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Ask PFW: Losing steam

Posted Sep 25, 2012

The Patriots are under .500 for the first time since 2003 and like the rest of the NFL all of New England has been left angered by the ineptitude of the replacement officials. It all adds up to a energetic edition of Ask PFW!

I've been trying to decide whose Sunday night performance was worse Devin McCourty's or the Refs. And "upon further review" it was Devin McCourty. Seriously, was I the only one that had to be refrained from tackling my TV watching him play this week? I'm sorry, but he's terrible. His missed tackle on that one touchdown play was nothing short of lazy, and he cannot cover at all. At this point, I feel like his being on the field (at all) is nothing less than a bad decision. I was this guy’s biggest fan at one point, but he made Torrey Smith look like Randy Moss in his rookie year. They picked on him the entire second half, why was he never taken out?? I know that this defense has other issues other than just McCourty, and I know there were some bad calls, but he's clearly the biggest hole in our secondary right now right?? I don't care who starts in front of this guy next week, I don't care if it’s Dowling, Moore, Dennard... I don't care if Matt Patricia suits up and goes out there. I don't care, it just cannot be Devin anymore. If I see this guy in the starting lineup next week I'm going to lose it.
Ryan Collins

Just to summarize, I’m pretty sure Ryan doesn’t want McCourty to play anymore. Clearly McCourty struggled on Sunday night. He admitted that postgame, but tried to express that it hasn’t affected his confidence. I’m not sure if that is true or not, but it’s never a good sign when a cornerback is fielding questions about his confidence. We’re now more than a full year into McCourty’s immense struggles and inability to make plays. Even worse, he’s dropped at least three chances to make plays this year. He lost the opportunity to balance out the plays he’s giving up with a few turnovers. I’ve pretty much given up on the idea that the Pro Bowl corner we thought McCourty was as a rookie is going to return. But maybe there is still a chance that he can be a make-a-play/give-up-a-play corner in the mold of Otis Smith. But if McCourty can’t hold onto the ball, he’s just giving up plays and not making them. That said, I don’t think there are any better options on the bench right now and the entire secondary could certainly use some help from the pass rush. Maybe Dennard could be an option when healthy, but he’s not there yet. Clearly Dowling doesn’t have much confidence from the coaches right now given his playing time in recent weeks. And if you bench McCourty – still a defensive captain – that creates a bigger story, may ruin whatever confidence he has left and could be the end of his career in New England. That’s a bold step to take and not one the team is ready to make. I still think that the team believes that McCourty can be a very good corner in this league. He’s just not playing like it.
Andy Hart

If I had a 2003 roster, I would not panic even if we were 1-5. But this team and coaching may be good enough for a divisional title but not more than that. My question - is there any reason to keep Ninkovich as a starter? Why not let Hightower loose or bring back Andre Carter?
Ted T.

I have been all for bringing back Andre Carter all offseason. Maybe when he’s fully healthy and ready to play that could still happen. I think there is a still a spot for him on this defense and that he’d offer a big help to the front seven, even in a rotational role at this point. I’ve also been concerned with the idea of Ninkovich as a starting defensive end. Hightower is already a starter at linebacker, so moving him doesn’t really solve the problem, and I don’t think he’s really suited to be an end on every play. Maybe Jermaine Cunningham deserves another chance as a starter. I don’t want to single out Ninkovich as the only problem on the front after Sunday night’s effort, but he does need to play better as the team needs more consistent production from that spot.
Andy Hart

OK since my questions get picked once every 3 weeks (thank you very much for giving me the opportunity) I still have some questions about the final roster cuts. I didn't see the need to cut Koppen, he was a reliable center and had experience. I know he was only good at playing center, but that is what we need- a center. I don't see why we had to cut a really good center for another player that can play more than one position. That isn't a true center. We were lucky with Welker grabbing that loose ball during the Ravens game due to a miscommunication error with our "false" center who can play more than one position. We don't necessarily need diversity if we have a true starting center. Because Koppen was a true center, we didn't need him for anything else but playing center. Besides it's not like he will have to play guard or tackle if he starts at center. I think cutting Koppen was a poor choice from BB and the crew and Ryan Wendell is a gamble. Oh, could you also clear up the whole replacement officials scenario? Why are the "real" refs on strike? Thanks!
Kyle Rodgers

I think the problem with your premise is calling Koppen a “really good center.” Based on what I saw this summer, Koppen’s play had fallen way off the map. I don’t think there was much of a difference between him and Wendell, or even some of the other guys battling for roster spots. I’m not saying that Wendell has played well, and clearly they were fortunate to recover the ball on that erroneous shotgun snap. I may have kept Koppen just because of his experience and relationship with Brady, but I’m not sure his actual play this summer warranted it. As for the officials, they can’t come to a contract agreement with the NFL. The biggest issues seem to be in terms of the league ending pensions and going to the more customary 401k retirement plan as well as the league wanting to institute new crews that would be used to replace any officials/crews who aren’t grading out to a high enough success rate. As always, there are some salary issues in there as well.
Andy Hart

