Stand back — it's time to open up the inaugural football mailbag and dive in. I’ll be taking your Patriots-related e-mails here every week and publishing the best questions every Wednesday. I welcome any reasonable questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Knock yourselves out.
Although it is only the second game of the season, I think the offensive unit as a whole is out of sync. If Joey Galloway is out of sync, then I guess the rest of the receiving unit is, too. Moss and Welker didn’t catch every ball thrown their way, either … or can we just say what it really is … Tom Brady isn’t as sharp as he used to be YET. Furthermore, how can we assess Galloway or Moss’ speed as of yet when we aren’t even going deep. Brady throws an INT and that’s the end of the deep ball. Offensive play-calling definitely needs to improve.
A: You hit it on the head, HG. At this stage of the season — other than the last 5½ minutes of the Buffalo game — Brady has not been his usual sharp self. Hard to tell if it is a mechanical problem or rust because of his year off. At this stage, I’d go with the latter. I think there was the assumption that Brady would not miss a beat, but he has struggled. You can talk all you want to about being ready for game speed in the spring and summer months, but it’s a far different matter when it comes to executing it once the regular season starts, especially when you consider he is working with several new skill position players around him. In addition, his old offensive coordinator is now calling plays in Denver.
As for the deep ball, I think the Patriots have taken their share of shots down the field with Moss. But within the context of the game plan, I don’t know how much of those are needed. Regarding Galloway, I have written before that he and Brady do not appear to be on the same page, and I stand by that. There was a fundamental disconnect on several occasions between the two on Sunday, something that even New York quarterback Mark Sanchez commented on after the game. Galloway’s situation reminds me of what the Red Sox went through with John Smoltz — he is a veteran who still has something in the tank, but there appears to be a question if he can acclimate himself to his new environment and how long you want to continue with the experiment.
Do you think the backfield-by-committee could be backfiring or is the O line not good at run-blocking? I know most teams have dual backs and a third-down back, but I just wonder if [Laurence] Maroney, [Sammy] Morris and [Fred] Taylor are having a tough time getting into a groove. I've heard all these guys say this wasn't a problem. What do you think? I'm also wondering if they should give BenJarvus Green-Ellis a shot at starting, maybe one guy with his heart and hard running can have better success! I'm probably dreaming, but what do you think? I know the Pats are a passing team, but they can't run at all?
A: I don't think the backfield is backfiring (well-played, by the way), but I think it's simply part of a larger issue having to do with an offense that is still struggling to find an identity. There's a new offensive play-caller in Bill O’Brien, Brady is coming back after a year on the shelf and there are some new offensive options (Galloway, tight end Chris Baker). It's taken longer than anticipated to get everyone on the same page. (I think if the Pats had to do it all over again, they would have played the new guys together as much as possible during the preseason — nothing builds a good level of trust in your teammates like game reps.)
I would have liked to see the Patriots run the ball more on Sunday — they averaged more than 4 yards a carry, with much of that yardage coming on draw-type plays (handoffs out of the shotgun), an excellent way to gain yardage against an aggressive team that might tend to overpursue like the Jets. And it wasn’t like they were down big in the second half and had to pass to get back in it. (The one argument against running the ball was that many times, because of bad penalties, the Patriots found themselves in second- and third-and-long situations, not ideal times to run the ball.)
I still think that the running game can be a key part of this offense — with the combo of Maroney, Morris and Taylor in particular — but I think it’s just going to take longer than we all thought.
The Hall of Fame selection commitee needs to change the “rules” for induction. Bucko Kilroy dedicated 64 years of his life to the NFL. His entire career should be evaluated with his nomination to the NFL’s Hall of Fame. Not many men contributed in more than one voting category. Bucko Kilroy’s invaluable contributions as a player, coach and administrator are worthy of selection into the HOF in Canton, Ohio. Evaulate the man’s whole contributions, don’t discriminate.
David J. Michael, Jr.
A: Eight people (seven players, one “contributor”) associated with the Patriots made the preliminary list of 131 nominees for the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2010, which was announced last week. Tight ends Russ Francis and Ben Coates, wide receivers Irving Fryar and Stanley Morgan, quarterback Rich Gannon (who was drafted by New England but went on to achieve his greatest success in Oakland), cornerback Ray Clayborn and nose tackle Fred Smerlas all were nominated, as well as former Patriots executive Francis "Bucko" Kilroy.
