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Ask PFW: Passing thoughts

Posted Jun 5, 2012

The Patriots are in the midst of OTA passing camps and heading toward the team’s mandatory veteran mini-camp. Though it’s early, we finally have some on-field work with which to begin analyzing the 2012 New England roster.

Okay, turn back time once again to the last Super Bowl. Can we contemplate going for it on fourth down? I do remember the game against the Colts a few years back going for it on first down and with a bad call from the ref came up short. Looked good to me. Now how about the same play in 2012? Go for it. Since we punted, gave up so much ground we let them score anyway, going into the situation with that mindset would allow the chance for the first down to end the game in a victory formation. If it is unsuccessful, we let them score immediately and try again. It’s the same tactics, just including the fourth down attempt to win it.
Dave Margulis

First, some unsolicited advice -- Stop reliving the Super Bowl loss. It’s never going to help you feel better about that game. Like the players and coaches have done, it’s time to move on. But since you would like to break it down a bit, we’ll indeed take this chance to look back at the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLVI. I assume you are referring to the Patriots decision to punt on fourth-and-11 at the Giants 44-yard line with 3:53 to play with New England holding a 17-15 advantage. I think that is a little different than a 4-and-2 play in a regular season game. It’s a much longer conversion attempt. I don’t think Belichick feared Eli Manning on a neutral field in that situation quite as much as he feared his brother Peyton at Lucas Oil. I also think he may have felt a little better about his defense at that point, a unit that had forced four punts on the day – including the previous series – and forced the Giants into long drives throughout the evening to earn what they got. Pinning New York down inside the 20 – they actually had to start at their 12 after Zoltan Mesko’s punt – seemed like the best plan. The fact that New York picked up 38 yards on a pass down the sideline on their first play from scrimmage – their largest gain of the day by far on offense – blew up the plan. But I still think that punting in that situation was the right call. It just didn’t work out. For the record, I also would have punted in the famous 4th-and-2 game back in Indy.
Andy Hart

How much blame do you give Wes Welker and Tom Brady for that incompletion deep in the Super Bowl? Welker really dropped the ball on that one. Do you think that has anything to do with contract negotiations that are going on right now?
Yetbarack Endale

Last things first, I don’t think the single play in the Super Bowl has anything to do with negotiations right now. This is all about age, value and budget. Nothing more, nothing less. As for the incompletion you mention, I give Brady blame for eliminating the chance of what was a would-be touchdown. I blame Welker for eliminating the chance at a first down for a play that he probably should have made. It was a bad drop and a bad throw. Brady made Welker contort in a way that he wasn’t expecting. You say Welker really dropped the ball. I agree, but also say that Brady really missed the target. Add those together and it’s a terrible, costly play for New England. If you want be to break it down into percentages, I’ll go with 55-percent blame for Brady and 45-percent for Welker. I’m guessing not too many fans will agree with me.
Andy Hart

Looking at the 2012 season, I struggle to see how we are not 12-0 going into our Monday Night game against the Texans. Prior to week 12 the only game of concern is Baltimore week 3, however, they open Monday night at Cincy then have a short week to face Philly at home and then the Pats. Without Suggs I see them 1-2 after the Patriots game. We were a few defensive players away from a Super Bowl victory and I think this year if we can beat the Texans and 49ers at home then we will see another 16-0 season. What do you think the chances are we finally do it this year and go 19-0? The schedule is set for it.
Jeff Clark

I am continually amazed by how easy fans seem to pencil in victories in the NFL, how simple they make it seem for a team to go undefeated. That, in itself, somewhat devalues what I think was an extremely impressive accomplishment by the 2007 Patriots. It’s hard to win in any given week against almost any given opponent in the NFL. To win every week is nearly impossible considering schedules, injuries, turnovers, momentum and a million other factors. Looking at the schedule I think the Patriots COULD easily lose games to the Ravens, Jets and Bills as well as the 49ers and Texans. That doesn’t include unexpected losses that seem to hit almost every team almost every season. I also am not in love with the depth the Patriots have at a number of positions, especially on defense, and therefore injuries, as always, could be a major factor for New England as the season unfolds. I also find it hard to predict a team to go undefeated when I still have very little faith in the defense. Until I see that unit step up and prove it’s significantly better than it was a year ago, I think the team is too one-dimensional. On paper and three-plus months before the season actually starts the Patriots do appear to have a pretty “easy” schedule. But things don’t always play out as they appear on paper.
Andy Hart

Could Addai be the RB Corey Dillon was for the Pats if he can stay healthy?
Vince Brando

