Behind Enemy Lines: Patriots II

Jon Scott of PatriotsInsiders.com on the Scout.com network took time to answer a 10-pack of questions regarding the Vikings' next opponent – the New England Patriots. In part two, see how Scott believes New England has become one of the most successful franchises in recent times, get his opinion on Tom Brady and the receiving corps, the defense and the key matchups for Monday night's big game.

Tim Yotter: Everyone likes to try to compare their team with what is generally considered one of the best-run franchises in the league. That said, what are the non-player, intangible factors that have contributed to the consistent success over the last five years in New England?

Jon Scott:
Drafting has been a big factor in the team's success. While there have been many misses, the hits were big. Tom Brady, Richard Seymour, Ben Watson, Deion Branch, Dan Koppen, Jarvis Green.

Another factor, which has had an equally significant impact on the Patriots' success, has been the competition in the division. Buffalo hasn't had a real QB in years. The Jets have had injury issues. Miami has the same QB problem combined with questionable coaching. Those factors have enabled New England to focus on building a team that can defeat their division rivals. All you have to do is beat the teams in your division to make the playoffs. Many times, it seems teams around the NFL tend to forget that, and think that adding a superstar here or there will put them over the top.

New England sees that teams in the AFC East run well, so they draft and sign run stoppers like there's no tomorrow. They have three first-round picks manning the defensive line. They sign free agents who are known for their ability to plug holes (Keith Traylor, Ted Washington). Stop the run; you make the other team one-dimensional and therefore easier to beat. In the Northeast, if you can't run, you can't win, there are no domes in the AFC East, so every team has to deal with that situation.

TY: The Patriots' receiving statistics read much like the Vikings' stats, with no real standout receiver. Who is the most dangerous receiver there?

JS:
Ben Watson, the tight end. The reason the Patriots don't have much publicity with their receivers is that half of them haven't been available to play for a good part of the season. They either weren't even on the team, or they were injured. Troy Brown has been one of the only dependable receivers, and he's a couple steps away from retirement. The fact that the Patriots can still form a passing attack with their ensemble of receivers is more amazing considering how long it usually takes a QB to get on the same page as the WR.

If you want the homerun threat, that's Chad Jackson, the team's second-round pick form 2006. He has been nursing a hamstring injury, so he's really not up to speed yet. Doug Gabriel is an underrated WR from Oakland who is coming into his own. Reche Caldwell is probably little more than a No. 3 WR. The Patriots use their backs and their TEs as threats and mismatches. That strategy has paid dividends so far. If a team stops that, then they should be able to handle the WRs.

TY: New England has the 10th-ranked defense. Who would you consider the most dangerous players at each level of the Patriots defense?

JS:
Richard Seymour is the man on the DL. If he's not there, the team cannot play the 4-3 fronts as effectively, and when they run a 3-4 they have no pass rush unless they blitz.

At linebacker, the team revolves around Tedy Bruschi. It's almost like night and day without Bruschi. He's the kind of guy who knows where to be in all the critical moments, and he gets there. The team hasn't been able to replace him, and the guys they acquired to spell him haven't even come close.

In the secondary, Rodney Harrison runs the unit. With Harrison in, the secondary seems to take on a more aggressive, physical attitude. When Rodney went out last year, the secondary had major issues, from communications breakdowns to just poor play. They were ranked in the bottom of the league in 2005 for a reason.

TY: Obviously, Tom Brady is the poster boy for the Patriots' success. Is he viewed locally as a guy similar to Brad Johnson – an astute manager of the game but someone who has a better surrounding cast – or is Brady someone that can take over a game if the New England defense is having a particularly tough time?

JS:
Brady is the kind of quarterback who doesn't always get credit for what he's been able to do. He has received his share of accolades during the Super Bowl seasons, but more often he's been labeled as the guy who steers the great ship Belichick and doesn't lose games.

In 2005, the Patriots had major offensive line troubles, they were down to their 3rd string offensive line at two spots, a backup center and only the guard position remained intact. Corey Dillon was banged up; they signed guys off the street like Amos Zereoue, Mike Cloud and Heath Evans. The defense couldn't stop anyone and was ranked in the bottom third for the most of the season, yet the Patriots still made the playoffs. Why? Because Brady managed to turn in a career season passing the team back into contention and racking up points to keep the Patriots in contention.

Most of the media talked about Belichick's defense, or the genius that is the Patriots machine. And that was just fine with Brady. As long as the team was in contention was all that mattered to him. The one time he did say something in the press, people thought he was making a big deal out of nothing, playing the "no respect" card. Even the local media played it up a bit.

Brady is a bit more than a guy who runs the ship, but personal accolades don't seem to be important to him.

TY: The Vikings seem to be employing the philosophy of spending money on their offensive and defensive lines. How do you view those matchups heading into Monday night's game?

JS:
The Patriots struggle against strong defensive fronts, and teams that run the ball well find a lot of success against this Patriots defense. The offensive line has been fairly healthy, so they should be able to get open some holes for Cory Dillon and Laurence Maroney. When faced with a solid defensive front seven, the Patriots appear to bog down a bit and have to resort to the short and intermediate passing game to open things up. They haven't hit on many long plays until they managed a couple last week, but it's far from certain and the Patriots know it. From what I understand of the Vikings defense, that will probably be the situation again. I expect Minnesota's defense to clog the running lanes, and force the Patriots to adjust. Luckily for New England, the receivers are getting better each game, and the screens the Patriots run with the tight ends or the running backs have had a lot of success.

Conversely on the Patriots defense, Minnesota obviously has a revived running game. With Bryant McKinnie, Matt Birk and the addition of Steve Hutchinson, they should be able to dictate some situations that favor the home team. If they can get the ground game going, it will setup play-action and enable the Vikings to give Brad Johnson the time he needs to get the passing game going. That matchup favors Minnesota as the Pats defense has trouble if when the front seven don't get pressure on the QB.


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