Behind Enemy Lines: Pats - Jets

The Green and White Report's Rick Laughland asked Patriots Insider Jon Scott to answer questions on the minds of many New York fans. Scott addressed the Patriots' ability to stop the run, get the ground game going, what kind of impact the rookies are having. Answers to these and many more inside...

1:   The Patriots three losses this season were by a combined four points.  Do you feel that this is indicative of defensive collapses late in games or missed opportunities from New England's offense down the stretch? Is it a combination of both? Or perhaps something else entirely?

Jon Scott:  When you look at the losses, one was from a missed field goal; the 20-18 loss to the Cardinals.  One loss came from a defensive collapse; the Ravens Ravens 31-31 Torrey Smith show, and the Seattle loss was injuries to the starters, and blown coverages by the replacements.

I'm not one to blame the refs, but the replacement officials blew tons of calls the first few weeks of the season.  It culminated with the controversial call that gave Seattle a win over the Packers.  While New England experienced their fair share of calls for and against, the Cardinals game was key.  They actually scored a touchdown which would have won the game, but the ref called Gronkowski for a hold. After not calling holding most of the game, the call was surprising. Furthermore, it didn't look like the call was correct, negating a scoring play which changed the outcome.

Despite the refs being involved, the top factor for New England's struggles come from the secondary which still seems to be a major liability to this team's potential .  The Seattle game was a classic example, with players leaving one receiver running deep down the middle in a Cover-2 setup with only 2 wideouts in the pattern.

2.   In your eyes is Tom Brady playing at the MVP level fans are accustomed to seeing or has he somewhat underachieved? Are the Patriots' issues along the offensive line a cause for concern or completely overblown? How do you see them handling the Jets' pass rush which was virtually non-existent until Week Six against the Colts?

JS:  Brady is still Brady.  You give him time and he'll knock a coke can off the crossbar.  His accuracy when he has time, is uncanny, and he's still diagnosing defenses as well as he's ever done. The offensive line is more of a concern.  Sebastian Vollmer is struggling with a back issue, Logan Mankins was hurt for a while, and Nate Solder was burned time and again by speed rushers during the preseason. He's struggling with those guys now. If the Patriots' struggles with protection schemes up front continue, the losses will continue and people will start to look at why Brady isn't winning like he used to. If the Jets can pressure up front, I think they'll find that Brady is off target.  But, an off-target Brady still completed 36 of 58 passes for 395 yards and a pair of TDs against the No. 1 defense (Seattle).
 3.   The Patriots are one of the NFL's top passing offenses year in and year out with 2012 being no exception. The biggest surprise (at least in my mind) has been the traction the running game has gained with New England ascending to No. 3 in the NFL averaging 152.3 yards per game. What do attribute this rushing success to? Is it their running back by committee system? Is it a schematic change made by the coaching staff?

JS: The Patriots worked on the running game late last year, but they didn't have a scheme in place that was better than passing the ball to Gronk or Welker, so they passed until they were stopped.  This season, the team has picked up where it left off on focusing on the run. Ryan Wendell, a more physical blocker than Dan Koppen, actually made the long-time starter expendable.  Dan Connolly, who has played every interior position, is also showing better point of attack blocking.   But the most important change  from last year is teams are trying to take away the pass, by playing dime packages, so the Patriots power running game is in full force.  You'll see them start (rather continue) to throw more out of those power formations once they get the personnel match-up they want.   The no-huddle offense helps take advantage of those mismatches.
 4.   Who has been the most impressive rookie for New England so far this season? Do you expect him to have a big game on Sunday? In your mind what match-up is the most favorable for the Patriots on the offensive side of the ball? How about defensively?

JS:  New England's DE Chandler Jones is turning out to be better than advertised.  While I knew he was a capable player from watching him in college, he's continued his dominant  style of play at the next level.  The problem for Jones is wearing down in the second half.  He tends to disappear at times during a game.

If the Jets can't get pressure on Brady, then the Pats tight ends will have a heck of a day.  Undrafted rookie RB Brandon Bolden has been limited and will miss the game, but the Patriots still have Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen to carry the load. By forcing New York's linebackers  and safety to come up for run support, it's going to leave holes in the secondary – holes Tom Brady tends to thrive on.

Defensively, I expect the Patriots interior front to do well against the Jets ground game. Yes, Shonn Green ran roughshod over the Colts, but New England has an improved interior defense, with Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love acting as the immovable force, while LB Brandon Spikes is laying into any back who stands upright.  It's a hard-hitting crew, one the Patriots haven't been able to take advantage of much until this season thanks to an improved pass rush by Jones.

 5.   Finally, what do you make of this fiasco between Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman and Brady? Do you think Sherman was out of line for his comments? Is there any truth to his statement that the Patriots run a ‘gimmick' offense? How pleased or displeased have you been with Josh McDaniels' play-calling this year? Do you anticipate any special plays in store for Sunday's contest?

JS:  Sherman is a second year DB who was on the top rated defense in the NFL.  His team is finding success, though I doubt Sherman is a key component of it. While Sherman did have an interception against Brady in that game, it was setup by his teammates who showed a different look to Brady before he threw the ball, and it wasn't a great throw.

What do I make of it?  Well, like Brady said, sometimes you just have to play with class. I'm old school, I was taught the same thing. Guys who talk smack are a little too self-absorbed for my personal taste. I think making it as personal as he did, getting in Brady's face, showed a certain level of immaturity that will only hurt that team down the road.

New England has installed some new wrinkles in their offense, though they're hardly gimmicks.  The hurry-up offense is something you have to work hard on not to self-destruct.  They run it nearly to perfection.  Had Pete Carroll's crew not seen much of that from Oregon in college, I think they'd have  a much tougher time dealing with it.  That speed is very hard to play against, especially for teams built on power more than speed.
I do think Josh McDaniels has let the offense become a bit too predictable in certain formations.  While there are options out of nearly all of those plays, the Patriots have shown an overwhelming tendency to run out of a multiple TE set with the TEs close.  When you know that's coming, there's only one, maybe two options for an outlet pass… Defenses tee off on that play, and it's killed some important drives.  I do believe McDaniels has the ability to call better games, and I'd expect that down the road.  Adjustments mid game are his weakness, and that has been the case since he was here the first time.

JS: I see New England holding off a Jets ground attack, while running a relatively successful spread offense in this game.  Not having Darrelle Revis is going to be a liability for the Jets that I don't think A Mark Sanchez led offense can overcome.  Tebow is a wildcard, but one the Patriots have seen before.
Pats by 7

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