Behind Enemy Lines Part II

The Raiders will try to salvage what's left of their season by trying to throw a wrench into the playoff hopes of the New England Patriots. Jon Scott of PatriotsInsider.com takes a look at some of the issues facing the Patriots in SBI's latest installment of Behind Enemy Lines.

1) Randy Moss has gotten a lot of attention this week for obvious reasons but the Patriots have another former Raider on their roster in running back LaMont Jordan. He didn't like being on the back burner in Oakland, so how did he take his role in New England initially and how much is he involved in the offense now?

JS: When I spoke to Jordan when he first arrived he was full of cheer at being in a new location and to be someplace he was wanted. That's similar to a lot of free agents who show up in New England. When the Patriots want a player, they do a pretty good job expressing that sentiment, as I'm sure other teams do as well. But to have Tom Brady and Randy Moss as part of your recruiting team, that's pretty special. Jordan didn't start for the Patriots but he played a big role in short yardage situations. He looks like a bowling ball on legs, and generally runs that way. He runs with a lot more power than Laurence Maroney, and an interesting stat I just saw was that he is the only Patriots runner not to have a negative run all season -- I think that may be a mistake as I recall he was stuffed in the backfield one time, but maybe he fell forward for no gain.

Jordan will see more action now that Maroney is on I/R. He missed a lot of time since injuring his calf against the 49ers. When he's in there, the Patriots could switch to that power running style which was so successful when Corey Dillon was around. Though he gets less than 10 carries per game with Sammy Morris being the lead back now, expect Jordan to get the call quite a bit on Sunday when the opportunity to run presents itself. The Patriots tend to reward players with more action against their former teams. Welker, Morris and Evans vs Miami, Seau vs Miami and San Diego, Rodney Harrison... it goes way back.



2) Overall the Patriots have done a good job keeping all of their running backs happy, and that's not easy considering how crowded their backfield is. Is that another feather in Belichick's cap or does someone else deserve the credit?

JS: The running backs currently on the roster all have specific tasks. They're asked to do one or two things well, and they all understand that's their role. One player who has yet to figure it out is Maroney. Though he's on I/R with a shoulder injury, he campaigned for more carries during the preseason stating that if he was given the ball more he'd get into a rhythm faster. Morris, Evans and Faulk all understand that you play when you play, and when you're in, you better make a positive play. Maroney, coincidentally had more negative plays as a percentage of carries than the other backs.

Kevin Faulk is the ultimate professionals, and you can't help but like Morris. Neither of those guys are me first, and it shows. We spoke with Morris before he signed with the Pats, and he talked about just wanting to contribute. Two years later, it's the exact same with him. Guys who don't buy in, don't last in New England. There's no place for individuals in this system. That mantra was set by Belichick and his staff, so they deserve some credit. Most of the credit however goes to the players who know that talk is cheap, winning is the bottom line.



3) Wes Welker seemed to pop up out of nowhere last season and put up big numbers. He's putting up even more impressive stats now. Haven't teams caught on, or is it a case of pick your poison between he and Moss?

JS: Great question. Imagine a defensive coordinator's nightmare when trying to gameplan against 3, 4 and 5 wide receiver sets with Moss, Welker and the versatile Kevin Faulk as three of those options. Most defenses have two solid cornerbacks, and a nickel corner who can play well, or a rangy safety. The problem is when you have to double receivers you run out of talent quickly.

Typically Faulk can beat any linebacker he's matched up against. Moss demands double coverage, which limits what a defense can do to stop Welker. AS you probably saw, the hit Welker took against Pittsburgh. Welker makes his hay in the middle of the ones. He's so fast snatching the ball out of the air that he can grab the ball, spin and duck under the hit faster than most receivers can even tuck the ball away. So, the Patriots find ways to get Welker the ball in the center of the opponent's defense. When defenses close down on that and still double Randy Moss, Jabar Gaffney or one of the tight ends is usually open.

So, it's not like just Moss or Welker. it's everyone clearing out the coverage so Welker can run in behind them in the open void. Watch on Sunday how many clearing patterns there are to split the defenders and give Welker more space.



4) What's been the key this season for defensive Richard Seymour, who is closing in on a career-high for sacks? Are the Patriots that much better along their defensive front or is Seymour just getting more favorable matchups?

