Make sure you check out my five answers over at PatsPulpit. Here are my five questions with Greg Knopping:
1) It seems that the reports of Tom Brady’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. What's your take on whether or not he’s declining?
Yes, they've certainly been greatly exaggerated. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that Brady is at the peak of his physical game. He's not. At the same time, he's still one of the most talented passers in the league. If you give him time, there still might not be a more talented passer. Many of the struggles from earlier in the year were from a lack of trust and coinciding frustration with his supporting cast and offensive line. The media shellacking Brady took following the Chiefs game, has for the moment, provided a cure for those issues by giving Brady a new-found chip on his shoulder. Brady is playing angrier than I've ever seen him, he's trusting his teammates again, and that's not a good thing for opponents.
2) This is a two-part question. The Patriots’ offensive line has struggled this season, and there may be additional issues with both Dan Connolly and Bryan Stork likely out.
a) How did you get suckered into hiring Dave DeGuglielmo as your offensive line coach?
Does this qualify as a loaded question? I think you would know the answer better than me. Is there any reason for hope? I'm not one to judge a coach after less than half a season and the line's play has improved from the first four weeks. At the same time, the Patriots are surely wishing Dante Scarnecchia waited another year (or 50) before hanging 'em up.
b) How do you realistically expect the offensive line to do in run blocking and pass protection?
Although the pass protection has been more suspect this year, I think they'll have more success there than in the running game. The expected inside trio of Jordan Devey, Ryan Wendell, and Josh Kline is anything but strong. At the same time, they can mask their weaknesses through a variety of personnel sets, quick passes, 3-step drops, screens, etc. The benefit of having Stevan Ridley was that he was very quick to the hole which could also hide poor run blocking. I just don't see how the Patriots' interior line is going to get push in the running game on the big three of the Jets' defensive line. You're going to see a lot of pulls from Kline and Devey, motions from Gronkowski and Michael Hoomanawanui, and you will probably also see some extra snaps from fullback James Develin.
3) The injury to Jerod Mayo reeks of what happened to the Jets and Jim Leonhard a few years back, right before we got punched in the gut by you guys. Both players called the defensive plays. Who will replace Mayo, and what kind of impact do you think his loss will have on such a short week?
It's a tough pill to swallow not only because of the communication issues, but because the Patriots had virtually no linebacker depth before (or after) Mayo's injury. Deontae Skinner will take over Mayo's snaps at 4-3 MLB. In his limited snaps, he's shown some punch as a run defender but has been exposed in coverage. You might see a lot more 3-4 with a line of Wilfork - Walker - Chris Jones with the outside linebackers being Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones. However, as you mentioned, the biggest area of concern in communication. If Dont'a Hightower is healthy, he'll take over as the play caller for the defense. He grew into that role when Mayo went down in 2013. If Hightower can't go, the duty will fall to Jamie Collins, who also happens to be the team's best third down linebacker. Collins took over on Sunday when Mayo went down, and he also was in that role a bit during the preseason. It's tough to say exactly how much this injury will play into the Patriots' on-field performance, but the team does have the benefit of experience - as they had to go through the exact same scenario a year ago.
4) There was an interesting article in the Boston Globe about how tough it will be for the Patriots to replace Stevan Ridley’s toughness and ability between-the-tackles. Do you see the Patriots trying to assert the run tonight, and if so, how?
It's not going to be easy. Ridley didn't necessarily have top-notch breakaway speed, but he hit the hole with such explosiveness that he could easily pick up gains of six, seven, and eight yards where most players would be tackled for short gains. Brandon Bolden might have more raw power / leg drive, but his lack of burst is definitely going to hurt. The Patriots will try to run the ball, because that's what they do. But yes, Ridley's loss is going to have a big impact. Also, be sure to look out for rookie James White. He didn't do much during the preseason, but he's a more talented runner than Bolden, and the team was hyping him up as a three-down back in August. He was inactive on game days because Bolden offered more value on special teams. With Ridley out, White should be active and could end up being the team's primary ball carrier.
5) I have to ask about Darrelle Revis. It’s been an up-and-down season for him. What’s your honest analysis on how he’s doing? Do you think he’ll be back next year?
You're right in that he's been up-and-down thus far, but that has been due to the coaching staff's usage of him rather than his own performance. He's played very well the last two weeks. Why? Because the Patriots have had him shadow the opponent's best receiver is press-man coverage. In that role, he's been excellent. If they continue to use him in that role, he probably excels the rest of the way. If he returns to the off-man and zone coverages that he was a part of earlier in the year, it begs the question, why did the Patriots even sign him? As for your second question, I do think he returns next year. There have been rumblings that the Patriots already wanted to re-sign him during the preseason. As long as he doesn't command $15+ million a year, I think the sides can come to an agreement. I know that the contract screams "one year rental," but I don't think that's what either side had in mind when the deal was first struck.