We're not three days and change away from the Buffalo Bills taking on the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football, and Rich Hill of Pats Pulpit is here to discuss his team's side of the matchup with us. Let's dive right in.
Obviously, the big news is the Julian Edelman injury. Will the Pats simply slide Danny Amendola into his role, or do you anticipate a few other tweaks to compensate for Edelman's absence?
Hill: I think the Patriots are going to leave Amendola in his role in the slot, but they'll increase the focus of the position. Edelman is the standard Z receiver, who aligns all over the formation. Amendola is the traditional Wes Welker slot guy. When asked about how the Patriots would replace Edelman in the offense, both Tom Brady and Bill Belichick noted that Amendola plays a different role, and that Keshawn Martin (acquired from the Texans) and Chris Harper (elevated from the practice squad) are more likely to take Edelman's offensive snaps.
When it comes to production, Amendola was asked to pick up some of the slack when Dion Lewis went down, and he'll definitely absorb some of the looks with Edelman out. Amendola is a legitimate option to see 15-plus targets on the day.
We know what the Pats will do on the offensive line if Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, and Tre' Jackson aren't ready by Monday. Is there a general sense yet of whether or not any of them will play? Which of the three has been missed the most?
Hill: Vollmer will play because he's cleared concussion protocol, and that's the biggest piece. He'll slide in at left tackle, to bump Cameron Fleming over to the right side. If Cannon can play, that will strengthen the line on the edge. This is a huge addition for the Patriots because the Giants really exploited Bryan Stork, last year's starting center, at right tackle.
The interior line is pretty set in the Shaq Mason - David Andrews - Josh Kline line-up, although it wouldn't be surprising to see Stork and Jackson rotating at the guard positions. Stork had really only played one half of football before he was pushed into the right tackle spot due to injuries, but he was a starter last season. Jackson was the starter at right guard earlier in the year, too. There's some pretty good depth along the line.
Dion Lewis made Rex Ryan eat his words in Week 2, but now he's out for the year. How are the Pats using James White and Brandon Bolden in conjunction with lead back LeGarrette Blount with Lewis out of the lineup?
Hill: Oh, they're not. It's been a game and a half, but they haven't been able to replace Lewis. What made Lil Dirty (I don't make the names!) so impressive was his ability to function as a three tool back- he could run, catch, and block. Blount can only run. White and Bolden can only catch and block, and neither can perform at a level anywhere near Lewis' ability.
The injury to Lewis is why the Patriots started using Amendola more in the receiving game. Blount runs the ball, White steps in to pass block, and Amendola absorbs the targets. It's a three man job. Of course, maybe the coaching staff will open the playbook a little more for White, who has been capable when given the chances in the past.
The Jamie Collins illness situation is an unfortunate one for the Pats. How have the Patriots replaced him on passing downs, specifically, as I recall both he and Dont'a Hightower playing a high percentage of snaps early in the season?
Hill: Collins and Hightower are 100% snap type of players, with the Patriots favoring a 4-2-5 lineup. On obvious rushing plays, where the opposing team is at either goal line, a third linebacker will come on and that's been a point of contention. That third linebacker has been former Dolphins special teamer Jonathan Freeny, who isn't very good in a starting capacity.
Freeny gets exploited in the passing game because he doesn't have a great sense of coverage drops and receivers can shake him fairly easily. He also is slow to clog the rushing lane. Freeny was benched for captain Jerod Mayo, who played at a much higher level. Everyone is hoping that Mayo did enough to win back the job to play full time ahead of Freeny.
Is Stephen Gostkowski ever going to miss a kick again? Seriously, though: among the Bradys, Gronkowskis, et al of the world, where does Gostkowski rank amongst elite-level players that, year after year, produce at an insanely high level?
Hill: Some say that the kicks from Gostkowski that didn't split the uprights in the game are still circumnavigating the world and will go through the uprights upon completion.
Seriously though, the Patriots just gave their kick a pretty nice extension and he's really rewarding the team with his performance. He's on pace to lead the league in scoring for the fourth straight season, and fifth time in his career. He's been amazing.
I'd put him more in the category of Tom Brady, versus Rob Gronkowski, because Brady has some competition. Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and Tony Romo are all players that are in the same discussion with Brady. Justin Tucker, Dan Bailey, and other kickers are up there with Gostkowski. Rob Gronkwoski is in a class of his own, and no one is even close.