Patriots Mailbag Q&A: Week 11

Coming off a hard fought loss to the Seahawks, the Patriots will try their luck against the 49ers in San Francisco this weekend. With that, here is week 11’s Patriots questions!

How does Elandon Roberts compare to Jamie Collins in pass coverage?

  • I’ll preface by saying that Roberts and Collins play two different positions. Roberts is a more traditional inside linebacker while Collins plays more of an outside linebacker/edge defender role. While Matt Patricia technically runs a 4-3 defense, the Patriots operate more out of a 4-2-5 base defense. In that, Dont’a Hightower and Collins ran as the two primary linebackers for years in New England. With Collins gone, Roberts has stepped up and played 58 snaps out of a possible 70 in week 10. He has and will continue to operate as the other starting linebacker for the Patriots alongside of Hightower.
  • In terms of pass coverage, Collins grades out better than Roberts stat-wise. According to Pro Football Focus, Collins is the top edge defender in pass coverage (84.2 grade out of 100) while Roberts has a 75.0 coverage grade but isn’t ranked due to only being in coverage on 88 snaps this season. Delving further, Collins is 16th among outside linebackers in passing differential with 1.13 yards saved when he is on the field (average pass play when he is on the field is 6.64 yards and 7.77 yards when he isn’t on the field). Roberts has the 11th worst passing differential among middle linebackers with a -0.67 passing different (7.09 yards when on the field, 6.42 yards when off the field).
  • Roberts has shown flashes of good play because of his nose for the ball and the speed he possesses, but he is nowhere near the coverage linebacker Collins is. He is turning into a very talented early down/run down linebacker but still has a ways to go to be the type of pass coverage linebacker that Collins is as he will need to learn how to compensate for his below-average size (6’1″, 223 lbs). That especially holds true when he is often covering bigger targets such as tight ends in coverage on occasion.

We saw a lot of Shea McClellin last weekend, do we expect to see Barkevious Mingo/Kyle Van Noy this weekend?

  • McClellin played 16 snaps in week 10, 12 of them being on passing downs. Mingo was active but had played no snaps on defense while Van Noy was a healthy scratch. McClellin proved to be over-matched in coverage and struggled throughout the game. He had a costly misstep in coverage on a crucial third down that allowed for the Seahawks to gain a first down among his many miscues. On the season, McClellin grades out better than both of the other linebackers for the most part as he has a .13 passing differential on passing downs and has a 57.4 coverage grade according to PFF. Mingo has a -1.92 passing differential and a 55.6 coverage grade while Van Noy has a .51 passing differential and a 55.6 coverage grade as well.
  • Mingo profiles best as a core special team asset and sub-package outside linebacker/edge defender while Van Noy represents back-end roster type of quality as a situational outside/inside linebacker. I don’t expect Van Noy to be active in most games going forward while Mingo’s contributions will likely come on special teams this season for the most part. McClellin signed a three year/nine million dollar contract, giving him the benefit of the doubt to some extent. I’d expect to see the same sort of game-plan this weekend (and going forward) as we saw in week 10.

How serious is Rob Gronkowski’s chest injury? Is he out this weekend? What about in week 12?

  • The severity of Gronkowski’s chest injury stemming from week 10 is unknown. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport had reported a few days ago that his injury was a punctured lung while ESPN’s Adam Schefter is refuting that point and saying it is “not a punctured lung” and “not overly serious”. Gronk reportedly had to cancel a promotional appearance in New York earlier this week as he is “advised not to fly” according to Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe. Gronk has not practiced on either Wednesday or Thursday and it is looking unlikely he even makes the trip out to San Francisco, let alone play.
  • In regards to his week 12 status, it is still a big unknown at this point. Both Rapoport and Schefter both alluded to the injury not being serious. It is possible that Gronk will be healthy enough to play, but no-one will really know that until early next week at the earliest probably. With Martellus Bennett proving that he can pick up the slack at the tight end position, the Patriots could wait until Gronk is 100% healthy again. But again, that answer may not be available until next week.

Any reason we saw Trey Flowers play over Jabaal Sheard in week 10? Is this something to expect going forward?

  • Sheard played in only 16 out of a possible 70 snaps (23%) in week 10, which is a big difference as he had played in 71% of the team’s defensive snaps this season prior to week 10. He would play in 12 snaps in the first half and only four in the second half. Trey Flowers played in 61 snaps (87%) and even started over Sheard at defensive end. Sheard had started off the season strong with three sacks in the first four games and only a half of a sack since then in the past five games. And while Sheard has been struggling, Flowers has been excelling. He has four sacks over the past two games alone and applied a good amount of pressure in week 10 against the Seahawks.
  • Also, Sheard had a break-out 2015 in which he excelled in both pass rush and run defense. He was the fifth highest edge defender in run defense according to PFF in 2015. This season, he is 24th among edge defenders in run defense and 38th in pass rush among all edge defenders. For Flowers, he is 53rd in pass rush among all edge defenders and and 49th in run defense, according to PFF. In pass differential, Flowers has a -0.06 and Sheard has a -0.10 while in run differential, Flowers has a 0.03 and Sheard has a -0.25 run differential.
  • Overall, Sheard has struggled a bit compared to last season while Flowers seems to be getting hot at the right time. Along with that, Flowers has shown over the past couple of weeks his pass rushing prowess with his ability to get into the backfield quickly on plays and be able to shed blocks quickly to get at the quarterback. This could also have something to do with Sheard scheduled to be a free agent after the season and the Patriots trying to see what they have in Flowers and if he may be able to produce anything close to what Sheard has done since he arrived in Foxboro.
  • I’d say that Sheard has a good chance to play more than 16 snaps in week 11 but he very well could be on his way to conceding snaps to Flowers from now on. Flowers has done very well over the past two games as a pass rusher and the team will likely try to have more of an even split between Sheard and Flowers in regards to their time on the field.

What is Dion Lewis’ status this weekend? Do you have any idea why he didn’t play in week 10?

  • Coach Belichick had mentioned earlier this week that Lewis was not held out due to injury but rather not play in week 10 as he has to go through a “build-up process” after missing so much time due to his multiple knee surgeries. Lewis was activated last Saturday from the PUP list but sat out despite having practiced for the past few weeks. The strong production from LeGarrette Blount and James White this season likely had some influence in that decision as well. Blount currently leads the NFL with 12 rushing touchdowns while White has been formidable as a pass-catcher out of the back-field.
  • It also didn’t help that the Patriots were very healthy as a whole in week 10, who only had four players as questionable going into the game. As Belichick alluded to, it just happened to be that the team needed to keep seven players inactive for the game and Lewis was one of them. A lot of this likely has to do with Lewis’ conditioning and just making sure he is in in game shape. Despite that, Lewis has a good shot of playing this weekend and making his 2016 debut in week 11 as he continues to practice daily.

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