1. Tom Brady doesn't quite look like Tom Brady so far this season. Is there reason for concern, or is it simply rust?
Scott: Brady has not been himself, though it's hard to tell if it's due to the effects of his injury or more related to the time he spent away from his receivers. Passes have been high, low, behind and not even close to some of his wideouts. The more Brady struggles, the more his confidence will be tested, but Brady has no confidence issues. Brady said it best this week.
"if you don't hit a pass, you can't loose your confidence and think I can't complete passes anymore," Brady said via conference call this week. "I think of it more like, 'Wow, the defense was pretty lucky there I didn't complete it.' I'm always bringing that positive, confident attitude, no matter what's happening in the game."
2. On the surface, losing a 33-year old running back shouldn't be a big deal, but Fred Taylor was beginning to run well prior to his ankle injury. How big of a loss is Fred Taylor to the Patriots?
Scott: Taylor's loss leaves New England in the same situation they were in last year when LaMont Jordan couldn't go due to a cal f injury> The team has the same four backs they did last year in Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Maroney was supposed to be the man ever since he was selected in the first round of the Draft, but he has yet to show he can be a productive contributor on a consistent basis. Expect more running back by committee with Morris getting more key opportunities this week.
Scott: Seau gives New England that extra linebacker on the inside who knows the system and knows what he's supposed to do. Signing ust anyone to play linebacker hasn't worked out for the team with players struggling just to pickup the system: Victor gHobson was an example of this, a veteran backer who saw some 3-4 scheme under Eric Mangini in New York, never quite got the hang of what to do in the Patriots defense. Seau never had that problem.
Seau should see more action in the team's linebacker rotation when they play a 3-4 style. The team's 4-3 scheme hasn't produced the results they hoped for and it may be time to see if having four backers instead of 4 down linemen is a better front. Seau enables them to do so.
4. I would've bet almost anything that the Patriots were going to roll into Denver last week and expose the Broncos as an average team who's feasted on a cupcake schedule. We know the outcome, what happened? And is Denver legit?
Scott: Three bad passes and poor pass protection on one play are what happened. Had Tom Brady been on target, the outcome could easily have resulted in a finish closer to the point spread when the actual outcome. Brady over threw a wide-open Randy Moss in the end zone in the first half resulting in a FG not a TD. Also in the first half a short pass to Welker could have converted a first down, instead the team settled for a 40-yard FG attempt that missed wide. And finally in the fourth Q, Brady was sacked on a blown block by Logan Mankins, fumbled and killed one of those typical 4th quarter game winning drives we're used to seeing.
The Broncos are a legitimate contender, there's no doubt, but the Patirots shot themselves in the foot, much like they've done all season. Had any of those previous misfires not gone wrong, New England would have at least a 3-point lead if not a full TD headed into the final minutes.
5. At 3-2, the Patriots are tied at the top of the division with the Jets, and Miami is just a game behind. We all expected New England to run away with the East, but it appears as if they may be in for a dogfight. Is there any danger of the Patriots not playing in the postseason for the second consecutive year?
Scott: Absolutely. The Patriots have not made a completion over 40 yards through the first five games. Blame it on the loss of coordinators, personnel changes, rust or what ever tickles your fancy, but if New England is going to be a serious player, they need to start hitting some big plays. The Jets defense is legit, though the Saints found a way to pull out a win. The Dolphins Wildcat is back and showing a lot more punch based upon their game against the Jets last week. If New England stumbles in games they're expecting to win, they may not get the chance at the postseason because New York and Miami both look like they can string together a series of wins to grab the division lead and hold onto it.
6. Jerod Mayo was a big loss early on. Is he back to 100% and how much does he mean to the New England defense?
Scott: Mayo is not 100% and he knows it. Having him out there was a big boost for the team. Although Gary Guyton has done an admirable job with Mayo out, there's a reason Mayo was defensive rookie of the year last season. Not having Mayo limited New England's abilty to properly play the 3-4 defense and it's obvious that the team's flirtation with the 4-3 scheme isn't panning out as hoped. Mayo's presence gives them more flexibility and therefore allows them to be more aggressive.
7. The Titans defensive line has simply not been as good as it was a year ago. The Patriots have 10 sacks on the season. How do you see that matchup playing out?
Scott: The Patriots may be without Matt Light, so pass protection will be key for New England. If the team can keep Brady safe keeping just one tight end in and a running back as a safety valeve, expect the Patriots to try to take shots down the field. If Brady gets time, New England will try to use their spread offense to reduce the rush and to take advantage of the Titans' secondary which has been exposed because the Titan's pass rush has been lacking. In order to do so, the Patriots must also mix in the run. Brady is at his best with the play action, so it's important for New England to try to push up the middle with Morris and Maroney. That should force the Titans to respect the run and give Brady more time to find his targets.
8. New England was playing somewhat of a 3-4, 4-3 hybrid defense in the preseason. When they traded Richard Seymour it appeared as if they'd be playing more of a 4-3 base. How has that played out thus far?
Scott: New England has not established their identity on defense and it seems to be an issue in getting off the field on third down. While the secondary could be faulted for allowing passes underneath to be completed, which has the negative result in allowing extended drives, the pass pressure is the issue. When Seymour was traded, the team did not have a replacement for him on the roster. So instead the team tried to use Derrick Burgess as an end rusher and put Wilfork on the line in the middle with another defensive tackle and Jarvis Green on the other end. That supposedly gives the Patriots more opportunities to get pressure, but that 4-3 defense is not coming up big when it needs to. When the Patriots use the extra linebacker that a 3-4 provides for, they seem to find more success blitzing from different positions.
9. The Titans are an embarrassed team right now with their 0-5 start, and rightfully so. They are just a few plays away from 3-2, but turnovers have plagued them. Will New England try to bring the house against a very immobile Kerry Collins and try to force him into some bad throws as other teams have done?
Scott: Defensive end and supposed pass rush specialist Derrick Burgess is not playing like the Burgess of old. It's one reason why Oakland wanted to trade him. Tully Banta-Cain, the other rusher, has been playing at a high level. With the solid interior line of Mawae and Scott and Roos out at tackle it will be tough to create pressure on Collins, but the Patriots have to find a way. Ty Warren is expected to play, though he's dinged up a little. The Patriots may try to bring pressure from the linebacker position again with Burgess, Banta-Cain and Adalius Thomas each working to collapse the pocket.
New England's success came when Defensive coordinator Dean Pees unleashed the Patriots corners, and safeties in blitz pressure. He didn't do that against Denver nearly enough and it came back to kill them. Expect Pees to try to use a combination of his pass rush specialists and an extra DB to get the pressure. You may even see Seau blitzing.
Scott: Johnson should have a big day if he can get to the hole. New England was able to contain the plodding big back by out beefing the offense with Wilfork, Myron Pryor, Warren and Green in the middle. But when an offense creates seams for a RB, the Patriots are slow to fill the gap and teams had little trouble averaging 5 yards per carry. So in this case, Johnson poses a bigger threat to the Patriots. If he gets on track it could be trouble fro New England.
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