In anticipation of the big clash with the Patriots this Sunday, I asked 5 Questions of Greg Knopping at SB Nation's Patriots blog, Pats Pulpit. Q&A below.
Blogging The Boys: The past couple of weeks the Pats running game has come to life. Why? Better blocking/running? A commitment to it in offensive philosophy? Other?
Pats Pulpit: It's definitely all about the commitment. The first three games of the year, Tom Brady had thrown the ball 40 or more times while no Patriots running back had gathered more than 17 carries in a game. The past two weeks, the Patriots have made it a priority to run the football. It's kept the defense better rested, taken some weight off Tom Brady's shoulders, and made the offense more efficient even if they haven't been breaking records.
BTB: The defense has given up a lot of yards this year, especially through the air. What's going on there? Talk about the Pats pass defense.
PP: Well for one, the Patriots are struggling to get to the quarterback. They've had injuries along the defensive line (Haynesworth, Wright) and they just haven't made any kind of consistent push. Against the Jets, the Patriots showed some signs of improvement, especially in the secondary where the team received a boost with the return of Leigh Bodden from injury. This isn't the type of situation where you can pinpoint the Patriots struggles all on one position or player - everyone needs to perform better. I don't think the Patriots pass defense has been as bad as the stats would indicate, but it's certainly an area that needs noticeable improvement.
BTB: Tom Brady threw 4 interceptions in the Buffalo game. Was it from something the Bills did on defense that could be replicated? Or was it more on Brady and the Pats offense?
PP: The Bills really just capitalized on mistakes, and it seemed that every break went their way. Tom Brady wasn't playing at the top of his game - two interceptions were his fault. But it's still important to note that two of the interceptions were off tipped balls. One hit running back Danny Woodhead in the hands and was intercepted, and the other (the pick six) was intercepted after deflecting off the helmet of an unaware Bills defender. Brady needs to be accountable for his mistakes, but at the same time, I don't think he'll make those mistakes again. That being said, I still think that the best way to slow Brady and the Pats offense is to put pressure on Brady up the middle and press receivers Wes Welker and Deion Branch at the line of scrimmage. I know it sounds simple, but if you can generate pressure on Brady up the middle, you can really make him uncomfortable.
BTB: As you look at the Cowboys, what part of the team has you worried? Where could Dallas exploit the Patriots in hopes of an upset victory?
PP: The Cowboys pass rush, no doubt. The combination of Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware has the opportunity to give the Patriots offense fits if they can put pressure on Brady. Ware is playing lights out, and that worries me. Additionally, if the Cowboys can take away the Patriots run game early and make the Patriots offense one dimensional, I think they will be able to stop the Patriots passing attack based on whatever game plan Rob Ryan can draw up.
BTB: What's the current injury situation for the Pats and how will it affect the game on Sunday?
PP: The biggest injury situation to monitor has got to be that of linebacker Jerod Mayo. Mayo is the heart and soul of the Patriots defense, but suffered a sprained MCL two weeks ago and was expected to miss 4-6 weeks. However, he managed to return to practice yesterday which has created some speculation that he could play Sunday against the Cowboys. If Mayo were to somehow return for the Pats, it would be a huge addition for the Patriots defense. Other injury situations to monitor include those of cornerbacks Leigh Bodden and Ras-I Dowling, running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, tackle Sebastian Vollmer, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, and tight end Aaron Hernandez. These players, all starters, are currently listed as questionable on the Patriots injury report.
Thanks for the knowledge, Greg. Visit Pats Pulpit for more Patriots info.