No. Addai has never been the big, powerful workhorse that Dillon was. Addai topped 200 carries in just three of his six seasons, going over 250 carries just once. He had two 1,000-yard seasons to open his career, but never topped 1,100 yards. Dillon came to New England in 2004 with five seasons of more than 250 carries, including three with more than 300. He topped 1,100 yards six straight times to open his career, including three straight 1,300-plus from 2000-02. Dillon was a workhorse who almost never got hurt. Addai is an oft-injured, versatile, jack-of-all-trades type who can catch the ball and run it. Addai may add something to the backfield if healthy, but he won’t be a 1,600-yard, record-setting presence.
Andy Hart

What do you think of the Pats upcoming season? Super Bowl champs this time? I think our defense has improved as our draft picks have been good ones. Also what wide receivers would you like to see stay? We can't keep them all. Thanks.
Paul Neeve

I think the Patriots have a very good chance to compete for an AFC title again this season. I think they could win almost any game they play against any team. Will they win the big game? Will they get there? I don’t know. There is a lot that goes into a championship run. They have that potential, but only time will tell if they can put it all together. And seeing as I still have big doubts about the defense, it’s hard for me to say they are a sure shot to win it all. As for the receivers, I’d like to see the team keep Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Jabar Gaffney and Brandon Lloyd as its top four receivers. I think Matthew Slater and Julian Edelman are virtual locks to make the team thanks to their special teams value and versatility. That’s technically six receivers, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see one more name on the roster (as the team has kept seven in the past). Right now, and given that I’ve seen nothing out of rookie draft pick Jeremey Ebert, I’m going to give the last possible spot to Donte’ Stallworth.
Andy Hart

Who will be a bigger impact player Chandler Jones or Dont'a Hightower? Will both start this year and if they both do who will Hightower rotate with also assuming Jones will not rotate.
Ryan Betts

I think – assuming they stay healthy and pick up enough of the playbook – that both guys will be 50- or 60-percent playing time type guys. My guess – and this is just a guess at this point – is that Jones will have a bigger impact. Given that Mark Anderson is gone and Andre Carter is in question at this point, I think Jones will have to play a lot and will have the chance to make plays. Jones, based on early OTA action, will play on the right end of the defense. Some of that will come with his hand down, some will come playing on two feet. But his primary role will be setting the edge and getting after the quarterback. I think Hightower’s role will be more diverse. I think you may see him line up all over the front. Given the carryover from his time with Nick Saban at Alabama, I expect him to be pretty comfortable in the scheme. That should allow him to play inside, outside, on the line and off the line. He will do a lot for this team, but it may not show up in the numbers as much. And given that he’ll be working with/behind the likes of Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes, he may not be on the field quite as often unless injuries hit those two veterans. (In a related note, Spikes has not practiced yet during OTA workouts when the media has been in attendance.)
Andy Hart

I was just wondering who you guys thought would be on the final roster for running backs when the season starts and do you know the dates of training camps.
Randy Botelho

Training camp dates have not yet officially been announced, but based on history there is a good chance it will be the last Thursday of July, or in that area, and into the first couple weeks of August. Check Patriots.com for the schedule of camp practices as they are announced. In terms of the running backs, you have to assume that Danny Woodhead, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and, if healthy, Joseph Addai are locks to make the roster. Based on what he’s done in the past, including last year in Dallas, I think there is a chance that Tony Fiammetta also earns a spot. But there is a possibility that one of the other fullbacks might be in the mix. And let’s not forget that Bill Belichick reportedly assured the Navy that Eric Kettani had a bright football future. No better way to prove that than by keeping him on the roster.
Andy Hart

What sort of numbers to you expect to see out of Pat Chung next year assuming he stays healthy?
Finn Haney

Chung had 67 tackles in eight games last year. Clearly, when healthy over a full schedule, he is a 100-tackle type guy. He also has the ability to run well and be around the ball a lot, even though he’s never had a career regular season forced fumble or fumble recovery. He can rush the passer a bit. So I’ll say if healthy he will have six impact plays, which I’ll define as some combination of sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries.
Andy Hart

Who do you predict as day one starters on the defensive side of the ball? We all know Vince Wilfork will be the main DT and NT if they play 34 and Kyle Love will probably be beside him in 43 unless Jonathan Fanene switches to DT. And Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo will be two starting linebackers while Ninkovich and Hightower battle out the other lb spot. The biggest concern is the secondary, who is going to be our starting corners and if Chung can't stay healthy, who are our starting safeties?
Kyle Rush

