Scouting the opponent: Patriots are razor sharp at Gillette Stadium


Bob McGinn


Five weeks ago the Miami Dolphins rolled into Gillette Stadium undefeated at 3-0 and enjoying a two-game lead in the AFC East division over the New England Patriots.

Then they got their butts handed to them, 38-7, and it’s been downhill for the Miamians ever since.

“Well, we really didn’t anticipate getting out-physicaled like we did,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said afterward. “We had been good all year as far as up front and our run game. We were getting pushed back … a lot of pressure on Ryan (Tannehill) even though they weren’t pressuring with blitzes.”

Miami had dropped its previous nine games in Foxborough, Mass., but still the Dolphins were optimistic even though the Patriots were coming off two straight losses.
“No, I didn’t see this coming,” continued Gase. “I knew it was going to be tough. You come here, I mean, I don’t see too many teams walk out of here (with a win) against a Hall of Fame quarterback. It’s just not going to happen.”
Since Gillette opened in 2002 the Patriots own by far the NFL’s best home record at 129-24 (.843). Baltimore is next at .719, followed by Pittsburgh (.710), Seattle (.709), Green Bay (.690) and Indianapolis (.690).
The Patriots (6-2) are favored by 5 1/2 points over the Packers (3-3-1) on Sunday night in Green Bay’s first trip to Foxborough since 2010.
“Tough for a struggling Green Bay team to go into the Patriots’ backyard and get back on track,” an executive in personnel for an AFC team said. “The Pack is definitely in a funk and New England, as much as I loathe them, is playing well.”
The Patriots are on a five-game winning streak to forge a two-game lead over the Dolphins.
“It’s a big game for us,” Tom Brady said. “We started 1-2, we’re 6-2. To get to 7-2 would be huge, and it’s a great football team. I mean, they’re in it every year … we’re going to have to play really well. It’s a quick turnaround.”
New England played Monday night in Buffalo, defeating the Bills, 25-6.
“The Buffalo coaches defensively did such a great job slowing these guys down,” said another personnel man. “I don’t know if I have the same confidence in the Green Bay defensive guys even though Green Bay has a little more talented defensive backs than Buffalo.
“If this game was in Green Bay I’d seriously consider taking Green Bay in an upset. New England 27, Green Bay 24. Just because there’s so much uncertainty with Green Bay’s secondary, of all places against a guy who is elite at picking secondaries apart.
“It’s going to be similar to the Ram game. They played the Rams really well defensively, but I think this quarterback will be a little bit better at picking the Green Bay secondary apart.”
Mike Pettine, the Packers’ first-year coordinator, will remember that one of the highlights of his career took place at Gillette.
Then defensive coordinator of the Jets under coach Rex Ryan, Pettine helped devise a game plan that sacked Brady five times in New York’s 28-21 victory in an AFC divisional playoff game in 2010. New England, which had belted the Jets, 45-3, on the same field six weeks earlier, was favored by 8 ½.
Pettine’s teams in New York went 3-6 against the Patriots, including 1-4 in Foxborough.
“As long as Brady has (Julian) Edelman and ‘Gronk’ (Rob Gronkowski) to sling the ball to they’ll have a chance to win,” the AFC scout said. “Add Josh Gordon to the mix and now Brady has a real group of playmakers around him. If Sony Michel plays, that’s more bad news for the Packers.
“Aaron Jones having a good night against a defense that’s shown it can be run against would help Green Bay keep it close. But even with Rodgers having a great night, I just don’t see the Packers being able to stop New England’s offense enough to get a very tough win on the road.
“Even though Brady & Co. are more beat up than Rodgers’ gang, this Green Bay team just doesn’t have the feel of a championship squad and New England seems to be hitting their stride. New England 34, Green Bay 24.”

