1) How big a loss is Adalius Thomas?
Jon Scott: Considering that Thomas has replaced Bruschi as the primary linebacker on defense, it's a pretty significant blow to the Patriots to lose him for any extended length of time. Thomas was participating in most of the team's defensive snaps, even in the sub packages when the Patriots tried to put speed linebackers and defensive backs into the mix for better versatility. At only 6-foot-2, he didn't have the height you typically see from outside linebackers like Mike Vrabel (6-4.5), ole Willie McGinest (6-5) and Thomas' replacement, Pierre Woods (6-5). Thomas has amazing speed for a guy who weighs in the neighborhood of 270-pounds. None of the other backers have his speed to power and weight ratio. That is the part which will be hard to replace.
Pierre Woods is slated to take over for Thomas, but he's never started for the team at OLB. One thing he has done is substitute in on defense quite a bit. The Patriots may have name recognition linebackers, but some of the guys you've never heard of are starting to play pretty well, including Woods and ILB Gary Guyton.
2) Is Matt Cassel still holding the ball too long?
|Does Cassel have enough esxperience now to win?|
JS: The trouble with Cassel is when the team is forced to use max protect (double TE sets) to try to keep the defensive off of him. When the tackles can't handle the pass rush, the Patriots use tight ends Ben Watson and David Thomas to chip block on the edges. This allows the interior blockers to try to plug the gaps up front. When the Patriots were using Matt Cassel he had better protection, but the receivers weren't' able to get open quickly enough, and Cassel kept waiting on the receiver to break open. Before that could happen, the pass rush would be on him hence the sack.
What the Patriots have since done is to use more spread offenses, and force Cassel to unload or rollout to try to buy time. The Spread forces a defense ot déclassé who's going to cover who. Usually those schemes that worked on Cassel early happened when the opposition was able to disguise the coverage. With the Spread, Cassel knows who's covered before he snaps the ball. So he's taken fewer sacks (0 last week), or he just pulls the ball down and runs.
JS: One on one, Koppen has done pretty well. He has the strength to hang in there with some of the best defensive tackles in the league. Jenkins has taken his game to a new level though. It seems he left the old non-productive version in Carolina.
Koppen will need one of the guards to help to slow down Jenkins. The Patriots may hope to contain Jenkins with single blockers, but they can also deal with him by scheming against him. It's not likely that Koppen will be asked to beat Jenkins, just slow him down. It will be interesting to see how Jenkins ability to collapse the pocket disrupts the Patriots game plan. I expect plenty of 3 step drops with spread formations. I also expect the Patriots will attack the edges of that defense to reduce Jenkins' opportunities to impact the game.
|Moss a decoy, or will he get to test the Jets' secondary?|
4) How is Randy Moss holding up without Brady?
JS: Moss is well off his 2007 pace for receptions, yardage and touchdowns, but it was unrealistic to think any of the receivers could keep up that kind of production without Tom Brady running the offense. Moss was criticized by Charley Casserly, Chris Mortensen and other national media types for dogging it when the ball doesn't' go his direction, ha actually done much better than those reports indicate.
Whenever there's a player who has had a questionable behavior issue in the past, those guys like to point out how Moss is sloughing off. Actually Moss is moving into the team leader role the Patriots hoped for when he was elected captain this year. He stood up for Cassel when the locals were calling for blood. He came to the defense of Jabar Gaffney for dropping a sure touchdown that could have won the Indianapolis game. He's even maintained a reasonable policy of answering media questions from local and national media this year.
As for production Moss has 43 receptions for 589 yards and 4 touchdowns through 10 weeks this year. Last year Moss had 34 catches for 551 yards and 7 touchdowns through the first 5 weeks. So his production is nearly half of last season's pace. Still, Moss continues to be the deep threat that the Patriots need him to be, allowing other parts of the offense to work well.
5) How is the secondary managing without Asante Samuel?
JS: The Problem with the secondary is that the Patriots aren't just missing Asante Samuel, they're missing three starters; Samuel, Randall Gay and Eugene Wilson. Gay and Wilson had struggled at times, being replaced at points of the year last season in different packages, but they knew the defense much better than the players the Patriots currently have. Deltha O'Neal a Bengals castoffhas had his moments both good and bad. He saved the Chiefs game, but gave up two huge plays in the Chargers game that put things out of reach.
The past couple of weeks the Patriots have greatly improved their ability to defend the deep ball. New England hasn't given up a play of 40+ yards since the Rams game, and they've only given up 23 pass plays of 20 yards or more. That's good enough for 7th overall on the big plays and 17th overall on the 20+ plays. At one point, New England had the 3rd worse pass defense in the league. Now they're 15th best overall.
Jason Webster was re-signed by the team just prior to last week's game against the Bills, to address a rash of injuries to New England's secondary. Webster was signed in the offseason then cut prior to the final cut-downs because he missed all of training camp with an injury and didn't get enough playing time to merit a roster spot. If he plays up to his potential, the Patriots pass defense will be significantly improved.