The defending AFC Champion New England Patriots are coming to town. Fresh off a victory against the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs, the Patriots appear to be hitting their stride. To help us prepare for what’s coming, I reached out to Bernd Buchmasser from Pats Pulpit to talk about this little upstart program coming out of Boston.
Windy City Gridiron: 1. The Patriots were able to outscore and outlast the Chiefs in the Sunday Night Football game last week, making it 3 wins in a row and scoring at least 38 points in each of those contests. Is it safe to say this offense has found it’s footing and just how important has the return of Julian Edelman been to that success?
Pats Pulpit: While the Patriots did not necessarily play a murderer’s row of NFL defenses over the last three weeks, they did show some encouraging improvement on offense: the running game with Sony Michel and James White as the top two options has found its groove, while the passing offense got out of its early-season slump. Julian Edelman, unsurprisingly, played a big role in that: his addition gave the team a wide receiver option that a) has the ability to get open quickly and thus serve as a safety blanket for Tom Brady (something the team lacked during his suspension), and b) has earned Brady’s trust over the years. With him back in the lineup, the quarterback appears to be much more comfortable in his supporting cast while coordinator Josh McDaniels has a chance to dig deeper into the playbook.
WCG: 2. One of the most impressive aspects of the Patriots offense has been the emergence of Sony Michel, rookie out of Georgia. Bill Belichick surprised a lot of people by taking Michel at the end of the first round in this year’s draft but after a slow start, he’s looked the part of an impact player. What do you think the reason was for taking Michel and what is his outlook rest of season?
Pats Pulpit: Despite letting Dion Lewis walk in free agency, running back was not that high up on the list of Patriots draft needs – the selection of Michel was therefore a minor surprise (but what’s a surprise really when talking about Belichick’s Patriots, right?). So why did the team do it? Personally, I think there are four plausible theories: 1) The Patriots tried to trade down but couldn’t find a partner. 2) The Patriots knew that Jeremy Hill and Mike Gillislee were not suited to replace Lewis’ role and production. 3) Michel was simply the highest-ranked player on their board. 4) The Patriots wanted another player to counter current developments in the game: with pro football putting ever more focus on moving the football via the pass, New England is investing in the running game to counter the lighter defensive packages it might face and to take advantage of the market. Whatever the reason Michel ended up in New England, he has taken on a big role in the offense. If he and the Patriots’ offensive line can stay mostly healthy, it would not be a surprise to see the rookie break the 1,000-yard barrier in his first year.
WCG: 3. The Patriots defense has been spotty at best on this young season. Is there worry that this will be a season-long issue that will haunt the Patriots or is there a belief that Belichick will right the ship? What is the biggest weakness that the Bears offense should look to exploit?
Pats Pulpit: One thing I have learned over the years is to not draw any definitive conclusions about the Patriots before the month of October is over. That being said, there are some concerns about the team’s defense as it looks right now: free safety Devin McCourty has struggled in coverage, the team is still inconsistent when it comes to putting pressure on quarterbacks, and the linebackers covering running backs is a big play waiting to happen. But other than that... how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln? So if I were the Bears, I would try to isolate Tarik Cohen on a linebacker in coverage, or use multiple tight end formations to force McCourty into a one-on-one matchup. That’s all easier said than done, but when possibilities like these present themselves, Chicago should look to take advantage. What the Patriots are really good at, though, is masking their deficiencies through scheme and formations – throwing different looks at Mitchell Trubisky and forcing him to make good reads and decisions is something that should be expected on Sunday.
WCG: 4. One of the fascinating things about Bill Belichick is his ability to play a hybrid defense to try and take away something that the other team does best - make them play left-handed so to speak. It seems equally true that the Patriots offense can morph into a ground and pound team or sling it around the yard, depending on the match up. If you’re Bill Belichick, how would you attack the Bears and what players should Bears fans be most aware of for you to succeed in that strategy?
Pats Pulpit: The Bears defense is tremendous, so finding obvious weaknesses to attack is easier said than done. If I’d put on my partially sleeveless hoodie, though, I would try to establish the short passing game early to a) neutralize the pass rush, b) take advantage of yards after the catch (like the Dolphins did last week), and potentially open up space for the running game later on. I would therefore keep an eye on one player in particular: running back James White, who has been one of the NFL’s best receiving backs for the last couple of years and actually leads New England in receptions. If the Patriots indeed try to set up a rhythm by going to the air early and often, White could be one of the guys to benefit.
WCG: 5. Since the Bears and Patriots only get together every four years, this will likely be the last time I can ask a Belichick / Brady question so here goes: Just how much longer is this thing going to last and who do you believe will step down first? Is there a record or number that either of them are going for or do you believe they make an honest assessment each offseason? Finally - was the Jimmy Garoppolo trade the right move for this franchise?
Pats Pulpit: Well, according to the man himself Tom Brady will play forever. But even if his prediction does not hold up I still see him go for two more seasons after this one – which would give the team time to grow a successor potentially picked highly in next year’s draft (sorry, Danny Etling fans, he’s probably not the one). If that happens, I can actually see Belichick stick around for one, two more years longer to help with the transition to general manager Nick Caserio and head coach... at the moment I would say probably Josh McDaniels. But before going too deep into speculative territory: I don’t necessarily think that Brady and Belichick are aiming for specific records – I think Brady just does it because he really, really likes it. And I think Belichick is wired in a similar way, although I can see him try to get Shula’s all-time wins record (Belichick is a football historian at heart, after all) which would mean he would still be around for the next 6-7 seasons. You never know. What I do know, however, is that the Garoppolo trade was the right move for the Patriots because Brady made it the right move. Had the GOAT slipped, New England would probably have considered going with the young gun instead of him. But with Brady looking as good as ever, paying two quarterbacks starting caliber money was just not financially feasible. Having Garoppolo as Brady’s heir was therefore a sound plan in theory but one that the old man destroyed in practice by just not slowing down.
WCG: Bonus: I’ve had the lobster roll at Doyle’s (an old-school Boston tavern), which I enjoyed immensely, my first time in Boston. When I eventually make my way back to the Boston area, what other New England food item(s) do I need to make sure I get my hands on?
Pats Pulpit: I’m not from New England, so I went to ask the locals on our staff for their recommendations:
Chris Blackey: I’ve got a sweet tooth: whoopie pies and cannolis in the North End.
Pat Lane: Sit at the original bar at Union Oyster House. The one that Daniel Webster sat at. I’d recommend the clam chowder, because I’m not an oyster guy, but I’ve heard the oysters are amazing. The best pizza in the city is Santarpio’s in East Boston. Not only is it great, but the rest of the menu, and the atmosphere is fantastic.
Brian Phillips: Tell him he hasn’t lived until he’s had a large cup of 1/2 day old, probably-microwaved coffee from Cumby’s.
Alec Shane: Bar pizza is a thing that only seems to exist in Boston. Kelley Square Pub in East Boston is the best I’ve had in the city.
Ryan Spagnoli: Pizzeria Regina, favorite spot in North End or Halftime Pizza across the street from the garden before C’s and B’s!
Rich Hill: I really enjoy the great Boston Classic, “McDonalds”.
Editor’s Note: A McWhat?
Thanks to Bernd and Pats Pulpit for the info! What do you think Bears fans? Does the Navy & Orange come out ahead in this one?