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Ask PFW: Polar express

Posted Dec 27, 2011

The Patriots head into the postseason with one of the best offenses in football but also one of the worst defenses in the NFL. That polarity has fans concerned about New England's chances in the playoffs. That concern and many other topics fill out this holiday edition of Ask PFW.

OK, you require a "question" so here goes: "Has Bill Belichick completely lost his mind?" I ask this because what I've seen since 2007 makes me think so. BB seems to have completely abandoned his "Defense wins championships" mantra, and substituted it for an "offensive blowout" approach. One very unusual and improbable catch kept the Pats from winning the Super Bowl in 2007. With Tom Brady and Randy Moss, their offense was so potent at putting up points that 2 trained chimps and a 3rd grader could have played defense and they would still have won; except for the 1 game where it really counted. It appears that BB has a big chip on his shoulders, and wants to prove something to the NFL: he can win a championship with OFFENSE ONLY. His recent draft picks (or lack thereof) only seem to add confirmation to the sad state of affairs in Patriot Nation. Your thoughts?
George Newell

As I see it right now, the Patriots have just about as good a chance as anyone to win the Super Bowl in this crazy year of flawed NFL teams. And I think your argument runs out of gas a bit as Belichick has used plenty of draft picks in recent years on defensive players. The problem is that many of those players have not worked out. Devin McCourty was the first rounder in 2010. He's had a terrible 2011 season that contributed greatly to the team's overall defensive struggles. Second-round picks like Darius Butler, Ron Brace, Jermaine Cunningham, Ras-I Dowling and others have done little to nothing to help the effort. Belichick has picked plenty of potential defensive contributors, just not the right ones. This offseason he seemed to put a lot of weight on the defensive side of the ball with moves like adding Andre Carter, Shawn Ellis and Albert Haynesworth. Again, only Carter really worked out. So feel free to criticize Belichick's personnel moves, but I find it crazy to think he's not trying to get better on defense or that he's actually trying to prove some ego-driven point.
Andy Hart

What detailed circumstances do the Patriots need to fully focus on in order to prevent another early playoff exit?
John Moore

The biggest thing I'd point to is turnovers. Last year Tom Brady's interception and the fumbled fake punt were huge against the Jets. Two years ago Brady's fumble and interceptions were huge in the loss to the Ravens. I know it's cliché to say that turnovers are the most important thing, but it's true. The Patriots success this year, especially down the stretch has been directly related to the fact that they're not turning it over on offense and have been opportunistic in that area on defense. That formula wins in the postseason as well as it does it the regular season. Only the competition is better.
Andy Hart

I have been a dedicated (and long suffering before 2001) Patriot fan since I started watching the AFL in the '60s. Since moving out of the area (job related) in 1991 the only way I can keep up with them is via your very well done publication. What I miss the most is following them on TV every week. I have to admit that since the SB victories it's gotten better since they have become a better (and hated yeah!) candidate for prime time TV. But where I live they have to show the local teams and/or their division rivals on the local stations. Since I don't do well in bar rooms where they have all the games (I somehow keep missing the second half), I would like to see what remote fan clubs you have and perhaps join one. I have often looked for this information in PFW or on your web site but I have not come across anything on this subject. I would imagine that this would be a boon not only to Patriot fans across the country but also to the Patriots themselves. Just imagine all of us out there cheering on the team and WILLING them to victory!
Richard Giguere

Richard, go to the Fan Zone section on Patriots.com and click on the Fan Club Registry. There you can find Patriots fan clubs from all around the world. Hopefully you find something that fits your needs. I also urge you to listen to myself and Paul Perillo each and every game day for the Jet Blue Patriots Pregame Social which can been heard two hours and fifteen minutes before kickoff on the Patriots Facebook page as well as on iTunes and all Patriots mobile apps. We like to think of it as the world's largest virtual tailgate party and would love to have you join the fun.
Andy Hart

Is it time to give Leigh Bodden a call? After watching the incredibly inconsistent and injury plagued safety play is it time to try and move Kyle Arrington to Safety and give Leigh Bodden one more shot, assuming he is healthy enough to do so? We have seen Arrington play OLB in some packages in the past and I think he is versatile enough to make the switch even if it's just till Chung is healthy. Bodden has shown in the past that he can be starting caliber and if he is healthy I think he could do it again. What are your thoughts?
John M.

