Welcome back to the mailbag. You guys really brought it this week, with lots of good Patriots talk. We had questions about the offensive game plan, who is exactly doing what when it comes to calling the plays, the relationship between the quarterback and his receivers and what — if anything — the Patriots might do before the looming trade deadline.
If you want to be a part of the action, don’t hesitate to send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. We do this every Wednesday — don’t be left out.
One thing I learned today, Chris Price is a moron.
A: Oh yeah? Well, the jerk store called, and they’re running out of you. What's the difference? You’re their all-time best seller.
Seriously, I do feel like a moron for not believing in the Broncos. For all his off-field problems, Brandon Marshall is a terrific receiver and Kyle Orton is emerging as a talented young quarterback. I’m even kind of sold on the defense — the Broncos weren’t able to generate any sort of sustained pass rush, and they reaped the benefits of some really poorly thrown balls by Tom Brady, but they stopped New England when it counted. Don’t know if I’d put them among the AFC elite just yet, but they are headed in the right direction.
Brady needs to complete that pass to a wide-open [Randy] Moss, and that pass to a streaking [Wes] Welker. Both would have been TDs. The Patriots are now a regular medicore football team. Gone are the dominating Patriots. Brady is simply a pedestrian QB.
A: Mike, I think that if Brady completes those two passes, it’s a different game. (The quarterback acknowledged as much in his appearance this week on WEEI, saying in part, “I’ve got to find ways to do a better job with Wes, with Randy to get those guys the ball.”) But when it comes to the big picture, I don’t believe the Patriots are a mediocre football team, and I don’t believe Brady is a pedestrian QB. When it comes to re-acclimating yourself to the game after a year off, it takes time. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Look at what Peyton Manning went through last year after his offseason knee surgery. It was very similar. And by the end of the season, all was well. There’s no reason to think Brady won’t follow the same path.
I agree, that the second half was lackluster. Two Denver drives that run the length of the field and end with points. Brady is comfy with the suits, brand name hats and cool looks. Maybe he should model the three-piece with wide lapels, and the TB hats. When does a supperstar get tired of working so hard and getting hit in the teeth, and retire to the multi-million dollar house with a modeling contract instead. Has to be tough to stay motivated when he has done so much. The refereeing was bad for both sides and had little effect on the results, as the Pats had plenty of chances to make plays down the stretch. Vince [Wilfork] had a monster game. So did Tully [Banta-Cain]. Four plays for [Laurence] Maroney, and a 2.2 average. We are a middle-of-the-road team, and the stats and record reflect it.
A: Whit and Mike Lemke have been hanging out together. I do agree that the Patriots had more than enough chances down the stretch to come away with the win, but they frittered them away, with the most egregious error coming at the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth when a pair of Denver penalties kept a New England drive alive. (One that still ended in a punt.) I also agree that Banta-Cain and Wilfork had big games. (Banta-Cain has had an excellent season.)
However, I don’t think the Patriots are a middle-of-the-road team, not yet, anyway. After playing four straight undefeated teams, New England is entering a very easy stretch the next four weeks — its next three opponents are a combined 2-13. In addition, there’s a bye week in there. If the Patriots are anything less than 6-2 heading into their Nov. 15 matchup with the Colts in Indy, then there’s cause for concern.
Here is what I learned:
1. It is time for full-time refs. The officiating in this league is awful. Many people believe it is corrupt. However, it may just be very bad. The league says it does everything it can to make things as good as it can. Then why not hire full-time refs, so they can spend a proper amount of time learning the rules, reviewing their play and the play of others, and practicing? It is time for the NFL to back up what it says, make a commitment to the game, hire full-time refs. We will have fewer games blown by lousy calls.
2. Something is definitely wrong with Brady, still. He overthrew Moss for an easy TD and hit Welker in the feet for another one that would have been a TD. He wasn't under much pressure. There is simply something wrong, and he needs to fix it, fast. The receivers are doing their part, but Brady is coming up short. No excuses, just get it fixed.
3. We are playing way too cautiously. Games are not won or lost by being cautious. They are won by aggressive playing and play-calling. Yesterday we saw a team trying to protect a one-touchdown lead by running time off the clock with 10 minutes left in the game. Matt Light out or no, you can not play that way and expect to win. On defense we went back to giving receivers huge cushions, despite the fact that we have faster, more capable corners now. That gives the other side 7-yard completions at will, and they took them. Look at the past few weeks. When we were aggressive, we won games. In fact, that is how we won Super Bowls.
4. Speed isn't everything. Brandon Meriweather is fast, and it helped him last week, but cost him this week. Not taking proper angles and coming in too fast let agile runners avoid him easily at times.
5. Tackling is still poor. This is one I am very tired of repeating. For 4-5 years now the tackling on this team has been poor. It needs to improve, and fast.