If I had to handicap the field, I’d say Francis has the best shot at it. A three-time Pro Bowler, he ended his career with 5,262 receiving yards. But Kilroy definitely should merit consideration. Kilroy was one of the most respected men in the game, and few can boast of the contributions he made as a player, coach and administrator. He played in the league with Philadelphia for 13 years, winning All-Pro honors six times as an offensive lineman, and he spent his last three seasons with the Eagles as a player/coach before becoming a full-time assistant coach and, later, Philadelphia’s player personnel director. After his days with the Eagles were done, Kilroy was hired as director of player personnel by the Redskins in 1962. He served as a super scout for the Dallas Cowboys from 1966-70 before joining the Patriots in 1971 as the personnel director.
Some would argue he deserves a shot at the Hall for what he helped do with the Patriots’ 1973 draft. That year, New England held three of the first 19 picks. With the fourth pick, the Pats took future Hall of Fame offensive lineman John Hannah out of Alabama. At No. 11, it was running back Sam Cunningham out of Southern Cal. With the 19th overall selection, it was wide receiver Darryl Stingley from Purdue. New England would add a fourth regular to the roster that weekend. In the 14th round, the Patriots selected Ray “Sugar Bear” Hamilton out of Oklahoma.
I’m no Kevin Faulk fan, but where was he on Sunday? Against a blitzing team like the Jets, doesn’t it make sense to run some screens? And there’s no better weapon we have when it comes to the screen pass than Faulk. Plus, we keep hearing how good he is at blitz pickup — you would have thought he would have been the perfect guy to have in there to keep Brady from getting lit up.
A: Belichick explained the lack of screens on a conference call with the media on Tuesday afternoon. He said that it’s a risk-vs.-reward situation because of the style of blitzes New York runs, and there was simply too much of a possible “downside” to try running them.
“The Jets haven’t been screened a whole lot this year,” Belichick said. “I’m not saying you can’t do it, but there’s definitely some downside to it and maybe a little more big-play opportunity with it — if you hit it — than against some other teams. It’s a little tricky to screen a team like that when you don’t really know who’s covering the guy that you’re screening to, and that’s the guy you’ve really got to get.”
As for Faulk, your guess is as good as mine. They were missing Welker, and with as much passing as they were doing in second- and third-and-long situations, the best receiver they have out of the backfield (and one of the best receivers on the team) is Faulk, and they only targeted him once. (He had one reception for three yards.)
The Jets picked up [Kevin] O’Connell and beat us. Can the pickup of former Ravens linebacker Prescott Burgess — whose name sounds like a fictional TV billionaire — help us in the preparation for the Baltimore game in two weeks?
A: Short answer? No. Much was made of O’Connell’s work with the Jets, but the Patriots certainly weren’t buying into it. On “Dennis & Callahan” on Monday, Tom Brady said someone like that will be able to give you certain things, but the idea of getting enough info to tilt a game in one direction or another isn’t likely.
“We have a bunch of different protections and we have a bunch of different blitz-beaters. Unless you know what play is called at that time, you’re not going to know how we’re adjusting to the blitz,” Brady said. “He can go in there and say, ‘OK, on this play this is what they do,’ but that’s always in hindsight, that’s him looking at the play … we could line up in a different formation and then it’s different. And most teams do it the exact same way. It’s not hard to study film and figure out how you pick up the blitz. I don’t think that’s something that’s like a big mystery.”
As for Burgess, his biggest impact — at least at the start — will be felt more on special teams. I spoke with someone who has covered the Ravens this year, and Burgess was considered one of Baltimore’s top special teams players. Down the road, he could figure into the mix at outside linebacker. (Speaking of guys getting picked up by other teams and giving them inside info, here’s an interesting take on the Burgess deal.)
The last few years, Rodney Harrison was the guy who always covered the big-time tight ends. He took down guys like [Indianapolis'] Dallas Clark and [Dallas'] Jason Witten. With no Rodney, who’s gonna be the guy who gets after those guys now? They’re facing a really good TE this week in [Tony] Gonzalez — whose gonna check him?
A: There’s not going to be one designated guy anymore — the matchups will be dictated by who matches up best with the opposing tight end. If there’s a tight end who has good speed out there, you might see Gary Guyton assigned to cover him, as Guyton remains one of the fastest linebackers in the league. If there’s someone with a little less speed and a little more bulk, it could be Brandon McGowan, a safety who has made a significant mark in his short time in New England.
“We’re going to try to use different personnel, and that may not ever be the same guy twice,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said Tuesday when asked who will take over that role. “Sometimes it might be more than one guy.”
Regardless of who it is, the days of pointing No. 37 in the direction of the opposing tight end and turning him loose are definitely done.