Behind Enemy Lines: Part I

The Green Bay Packers hope to follow up their win over arch-rival Minnesota last Sunday by extending the New England Patriots' losing streak this Sunday at Lambeau Field. Jon Scott of answers questions from managing editor Todd Korth in the first of a two-part Behind Enemy Lines:

Todd Korth: What is the mood of the Patriots following back-to-back losses?
Jon Scott:
The Patriots view the loss to the Jets as a game in which they failed to execute. They failed to stop the Jets on third down when time was running out. They failed to score TDs when they had the chance. They failed to make plays when they needed them and they fell behind to a good Jets team. Surprisingly to some, the Patriots realize they were outplayed, at least according to the answers they give when asked about the loss.

It appears that the players are more concerned about getting back on track this week, and preventing a recurrence of what transpired. Turnovers and failure to execute were the catalysts in their last two losses.

TK: Is New England a team in decline, or have the Pats simply underachieved in recent weeks?
Part of the answer is in the film of the last two losses. They made major mistakes at inopportune times in both games. Against Indianapolis, the Patriots had tipped balls that turned into interceptions. Two of those interceptions (the overthrow in the corner of the end zone intended for Gabriel in the first quarter, and the force into tight coverage of Ben Watson at the 5 yard line just before the half) forced New England to change its style of play and move away from the run to play shootout football with Peyton Manning – a surefire way to lose a football game. If New England scored in those opportunities, even one FG and 1 TD, they would have taken a touchdown lead into the half, and could have used the ground game a lot more effectively. Even with the picks, the Patriots had a chance at the end of the game to tie it.

The Jets game was very similar, as New England had the ball with under two minutes to go and still had a shot at tying the game. Failure to block and failure to catch the ball ended those last minute drives. Typically, New England makes those plays and ties or wins those games.

Inconsistency has been the biggest problem. The talent is there, the timing isn't. When its on, it's really on and they're one of the most dangerous teams in the league. But when it's not, you see sloppy football atypical of the Patriots.

TK: What is the best way to beat the Patriots?
Let the offense continue to misfire. When I say that I mean that New England's defense has managed to keep the score close enough to have a shot at winning, but the offense's inability to score TDs, or at all, has become a liability. When the Patriots run the ball effectively, it opens up everything for Tom Brady.

The way to beat New England is to stop the run, and pressure Brady on pass plays. The receivers are new, the line has protection problems, and the team hasn't found a rhythm. If opponents can harass Brady, which the Jets, Broncos and Colts have all done effectively, that's the key. The new set of receivers are not able to adjust to the situation, and Brady doesn't have the kind of time he has enjoyed in the past.

TK: Why is Tom Brady and the Patriots' passing game struggling lately?
Some of the answer can be found in the previous responses, but to narrow it down in a nutshell, it's three things.

1. New receivers – These guys just aren't on the same page with Brady. Two of his leading WRs joined the team after the season started. Two others weren't on the team last season, and the rookie missed all of camp and has a long way to go to catch up.

2. Offensive line issues – The offensive line was forced to go with a third string lineman at right guard, and a rookie at right tackle. While these guys are decent, they have a long way to go to stop the likes of Shaun Ellis, Dwight Freeney and other experienced D-linemen.

3. Brady has been misfiring on some of his passes. It's entirely possible the beating he's taking each week is catching up to him. A number of his throws sail or go into the dirt. He's missed open receivers with increasing frequency. Some of that is due to receiver adjustments or lack of, some pressure and some route running, but Brady is getting whacked a lot. He's been dealing with a nagging shoulder issue for three seasons, and he has that tendonitis forearm band you see him adjusting regularly. With the signing of Vinny Testaverde, you can tell, the Patriots are planning for worst cast scenario … not having Tom Brady.

TK: Who is Reche Caldwell, and why is he becoming Brady's favorite target?
Caldwell is one of the three former University of Florida receivers on the Patriots and is in his first season with the Patriots. Actually all of the Gators (Caldwell, Jabar Gaffney and Chad Jackson) are new to the team, but Caldwell has been with New England the longest. His brother still plays for the Gators now, and is one of their brighter stars.

The elder Caldwell has worked with Brady longer than other receivers on the roster with the exception of Troy Brown, and has the best communication with the QB. Although there was a knock on Caldwell while he was with the Chargers (not a true No 1 or No 2 guy), he has developed in the Patriots' scheme as a dependable target. He's dropped a few passes, but has taken some major hits and shown the ability to hang on to the ball.

Caldwell shies away from the public spotlight, but he works hard. Brady has spoken well of him from their time together during camp and even though the team's recent struggles. Aside from maybe Troy Brown or Ben Watson, Caldwell is one of Brady's more reliable receivers.

Note: Look for Part II on Saturday where Jon addresses the Chad Jackson, the Patriots' offensive line, the most improved player on the Patriots and his prediction for Sunday's game.

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