It’s time for the Colts, which means we’ve got us some good Indianapolis talk in this week’s mailbag. I’ve been fortunate enough to have covered the Patriots since 2001, and this is, without a doubt, the best week of the year when it comes to the regular season. There’s always a great energy around the stadium this week — it’s the closest thing to a postseason atmosphere you’ll get before January rolls around.
These are two classic franchises that measure success not in wins and losses but in the number of banners they hang in their building. It’s always a great game, and this year is going to be no exception. (It’s also awesome because I’m going to indulge in some Steak 'n Shake when I get out there on Saturday, but that’s a story for another day.)
This week, we tackle a number of other topics, including a look at Adalius Thomas, what the reporters do in the locker room when an injured player walks by, and the possible impact of BenJarvus Green-Ellis on the offense. If you want to be a part of the fun next week, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org by Tuesday at noon. We do this every week, people.
If Coach Bill [Belichick] could add one more player to his roster, what position would it be?
A: Great question. I think it probably varies from week to week depending on the opponent, but I’d say if he had his druthers, at this point, he’d go after a true No. 3 receiver. The Patriots are starting to see the emergence of guys such as Sam Aiken and Brandon Tate at that spot, but I think he’d love to get his hands on a veteran No. 3 after having swung and missed on both Greg Lewis and Joey Galloway.
For so many years, Rodney Harrison was the guy who was asked to stop Dallas Clark, and now he’s not around anymore. Who is going to get the call on Sunday night? My guess is Brandon McGowan.
A: You guessed right, Richard. I don’t think McGowan is going to be in single coverage against Clark, but I think he’s going to have the lion’s share of responsibility when it comes to slowing him down. McGowan has been a beast against tight ends this year, doing a great job at holding Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez (one catch) and Tampa Bay’s Kellen Winslow (two catches) in check by being physical with them off the line. It’s a matchup that certainly bears watching.
I think someone should try to find out what’s really going on [with] the Adalius Thomas story. Why was he not active several weeks ago? Does he have personal issues? Is he suddenly too old and slow? Is he just collecting his check? Is being a player rep for the union causing issues with Pats front office?
A: Scott, it’s my belief that Adalius Thomas has struggled this season because of a variety of issues, including the fact that he may not have been utilized to his fullest potential earlier in the season. (I detailed those reasons in a mailbag earlier in the season.) I do think he looked a step behind earlier in the season, but I believe he played very well — maybe his best performance of the year — on Sunday against the Dolphins. He was active in coverage, made a nice tackle on a busted end-around and scooped up a fumble and returned it for a touchdown (only to see it called back). I don’t think he is just collecting a check, and I don’t think the fact that he’s the team's player rep is causing issues with the front office.
That was a great article and insight on the practice squad players. I always wondered how that squad worked.
Regarding running backs, why do the Pats keep bringing in running backs to look at each week? If they aren’t willing to give BenJarvus Green-Ellis a chance at running the ball then why do we bother hanging on to him. If they are so unhappy with [Laurence] Maroney then why not give him a shot. The one thing I love about Green-Ellis is you don’t have to worry about him not running with any heart! This guy is trying to prove he belongs and I think he does. There isn’t any wiggle in his running style. on’t get me wrong -- I’ve tried to stick up for Maroney, but I’m starting to run out of excuses.
Sorry to be pushing the Green-Ellis bandwagon at you each week, but I just want to see the Pats to give him a chance!
Keep up the great work!
A: Thanks, William. I think Green-Ellis can do a lot — we saw him act as a fullback last week against the Dolphins. And the Patriots love that. And I agree that when he runs, he runs hard and does a nice job of hitting the hole. But I think he is what he is — a third or fourth option at running back, someone who can give you depth but is not the kind of guy who is a long-term solution at the position. I love BJGE as well, but if he wants to have anything more than a complementary role, he HAS to make plays when he gets the opportunity, and I don’t think he’s made the most of all of his opportunities when he’s gotten the chance. (He had a bad drop in the end zone against Miami.)
What’s your favorite memory of the Pats-Colts rivalry?
A: I have three favorites. The first was the 2004 AFC divisional playoff game in which New England simply smothered the Colts, taking home a 20-3 win. Corey Dillon was a flat-out monster in that game, rushing for 144 yards as the Patriots limited the Colts to just 276 total yards.
The 2007 game in Indianapolis is also a favorite of mine for several reasons, not the least of which included the fact that it featured one of my favorite catches of all time, a one-handed grab by Randy Moss over the middle that has to be seen again to really be appreciated. (I tried to find it on YouTube, but it’s been removed.)
I’ve also got to mention (much to the chagrin of some New England fans, no doubt) the 2006 AFC championship game in Indianapolis. That still ranks as one of the best football games I have ever been present for. It was like watching a great heavyweight fight, with Brady and Manning swinging away at each other. The Patriots took a 21-3 lead, but in a warm dome, the Colts wore down an older New England team, and when Marlin Jackson stepped in front of a last-minute Brady pass to ensure a 38-34 Indy win, the top of the RCA Dome almost popped off, it was so loud.
When an injured player walks through the locker room when you guys are there, does everyone just stop, stare and study?
A: Pretty much. All the print or Internet reporters basically stop when someone injured walks through the room. We’ll size him up and ask him to talk, but more often than not, that player will smile and beg off interviews. (Honestly, sometimes it helps if one reporter has a good relationship with that player — he can slow him down and get him to talk while the rest of us wait to jump in with questions.)
But really, when it comes to stuff like this, the invention of Twitter (and the Blackberry) have almost combined to render the blog obsolete. As an example, as soon as I saw Dan Koppen make his way through the locker room on Monday — without a limp, a brace or crutches — I grabbed my BlackBerry and started Tweeting. (Check out the post here.) I thought I was ahead of the curve (as was the case earlier this year when I spotted an injured Matt Light and immediately Tweeted that, as well as an update on an injured Jerod Mayo), but it turns out that it was Koppen’s second pass through the locker room. Two minutes had gone, and I already was behind.
The most important thing? When you are in the locker room, you always have to keep your eyes open, because you never know who’s going to limp through.
(By the way, now seems as good a time as any to push my Twitter account. I can be reached at twitter.com/capeleaguer. In addition, you can get WEEI.com updates at twitter.com/weeisports.)
What are you thinking about the status of the five players out and [Jonathan] Wilhite's illness and [Dan] Koppen/[Brandon] Tate? Can’t afford to carry eight injuries vs Colts. And what are your thoughts on the [Sebastian] Vollmer/[Matt] Light situation?
A: Paul, I would keep my eyes on the injury report, which will be released Wednesday at 4 p.m. For what it’s worth, I don’t think that both Koppen and Tate will be out Sunday against the Colts. Tate was seen in the Patriots locker room after Sunday’s game. He did not speak with reporters, but in my experience covering the team, if the injury is serious at all, the player is not around by the time the media is allowed to enter the locker room. Koppen is a question mark, but he was around on Monday and did not appear to be hindered in any way.
As for Vollmer and Light, it’s a very small overall sample size, but Vollmer has shown that he belongs at the NFL level. I still think that when Light comes back, he’ll move back into that left tackle spot. But Light’s deal is up at the end of 2010. I’m guessing that at the very latest, Vollmer will be New England’s left tackle by the start of the 2011 season.