A: I’m assuming you’re talking about the taunting call on Meriweather that cost the Patriots big late in the game. I agree — that was a lousy call, one that confused more than a few folks when two flags were tossed on the play, but one was picked up. (The flag thrown closest to Meriweather was tossed before he even made any “taunting” move on the receiver.) However, I think that in the big picture, the refereeing has been OK this season. There has been some uncertainty about the Brady rule, but you will always have that confusion when a new regulation has been implemented. Look at it this way — at least you don’t have C.B. Bucknor or Joe West working these games.
As for Brady, his timing with his receivers is off. I have no reason to think that with more game repetition, it wouldn’t be fixed. I’ve used this example several times, but take a look at Peyton Manning’s stats when he was coming off knee surgery last year. It’s the same time of situation now.
When it comes to tackling and bad angles, I agree. Things have been substandard this season. On “The Big Show” on Monday, Bill Belichick addressed the issue. “We need to do a better job of tackling. That was a big emphasis point going into the game. They have good runners and guys who are hard to tackle either because of their size, their power, their quickness or balance or combination of some of those skill sets,” he said. “Of course, the biggest issue on the tackling is obviously space. The more space they have the harder it is to get them. The more you can box them in and confine them then the more you can tackle them. It is really a combination of those two things. We need to do a better job of keeping them tight and we need to do a better job of wrapping them up when we actually do get them.”
Any thoughts on why the Pats didn't cut [Joey] Galloway right away and put Terrence Nunn on the roster from the practice squad? He looked terrific in preseason and many were surprised he cleared waivers.
A: I agree that Nunn had a great preseason — he opened a lot of eyes, and probably played his way onto the practice squad with what he did over the course of the preseason. But I think they wanted Nunn to get a year behind him in the system, learning the intricacies of the passing game, as well as become more physically ready for the grind of the NFL season. (He’s already put on 10 pounds since college.) So he takes a redshirt year while working on the practice squad, maybe honing his return skills (he was a punt returner in college). I’d look for him to be in the mix next season.
Great job on NFL Sunday on WEEI. Who is actually calling the offensive plays this year for the Patriots? What experience does he or she have? And, is Randy Moss's absence from the offense just Brady and Moss being rusty from a year off?
A: Thanks for the kind words. It’s a collective that’s calling this year’s offensive plays. Bill O’Brien — currently the quarterbacks coach — is doing much of it, but he’s also getting input from director of player personnel Nick Caserio, who recently said he’s in the press box on game days communicating with O’Brien. In addition, Bill Belichick almost certainly has an influence on what’s being called when. (Players have said it was Belichick who drew up the Tom Brady-to-Chris Baker 36-yard touchdown pass against the Falcons.) And Brady has more of a free rein than most quarterbacks in the league. Maybe there are too many people taking part in the process.
As for the Brady-Moss miscommunication, I’d say it’s more about Brady being rusty from a year away than anything else. The two remind me a lot of Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, and after Manning had knee surgery before the start of the 2008 season, those two struggled out of the gate at the start as well. (In Manning’s first five games back last year, Harrison had one game where he had just one catch, and in only one of those five games had more than 80 receiving yards.)
Given the fact that Benjamin Watson was lost to us for the second half of the game, and given the fact that, "dancing" or no, Maroney remains one of the few dynamic offensive players we have, WHY THE [bleep] did we go down scoring a paltry 17 points, including the uber-paltry ZERO in the second half, without running the guy out there?
A: The play-calling in the second half was a mystery to me as well, John. In the second half, they were 0-for-6 on third down, and had one good scoring opportunity that resulted in a missed field goal from Stephen Gostkowski. One area Belichick identified as a source of the second-half struggles was in blocking. “We felt like there were some running opportunities. We, at times, got something out of it and at other times we didn’t. It just wasn’t consistent enough,” he told “The Big Show” on Monday. “There were times they had less guys on the line of scrimmage or around the box there and we felt like we could run the ball there. It wasn’t like we were outnumbered. We just have to do a better job of blocking them.”
But I don’t think that Maroney is the answer to the offensive struggles. When healthy, he has been dynamic. But Sammy Morris was the more consistent performer in the ground game on Sunday, and while Maroney made some positive strides against the Broncos, he remains a mixed bag in the passing game.
How come nobody is talking about the terrible play-calling this year. Why were they constantly trying to run the ball? I know Brady was off, and usually is in Denver, but just because Light get hurts doesn't mean you have to stop throwing down the field. Keep the tight end in to help [Sebastian] Vollmer and get the job done. Boy I miss [Josh] McDaniels.
