The New England Patriots return home for a Sunday Night Football game against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. The Patriots finished off a perfect (4-0) October and have won five games in a row. They’ll be looking to make it six against the very explosive Packers who are smarting off a late loss to the Rams.
This week is the second Patriots prime-time game in a row and the fourth in the past five weeks. They’ve already appeared on Sunday Night Football twice this season. A week three loss to Detroit and the win over Kansas City. Amazingly enough, this is only the second time that Brady and Rodgers will be on the field against each other. That alone will be worth tuning in to watch two of the all-time greats to compete at the same time.
This week’s game will be broadcast by NBC and can be seen locally on NBC 10 Boston. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michele Tafoya will work from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.
The Patriots (6-2) defeated the Bills 25-6 on Monday Night. The game was actually much closer than that for the majority of the game but two late touchdowns put it away. The offense only scored one touchdown but the defense scored one and held Buffalo to only a pair of field goals.
The Packers (3-3-1) lost to 29-27 to the Los Angeles Rams last week in what seemed like a home game for them in LA. Packers fans outnumbered the Rams fans but Ty Montgomery’s fumble on a kickoff return sealed it after the Rams kicked a go-ahead field goal.
We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game.
The Patriots and the Packers don’t meet very often, this will only be the 12th meeting between the two teams. The regular season matchup is tied at 5 wins apiece. The Packers beat New England in Super Bowl XXXI in the only post-season meeting. Green Bay beat the Patriots in their last matchup 26-21 in Lambeau in 2014. You would have to go all the way back to 2010 since the Packers last visited Gillette. That one was most remembered as the game that Rodgers missed with an injury and Dan Connolly, the Patriots right guard returned a kickoff 71 yards, nearly scoring a TD. It was also, coincidentally the last game the Packers lost that year.
Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge. First up is the Patriots offense:
The Patriots running game had taken off during the last month as Sony Michel has given the Patriots the balance on offense that they were looking for. It worked so well that they were averaging 38 points or better every week for that month. But injuries have really hurt the position.
Jeremy Hill was lost for the year with a torn ACL, Rex Burkhead was placed on IR with multiple concussions, (he can’t return until Week 14). And then Michel went down in the loss to the Bears. They were forced to use WR Cordarrelle Patterson in the tailback role in Buffalo and he, not surprisingly had issues finding holes to run thru.
The Packers have had some issues stopping the run and are allowing 119.1 yards per game and 4.4 yards per rush. Part of that rests with the aggressiveness of the defense, Mike Pettine uses the old Rex Ryan Jets overload scheme and they can be susceptible to the quick hitters to beat the blitz.
With Michel in the backfield, the Patriots would get the nod here, but I tend to think that although he’s back at practice, he probably won’t be able to go this week. That gives the nod to Green Bay.
The Patriots have plenty of weapons for Tom Brady to utilize with Julian Edelman back in the fold, although both Josh Gordon and Rob Gronkowski have been slowed by injuries. Brady also has Chris Hogan and the invaluable James White out of the backfield. Gronkowski, just coming off ankle and back injuries was laboring in Buffalo. On a short week, it will be interesting to see if he gets a jump back in his step.
More intriguing is the injury to Edelman. He took a shot to his shoulder/neck area in Buffalo and was in obvious discomfort the rest of the game. He missed practice on Weds. If he can’t go it is a huge blow to the offense, that is already hurting.
The Packers have been very improved against the pass this season. Led by Jaire Alexander, they cover much better and they have 23 sacks thus far. The overload schemes make things very difficult on the opposition. They allow just 221.7 yards per game thru the air which is the 5th best in the league.
One question will be who replaces Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at safety. Dix was traded at the deadline and played nearly every snap this season. He was the team’s leading interceptor (3) and second-leading tackler (27). They probably will turn to Jermaine Whitehead who was their go-to guy in sub packages, but we may also see CB Tremaine Williams at times. When Pettine was in Cleveland, he often would play Williams at safety. They also have 2017 2nd round draft pick Josh Jones, but he’s been mainly a special teamer this year.
If he can go this week, this will be another tailor-made game for Julian Edelman. His ability to make the tough third-down catches and with he and Brady having the chemistry to read presnap what the defense may do, he’ll be invaluable when the Packers blitz. We look for James White to get a lot of looks once again in the passing game. He currently leads to the team with 55 catches.
