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Ask PFW: Round 2

Posted Jan 8, 2013

As the Patriots prepare to host the Texans in the divisional round playoffs - a rematch of a New England rout less than a month ago - fans have a wide-variety of questions heading into another potential Super Bowl run. It's postseason time here at Ask PFW!

I am currently arranging a trip to New England in 2013 for my 50th birthday. The main reason for the visit is to see the Patriots play in Foxboro, I have been trying to organize this since 1983 when I first became aware of American Football and started following the Patriots. The question I need answering is when do the Pats play at Foxboro in September/October 2013, I know that the schedule is due to be released in April but do you know before when the home games are? Many thanks for your assistance.
David Ball

Sorry, but the schedule isn’t known until sometime in April. The only advice I could possible give would be to schedule your trip to include a pair of Sundays in New England. The NFL season generally begins the weekend after Labor Day, which is Sept. 2 this year. So in all likelihood the first full weekend of NFL action will be on Sunday, Sept. 8. The last time the Patriots opened the season with a pair of road games was in 2003, and before that it was 1996. So chances are good that the Patriots will have a home game on either opening weekend or the second weekend. So if you’re in New England for that week, you would have a good chance of being in town for a game. Of course, if the Patriots were to go on to win the Super Bowl this February, they would open the season with a home Thursday night game on Sept. 5. So you may have a better idea on the first weekend in February. Beyond that, all this is obviously speculation, but until the schedule comes out this spring it’s the best help I can possibly offer. Good luck.
Andy Hart

How much of the Pats win during the regular season was luck and how much skill? There were a number of plays that seemed to fall the Pats' way, which helped create the lopsided win. Of course Gronk is back, so it's not at all the same.
James Seigel

There was certainly some good fortune in the Patriots win over Houston on Dec. 10. New England was fortunate to recovery Stevan Ridley’s goal line fumble and turn it into a touchdown a play later. The Patriots were fortunate that Danny Woodhead’s fumble was recovered for a touchdown. But all in all, I thought the Texans were simply overmatched and didn’t bring the preparation, fire or intensity to that game that’s needed in such an environment. Even the Texans themselves have talked about lacking intensity that night. Only they know if they can bring more to the table this time. As for Gronk being back, that’s obviously a huge gain for the Patriots. But the Texans have a couple added weapons as well, with cornerback Johnathan Joseph much healthier now and Brooks Reed back in the lineup. Only time will tell how those guys on both sides of the ball can affect the game.
Andy Hart

There was an article in the paper saying neither Bill O’Brien nor Josh McDaniels would ever go to the Eagles because Belichick hates the GM? What is their rift? Why have they made so many trades over the years then? They've made like 8 straight draft day trades. Thanks.
Eugene Frog

Belichick certainly had a very good working relationship with Andy Reid over the years. Remember the two swapped consecutive picks near the end of the draft a couple years ago just because they wanted to, or maybe to keep some fictitious trade streak alive. They also made plenty of real trades. But with Reid out in Philly, Howie Roseman remains as the team’s GM. Not sure what relationship Belichick has with him, but you are correct in that pennlive.com reported that New England’s coach holds Roseman in “low regard.” The site also said that McDaniels is of a similar mindset. Not sure what that stems from or if there is more to the story. If it’s true, then I do think it’s unlikely that either guy would take the job in Philly with Roseman in place.
Andy Hart

I LOVE the combination of Alfonzo Dennard and Aqib Talib at starting corners. Do you think the Patriots will re-sign Talib in the offseason? What kind of money do you think he's gonna ask for? And what do you think the market will be for him? His "stats" don't necessarily back this up, but our secondary is MUCH improved since his arrival and I think having a corner like him allows everyone else to be better.
Ryan Collins

Talib has said he loves being in New England, but would not go so far as to say that he wanted to be in town for the long haul. He said that contract stuff will play itself out later. I agree that the secondary has been better with Dennard and Talib on the field together, but a big part of that is that it allows Devin McCourty to slide to safety. That move has seemingly had a calming effect in the back end. I actually don’t think that Talib has played all that well in his short time in New England and has given up too many plays. Given his history of off-field issues, his value moving forward on the open market could be limited. He has the size and reputation as a decent corner, and a playoff run in New England could help his stock heading into free agency. I could see him returning to New England on a team-friendly deal with limited up-front money. My guess is that Talib will get a little more than that on the open market. If you made me guess right now, I’d say that I don’t expect him back.
Andy Hart

