Charlie Bernstein: It appears that one of the only equalizers in this game may be the weather, and in a touch of irony, it would likely help the team from the south to have a cold, windy game against the pass happy, loaded at the skill positions Patriots. If the Pats are forced into a backyard brawl type of game, can they run it effectively against the Jaguars defense?
Jon Scott: Sure. They can run the ball, they just choose not to. Much has been made about the Patriots inability to run because the stats don't have big numbers by Laurence Maroney, Heath Evans or Kevin Faulk. When New England needs to run, or wants to run, they can. Against two 3-4 teams (Jets, Chargers) the Patriots primary runners (Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris) ran for 126 (4.1 avg.) and 128 yards (5.2 avg.) The team averaged over 4 yards per carry 8 times over the season, including quarterback runs.
But the Patriots biggest threat is the pass, so they sometimes almost completely abandon the run. They only ran 9 times vs the Steelers and that game wasn't even close.
CB: The teams that have had some success against New England's offense have all generated enough of a pass rush to affect Tom Brady. The Jacksonville pass rush is not all that fierce. Can a team beat the Pats without pressuring Brady?
JS: Probably not. When they don't pressure Brady, he winds up passing for over 330 yards, or has a QB rating of over 120. Jets week 1 (297y, 146.6r); Chargers (279y, 123); Buffalo (311y, 153r); Dallas (388y, 129.6r); Pittsburgh (399y, 125.2r). Even when teams did sack Brady he still had good games with the exception of the Baltimore game (pressure), the Eagles game (pressure) and the second Jets game (weather).
CB: How have the Patriots fared in recent years against mobile quarterbacks?
JS: That depends upon your definition of a mobile quarterback. They played well against Donovan McNabb, Steve McNair, Tony Romo, Cleo Lemon, Brett Favre, Vince Young (Healthy) and David Garrard over the past two seasons.
Probably the best comparison is Young when the Patriots played Tennessee and knocked them out of the postseason in the final regular season game last year. Young passed fro 227 yards and ran for another 28 on a par of plays. The Patriots won 40-23.
CB: Is Rodney Harrison a liability in coverage?
JS: The Patriots try not to ask Harrison to cover receivers, and usually that's the case. When the team expects the passing game to be big, they'll bring in Brandon Meriweather, Randall Gay and Eugene Wilson to add speed to the deep secondary. Those players have all played safety, and act like corners. It's New England's way to deal with teams that like to pass a lot, so Harrison isn't the only safety on the field. He will cover when it's a tight end or back, but the scheme usually allows for him to roam in the zone, which is where he has found his success. The Patriots could conceivably have 3 DB/S players on the field at the same time (Gay, Wilson and Meriweather) in addition to their regular starting cornerbacks Ellis Hobbs and Asante Samuel and the two safeties (Harrison and James Sanders).
I would expect more linemen and linebackers in the base defense, so the Patriots have enough beef to stuff the run.
CB: Over the last six or seven seasons, no team looks more prepared that New England, week in and week out. Jacksonville is a heavy underdog and will likely throw the entire playbook at the Pats this week with trick plays, onside kicks after scores, and plenty of fourth down attempts. Will Belichick take extra time to go over the what-ifs, even if some of these plays seem silly and/or rarely attempted?
JS: Belichick practices nearly every situation that can occur in a football game, during regular practices all year. He won't cover everything each week, but he will revisit the ones that are important.
I don't think any team can really prepare for the specific trick plays teams come up with, but New England has seen it's share of trick plays in the past. Jacksonville is more dangerous just slamming the ball down field using their running backs and controlling the clock. If they have to use trick plays to defeat the Patriots defense, then the Jaguars are in real trouble.
Behind Enemy Lines: Patriots (2 of 2)
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