With nine games in the books, The New England Patriots have faced six of the top 10 sack leaders. Another tough test this Sunday will be to keep reigning Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack off quarterback Tom Brady’s back. Even though Mack is not among top 10 sack leaders, he’s still one of the most talented pass rushers in the league.
When asked about the challenge to keep Mack in check coach Bill Belichick had this to say.
“Look, it’s the National Football League, so every team has good players,” Belichick said. “That’s a huge challenge every week, certainly this week, and each week out players have to meet that challenge. And when its over, turn the page and go to the next team and meet it again.”
Mack who lines up on both the strong side and weak side will face off against Nate Solder and LaAdrian Waddle. Solder hasn’t allowed a sack in six consecutive games which is a great step up from his start to the season. Solder also kept in check the Broncos last week as no pressure or quarterback hit were squandered
Waddle will be starting at right tackle unless a miracle grace upon New England and Marcus Cannon’s ankle is all healed up. Waddle has been keeping his matchups in check including J.J Watt and Von Miller recently. He will have to keep it strong as the Oakland front seven are no push-overs. Mack to go along Mario Edwards and Bruce Irvin are all capable to get to Brady.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had nothing but praises for Waddle.
“Waddle has always been a very unselfish guy, works really hard, takes his preparation seriously, a really good teammate. ” McDaniels said. “He is focused on improving a lot of things with his craft. He is going to have a huge challenge ahead of him this week as we are offensively with this Raider’s group. The pass rushers they put out there are as good as any we play.”
Martellus Bennett Back with New England
The Green Bay Packers released Martellus Bennett last Wednesday due to a torn rotator cuff injury that was undisclosed. With all the injuries to the receiving corps that had plagued the team, it was bound that Belichick would look to add another threat. Bennett was an integral member of the Patriots Super Bowl LI championship squad, as he filled in nicely when Rob Gronkowski suffered a season-ending injury. Bennett caught 55 passes for 701 yards and a career-high seven touchdowns in 16 games.
Gronkowski has been a force with 34 catches for 509 yards and five touchdowns this year and adding a receiver of Bennett’s caliber will be troublesome for opposing defenses. With depleted wide receivers, the team might opt to run with the dual tight end formation that was used when Patriots had the Gronkowski/Hernandez tandem causing havoc in 2011-12
The Patriots will practice at the United States Air Force Academy for the next three days and they’ll fly to Mexico City on Nov. 18. Brady and co. are getting acclimated to the lack of oxygen while playing at high altitude. Falcon Stadium which is located in Colorado Springs, is a whopping 6,621 feet above sea levels. Azteca Stadium in Mexico city has an elevation of 7,200 feet above sea level.
The training at such high altitude is helping the team get used to the shortage of oxygen. In Foxborough, the oxygen percentage stands at about 21 percent while the team will be in Mexico City where the oxygen percentage will be around the 16 percent. As the game winds down players will get short of breath and will have a burning feeling while inhaling.
Defense coming alive
During their current five-game winning streak, the Patriots have held opponents to 13.4 points per game. New England also ranked eighth in turnover differential coming into Sunday’s game. It took a quarter of the season for the defense to come together and are finally producing as expected. Adding the losses of captain Dont’a Hightower and Shea McClellin give a reminder of the team motto: Next Man Up.