Welcome back to the holiday edition of the WEEI.com mailbag. We’ve been powering through the Christmas music the last week or so in a final frantic rush to get geared up for the holiday. There’s this and this (this is pretty good too). But for my money, this is the best Christmas song, done by a New England legend. Perfect if you were home by a fire on Sunday night. Anyway, here’s hoping you get everything you want this week.
This week, we take a look at Randy Moss' bounce-back game against the Bills, Brandon Meriweather and just how far this team can go in the postseason. We do this every Wednesday — if you want to join in the fun, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. On with the show…
I am so glad Randy shut up his critics. Leave him alone. He’s not out crying for attention like Chad Ochocinco or T.O. He’s a quiet man and just wants to do his job. Why don’t you harp on those nuts for a while and let the best wide receiver ever to play the game do his job? Cris Carter, you should be ashamed. You always were a bigmouth. Thanks Keyshawn [Johnson], for taking Randy’s [side] and Merril Hoge for looking at film and telling how well Randy played last week. My goodness, some other players dropped balls this week. Are you guys going to write them off? New England reporters, you better get back in Randy’s good graces. Love ya, Randy. Great game.
A: Lots of “I told you so’s” about Randy this week. Moss played well, finishing with five catches for 70 yards and a touchdown. (About what we thought he would do, based on his previous bounce-back games.) I can’t speak for the rest of the analysts — I can only say I thought he had one of the worst games of his Patriots career against the Panthers, but there had to be some reason for his subpar performance, either physical or otherwise. I do not believe he quit — I still maintain Moss has too much respect for Brady to quit on him.
Randy went out and did his thing on Sunday. He’s back in the top five in the NFL in receiving yards, and I bet people will STILL find something to complain about. Every segment of this team has had good and bad games — QB, OL, RB’s, DL, LB and DB’s — but Randy has a slow period and people turn on him. Sounds like Boston.
A: DStraw, I was particularly struck by your e-mail, because I recalled something that Brady talked about after the game and with Christian Fauria and Butch Stearns on his weekly appearance Monday on WEEI. In reference to Randy, he said that the tallest trees experience the highest winds, meaning that more is going to be placed on the shoulders of the great athletes, and more will be expected of them. Fair or not, they’re always going to be expected to be great, because they have consistently set the bar so high in the past. The flip side of that is when they struggle, people will notice it more than when, say, a relatively anonymous offensive or defensive lineman has a bad game. Good or bad, Moss will always be in the spotlight. He’s enjoyed the spotlight in the past, but the wide receiver experienced the flip side of that this past week.
A couple of things need to be remembered: Football players get hurt. And sometimes they have a bad game, including Tom Brady and Wes Welker on Sunday. If I may point out, the Patriots are currently very banged up.
Also, one of the more productive offensive players this year was categorized as a third-down back with receiving skills a few years ago. This season, he’s one of the top running backs. The best pass-rusher this team had was expendable and was also a part-time player in the recent past ... and was traded as well.
The Patriots are playing, and winning some, with players that were fill-ins and part- timers seasons ago. Now, they’re the stars. They have a questionable running game. Give my grandmother 20-25 carries a game and she might get 60, 70, 80 yards.
This is going to be a playoff year, but I don’t see them going far … not without a defensive line, more than two receivers, a QB with multiple injuries, and no consistent running attack.
A: The Patriots are banged-up, Dave, particularly along that defensive line, where they got some help from backups such as Mike Wright and Jarvis Green on Sunday against the Bills. In addition, they have their share of injuries on the offensive side of the ball as well, as Brady is clearly not at 100 percent, while one of their two top running backs (Fred Taylor) hasn’t played since the first week of October. As for the running game, I would characterize it as inconsistent but improving — Laurence Maroney is on pace for a career-best year in carries and yardage, while Taylor could return to the lineup this week. Will it be enough to get them deep in January? Right now, that remains to be seen. My take? They win their first playoff game at home, and then are in a competitive divisional playoff game on the road against either San Diego or Indianapolis.
