Behind Enemy Lines: Bills/Patriots Part I

Tom Brady (Getty Images)

There is plenty of intrigue on both sides heading into Sunday's division tilt between Buffalo and New England. For the Patriots, it's do-or-die. We ask Patriots Insider's Jon Scott all the pressing questions in Part I of this series. What's up with Randy Moss' lax effort? How has Tom Brady rebounded from his ACL injury? Is there panic in New England. All of this and more inside.

BFR: First thing's first. What's going on with Randy Moss? Any insight on why he played like he played last week against Carolina?

Jon Scott: Moss' troubles stem -- from what I can fathom -- his lack of inclusion in the offense. Moss runs his routes, and tries to tote the party line, but he's become more of a non-factor as teams roll coverage toward him. I firmly believe he sees that happening each time he has a breakout game and the opposition lines up to take him away. Moss knows Tom Brady's habits by now, and has figured out that Brady will go a different route based on pre-snap decisions. That's the thing about having a QB and the WR on the same page. When Moss knows he's not going to get the ball -- even when it IS for the right reason -- he has a tendency to give less effort.

My concern with Moss is: Brady has tried to go against the grain and throw the ball to Moss despite double, even triple coverage. That has worked against the team more often that it's helped lately. Two years ago (2007), Moss made unbelievable plays on the ball to snag it out of double coverage despite Brady throwing to the covered target. We're not seeing that same effort from Moss this season. It may be injury related, and I'm one of those who think that's the case. But if it's not, then Brady's decisions to try to force the ball to Moss, may be hurting the team more than we realize.

BFR: Numbers-wise, Tom Brady has appeared to rebound strong from his season-ending ACL injury a year ago. Still, he hasn't torched defenses like he did in 2007. How would you assess his performance this season?

Scott: Good point. Brady is putting up the stats, he's just not capitalizing on the opportunities this season. I think -- and I've been told by some sources -- Brady's injuries are still bothering him despite what we hear from the team. I think he's fighting through injuries, which are affecting his ability to compete more this year then in any recent year. Brady has been leveled repeatedly this season. Anyone who thinks the offensive line is doing a better job, needs to re-examine the game film. Brady is getting crushed, not just knocked down. Statistically they're the same, but in realty, Brady's body is taking a much worse pounding this season.

Take away the arm, finger and rib injury, and I think you're looking at the 2007 version of Brady -- or better. He's dialed in to the defense, he's just not getting the ball to the guys he needs to on the big plays. Sam Aiken, Randy Moss, Ben Watson -- all have had huge plays turn out with incompletions. Each pass could have been a game-changer. Two of them led to losses in close games (Miami, Indianapolis). Also see the comment on Moss previously.

BFR: Any panic in New England lately? The Patriots have lost three of five and last week's win wasn't very pretty. Are the Pats concerned about the Dolphins and Jets nipping at their heels?

Scott: I think the players know that one more loss is a big deal. The concern they have appears to relate to making it in to the postseason by beating the teams in front of them. I'm not sure they care about the Jets or Dolphins' status. The only tiebreaker that matters at this point is a multi-team tie with Miami. New England wins tiebreakers with New York, but against Miami in a multiple team scenario, the Jags or the Dolphins get in. That scenario assumes Miami, Jacksonville Baltimore and New England all finish with the same record (10-6) and New England drops one against either Buffalo or Jacksonville. Losing to Buffalo opens the door much wider as it's a division issue. With Jacksonville's loss, the scenario changes, slightly but remains a tiebreaker situation with Miami.

BFR: Another 1,000-yard season for Wes Welker. What makes this guy so good?

Scott: When you talk to Miami reporters, the general opinion is Welker isn't as good as his stats, but the system (including Tom Brady) makes him that good. Fortunately, that discouraging evaluation does not deter us from labeling him as arguably one of the best player pickups in Belichick's career. Welker is a model of consistency. Brady knows where he's going to be, and he runs the route the same way whether he's the primary, secondary or other target.

What is most impressive about Welker isn't just his ability to make tough catches in tight spots, or even his ability to absorb a hit and keep on going. It's his propensity to light up a defender with a block downfield. Welker has cleaned house on some linebackers who weren't paying attention when they should have been. It's impressive to see a 5-foot-9, 185-pound receiver level a 6-foot-3, 250-pound linebacker. That's why he's so important to the team.

Again, from a receiver standpoint, Welker's ability to find the hole in the zone is uncanny. His quickness allows him to beat defenders to the spot and he makes the tough catch many other receivers do not. His yards after the catch allow him to turn a 700-yard season into and 1,100-yard one.

BFR: Do you see New England leaning on Laurence Maroney more down the stretch? It seems like he's been getting the ball a lot lately.

Scott: Absolutely. Maroney is the lead back right now because he's decided that he needs to run hard or he'll be replaced. It took some time for him to realize that being a first-round draft pick doesn't mean anything in New England. Maroney still believes that the more carries he gets, the better rhythm he can get into, and there's a lot of validity in that perspective. The problem for Maroney with that outlook stems from the Patriots scheme. Players rarely get to be "the guy" in the Patriots' offense. New England is dangerous because they can switch plays or angle of attack series by series if need be. Time and again, New England will go from a heavy front, pound-the-ball formation to a wide-open spread set designed to put the ball in the receivers' hands deep downfield. Players have be versatile enough to contribute in both formations and Maroney hasn't proven he can be as productive as Kevin Faulk.

The return of Sammy Morris bodes well for the Patriots' running game. The veteran back has been able to gain the tough yards as the feature back. Currently the Patriots line him up as a fullback in order to have both M (aroney) and M (orris) on the field at the same time. If Maroney's fumbling issues continue, I think we'll see more Morris as we move forward. Also, the return of Fred Taylor is not that far away according to some sources. We'll see how much attention Maroney gets once Taylor is active. Taylor has been more productive with the limit opportunities than either Morris or Maroney. It makes sense that New England would turn to Taylor once he returns.

Stay tuned to the BFR for PART II of our series soon.

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