Just read the most recent issue and saw the coach’s comments in the Coach’s Corner. Come on! You guys are just running the same comments over and over again aren't you? They are always the same and only vary within a few words.
Dan Patterson

Dan, those comments are taken each week from Bill Belichick’s opening remarks during his postgame press conference. While they do tend to be very similar from week to week, I promise you that they are updated after every game. Belichick is a lot of things, but a quote machine is not one them. As always, thanks for reading.
Andy Hart

Love your column, Guys. I'm wondering about three people and the chances that they'll end-up with the Patriots next season. One is Scott Pioli. He seemed to have great chemistry with Bill Belichick and the Kraft Family while he was here. What are the chances he ends-up back with the Patriots? The other two are soon-to-be free agents Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers, of the Bears. It's unlikely that the Bears will keep either, or both, and they seem like the kind of veteran defensive players Coach Belichick likes to bring to New England (like Junior Seau and Roosevelt Colvin). What do you think are the chances that either of them comes to New England? Thanks.
Keith Fitzgerald

My gut reaction is that Pioli will not be brought back to New England at this point. While my guess is that he still has a good relationship with Belichick, I think the Patriots personnel department is actually doing pretty well without him. Nick Caserio has filled the role of Belichick’s top personnel man, and the drafts in recent years have been pretty impressive. Not sure there is reason to upset that success. Plus, Peter King has already reported that he expects Pioli to take a year off from the NFL. As for the two Bears players, I think it would be two different cases. If Peppers became available, which I don’t expect, I do think Belichick would be interested, as always, at the right price. He’s had plenty of good things to say about Peppers over the years, and some even reported the pass rusher was coming to New England when he actually landed with the Bears. I could see the Patriots going after a veteran defensive end/pass rusher this offseason and if Peppers were available coming off a season with 11.5 sacks he would be a nice option. I don’t see much likelihood of interest in Urlacher. He seems to be fading physically, but would still likely be looking for big money. I don’t see him being a fit in New England, for a team that already has guys like Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and, maybe, Brandon Spikes.
Andy Hart

Happy New Years gentlemen! My question is as follows: In a recent interview Devin McCourty commented that cornerback is all about technique and getting in reps. I know BB loves "football players that play multiple positions" and cross trains people. McCourty in his first year and now Dennard in his first year have played OK to good cornerback. McCourty of course has fallen off as corner, could the cross training be hurting them? I also remember that hearing years ago (I think it was Paul), that Ty Law would often not come into the huddle and simply ask Man or Zone in order to avoid getting overloaded with the complexities of the defense. Nhamdi Asimwah (sp?) thrived in a "we play man" Defense in Oakland, he has struggled more with the Eagles. Aquib Talib comes from a "straight up" D. It seems that good corners come from vanilla secondaries. Of course, it may be that with good corners you can just play man and do your interesting stuff with the front 7. Do you all think that flexibility hurts secondary players' development more than it helps the team for them to be flexible?
Michael S.

My reaction to this question is that if McCourty had played like an elite cornerback in his second season, his transition to free safety would never have even been a consideration. But because he struggled so much at corner – and the team had a weakness at safety – other options were looked at. But guys like Law and Asante Samuel were full-time cornerbacks because they were very good cornerbacks. I think McCourty was well on his way to that type of career as a rookie, until the bottom fell out of his performance as a sophomore in 2011. Obviously mentally it’s easier for a cornerback to play man coverage as it takes all the thought out of it. But if he’s getting beat on every snap, it also makes it easier for the offense to make plays, big plays. While I think it’s fair to question the coaching and scheme of the Patriots in the back end in recent years, I don’t think it’s nearly as simple as you paint it to be. There is a still a lot of responsibility on the players to make plays, as well as on the personnel department in terms selecting talent.
Andy Hart

Hey guys...long time listener. I had two questions. Beginning of the season, I thought Aaron Hernandez was truly going to break out. PFW was raving that at training camp, he was the best player, catching everything. I have been pretty disappointed. I know there will be some rust due to his injury, but after that hit down the middle in SF, he seems to be scared of getting hit. I thought that with his extension, Welker's departure would be a foregone conclusion as Aaron can play the slot also. I rewatched last year's Super Bowl and his drop in the last 50 seconds in the game was the same...you could see it in his face...he was bracing for contact before he caught the ball...does his alligator arms concern you guys? I don't want to beat a dead horse, but I'll hit it one more time. Why didn't we bring Randy Moss back after he was basically begging to come back? He still implies he has a lot of love for NE. Our biggest criticism has been a lack of an outside the numbers receiver, something that Lloyd isn't. He can't separate at all. I still feel our offense can be shut down when teams can rush 4 and play aggressive press. Our team just doesn't have the speed to separate from that. Even with Moss's age, he'd draw two defenders, leaving the middle wide open for Welker, Hernandez and Gronk. Don't you feel a piece like him, the ultimate decoy, would truly make this offense unstoppable?
Brian Vu

