Patriots Mailbag: Defensive Stats Don’t Tell Whole Story Of Unit’s Dominance

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton could become a folk hero in New England with a win Monday night.

Patriots fans will watch intently as the Denver Broncos travel to Cincinnati to play the Bengals. The Patriots can lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win over the New York Jets on Sunday and a Broncos loss.

Locking up the No. 1 seed early would allow the Patriots to rest players in Week 17 when the Buffalo Bills come to Foxboro. Quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots’ starters likely wouldn’t take the whole game off, but they could maintain their health by coming out in the second half.

With that in mind, let’s get into this week’s mailbag:

@DougKyedNESN do Patriots rest Gronk for the playoffs at the risk of maybe giving up the 1 seed?

I can’t see the Patriots resting tight end Rob Gronkowski over the next two games unless the Broncos lose Sunday, locking up the No. 1 seed for New England. Home-field advantage is too important, and an injury can happen on any play — including at any point in the playoffs and even in limited snaps for the big tight end.

I think Gronkowski will continue to play a majority of the Patriots’ offensive snaps as long as the games matter.

@DougKyedNESN if the Pats clinch the first seed this weekend, who could benefit most from being rested in week 17? Connolly? Edelman?

I would say starting left guard Dan Connolly would benefit most from resting over the next two weeks. He was limited with an ankle injury Wednesday and a knee ailment Thursday, and he hurt his neck last Sunday in the Patriots’ win over the Miami Dolphins. Connolly’s play has dropped off since injuring his ankle, and the Patriots need him fully healthy for the playoffs.

Receiver Julian Edelman’s situation completely depends on the state of his concussion. If he’s cleared to play, then I’m assuming he will. If he’s not, then he won’t.

@DougKyedNESN If Edelman is inactive Sunday, who will be more involved to replicate his production. Wright? Amendola? Vereen?

This probably is a copout but likely all three. Amendola would take Edelman’s starting role, and Wright probably would see an increased workload without an obvious No. 3 receiver in the fold. Edelman’s targets would be spread out, meaning more for Vereen as the team’s third-down back.

If Edelman can’t play, it will be interesting to see how Amendola fares. As of now, Amendola’s lack of production can be blamed on Brady’s multitude of options in the passing game. If Edelman is removed from the equation, and Amendola still can’t get going, then there’s a bigger issue at hand.

@DougKyedNESN Chances that both McCourty und Chung stay in New England? Great Duo this Year. PFF has them as #4 and #5 in their S-Ranking.

I think there’s a really good chance, actually. Free safety Devin McCourty is a team captain and the kind of player whom head coach Bill Belichick really seems to love. McCourty is intelligent, stays out of trouble, genuinely cares about football, is versatile and is very talented.

Patrick Chung really seems to enjoy playing in New England, which is why he took a one-year contract to come back this season. He earned the starting role with a strong summer, and now that he’s finally playing his best position — strong safety — it would be safe to sign him to a long-term deal. Given the stigma around Chung for being cut this offseason only one year into his three-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, he could come cheap, too.

@DougKyedNESN do you think the defense is better than what stats suggest?

Definitely. The Patriots rank 10th in rushing yards allowed and 22nd in pass defense. Their 4.1 yards per rushing attempt are 14th in the league, and their 83 passer rating against is ranked seventh.

The Patriots’ defense definitely gives up a decent chunk of yards — 17th in the NFL — but that’s natural for a team with a high-powered offense. The Patriots are eighth in points allowed — 20 — and their league-leading 11-3 record is the only stat that truly matters.

There’s a ton of talent on defense, and they’ll be playing their best football of the season moving forward with defensive end Chandler Jones healthy.

@DougKyedNESN How’s it goin, bud?

I’m doing all right. Just finished up befriending a rumored shovel-slayer and setting up booby traps around my house. Now I’m sitting down to enjoy a highly nutritious microwavable macaroni and cheese dinner.

::clock chime rings::

@DougKyedNESN Are Revis and McCourty better than Law and Harrison were?

This might sound blasphemous in New England, but I’m tempted to say yes.

Darrelle Revis looks like a surefire Hall of Famer as the best cornerback of his era, and he’s having one of his best seasons. Ty Law was a great player, but he was never quite as dominant as Revis.

Rodney Harrison was 30 years old by the time he joined the Patriots, while McCourty, 27, is in the peak of his career. McCourty and Harrison also play different positions. Harrison was a strong safety and McCourty mostly plays back deep at free safety. There’s no doubt in my mind that McCourty is one of the best free safeties in the NFL, and if he isn’t named an All-Pro for the second consecutive season, then, well, the voters are a bunch of cotton-headed ninny muggins’.

Thumbnail photo via Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

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