It seems like Rob Ninkovich isn’t really getting any push on his side of the ball. With Dont'a Hightower having some experience playing with his hand on the ground what do you think of him playing a quarter or two as the end while Ninko plays OLB? I think it would be something to look at since it doesn’t really look like he’s getting to the QB enough. Or do you think he is still just trying to get the learning curve of being a defensive end? Thanks in advance
Mike Vaitkus

Any news on Andre Carter? Any good reason why we don't blitz more often? How does Bequette look in practice? At this point all teams have to do is double or chip Jones to eliminate any hope of a pass rush. I’ve watched Ninkovich closely in the first 3 games and he doesn't seem to get anywhere near the QB.
B. Royster

Clearly coming out of Sunday night’s loss in Baltimore, Ninkovich is in the crosshairs of critical fans. On some level, I agree with the criticism. His pass rush has been pretty non-existent. Even when he’s run some stunts, he seems to get lost in the wash or picked up too easily. That said, I don’t really see Hightower as an option. I like him at linebacker on most snaps. Just because he’s versatile and has some experience with his hand down doesn’t mean he’s ready to be a starting defensive end in the NFL. As I said above, I’d love to see Carter come back if he’s healthy. We don’t get to see practice during the season, but given that Bequette has been a healthy scratch for three weeks it’s hard to imagine he’s doing much to impress on the practice fields. I also don’t expect Bequette to be an every-down player. I think even his upside is as a situational pass rusher. Given all the factors the only solution I see is that Cunningham might get a chance to start and play more than the sub work he’s been getting. Or, Ninkovich needs to simply start playing better.
Andy Hart

Wow, are our team's fans reactionary! Last week, Welker misses a few plays and we're up in arms. This week, Baltimore gets two scores late and we've given up on our defense! Please people... have some faith! Okay, that's my rant for the morning; on to my questions. In regard to who Brady passes the ball to. Are Patriots plays designed to target a certain receiver? Does Brady have an idea of who is supposed to get the ball on a given pass play? Or does he truly just wait and see who gets open? Also, does this change at all in the no-huddle? When the team rushes to scrimmage, for example, in a two-minute drill, does everyone know exactly what play has been called? Or do the receivers just do their best to get open? These may be amateur questions, but I'm a hockey player. Thanks for bearing with me!
Mark Aiken

Over the years all we’ve heard is that Brady’s goal is to find the open receiver on every play and that’s who the ball should go to. Understanding that, he does have pre-snap reads that give him an idea, based on the defense, who the open man should be. And, since he’s human, he also has a trust factor with some of his go-to guys more than with other receivers. This all comes together to factor into where Brady goes with his throws. So while there is a primary option on a play, based on the call, the defense and the situation, Brady is theoretically supposed to find the open man. That’s easier said than done sometimes.
Andy Hart

How many losses can the pats take before we should be in panic mode? Do you think they are in danger of losing the division race?
Josh Montgomery

I don’t think the Patriots are in danger of losing the division or anywhere near panic mode right now. They are coming off a loss in which they fell on the road to one of the more diverse offenses the team will face this year in a rematch of last year’s AFC title game. As has been the case in the series with Baltimore of late, it came down to the final play. Sure the team is 1-2. Sure the Cardinals loss felt like a bad one. But let’s keep the concerns within reason. I also think this is a down year for the NFL in terms of elite teams, one that leads to more bunched-up standings. I think this is a year in which you could see 11 or 12 wins earn top seeds, and 8-8 teams make the playoffs. I think it’s a league of mediocrity right now. That means anyone can win on any week, and that you don’t have to win as many games over the long haul to be one of the best teams at the end of the year. I still expect the Patriots to be one of the best teams at the end of the season – a division champion. That may come with 11 or 12 wins instead of 13 or 14, but it’s still pretty good.
Andy Hart

I have been very disappointed in the offensive games plans through the first 3 games. What are your thoughts on Josh McDaniels performance, personnel usage and play selection?
Thank you, B Larson

I am always hesitant to criticize – on a macro level – the offensive coordinator and the play-calling. I think it’s too easy an argument from fans and media alike. Every offensive coordinator that’s come through New England has been criticized. All those guys led championship or record-setting offenses and left to become head coaches. I also tend to think that the game plan and philosophy heading into any given week is a product of Bill Belichick, and to a lesser degree Tom Brady, as much as it is up to the offensive coordinator. Clearly the offense is in a transition in terms of personnel and philosophy. The running game is a greater commitment. The personnel is different with guys like Brandon Lloyd, Julian Edelman and Stevan Ridley in new or increased roles. All that is an issue. Has the play-calling been perfect? No. Is it the reason they Patriots are 1-2? Definitely not.
Andy Hart