A: I agree with you, GMONEY. (The first time I’ve ever written that sentence, by the way.) As I have stated previously, I think New England’s second-half play-calling got a little conservative. Brady had good time in the pocket to throw — the only time the Denver defense was able to generate any sort of pressure was on a blitz, and when it did, more often than not, Brady was able to find someone. (Denver had just one quarterback hit on Brady.) I don’t know if you necessarily have to throw downfield, but the short screens they hit on in the first half were nowhere to be seen in the second half. I think Vollmer did well and could be in line for more playing time if Light is out for an extended period of time.
The offensive coordinator should be fired. ... This New England team has the worst game plan I have ever seen. What, did we blitz three times yesterday? I can't believe BB allows these offensive play-calls. The only reason we have three wins is based on our talent alone. If we had a better game plan we would not have lost this game. Tom Brady is definitely off, but these half-ass run plays are for the birds. Brady has thrown the ball downfield only a handful of times. You can't expect Brady to connect every time, he will miss Moss once in a while, he did in '07 as well, but in '07 they kept going after it. This year he has maybe two attemps down field a game, and that's it.
Third-and-4 and our secondary plays 10 yards off — doesn't make any sense. This is on BB
A: Again, I agree that the play-calling in the second half of the losses to Denver and the Jets was puzzling. But I think comparing this offense to the 2007 edition is unfair. That was a once-in-a-generation event that probably won’t be duplicated ever again for several reasons — you simply cannot expect those kinds of numbers again. In terms of going downfield, I think we will see more of that later in the season when Brady and the offense start clicking again.
When it comes to the values of playing press coverage against laying back in a zone, Belichick said on Monday some of the reason the cornerbacks were playing off was because they were cautious about Brandon Marshall or Eddie Royal breaking off a long one. “You never want to get up there and get everybody on the line of scrimmage and worry about a 4-yard pass and they throw one up over your head. When they keep hitting them like that you have to take it away,” he said. “We did that on the last drive there in regulation, we got up and clamped down on some of that stuff and kept them out of field goal range.”
I know trades are not common in the NFL. After seeing the Jets trade for Braylon Edwards for draft picks [and more], do you think the Patriots would ever consider trading a draft pick for a player to help out the team this year? With the Panthers off to a bad start I was thinking the Pats could trade for Julius Peppers for that first-round pick in 2010 or 2011? Or maybe they could trade a lesser draft pick with the Titans for veteran linebacker Keith Bulluck, but I guess you could say they can pick up Junior Seau and give up nothing? I'm just trying to think how the Pats could get better going forward. I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or ideas?
Can I bother you with one more question? Do you think the Pats will give BenJarvus Green-Ellis a chance in the coming weeks?
A: William, I don’t see the Patriots making a trade before the deadline next week. Unless you’ve got a serious problem on your hands — a holdout, whatever — making a deal during the season is unlikely. Historically, the Patriots have been cautious to deal during the season. Under Belichick, New England has made only one in-season trade: Deion Branch to Seattle on Sept. 11, 2006. On his weekly conference call on Tuesday, director of player personnel Nick Caserio seemed to indicate no deadline deal is likely for the Patriots, at least this year.
As for Green-Ellis, I think that if something happened to the current crop of running backs — an injury to Sammy Morris, or if Laurence Maroney takes a step back — I think he could move up a spot or two on the depth chart. But if things stay the way they are, I wouldn’t seem him getting called on for serious reps anytime soon.
As has been said, we cannot blame the loss on any single person. I think the missed 40-yard field goal by Gostkowski was probably the most critical because if things had unfolded the same way, they would not have had to play overtime. I think the defense was the typical bend-but-don’t-break BB defense. It is hard for this defense to prevent a field goal, but it is good at preventing the touchdown. I thought the run defense looked pretty bad, considering the Broncos only rushed it 25 times. That “wild horses” offense was so predictable, yet the Patriots couldn’t stop it when [Knowshon] Moreno was just running the ball up the gut.
I agree that Maroney has been a huge disappointment. Morris can be the every down back and [Kevin] Faulk can do all else needed. Maroney will just be insurance.
The drive where the Broncos gave them two first downs from special teams penalties was just sad. How could they not turn that into points?
Brady was definitely not on his game. I am not worried, though. You figured they were going to have a loss between Atlanta, Baltimore and Denver. I think they will go 12-4 with losses to Indy and New Orleans.
A: Ah, ending on an optimistic note. Considering the Patriots had so much turnover on defense, I think it’s safe to say that through the first five games, the defense has exceeded expectations. Phil, at the start of the season, I had the Patriots going 13-3 this season, but now, I think I’m with you. It sounds like 12-4 is the way to go, which would likely be enough for a divisional title, but is probably not enough for that first-round bye, depending on how tiebreakers shake out. With Brady’s re-acclimation process a work in progress and so many new faces on defense (plus not having Jerod Mayo for three weeks), I think a 3-2 record is a good indication of where this team is right now. Good, but not great.