Teams are better than the Pats in the second half. When will we get the kinds of adjustments, on offense and defense that will make us better than other teams in the second half?
Dano in NY
A: Dano, the Patriots have struggled to score in the second half, particularly when they’re away from Foxboro. In their seven road games this season, the Pats have been outscored 89-41 combined in the third and fourth quarters. The players have struggled for explanations — one of the best I can think of has come from Brady, who’s said the Patriots have had trouble matching their opponents' intensity in the third and fourth quarters when they’ve been on the road. On Sunday against the Bills, New England was able to put together a sustained second half drive, a 14-play, 64-yard sequence that took 7:04 and ended with a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. The Patriots also were able to convert a key third down in the fourth quarter that allowed them to run out the clock, so there were some positives. Because they’ll likely be on the road after the first week of the playoffs, they need to improve on that if they want to have any chance of going deep in the postseason.
Great win yesterday. With that said, this team’s offensive game-planning is atrocious. I have never seen a Patriots team so predictable in my entire life. All Brady does is throw five yards to Welker or a bomb to Moss or Aiken — with a few handoffs to Maroney in between. Brady is off right now, but Bill O’Brien is not helping him at all with these terrible pass plays.
A: The play-calling has been a big source of complaints for fans over the course of the season. However, I think the Patriots are showing some flexibility on offense — New England moved Moss around a lot on Sunday, including putting him in the slot. I give them a lot of credit for trying new things. It’s also worth mentioning that it’s not just Bill O’Brien who is calling the plays — it’s my understanding that Belichick wields plenty of influence when it comes to offensive play-calling.
Not an overpowering win, but solid for the most part against a division opponent and they finally won at someone else’s home turf (yes, Wembley Stadium is NOT Tampa’s home turf). They need to keep it rolling. Tom needs to watch out for those critical passes in coverage. That cost them games.
A: I’m just gonna call you Triple J, if that’s OK with you. The fact they picked up a road win was important — a handful of guys, including Tully Banta-Cain, talked earlier this week about how enjoyable it was to get that “monkey” off their backs. (“Hopefully, we can build off this,” Banta-Cain added after the game.) Building on that means a solid performance in the regular-season finale against the Texans in Houston — a game that will be difficult, even against a team in the Texans that might not have anything to play for. As for Brady’s passing in coverage, I agree that it has been shaky at times, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it has cost them games.
Hey — have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Thanks for posting and answering my questions/comments.
The play-calling has been better of late and, like I asked about last week, I saw Moss involved in short passes early on — not just the bombs, therefore the whole game he was a threat. Loved it. They established the running game and opened up the play-action. I would like to see more screens, but overall I was pretty happy with the play-calling.
Now for the subject of the e-mail: Brandon Meriweather. I think this kid has all the tools but just makes too many mistakes. At times he dominates a game and others he bites too hard on play-fakes, makes shoulder tackles a la Dennis Smith of the old Denver Broncos and has stone hands. We need this kid to step up his game and focus on pass first, help run stuff second. If a running back makes it to the secondary, the front seven aren’t doing their job anyway! Is he known across the league as a play-action biter? If I was an O-cord, I would consistently attack him. I think he’s got the potential to be great.
A: Hey — Eric, I know you’ve been a critic of the offensive play-calling in the past, and I know you were one Pats fan who was excited to see Moss line up in the slot on Sunday. As for Meriweather, he has made some bad plays at the worst possible times — two of which yielded long touchdowns, one against the Saints and another against the Panthers. He also swung and missed badly on an attempted tackle of Josh Reed on Sunday against Buffalo. He has all the physical tools, and I think he still deserves to be mentioned among the second tier of safeties around the conference (behind players like Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu). But he needs to cut down on the mistakes if he wants to earn a place at the table with the best safeties in the AFC.
Did Adalius play even one down on Sunday?
