drafting a young guy to grow with the system, would seem to be a must in the draft as well.

    • Jeff says:

      I’m with you on making receiver a priority in the draft. I’d love to see the Pats use an early pick on a guy with a high ceiling. We’ll have Lafell to start in case, like most rookies, he needs some time to develop. If he’s a stud right away, he could be an upgrade over Lafell or finally give the Patriots 2 legitimate outside receivers (think Thomas/Decker in Denver or Jones/White in Atlanta) to make space in the middle of the field for Edelman and Gronkowski.

      • steve earle says:

        Taking a WR early completely disregards the glareing needs to strengthing both our o-line and our d-line regarding the pass rush both ways. It all sound great drafting the next Moss or Jerry Rice but if the qb doesn’t have a pocket to step up into or is scrambling for his life the WR’s don’t matter.

        • Kevan says:

          While I completely agree that G is the biggest need, pats just might not have to go Rambo to get there. Vollmer was a 2nd, stork a 4th, Matt light was 2nd, dan koppen was a 5th, even mankins was 32nd overall and I remember the pick being criticized because it was a reach. List goes on and on. And Connolly could come cheap, Wendall is already cheap, so they could be 2 startable Gs, while they replace Kline and Davey in rds 2/3. I could see the pats bringing in a free agent WR again, if not I’d like a WR early as well. I would like to get some clarification on Solder, patsfans.com said NE would save 6.9 mil if they outright released him. Is that the stipulation, that it can’t be a trade? Everyone on here is saying it won’t help.

        • Kevan says:

          I’d like a dlineman early as well so I don’t friggin know. It depends on who is there when the pats pick. It comes down to the individual and if it’s a fit. Yea Guard is the biggest need but if there’s better fits and better players at other positions that could be upgraded as well then that’s the route BB will take. IMO.

        • steve earle says:

          @ Kevan. As I understand the Solder situation he is due 7.1 mil bonus if Pats want to keep him and even then they would have to agree to a new contract. ( can anyone confirm or correct that ?) A new contract might be able to spread that bonus out but it would still be in play. As for your question as to drafting an OG or d-line you are right in that it all depends upon who the choices will be so we are all guessing. We try to guess who the choices will be then pick who we think would be the best fit to fill a need. Don’t let it get to you because not one of us has ever guessed right more then once or twice on the first round I don’t believe and I’ve been doing this for close to 40 years. Didn’t have this forum then of course. It’s all just hopes and guess work.

    • steve earle says:

      Russell there is an old military saying, “That if you try to defend everything you end up defending nothing.” I think that can be applied to a teams draft too. If you try to draft for every need — well see what I’m getting at? We can’t possably, realisticly fill every need in one draft and only half fixing one need isn’t a fix at all. Bill needs to prioritize where the greatest need is and fix that first and early. Later in the draft he can look for guys to develope.

  2. td says:

    I think this Patriot’s team is constructed to win games in multiple ways; run, pass, defense, special teams. If one facet is not working, they can fall back on the others.
    The OLine is a big concern and I wish they would stop the Josh Kline experiment before he gets Brady killed.

  3. John says:

    I agree with Russell’s assessment about potential O-line injuries. I disagree with you that the Patriots could potentially mitigate a Revis inury – he goes down, its all over. The Pats pass rush was, as it has been for several years, unimpressive to say the least. Though the LBs got their on some delayed blitzes, the D-line has not been close to dominant. Even with a revamped secondary, I do not feel the Patriots capitalized on its coverage ability with a slew of coverage sacks. No Revis, no Super Bowl.

  4. Russell says:

    The Oline is my biggest consurn, injuries to Stork, Connolly or Wendell, will be hard to survive, and surly this is an area the Patriots MUST add depth/get better viva the Draft. Past Super Bowl losses, showed if there is pressure up the middle, even a healty Oline could not handle ,we had trouble with the O.
    Depth at the middle of the Oline, is weak at best, (Davey, and Kline) and Cannon and Flemming are FAR better playing at OT.

    • Jeff says:

      I wouldn’t be surprised to see another triple-dip along the offensive line in the 2015 draft. A guard in the second to take over for Connolly, another in the 3rd or 4th to challenge Wendell, and a late round developmental prospect to push Kline and Devey for the 9th spot on the offensive line depth chart.

      Also, for those commenters looking for the Patriots to cut Solder, I’m just going to say I think an extension is more likely than him getting cut.

      • Russell says:

        Jeff it is VERY unlikely they cut Solder, but they could let him go as a free agent. If they cut him they get nothing, if he leaves as a free agent, then the Patriots will be inline for a HIGH Compensatory pick (3d round) in 2016.
        I don’t think the Patriots can resign and keep, Gonstkowski, Revis, McCourty, and Solder. Not sure there is enough money/cap .

        • MM-II says:

          Russell –

          As I understand how it works, the fact that the Pats have already officially exercised Solder’s 2015 option means that he’s no longer a free agent for 2015 and the Pats have only three ways to go at this point:
          1) negotiate a long term contract
          2) keep him for just 2015 at $7.44M
          3) cut him before the start of the new league year (when his $7.44M becomes guaranteed).

        • steve earle says:

          It looks to me that if MM II is correct that Pats have exercised Solders option (and he usually is) then I can’t see anything but another contract coming. And speaking of contracts a question, could the 7+ mil bonus be spread over the length of any new deal or must it be paid up front?
          We just made it past Balt tonight and they turned our offense one demensional. 95% of the time when that happens the one d team loses we’re just blessed to have Brady. He took far to many hits though which makes my point that we need o-line help big time. We couldn’t run the ball at all and in the 2nd half didn’t try. So let me ask another question. Given that we must resign several players would it not be better to draft top players at positions which will not draw the higher priced rookie contracts and would give more bang for the buck? (Yes I’m sneeking in a plug for OG’s again) No need for a high round OT if they are keeping Solder who did a decent job tonight.

      • Kevan says:

        Thank you MM II

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