Kyle why are you in such a rush to predict the starting lineup at this very early point in the process? Can’t we take a little time to let the summer and preseason work play out so we can let the process occur organically? But, that doesn’t mean I won’t give you an answer. I’ll say that Wilfork and Love start inside, with Jones and Brandon Deaderick on the outside. The linebackers will be Mayo, Spikes and Ninkovich. The secondary will be Devin McCourty, Ras-I Dowling, Chung and Steve Gregory. But don’t hold me to this.
Andy Hart

Being from Ark., it's hard to find info on Ryan Mallett. Can you tell me how he seems to be progressing and if it seems he is learning the offense? He was a great college QB, but we was wondering how he was looking at the pro level.
Quentin Griggs

Basing it solely on two OTA practices that we’ve seen, I have been disappointed in Mallett. He’s struggled with his accuracy and reading the plays. He’s held on to the ball too long and just hasn’t had the passing game running smoothly like Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer seem to. The good news is that Mallett still has a very impressive arm. But other than that, he still looks like he has a lot of work to do.
Andy Hart

Why haven't the Patriots gone after a wide receiver in the first or second round in the Belichick era? I understand that the Patriots' offensive system is wildly complicated and that there are a lot of moving parts, but unlike many of the great teams in NFL the Patriots have mostly gone after receivers at the end of their careers (which is not always bad, see Randy Moss) but this has not allowed them to acquire a long-term dominant receiver. Now I understand that Devin McCourty had a disappointing rookie year, but who could blame him? Based on my analysis on McCourty he is an excellent zone corner, very well suited to the 3-4 defense. So my question is why you think that BB has tried to make McCourty more of a one-on-one corner when he is obviously fitted for zone coverage?
Marshall Hill

McCourty was a Pro Bowl player as a rookie, so I assume you are talking about his second season. Last year he struggled in both man and zone. He simply had a terrible year. We’ll see how it plays this year. Maybe he was slowed by injury. Maybe it was a sophomore slump. Maybe the lack of an offseason hurt him. Let’s see how it plays out. As for the receivers, the Patriots have drafted three receivers in the second-round under Belichick – Deion Branch, Bethel Johnson and Chad Jackson. Belichick even commented at the time that New England considered taking Jackson in the first-round. Of the three, Branch became by far the best pick. Johnson had some impact, mostly as a returner. And Jackson was a complete bust. I do think they like the idea of going after proven veteran talents who they think can fit in their system. But they’ve also failed in that area. And as you pointed out, doing it that way doesn’t allow for the team to develop a long term option at the position as some of the mid- and late-round talents have also failed to work out. (See Price, Taylor) That said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the team invest in a wide receiver near the top of the draft in the near future.
Andy Hart

Hi guys, I was just wondering on what amounts the players get paid for attending OTAs, minicamp and training camp? I thought that their salary was for the regular season, so I wasn't sure if during the offseason they simply get a workout bonus? Or nothing? Or a standard amount each? Thanks.
Nigel Wakeley

According to the new CBA, players are paid $155 per day of participation in the voluntary offseason workout program. But, players must participate in three of four scheduled days per week to be paid for any of the days in that week. The amount goes up over the life of the CBA to $175 for 2012-14, $195 for 2015-16, $215 for 2017-18 and $235 for 2019-20. Some players also have workout bonuses written into their specific contracts. For mini-camps and training camps players receiver money for travel as well as a per diem pay. For 2012, first-year players receive $850 a week (which increased every two years during the current CBA to top out at $1,150 a week in 2019-20). Veteran players are paid $1,600 a week for camps (increasing to $2,000 a week over the life of the CBA). Players are also paid meal allowances. Their salaries for the regular season are indeed paid out in weekly game checks.
Andy Hart

I read some good and some no-news coming from the OTAs. The good news are Lloyd and some undrafted defensive rookies. What I wonder about is why nobody else stood out including guys like Chandler Jones. Wouldn't you expect him to show some exciting athleticism, if nothing else, especially in the OLB group which is not super athletic?
Alex C.

To me, it’s hard to say that too many players have stood out either for the positive or the negative during the two OTA workouts that have been open to the media. Sure Lloyd has looked good, and it’s obviously easier to watch QBs and receivers than most other positions on the field. Jones has been on the field a lot, looking long, lean and athletic. But plenty of other players have also looked good. The only guy that I can really say that has struggled is Ryan Mallett, and as I said it’s obviously easier to watch a QB and see whether he’s delivering the ball in rhythm and throwing with accuracy. Other than that, I wouldn’t say that anyone watching should be taking too much out of these non-contact OTA workouts in shorts and t-shirts.
Andy Hart

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