No mailbag last week — my apologies. The funky week got everything turned around, and we weren’t able to get to the e-mails. Some of them were able to hold up for an extra week, while others had to be tossed out. Won’t happen again, people: I’m locked and loaded for the rest of the regular season, which is almost (gasp) halfway over.
This week, we look at the Patriots' bye week, Brandon Tate and who scares New England fans more — the Saints or the Colts. We also put the safety position under the microscope, wonder if Laurence Maroney could be used like Reggie Bush, and ask if the Patriots will be facing the Silly Nannies again anytime soon.
As always, feel free to join the fun by sending me an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. On with the show.
At what point this year has Tom Brady been his best? The pass to [Ben] Watson was classic Brady and the two interceptions were just lazy throws. The O-line has to play a lot better. [Logan] Mankins and [Sebastian] Vollmer were both awful. Tate looked good — maybe [Joey] Galloway wasn’t willing to work but if two rookies can be productive, what does that tell you about Galloway?
Perfect time for the break — we’ll see how good the Pats are over the next four games.
A: Mike, it is a great time for the break — just about halfway through the season. The Patriots have an extra few days for self-scouting and a chance to get some guys (Fred Taylor) healed up for the stretch drive. As for Brady, he probably was at his best in the second quarter of the win over the Titans, when he tossed five touchdown passes in the ridiculously lopsided win. He and the rest of the New England offense were good last week against Tampa Bay, but they seemed to lose their focus on occasion — the only reason the score wasn’t 49-7 was because the Patriots seemed to let their attention wander just a bit.
I agree — it was maybe the worst game the offensive line played all season. Multiple false starts and holding penalties will give them a lot to think about come bye week. As for Tate, he did as well as could be expected for a rookie who just started practicing that week. The first question you always ask yourself when it comes to seeing rookies in action for the first time is: Do they appear overwhelmed? Tate certainly didn’t, helping execute an 11-yard gain on an end-around and returning a pair of kicks for a 22-yard average. It certainly makes you wonder if Galloway was vexed by the idea that you can’t teach an old receiver new tricks.
As for my thoughts on the next four games, check out my story on that here.
How do you see the safety position playing out for the rest of the year? [Patrick] Chung seemed to get significant reps, [Brandon] McGowan was always hovering around the line of scrimmage and [James] Sanders came in for the cleanup job in the fourth quarter and still seems to be decent in coverage and a good tackler. And, can Meriweather be considered as a Pro Bowler this year?
Thanks Chris. Enjoy the bye week.
A: Thanks, Paul. Chung saw more playing time on Sunday against the Bucs than he did all season long, but I will reserve judgment on whether or not that was a game-plan decision, or a new pattern worth keeping an eye on. He is playing well, but I'm not sure if he’s ready to make that leap to full-time contributor yet. He is starting to push Sanders more and more — it will be interesting to see how the snaps break down the rest of the way.
As for McGowan, it appears he’s taken on Rodney Harrison’s old role of serving as something of a safety/linebacker hybrid, someone physical enough to lock up the veteran tight ends (I’m looking forward to the McGowan/Dallas Clark matchup next month) and fast enough to keep up with wide receivers as a slot corner.
And Meriweather has certainly make colossal strides the last couple of seasons — especially as an Ed Reed-type playmaker — but he’s still a step behind the truly elite AFC safeties such as Reed and Troy Polamalu. No shame in that, but he’s not in their class just yet.
Everyone is down on Maroney, and so am I. But he also has great potential when he gets into the open field — better than [Sammy] Morris, [BenJarvus] Green-Ellis and [Kevin] Faulk. Have there been discussions on trying to use Maroney in a Reggie Bush-type way — as in, getting the ball is his hands in the open field after the line of scrimmage? I keep thinking back to the screen pass that was called back for holding in the Ravens game. When Maroney gets the ball in the open field, past the line of scrimmage, he’s dangerous. I think if the Patriots utilize him in that way, Maroney would flourish. What do you think?
A: Maroney’s strength is when he’s in the open field — he’s not a traditional between-the-tackles running back — and so you would think that the Patriots are doing all they can do to get Maroney operating in space. In that situation, he’s a truly dangerous offensive presence. However, since his rookie year, Maroney has been ineffective in the passing game — he has just 10 catches since 2006. He talked a little bit about his desire to contribute more in the passing game at the start of the season, but it really hasn’t worked out, at least to this point.
If they do more to get him involved in the passing game and Maroney’s receiving skills improve, then I could see an expanded role for him in the passing game. But as far as him being a Reggie Bush-type, that role is more for Faulk, still one of the best pass-catching backs in the league.
You brought up the subject this past Sunday on NFL Sunday with Dale, Michael and Christian concerning throwing to the tight ends more in the offensive game plan. My question is when did the Patriots go away from utilizing the tight ends? With the past success at the tight end position with Russ Francis, Ben Coates, etc., are the Patriots just waiting for the right player to inhabit the position, or does Brady just have too many good targets other than the tight end?
A: Big picture? I think the Patriots started going away from tight ends more and more because they have relied more on the spread offense, which traditionally relies on four wide receiver sets instead of an offense that makes more use of a tight end. As a result, they are likely more inclined to go after a premier receiver instead of a big, pass-catching tight end. I also think that for whatever reason, there haven’t been a whole lot of stud, pass-catching tight ends coming out of college lately.
