Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Loyalists - Mike And Jake Talk Brady's Illness, New Guys' impact

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 showdown with the Tennessee Titans...

What a long, strange week it's been, even for the six weird little states that comprise New England.

Instead of a hint of white on the ground as Christmas approaches, folks are out golfing in spring-like mildness that promises temperatures in the upper 50's on Christmas Eve. Stressed out, bleary-eyed college kids are walking around like zombies, trudging from class to class clutching Styrofoam cups half-full of long-since-cold coffee in search of their final grades and I was actually able to find a parking spot reasonably close to the entrance of Walmart.

And, oh yes, Tom Brady missed a practice.
Brady should play on Sunday despite illness

The latter caused barely a rumble as New England Patriots' fans are so desensitized to players being injured and unable to play that even the absence of the Greatest of All Time was met with sneers and F-bombs instead of the usual, "What next?"

Brady is listed as questionable for this Sunday's contest against the Tennessee Titans, but the smart money has him taking an aspirin and coming in to work - but all of that is covered in this week's edition of Jake and Mike's Excellent Adventure:

The Tennessee Titans just aren’t a very good football team. That said, if quarterback Tom Brady’s illness were to keep him from playing this Sunday, could backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo take over and win a game? If so, what would envision a game plan to look like in the wake of the injury bug hitting the running back position?

Jake: I have to imagine that unless Brady is abducted by aliens or finally decides to go take off ISIS by himself, he will be out there playing Sunday. Worst case scenario if he can't and Jimmy has to play, I think it would make for a very interesting game. Jimmy has almost two years in the system now and our defense is playing at a pretty solid level. The Titans haven't been great all year, but at times have turned it up on offense. So Jimmy would have to probably score somewhere in the 20's to be safe. If the Pats could get a defensive score, I would like our chances even more in this situation.

Running the ball would obviously be very important if Jimmy was forced to start a game and with our current running back situation, that might get tricky. With Blount out, Brandon Bolden becomes your early down back and asking him to take 20 plus carries might be asking too much. James White has excelled lately in the passing game but hasn't had too much success running in between the tackles. Unless Montee Ball is called up to the active roster, this is what Jimmy would be working with on Sunday. Jimmy might have to be asked to do a little more with his arm then they would like him to. Hopefully none of this matters and Ole Tommy boy will play.

It's well documented how when healthy Dominique Easley brought pressure up the middle on opposing quarterbacks. Now on IR who do you think the Patriots turn to to to attempt to replace his presence in the middle of the defensive line?

Mike: It’s really no secret that early-season pick up Akiem Hicks has actually been the Patriots’ most explosive and productive interior defensive lineman, so it makes sense to start with him.

As you know, the Patriots traded tight end Michael Hoomanawanui to New Orleans for Hicks, who had fallen out of the rotation with the Saints – which, if you’ve watched Hicks play, it makes sense that the Saints defense is absolutely abysmal now that they purged many contracts on both sides of the ball to become more lean under the cap.

Hicks is a classic three-tech, as at 6’ 5” and 325 pounds he has the height you want from a defensive end and the bulk and explosion to handle the run as the under-tackle. Matched together with the even larger Alan Branch and surging rookie nose tackle Malcom Brown, the Patriots are still in very good shape on the interior.

The Titans’ passing game is predicated on the short game to the tight ends and running backs, mainly because they are down to bare bones on their wide receiver depth chart due to injury. Their running game doesn’t impress anyone and so their short passing game really is an extension of their running game with their backs having more success in the pattern than between the tackles. Should the defensive game plan be more a matter of base 4-3 or will the Patriots be able to go Big Nickle?

Jake: I'm positive that the Tennessee game plan will be to attempt to establish the run game early. If this fails, I'm sure we will see more of Marcus using his legs and attempting to push the ball down the field. The Patriots will attempt to make Marcus do just this, so I see them staying in heavy run formations and trusting Butler, Ryan, and Harmon if McCourty doesn't play to cover down field. 

I think we may see the extra safety, whether that be Tavon or Richards, to help in the box against the run and covering the tight ends and backs out of the backfield. As far as the Patriots game plan, as usual I think that all depends on Tennessee and what they choose to run. If they come out big sets, I'm sure we will see a lot of Malcolm Brown and Alan Branch with Richards and Chung helping out against the run. If the Titans look to spread us out and use Marcus's speed to their advantage, I think you will see the big nickel with more athletic players on the line as well.

Marcus Mariota has had a very solid rookie year for the Tennessee Titans. With a 2/1 touchdown to interception ratio and a quarterback rating of 91.9 Marcus can throw at a NFL level and is always a danger to take off and run as well. How will the Patriots go about defending his particular skill set?

Mike: As always, the Patriots will shadow Mariota as they would any other mobile quarterback – only this week, that task will be easier than most.

You see, the Titans’ running game is capable, but just like we see almost weekly from the Patriots, they tend to abandon it in favor of the short passing game – a passing game that has taken just as many debilitating bites from the injury bug as New England has, and now rely on swing passes and screens to their backs and crossers from their tight ends, meaning that the Patriots’ coverages will often be within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.

But the real key to stopping a mobile quarterback is to keep their offense in long yardage situations, where their odds of making a first down with their legs is not as good as throwing the ball to the sticks.

For the second week in a row, the Patriots will be facing a top 10 pass defense, and a middle-of-the-pack run defense. Do we see a game plan similar to their plan against the Texans, or is there too much a different dynamic in place to be so conservative and predictable?

Jake: With Blount now on IR it will be difficult to form the same game plan they had against the Texans. Bolden filled in admirably and I admire his ability to run between the tackles and catch the ball out of the backfield. As I said earlier however, asking him to do that for an entire game might be asking too much of the special teams ace. That being said, I'm positive the Patriots will attempt to move the ball on the ground Sunday and as of right now, Brandon Bolden would seem to be the guy to carry the load.

I believe personally James White has earned himself a few more carries, and to be honest more snaps all together. I don't think we will see just two running backs active Sunday, so I am expecting some kind of move before that. Whether that be Montee Ball or Joey Iosefa, somebody might have to come up, even if it’s just injury insurance. Come game time I do expect the Patriots to want to run the ball, but may force them to rely on Brady quite a bit as well.

How do you feel newly acquired LaAdrian Waddle and Leonard Hankerson will fit in going forward and do you see wither of them making a big impact?

Mike: Some may disagree with my assessment, but I see Waddle as a better player with more upside as a swing tackle than either Marcus Cannon or Cam Fleming. 

His issue has always been longevity and staying healthy and is still recovering from an ACL tear almost exactly a year ago. He works best on the left side and is a much better pass protector than a run blocker – so this is a shrewd move by Belichick to shore up Brady’s blind side with the potential to move Sebastian Vollmer back over to his more natural right tackle spot.

As far as Hankerson, he is the deep threat that many Patriots’ fans have been screaming for, just without the big name. But what might make those fans cringe is that he grades out to being just a slightly faster Brandon LaFell.

Hankerson has deep speed, but is not explosive off the ball, building gradually. For this reason, I see him as more of a possession receiver that, if he can be consistent with his hands, can eventually knock Aaron Dobson from the roster – that said, he will be no more than a fourth or fifth option in this offense.

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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