First, Bodden underwent back surgery and I don't believe he is in any condition to play at this point. More importantly, even if he were, would you really feel comfortable completely overhauling the secondary in the final week of the season? I wouldn't. Arrington hasn't proven himself as a safety, in fact he's actually been your best cornerback this year. So I'm not sure the Bodden/Arrington combination would work the wonders that you think it would. Bodden didn't play much when he was here early in the year, so why would he be the answer now? Sorry, but what you see is pretty much what you get in the secondary. For better or worse.
Andy Hart

What is it that the Patriots do differently to prepare their backup quarterbacks so well? With a quality starter like Peyton Manning, you'd think his backup would be somewhat serviceable but Curtis Painter turned out to be horrible. It looks as if Hoyer is a very capable backup (if not a starter somewhere else) and Matt Cassel obviously proved himself in '08.
Joseph Cho

I think the Cassel story in 2008 was a great one. He finally got the shot that he never did in college. He took full advantage, got better each week, won games and then earned his own high-paying starting job elsewhere. Beyond that, I'm not sure there is any specific link to all Patriots backup quarterbacks or the coaching they get. Rohan Davey never became anything. Brian Hoyer, as much as I think he works hard and is one of the nicer guys in the locker room, has yet to prove he play at all in the NFL. I don't know what people see to project him as a successful fill-in or future starter somewhere. To me, he's a total unknown. I think the coaching staff does a great job preparing these guys to play, but that doesn't mean they can actually play. Do I think that Belichick would have done a better job preparing Painter? Probably. I think Belichick would do a better job with another team's gunner, too. That's how good a coach I think he is. But I still have no idea if Hoyer is ready to play anymore than Painter was. And my guess is that if Brady had gone this year, and Hoyer were stuck playing with this year's defense, that the story would not have been anywhere near as positive as the tale that Cassel wrote in New England. Just call it a hunch.
Andy Hart

I was out of the town when the Patriots resigned Jerod Mayo. Can you fill me in on the contract? How long did he have left on his previous deal? It is good to see the team signing KEY players to long term deals.
Steven Mckeigan

Mayo's current, rookie deal ran through the end of next season. His five-year extension now keeps him in New England through the end of the 2017 season. The deal is worth a reported $48 million, with a $6 million signing bonus and total “guarantees” of $28 million. I have not seen the contract and doubt how truly guaranteed some of that money is, but it's fair to say that Mayo is making a lot of money and will be in the middle of the Patriots defense for a long time. I love seeing the team re-sign players early. We've learned in the past that if you let players get to free agency - like Asante Samuel - you probably won't get them back. And if you let players even get close, or to the franchise tag stage, that it can get ugly and cost more money in the end. Not sure how much they saved compared to market value by getting Mayo done early, but it does ensure that he's not going anywhere. I'd love to see the team take a similar approach with Rob Gronkowski. He's a budding star in his second season and though he has two years left on his rookie deal, I'd love to see them take the early approach with Gronk. Of course the next big-money deal on the horizon, or at least big-money negotiation, will be with Wes Welker. Time will tell how that one plays out as the NFL receptions leader is set to hit free agency after this season.
Andy Hart

So this is our short-yardage power offense? Have a QB who isn't built like a Tebow try and plow through a wall of defenders and risk bodily harm? Especially after the Miami defense had a field day sacking him in the first half? Now we hear rumors of Brady having sustained a left arm/shoulder injury in that game. 5 RBs, a couple of jumbo sized linemen, a TE who is a physical specimen and yet our coaches don't seem to trust our running game to punch it in! We sure have become a finesse team. Thankfully it wasn't his right arm!
Mahesh Kalyana

I'll admit, this type of rant bubbled through my own mind during the win over the Dolphins. I'm not sure exactly why Brady was the goal line option. He's always been very good on short-yardage plays. He does great job making the plays, or checking out of it if the play isn't there. But that wasn't the case in this situation against Miami. Not sure exactly what Brady was used for three touchdowns in the last two weeks. And you're right that he was hit quite a bit in the first half against Miami and was left favoring his left arm/shoulder in the postgame locker room. I'd like to think you won't see too many more Brady sneaks on the goal line but I just don't know. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has proven to have a nose for the end zone and doesn't fumble. Stevan Ridley has been better of late. Not sure why Brady is called so often of late in goal line and short yardage plays. Sorry for the long road to saying I don't know!
Andy Hart

I know this idea will not get an enthusiastic response, but here goes. If Randy Moss is fit, adding him to the roster during the playoff bye week would be huge. It would stretch the defense and really complicate team's preparations as they would now have to factor in the Moss deep threat. Thoughts?
Ian Campbell

Moss struggled to stretch the defense last season in three different cities, why do you think he can do it now after having been out of the league all year? Plus, do we really want to add Moss' controversial personality to the mix on offense, for a group with Brady, Welker, Branch, Gronkowski and Hernandez that seems to get along so well and click most weeks on the field? I have no interest in bringing Moss back at this point. That ship has sailed. He gave the Patriots three-plus good seasons, including one crazy season. Look back on that fondly, and move on.
Andy Hart

Do you think it is time for Robert Kraft to ask BB the general manager to step down and BB the coach to be just the coach? With his draft picks of late it may help to have a good GM . Thank for a great paper.
Bert Eldredge

No. First, it will never happen. You take the full, total-control package with Belichick. You want the coach, you get the GM too. Plus, even if you think Belichick's drafting of late has been suspect or worse, and it has been on some levels, the Patriots still win more than most in the game. As “bad” as Belichick's drafting has been, his team has won 26 games over the last two seasons. Hard to ask a guy to give up some of his responsibilities when his main responsibility - winning - has been fulfilled pretty well the last two seasons!
Andy Hart


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