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Ask PFW: Basking over Bronco busting

Posted Nov 26, 2013

The Patriots most impressive regular-season win in years brought out plenty of excitement among Patriots fans and we discuss some elements of the epic comeback in this week’s "Ask PFW" mailbag.

What do you think of Nate Solder’s production? I think he was one of the weakest points in the Sunday night game. Several sacks came from his side, and as I saw most of them were at least partly his mistake.
Jozsef Bakk

I don’t think the first half of the Denver game is one Solder will look back on too fondly. I thought Von Miller beat him a few times and really impacted the game. The second was much better, though, and overall I feel Solder is a rock solid left tackle. I believe he’s excellent blocking in the running game and his athleticism allows him to move well and keep edge rushers from beating him wide. Obviously Miller had some success doing that but that’s an exception when it comes to beating Solder. Is he an All-Pro at this point? No, but he’s done a nice job replacing Matt Light at a difficult position.
Paul Perillo

Do you think it’s possible that Dane Fletcher gets the start Sunday over Dont’a Hightower? He played great against Denver.
Tim Adams

That would likely depend on Hightower’s health. He appeared to hurt his leg late in the first half against Denver and never returned. Fletcher took his place and played the rest of the way. He caused a fumble by Montee Ball on a screen pass but was overwhelmed along with the rest of the front six in the running game so I’m not sure where the impression of him playing great came from. The Broncos ran just as effectively in the second half as they did in the first, pretty much exactly the same statistically. Whether it was Fletcher on the field or Hightower, that didn’t change. But Hightower has struggled in my opinion and it’s possible that Bill Belichick will use Fletcher more regardless of health. Either way I don’t see a huge difference, which is probably an indictment of Hightower.
Paul Perillo

Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount have had their problems. They seem to be feast or famine backs; having solid yards but horribly inconsistent ball security. However, is there value to benching them at this point? I am not convinced you can teach a professional running back “a lesson” on ball control by sitting them down. Fumbles or not they are valuable members of the offense and at times their absence last night made Tom and the offense one dimensional. Can the offense sustain itself without the ability to force defenses into respecting the power run game? I don’t think so. I think you need to let them play through it.
Mike Francis

This is an interesting post. I’ve often wondered the same thing about “punishing” backs who fumble at the NFL level. Obviously no running back is intentionally going to fumble, so at that point what good does the punishment do? I remember criticizing John Harbaugh for benching Ray Rice in the playoffs after Rice fumbled, much as Belichick has done with Ridley. But at some point, ball security is just too important and risking a turnover just isn’t worth it. I don’t agree with your premise about the power running game being instrumental to the Patriots success. Any production helps, but offensively the Patriots need Tom Brady to be sharp and he’s proven he can be with or without a power running game. So while I understand your point, and I know Tedy Bruschi made a similar comment about Ridley’s importance, I don’t share that line of thinking. Someone other than Ridley (Shane Vereen would be my choice) can carry the ball just as effectively as long as he holds onto it.
Paul Perillo

I have been a Patriots fan since about 1970. I have never seen a player treated as badly and criticized as much as Stevan Ridley when he fumbles the football. He has the same number of fumbles as AP, Marshawn Lynch, Jamaal Charles and Reggie Bush, according to NFL.com stats lab. How is he going to gain confidence and overcome this problem if he is sitting on the bench?
Doug Tozier

Maybe someone should turn the lights on in that NFL lab because Peterson is only one of the group you mentioned who has fumbled four times, and he’s lost three. Bush, Lynch and Charles have fumbled three times with Bush and Charles losing two and Lynch just one. Ridley has lost four, and he’s done so in far fewer touches than any of the backs you mentioned. Bush has 200 touches while the other three have 230-plus including Charles who is over 250. Ridley has 144 touches all season, so he’s fumbling at a much higher rate than any of the backs you point to. As far as overcoming the problem, Belichick has done it all different ways. He put Ridley right back on the field for the next play after he fumbled against Pittsburgh and gave him the ball. He sat him out for a while after he fumbled in Carolina before putting him back in. Against Denver Ridley was benched and did not return. I’m sure Belichick would be open to suggestions at this point because so far nothing he’s done has solved the issue. Ridley is unquestionably a talented back but ball security is also unquestionably a problem.
Paul Perillo

Of the remaining five games each of the Patriots opponents currently have losing records. I know every game is a battle but the Patriots are in control of their own destiny and should have a pretty good chance to win out. Do you think they will and if they do are they guaranteed at least the second seed?
Dave DeLuca
Frisco, Texas

