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Words With Frenz mailbag: Brandon Spikes injury doesn't ruin Patriots defense

Posted by Erik Frenz  January 10, 2014 07:00 AM

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It just doesn't feel the same.

The rivalry between the Patriots and Colts was just so much juicier when it was Peyton Manning as the quarterback in the offensive huddle for Indianapolis instead of Andrew Luck. The logos on the side of the helmet and the colors of the jerseys are the same, but it was the names on the back of the jerseys that made this rivalry great.

Tight end Dallas Clark, wide receiver Reggie Wayne (on injured reserve), defensive end Dwight Freeney, linebacker Gary Brackett, running back Joseph Addai and of course, former Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri all played a key role in the rivalry.

The Patriots have had changes of their own, but two prominent figures -- Tom Brady and Bill Belichick -- are still around to make this old rivalry feel a little less new.

This could be the beginning of a new chapter in the rivalry, but right now, it doesn't feel like a rivalry. It just feels like a game with two really good quarterbacks in Brady and Luck.

This game will have good matchups of its own -- the Patriots' success in the passing game will hinge upon how offensive tackles Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon handle veteran Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis; instead of Lawyer Milloy worrying about Marvin Harrison running free through the secondary, Devin McCourty will be keeping his eyes on T.Y. Hilton.

But unless we see a much less decisive victory than New England's 59-24 pantsing of Indianapolis in 2012, this rivalry won't be seen as much of a rivalry at all. The real rivalry matchup -- with Manning -- could take place next week, but before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's get to some questions from readers/followers.

The Patriots need to turn to the running game if they want to fully take advantage of the Colts' weaknesses in the front seven, but a balanced approach is probably the best approach.

Brady has dropped back to pass on 59 percent of the Patriots' offensive plays, which is the 10th-lowest percentage in the league. The Patriots have been one of the more balanced offenses in the league all season; there's no reason to think they'd get away from that now.

That being said, once they've established the running game, they'd be foolish not to turn to the play-action passing game. Brady has utilized play-action on 24.6 percent of his pass attempts, the ninth-highest percentage in the league. Colts safeties LaRon Landry and Antoine Bethea are known for their aggressive style of play. What better way to take advantage of that than with a fake to the running back?

It all starts with establishing the run.

Interestingly phrased question, Harry. I'm not sure how I would rate his season, but I know how I'd describe it: he had a slow start, and just when it looked like he was catching on, his momentum was stopped by an injury.

It's tough to get a good read on his development because we didn't see him for the full season, but he and Brady appeared to finally be getting on the same page from Weeks 6 through 11. In that five-game stretch, Dobson had 22 catches on 36 targets (61.1 percent catch rate) for 325 yards (14.8 yards per catch) and three touchdowns. Extrapolate those five-game numbers over the course of a 16-game season and he would have around 70 receptions for 1,040 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Dobson showed an ability to get open all over the field, particularly on short and intermediate routes. His work on slant routes and curl routes made him a security blanket for Brady at times, as he learned to use his 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame to box out defenders.

I would like to see more from Dobson in the red zone and in the vertical passing game. He only had four catches in the red zone and two catches on balls traveling 20 yards or more through the air. Those are two areas that an outside-the-numbers receiver ("X-receiver") like Dobson should thrive.

Jovie, the weather forecast for Saturday is 55 degrees, 22 mph winds and a 100 percent chance of rain. This could be another sloppy game.

The Colts have not run the ball much this year -- Luck has dropped back to throw on 65 percent of the Colts' offensive plays this year, the fifth-highest percentage in the league. They have also not been very effective, averaging just 4.4 yards per carry (25th in the NFL).

The Patriots, however, have obviously had their struggles against the run, yielding 4.5 yards per carry (24th) and 134.1 yards per game (30th) on the ground. The Colts might try running the ball against the Patriots, but based on their own lack of success this year, it would be surprising to see the running game suddenly take over.

Brandon Spikes is the only Patriots linebacker with more snaps in run defense than pass defense this year, according to Pro Football Focus. His presence there will be missed, but Spikes' injury was reducing his effectiveness -- and by result, his playing time. Linebacker Jamie Collins playing more snaps than Spikes in three of the team's last four games.

Sealver Siliga has helped plug up the holes in the middle. The Patriots coaching staff seems to agree, as he has played over 64 percent of the snaps in each of the past four games. Siliga may not be a name many are familiar with, but the Patriots could sorely use a defensive tackle who can effectively control the gaps on either side of the blocker.

It's never a good time to lose a good player, but the Patriots couldn't have lost Spikes at a better time. The Colts may try to run the ball, but as you alluded, their running game is not much to write home about. With an average of 2.9 yards per carry since joining the Colts, it's hard to call the trade for Trent Richardson anything but an abject failure at this point.

Tim, something tells me that unless Spikes is willing to take a home town discount, he has played his last snap for the Patriots. Spikes played just under 60 percent of the defensive snaps in 2013, and still has value as a run defender. There are, however, a few things to consider.

First, the Patriots have a lot of talent at linebacker to begin with. They drafted Collins in the second round in April, and they will be getting Jerod Mayo back on the field next year, likely in time for Week 1 of the 2014 season. The Patriots could feature Mayo as the weakside linebacker, Collins as the strongside linebacker and Dont'a Hightower as their trio in the base 4-3.

Spikes has missed time in each of his four seasons in the league, another factor to take into account when considering what kind of contract the Patriots would offer him.

At the same time, there are plenty of teams that are in search of talent at middle linebacker, and one of them would probably be willing to give Spikes a shot.

Jared, I have my doubts. Ben McAdoo has earned valuable experience working under Mike McCarthy for the past decade, but he has never been a coordinator at any level.

He was the tight ends coach for the Packers before being promoted to the quarterback coach in Joe Philbin's last year in Green Bay. McAdoo's biggest claim to fame at this point may be the development of tight end Jermichael Finley.

Maybe there's more to like about McAdoo than meets the eye. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that the Cleveland Browns were scheduled to interview him for their vacant head coaching job.

Philbin seems to really like surrounding himself with familiar faces, and I don't know that it's necessarily a good thing. Familiarity was what drove him to hire Mike Sherman, who he just had to fire. That familiarity could help or hurt the Dolphins as they try to maximize the talents of their developing quarterback, Ryan Tannehill.

All of it.

Seriously, it depends. If it's a sandwich, I'm going either American or Swiss. If it's crackers, I'm going either sharp cheddar or Gouda. I love me some mozzarella sticks, too. I didn't used to like bleu cheese, but now I have it on burgers and salads.

Every cheese has its purpose, and I love them all.


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About the author

Erik Frenz delivers analysis of the biggest news with the Patriots, including insight into the AFC East and New England's biggest rivals from a Patriots perspective. Erik is an interactive writer who engages his audience in his posts’ comments sections and on Twitter. Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions. More »


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