The New England Patriots defense has been inconsistent this season but delivered a very good performance versus the Buffalo Bills last week. The Bills own arguably the worst offense in the NFL Womens Stephon Gilmore Jersey , yes, but the Patriots still did what was expected of them and basically shut down the team’s attack — an encouraging outing, especially considering that the unit will face one of its toughest challenges of the season tonight.The Green Bay Packers, after all, field an offense that is slowly hitting its groove. While the Packers still rank only 15th in the NFL in offensive scoring, they cannot be underestimated — mainly because of one man: future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers, arguably a top-three quarterback in the league right now. With him behind the wheel, Green Bay’s offense always is a threat to score. New England’s defense therefore needs to be ready to the challenge.To find out more about Green Bay’s offense, we spoke with Jason B. Hirschhorn, who covers the team as an editor for our sister site Acme Packing Co. Speaking to Jason about the group, it becomes clear that the group is slowly getting better and is nearing peak form. However, it also has had some issues so far this season — issues which the Patriots need to take advantage of should they arise again.“Unlike in past years, the Packers have struggled in the red zone,” Jason said about a Packers offense that is good inside the 10-yard line but inconsistent between the 10 and the 20. “They have only scored touchdowns on just over half of their red-zone trips, down nearly 10 percent from a 2017 season in which Aaron Rodgers only played in six games. That drop-off has most significantly affected the overall scoring output.”However, Jason also points out that the unit has improved recently: “That red-zone rate has reached 63.6 percent Youth Danny Shelton Jersey , almost identical to that of the Patriots. Meanwhile, the emergence of Aaron Jones as a lead back has helped Green Bay become one of the most efficient ground attacks in the league (No. 4 by DVOA). Now, with Rodgers’ left knee closer to full health, the offense looks more dangerous than at any time this season.”The ground game in particular is worth keeping an eye on tonight. While the Patriots have been good in this area as of late, they have not faced the same combination of explosive aerial attack and efficient ground game since their week six tilt against the Kansas City Chiefs. And just like the Chiefs, the Packers also have a running back — the aforementioned Jones — that has big play potential written all over him.“Jones has become one of the most dynamic players on the offense,” Jason said about the 2017 fifth-round draft selection. “Despite missing the first two weeks of the season, Jones has become the Packers’ leading rusher and averages over 6 yards per carry. With Ty Montgomery traded to Baltimore and Jamaal Williams transitioning to more of a niche role, Jones should see plenty of action Sunday in Foxboro.”The 24-year old is not the only youngster who could pose a problem for the Patriots tonight. “In the passing game, rookie wideout Marquez Valdes-Scantling has slowly established himself as a viable deep threat,” Jason said. “Valdes-Scantling’s speed (4.37 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and size (6-foot-4 stature) make him a difficult player to cover vertically and difficult to corral in the open field.”While Green Bay’s offensive superstars — quarterback Aaron Rodgers, wide receiver Davante Adams, tight end Jimmy Graham — receive most of the headlines, the more unheralded guys like Jones and Valdes-Scantling could ultimately make the difference. After all, the Patriots like to take away teams’ primary weapons. As is often the case, the battle between the depth options and lesser-known players might be the deciding factor. The month of December has been a special time for the New England Patriots during the Bill Belichick and Tom Brady era.Since the pair arrived in 2000 Womens Adam Butler Jersey , the Patriots are 64-13 during the final month of the regular season. Brady has been the starter for all but six of those victories 鈥?four during his rookie season in 2000 and two in 2008 when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener.Still, the 41-year-old quarterback's 58 December wins are the most in NFL history. His .843 winning percentage is second-best among quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era. Roger Staubach (17-3, .850) is first.Patriots special teams captain Matt Slater is one of the few players left on New England's roster with enough tenure to appreciate that run and the emphasis Belichick puts on this portion of the season."As coach says, 'Football season starts after Thanksgiving,'" Slater said.Just for good measure, Brady is 75-18 in regular-season games played on or after Thanksgiving.Three of their final five games are at home, beginning with Sunday's matchup with Minnesota.But even after the Patriots (8-3) earned their latest post-Turkey Day win last week over the Jets , Slater said the message coming from Belichick and Brady is far from a state of being content."I don't think we've played our best football yet," Slater said. "I think it was a step in the right direction."That's not good news for a Vikings team that is in position to make the playoffs, but is also a few losses away from peering in from the outside.Minnesota (6-4-1) has lost four straight regular-season meetings with New England, though the teams haven't met since 2014. The Vikings have won twice at New England, but their last victory was in 2000 in Belichick's first year.Running back Dalvin Cook said the Vikings are trying to concentrate on themselves and not the Patriots' mystique ."We're going to get caught up in us playing good football, and that's what we've got to focus on," he said. "Everybody can go into the whole thing of 'New England this.' We respect Tom, we respect the Patriots, we respect everything they've got going. But it's more about us at this point Womens Jeremy Hill Jersey , about how we're playing football and about just the little things we're doing. We've got to go in and focus on those."Here are some things to watch for in Sunday's game:TOUGH ON TOM:Vikings coach Mike Zimmer's defenses have had some success in minimizing Brady's impact in some matchups against the five-time Super Bowl champion. Though Zimmer's teams have lost three of four games against the Patriots, with the Vikings in 2014, as the defensive coordinator for Cincinnati in 2010 and as the defensive coordinator for Dallas in 2003, the Bengals beat New England 13-6 in 2013 with Zimmer in charge of the defense.Over those four games, Brady has been intercepted only once, but his average against Zimmer's defenses is only 204 passing yards and one touchdown with a 56.3 percent completion rate.The game at New England for the Vikings is sandwiched between matchups with Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Seattle's Russell Wilson, so Zimmer, his staff and his players have had their hands full lately and will continue to into the next month."Like Belichick said about Rodgers," Zimmer said of Brady, "I'm glad he's not in our division."GETTING THE GROUND GAME GOING:The Vikings have the third-fewest rushing yards in the league this year, after finishing seventh last season. Though the success of their passing game and particular game situations have factored into them falling to 28th in the NFL in attempts after totaling the second-most rushes last year, they'll need an uptick down the stretch and in the playoffs, if they make it, to keep winning.Attacking the perimeter last week against the Packers was productive, with Cook and Stefon Diggs each taking jet sweep plays for 9 and 12 yards, respectively. There's another untapped source of rushing yardage that lies with quarterback Kirk Cousins Womens Phillip Dorsett Jersey , too.Though Cousins had just 17 yards on six attempts and has never rushed for more than 38 yards in an NFL game, he's had plenty of opportunities to bolt for a first down this year that he's passed up in favor of a throw after the pocket has collapsed."I can't miss those opportunities when they're there, and you also can't go looking for them when they're not there," Cousins said. "You just have to play and react instinctively, and when they present themselves be ready to attack."FAMILIAR FOE:Sunday will be a reunion of sorts for Patriots receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who spent the first four years of his career in Minnesota (2013-16) before being signed by the Raiders the following year.Patterson had a career-high four touchdown catches and was utilized out of the backfield as a rookie in 2013. But he developed a reputation as bad route-runner and barely got any time at receiver in his second and third seasons in Minnesota.He bounced back and had a career-best 52 catches during his final season in 2016."They're using him way better than we did," said Zimmer, who coached Patterson for three seasons beginning in 2014. "I think they use him in a number of different ways. I mean, it's good to see for him. I wish we would have used him a little bit better."AP Pro Football Writer Dave Campbell in Eagan, Minnesota, contributed to this report.
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