Coordinator – Josh McDaniels (10th year).
Key assistant coaches – Dante Scarnecchia, offensive line; Ivan Fears, running backs; Chris O’Shea, wide receivers.
Notes: The Packers will have faced three of the NFL’s top offensive coaches in a row following the 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan and the Rams’ Sean McVay. Despite a rash of injuries, McDaniels always seems to move the ball from under center or shotgun. The Patriots can play tempo, love the screen game, make extensive use of empty backfields and always have clever plays on the playsheet. Their run rate is 42.6%. New England ranks fourth in points (29.8), 11th in yards (381.9) and tied for 24th in giveaways (13).
What scouts say: “They’re pretty unique. They do a little bit of everything. They can do a little bit of two-back but mostly they like one-back and spread you out.” … “McDaniels always figures it out. He’s like McVay in that they’re really smart figuring out what you’re doing to them and countering it. I think he’s a better offensive coordinator than head coach.”

Starters – Julian Edelman (5-10 ½, 198, 4.56 before the draft in 2009); Josh Gordon (6-3, 225, 4.43 before the supplemental draft in 2012).
Key backups – Chris Hogan (6-1, 210, 4.55); Phillip Dorsett (5-9 ½, 192, 4.28).
Notes: Edelman returned from suspension in Game 5 and already has 25 catches for 251 yards (10.0). He mans the slot, with Gordon working the sidelines and Hogan the middle. On Sept. 18, the Patriots acquired Gordon and a conditional seventh-round pick from Cleveland for a fifth-round pick. Gordon was suspended for all of 2015 and ’16 for violations of the league’s substance abuse policy after leading the NFL in receiving yards (1,646) in ’13. One of his five games in 2017 came against the Packers when he caught three balls for 69 yards; his 38-yard TD came at the expense of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Clay Matthews. In five games Gordon has 17 catches for 266 (15.6) and one TD. Dorsett has world-class speed but took just five snaps Monday night against Buffalo.
What scouts say: “The chemistry is starting to come back with Edelman. He’s a security blanket for him (Tom Brady) just like the tight end is. He’s undersized but he’s stronger than you think. He’s quick with really good change of direction. Runs really nice routes. Most dangerous as a slot receiver. He’s not as good as Wes Welker but a couple years ago when they were playing the Seahawks in the Super Bowl I’d put him up there with Welker. He just killed Richard Sherman and those guys. At that time he was really rolling. Now he’s coming off the injury and the (drug) testing. He hasn’t quite hit his stride yet this year.” … “What’s scary about their offense is Gordon isn’t quite there yet, either. He’s still kind of getting into shape. He has some discipline issues you hear about. But he’s an extreme talent. He’s big and fast. He can catch the ball. Times it up well. I think the pieces will all come together at the right time. He’s a little bit tentative still. He’s not a polished route runner. He mostly beats you up the field right now. He’s missed so much time in his career just because of all the dumb stuff. It’s kind of a sad deal because he’s such a talented guy. Brady is starting to throw him the ball and just let him be an athlete and go get it.” … “Hogan is like (Adam) Thielen, guys like that. People don’t give him a lot of respect. He’s not as talented as Thielen. He was an ex-lacrosse player (at Penn State). He has developed as a dependable receiver.”

Starter – Rob Gronkowski (6-6, 268, 4.67).
Key backup – Dwayne Allen (6-3, 265, 4.85).
Notes: Gronkowski clearly wasn’t at full strength in Buffalo after missing the previous game with a back injury, catching three of eight targets for 43 yards. Allen, who started 56 games for the Colts from 2012-’16, hasn’t been a factor this season.
What scouts say: “’Gronk’ isn’t quite healthy. They’re trying to bring him along slowly. They like to isolate him on smaller safeties or slower linebackers. A lot of times they put the formation on one side and put him on the back side (alone). He’s such a natural mismatch because he’s so big. He has good speed and he can catch. The quarterback really loves him. He picks his moments as a blocker. At this point in his career he knows that’s not where his bread is buttered. Early (in his career), he’d be just aggressive. Not that he was a great blocker but he’d at least be aggressive. You don’t get that much anymore.” … “Allen is a smart enough guy (Wonderlic of 25) to know the offense so they can sub him in.”

