Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Loyalists - Jake And Mike Talking Run Defense, Pass Catchers

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' Monday night showdown with the Buffalo Bills...

The Patriots have the number one rush defense in the National Football League, allowing just 88 yards per game on average, and it has been more than a month since they surrendered more than 100 yards in a game. With Shady McCoy now fully healthy and all of Buffalo's offensive weapons together for the first time in that same time frame, will the Bills snap the Patriots' streak and rush for more than 100 yards?
You can't stop Gronk, you can only hope to contain him

Jacob: Lesean McCoy rushed for 89 yards in the week two loss against the Patriots. That was with them going down three scores very early. Rookie Karlos Williams is questionable this week, but when healthy he is a dangerous weapon. I do believe if the Bills choose to run, they could break the 100 yard mark. The smarter game plan would be to attack the Patriots 3rd and 4th corners and exploit them in the passing game. If they spend all day handing it off, they might not score enough to keep it close. 

With Jules and Dion both sidelined for the regular season, who do you think will receive the most targets this week against Buffalo? Moving forward?

Mike: I see LaFell picking up a bigger role in the offense and expect to see Amendola's touches rise as well. Those two had a fantastic playoff run together as their foes concentrated on trying to stop Gronkowski and Edelman, and left LaFell and Amendola single covered - and Brady exploited their matchups. 

I'm actually looking at Chris Harper as picking up the slack for Edelman, however, as he is similarly shifty while Keyshawn Martin takes over some of Lewis' responsibility on the screens.

Brady and the Patriots' offense hung 450 passing yards on the Bills in week two and ran for just 56 - do you anticipate a more balanced attack, considering Buffalo's run defense is merely middle of the pack in yards per carry allowed?

Jacob: Dion Lewis and Julian Edelman were both healthy and killing the Bills in week 2. With both of them on the mend I do expect the Patriots to go to Blount more often to set up the play action. I do expect more Chandler as well in the two tight end set, involved in the pass game, and in run blocking. Without Julian we will see the offense evolve to adapt. 

Stephon Gilmore has stated that the Bills have a plan to take Gronk out of the game. Is this possible and how will they attempt to do it?

Mike: Gronkowski is the pass catcher who suffers the most when the Patriots are short on weapons as teams think they can concentrate on him with double teams and making the other receivers beat them. Thing is, every team has said that they have the solution to the Gronkowski problem, yet he always seems to affect the game, particularly in the second half. 

Gilmore can talk all he wants, but Gronkowski has physics on his side, and the laws of nature can be skirted for only so long. Double him, triple him, hit him at the line, release him into a tight doesn't matter because he will eventually break open, especially if the running game gets going and Brady has the play action to set up the linebackers and safeties.

With Edelman out, the Patriots are left with pass catchers who average more than 15 yards per reception in LaFell, Gronkowski and Martin. Do you see a change in philosophy with the offense that finds Brady splitting the intermediate zone and picking up chunks of yardage or will these receivers have to scale back their routes to fill a need in the short passing game?

Jacob: I think when it comes to the offense, Tom needs that short out that he can hit quick. Whether it's the slot guy or the running back. As you said, excluding Amendola, the remaining pass catchers are averaging 15 yards or more per catch. This makes me think we will see a slight increase in down the field passing. Just by average, if Lafell is involved more, that means more passing outside the numbers.

Gronk is going to see an increase in double coverage, so I would like to see them get creative at the line of scrimmage to increase the chance of him getting open. Keyshawn Martin, once he is healthy, intrigues me in Julian's role. Of course I'm looking for James White to take a step forward as well.
All in all, I do think we will see an increase in down the field passing. Maybe we will also see more of an attempt to stay balanced with the run and pass.

Going forward, what is your take on the running back position and who will get the majority of the third down snaps?

Mike: White will continue with the third down snaps, and even though we may not see him breaking off big gainers, he has solid hands out of the backfield and, even more importantly with the offensive line still in flux, he is exceptional at picking up the blitz in pass protection.

As the line starts to get players back, I think you are going to see left guard Shaq Mason evolve into a part-time fullback, leading the power running game and opening holes for LeGarrette Blount as the lead back. The thing about Blount is that he has decent hands out of the backfield as well, and we may see him utilized a bit more in that capacity as well, even on third down as he is more of a running threat on the trap draw.

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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