I live in New England, Maine specifically, and have since moving here as a child.
I have watched the Patriots transform from being an afterthought, as the fourth most popular sports team in New England, behind the Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins. Now, not only are they number one in the hearts and minds of many New Englanders, fans now claim they were fans, “Since the days of Steve Grogan.” This is quite amusing considering there were only a few people who I knew, that even cared that the Patriots were in Super Bowl XXXI vs the Packers.
Now, I have taken an interest in the Patriots and watch all of their games if I can, and if they aren’t in conflict with the Packers’ game. I hate watch mostly, and always root against them expect in years like this when I will root for them occasionally against the NFC North. I also listen to radio that includes a weekly interview with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
That is really besides the point other than to say, I have a good understanding of the Patriots, what they are like and what to expect. This is certainly a winnable game for the Packers. I would expect several big plays on offense, while defensively it will be a challenge, though the Packers’, now healthy matchup relatively well.
The Kicking Game
Mike McCarthy’s approach with Mason Crosby is to always have him bomb it through the end zone if possible. On Sunday night, the plan is a good strategy with the always dangerous Cordarelle Patterson as the Patriots’ return man. Bill Belichick and Steven Gostkowski are a different story. They adjust based on how they feel about a particular kick returner.
In this case, Belichick obviously knows that the Packers will either have someone who is inexperienced (MVS and Alexander are the only two listed on the depth chart), or someone with experience but without explosion such as Randall Cobb or Tramon Williams. Look for the Patriots to exploit this by kicking the ball in the field of play, in hopes to either test the Packers’ or in the case of someone like Cobb, gain some field position as opposed to the touchback result of the 25.
This seems like a minor thing, but there figures to be a significant amount of scores from the Patriots. (The over/under is 57). If the Packers have a few drives that start inside the 20, after one of those scores, or they have a turnover, that could do major damage to the Packers chances. On the other side, if the Packers are more aggressive and chose to have someone like Scantling, Alexander or Jones return kick, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a long return at some point during the game.
Packers on Defense – Beware of James White
The Patriots obviously have several strengths on offense: Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon being three obvious choice. While they will get their share, the Packers matchup reasonably well with those three with their defensive backs. I would expect Josh Jackson to get assignment on Gronk (if he plays), while King will work on Gordon and Alexander will move to the slot to matchup with Edelman.
Cordarelle Patterson has recently been a major part of the offense. This was helped by Sony Michel missing some time, but I would still expect Patterson to see plenty of touches. There again, I think the Packers match up reasonably well, now that they have cornerback that like to tackle and take on blockers. Patterson lives on the edges and having corners that can come up and make a play is the best way to beat that. A great example was Jaire Alexandar’s tackle on Brandon Cooks jet sweep last week.
The player that may give the Packers fits is James White. The Patriots use him so very effectively. The Packers have been successful on third down due in large part Pettine’s exotic blitzes. White is a killer in this area because he usually gets the ball so quickly and in space. And against the Packers if he gets the ball in space to a player coming from distance, White has a distinct advantage.
It will be interesting to see how Pettine counteracts this and how he treats White. He may look at him as a running back and try to get away with an extra DB against him.
One tidbit. The Patriots use 21 personnel (2RB, 1TE), at the second highest rate in the league. And out of the personnel groupings this year for the Packers, that is the one that they have struggled the most against, mainly because the 49ers success out of 21. Pettine surely knows this tendency and hopefully has a plan to neutralize it.
The Slow Patriots Defense
The Patriots defense is slow, in general In watching the Patriots, but none worse than the linebackers. Due to this, they have trouble defending horizontally. And with the addition of Marques Valdes-Scantling and with Aaron Jones finally getting most of the snaps, the Packers have speed on offense.
When the Packers have the ball, I would expect there to be a focus on some outside zone runs with Aaron Jones, who could eat their linebackers alive. I would also expect Davante Adams to see continued time in the slot. This will allow him to use his release and get the Patriots to run a sideways.
Marques Valdes-Scantling also will continue to see a big role and could take advantage vs the slow-footed Patriots. Stephon Gilmore, the best player in the Patriots secondary will be on Davante Adams while Scantling will get matched up Jason McCourty or JC Jackson.
In general, look for the Packers to test the Patriots horizontally, and get them to run sideline to sideline.Originally from Glidden Wisconsin, Jason Straetz is a lifelong Packers\' fan, who has lived in Maine for over 30 years. He is a writer for packerstalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @jsnstz