NEPD Staff Writer: Joon Lee
To ask questions for the weekly mailbag, follow me on Twitter @iamjoonlee and tweet me questions throughout the week!
Question for this weeks Twitter mailbag:
@JRPhillips27 Which player has suprised you most for the Patriots this season? Good or bad?
Lets take a look at this question from both sides of the equation. There definitely have been some really great surprises for the Patriots this year. To some, the emergence of Chandler Jones may have been a revelation. However to those who watched the rookie during training camp saw the enormous potential in the lineman.
For me, the biggest surprise this season has been the running back tandem of Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden. Ridley showed flashes of potential at the end of last season, but a series of fumbles put Ridley in Coach Bill Belichick’s doghouse. With BenJarvus GreenEllis going to the Cincinnati Bengals, Ridley came into the season as the starting running back and grasped the reigns of the position from Shane Vereen during training camp. Bolden however, has jumped Vereen on the jump chart. to read more on the rise of Bolden, read colleague Dan Hope’s piece on the two of them.
For me, Vereen has been the biggest disappointment for me thus far. Vereen came into the league as the 57 overall draft pick last year and many had high hopes for the running back. Vereen was drafted much higher than Ridley, but Ridley has leapfrogged over him. Vereen on the other hand has been decimated by injuries and has not gotten any touches in a long time. With the high position Vereen was drafted in, to see no return on the second-round pick in his second year is a major disappointment.
Now lets take a look at this week’s injury report:
Out: Wide receiver Julian Edelman (hand), Safety Steve Gregory (hip) Questionable: Running back Brandon Bolden (knee), Defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick (ankle), Defensive lineman Justin Francis (ankle), Tight end Rob Gronkowski (hip) , Tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle), Linebacker Dont’a Hightower (hamstring), Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (concussion), Left guard Logan Mankins (hip, calf), Offensive lineman Nick McDonald (shoulder), Cornerback Sterling Moore (knee), Running back Shane Vereen (foot), Tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back) Probable: Defensive tackle Kyle Love (knee)
Edelman was out last week after injuring his hand against the Ravens. Edelman’s injury means more reps for Wes Welker, who has been really taking advantage of the extra reps in his absence. Expect Welker to continue to build on the opportunity. Expect Bolden, Gronkowski and Vollmer to play. The line was surprisingly strong in the absence of Mankins last week. Expect both Hernandez and Hightower to be gametime decision. Hernandez has made a surprisingly fast return from a high ankle sprain.
This is a rematch of last year’s Divisional Round playoff matchup between the Patriots and the Broncos, minus that Tim Tebow guy. The Broncos have also added Peyton Manning, who you might know, is a pretty damn good quarterback. Manning has quite been the same guy he was before the injury, but he has come along the last couple weeks looking more like the Manning of old.
Manning has completed 64.7 percent of his passes thus far this season with 8 touchdowns and three interceptions, which all came in one game. Manning also has a QB Rating of 96.9 and thrown for 1162 yards.
Manning has always made the receivers around him a lot better and he has done so this season, especially with Demaryius Thomas, who has caught 2 touchdowns for 325 yards.
It will be crucial that Jerod Mayo is able to direct the defense against Manning and that Devin McCourty, Sterling Moore and Kyle Arrington play good pass coverage against Manning. Getting pressure on the quarterback will also be crucial, as Manning does not have the same zip on the ball as he used to when he was passing on the run. If Chandler Jones, Jermaine Cunningham, Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love are able to get a good rush on the quarterback, Manning will have trouble all game.
It’ll also be crucial to shut down Willis McGahee early so Manning will not be able to use the play-action to swing the game in his favor.
On the contrary, establishing the ground game with Ridley and Bolden will be crucial to the success of a relatively tough Broncos defense. While the defense was slightly overrated going into the playoff game last year and was made evident after the Patriots scored 45 points on them, the defense does still have linebacker Von Miller and defensive end Elvis Dumervil.
The Patriots will also want to throw the ball a lot to Rob Gronkowski, who absolutely dominated the Broncos for 10 catches, 145 yards and three touchdowns. Fun fact: Aaron Hernandez rushed for 61 yards against the Broncos.
Prediction: Patriots 31-Broncos 24
In classic Brady-Manning fashion, I expect this game to come down to the last minute. In the end, I think the Patriots offense will be able to pick apart the Broncos offense in typically Brady-Belichick fashion. You don’t know what Manning will be able do yet on a week to week basis this far into the season. In the end, I think the Patriots defense will be able to hold Manning on a last minute drive attempt.
Let me know what your thoughts about the game in the comments below.