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The Patriots’ Mouthwatering Thanksgiving Battle Will Be Decided By These Three Matchups

This Thursday, there’s an extra dish on the Thanksgiving dinner table: an enticing matchup between the Patriots and Vikings. I look into what could be a very important game for the Patriots’ playoff hopes, and break down the key matchups.

How Will The Game Play Out In The Trenches?

The lines have played a big role in every game that the Pats have played this season, and this one should be no different. On one side, the Patriots’ defensive line, which has been excellent all over, both inside and on the edge, and has gotten consistent pressure and pass rush all season, especially lately.

Facing them is a Vikings offensive line that has been nearly immovable, facilitating passing lanes and plenty of time in the pocket for Kirk Cousins, and running lanes for Dalvin Cook that have led to a very balanced attack for the Vikings. In a battle of immovable force vs immovable force, the Patriots will have to get some penetration to avoid yet another Vikings offensive outburst.

On the other hand, the very movable force that has been the New England offensive line goes against a strong Vikings front seven and will need to both pass protect and run block better to enable some traction for the Patriots offense. Mac Jones had a strong game on Sunday statistically, finishing 23/27 with 246 yards passing, but a lot of those yards were made to seem empty by drive-killing offensive line gaffes. Talented Vikings on the front seven like Eric Kendricks and Za’Darius Smith will make the job even more complicated for New England. The potential return of David Andrews will help, but the problems on the edges will need to be fixed.

Can The Patriots Secondary Stop The Vikings Passing Attack?

The passing game will be a battle of depth vs depth. The Vikings boast an incredible group of pass catchers. Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and KJ Osborn provide one of the best and deepest receiver units, while Hockensen completes the group at tight end. It’s hard to find a secondary that can stop one of them, let alone all, and with Kirk Cousins playing near his best level, and an offensive line that has been facilitating both dimensions of the offense well, this task becomes even harder.

However, if there’s one unit that can stop them, it’s this Patriots secondary. At cornerback, they’re athletic and deep. Jalen Mills leads the charge, and the Jones trio of Jonathan, Jack and Marcus round out a very strong group, especially with the zones and collaborative schemes they’ve been given. The safeties help quite a bit, especially with their versatility, and the quartet of Dugger, McCourty, Phillips and Peppers can all do different things, but together they wreak havoc. Finally, faster linebackers like Mack Wilson help round out the picture of the pass coverage team.

Of course, in addition to the secondary, as alluded earlier, the Patriots’ front seven will be instrumental in limiting Cousins’ effectiveness.

Mac Jones vs Himself

While the offensive line and playcalling is putting a damper on his play, Mac needs to get some confidence back. Earlier in the season, while the execution wasn’t perfect, Mac was playing with a more aggressive style. Especially in the Ravens game, there were some signs of the ceiling that Mac and the offense could have. However, with turnovers, talks around New England of a quarterback controversy, and his injury, his confidence has been relatively low, and the offense’s performance since his return does little to change that.

Mac will need to develop more confidence in himself, as well as start buying into the offense, as hard as that may be. The bye week and the Jets game is a step in the right direction. He’s starting to be more accurate, he’s distributing the ball across his weapons, and even throwing well off the run. While the Patriots only scored once, many of those stops were rooted in sacks, stuffed runs, or drops that weren’t under his control, and as far as yardage, field position, and number of opportunities to score (the Patriots would have nine offensive points if not for missed FGs), they completely dictated play.

Now that Mac is aware of the grim reality this offensive line brings, especially against good front sevens, he will need to adjust and find a way to make the reads he needs in less time to the extent possible. He’ll need to keep limiting mistakes (five halves of football in a row with no Mac turnovers) and perhaps even start calling some audibles in situations where his intuition surpasses the spurious judgements of Matt Patricia. He’s slowly getting back there, and with his work ethic and professionalism, there’s no reason why Mac can’t meet and exceed last year’s form.

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