Each week, Tom E. Curran, Phil Perry and Mike Giardi answer your Patriots questions in a joint mailbag, or Friday Bag, as they call it.
Got questions? Tweet the guys using the hashtag #FridayBag. But for now, give the latest edition of the Bag a read.
Will Fletcher Cox require a double team or will he wreck the game ?— Tom (@NEP4L) February 2, 2018
MG: Tom, he will be selectively doubled because yes, he is capable of disrupting what the Patriots can do offensively on all fronts. However, the Pats can’t afford to consistently double him up because of the talent that surrounds Cox on the defensive line. Brandon Graham is a real nice player. Timmy Jernigan is a load and hard to move. Chris Long still has some giddy up coming off the edge. I love, love, love Derek Barnett. He made a big play in the NFC title game and has that potential to blow up Brady in a big way. Vinnie Curry’s very talented. See what I’m saying? A lot of guys. Can’t just eyeball one.
How many crunch time snaps does Mike Gillislie get Sunday?— Fire Support Leads the Way (@BigSahge) February 2, 2018
MG: Sarge . . . zero. His season is over in my book, though I do suspect he’ll be back next year when you consider the free agency status of both Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead.
Do you think the patriots are gonna bring a lot of blitzes and trust the secondary in man to man and make foles beat them?— Rich (@RGHeisler) February 2, 2018
MG: In general, the Pats aren’t a blitz-happy team. I’d be surprised if they dial up more than 8 or 10 in the entire game Sunday, although I do reserve the right to change my mind depending on score, etc. What the Pats do so well is pick those moments when they need to bring extra pressure. In the AFC title game, they drew up a couple of corner blitzes from Malcolm Butler that just so happened to be timed up to fly in Blake Bortles’ face. In both instance, Bortles had to hurry and missed his throws. That’s where Matt Patricia’s feel for the game and deep knowledge of tendencies really shine through.
Eagles rank first in the NFL when running on 1st down. Pats D ranks 32nd when opponent runs on 1st down. Something to watch for while trying keep 12 on the sidelines?— Mike Procopio (@mikeprocopio) February 2, 2018
MG: Mikey! Most definitely, to quote Malcolm Butler (tat’s his go-to phrase). Obviously, the main goal is to pick up first downs and score points but if you can do that by controlling the clock, imposing your will on the Pats front 7 and keep Brady on the sideline, that’s the ideal way to go. Hey, the Steelers did a hell of a job with it…right up until the end.
#QuickSlants Several pundits have mentioned going no huddle as an effective way to attack the Eagles in this game. However, we haven't seen much of it this year. Do you think the Pats will actually try to use it? Why haven't they used it much this year?— Jimmy G's #1 fan (@BugattiGalaxy10) February 1, 2018
TC: Those pundits – including the Senator Phil Perry – are dead on. The reason being Philly is so active with its substitutions and attempts to match personnel, especially in the front seven. One of the Patriots’ great roster advantages is that they have versatile players who can be power players on one down and then formation into perimeter players on the next down. For instance, Gronk and Dwayne Allen can be lined up as in-line tight ends in 12 personnel with Dion Lewis or James White in the backfield. Philly has to match that with size. The next snap, the Patriots can formation into an empty backfield and split everyone out without substituting. And Philly will get stuck with a bad matchup. I’m not sure why they haven’t used it a lot. Maybe they’ve been seeing a lot of “do what we do” defenses as opposed to ones that try to match. Listen closely to Cris Collinsworth on this because he’ll be all over it. The gold standard for finding a matchup and exploiting it was Gronk on KJ Wright in SB49 split out wide to the right. Touchdown.