It should prove to be an interesting chess match between Pettine and Brady. The two have faced each other quite frequently and the GB defensive coordinator will show plenty of different looks trying to confuse Brady. They’ll show six or seven at the line and then drop seven into coverage or overload blitz on one side. With Marcus Cannon and Shaq Mason banged up on the offensive line, the communication between the backups will be key.
Next up the Green Bay offense:
The Green Bay running game will scarcely miss Montgomery after his trade. He fell to the third position in their running game by committee group. They have found their man, however, in their 2nd year running back Aaron Jones. While he’s not the biggest guy at 5’9, 208, he is electric with the ball in his hands. Last week his 33-yard touchdown right up the middle sparked the Packers comeback in the second half.
The Patriots run defense has been steadily improving over the course of the season. Last week they held Bills running backs to just 46 yards in 19 carries. Shady McCoy had just 13 yards on 12 carries. The big men in the middle plus improved linebacker play has been the difference. Kyle Van Noy filled in for Dont’a Hightower last week and was outstanding in the middle.
Look for the Packers to feed Jones who had a career-high 12 carries last week more than that on Sunday night. With the Patriots possibly opting to bring A-Gap pressure with either Hightower or Van Noy, it will be the perfect antidote.
The Packers Aaron Rodgers is averaging about 308 yards per game and has a plethora of talented receivers who can all be dangerous with the ball in their hands. It starts with Davante Adams who leads the team with 52 catches for 690 yards and six touchdowns. He’s a threat to take it to the house on every down if he gets free.
Rodgers also has Randall Cobb, TE Jimmy Graham, Geronimo Allison, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling and reserve TE Lance Kendricks who can chip into the passing game. Rodgers remains excellent at making plays with his feet, once he’s flushed out of the pocket. The Packers have given up 24 sacks but coming after Rodgers is a risky proposition.
The Patriots have given up a lot of yardage this season, that won’t change on Sunday but the key is making some stops in the red zone. Going back to that 2014 game, Rodgers shredded the NE secondary but they only scored two touchdowns. They’ll need that kind of effort again. The issue is pressure or lack of it from the Patriots defensive line. They have to squeeze the pocket without losing containment or they’ll get toasted this week.
Look for Rodgers to spread them out and try to run those crossers underneath that drive the Patriots mad every week. Adams and Stephon Gilmore should be a good battle to watch but the key this week is the secondary targets Cobb and Allison going against Jason McCourty. The Patriots will also have to watch Graham closely with Chung and LB help.
The Patriots have gotten another very solid season from Stephen Gostkowski but the rest of their special teams play has been wildly inconsistent. After getting two scores from STs in Chicago, they took a step back in Buffalo.
The Packers counter with the normally automatic Mason Crosby but he went thru a rough patch and has only hit 17-22 field goals this year. Their return game is where they miss Montgomery the most. They can either use Marquez Valdes-Scantling or activate WR Trevor Davis from IR.
Next up, who wins and why…
This much-ballyhooed matchup between Brady and Rodgers who both throw the ball extremely well may come down to which team runs the ball better. The Packers are a much better team than their 3-3-1 record indicates and could easily be a 5-2 or 6-1 team right now. Part of that rests on head coach Mike McCarthy. They’ve come out flat in a few games and they saw that they just can’t show up and win. They came out strong and played an excellent 60-minute game against the undefeated Rams last week and if not for Montgomery’s fumble may have won that one.
Now they travel to Foxboro to take on the Patriots where they are awfully tough to beat. Rodgers has the personnel to do that and the experience to take what is out there. They won’t panic if they get down a score or two because they are so explosive.
Third downs and special teams play may ultimately decide who takes away the win here. While a lot of people are expecting another huge scoring game akin to the Kansas City Week 6 matchup, I see this one playing out like the 2014 game, with scoring in the mid to high 20s.
If this game were in Green Bay, I’d say the Packers and Rodgers would cruise, but it isn’t and Gillette is a tough place to play too. Like last week in LA, a late special teams return will spark New England to bring home a tough, hard-fought win. Patriots 28-27
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