Patriots Mailbag: Comparing Super Bowl LI Defense To Super Bowl XLIX Unit

If you’re finding the two-week wait for Super Bowl LI excruciating, here’s some bad news: It’s not even half over.

The New England Patriots will be in Foxboro for the rest of the week and won’t leave for Houston until Monday. So, get ready for more recycled hot takes about the Patriots and Atlanta Falcons in the continued lead-up to the Super Bowl.

Here’s some good news, though: There’s no recycled hot takes in this week’s mailbag, so read on.

@DougKyed Will Butler be the one to matchup with Julio or will Rowe/Ryan get chances given their success against larger receivers? #MailDoug
— @StephenPorier
Eric Rowe might have tipped New England’s hand Thursday when he implied to the media Logan Ryan would be covering Falcons slot receiver Mohamed Sanu.

That would leave Rowe and Malcolm Butler to cover Julio Jones and Taylor Gabriel/Justin Hardy/Aldrick Robinson. Rowe isn’t a great matchup for Gabriel’s quickness, but he does have the size and speed to cover Jones, despite his inconsistency. Butler has the size and quickness to cover Gabriel. Either cornerback figures to be a good matchup for Hardy or Robinson.

Regardless of who is assigned to Jones, the Patriots will double-cover the All-Pro receiver. And if Rowe draws Jones and struggles, New England won’t hesitate to adjust.

@DougKyed Do you think this Patriots defense is better than the one in SB49?
— @mrcuret
I think it’s a wash. Traditional stats say the 2016 defense is better: It ranked higher in total defense, third-down defense and points allowed.

Advanced stats, via Football Outsiders, say the 2014 team was better. It had a -3.0% DVOA, while the 2016 team finished with a -1.5% DVOA (less is better).

The 2014 team also probably had more talent with Chandler Jones, Vince Wilfork, Jamie Collins, Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner.

They have been replaced as starters by Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown, Shea McClellin/Elandon Roberts, Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan/Eric Rowe.

The 2016 unit seems to be jelling better, though.

@DougKyed Who should the Patriots specifically look to contain on the Falcons offense besides Julio? #MailDoug
— @ExecuteOrder617
The next-scariest part of the Falcons’ offense is their two-headed rushing attack. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman both are very good in the running and passing games.

The Patriots’ run defense has been good all season, but New England could have trouble when Freeman and Coleman come out of the backfield as receivers.

@DougKyed What is the weakest part of this Patriots team? #MailDoug
— @Gostkowski_3
It’s either their pass rush or ability to cover running backs in the receiving game.

The Patriots’ pass rush is decent when they want to bring pressure, but it’s never dominant.

New England doesn’t have great pass-coverage linebackers. McClellin, Kyle Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower all are bigger players for their position. Roberts is a downhill run-stuffer who struggled in coverage this season.

@DougKyed #maildoug does a Pat’s SB win make them think about trading Gronk.
— @wilroache
Good question, Will. That obviously would prove they can beat the best teams without star tight end Rob Gronkowski.

I still think if they’re going to trade Gronkowski, it would come before the 2018 season. Gronkowski’s value is at its lowest, and he’s only on the books for $7 million in cap space next season. That’s a major bargain for a fantastic player.

@DougKyed put on your thinking cap. What do the Patriots do at the draft. What are their biggest needs, you think. Great job as usual.
— @kamitsisleon
Hold on, let me run upstairs and find it.

Hmm. It wasn’t up there. Let me check the closet down here.

Wasn’t there either. Let me go back upstairs.

OK, found it. I think their biggest needs are tight end, defensive end, linebacker and safety. Running back could be up there too. It depends who the Patriots bring back as free agents, though.

For example, if they re-sign Martellus Bennett or Jabaal Sheard, their need for a tight end or defensive end lessens.

@DougKyed Who is one player the #Patriots will look to acquire this off-season? Joe, from Chicago
— @Joey_Mc_Neely
Probably someone like Darrelle Revis or Chris Long who was released and would become a good value. Released players also don’t count against the compensatory draft pick formula.

@DougKyed They’ll never rename the Lombardi, but do you think there will ever be an official award named after Belichick?
— @RussNovak
Even though he’s only won it three times, they should name the Coach of the Year award after Belichick when he retires.

@DougKyed What’s your schedule like when you get to HOU, all work no play or do you get a chance to let loose? #MailDoug #SB51
— @MichaelProOG

@NESN @DougKyed what does your schedule look like for however long you’re in Houston? like media day, game day, other stuff, whatever
— @capeinkc

@NESN @DougKyed super bowl reporter routine?
— @8deepbb
I was surprised how many people wanted to know the answer to this.

I land Monday morning. I’ll head over to the media center where the reporters work, eat and hang out by radio row. Then I’ll cover media night for the Falcons and Patriots at Minute Maid Park.

The Patriots have availability at their team hotel Tuesday early afternoon and Wednesday and Thursday late afternoon. I’ll spend the rest of the day in the media center. There’s always something going on there. That’s where Roger Goodell will speak Wednesday.

Since New England has late availability Wednesday and Thursday, I probably won’t do much those nights. Reporters have most of Friday and Saturday free, though, so I’ll be able to go out for some food and hang out with my fellow reporter/writer friends.

I spend most of Super Bowl Sunday at the stadium. It’s nice to get there early and get situated before the big game.

Covering a Super Bowl when your team isn’t in the game is a lot less hectic. I’ll be very, very busy next week.

Let’s go rapid fire.

@DougKyed how many questions does it take to fill up the mail bag? #MailDoug
— @shawn_pinks

Depending on who wins the SB, who’s your top candidates for SB MVP?
— @Bobs_Ballin
I’ll be boring and say Tom Brady and Matt Ryan.

Some more dark horse candidates: Julian Edelman, Julio Jones, Freeman, Coleman and LeGarrette Blount.

@DougKyed sup? #MailDoug
— @June__NYC
I discovered the MTV Classic channel, and through that was trying to figure out if Sugar Ray or Smash Mouth are to 90s alt-rock what Coolio is to 90s rap.

Now I’m just procrastinating by watching live videos on YouTube.

@DougKyedAre Harris and Cardona the two best Long Snappers in the league?
— @EbenezerMudget
They’re in the Super Bowl, so I’ll say sure. You might not believe this, but I’m not an expert on long snappers. And I don’t even know what Harris’ first name is.

@DougKyed #MailDoug Why didn’t Goodell just say “The fans in New England greatly dislike me, &I didn’t want to be the focus instead of game?
— @MrQuindazzi
Because he’s a filibustering robot with a pull string put on this earth to make billionaires even happier than they already are.

@DougKyed will you wear a teal suit to the Super Bowl
— @jcmccaffrey
Yes.

@DougKyed If you could take 1 player from ATL which would it be?
— @LP__81
Julio Jones, of course.

Thumbnail photo via Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports Images

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