Behind Enemy Lines Part 2: A look inside the New England Patriots for Week 7
Don't miss Part 1: Inside the Buccaneers
1. Coming off of such a dominant victory over a winless team in the Titans, what do the Patriots need to do in order to not look past the also winless Buccaneers?
Jon Scott: New England has to find a way to stop the Buccaneers running game to make them one-dimensional. Some of the Patriots best defense comes when they know what a team is trying to do and they can adjust to take that option away. Teams with a good balance, can use a mix of calls to take advantage of New England's sometimes-vanilla defense. In order for the Patriots to not look past Tampa Bay's record, they'll have to focus on what the Bucs do well and gameplan to stop that. Then they'll need to adjust to the game calls as the game progresses because many winless teams work in unorthodox plays to try to make something positive happen.
2. With the game being in England, do you believe there will be any problems with the Patriots playing in such an unfamiliar environment?
Scott: I think the environment will be different for both teams. New England is used to playing in venues they don't usually see, such as the Super Bowl games or unfamiliar opponents. Obviously New England's biggest advantage - playing in Foxboro - will be negated, but the Patriots are a pretty decent road team in the Belichick era as well.
3. Has Tom Brady done enough to convince you that he is completely recovered from his injury from last season?
Scott: I spoke with Jason Price, a trainer for Athlete's Equation, who is used to working with athletes who are recovering from the type of injury Brady suffered. While it's possible to return to activity within a year, it can take up to 18 months or longer before most of the person's abilities recover as well as can be expected. To say that he's 100% back will be inaccurate. According to Price, the full range of motion typically is never fully restored, though being at 90-90% of his former self, Brady could still be a dominant force. The injury might be more of an issue had Brady relied on his mobility for his success.
4. What do you believe is the reason why Joey Galloway never caught on with the Pats after many believed he would work as the team's number three receiver?
Scott: Galloway never looked comfortable in the Patriots offense. I watched him at practice and he never seemed to get "in sync" with Brady. Through the early part of the season you could tell these two weren't on the same page. Actually it was surprising that the Patriots cut Lewis and kept Galloway, who was obviously not the right choice. Lewis had flashes as did Galloway, and Lewis was a cheaper option. The Patriots saw enough from their young receiver(s) Julian Edelman, Terrence Nunn, and possibly Brandon Tate, to let Galloway go. The problem fro Galloway was that the team needed roster spots and with his inactive status, he was blocking someone else from contributiong,
5. Is there any part of the Bucs offense that worries you or are you expecting another easy victory on Sunday?
Scott: I think the unpredictable factor is where the Buccaneers can exploit the Patriots. Kellen Winslow is a really bad matchup for New England, though the Patriots were able to throttle Tony Gonzalez in the Atlanta game. mobile quarterbacks and wildcat formations also work well against the Patriots defense. But, I think New England has seen enough of what the Buccaneers can do on offense to sufficiently game plan against them. Personally I think anything can happen on Sundays including the potential upset, but in a game with no turnovers, straight up and no gimmicks or game-changing penalties, I don't see the Bucs offense winning the day for them.
6. Discuss the Richard Seymour trade to Oakland earlier this season. Why were the Patriots so willing to part with such a vital cog from their Super Bowl years?
Scott: The trade made sense for the value New England received, but was crazy in terms of timing. The Patriots need a dominant pass rusher or outside edge setter, and they had that in Seymour if they wanted to use him that way. The problem was Seymour had/has a $9 million cap charge for New England and he was in a contract year where he'd want to be paid big money to return.
The Patriots already have two other former first round picks on the defensive line and they still have to find a way to re-sign Vince Wilfork. While Wilfork's game is still on the rise, Seymour is starting to peak, or may have already peaked. Obviously New England didn't want to pay top dollar to Seymour was once considered one of the best in the league requiring teams to game plan against him with double blockers or tight end help. Recently he has shown he can be blocked one-on-one by some of the tackles around the league without an issue. That creates an issue for the patriots who used to be able to take advantage of the double teams on Seymour.
7. Is Wes Welker finally done with the injuries? It seems as if the past two weeks he's back to his old self.
Scott: Welker is still dinged, from what we can tell, but he's gritting it out. The types of patterns he runs and the location of where he's catching eh ball open him up to some serious hitting. So far Welker's been able to avoid serious injury, though his knee issue was a major concern fro this team.
Catching passes fore 150 yards against the Titans seemed almost too easy, but is an indication that his knee is feeling much better. Welker is Brady's favorite target and with him out of the lineup, the Patriots offense isn't the same. He should be fine this week.
8. What does the recent re-signing of Junior Seau do for this defense?
Scott: Leadership. That's Seau's deal. He is one of the most impressive players on the field, not for his athletic ability, but his pure passion for the game. Seau is old school and sometimes a team needs that to keep their identity. That's what Junior brings to the Patirots. People see him in working out an hour and a half before the team leader (Tom Brady) and you realize how serious these guys take their jobs. It sends a very strong message to the young players - get your ass in gear or your going to hear about it. That's why the Patriots are the Patriots, the vets work harder than everyone else and they set to the tone. Guys who aren't willing to put in the time, or effort, come and go.
9. What does Lawrence Maroney have to do, in the absence of Sammy Morris, to finally prove to this team that he can be their back of the future?
Scott: Maroney isn't really the team's best option at running back. He has far too many negative plays, and when he needs a yard, he hasn't found a way to use his elusiveness to get that yard in tough situations. With that said, Morris won't play on Sunday so Maroney has to be the guy. As long as the Patriots don't ask Maroney to run like Morris (hitting the hole straight up and break a tackle for yardage) then they'll be fine. Maroney will best be served by running off-tackle to try to gain yardage. He's very good in the open field and he has the speed. If he gets the ball inside, he has to show he can get those tough yards, or the team will never consider him their back of the future. He has one more year to prove he's the guy, but his best opportunity to do so may be right now. Otherwise when Taylor and Morris return, Maroney could see a lot more of the bench.
10. It would seem to some that the Patriots have finally come back to the rest of the AFC, as they haven't been to a Super Bowl a couple years. What is it about this team that leads critics to believe that they're no longer the unquestioned leader of the pack in the AFC?
Scott: New England played the Giants tough in the Super Bowl two seasons ago. It was the Tom Brady-Randy Moss show for most of they year as the pair set multiple franchise and league records along the way. It was the offense's ability to put up points in the face of the best of the AFC that vaunted them to the top of the pile.
Last season, with Brady out, the offense didn't click as well and they missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker. They still finished 11-5 with a QB (Matt Cassel) who hadn't started a game since high school. While some parts of the team have experienced tremendous turnover, there are parts that remain from the Super Bowl team - the 16-0 regular season team - that are still operating like before.
The biggest changes come on defense where the Patriots are now without Tedy Bruschi (retirement), Rodney Harrison (retirement), Richard Seymour (trade) and Mike Vrabel (trade). In addition they jettisoned their top 3 cornerbacks from last year, and have had to restock with rookies or second year players mixed in with a few wily veterans.
The point is that even with all of the turnover - the type that sets most teams back into "rebuilding mode" - the Patriots continue to perform. They have the 6th best defense and the 4th best offense 1/3rd of the way into the season. That's why they're still among the AFC elite.
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 around the web.