1. the Pats have scored 30 or more points every game except for a three-week stretch in the middle of the season; what happened during that stretch?
Jon Scott: Teams opted to play man
coverage. Those were also some of the better defenses in the
league, and caught the Patriots at the right time. When teams decide to
double Wes Welker, the other Patriots receivers have a difficult time
stepping up. Only Deion Branch has been a consistent second
option. When teams double the wideouts, Brady finds the tight
ends. Take away Gronkowski, Welker and Branch and it helps
slow the Patriots. Also, those teams had great front seven
defensive fronts. They applied plenty of pressure on Brady forcing
hurried throws. If New England kept in Max protection, often the
receivers couldn't get open.
2. just how good is tight end Rob Gronkowski?
JS: He's certainly unbelievably athletic for a guy
THAT big. He's huge. What amazes me is how teams
try to put a linebacker on him or a smaller DB and think that's enough.
His wingspan is huge, giving Brady plenty of target space to throw the
ball. Is he good? Well breaking the single season TD record
for TE's would make you think he's up there, but Vernon Davis, was one
of the record holders and he hasn't done much
since. If it was just Gronkowski you had to defend,
teams could do it, but as a second or third option for Brady, he's a
matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.
3. Do the Patriots really think they can get to the Super Bowl
with a defense that's ranked 32nd in the league?
JS: The yardage and third down conversion issues
are huge obstacles for the Patriots to overcome. Not quite sure what
they're thinking, but I can tell you they are in a lot of close games
that should be utter blowouts the way Brady has the offense
clicking. Breakdowns in coverage, poor tackling, and soft
coverage in crucial situations has have all been factors in that
I equate it to this: If they can play Red Zone defense in the middle of
the field, then I think they have a chance. If they play the way
they've been playing all season, then no way. Don't forget,
they got rid of nearly their entire secondary from the past few years.
These guys are all new. Brandon Meriweather, James Sanders
are two safeties they desperately need. Darius Butler, Leigh
Bodden, Jonathan Wilhite and Terrance Wheatley held their own better
than this crew. But it's Belichick's call, so we'll see.
4. Just how devastating was the loss of DE Andre Carter?
JS: Losing Carter is going to be a real problem for
this team. At times, he was the only defender getting pressure on the
QB. He had 10 sacks before the injury, and was playing like a
man possessed. It's really a shame the injury bug bit, as he
was definitely having a Pro Bowl caliber season. It will be
up to Guys like Brandon Deaderick, Mark Anderson and some of the
linebackers to take on Carter's role.
5. How has Rob Ninkovich, who was a bottom-of-the-roster
player in Miami, become such an important part of the Patriots defense?
JS: Ninkovich was one of the guys the Patriots
liked coming out in college. It's not surprising he fits in
with what the Patriots do on defense, much like Mike Vrabel did when
Pittsburgh let him go. Setting the edge is key for Ninkovich,
but the ability to cover is something he has enough of to allow him to
see more time on the field. Ironically, both Vrabel and
Ninkovich wore/wear No. 50.
6. Do you see any reason whatsoever to think the Dolphins have
a shot in this game?
JS: Pressure, pressure, pressure and just throw
deep baby. The Patriots have let every "sub par" team keep
the games close. Close games that come down the wire with the
opponent holding the last possession favors an upset. I think
the Dolphins have a good enough defense to keep the score from getting
completely out of control, contrary to what the season opener was
like. If Reggie Bush can run like that again, the
playaction will kill this Patriots defense and allow for plenty of big
plays. Big plays usually pave the way for big upsets.
I have to take the Patriots winning this one at home to keep their home
field advantage in the playoffs rolling for another week.
It's not that Miami can't win, but with all of the turmoil in South
Florida, I'm not convinced Belichick won't roll out a new wrinkle this
Patriots 34 – Dolphins 24
- Dolphins Game Talk
Dolphins News: Dolphin Digest
Patriots News: Daily Newswire
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 a guest analyst on the NFL Network, Sporting News Radio,
ESPN Radio and other outlets around the web. Follow Jon on Twitter: @JscottNFL
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