@MikeReiss @tomecurran When discussing "The Patriot Way", BB, RKK and TB12 are mentioned as the top 3 reasons for the development of culture in Foxboro. Who would you say are the next 3 most impactful individuals (players or non-players) in developing and/or maintaining it?— Skip Donald (@SkipDonald) February 1, 2018
TC:That’s an interesting question. I think Scott Pioli and Nick Caserio both have to be in there. They are or were the point of the spear in player acquisition, and their ability to scout, pinpoint and then acquire players who’ll “fit” is everything. And they did it in myriad ways -- draft, street free agents, undrafted free agents, trades, waiver claims, practice squads. Obviously there are swings and misses on fit, character, talent level, etc. And when the Patriots do swing and miss, those mistakes are chronicled endlessly. But look at this year’s defense, for instance. At the back end, there are two Rutgers safeties people thought were overdrafted. They are both captains and leaders. Patrick Chung was re-acquired after a stint in Philly. Malcolm Butler was undrafted and Stephon Gilmore’s a big-ticket free agent. Creative. As for a couple more -- Anthony Pleasant, Kevin Faulk, Mike Vrabel, Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Julian Edelman, Tedy Bruschi and Troy Brown are the epitome of guys who lead by word and deed.
#QuickSlants I expect the early week focus on player, coach and team stories. However, at this point, it seems odd that there’s so little talk about the X’s and O’s and the actual football matchup. Why is it so different this year?— Earl Mangwich (@EarlofMangwich) February 1, 2018
TC:We all feel the same. Maybe it’s because the cult of personality surrounding the Patriots with Brady, Belichick and Gronk -- their mystique and place in history -- is the storyline as opposed to the football. We are much deeper into the “what does it meeaaaannnnn…” then what will happen. Further, I think this event is covered with the interest being in highlighting stories a broader audience will find digestible. Nuts and bolts, X's and O's stories aren’t as sexy and don’t yield the same traffic as a story parsing what Tom Brady means when he asks “Why does everyone want me to retire?”
what would be your best bold prediction?— Christopher Doney (@cdones14) February 2, 2018
PP: Bold prediction, Dones? Dion Lewis will catch a screen pass for a touchdown of 20 yards or longer. The Patriots offensive plan will try to use Philadelphia's aggressiveness against it, and the screen game should be a go-to option on Josh McDaniels' play sheet. Don't be surprised if one gets called in a crucial situation. The Patriots have been a much better screen team late in the season than they were early.
#FridayBag it’s fitting that Vince Wilfork visited today, because his old role seems crucial against that run game - plug up the middle to free up others. Do you predict a triumphant return of big Alan Branch?— Earl Mangwich (@EarlofMangwich) February 2, 2018
Haven’t heard a peep about Alan Branch this week, is he done with the Pats? Appears he’ll be inactive Sunday. #FridayBag— Edward Ingraham (@Whofan70) February 2, 2018
PP: Lot of interest in the big man this week. The Eagles are a run-first team. They want to control the clock. Having Alan Branch on the field could help the Patriots deter Philly from keeping it on the ground . . . but here's the thing: The Patriots have already faced two run-heavy offenses in the postseason and Branch has been a non-factor. Unless he had a dominant week of practice, I'm finding it hard to believe he'll have much of a role in this game. He could be inactive.
What’s the most underplayed angle that will play a factor in Sunday’s game? #FridayBag— Dave Green (@DavidMGreen) February 2, 2018
PP: Special teams are always underplayed, but the Patriots seem to hold a clear advantage in the kicking game. Rick Gosselin's widely-respected special-teams rankings -- Bill Belichick has referenced them in the past as an indicator of special teams efficiency -- have the Patriots listed as the third-best unit in football. The Eagles are 13th. One other storyline that's been relatively underplayed? The effectiveness of Brandin Cooks and his ability to fight for the football will be critical. Eagles corners like to play off-coverage and drive hard on shorter routes because they know their pass-rush will force the football to come out quickly. Cooks will have to be ready to make catches with corners bearing down on him. And if Cooks can get one of Philly's defensive backs to bite hard on a double-move, he'll have the opportunity to make a game-changing play.
Two questions, one #FridayBag and one personal— Alonso (@alonsocervp) February 2, 2018
FB: When the Patriots decide to shadow, who do you think should/will take Agholor, Butler or Rowe?
Personal: what's the earliest I can get into the stadium on Sunday? Want to be as early as possible but not in the cold much.
PP: Double-dipping! When it comes to Nelson Agholor, I think it will depend where he aligns. If he's in the slot, I'd expect it to be Eric Rowe. If he's outside, I'd expect it to be Malcolm Butler. Agholor's skill set matches best with Butler, but the Patriots like Rowe in the slot. Interesting game-within-the-game situation there. On question No. 2: Doors to the stadium open at 1 p.m.