Starters – LT Trent Brown (6-8 ½, 380, 5.08); LG Joe Thuney (6-4 ½, 308, 5.00); C David Andrews (6-2, 300, 5.13); RG Shaq Mason (6-1 ½, 310, 5.00); RT Marcus Cannon (6-5, 335, 5.30).
Key backups – G Ted Karras (6-3 ½, 307, 5.33); T LaAdrian Waddle (6-6, 315, 5.41); T Cole Croston (6-5 ½, 310, 5.34).
Notes: The availability of Mason and Cannon is in question. Mason, a four-year starter, left the Bills game in the third quarter with a calf injury. On Aug. 29, Mason signed a five-year, $46.9 million extension ($23.5M guaranteed). Karras, his replacement, was a sixth-round draft choice in 2016 that has three career starts. Cannon, a 46-game starter in eight seasons, suffered another in a long line of concussions and missed the last two games. Waddle, a 24-game starter for Detroit from 2013-’15, has 35 5/8-inch arms and huge hands (10 ¾ inches) but is coming off a poor showing in Buffalo. Brown has even longer arms (36) and bigger hands (10 7/8) than Waddle. After watching LT Nate Solder depart for the Giants in March, the Patriots acquired Brown and a fifth-round pick from the 49ers for a third-round choice during the draft. Most of his 28 starts for San Francisco came at RT. Thuney is a three-year starter. Andrews is a four-year starter. Croston made the Patriots as an undrafted free agent from Iowa in 2017. His father, Dave, was the Packers’ third-round pick in 1987 as a tackle-guard from the same school. Injuries ended his promising career. Isaiah Wynn, the 23rd pick in April, was expected to start at one of the tackles before suffering a torn Achilles Aug. 16.
What scouts say: “Trent Brown is a huge man. Huge man. He’s block-out-the-sun type huge. You really do have to beat him with speed or counter moves. You can’t let him lock you up. If you get into him, he wins. All he’s going to do is absorb you and then the play’s over with.” … “It’s not a great O-line. If you’re slanting or have good counter movement then you can beat them. They are as well-coached as anybody as far as running their scheme and trying to get angles on you. They’re not very athletic, by any means. As long as I can remember they very rarely had an elite offensive line. That’s never been the priority. They depend a lot on Scarnecchia to coach ‘em up.” … “Thuney is a good example of that. Doesn’t have a very good anchor. Not really overly tough. He knows the scheme and it’s about angles for him. Very susceptible.” … “Andrews is a really sharp dude (Wonderlic of 24). He’s not big and not athletic but he can help make some of the adjustments.” … “Most likely it’ll be Shaq Mason. They paid him well to stick around. Compact, strong. He comes from that Georgia Tech offense with all the angle- and cut-blocking in that Wing-T. He’s a tough guy and he’s strong.” … “There’s a little bit of a dropoff to Karras. I’m not a fan of Karras or Waddle.” … “Waddle can’t move. Cannon has been there long enough to know the scheme. They know how to help people. They chip with backs. They don’t really leave them alone all the time. That’s why they don’t go out and pay big money for guys. Nate Solder wasn’t a great blocker. He’s getting exposed with the Giants because they’ve leaving him one-on-one because they paid him all that money. He didn’t get exposed at New England as much because they found ways to help those guys.”
Starter – Tom Brady (6-4 ½, 225, 5.23).
Backup – Brian Hoyer (6-2, 216, 5.06).
Notes: Brady, 41, ranks 14th in passer rating at 97.6. He has a 202-57 record in the regular season; his winning percentage of .780 is well ahead of second-place Ben Roethlisberger of Pittsburgh (.680) among active quarterbacks. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers is fourth at .654. In 2000, Brady scored 33 on the Wonderlic. Hoyer returned to New England in November 2017 but hasn’t taken a snap this season. He has started 37 games for the Cardinals, Browns, Texans, Bears and 49ers. His career passer rating is 83.3. His Wonderlic score was 26.
What scouts say: “Everything’s been said about Brady. He’s a good decision-maker. It’s one of his best attributes. He’s very accurate, especially the short-to-intermediate stuff. You can’t just come out and line up in your coverage without giving him a pre-snap read. If you do that then you’re in trouble. Buffalo was giving him different looks all the time to make him have to check down. They took a lot of stuff away from him. That’s why it was mostly field goals.” … “Neither one is a scrambler but Eli (Manning) can’t move in the pocket at all. At least Brady has a feel for doing that little shuffle where he can avoid some of the pressure. He’s got that internal clock, and it works for him. A lot of even veteran quarterbacks play like they don’t have it. He can get to his third read and still be productive.”

