Friday, November 27, 2015

The Loyalists - Jake And Mike Tackle The Pass Catchers, Denver's Defense

Every week, two of our bloggers pick each others brains like a couple of zombie baboons - today it's Jacob Bertram from and Michael Hamm from Foxborough Free Press serving up questions for each other in advance of the New England Patriots' Sunday night showdown with the Denver Broncos...

The Broncos' lead the league in sacks with 34, their linebackers and safeties accounting for 23 of that total. Given how the Bills battered Brady by bringing blitz after blitz from the second level and their defensive backfield, should we expect Brady to take the same manner of punishment from Denver?

Jacob: I never expect this team to see the same problem week after week. One more week of all the offensive line unit being together, including the return of Tre Jackson and possibly a return of Seabass to left tackle, should help the protection issues. That being said, James White is going to have to continue being solid in blitz pickup, and Brady is going to have to get rid of the ball quickly. With Amendola possibly out Sunday, either Chris Harper or possibly Keyshawn Martin will have to be that go to guy. That is a very big step to take.
Amendola has been ruled out for Sunday night

Do you assume this week that Malcolm Butler will draw Demarious Thomas or will he see more of Emanuel Sanders, with Ryan and McCourty handling Thomas?

Mike: The damage done to the Patriots through the air - or the lack thereof - has been fairly consistant this season. The opposition's top receiving threat has been more or less shut down and their number two has had limited success - neither really making a mark on the game, so I'm not so sure that either Thomas or Sanders will have the impact on this game, no matter the matchup.

That said, I do expect it to work out just as you have asked, with pretty much the same results as any other game - but in every other game, the opposition has turned to their third and fourth pass catchers, usually a tight end or running back, to inflict damage underneath. Look for plenty of wheels and delayed screens to Hillman and Anderson, with some jailbreak screens targeting Sanders. Their success on these plays will be directly related to how mobile Osweiler is in the pocket.

Owen Daniels is a name to become familiar with. He killed the Patriots in the pattern while a member of the Baltimore Ravens and is having a good year in Denver.

The Broncos' running game has managed to hit 100 yards in only four of their ten games this season, averaging just 53 yards in those games. In contrast, for the games in which they have topped the century mark, their average is a whopping 157 yards per game, including a 170 yard effort against Chicago last Sunday. Against the Patriots top-rated run defense, which Broncos' running game shows up?

Jacob: With Brock Osweiler playing over the injured Peyton Manning this Sunday, I do expect the Patriots defense to sell out on the run and trust their corners and safeties in coverage. Forcing Brock to have to throw the ball early and often, should be a recipe for success. I do believe Anderson and Hillman will be held in check and the Broncos will need to go to the air to consistently move the ball. It will fall upon the arm of Brock in only his second start to beat the Patriots.

If both Amendola and Dobson are unable to suit up this Sunday, will the Patriots be forced to sign a free agent or will they rely in what is already in house?

Mike: This scenario reminds me of when the Patriots went into the 2013 AFC Championship game in Denver, when they had just one healthy starting pass catcher, Julian Edelman, to go along journeyman Austin Collie and a clearly hobbled Dobson, with Michael Hoomanawanui their starting tight end - and they still had an opportunity in the fourth quarter to make a game of it.

The difference this time is that they have Rob Gronkowski at tight end along with Scott Chandler, and on the outside they have Keyshawn Martin and Chris Harper to flank Brandon LaFell. If the Patriots are going to make any sort of a move, I think it would be to bring up Joseph Fauria from the practice squad, so that they can run something perverted like an airborne jumbo package to tax the lack of size in the Broncos' secondary.

Imagine if you will: 6' 6" Gronkowski, 6' 7" Fauria, 6' 8" Chandler and 6' 3" LaFell flooding the underneath zone with one of them penetrating the seam. That could open up a lot of room for Martin, Harper and running back James White. (Note: The Patriots put Dobson on the IR and brought blocking tight end Asante Cleveland up from the practice squad. They have also ruled out Amendola for Sunday night.)

Denver's secondary hasn't allowed a 300 yard passer all season - not even close to it - and their run defense ranks second in the NFL, allowing just 3.5 yards per carry to opposing backs.  The teams that have been most successful against the Broncos this season have one thing in common: They ran the ball and kept running it, regardless of initial success or failure. Do the Patriots have what it takes to gain that 3.5 yard average?

Jacob: I think the Patriots might have no choice but to have a heavy run game plan on Sunday. With Brady short on weapons, their best bet will be to have success on the ground to set up the play action. I don't think Brady dropping back 50 times to throw it to Harper and Martin will do much good against that secondary. Blount and White need to find success on the ground. Which also means the slowly coming back to health offensive line probably needs to have their best game of the season. It will be a struggle, but they need to get the run game moving effectively on game day

Do you see Scott Chandler's role increasing over the last six weeks of the season with the Patriots short on pass catchers?

Mike: You know, I've been disappointed in Chandler's role on the offense, but it isn't all his fault. The play calling on plays that are designed to go to him are of the fade route variety and along the sidelines.  The fade routes have been a disaster for the offense all season, and Chandler is best when running up the seam and on the intermediate crossers.

In goal to go situations, the Patriots have been much more successful with the wheel routes to the backs and on the crossers in the end zone. I don't think there is any question that Chandler needs to have a bigger role in the pattern, but McDaniels needs to be a little more diverse in his play calling to free him up. If he wants jump balls in the end zone, they need to be along the end line, not fades into the corners.

To read all about the Patriots from an old-school twist, be sure to follow us on Foxborough Free Press and on twitter at @ffpblogger, and for a fresh, modern view of the team go to and follow Jacob on twitter as well at @gamegentsdotcom !

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