I do believe the Patriots will win out and if they do they will be assured of one of the first-round byes. The only game that concerns me a bit is at Baltimore considering the Ravens will be fighting for their playoff lives. Otherwise it should be smooth sailing. The Patriots could even wind up with the No. 1 seed in that scenario if Denver were to lose one more game. But a bye at the very least seems very possible at this point.
Paul Perillo

With the release of Leon Washington I really expected to see Josh Boyce returning some kicks. He can’t be that bad can he?
Russell Obremski

I would love to see Boyce get a shot as the lead kick returner, and Belichick gave him a shot in Carolina a couple of weeks ago but unfortunately every kick resulted in a touchback. I’m thinking the weather may have had something to do with Boyce’s deactivation against the Broncos so I’m holding out hope that Boyce can still get a chance to contribute in some way before the end of the season. And if he is active and has a role in the return game there’s always a chance that he could get a shot at a deep ball on offense as well. Hopefully you and I get a chance to see Boyce at some point soon.
Paul Perillo

Can the Patriots trust Stevan Ridley?
Alex Marr

At this point it would be hard to imagine the trust level being very high. But at the same time Ridley is a talented back who has proven, at least periodically, that he can be productive. Personally I’d turn things over to Vereen at this point and only use Ridley sparingly. I understand that Ridley can pick up some tough yards inside but it doesn’t do much good if he can’t secure the football. It’s obviously a tricky situation and I don’t want to completely give up on such a young player, but with the games increasing in importance I’m not sure you can completely trust Ridley right now.
Paul Perillo

Does anyone know why Kenbrell Thompkins has been on the bench the past few games? I feel like he was the spark that started the comeback against Denver. Is it time to start Brandon Bolden at running back? I feel like he runs hard and doesn’t seem to fumble when you really need a play. Ridley’s fumbles always happen at crucial moments in the game. If they can cut down on the turnovers and taking off entire halves offensively they can beat anyone in the AFC.
B. Royster

I’m not sure what the situation is with Thompkins but I’d assume he’s dealing with something physically. He was inactive for a game a few weeks ago and appeared to be favoring his shoulder at times during the Denver game after getting up slowly at one point. He hasn’t been listed on the injury report so it’s not likely a serious problem but I have to think it has affected his playing time. I don’t like Bolden in a role any bigger than the one he has right now. He’s a serviceable backup but nothing more in my mind and I don’t like his in pass protection, which is a big part of the job description for all backs playing for the Patriots. Vereen is the guy I feel should take over for Ridley. Otherwise, I’d just stick with Ridley and hope the fumbles go away.
Paul Perillo

Why do you think Isaac Sopoaga wasn’t used more against Denver to try and stop the run?
Monty B.

This is a great question and I wish I had an answer. Obviously Belichick was content to prevent Peyton Manning from throwing it all over the Patriots last week, but certainly he did not intend for the Broncos to rush for 280 yards and put 31 points on the board in doing so. I was surprised that Sopoaga, the team’s best interior lineman against the run, was not part of the game plan to help up front. Instead Joe Vellano and Chris Jones got the call and struggled trying to protect Brandon Spikes. It will be interesting to see if Sopoaga plays a bigger role the next time they play against a passing team when Belichick chooses to use his nickel package almost exclusively as he did against Denver.
Paul Perillo

Why the heck was Aaron Dobson not on the field and Jamie Collins needs to be a bigger part of the defense the rest of the season.
Stephen Morris

Dobson and Thompkins seem to be alternating in terms of making contributions. One week Dobson is in there catching some passes and the next it’s Thompkins. The strange part is whenever one of them isn’t doing much he barely plays. Against Denver Dobson played the first half and didn’t get any passes thrown his way and then Thompkins came off the bench and caught six passes in the second half. I don’t know exactly why it seems that one or the other is such a non-factor each week, but it’s hard to argue with the results at this point. As long as Rob Gronkowski remains healthy he’s the key to the passing game and the others simply provide complementary options.
Paul Perillo

Just wondering if there was a chance we might look at adding Nnamdi Asomugha? I think he would help us a lot. I know he has lost a step but I still think he is better than some that we have. He and Talib together might make a great duo.
Bob Landis

I’ve also wondered if there’s a chance they’d sign Asomugha, although I don’t think anywhere near as much of him as you do. I was thinking of him strictly as a guy to provide depth given all the injuries. For whatever reason his career has stalled following his days in Oakland. I know many people felt he wasn’t being used properly in Philadelphia and that he was more of a man cover guy than a zone guy but then he was out of work most of the offseason and no one signed him until San Francisco gave him a low-money, one-year deal. Then he was cut again and now he’s still out of work. Clearly there aren’t many teams that value his services at this point. That said, with injuries piling up I wouldn’t be opposed to giving him a look.
Paul Perillo

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