Starters – RB Sony Michel (5-10 ½, 215, 4.57); FB James Develin (6-3, 255, 5.15).
Key backups – RB James White (5-9, 205, 4.58); RB-WR Cordarrelle Patterson (6-2, 228, 4.34); RB Kenjon Barner (5-9, 195, 4.43).
Notes: Michel took over the starting job in Week 3 only after Jeremy Hill (knee) and Rex Burkhead (neck) were lost in September. The 31st player selected in April, Michel was averaging 4.4 in 95 carries (four TDs) before suffering a knee injury in Game 7. He sat out Monday night and remains iffy. White, the fifth-year former Badger, is a phenomenal receiver with a team-leading 55 receptions for 459 (8.3) and six TDs. He’s pedestrian as a rusher. Thus, the Patriots surprisingly started Patterson at running back Monday night. Other than reverses, he has been a wide receiver-kickoff returner for six seasons. Patterson carried 10 times for 38. Develin has made 25 starts since joining New England in 2012.
What scouts say: “I was looking forward to Jeremy Hill having a pretty good season. He got dinged up a lot at Cincinnati so that was a little bit of a gamble there.” … “James White is an excellent receiver out of the backfield. He runs a nice route. He’s got really good hands. They’ll even split him outside. They’ll get him in that matchup with your linebacker. If your linebacker can’t cover then he’s in trouble. They throw a ton to their backs. Once they get that going they can go down the field just like that.” … “Patterson has never really learned an offensive scheme, which is why he’s always been an outcast every place he’s gone. If you can just keep it simple for him and get the ball in his hands, he’s a big, fast, explosive athlete. They do a good job keeping it simple for him. If you’re them I’m pretty sure they’re holding their breath. Will he go the right way? You’ve got to get him before he gets going or he can make an impact.” … “I thought Michel started out slow but then he had a couple games where it was kind of coming together before he got hurt. He is a good receiver similar to White but he’s a better runner. White is more of a shake-you-and-go guy. Michel is a one-plant, get-downhill type runner.” … “Develin is mostly a (special) teams guy. Big body. He can catch the ball. You can’t sleep on him because now and then they will throw a ball to him.”

Coordinator – None, but linebackers coach Brian Flores (11th year) calls the defenses.
Key assistant coaches – Brendan Daly, defensive line; Josh Boyer, cornerbacks.
Notes: Coach Bill Belichick stresses taking away a team’s primary weapon in customized game plans that can look entirely new from one week to the next. “Every week’s different,” Lions coach Matt Patricia, a disciple of Belichick, said in September. “They’re going to double receivers on certain downs and match up certain guys with certain other guys.” The Patriots rank tied for third in takeaways (16), 12th in points (23.1) and 25th in yards (382.8).
What scouts say: “Bill always brings people along. It’s been his scheme always. They’ve been 3-4 and been 4-3 but Belichick makes it easy for his guys to make the adjustment. He always looks for those smart guys. They don’t have to be the most talented guys but they have to be smart. He wants multiple looks and guys that can execute the scheme. Even though Flores is considered the coordinator Bill really is the coordinator. Eventually he’ll make Flores the coordinator just like he did with Matt Patricia. When they think the same way he’ll give him the title.” … “They run their share of man coverage. They’ll match Stephon Gilmore with the best receiver.”

