It felt really great last week to be right in our five burning questions with Canal Street Chronicles. It also felt great to be right in our cross-over post that stated there wasn’t any way that the Saints could topple the Raiders on Monday Night.
So, with that being said, let’s make it two-for-two in our crossover discussions with the enemy. We’re joined this week by SB Nation’s New England Patriots site, Pats Pulpit, to answer five similar but tailored questions about this week’s matchup with your Las Vegas Raiders.
S&BP: How is the health of the Patriots team, and is there any one position affected greater by injuries ahead of this game?
PP: Heading into Week 3, the Patriots are generally pretty healthy when compared to other teams in the league. That said, they still have some key contributors listed on their injury report.
Center David Andrews missed Wednesday’s practice because of a hand injury, while running back James White was absent after his father was killed in a traffic accident over the weekend. Four players, meanwhile, were limited: wide receivers Julian Edelman (knee) and N’Keal Harry (ankle) as well as defensive tackle Adam Butler (shoulder) and linebacker Brandon Copeland (knee).
The team also has four players on its injured reserve list who are eligible to return, albeit not this week.
Going back to your question, however, I would say that the team is in a good overall state, health-wise. The only position that I would say is affected by injuries given its overall lack of depth and the players listed on the injury report and on IR is wide receiver: Edelman and Harry both looked good in Week 2, but any snaps missed because of potential ailments would be an issue considering the Patriots’ current state wide receiver depth alongside them (not all that great). Add the fact that training camp standout Gunner Olszewski is on injured reserve and you can see why the position is the one that has most been affected by injury so far this year.
S&BP: Everyone knows Cam Newton, but in your eyes, what has been the absolute biggest difference with him at quarterback so far through two games?
PP: Given that he was not officially brought aboard until early July and had to adjust to a new offense during training camp, it was a slight surprise to see Newton play on that high a level during the first two weeks of the season: He was not perfect but he led the unit in efficient fashion and appears to be adapting well to his supporting cast and the concepts called by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
As for the biggest difference with him under center, I would say it’s his mobility. Tom Brady may be the greatest quarterback to ever play the game, but he was virtually no threat to advance the ball with his feet. Newton’s dual-threat abilities, on the other hand, have been actively incorporated into the Patriots’ attack whether through designed runs or scrambles.
The numbers speak for themselves: Newton has carried the football 24 times for 124 yards and four touchdowns, while his success rate of 70.8% per rushing attempt has been impressive. The 31-year-old has proven himself a threat to run the football, and has therefore added another dimension to New England’s attack.
S&BP: Finish this sentence: The Patriots will win this game unless _________.
PP: … the Raiders can do what the Seahawks did last week: consistently move the football against the Patriots’ defense.
How did they do it, you may ask? New England played more zone defense than usual to account for Russell Wilson’s abilities as a scrambler. The expectation is that they will go back to more man-based coverage concepts this week, and Las Vegas’ pass-catchers simply have to win their one-on-ones if they find them.
That might be easiest underneath, though. While challenging the secondary is a dangerous plan — yes, Wilson threw five touchdowns but he is a top-three quarterback in the NFL and has a terrific supporting cast — New England’s linebackers and “star” safety Adrian Phillips have shown some inconsistencies when it comes to manning their zones. If the Raiders can attack those by incorporating crossing partners and challenging New England horizontally rather than virtually, they increase their chance of winning.
Likewise, if the Patriots cannot defend those, there is a realistic chance they will not win.
S&BP: Say you are Jon Gruden, how do you stop Newton and an offense averaging 410.5 yards per game?
PP: While the Patriots’ passing game looked good against Seattle, the key to beating New England’s offense based on the first two weeks of the Cam Newton era is by focusing on shutting down the run. This would force the unit to rely on an aerial attack that did look good on Sunday, but has yet to prove that it can duplicate this success on a week-to-week basis.
This is especially true because of Newton’s supporting cast. While Julian Edelman has proven himself, the other pass catchers remain a work in progress: Damiere Byrd and N’Keal Harry have shown solid chemistry with the team’s new quarterback, but they have also had their issues with getting open against press-man coverage. Tight end Ryan Izzo, meanwhile, is more of a blocker than a receiving threat. The running backs have some solid receivers, but without James White still lack a consistent passing game option. Also, you can’t win by relying on your backs alone.
So, what would I do if I am Jon Gruden? A) Try to follow the NFL’s mask protocols. B) Try press-man against New England’s pass catchers with a special emphasis on Edelman. C) Focus on stopping the run while keeping a spy in to watch Newton.
Those are all easier said than done — well, except A — but they could be the key to successfully stopping the Patriots’ offense.
(Don’t think I didn’t see the slight to Mr. Gruden, guys! Ha!)
S&BP: What is your prediction for the game? Who wins? Final score?
PP: While I like the direction the Raiders are heading, I do think the Patriots will come away victoriously not just because they had an additional day to prepare for the game. The team’s defense is still among the best in the game and will successfully focus on stopping Darren Waller, while the offense showed that it can move the football well despite what appears to be a below-average receiving corps.
I don’t see a shootout like the Patriots’ game against Seattle, but I do see New England win by more than one score. Something like 24-13. [crowd boos]
Then again, I’ve been wrong many, many times before. [crowd reluctantly cheers]
Only time will tell. Only Derek Carr will prevail. In Gruden we trust.
Thanks for joining us, Pats Pulpit! Catch you on the flippity flop.