Patriots

Patriots

The Patriots offensive game plan in Denver last weekend was clear: Find mismatches with Broncos linebackers and safeties in coverage and exploit them. 

The result was a big night for Patriots running backs and tight ends -- those groups accounted for 16 catches, 177 yards and three touchdowns receiving -- en route to a dominating 41-16 win. 

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Will they be able to take a similar approach in Mexico City against the Raiders? It would make sense if they tried. 

Jack Del Rio's defense is having a down season, checking in at 23rd in the league in points allowed per game (23.8). And despite having one of the game's best edge defenders in Khalil Mack, as well as talented complementary rushers in Mario Edwards Jr. and Bruce Irvin, Oakland is last in the NFL in sacks (13.0). 

When it comes to Oakland's ability to cover, their weaknesses are similar to those the Broncos showed last weekend. The Raiders, according to Football Outsiders, are 28th in the league when it comes to defending running backs and 30th in the league when it comes to defending tight ends. Against backs they allow an average of 53.6 yards receiving on 7.5 targets, and against tight ends they're allowing 55.2 yards on 6.6 targets. 

Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett and Dwayne Allen should be licking their chops for this type of matchup. Back in Week 9, Dolphins tight end Julius Thomas went off for 84 yards and a score on eight targets. 

The same could be said for New England's receiving backs. That should mean more work for Rex Burkhead, who has emerged as a true dual running and receiving threat, who has continued to see his workload increase every week since returning from a rib injury he suffered back in Week 2. 

 

Burkhead played 36 snaps against the Broncos, up from the 27 he saw against the Chargers and the 13 he played against the Falcons. He took a season-high 10 carries against Denver (he'd had 10 in his previous two games combined), and caught three passes on three targets, giving him a season-high 13 touches total. He's played only three games in his five-year career (all last season) when he's seen the football that often. 

Add those snaps to his special teams duties -- he blocked a punt and made two tackles on kickoffs last weekend -- and he's been busy. His usage is at the point where he's done a little extra, he explained this week, in order to make sure his conditioning is on point. 

"You know, I have, actually, just doing some things on the side just to make sure I'm in good shape and staying on top of the conditioning," he said, "just because you never know what your work load could be or how the game goes or whatnot . . . I'm just staying on top of that. [Head strength and conditioning coach] Moses [Cabrera] does a great job with us in the strength and conditioning department here, so just making sure I'm on top of that, like I said, because you never know how many snaps you may play, so you've just got to be ready."

Based on how the Raiders defense has looked this season, and where their weaknesses are, Burkhead may have to be ready for another steady workload south of the border.