Week 11 Q&A: Patriots Writer Jeff Howe

Peyton Manning and Tom Brady shake hands after the teams last met in Foxboro in 2006. (AP Photo)

Each week Coltzilla will preview the upcoming game by speaking with fellow bloggers or writers who cover the week’s opponent.  This week Coltzilla speaks with Jeff Howe from NESN to get a Patriots perspective on our upcoming match-up.

*UPDATE – Visit NESN’s interview with Coltzilla here.

CZ: No matter how lazy or disappointing a player like Randy Moss may be in terms of production and effort, he has always had the impact of taking some pressure off of other targets no matter what offense he plays in.  What consequences have the Patriots noticed since he has departed New England?  How has it affected Wes Welker’s production or impact?

JH: Welker’s production has dipped, as defenses have had the luxury of focusing more on him with Moss out of the picture. However, there’s no way the Patriots beat the Ravens without Deion Branch, who only had two catches through three quarters (when the Patriots trailed, 20-10) but had seven receptions for 75 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter and overtime. No chance Moss has that type of production in that game. The offensive identity has changed, and while it hasn’t always been as fluid, players have noted that all 11 guys are fighting for the same goal, which was an obvious dig on Moss. It’s a work in progress, but the Patriots’ offense is looking more and more like the one from the beginning part of the decade.

CZ: I think it is fair to say that the 2010 Patriots are not the power house team they have been in past years.  There are an awful lot of new faces on both sides of the ball playing big roles, and some who have returned like some kind of dream back to the championship days (Branch), but name a player or two on each side of the ball who Colts fans probably do not know and who you foresee as having an meaningful impact on the outcome of the game.

JH: Rookie cornerback Devin McCourty has been a stud, and there’s a chance the Patriots could have him shadow Reggie Wayne for portions of Sunday’s game, and safety Patrick Chung is a tackling machine who is used in a multitude of roles. He can stop the run and make plays in the passing game. Offensively, the Patriots will need rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez to exploit the seams in Indy’s defense. It’s tough to say which player will have the big statistical game because it varies from week to week, but they’re both exciting players to watch.

CZ: How do you explain the difference between the Patriots team that lost to the Browns two weeks ago and the team that pounded on the Steelers, one of the best teams in the NFL this year.  Which of those teams is the real Patriots?

JH: The team that beat the Steelers is the real group of Patriots. They had an ugly bout of brain flatulence against the Browns and simply never showed up in that game. They’ve said they were guilty of getting a little too high on themselves and their five-game winning streak, and they put that talk to rest with a great week of preparation that led to the Steelers game.

CZ: Although the Colts have set up a triage unit in the team facilities to handle all of the injured and wounded players, it is only a matter of time for Manning and the offense to start moving back to an elite level.  How big of a concern is it for the Patriots, who have struggled defending the pass this season?  Is it in the Patriots best interest to get into a shootout, or do you think a high scoring game favors the Colts?

JH: The Patriots’ defense has improved as a whole since the start of the season, and while it’s not perfect, the bend-don’t-break approach probably doesn’t get enough credit outside of the New England market. Kyle Arrington has played well at right cornerback since earning his first career start in Week 3, and McCourty has been a huge surprise. Also, a lot of the yards the Patriots have surrendered have come in prevent-type schemes late in games against the Chargers and Steelers. So, the unit that ranks toward the bottom of the league is, in my mind, about average in comparison to the rest of the league.

Anyway, I’d say a low-scoring, tough game would favor the Patriots because they’ve been able to win those games with regularity this season, as opposed to their struggles in close games in 2009. Plus, the New England offense hasn’t been perfect yet, so a shootout — at least at this stage of the season — might be tough for the Patriots’ offense to keep pace with.

CZ: Although the Patriots offensive line has played well enough to keep Brady relatively clean this season, how big of a concern is the match-up with Freeney and Mathis this weekend?  Is New England confident that taking sacks will not be much of an issue in the game’s outcome or is securing Brady an area of concern?

JH: Freeney and Mathis almost always give this team a problem, and their speed will be tough for tackles Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer, who have struggled with faster players this season (albeit, most of those players were outside linebackers in 3-4 systems). One thing in the Patriots’ favor is the very strong blocking ability of tight ends Alge Crumpler and Rob Gronkowski. If the tackles have a difficult time, the Patriots will use the tight ends to max protect.

CZ: What is your prediction for the final score?

JH: I like the way the Patriots have played this season, as well as their response last week against the Steelers, and I can’t imagine they suffer a let-down after playing so well against a number of high-profile teams in the last two months. Because of that, the home-field advantage and the Colts’ injuries, I’ll take the Patriots, 24-20.

Coltzilla would like to thank Jeff for taking the time to answer questions.  NESN is one of the premiere sources for news and information regarding the New England Patriots and other Boston area professional sports.  Check out more of their work to get an even closer insight into the Patriots leading up to Sunday.

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