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1. The Patriots have so many weapons: Brady, Gronk, Edelman, Lewis... The list goes on and on. Since the offense is so diverse and powerful, and a defense can't really just pick a guy, focus on shutting him down, and then have a decent chance of slowing the offense down, what would your strategy be if you were Joe Barry (the Redskins DC) to try and limit the points the Patriots are going to score?
It's pretty difficult to match up with all of the players because very few defenses have a 5th defensive back that's good enough to play up with Danny Amendola or Brandon LaFell. If we were to highlight how each team best handled the Patriots receivers, it would involve tight press coverage because Tom Brady is at his best when he's able to get rid of the ball within two seconds of the snap. Any time a defense can force Brady to hold onto the ball is a win because the Patriots offensive line is very injured right now, and pressure can and will find home.
But really, the best defense is a long and extended offense. Washington has to rely on its running game and shallow passes to move the ball down the field. The Patriots give a lot of focus to removing the big play, but that means teams can take the easy pass and try to extend the drive. If Kirk Cousins and company can lead 10+ play drives that least 7+ minutes, then the Patriots offense will be off the field and they won't be able to build up a lead.
2. Honestly, is Gronk defensible? Does he have any weaknesses? What match-ups/situations does he excel particularly well in and where might there be a chance of limiting his production?
Gronkowski can be defended in the sense that a great defender can limit him to merely elite tight end production. If a team designates their top defensive back to coverage, Gronk can be held to 50 yards and maybe a touchdown. If Gronk is allowed to run free, then he can easily pick up 100+ yards and multiple scores.
The issue with most defenses is their inability to just match up a player one-on-one with Gronk for the whole game. Teams want to put their top player on Julian Edelman, because he can generate separation from most defenders. If defenses rely on zone coverages, Gronk will win. If they try to pass coverage between levels, Gronk will win. If the defensive back doesn't have great ball skills, Gronk will win.
Playing along with the first question, a top defensive back (Bashaud Breeland?) needs to align with Gronkowski out of the snap and stick with him. That's the only way to limit his output.
3. You guys are rolling with an undrafted rookie at C. How has he performed? What are his strengths and weaknesses and how is Brady affected (or not)? When does Stork return and how will that affect the OL?
David Andrews has definitely impressed. He's out of the University of Georgia and Bill Belichick loves his SEC players because he considers them the most NFL ready. Andrews has seemingly improved every week as he's gained functional NFL strength and blocking ability. Andrews and Brady have been joined at the hip as they build their rapport and the relationship has been successful. There haven't been many bad snaps and he's a capable pass and run blocker. He's not exceptional, but he gets the job done.
The reason why Andrews has been such a surprise is that he hasn't flashed many glaring weaknesses. He struggled with power rushers in the preseason, but he's shown an ability to handle them as of late. He's not the best at clearing rushing lanes in the middle of the field. On the flip side, he doesn't really have many shining strengths. He's okay at the second level and he'll keep the pocket clean for the minimum required time. He's not dominant.
Stork is able to return this week, but the coaches have been hesitant to say whether or not he's ready to roll. Personally, I'd move Stork to guard and leave Andrews at center, but we'll have to see. Andrews has played every snap this season, while the rest of the offensive line rotated, so I don't think the Patriots would be willing to rotate Andrews and Stork. I'd say they're fairly interchangeable at this point.
4. Now pretend you're in charge of the Redskins offense. How would you attack the Patriot defense? What is their biggest weakness?
The Patriots have pretty solid players at all levels with top talent all over the field. The defensive front six (since the Patriots play mostly nickel) fields Chandler Jones (1st rounder, league leader in sacks) and veteran Rob Ninkovich as the bookends, with a deep rotation at tackle with five players- Dominique Easley (1st rounder), Malcom Brown (1st rounder), Alan Branch (350 lbs), Sealver Siliga (325 lbs), and Akiem Hicks (325 lbs)- keeping everyone fresh. Linebackers Dont'a Hightower (1st rounder) and Jamie Collins (2nd rounder) combine for eight sacks on the season and are both very good coverage players.
The secondary features veterans at safety in Devin McCourty (1st rounder) and Patrick Chung (34th overall). Throwing up the middle isn't a good idea against this defense.
But the weakness is at cornerback with Malcolm Butler (2nd year, undrafted), Logan Ryan (3rd year, 3rd rounder), and Justin Coleman (rookie, undrafted) holding down the fort. They've exceeded expectations, although many could point to the defensive front's ability to generate pressure as the reason for the secondary's success. Still, if I had to point to a weak point on the defense, it's at cornerback.
Kirk Cousins will have to be able to extend plays because the secondary isn't great once the play breaks down. They have good technique, but it's disaster once they're asked to freestyle. Let Cousins play in space and then passing opportunities will open up.
5. Give us one under-the-radar player who could have a major impact in the game on Sunday.
Look to cornerback Logan Ryan. Devin McCourty is the All Pro at free safety, Malcolm Butler is the top cornerback and Super Bowl hero, and Patrick Chung shouldn't be a stranger to anyone from the NFC East (although he's greatly improved as the Patriots have converted him to more of a linebacker than a deep safety). Ryan is the fourth defensive back for the Patriots and he'll be extremely important for this match-up.
He doesn't have great straight line speed. He doesn't have the ability to recover from a misstep. The Patriots shade McCourty or another free safety over the top of Ryan for a large portion of the game. But Ryan has done a pretty good job in recent match-ups against Andre Johnson, Brandon Marshall, and Rishard Matthews. He's the player that matches up well on the big receiver and he hasn't made many mistakes this year.
If DeSean Jackson plays, I don't know how well Ryan matches up with a receiver like Pierre Garcon. Ryan has been a pretty good player this year and he could help be the difference tomorrow- for good or for bad.