'Fifth Down' focuses on Patriots

The New York Times' "Fifth Down" blog continues its season preview with an in-depth look at the Patriots today. Writer Andy Benoit predicts a first-place finish in the AFC East.

Here are a few snippets from his extensive piece:

Patriot Way. "Belichick’s Patriots are so business-oriented that they themselves rarely even talk about The Patriot Way. The phrase is mainly the outside world’s way of explaining the culture of this very successful organization."

Offense. "Unlike with most teams, the Patriot offense is built primarily on principles, rather than players. But the paradox is it’s only built this way because of one particular player. You can probably guess who."

Defense. "Everybody wants to know if the 2011 Patriots defense will be a 3-4 or a 4-3. The answer is it will be neither and both. It’s understandable that people would want to pigeonhole this defense and find a crystal clear image of the depth chart and gameplan. But the reason Bill Belichick has a reputation for directing versatile, ever-changing units is because he does not view defense in broad strokes of black and white."

Bottom line. "The system is outstanding. The talent stocking it is equally impressive. It’s just a matter of whether the Patriots can do something they surprisingly haven’t done well in recent years: hold serve in big games."