Behind Enemy Lines With Jon Scott

Will New England come out of the gates throwing the ball? Do they have a weak spot in their run defense? Why are they running up the score? Is Laurence Maroney living up to expectations?Patriots team expert Jon Scott answers these questions and more.

Ed Thompson:  Do you think the Patriots are likely to just air it out from the start against the Colts on Sunday in hopes of shaking their confidence? Or do you think they'll go with a more balanced attack?

Jon Scott: The Patriots will probably generate their offense with a majority of passes. The play-action will only be successful if they make an attempt to run the ball, so I expect to see some runs mixed in with the pass. The Patriots have started drives with nothing but 5, 6, 7 straight passes, and they've done the same with the run. The strategy depends on what looks the Colts will give them on defense. If the Colts stay with a Cover 2 or Cover 3 coverage with the safeties playing deep, the Patriots have a couple of options. But their best option is the short-middle pass or the run.

I heard a great explanation of how to break the Cover 2 using a three-receiver set. Moss would be matched up in the single coverage side with one defensive back, while Welker and Stallworth would go on the right side. The right side attacks the deep middle and the deep right side while Moss gets single coverage. The deep threat from the right forces the safeties to respect the speedsters so Moss keeps single coverage. He'll win that battle most of the time. If the Colts roll their coverage toward Moss, then the underneath stuff opens up.

The other option is to just run the receivers deep because of all the attention they'll get, and have the Patriots offensive line drive block to run the ball straight at the remaining Colts defensive front. New England can then generate enough space by forcing Bob Sanders out of the box and into pass coverage.

I expect the strategy to be fluid depending on what Indy reacts to. If they want to take away the pass -- they'd be crazy not to -- then it's probably going to be a big day for the Patriots runners.


Tom Brady
AP Photo/Chuck Burton

ET:  Tom Brady's thrown 30 touchdowns and just two interceptions through eight games. How much of that is a credit to his improved receiver corps? Or has he truly elevated his game to a new level?

JS: The talented receivers on the roster create obvious mismatches. Defenses just aren't equipped with four solid cover guys, and they need that many to cover the Patriots receivers downfield. While Brady has certainly improved his focus, I think for the most part you're still looking at the same Tom Brady as last year. The talent around him has allowed him to elevate his game by having confidence that his passes will be caught when he puts it where it needs to be.

A tip-off of what was to come this year from the Patriots' offense was evident when Brady worked his way through training camp limiting the number of throws he would make. Brady called it his "pitch count." Many times he'd lob footballs back to the receivers underhand, or one of the reserve quarterbacks would take reps in Brady's spot. It was evident that Brady was determined to save his arm for the season, and that is the first time he's done that.

ET:  Has Laurence Maroney lived up to expectations so far? Give us a snapshot of his strengths and weaknesses at this early stage of his NFL career.

JS: Maroney has shown flashes of his ability in a number of games over his first two seasons. Although he's only had two 100-yard outings, his carries have been limited to under 20 per game with the exception of his very first game as a rookie against the Jets when he carried 20 times. Maroney has shown the burst the Patriots were looking for when they acquired him. He's bigger than Kevin Faulk and faster than a Corey Dillon or Sammy Morris type of back. Maroney learned how to use the stiff-arm in the pros from his former teammate and mentor Corey Dillon. He was able to use it with great effectiveness, often going on to bigger gains after the first contact, primarily because he was able to fight off the tackler with that stiff arm.

If there's a knock on Maroney it comes from durability concerns and his tendency to hesitate waiting for a hole to open in the line. Maroney has been hampered by injuries missing two games last year and three already this year. Although he's played hurt, he's not the same back when he's fighting through injuries. As for his hesitation issues, watch film on Maroney and you can see how he's looking to set up his blocks. What he hasn't' done is to just commit to a direction and take the ball into the hole at full speed. He becomes easier to tackle because he doesn't have the same type of momentum when he hits the line as say a Sammy Morris or a Kevin Faulk.

ET:  There's been plenty of talk about the Patriots running up the score in retribution for being called out as cheaters for the videotaping incident. Do you think that plays into the equation at all?

JS:  While the Patriots would never admit to running up the score as a matter of vengeance, you can bet they're trying to send a message about the talent level of this team. They have arguably one of the best offenses of all time on the field, and both Brady and Belichick would benefit from showing it off. If you've lived in New England for any amount of time -- well before the Super Bowls and all the hype of this year -- you've seen that the Patriots typically haven't been given the credit for their accomplishments. They've been an afterthought to the Steelers and Cowboys teams of the '70s, they've been brushed aside in conversations about the dynasties in Dallas and San Francisco in the '80s, and they've even been deemed lucky during successful runs. It wasn't' until they won two Super Bowls in three years that the sports world took notice. Even then, much of the credit went to a field goal kicker for winning the games. That probably has a lot to do with this season.

I think the national media's reaction to the videotaping incident calling into question the Patriots' Super Bowl runs, really ticked them off. Tedy Bruschi, who represents the heart and soul of the team became emotional when talking about the talent on the field winning games, not some perceived advantage from a video. It's a matter of pride for these guys, and I think the worst thing to happen for opponents on their schedule is that the Patriots players feel disrespected even though most experts picked them to go to the Super Bow before the camera incident. Now it's become a matter of setting and shattering every NFL record in front of them to show why they're the best and to silence the critics who thought that New England only won because they cheated.

ET:  Tell us about the Patriots' run defense this year and whether or not there are weak spots that could be exploited by Joseph Addai on Sunday.

JS: There are issues with the Patriots' rush defense, as both Miami and Dallas found out this year. It dates back to some issues the team had last season. Without a healthy Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork in the lineup, the Patriots have shown vulnerability to the ground game. Much of opponents' success comes when the Patriots have been playing a nickel defense to prevent teams from passing their way back into a game.

With Rodney Harrison back, Seymour back and Wilfork healthy, the Patriots are arguably much improved from the team that took the field in the AFC Championship game last year. If there's a way to beat this team on the ground, it will be in obvious passing situations. Addai is a very good runner, and you can see what he was capable of just by reviewing the tape from last season. I expect him to give the Patriots problems this week as well.

Jon Scott is Scout.com's Patriots team expert. Read more of his columns at PatriotsInsider.com.


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