Behind Enemy Lines: Patriots

Leading up to Sunday night's preseason game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New England Patriots, Bucsblitz.com's Matthew Postins asked Patriotsinsider.com's Jon Scott six questions about the Pats. Get reports on Tom Brady, training camp surprises and Jerod Mayo right here.

So, Jon, is this the year Tom Brady finally has a bad season? Seriously? Is there any chance he falters?

Jon Scott: Seriously? Sure, this is the year Brady stumbles. According to a recent stat I heard on record-setting passers, the season after they break the record, their production drops significantly. Brady and Randy Moss connected for 23 TDs last year, while Brady managed to chuck it to guys (including Moss) for 50 TDs total. A significant drop off could be 28 TDs -- equal to his best season ever before last year and the same year (2004) Brady led the team to the Super Bowl against the Eagles. A further drop to 23 would be the same amount he threw the year the Pats beat the Panthers in the Super Bowl (2003). Or if the unthinkable happened, and he only threw 18, he would match the total the year he led the team to victory over the Rams (2001). Sure, derailing Brady is possible, but what measurement do you want to use? It's probably a better bet that Brady's numbers drop insignificantly, but the team loses.

Jon, what's been the biggest position battle so far in training camp?

Jon Scott: Three battles are taking shape in camp: offensive line (Tackle), cornerbacks and running back. It's tough to give you a final assessment because the starters have missed a significant amount of time in camp, and it's unknown if they'll be back for the regular season or the new signees will get to keep the job for now. OL: Matt Light has missed a load of time, so the battle for LT is down to Nick Kaczur and Wesley Britt with the loser getting to play RT instead. At CB, the competition is between Ellis Hobbs, Terrence Wheatley and (others). Hobbs should win the role, but Wheatley, Lewis Sanders and Jason Webster have all shown flashes. The team keeps signing corners so the battle continues. At RB, the LaMont Jordan signing has put a ton of pressure on Jon, how impressive would it be for Jerod Mayo to win a starting job at inside linebacker?

Jon Scott: Dean Pees the Pats defensive coordinator wasn't about to gush all over Mayo when asked this week about Mayo's performance He's having a good camp. He's doing well, were as complimentary as Pees would be. The reality is Mayo looks far better than any other inside linebacker on the team. It's part testament to Mayo's strong work ethic and athletic ability and part testament to the difference in athleticism of Bruschi and Victor Hobson. Mayo is far faster than the veterans, and he doesn't seem to have issues shedding blocks, something that WAS a problem before when he played inside in college. It's expected Mayo will get the starting role come the season opener unless by some circumstance, Hobson really comes on strong.

Jon, is this the year Laurence Maroney finally lives up to expectations?

Jon Scott: Probably not. I'm not knocking his effort, but he's still dancing around before hitting the hole. Maroney in open space can be very dangerous, but getting to that space is the trouble he's having. Sammy Morris would have won the starting role last year if he remained healthy. We haven't seen enough of Morris yet this year to tell if he's back, but the addition of Jordan means the Patriots aren't about to leave the running game to chance. If Maroney struggles early, they'll bench him in favor of a productive veteran. Maroney told the media last week that all he needs is enough opportunities to get into a groove. Though he averaged 4.5 yards per carry last year, he turned in a paltry 6 yards on 6 carries last week, looking like his rookie habits returned.

Jon, do you detect a chip on this team's shoulder after last year's Super Bowl loss?

Jon Scott: One of the things I wrote for the Fox Sports Season Preview magazine piece was that the Patriots had a chip on their shoulder since being handed an unceremonious defeat at the hands of the Giants in Super Bowl XLII. Descriptions of the atmosphere for those hanging around afterwards were: Stunned silence; Like a funereal; Unsettling. Those same descriptions resurfaced when the team reconvened for minicamps. While the Patriots don't' dwell on the past, they certainly remember what happened in the desert, and they're ticked off about it. You can't ask about it without many players adopting a fierce level fo defiance in answering the question. "That was LAST year," they tell you. This is a mad and a hungry team. So yes, I'd say they do have that proverbial chip.

Finally, Jon, give a Bucs fan three things to watch during Sunday's game, from a Pats perspective?

Jon Scott: If you're into position battles, here are some thing to watch How does the Patriots offensive line handle pressure? They are missing a pair of starters (Matt Light and Stephen Neal) and likely their top two backups (Ryan O'Callaghan and Russ Hochstein) as well. Although the team professes that the next guy can step up to perform when injuries occur, see if that holds true or the Pats QBs resemble Tom Brady under a New York Giants rush.

Laurence Two-step or Morris/Jordan pounding the rock? The talk in New England is if Maroney will get going this preseason to return to the 4.5 yards per carry avg. he had last season, or if his 6 carries for 6 yards is more typical of what we'll see from him this year.

Can the Bucs Stop the pressure? With the Patriots front seven entering the season "healthy," teams have had to decide what area to give extra protection. One strategy is to double Richard Seymour again. That frees up the linebackers and the opposing end (Ty Warren) to disrupt plays. Before you blame the Bucs for misfiring on offense, check to see if it was a Patriots defender breaking things up. They've been tough to contain so far, and they look like they're getting better each week. Here are some names to look for: Richard Seymour (93), Jerod Mayo (51), Pierre Woods (58), Shawn Crable (98), Ty Warren (94).


Jon Scott is the editor of patriotsinsider.com

Matthew Postins is the editor and publisher of patriotsinsider.com


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