Both teams had to play with the same refs last night so you can't blame them for the Pats loss, but at the NFL level, one small mistake can definitely influence the outcome... Many "what if's". The officiating was tedious and ugly, and watching the game was not fun anymore. As the games pile up, the shortcomings of the replacement refs becomes more magnified. In your opinion, do you think all the attention about the poor officiating in recent games will spur the NFL to come to an agreement with the official's union? Where do you think this is all going? Do you have any inside information? The NFL reminds me of the guy who bought a $400,000 Ferrari but put cheap no-name tires on it to save money...
Wayne Y.

The Ferrari comparison is a pretty apt one. I like it. I have no inside information and no idea what the NFL is thinking right now. I have to guess that this now global criticism of the situation has to have those in the front offices of the NFL sweating a bit. Is it costing them money? No. Is it costing them credibility? Yes. Is that enough to force them to give in to the officials? I hope so. Right now the product on the field is a joke as missed calls, lack of control and overall official ineptitude is overshadowing the actual play on the field. Not good, not good.
Andy Hart

If all scoring plays are reviewed, why wasn't Bill Belichick allowed to challenge the ruling on the final play? The ball was NOT within the confines of the goalposts.
George Newell

First, since the play was in the final two minutes it does not fall under the coach’s challenge rule. It’s up to the booth. But field goals in which the ball goes over the top of the upright are not reviewable as the NFL does not have the triangulation technology to make that call, even in regards to the new rule reviewing all scoring plays. The guy under the upright has the best view to make that call and the world has to live with that call. I think the bigger question is why don’t they just make the uprights a little taller. Seems that very few if any field goals are more than 5 or 10 yards above the uprights. Wouldn’t this solve that problem?
Andy Hart

From what I've seen so far on the O-Line, Ryan Wendell worries me the most. He seems to get physically overpowered easily and misses read blocks. Unfortunately it's probably too late replace him, but maybe it's time to move Connolly to center and try something else at RG. Thoughts?
Anthony Pearson

I don’t think Wendell has played that well. He’s undersized and can get pushed around. That’s going to happen to a lot of centers at times. But if he starts struggling with technique and reads, as well as snapping the ball when he’s not supposed to, it’s a major problem. Connolly is probably a better option at center, but then I think the team would be without a serviceable option at right guard. Maybe Marcus Cannon deserves a shot there? We’ll see. But right now I think the Wendell/Connolly pairing may be the best the team has. Remember, Brian Waters is not walking through that door!
Andy Hart

Why is Andy Hart on the (PFW) TV show? This guy is a jerk. Get rid of him.
Terri Miller

This is a great question that I’m sure many PFW TV viewers have asked for years. I tried to email Terri to get some specifics as to what I did to irk her so, but she hasn’t responded to my emails. Maybe the better solution, one that Fred Kirsch has posed a number of times over the years, would be for Comcast to give me my own show entitled Andy Hart: The Sports Jerk. I’m willing if they are.
Andy Hart

Has the Pats secondary improved? They held Larry Fitz to one reception for 4 yards. I didn't get to watch the game since I live in Cali but has our secondary been looking any good so far? How many draft picks do we have this year? I believe the Pats need to draft a WR perhaps scout some WR players coached by Bill O'Brien and draft another offensive lineman. We need to stock up on LBs like the Giants & Steelers do you can never have to many pass rushers.
Marshall Elim

Clearly this email came in before the Ravens game in which the Patriots struggled and allowed Joe Flacco to throw for nearly 400 yards. The secondary was exposed by the most talented quarterback and overall passing attack it has faced through three games. The coverage was bad, and got no help from its pass rush. We’ll see how that improves moving forward. The good news is that the Patriots won’t face an offense nearly as diverse as the Ravens until Dec. 10 against the Texans. Looking ahead to the draft, a young receiver is probably going to be one of the top needs given the group that is currently in Foxborough. That said, some help for the secondary is also going to be a pretty prime target as that group continues to create plenty of questions.
Andy Hart

If the Patriots let Wes Welker go, don't you think that will be the same as the Red Sox let Babe Ruth go. What he done for the Pats is a shame for how he is being treated. I have been following the Patriots since 1960. Let’s not have another CURSE in New England.
Gary Wolfe

Unless Welker becomes a quarterback, changes the way the game is played and becomes the face of the sport for the next 20 years, no I don’t think it is anywhere near the same. Sorry.
Andy Hart

