Eric Hartz: The Patriots have had a lot of success with screens and draw plays over the years with the Colts. Do you see a similar game plan developing this year, when they have more ability in the vertical passing game?
Jon Scott: The Patriots use the screen pass to offset the pass rush. It's designed to attack specific formations, especially the way New England likes to use the "bubble screen" with Wes Welker. I expect we'll see them run it a couple of times on Sunday because it is a difficult formation to defend. One thing about the formations is that New England will set up a certain play by aligning in that formation earlier in the game and running something different.
The vertical passing game will be a key component of New England's strategy, mainly because they want to test the Colts' secondary. If Indianapolis dials up the pressure, we'll see more screens. When they dial back pressure and try to cover, we'll see more deep ball, I would think.
EH: It seems like every week, a different running back is getting carries for New England. How do you see the Patriots' RB situation shaking out in this game and over the course of the rest of the season?
JS: Sammy Morris may be back this week (he's listed as questionable), but if he's not, the Patriots only have three running hacks healthy. You are guaranteed to see Kevin Faulk, both on third-down screens, draws and passing situations — he's the best blocker.
You'll see a heap of Laurence Maroney who, despite being picked ahead of Joseph Addai in the same draft class, has only had a fraction of Addai's success. And you're going to see second-year runner BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who is playing some fullback as well as tailback.
The diversity of talents of the backs on the Patriots' roster allows them to use multiple players for a variety of tasks. The issue for them is to mix looks so defenses cannot key on one player. That's been difficult with Maroney, but Faulk is a jack-of-all-trades and will see plenty of action. He's also one of the more difficult to defend because Brady can check off to a draw when he sees the defensive alignment.
EH: One player I think is overlooked a lot in the Patriots' offense is tight end Benjamin Watson. With the Colts focusing their attention on Randy Moss and Wes Welker, do you see Tom Brady looking more for his TE in vulnerable areas of the Colts' Cover-2, or are Welker and Moss enough?
JS: Perfect question. The reason why Watson had such success in the first game against Buffalo (two touchdowns) was the Bills played a similar defense (Cover 2, Cover 3) to keep Moss and Welker in front of them. That left the deep middle open to being split by an athletic (read fast) target. With linebackers usually assigned to him, Watson can burn the defender over the middle if coverage is rolled to either Moss or Welker.
The other receiver defenses had to worry about was Brandon Tate, who was considered a first-round talent until he hurt his ACL his senior year. Tate aggravated a leg issue (knee), last week and is out for Sunday night's game. Sam Aiken, the other WR, was nicked up, but will play. He'll be the safety valve checkdown if Moss, Welker and Watson are all drawing heavy coverage.
JS: New England has two starters missing, Matt Light and Dan Koppen. You would think Tom Brady would get killed with a Rookie and a player who hasn't started at center before, but no. Sebastian Vollmer is filling in for Light at LT and Dan Connolly filled in for Koppen at center. Those two are the biggest concerns. Right tackle Nick Kaczur has shown that he is susceptible to edge rushers and could end up being the weak link as well. This matchup favors the Colts.
EH: Based on recent performances, I think it's safe to say that Tom Brady is fully recovered from his knee injury, but you closely watch the team week-to-week. Are there any lingering concerns about his health? Any other injury concerns for the offense?
JS: No, Brady is not fully recovered. As I've told others who have asked the question, Brady is getting as close to 100 percent as possible, but I'm sure he's feeling the effects of playing on knee that want through not only the initial major surgery to repair the tendons, but the follow-up procedures to clear out the post-operative infections.
Jason Price, a rehab specialist who works with injured athletes on recovery and strength training, explained the process of returning from that type of injury. It's typically at least one year from the date of the surgery before the person is close to normal, and more like 18-24 months before they're fully recovered as much as they can be (usually around 95-98 percent of what they were pre-injury).
Jon Scott has covered the NFL since 1995, and has been a regular contributor to Patriots Insider, Comcast SportsNet New England. and FOXSports.com magazines. A member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA), Jon has appeared as a guest analyst on the NFL Network, Sporting News Radio, ESPN Radio and other outlets around the web.
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