Starters – LE Trey Flowers (6-2, 265, 4.88); 3-technique: Lawrence Guy (6-4, 315, 4.99); NT Malcom Brown (6-2 ½, 320, 5.07); RE Deatrich Wise (6-5, 275, 4.97).
Key backups – DE Adrian Clayborn (6-2 ½, 280, 4.80); Keionta Davis (6-3, 280, 4.69); DT Adam Butler (6-4, 300, 5.23); NT Danny Shelton (6-2, 345, 5.61); DE Derek Rivers (6-3 ½, 250, 4.62); DE John Simon (6-1 ½, 260, 4.71).
Notes: Flowers, a fourth-round pick in 2015 from Arkansas, has 15 ½ sacks in three seasons and easily ranks as the team’s top pass rusher. The Patriots had 10 defensive linemen dressed in Buffalo, and all played at least 10 snaps: Flowers (58), Guy (34), Wise (31), Brown (28), Davis (22), Butler (20), Clayborn (20), Shelton (18), Rivers (17) and Simon (13). The Packers drafted Guy in the seventh round in 2011 but a concussion led to his release on Aug. 31, 2012. He became a starter for the Ravens in 2016 before becoming a starter in New England last year. Clayborn came from Atlanta in March for $10 million over two years ($5.5M guaranteed). Brown was the 32nd pick in 2015. Shelton, the 12th pick in 2015, and a fifth-round pick were acquired by the Patriots from Cleveland in March for a third-round choice. Clayborn leads in quarterback hits with eight followed by Flowers and Wise, each with seven.
What scouts say: “Bill likes to keep people fresh.” … “Flowers probably is the best guy. He’s got strength, speed and power. He can turn his get-off into a power move. He can go speed to power coming off the edge.” … “They paid Clayborn in free agency but he’s not overly talented. He plays hard. More of a high-energy guy. He just keeps coming at you.” … “Guy came from Baltimore. He may not be a starter on most teams but for the Patriots he is because he understands the scheme and his role and he plays hard, much like Adrian. He’s a good technician. He’s a disciplined player. He has worked his way to where he is right now. He’s a lot of what New England does. They’ll take some castoff and develop them as long as they’re a smart enough guy.” … “Malcom Brown is a big nose tackle. Right now he just kind of flashes. He doesn’t always play up to what he should. He’s not really a dominating interior force. He’s a run stopper.” … “Deatrich might be a carbon copy of Lawrence Guy. Very similar body type. Good effort guy.” … “Simon is a journeyman. Always be a backup. He’s an effort guy.” … “You expected Derek Rivers to be an impact pass rusher when they drafted him out of Youngstown. He got hurt his first year and he really hasn’t gotten there yet. I like him.”

Starters – SLB Kyle Van Noy (6-3, 250, 4.66); MLB Dont’a Hightower (6-2, 260, 4.64); WLB Elandon Roberts (5-11 ½, 238, 4.59).
Key backups – Nicholas Grigsby (6-0, 230, 4.51).
Notes: Hightower, who suffers from a chronic knee problem, sat out the Buffalo game and is iffy. He made the Pro Bowl in 2016. Rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley, a fifth-round pick from Purdue, was starting and playing well before suffering a season-ending injury (unspecified) after three games. Roberts became a starter last season. The Lions traded Van Noy to New England in October 2016 for a sixth-round pick. He leads the club in tackles with 44.
What scouts say: “Hightower, man, if you ever can get him in pass coverage you’ll kill him because he can’t run. He is a run defender, a downhill plugger. He is smart. He knows where to drop and get in underneath coverage. But he is not athletic, not explosive. You’d like to isolate on him with your backs.” … “Roberts isn’t great in coverage, either, but he is a tough guy. He’s mostly looking to plug gaps pretty quick. Plays hard. You kind of like him.” … “Van Noy is different. Athletic and fast. He’s got great straight-line speed. He plays fast.”