If Welker, Chung and Vollmer stay healthy this season and are productive this season, what do you think will happen regarding their contracts? Thanks.
Joe Theban

If Chung can stay healthy, which has already been an issue, I think the team would look to give him a new deal as long as he’s not looking to be among the top safeties in the game. Welker is a tough situation that is hard to read. It looks like the two sides aren’t able to agree on his value, but maybe that can change in the offseason. I wouldn’t sign Vollmer to anything in terms of big money, because I think his back and health are too much of a concern. Even if he plays all year, I’d be scared to death to pay him moving forward.
Andy Hart

Love Ask PFW, thanks guys for all your hard work! OK my question, everyone and their brother says Scarnecchia is God’s gift to o-line coaching - WHY ? I see the Pats year after year with average at best lines. Even when they are supposedly giving Brady plenty of time, they still give up key sacks in important games. In 2008 they were embarrassed in the SB, since then I see no improvement. Perhaps it's the lack of quality players he has, but whatever the case Scarnecchia what we have for talent in the 0-line is not good enough so lets focus on the coach and stop towing the line and give some solid proof he's so great. I don't know how you can, because how do you prove a 'nobody' wouldn't be just as good with someone else's o-line coach.
John Forsythe

I am a big believer in Scarnecchia because I simply think he is indeed the best offensive line coach in the game. I think over the years he’s taken chicken you-know-what and turned it into chicken salad. He’s made it work with guys like Billy Yates, Russ Hochstein and Tom Ashworth, all of whom left New England and were out of football soon after. He’s made street free agents like Joe Andruzzi into a very good players. He made Matt Light a Pro Bowl left tackle. Most elite offensive linemen are first-round picks. How many first-round picks has Scarnecchia had to work with over the years under Belichick? Two, Logan Mankins and Nate Solder. Other than that he’s pieced it together with lower picks, veterans and developmental types to create a line that was good to very good more often than not. When a starter goes down on another team it seems like the you-know-what hits the fan and chaos ensues. Scarnecchia plugs in another guy and the team usually doesn’t miss a beat. As you can tell I’m very passionate in my defense of Scarnecchia. Sorry if you don’t agree with me, but in my opinion he’s the elite glue that’s held the Patriots offensive line -- and by extension the entire offense -- together over the years. If he doesn’t end up in the Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon when his career in New England is over, then the team shouldn’t even have its own Hall of Fame. That’s how much Scarnecchia has given to New England.
Andy Hart

Hey guys I have a theory and I want your opinion I think Bill has turned the offense over to Josh McDaniels more than anyone else since Charlie [Weis] left for Notre Dame.
Paul Snyder

I don’t know this to be true, but some circumstantial evidence could back it up. Belichick clearly spent a lot of time this summer working with the defense and first-year coordinator Matt Patricia. He’s very much been focused on improving that side of the ball. Also, McDaniels clearly had plenty of personnel say in terms of bringing “his guys” in on offense to install “his” philosophies on that side of the ball. Does that mean that Belichick has given McDaniels the keys to the attack? Not necessarily. But I do think he has more say than Bill O’Brien may have ever had on that side of the ball.
Andy Hart

Throughout the many rule changes that have occurred over the years, one noticeable inconsistency is the different treatment between a running back scoring a touchdown (the ball only has to break the plane, irrespective if the ball comes out immediately), and a pass which not only must be caught, but also secured throughout going to the ground. Why the difference?
Randy Cooper

While I have some issues with the degree to which the NFL makes receivers “complete” the catch in the end zone, the difference between the two scenarios you brought up are pretty simple. The running back already has possession of the ball before he reaches the goal line. Once he breaks the plane, it’s a touchdown and the play is over. The receiver making a reception has not previously established possession of the ball.
Andy Hart

Is there any reason why the Patriots didn't try to strengthen their depth at o-line in last draft or through signing a veteran? Run blocking and pass blocking will continue to be an issue if the line doesn't improve. Considering a guy like DeCastro was available at 24, I just don't get why we wouldn't try to address both the defense and the o-line, especially after Light retired. Thoughts?
Austin Blank

Clearly last spring New England was trying to rebuild a defense that was near the bottom of the league a year ago. The Patriots added some talent in free agency to address the line issues, including Robert Gallery. He retired. Dan Koppen was brought back, though later deemed not good enough to win a job. The team probably thought that Brian Waters would be in the fold at some point. So some of the lack of talent/depth at this point was out of the team’s control. And I think most people are pretty happy with Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower right now, and wouldn’t send those guys back in exchange for offensive line help. You can only draft so many guys and only have so many first-round picks. You can’t fill all your holes. Belichick filled his holes on defense. I’m more than OK with that.
Andy Hart

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