JS: Richard said early on in camp this is the best he's felt health-wise in years. Typically he's been a force when healthy. His success is surprising given that his role in Belichick's system isn't to garner sacks. As some of the Patriots defensive linemen have noted before, most any linebacker -- or end -- with a good speed rush can put up good stats. Seymour's job is to shut down his side of the field, and he does that better than a lot of other ends/ tackles.

I was once told why Dwight Freeney, and Mario Williams were so much better than Seymour. My response was telling the person to take a look at how many times teams run the ball at those player's spots on the field without double teaming the player. Seymour is always doubled. Freeney, Williams and some other top sack leaders aren't. Why? Because they can't hold the point of attack. With Seymour, Wilfork and Ty Warren, the Patriots have three very talented defensive linemen (all first round picks) on the line. Double Seymour, then Wilfork and Warren have a better chance to make the play. Double Wilfork and Seymour, Warren or one of the backers (typically Mike Vrabel) has the ability to make the play.

Seymour is 6-7 and has the ability to toss aside chip blockers or tight ends like rag dolls. If you're not using a solid offensive tackle to block him, he's going to get into the backfield. AS you've seen, teams have to double Vince Wilfork to run up the interior. Because Seymour is healthier, he can now crash down inside to get to the quarterback and his stats have reflected that.



5) Over the last five-plus seasons the Patriots have been one of the league's best teams in December, going 21-2. Granted, they've had some great teams in that span but is there more to it than that? Does Belichick have any sort of magic he uses down the stretch to get his teams to gut it out?

JS: New England thrives in cold weather. They've also had Tom Brady to help them along the way. Does Belichick have a magic want he uses to cast a spell on the field before the games? I wouldn't say so. But he does know that you can't run the same offense in bad weather, and he's built his team with players he knows can adapt to those conditions. One other item which isn't' really talked about is by December, there is a lot of film on teams. At that point, the Patriots have the ability to see a lot of the tendencies and tricks opponent's used during the season to win. I think the Patriots success has a lot to do with having more information on his opponent and knowing how to exploit that than other coaches. People continue to remark on how well prepared Belichick is in life. Come to one of their practices and you'll see. It's timed out perfectly, down to the minute. Rarely -- if ever -- does something come up that they don't' expect or haven't put a contingency plan in effect for.



6) Raider fans will never forget The Tuck game and the mere mention of it gets some hot under the collar. Do the Patriots fans embrace that game as a pivotal moment in the franchise's history and has any New Englander ever copped to believing it was a fumble?

JS: Lots of people in new England thought that play was a fumble. Many believed it was a gift from the gods when Walt Coleman cited the Tuck rule. The rule was in place for a while, it wasn't something Coleman's crew dreamed up. It may never have been called in such a big game, but the rule has been cited since. I sat in on one of Coleman's meetings with the press in Foxboro. He says he still hadn't refereed a game in Oakland since that call. That wasn't surprising to hear.

Don't forget, just because it wasn't ruled a fumble, didn't give the game to the Patriots. The Raiders had a lot of opportunities to stop New England and still win the game. I think people forget that, or like to gloss over it. The Patriots still had to make that ridiculous field goal through driving snow conditions just for the tie. Then they went to OT, where the Raiders still could have won the game. There was no gimme on any of that.

I used to cover the Browns with the whole John Elway stuff of legend; The Drive, the Fumble... So I understand a lot of the frustration Raiders fans feel. However, the Browns still had chances to win those games, just like Oakland did.

The Tuck rule didn't cause the Raiders to lose. Not stopping the Patriots in OT did. Was it a pivotal moment in Patriots history? Sure. It's the easiest play to refer to, but there were a LOT of plays the Patriots made to win that game, the one against the Steelers and then the Super Bowl. Good teams find a way to recover in the face of adversity. That's what the Pats did in that game. Still, I understand how why some consider it a bitter pill to this day.



Prediction

JS: I'm going to go with the obvious answer of the Patriots, mostly because I think they have their act together much more than the Raiders do at this point. I can see where Oakland can do some damage against the Patriots' defense to force a game much like Seattle game last week. I just believe the Patriots have more talent on offense than Oakland does on defense. The injury factor will play a big part in the game, as will turnovers. I took some heat from people who heard me say on air that it would be closer than many people believed. If Oakland doesn't self-destruct -- something I can't bank on -- then these teams are not 20-point opposites. But, the Raiders have little to play for and New England is fighting for it's playoff life. I don't think Tom Cable and Rex Ryan have the ability to shut down the Pats scheme-wise, so the Pats win... probably by about 10 points. Patriots 27 - 17.


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