Starters – LC Jason McCourty (6-0, 195, 4.34); RC Stephon Gilmore (6-0 ½, 202, 4.40); SS Patrick Chung (5-11 ½, 215, 4.51); FS Devin McCourty (5-10 ½, 195, 4.42).
Key backups – CB Jonathan Jones (5-9, 190, 4.30); CB J.C. Jackson (5-10, 198, 4.49); S Duron Harmon (6-0, 205, 4.59).
Notes: The Patriots acquired Jason McCourty and a seventh-round pick from Cleveland in March for a sixth-round selection. A 90-game starter for Tennessee from 2009-’16, McCourty backed up Eric Rowe in Games 1-2 before Rowe suffered a season-ending groin injury. Gilmore, a five-year starter in Buffalo, joined the Patriots as a big-money free agent in March 2017. Chung is in his second tour of duty with the Patriots after spending a fruitless 2013 season in Philadelphia. Devin McCourty, Jason’s twin brother, has been starting for nine years.
What scouts say: “Gilmore is their only legitimate corner. They do it by committee on the other side.” … “Jason McCourty is very average. He’d be almost better off playing safety at this point because he really doesn’t have great speed. He does play smart and is a steady guy. He’s one of those guys who’s smart enough to understand his limitations. But you can take advantage of him in man. They’d target him more than Gilmore.” … “Gilmore plays a lot of press and then backs out. He doesn’t necessarily want to get his hands on you as much as show you press and then back out and cruise with you. Not an explosive guy. More of a strider. He can play the ball down the field. Little bit inconsistent with tracking the deep ball. He’s not that (top-10 corner) anymore. He just kind of fell off a little bit. He’s really just a size guy right now that plays smart. But they’re in a boatload of man so you can light him up pretty good.” … “Jones is strictly a slot guy. He is smart (Wonderlic of 25) enough to play inside. He’s quick and he’s fast.” … “Devin McCourty is the most talented. Like him. He’s got good speed and he’s still athletic and he’s tough and he has a pretty good feel for playing the ball. Against Buffalo he returned that interception 82 yards (actually 84) for a touchdown. He’s just a smart guy (Wonderlic of 28) who reads the quarterback so well. He plays games with the quarterback. That’ll be interesting to see how he and (Aaron) Rodgers match up.” … “Bill likes Chung. Philly didn’t feel he could play for them but then he comes back up there in that system and gets in a couple more years. He’ll know his matchup. He’s a little undersized. He’s not a special cover guy. He plays hard, I’ll give him that. He’s smart enough to know where his help is.” … “Harmon has a good feel for things back there. He has difficulty playing the ball down the field. If you have a chance to attack a safety down the field he’s the guy.”

Coordinator – Joe Judge (fourth year).
Personnel – K Stephen Gostkowski (6-1, 215); P Ryan Allen (6-2, 220); LS Joe Cardona (6-1 ½, 245, 4.88); KR Cordarrelle Patterson; PR Julian Edelman.
Notes: Gostkowski, 34, has made 17 of 19 field goals (misses from 54 and 50) and all 26 extra points. The left-footed Allen, a six-year veteran, ranks 27th in net average (37.7). Cardona was drafted in the fifth round from Navy in 2015. Patterson, who averages 32.3 on kickoffs, owns a 95-yard TD.
What scouts say: “I like Gostkowski. He’s been as consistent as anybody. Pretty accurate inside the 50.” … “Nothing spectacular with their punter.” … “Bill’s always had this affinity for the military. I think that was part of the curiosity with Cardona. He hasn’t hurt them. He’s been solid.” … “Patterson fumbled against Chicago, then returned the next one 95 yards for a touchdown. You talk about hitting a crease. If he hits a crease he can flat roll out.” … “Edelman has bobbled a couple. He’s getting his sea legs under him. He’s a tough son of a gun. He’ll get straight up field and get positive yardage.”

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I doubt the Packers will be in this one at any time during the game. If they shut down Rodgers passing game, it's lights out.

Pats 41 Packers 1 7