The last time the New England Patriots played the Green Bay Packers — week 13 of the 2014 season —, the offense scored just 21 points and produced a comparatively pedestrian 320 yards of offense. Tom Brady and company will need to do better than that in order to win today’s game. How will they be able to accomplish that? Achieving the following three things would go a long way to helping New England defeat the visitors tonight.
Be ready for the blitz
The Packers and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine love to utilize the blitz in order to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks. On the year, the team blitzes on nearly one third of its defensive snaps and Pettine’s creative approach to slowing down the passing game has helped the Packers register 3.3 sacks per game — tied for third best in the NFL — and pressure on almost 30% of drop backs.
The Patriots need to be ready for Green Bay using extra rushers to create pressure. And while Tom Brady and New England’s offensive line have generally been good in this area over the last course of the season, they will face a different challenge today: the unit’s communication will be tested by the Packers and with starting right guard Shaq Mason out, the interior will feature a new body in veteran backup Ted Karras.
When Karras filled in for Mason last week, he held up well. And with one week of practicing with the first-team line, the unit’s chemistry should work well considering the circumstances. It better does for New England’s offense not to fall victim to Green Bay’s aggressive pass rush.
Don’t be afraid to use the running game
The Patriots could again be without starting running back Sony Michel, who suffered a knee injury two weeks ago and is listed as questionable to play tonight. Even if Michel is out or limited, New England should try to run establish a presence on the ground. Not only would it help the team control the tempo of the game and neutralize the threat that the blitz brings, it also would attack one of Green Bay’s defensive weaknesses.
On the year, the Packers rank below average in total yardage surrendered on the ground (834) and yards given up per carry (4.4). As a result, the Patriots should try to get the ground game going no matter the personnel in the backfield or up front, where the aforementioned Shaq Mason will not be available. No matter if it is Michel, Cordarrelle Patterson or James White, New England’s runners should see plenty of action.
Challenge the middle of the field
While Green Bay’s run defense has been inconsistent, the pass defense has been successful due to the pass rush and some disciplined play by the secondary. However, Tom Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels should still not be afraid to test a defensive backfield that has lost one of its core members this week: on Tuesday, the Packers decided to trade away starting free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
Clinton-Dix was the only member of Green Bay’s secondary to be on the field for all 459 snaps so far this year, and one of three defensive backs to play more than 65%. With him out of the lineup, the Packers will field a new body in the deep and middle parts of the field. This, in turn, might lead to growing pains when it comes to communication and overall chemistry in the secondary — and potentially to coverage breakdowns.
New England should try to test the secondary early and often by using seam routes or deep-field crossers with players like Rob Gronkowski (if available), Josh Gordon and Chris Hogan. Even though the Patriots’ offense is among the worst in the NFL when it comes to producing big plays, trying to go deep sounds like a good plan today.