Curran's Patriots-Packers preview review
Curran's Patriots-Packers preview
Hands down, the two most prolific offenses in football with the two most complete quarterbacks. While the Patriots haven’t really been pushed in six of their past seven victories, the Packers were pushed last week by Minnesota before winning, 24-21. Still, that came after a pair of 50-plus outings by Green Bay and divisional opponents are always harder to deal with than out-of-division teams. The Packers (8-3) need to win to keep themselves in good shape for the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
Green Bay does not possess a daunting defense. They have talented players – Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers at linebacker, Tramon Williams at corner, etc. But they have had an awful time stopping the run at times. They are allowing the third-most yards per game on the ground (136.7) and are giving up 4.5 yards per carry on the ground. Those issues forced defensive coordinator Dom Capers to put Matthews inside at linebacker. They are a middle-of-the-pack defense against the pass. For the Patriots, establishing the run will be the key. It will allow them to chew clock and shorten the game – important to do at Lambeau where the Packers are so tough – and it will (if successful), force more defenders to be deployed to stopping the run which will lead to opportunities downfield. It will be interesting to see who the Patriots turn to in the running game, LeGarrette Blount or Jonas Gray. Even more importantly, how well the Patriots front can open holes on the grass against the Packers 3-4? The Packers are going to be concerned with Rob Gronkowski. They should be. But the Patriots will quickly take stock of how they’re treating Gronk and respond accordingly without forcing it to the tight end. The Patriots have been almost impossible to defend over the past few games. The only time they sputter is when Tom Brady isn’t accurate. And hoping for that is a low-percentage play.
The Patriots were intent on running the ball but the Packers were ready for them. New England’s first drive sputtered on a third-and-2 when they went heavy and couldn’t pick it up with LeGarrette Blount. The Patriots got some solid red zone running from Brandon Bolden but it wasn’t until late in the third that they were able to generate some runs that gained Green Bay’s attention. New England finished with 18 carries and 84 yards and the Packers deserve credit for stopping that run. As for Tom Brady, he had a B-minus game. Some really precise throws, no picks, only one sack taken but either he opted or Josh McDaniels called for a number of lower percentage throws – timing stuff like the misfires with Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, a throw down the sideline to Aaron Dobson, the second-and-9 throw to the end zone that was fired too far to the inside. But you can’t take away the throws to LaFell for touchdowns nor the ones where he painted the black on throws late to Gronk and Edelman. Brady did a good job moving in the pocket. Brady was only sacked once but was hurried pretty good in the second and third quarters.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
The Packers are as prolific as the Patriots. They are not as diverse. Their top two receivers – outside threat Jordy Nelson (68 catches) and versatile slot man Randall Cobb (58 catches) have outsized importance in the Packers offense. New England has four players over 40 receptions. Green Bay just those two. The Patriots also use tempo more frequently – they’ve run 594 plays; 518 for Green Bay. The Patriots figure to take Jordy Nelson out of the game by sending either Darrelle Revis on Nelson by himself or Brandon Browner on Nelson with Devin McCourty over the top. Look for Kyle Arrington to get first crack at Randall Cobb. The Patriots will play their 4-2-5 set and make sure they set the edges to guard against the effective scrambling of Aaron Rodgers, the best quarterback the Patriots will see all year. Eddie Lacy is the kind of back the Patriots have issues with – a combo of size, speed and violence. They will be challenged to have the same kind of success against Lacy that they’ve had locking down the backs they’ve seen recently.
The Patriots did a pretty good job of people other than Cobb, Rodgers and Nelson beat them. Davante Adams did his part with six catches for 121 yards, many on Pats corner Logan Ryan. Eddie Lacy got his yards – 21 for 98 on the ground. But the one time they let Nelson beat them really ended up being the difference in the game. The Packers took over at their 19 with 1:09 left. They got a big play to James Starks out of the backfield on Rob Ninkovich (nice job by Green Bay finding Nink in mismatches) and then struck big on a third-and-2 to Nelson who beat Revis at the line and then dusted Devin McCourty who took a flat angle. The Patriots put Browner on Nelson and Revis on Cobb with Arrington down and Logan Ryan on Adams. It was changeable and there was a fair amount of zone in which everybody got different guys but that’s how they played it. The Packers were 10 for 17 on third down. That’s pretty bad. The Packers were 0 for 4 in the red zone. That’s pretty good. The Patriots did their job except on the Nelson play. Which was a third down play.
