Behind Enemy Lines: Patriots-Broncos Part I

NFL experts, Jon Scott of PatriotsInsider.com and Michael Schon of BroncosUpdate.com, analyze Sunday's game between the Patriots and the Broncos. Part 1 includes the problems with New England's defense, the Bronco receivers success, Belichick's losing record vs Shanahan and more...

Q: So, obviously its been bit different for New England this year and I'm guessing Matt Cassel jerseys aren't really flying off the shelf just yet What's the perspective heading into Week Seven and how much of the offensive scheme had to be changed due to Brady's injury?

Cassel has just 3TDs but 4 INTs for the year giving him a 78.1 rating (AP Photo)

Jon Scott: The Problem with the Patriots offense is firmly grounded in the fact that Tom Brady is no longer under center. Even when teams knew what was coming last season, Brady had a way to either check out of the play, or find the third or even fourth option. Matt Cassel is running the same offense - for the most part - and doesn't' have Brady's experience or ability to check out of bad plays. Cassel isn't finding his third option as evidence by the failed goal line drive last week in San Diego.

The heat is on Cassel, but it should be on the offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. When defenders from the Dolphins and Chargers say they knew what was coming so they could anticipate where to go, that speaks volumes regarding the offensive scheme. The Patriots don't have to get a Mike Martz to run things, now, but they do need to change if Cassel is going to have any hope of leading the team.

Q: Defensively the Patriots gave up some huge plays to Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers last week - what kind of changes do you expect to try and stop Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall?

Jon Scott: The Patriots scheme is to keep everything in front of them. One reason that didn't work was because the team moved it's safeties into the box to slow down LaDainian Tomlinson - which they did. The problem at that point is that the corners or safeties who are one-on-one need to have better coverage to protect against the deep pass.

Patriots defensive coordinator Dean Pees and Secondary Coach Dom Capers have a lot of teaching to do this year. The Patriots have 4 new faces in the secondary in rookies Jonathan Wilhite and Terrence Wheatley as well as veterans free agent additions Deltha O'Neal and Lewis Sanders. Even returning veterans James Sanders and Brandon Meriweather have been exposed in the secondary.

Expect the Patriots to use more blanket coverage with safeties and corners playing the middle and deep middle to force the Broncos to run. A heavy nickel package may be the gameplan to protect against the run while still putting two defenders on Marshall.

Q: Including playoff games, the Broncos have won 16 of the last 19 games against the Pats and Mike Shanahan is one of the few coaches in the NFL to hold a winning record against Bill Belichick. Is it better personnel, better coaching or just the luck of the draw?

Broncos coach Mike Shanahan hlds a 9-3 record vs the Patriots

Jon Scott: Shanahan has always had Belichick's number and it's amazing that as much of a defensive guru Belichick is supposed to be he hasn't been able to find a way to shut down the Denver offense. Part of the reason is that the Patriots only play the Broncos on an irregular basis, and their style of offense isn't similar to most of the teams New England plays. Hats off to Shanahan for outsmarting Belichick these years. I believe the Denver coach wins more often because he can expose the Patriots system for what it is, guys trying to cover space rather than players winning one-on-one matchups.

Q: Obviously the Patriots are aware of Denver's inability to stop pretty much anything on defense do you expect Belichick to continue the standard running attack or will Cassel try and air it out against the Broncos weak zone secondary?

Jon Scott: The Patriots have no had a rhythm on offense all season. They've hit some big plays and they've made some long sustained drives, but not on a consistent basis. That's the frustrating part for the fans. Just when New England turns in a good game with some solid drives (Chiefs, 49ers), they lay an egg (Dolphins, Chargers).

The trouble with the ground game is that the team's most productive back at 4.4 yards per carry, LaMont Jordan, is likely out for Monday's game. Kevin Faulk is averaging 5.4 yards per carry as a part time back, mostly gaining the yardage on a few well-timed plays. Other than that, Sammy Morris is averaging 3.2 yards per carry while Laurence Maroney just 3.3. Maroney will also likely be out Monday, a good thing right now as he has yet to get on track.

The Patriots will try to get the ball deep to Randy Moss, but so far the Cassel to Moss connection pales in comparison to the Brady-Moss express from last season. It's not the same group, so expecting the same level of production probably isn't realistic. Belichick will try to play keep away football like they did in San Francisco. It worked well there, so it should have similar results - they hope - here.

Q: I'm curious how former Bronco Deltha O'Neil has fit into the Patriots system and how well do you think he's going to match up with Brandon Marshall and the rest of the Broncos receivers?

Brandon Marshall should have a field day in Foxboorough. He is 4th in the league with 521 yards in 43 catches.

Jon Scott: O'Neal was absolutely torched by the Chargers. He was in on three big plays, two were a direct result of his inability to break up the pass. Both plays were near 50-yard strikes (mostly in the air). Since his arrival, O'Neal has regressed. He had a standout game his first one against the Chiefs, making a TD saving tackle, then breaking up a pass that would have tied the game.

I'm not expecting much from O'Neal other than his usual coverage - which wasn't bad, just wasn't good enough. If the Patriots want to avoid a repeat of that scenario, they need to smack the receivers, or get pressure on the QB, neither of which they did against San Diego. It was a horrible game plan last week, and if it shows up again, it won't be the players' fault that Marshall or a guy like Eddie Royal has a big game.

Q: Broncos CB Dre Bly has been getting a lot of attention the past few weeks and has been smoked several times throughout the season, giving up some huge plays. Will Cassel specifically target his side or do you expect a more dink and dunk across the middle with the occasional toss toward Champ Bailey?

Jon Scott: New England is prone to playing it safe, and the Broncos will benefit from that approach. Cassel hasn't gone for broke very often, and he's not likely to do so if the coverage its tight. Then again, New England knows that if they don't take shots downfield, then teams will sit on the shorter stuff, which leads to tipped passes and turnovers.

I expect we'll see a little more from the Patriots tight ends this week. Wes Welker has been his usual productive self, averaging over 6 catches a game, but the tight ends have been invisible. Ben Watson is a huge asset that the Patriots are underemploying. I think they were waiting to open things up down the deep middle with him. If New England can establish the run, and hit the TEs then yes, I do expect Cassel to try to hit a deep pass or two against Bly or even Bailey. If the running game is non-existent, then I expect Bly and Bailey will have their rebound game this week.

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Jon Scott has covered the NFL since 1995, and is a regular contributor to Patriots Insider and Comcast SportsNet New England. A member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA), Jon has been a guest analyst on the NFL Network, Sporting News Radio, ESPN Radio and other outlets.

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