|Chad Ochocinco and Tom Brady are still building chemistry, but could become a formidable one-two punch.|
The New England Patriots are used to reclamation projects, and Randy Moss and Corey Dillon are just two recent examples. That's why no one should have been surprised when Bill Belichick traded for Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth during the offseason.
Belichick has had success acquiring castoffs without giving up much compensation and then restructuring the veteran's contract to protect the Patriots. What's the sell to players like Ochocinco and Haynesworth? Playing in New England is an opportunity to reinvent their careers and play for a Super Bowl ring.
Belichick has the luxury of taking risks on guys who could be bad influences in other locker rooms because of leaders like Tom Brady. The reigning league MVP will keep Ochocinco in line and push him to levels he hasn't been at in years. Brady is known as a stickler when it comes to precise route running and coverage reads. A number of veterans have gone to New England and found out that Brady will start to ignore guys who don't do it the right way. Although Ochocinco is still going to be flamboyant, one stare from Belichick or Brady and it will be back to work. The tight leash will be good for Ochocinco, which should get him close to his averages over the past five seasons (74.4 receptions and 6.4 touchdowns.)
To see what Belichick thinks Ochocinco can do in New England, go back to Week 1 of last season. Ochocinco was targeted 13 times against the Patriots and caught 12 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown.
The ability to compete against the New York Jets was also part of this thought process. The reality of going 2-3 against Rex Ryan's team over the last five games, including the playoffs, is a thorn in the Patriots' side. Brady's numbers over that stretch: Nine touchdowns, four interceptions and 11 sacks. He needs better targets so he can get rid of the ball quicker. Ochocinco provides that dimension.
Adding Haynesworth, who has less room for error than Ochocinco, was also a move aimed at beating the Jets. The defense hasn't been the same since Richard Seymour was traded to the Oakland Raiders in 2008 and injuries have hampered the defensive line. In the last five games against the Jets, the Patriots have given up 626 yards rushing (125.2 per game). The Patriots failed to sack Mark Sanchez in the playoff loss last year and gave up three passing touchdowns in the process.
If Haynesworth can return to his form from 2007-08 -- when he had 91 tackles, 14.5 sacks and three forced fumbles for Tennessee -- the defense will be much better. Haynesworth will need to make an impact, and will be expected to disrupt the pocket and beat tackles Wayne Hunter or D'Brickashaw Ferguson. If Haynesworth doesn't, he will not be long for the Patriots. A disruptive Haynesworth will increase turnovers, which is the most critical element in this series of late. The Patriots forced eight Jets turnovers in their two wins, but just one in the three losses.
Ochocinco and Haynesworth both know New England is their last stop if things don't work out. They could wind up with a ring and extending their careers if they do things the right way. The best-case scenario for the Patriots is that they added two starters hungry for redemption. Worst case, Ochocinco and Haynesworth get shown the door because they just don't get it.
I'll bet on the first scenario.