Talking Ravens-Patriots with Alec Shane, a Patriots blogger for Pats Pulpit

BLOGGER ON BLOGGER

December 19, 2013|By Matt Vensel | The Baltimore Sun

Now that the NFL season is here, I’m putting a twist on my weekly Blogger on Blogger series. Each week, I will enlist a blogger who regularly writes about the Ravens’ opponent to help me break down the game. This week, I exchanged emails with Alec Shane, who blogs about the New England Patriots for Pats Pulpit.

MV: The Patriots have experienced a lot of turnover at the skill positions on offense, letting Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker walk and releasing Aaron Hernandez before he went to prison. Now Rob Gronkowski is out with a knee injury. How have the Patriots been able to rank sixth in scoring despite all that change?

AS: There are few teams better than the Patriots at utilizing the talent that they have and figuring out ways to get the most out of their players. Arguably their best receiver this year, Julian Edelman, was a quarterback in college and had to learn a new position almost entirely from scratch. Edelman has since become Brady's most reliable target and the only receiver who hasn't missed time due to injury. Having that ability to maximize talent, along with Bill Belichick's ability to exploit his opponents' weaknesses while taking away their strengths, keeps the Patriots scoring points. Whether it be taking advantage of a soft front line with a power running game, creating coverage mismatches by sending third-down back Shane Vereen out to be guarded by a linebacker, or finding holes in the zone with smaller, shiftier slot receivers, this season more than most has been all about taking what you have and running with it. 

MV: How devastating is the loss of Gronkowski, particularly in the red zone, where the Patriots -- like the Ravens -- have struggled to score touchdowns in recent weeks?

AS: Losing Gronkowski hurts the Patriots in so many more areas than just the red zone. Gronk is a receiving force, a YAC machine, and one of the best blocking tight ends in the league. And while perhaps the lack of Gronk is most prevalent inside the 20 yard line -- 19 TDs on 27 red zone trips with Gronkowski versus 10 TDs on 26 trips without him -- not having a weapon like that on the field allows opposing defenses to completely change the way they attack New England's offense. It's easier to stack the box, bump the undersized receivers at the line, and pass off coverages into the secondary when there isn't such a glaring mismatch wreaking havoc all over the field. No Gronk means more pressure on Brady, which has always been his Achilles heel, and being able to out-muscle the smaller receivers disrupts the timing of the routes, which helps to explain why Brady hasn't been as accurate this year. It's just incredibly frustrating to know that New England went from having two unstoppable tight ends to signing guys off the street in just a few short months.

MV: Injuries have also been a factor for the New England defense, which has slumped in recent weeks without nose tackle Vince Wilfork and middle linebacker Jerod Mayo. The Patriots have spent a lot of high draft picks on defense and have Pro Bowl-caliber players in Aqib Talib and Chandler Jones. What has been their problem?

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