While watching the game from Wembley I had a flashback to the early '80s. I went on a sports trip with Rip Valenti group to witness the triumphal crowning of the middleweight champion of the world, Marvelous Marvin Hagler. When the match ended in the third round at Wembley Arena, the hometown crowd erupted into a full-scale riot. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first major sports event linking Massachusetts and London since this middleweight boxing championship. It is amazing that no Boston sportswriters brought this up.
Thanks for keeping Patriots Nation informed.
Have a great day,
A: Of course, in addition to the Hagler fight at Wembley, there was also the great Patriots-Silly Nannies game from a couple of years back. (The greatest part of that episode? It wasn’t Brady, but how the “Family Guy” writers used Jay Leno in one of the greatest random humor events of the last 10 years. “Hey Brady! What kind of suit you wanna be buried in?!? Hahahahaha!!!!”) But I think there could be more moments overseas for the Patriots — New England remains one of the marquee teams in the league and is wildly popular in the United Kingdom. With the league looking to expand the international schedule to two or three games a year with an eye toward putting a team over there, the Patriots could continue to play a role as international ambassadors on behalf of the NFL.
During the draft, they called Brandon Tate a bigger, more physical Percy Harvin. Hakeem Nicks didn’t blow up until after he went down. It won’t be until the end of the season, maybe even next year, but this guy could be a playmaker, and a huge steal.
A: He certainly did well on Sunday. Again, he didn’t look overwhelmed. There was apparently a missed assignment at one point, one that didn’t come back to harm the Patriots. After the game, Brady remarked that Tate had a “good” outing, and acknowledged it was tough for him to do after missing all that time. However, I thought Brady’s kicker was interesting: “We need depth at that position and he’s going to be called upon as a contributor even though he’s a rookie. So he’s got to keep making improvements.” Translation? Nice job, kid. But don’t get too satisfied with what you did Sunday. You need to keep your head in the playbook, because we’re going to count on you down the stretch to make a contribution.
Hey Chris - with two unbeaten teams still on the Pats schedule, who worries you more, Indianapolis or New Orleans?
A: Early this season, I would have said each game worries me equally — Peyton Manning is having a sensational year — but after I saw what the Saints did to the Giants, I’d have to go with New Orleans. This Saints team is doing things that we haven’t seen since the 2007 Patriots. Drew Brees has so many offensive options — Mike Bell, Marques Colston, Pierre Thomas and Jeremy Shockey — he’s making it look easy. With the exception of the first half against the Dolphins, the defense has also looked stellar. And when the defense hasn’t played well, the offense simply outscores its opponents. It’s a tight, well-run team that I think will give the Patriots a lot of trouble.
For what it’s worth, this is going to be a huge game for the New England running game — the key to beat the Saints is to keep the New Orleans offense off the field as long as possible. If the Patriots win the time-of-possession battle, that will go a long way toward winning the game.
After our recent exchange about wide receivers, I took your advice and laid down with a cold cloth. I then got up and put on the recent Monday night Jets-Dolphins game and watched Braylon Edwards — who had been with the Jets for three days and was working with a rookie quarterback — look like the second coming of Don Maynard. Effective on multiple route types with solid results throughout the course of the game.
In three games he has caught nine balls and has an average yards per catch roughly equivalent to our own Randy Moss. Makes sense as this is apparently the big-play threat and not bad considering the coverage he must see based on the rest of the Jets receiving corps.
What is the deal here, Chris? Are the Pats their own worst enemy when it comes to schemes and offensive philosophy? If [Mark] Sanchez and Edwards can become functional overnight, what is going on in Foxboro when a proven veteran receiver and the best QB in the game cannot get in sync even after a full preseason and five games?
A: No, the Pats aren’t their own worst enemy. They just struck out with Joey Galloway. It happens. Under Belichick, those sorts of veteran pass-catchers who are acquired go in one of two directions. Guys like David Patten, Christian Fauria, Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker all got it. It just clicked for them — they quickly knew exactly what Brady wanted, and knew they had to be in certain places at certain times for the whole offense to work. Even though they were veterans, their transition into the New England system was (mostly) seamless. On the other hand, guys such as Galloway, Doug Gabriel and Donald Hayes didn’t get it. They weren’t able to master the system, and were drummed out in less than a year.
(I’m not including Greg Lewis or Reche Caldwell in either group because I’m still not sure what Lewis did to get himself released before Galloway. And I will always have a soft spot for Caldwell, whose effort was never in question but who was certainly expendable after the Patriots added Moss and Welker before the start of the 2007 season.)
Then there’s Edwards. No one was happier to leave a town than Braylon Edwards. You want to talk about a guy who will do anything to reward a team that saved him from the football hell known as Cleveland? Edwards is the best example of a veteran who is just happy to be in a new place, someone who just needed a new start. Wouldn’t have mattered where he went, as long as they had a positive structure in the locker room, a decent chance at the playoffs and a strong-armed quarterback. I can think of a half-dozen other places off the top of my head where he also would have fit in nicely. (Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Baltimore, the New York Giants and Chicago. And that’s just off the top of my head.)
Let’s also remember that three games is a relatively small sample size. He and Sanchez worked well together in that first game, but Edwards has four catches since then, including just one last week against the Raiders.