New England Patriots

  • This week, the Patriots take on the Packers in a matchup of one of the NFL’s most recent dynasties against one of its first. Adding to the history is the setting – this will be the Patriots’ first trip to Lambeau Field in eight years, and just their third of the Bill Belichick era.

    Traditionally, these matchups have been all about the quarterbacks. Whether it was the Drew Bledsoe versus Brett Favre matchups in the late 90’s, or more recently Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers going head-to-head, the expectation when these two teams face each other has been that the ball will be in the air quite a bit.

    That theme could very well change in this year’s matchup. Since the last time these teams played, the Patriots have become much more reliant on the running game. And even with Rodgers still in Green Bay, the Packers have looked much more run focused through three weeks that previous years with him under center.

    In some ways, the 2022 Patriots and 2022 Packers are actually built philosophically similarly to each other. What exactly does that mean? We discussed on this week’s Sports Hub Patriots Podcast, and now let’s dive deeper with this week’s key matchups…

  • MORE: Sports Hub Patriots Podcast Packers Preview


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  • When New England has the ball: Kenny Clark vs. the Patriots offensive line

    GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - JANUARY 24: Kenny Clark #97 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates after stopping Ronald Jones #27 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second quarter during the NFC Championship game at Lambeau Field on January 24, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

    GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN – JANUARY 24: Kenny Clark #97 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates after stopping Ronald Jones #27 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second quarter during the NFC Championship game at Lambeau Field on January 24, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

    Just because the Packers are running the ball more this season, that doesn’t mean Aaron Rodgers is a non-threat. He’s still a massively impactful player. The best way to limit his impact is too keep him off the field entirely, which means the Patriots need to control the ball and the clock.

    Doing that means running the football, and being successful doing so. So far this season, the Patriots have run the ball for 4.3 yards per carry, which is a good-not-great number. The best thing the Patriots can do for their running game on Sunday is neutralize Packers defensive tackle Kenny Clark, who is one of the best run defenders, and all-around interior defensive linemen in the NFL.

    “He’s a great player,” Patriots center David Andrews said on Wednesday. Andrews will likely be tasked on doing the most to limit Clark in this game, but it will be a team effort. “He’s not just a one-down player, he can be disruptive on all three downs. He obviously plays nose [tackle], he plays three [technique, between the guard and tackle], he plays five [on the outside shoulder of the tackle like a defensive end], he lines up everywhere. And if you have a guy like that, why shouldn’t you put him everywhere? He’s a great player, he’ll be a big challenge.”

  • When Green Bay has the ball: Aaron Jones & AJ Dillon vs. Patriots tacklers

    MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - SEPTEMBER 11: AJ Dillon #28 of the Green Bay Packers runs with the ball during the third quarter in the game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on September 11, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

    MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA – SEPTEMBER 11: AJ Dillon #28 of the Green Bay Packers runs with the ball during the third quarter in the game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on September 11, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

    When most people think of the Packers, they probably think of Rodgers throwing the ball close to 40 times a game, as he’s done for most of his career as the team’s starting quarterback. However, with an overhauled receiver room made up mostly of rookie and second-year Day 2 picks, the Packers are passing the ball less often this year and leaning more on their running game.

    Green Bay’s 99 pass attempts through three games rank 22nd in the league, while their 81 rushing attempts rank 11th. They’re throwing the ball on just 56.9 percent of their offensive snaps, which is the 21st-highest rate in the league.

    The change isn’t just because the Packers have less talent at receiver than they used to, they also have one of the best running back tandems in the league Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon. Part of what makes Jones and Dillon so dangerous is how aggressively they run, and how hard they are to tackle. With those two combining for 88 percent of the team’s carries this year (they split the workload just about evenly, with Dillon getting a slight edge to this point this season), the Packers rank second in the NFL with 2.5 rushing yards after contact per carry.

    This presents a challenge for the Patriots’ defense, which is averaging seven missed tackle a game this year – tied for the fourth-most in the NFL. It’s imperative for the first defender to the ball – which will usually be a linebacker – to get the ballcarrier on the ground at that point, or at least slow him down enough to allow more teammates to come in and finish the tackle before the runner gets free again. There also may be opportunities to strip the ball if Jones or Dillon try to extend runs – although they’ve combined for just one fumble so far this season.

  • Bonus: Patriots quarterbacks vs. preperation

     

    Regardless of who starts, this is a less-than-normal week for both of the Patriots’ quarterback options. Mac Jones of course hasn’t practiced, and while he’s reportedly still in the building and in meeting rooms that’s valuable time he’s missing with the team. For Brian Hoyer, he said on Wednesday he’s assumed the first-team reps during those windows but without a definitive answer of whether or not he’s be the starter.

    Basically, based on what we’ve been told, both quarterbacks have a chance to be the starter but their one is fully preparing like the starting quarterback. That’s not necessarily an ideal situation.

    It’s on both Jones and Hoyer, as well as the coaches and other players around them, to make the most of the preparation opportunities they do have this week. It’s not quite as bad as the last time the Patriots had to play a backup quarterback – with Hoyer given about 48 hours notice and a completely different offense to run after Cam Newton tested positive for COVID in 2020. But it’s an extra challenge for everybody involved as they get ready to face a unit that has been one of the best defenses in the NFL through three weeks.

  • Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.