In the weekly preparations for the epic battle that I am sure the New England Patriots vs. the Oakland Raiders is going to be, Greg Knopping of Pats Pulpit reached out to me to for a Q and A session.
Jump over for Greg's insightful answers to my five questions.
1. How is you confidence in the run defense? Statistically, it seems to be a mixed bag. They are good in yards allowed, but now so good in yards per carry.
To be honest, I can't really answer that question because the Patriots haven't really been tested against the run yet this season. In each of their games, the Patriots have developed a three score lead rather rapidly. Because of this, opposing teams have been forced to throw the ball on a consistent basis. In the limited times the Patriots have played run defense, they haven't been very good. But then again, the Patriots haven't exactly looked to stop the run. In their loss to the Bills, the team was in its base defense just two plays. Against the Raiders, the Pats have to gear up to stop the run, and I think we'll see them in a lot more base sets, whether it be the 3-4 or 4-3. And with a front seven that includes run stuffers such as Vince Wilfork, Albert Haynesworth, Brandon Spikes, Shaun Ellis, Jerod Mayo and others, I don't know if the Patriots will be particularly bad either.
2. Pro Football Focus has hammered Vince Wilfork for his last two performances. Do you agree with this assessment?
No. Wilfork had a tremendous game two weeks ago against the Chargers, coming up with a big interception and being key in multiple goal line stops. I didn't see him have a particularly bad game against the Bills, but he didn't particularly stand out either. He's been making a transition of sorts, playing more snaps and playing a more attacking style - but I don't think his play has taken a step back at all.
3. Why are the Patriots giving up so many passing yards? Where are their biggest failures? Also, how is this defense in reacting to screen passes?
Against the Dolphins and Chargers, a good portion of the yards the Patriots gave up were in "prevent" defenses while the team was protecting large leads. We saw this last year with the team. That being said, the team has been struggling in certain situations. The team's young star cornerback Devin McCourty has failed to make plays when in position. Safety Patrick Chung has been banged up, and veterans Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders were released in training camp. Josh Barrett and Sergio Brown have been filling in, but they're certainly not elite-level players.
The Patriots were relatively susceptible to screens in the Bills game. They've been attacking with four man rushes, often with six or seven in coverage (in their sub-packages). Screens to receivers haven't been too effective against the defense, but delayed screens to running backs can certainly work.
4. What is the best way to slow down the Patriots passing attack?
I know it sounds simple, but you have to get pressure on Tom Brady up the middle. Brady is comfortable with pressure coming from the outside, but if you can break through up the middle, Brady will often make mistakes. Also, with Aaron Hernandez out for the second straight week, if you can take Rob Gronkowski out of the game as the Bills did in the second half last week, you have the chance to make the Patriots passing game really one dimensional (Brady to Welker every play).
5. How do you feel about the offensive line?
Relatively confident. Losing long-time center Dan Koppen for the year was a relatively big blow, but Dan Connolly, who started at both guard positions last year, has stepped in rather seamlessly. At right tackle, rookie Nate Solder has stepped in for an injured Sebastian Vollmer and has impressed following a shaky preseason campaign. The team recently signed aging Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters. Waters immediately stepped in at right guard and has also played really well. Overall, the line has been penalized a little bit more than you'd like, but they've been really solid in pass protection and have performed about average in run blocking.