Jon Scott: Jackson has been fighting a couple of issues. Coming out of college, the question surrounding him was his ability to run well-disciplined routes and not just rely on his physical gifts. There were also injury concerns during his time at Florida. He was only a starter for a little more than a single season (14 games) with the Gators and that inexperience has held him back.
When he arrived in New England, Jackson took a while to report while his contract was being negotiated. He managed to get into camp, but injured his hamstring early on. The injury took forever to heal, and there's still talk that it's not 100% right now. He tried to come back after the midway point during camp, but he ran hard on a deep pass and re-aggravated the injury.
The problem with Jackson is he just hasn't been on the practice field with Brady. He hasn't learned the system, and he hasn't ironed out his timing with his quarterback. To say he's been a disappointment is accurate if you expected him to be a starting receiver. He's not the only second-round pick to take time to learn the system in New England. Deion Branch wasn't a starter until after his rookie season, and Bethel Johnson never became a starter, and was dumped after three disappointing seasons.
It takes time to develop receivers. Bill Belichick even referred to this when asked about Jackson's' development or lack of.
TK: Has the Patriots' offensive line been hit by injuries, or is it simply not performing well?
JS: The offensive line has struggled to protect Brady. Against strong front seven, the Patriots try to get more receivers into a pattern. When they do that, breakdowns can – and do – occur along the offensive line. As with most NFL teams at this point in the year, injuries have taken a toll. Last season it was Matt Light and Don Koppen among others who went down due to injury This season it's the RG and RT, Stephen Neal, his backup Russ Hochstein, Nick Kaczur and Ryan O'Callaghan.
Kaczur is coming back from a shoulder injury he suffered late last season and has only started a game thus far this season. The rookie O'Callaghan has proven to be a solid run blocker, but both have missed key blocks that turned into sacks. Kaczur is only in his second year out of Toledo. When Neal went down, Hochstein filled in and then also suffered an injury. Third-string and practice squad member Billy Yates filled in. Yates broke his leg last week, so it's back to piecing together the unit along the right side again.
To answer your question… when the guys were healthy, the Patriots were running well and passing well. When injuries started, things began to break down. So, it's a little of both, but injuries have had a significant impact on the Patriots offensive line.
TK: Who is the most improved player this season on the Patriots?
JS: Good Question. I'm not sure this is as much "most improved" or has stepped up the most with the opportunity given, but the honor will likely go to DB Chad Scott. A former third-string player, Scott beat out free agent Eric Warfield for a role on the team. He has been able to play both corner and defensive back. His work at corner moved him ahead of second-year standout Ellis Hobbs for the starting role opposite Asante Samuel. When Rodney Harrison went down with an injury, Scott got the call over third-year player James Sanders.
The play you may recall seeing Scott was the hit he delivered to Jerricho Cotchery in the Patriots' first game against the Jets. Cotchery caught a pass along the right sideline and was held up by one of the Patriots cornerbacks. Scott came flying in from his dime position and put a whack on Cotchery that you thought would jar the ball loose or at least knock the guy down. Cotchery was able to land on the Patriots corner, then spin, put his hand on the ground to keep his knee from touching and raced to the end zone for a score.
Scott has been making those kinds of hits recently. He has also been able to pick some passes off which have helped the Patriots win games.
TK: The Jets had success against the Pats' defense using a short-passing attack. Is that the best way to move the ball against the Patriots?
JS: Richard Seymour was injured, Ty Warren was out, and the Patriots stuck with a 3-4 defense in their loss to the Jets. Where the Jets found success was not only the short passing game, but also running the ball. It seemed that New England wasn't able to generate any pressure on Chad Pennington, but they also didn't blitz him very often.
The threat of the run by New York helped them keep the Patriots' rush at bay. What's perplexing is why the Patriots' game plan against the Jets and the Colts seemed to be significantly different than the games they won handily.
The Patriots have been burned when they can't get pressure on the opponent's quarterback. If Favre can buy time by running around, or use the play-action effectively, then that's how they can stay with the Patriots, and possibly even beat them. New England has given up big plays this year and was one of the worst secondaries in 2005. They've improved, but not a lot. They moved the corners back to prevent the big play, and that opened them up to the stuff underneath.
If the Packers can hit a long pass or two to keep the corners back, and if they run the ball to chew up some yardage, New England's defense is in for a long day.
TK: What is your prediction for Sunday's game? Who will win, the score, and why?
JS: Predictions are tough. … I honestly believe New England was better than they played against the Colts and the Jets, but mistakes, injuries and unusual game plans threw my earlier predictions for a loop.
I expect the Patriots to bounce back this week. I think they've figured out they need to run the ball early and often. I think they also understand they need to stop opponents from converting third downs by bring some pressure.
The outcome of this game could hinge on turnovers. If Brady makes more mistakes, or the Pats have trouble holding onto the ball I can easily see how Green Bay could capitalize on their home field advantage to secure a victory.
I see New England winning, but not by much, maybe a TD. Patriots 24, Packers 17.