The World Champions, the New England Patriots, are heading to AT&T Stadium to take on the Dallas Cowboys. In anticipation of the big game, we talk to Pats Pulpit to get an idea of what is going on with New England.
Blogging The Boys: Who gets more credit for the Patriots remarkable run of excellence, Tom Brady or Bill Belichick?
Pats Pulpit: This is a tough question because if you ask almost any fan of the New England Patriots, they'll say that Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time. Since the quarterback position is the most important role in sports, it stands to follow that Brady would be deserving of credit. I just don't think he deserves more than Belichick.
I think Belichick would receive more of the credit in a 51-49 split. Belichick is not only responsible for coming up with the game plans and the in-game adjustments, he's also the architect of the team. He's the person behind the changes from a run-heavy approach, to an integral slot corner, to a two-tight end set. He orchestrated the move from a 3-4 to a 4-3, back to the 3-4, all depending on how the free agent market was valuing the players.
The Patriots don't win four Super Bowls without Brady, or without Belichick. But Belichick was the last head coach to win a playoff game for the Cleveland Browns. That's gotta say a lot about his ability as a coach, right?
BTB: The offense has been rolling so far, but what would you say is the one area on that side of the ball where the Patriots are vulnerable?
PP: The New England offense line is pretty much the opposite of the Cowboys. While Dallas has complete trust in their ability, let's just say that the Patriots have played three rookies in heavy snaps on the interior line. They've been rotating in a guard that had five career starts since entering the league in 2013. It's not very pretty.
Tom Brady's been able to compensate by throwing the ball in under two-seconds, and that's been pretty successful, but it certainly puts a handicap on what the Patriots offense can do by eliminating a fair number of deep throws. While this limitation hasn't really affected the offense, it's only a matter of time before a defense decides to drop eight players into coverage and force the Patriots inexperienced interior line to stave off opposing defensive lines for longer than half a second.
BTB: The Patriots defense statistically is not on par with the offense, what are the main issues on that side of the ball?
PP: I personally think any issues with the New England defense are slightly overblown. Yes, they've allowed 70 points, but the numbers are less threatening when the context is added. The Steelers and the Jaguars both scored touchdowns in the final seconds of the game, with the Patriots up multiple touchdowns. The Bills scored three times in the fourth quarter after the Patriots had already built a 24 point lead (and the Bills failed to convert on their two point conversion attempts, so it was effectively a four score lead). Those garbage time scores account for nearly 50% of the total points against.
The Patriots would love to have not given up those points, but the New England defense hasn't allowed the opposition to pick up more than 14 points before the game was basically over in the fourth quarter.
That said, New England seems to have an issue with allowing the opposition to make a couple major plays every single game. All three opponents had two receivers collect 35+ yards on a single pass, which definitely counts as an issue for the defense. The Patriots need greater consistency from their #2 cornerback, and until that happens the Patriots can't feel overly comfortable with the defense.
BTB: What have you seen over time as the best way to slow down Gronkowski? Can it be done?
PP: There's only one real way to try and slow down Rob Gronkowski: bracketing him with a quality strong safety and a quality coverage linebacker. Opposing teams need to accept that they'll have to use two players to even just slow him down. The issue is that most teams are unwilling to give up the defensive resources to create the bracket, and that leaves Gronk wide open in the middle of the field.
Some say that chipping him at the line throws off his timing with Brady, which is good in theory, but no one has executed it well, and the Patriots counter it by flexing him wide against a linebacker in space.
The Cowboys should really just copy how Belichick covered tight end Tony Gonzalez: have two players team up and jam Gronkowski and batter him until the five yard window is over and Brady has thrown the ball in a different direction.
BTB: Who are a couple of players that the average fan might not have heard of that could come up big for New England on Sunday?
PP: Assuming most know Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, running back Dion Lewis is going to be worth monitoring. Lewis was out of football last season before signing a futures contract this past January. He played well in the preseason and is now the team's #1 running back, even signing a two-year extension this past week. He's small (think Danny Woodhead), but he's somehow strong enough to drive between the tackles. He's a threat as a receiver, too, and leads the Patriots in yards from scrimmage.
On defense, Jamie Collins and Malcom Butler might be household names, but defensive end Jabaal Sheard deserves some credit. The Patriots picked him up as a free agent from the Browns and Sheard has joined the New England defensive line rotation. He's stout against the run and he's consistently disruptive against the pass. He might not collect a sack, but he'll be a big reason if the Patriots have success slowing down the Cowboys rushing attack.
Thanks Pats Pulpit for the knowledge!