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Five Good Questions with Pats Pulpit

We take a look behind enemy lines for Sunday’s big game

As we do more often than not, we’ve gotten the opportunity to ask some questions of our fellow SB Nation blog for the Minnesota Vikings’ opponent for the week. This week, of course, the purple are traveling to take on the New England Patriots, and Bernd Buchmasser of Pats Pulpit took the time to answer some questions about his team from our side of the fence.

I also sent some questions Bernd’s way, and when they post all of that over on their side we will link to it here. For now, however, here are his answers to the questions that I posed to them.

1) This offseason, Tom Brady was part of a Facebook video series called “Tom vs Time.” At age 41, has there been even the slightest indication that “time” is anywhere close to catching Tom Brady, or is he still as great as he ever was?

Physically, Brady is looking as good as ever: there is no noticeable drop-off when it comes to his arm strength and velocity, all while his technique still excellent. He’s also still the slowest running quarterback in the NFL, so no changes there either. That being said, Brady — at least through the first 11 games of the season — is not quite on the same level he was on from 2015 to 2017 (to be fair, though, the last three seasons were arguably the best stretch of his legendary career).

One reason for his comparatively mediocre output, at least when compared to his own lofty standards, is his supporting cast. Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon were not available the first few weeks of the season, Rob Gronkowski was slowed down by injury, as were Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead. However, not all of Brady’s issues have to do with personnel: his decision-making has also been questionable at times this season.

Especially when under pressure either from the pass rush or the scoreboard, Brady is often too focused on his go-to-guys and tends to force passes he shouldn’t throw. While this is not an issue that consistently hurts him, it is still worrisome especially when going against a defense as talented as the Vikings — one that is able to play tightly in the secondary and create pressure up front.

2) Former Vikings receiver Cordarrelle Patterson recently had a stretch where he played a significant role in the Patriots’ offense. Do you expect Bill Belichick to have more of a role for him going forward, or is that a thing of the past with New England’s backs starting to get healthy again?

As noted above, the Patriots started the year without Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon at wide receiver, which pushed Patterson into a prominent role in the offense as the number three at the position. He looked solid but it became apparent rather quickly that his role is more that of a gadget-type player than a traditional wide receiver. Now 11 games into the season, the only thing that has changed is Patterson’s playing time: he played roughly 40% of offensive snaps between weeks one and four, but only 15.8% over the last seven games (despite serving as the team’s lead back while Sony Michel missed two games with a knee injury).

Unless the injury bug bites again at running back or wide receiver, I would therefore expect Patterson’s role not to change much moving forward: he will see regular but limited playing time in special packages and serve as the Patriots’ kickoff returner. It appears as if this usage works best for Patterson to take advantage of his raw athleticism.

3) Much like the Vikings had a pretty inexplicable loss to the Buffalo Bills early this season, the Patriots have had a couple of head scratchers against the Detroit Lions and the Tennessee Titans. What was different in those games from what the Patriots have done for the rest of the season? Is there anything that the Vikings could potentially take away from those games to try to exploit against the Patriots?

Every one of the Patriots’ three losses was ugly for its very own reason. In Jacksonville, the Patriots ran into a buzzsaw against a Jaguars team that was out to get revenge for last year’s AFC title game loss. In Detroit, the Patriots offense was shut down by former New England coordinator Matt Patricia. In Tennessee, another ex-Patriot – Mike Vrabel – had his team execute a very good game plan to perfection. All three defeats still had one thing in common, though: the Patriots started extremely slowly in the contests and found themselves in holes every single time. Unable to take the crowd out of it and under pressure to perform the team simply failed to execute and come back.

What does this mean for the Vikings, especially when playing on the road? They need to find a way to start quickly and get up early. Be aggressive on defense with different coverage looks. Use some trickery on offense. Try to isolate the linebackers — a group that has had its ups and down in coverage — on running backs and tight ends. Of course, this is all easier said than done, but if Minnesota can get an early lead it would help tremendously when it comes to putting pressure on New England.

4) The Patriots’ pass defense is down near the bottom of the league as far as yardage allowed. How do you think the Patriots will attempt to cover one of the NFL’s best receiving duos in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen?

While the Patriots give up plenty of yards, they actually have a pretty solid cornerback group with Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty as the starting duo on the boundary and Jonathan Jones the number one slot corner. It will be interesting to see how they use them against the Vikings’ talented top receivers but I think they will try the following: Gilmore, the Patriots’ best cornerback and a serious All-Pro candidate, will primarily be on Diggs. Meanwhile, either McCourty or Jones will cover Thielen depending on where he lines up.

That being said, the Patriots will likely also use their top two open field safeties — Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon — as important parts of their coverage schemes as well. With both Diggs and Thielen threats to challenge defenses deep, New England might try to use some form of bracket coverage on both wideouts, maybe even simultaneously. It will not erase them from the game because they are just too good, but it might make life hard for Kirk Cousins.

5) Give us one player on each side of the ball that Vikings fans might not know about that you think will have a significant influence on Sunday’s game.

The Patriots’ offense is loaded with talent and big names but one of the most important ones might be one of the lesser known players: left tackle Trent Brown. New England acquired him via trade during the draft to fill the void created by Nate Solder’s free agency departure and Brown has been outstanding ever since. With the Vikings fielding a terrific pass rush, the 25-year old will play a huge role going one-on-one against Everson Griffen.

Defensively, the Patriots try to make teams play left-handed (or right-handed if you are Ned Flanders) by taking away the top weapons. With New England likely focusing on slowing down Diggs and Thielen, the Vikings’ other players will need to step up — and I expect Kyle Rudolph to play a big role as a result. This means that Patriots defensive back Patrick Chung will be a player to watch. The safety/linebacker hybrid is in the middle of an up-and-down season, but will likely be asked to cover Rudolph one-on-one. If he can limit the tight end’s impact, the Patriots will likely find some success against a talented Vikings offense. That’s a big if, though.

Thanks, once again, to Bernd for taking the time to sit down and answer our questions. We’ll have plenty more coverage of this week’s game for you as we get closer to kickoff.