IRVING, Texas – The amazing thing about the New England Patriots is how they've managed to stay so consistent despite so much turnover.
As you can guess, a lot of that starts with the quarterback. Tom Brady has been the man in that building for 15 years, and he has been one of the NFL's best players across that stretch. Brady's success across all these years has allowed the Patriots to rotate a diverse cast of role players in an out of their system and continue chugging along.
To illustrate my point, read my report blow. After Brady, one of New England's most dangerous weapons has only been with the team since 2009. The other is in his first year with the organization.
It doesn't matter. The Patriots continue to get results.
Nemesis: Tom Brady, QB
You might question Tom Brady's character, but you cannot question his desire to compete or his passion for the game. He's one of those once-in-a-lifetime players that went to the right organization to play for the right coach.
Brady is as mentally tough as they come. Football intelligence is off the charts. Despite his years – he still has the ability to make all the throws. He's able to really snap the ball off his hand with an overhand throwing motion. Accuracy is outstanding at all levels. Very impressive in the way that he works the ball down the field between the hashes.
He can complete passes in very tight windows, and he's fearless throwing the ball to these receivers. It's rare to see him back off from a pass. When his accuracy does struggle, it comes when he is under duress. Brady has had a problem in the past when defenses attack him in the middle of the pocket and his eyes go down.
Defensively, you have to get him to move to have a chance to make him struggle. He is a little like Tony Romo in that if he feels pressure, he will go down to fight for another play. The problem is that if you allow him to stand in pocket – his anticipation and timing will wear you out. In my opinion Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback to have ever played this game. He has won multiple championships in an era where each season 30 percent of his team turned over – you can't say that about the others that played before him.
Weapon: Julian Edelman, WR
When I evaluate receivers the two traits I look for the most are their ability to get open and then their ability to finish -- Julian Edelman does both.
His initial quickness is rare. It doesn't matter if it's up the field or lateral, he puts pressure on the defender instantly. Edelman can be at a dead stop, then in a flash be at full speed. His body control, balance and change of direction make him difficult to match. Defenders have trouble getting a read on Edelman because he runs routes at such a quick pace – especially those option routes where he breaks in, then outside.
Edelman is one of the best situational receivers in the league. It doesn't matter the down and distance – he is going to find a way to make a play. He's not affected by limited space in the red zone, and he has clutch production and courage to go get the ball. Plays with natural hands and will extend them to make catches. It's more about the catch than the run after. Will secure the ball – get what he can, then hit the ground.
I did see some snaps where defenders were making him have to make a contested catch and the result was an incomplete pass. Just by the way that he and Brady play together – it's more about the visual than it is communication. It's rare that you see them both not on the same page during a play.
Under the Radar: Dion Lewis, RB
During Bill Belichick's tenure in New England, the one area the Patriots have been able to have success is finding a running back to play in their scheme. Dion Lewis is another one of those success stories.
Lewis was originally a fifth-round selection by the Eagles and after a couple of seasons was released. He is not your prototypical running back size-wise – as a matter of fact he is very similar to Lance Dunbar. What Lewis does bring to this offense is the ability to run out of the spread formation.
For his lack of height, he is physically tough and plays with outstanding quickness. There is a burst with the ball in his hands to and through the hole. Lewis has the toughness to run inside or take the ball all the way to the corner. He's creative in his style and with his ability to make tacklers miss in space -- very good body control and balance. There is surprising strength in his upper and lower body, and you see this in the way he finishes runs. Can break tackles and get yards after contact. Nice vision and awareness to see the hole. Good patience and pace.
Lewis gives effort as a blocker, but size does limit him here. Big-time receiver – his hands are good. Again, like Dunbar, he can cause problems in space after the catch. He will get lost in traffic, then come out the other side with the ball. Brady is not afraid of putting the ball in his hands. He doesn't play like a small back – have to get bodies to him quickly.