A: Greatest name ever. Anyway, Thomas did play on Sunday — I rewatched the game, and saw he was on the field for roughly half the defensive snaps on the afternoon at his usual outside linebacker spot.
With all the fireworks on Sunday, who is the best QB in the league right NOW? How about in terms of last-minute clutchness?
A: Right now, it would be hard to argue against putting Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger in the top three, with Roethlisberger making it in just over Philip Rivers based on his amazing 503 yards passing in Pittsburgh’s win over Green Bay. (Call them 3 and 3A.) Manning should win the MVP award, while Brees and the Saints are going to put up the kinds of numbers that compare favorably to Tom Brady and the 2007 Patriots. As far as clutchness, Roethlisberger and Rivers certainly looked impressive on Sunday. Hard to beat throwing a game-winning touchdown pass as time expires and leading your team on a drive that culminates with a game-winning field goal with three seconds left. (And let me take this time to give a shout-out to the NFL Red-Zone Channel, one of the truly great inventions of the modern era that allowed me to watch the end of all three dramatic finishes — Raiders-Broncos, Bengals-Chargers and Steelers-Packers — in the 4 o’clock games on Sunday. Good times, indeed.
To: Chris Price, General Manager — New England Patriots
From: R. Kraft, Owner — New England Patriots
Re: Internal Memo — 2010 Season
After watching the conclusion of the Cowboys-Saints game and seeing Dallas apply regular pressure on every play using a four-man front — including the use of a player taken off the field in an ambulance the week before — and covering the Saints' five-receiver package such that either no receiver was open or if a pass was completed the YAC was non-existent, I have decided we need to start thinking about the 2010 season immediately. Seeing Dallas's front almost end the game on a sack and fumble, then actually do it on the next play, I was left sleepless thinking about “fourth-and-2,” asking, “What if we had punted?”
When I heard Dan Dierdorf say on national TV this Sunday that our defense was held together with “duct tape and bailing wire,” that was the last straw for me.
As we have a No. 1 pick and three No. 2’s in the next draft to be followed up with two No. 1’s in 2011, these are my thoughts relative to areas requiring immediate improvement:
• A legitimate No. 3 receiver — Welker or Moss or an “out of bounds toss” is not getting it done.
• An offensive scheme that includes the tight ends or new tight ends that would be worthy of a game plan that includes their use.
• Younger legs in the backfield — we need to be healthy on a more regular basis. We can't go into games with only one running back.
• A corner to play opposite Bodden. Springs and/or Wilhite are not the answers. One is too old, the other too young.
• While I love “Big Vince,” if he is going to break the bank we may want to opt for a 4-3 approach that includes a front that can both rush the passer and stop the run. (Think Super Bowl Carolina Panthers and more recently our friends in blue from NYC).
• A linebacking presence that is not spelled M-A-Y-O.
• Coaching help for Bill. Our schemes need work.
Chris, this is your matter to resolve, but I would like to see an immediate draft of your preliminary plans to address these obvious deficiencies through the draft, free agency or trades. It is time for some fresh thinking that may require drastic measures.
So, Chris, what are you going to do?
A: Well, Mr. Kraft/Mike, I have a three-point plan. Going after a premier pass-rusher should be the No. 1 offseason priority. Whether it’s in free agency or the draft, down lineman or linebacker, target a pass-rusher of influence and sign him by any means necessary. Easier said than done, but landing someone such as Julius Peppers or Shawne Merriman (yep, I said Shawne Merriman) or using the picks to identify the best available pass-rusher in the draft would go a long way in helping fix the other defensive deficiencies on this team. Less time in the pocket for a quarterback cuts down on the coverage time for defensive backs. I’d make a quality No. 3 receiver my second priority, either in free agency (Kevin Walter?) or through the draft. And third, I’d bring back Charlie Weis and give him some sort of influence on the offense. Whether he is the coach of one of the offensive skill positions/assistant head coach or named full-on offensive coordinator again, I think a reunion with Brady would be just what the quarterback needed.