THE KICKING GAME
Mason Crosby’s only missed two field goals for the Packers this season. Tim Masthay, the punter, has a modest net of 39.5 but the punt coverage has been very good on returnable punts. The Packers are allowing 25.6 yards on kickoff returns which is generous. The Patriots special teams have been outstanding save for a couple early-season hiccups.
A couple of misses in the kicking game with Mason Crosby missing from 40 to give the Pats some hope and then a 47-yard miss by Stephen Gostkowski. The Packers had a 35-yard net on punts; the Patriots’ was 37. Rob Ninkovich, pressed into duty as the long snapper “threw strikes” as he put it.
PATRIOTS MEDICAL REPORT
QUESTIONABLE: LS Danny Aiken (head), OL Dan Connolly (ankle), DE Dominique Easley (knee), OL Cameron Fleming (ankle, finger), DE Chandler Jones (hip), WR Brandon LaFell (shoulder), RB Shane Vereen (ankle), LB Chris White (ankle). PROBABLE: QB Tom Brady (ankle), OL Marcus Cannon (hip), WR Julian Edelman (thigh)
Edelman limped off. Hightower seemed to injure his shoulder. LaFell was able to go. Jones was not.
PACKERS MEDICAL REPORT
QUESTIONABLE: CB Jarrett Bush (groin), LB Nick Perry (shoulder). PROBABLE: Davante Adams (heel); TE Brandon Bostick (hip), G TJ Lang (ankle), G Josh Sitton (toe)
GAME WITHIN THE GAME
Third down. For both teams. With the potency of the two offenses, the chance to get off the field has to be embraced by the defenses when the opportunity arises. And neither offense can afford to be giving the ball back to the other guy.
The Patriots got the Packers in third down. They couldn’t get them off the damn field, though, and that was the issue. The 10 for 17 was a 59 percent conversion rate. But that’s what Rodgers can do.
PACKERS GOTTA STOP
Brandon LaFell. I could easily say Julian Edelman here. Bottom line, there will be 1-on-1 opportunities for wideouts with the Packers presumably allocating plenty of attention to Rob Gronkowski.
Brady targeted LaFell 7 times and hit him 5 times for 38 yards and two scores. I think there were more opportunities to find him and Brady missed the boat a little bit on a few throws targeting Gronk.
PATRIOTS GOTTA STOP
Eddie Lacy. The Patriots figure to make it appetizing for the Packers to run the football. Don’t get beat by the thing the other team does best – throwing it to Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. That means securing the hard-running Lacy.
Lacy did what the Pack needed him to. Be a beast. He ran through contact. He accelerated from stops. The Patriots did a much, much better job on him that they did against Chris Ivory and they should be encouraged by their work but Lacy was a real problem. It wasn’t a gashing. But it was advantage Lacy.
DON'T BE SURPRISED IF...
By Monday morning, the football-watching nation is talking about who – if anyone – can stop the Patriots? It’s not likely, but the chance exists that the Patriots can run away and hide with this one.
That’s not happening. But there is going to be a groundswell of interest wanting to see the rematch.
THAT SUMS IT UP PATRIOTS STYLE
“Hopefully we can play a very competitive game against them. It's been a problem for the other teams that have come in there and tried to play them. The game's been pretty much over by the second quarter. So hopefully we can play them more competitively than that." – Bill Belichick on the Packers’ dominance.
It was competitive. And the Patriots defense is to thank for that because had they not held in the red zone it could have been very uncompetitive. A lot of good came out of this loss.
THAT SUMS IT UP PACKERS STYLE
"They've got a very flexible system. You've seen them throw the ball and win throwing the ball and, when they've felt they needed, to line up and run the ball. Any time you can do both, that makes it double tough to defend." – Dom Capers, Packers defensive coordinator
The Packers were up for the Patriots game plan defensively and did a great job adjusting and competing. Nice work by Capers.
THE WINNER IS...
Patriots 37, Packers 27
Packers 26, Patriots 21