To address the last part first, I don’t think Moss has much left in the tank. Despite getting behind the Patriots defense in December, he has been a limited role player for the 49ers. I agree that the Patriots still lack a deep threat, but I don’t think Moss is/would be the answer. As for Hernandez, I’ve been critical of his hands for a long time. That and his inability to stay healthy are what make him a good player but not a great one. He did have a great summer and I expected a 100-catch season. That was derailed by the ankle injury, rushing him back to action too early and too many drops. He does seem to let big hits and some of his drops get in his head. It’s not a new issue. And his health has been an issue back to college, when he barely practiced at Florida in order to stay healthy. I still think Hernandez is the future of the slot position in New England. He has the contract that says he’s going to be here for a while. This has been a very disappointing year for him. Hopefully he can make some plays during the postseason to make us forget the regular season. Then he can start fresh next year. But he certainly has some work to do.
Andy Hart

Greetings, with the addition of Ballard at TE on the 2013 offense, do you see Hernandez's role on the offense changing. Ballard is a much better blocker which would help with the running game and pass protection.
Paul Suffriti

No. I think Ballard has the chance to be more of a Gronkowski backup and third tight end option. I think Hernandez will continue to be a versatile pass catcher who lines up in the slot more often than not. If anything, Ballard’s presence might allow for more three-tight end sets, with Gronkowski getting even more chances as a pass catcher. But really, I think Ballard is more of a backup option than likely key contributor or starting type player.
Andy Hart

Hey guys, greetings from London! I read this every week but this is my first time writing. I have 2 questions: first of all, it's a while away but what positions did you think we will draft this year besides improving the secondary? Also, what did you think when you saw our opponents for next season. Thanks and good luck to America's best team!
Jack Naftalin

I do think, as always, the secondary will be targeted at some point in the draft. Beyond that, I think the wide receiver position needs to probably be addressed to get some youth at that spot. Another pass rusher and a young defensive lineman would also be on the draft menu. Of course all of this depends on what the team does during free agency leading up to the draft. As for the 2013 schedule, it looks like a pretty formidable one. Outside of what remains a still very much unproven AFC East outside of New England, the slate includes meetings with five playoff teams, with four of those games on the road (at Baltimore, Cincinnati, Atlanta and Houston). There are also a few non-playoff teams that I think could bounce back next year, including New Orleans, Pittsburgh and maybe even a tough fight from Cleveland. But we all also know that a lot can change from one year to the next in the NFL.
Andy Hart

If my memory serves me correctly, the only two successful rookie wide receivers that BB has drafted since he took over the Pats twelve years ago was Branch and Givens. Of course he has been successful bringing in free agents like Moss, Welker and a few others, as well as failures such as Galloway, Johnson/Ochi Caldwell etc. My question is, do you think it is that difficult to find these young whippersnapper rookie wide receivers that might fit nicely with the Pats, because of the Pats intricate offensive system, or perhaps the scouts that are out there looking or is it just that BB would prefer to bring in the experienced free agents and go that route and hope for the best?
Dana Sullenberry

Branch and Givens are indeed the only receivers the Patriots have really developed in the Belichick era. Aside from that there have been some contributions from guys like Bethel Johnson and Julian Edelman, though mostly on special teams. I do think that learning the Patriots offense – which is clearly more complex now than it was in its early stages with Branch and Givens – might be an issue. But Gronkowski and Hernandez got it down quickly enough as rookies to be contributors. And it’s not like receivers who’ve failed in New England like Chad Jackson and Taylor Price have gone on to success elsewhere. They clearly just didn’t have what it took to be productive NFL targets. That means it was a talent evaluation problem. I’d say the same things with some of the free agent additions, including Ochocinco. Regardless, it needs to change because the Patriots are going to need to find dependable wide receivers moving forward to pair with the team’s impressive tight end core.
Andy Hart

Every year the Patriots have gone to the Super bowl under Bill Belichick they have had a good pass rush of at least 40 sacks for the season. They reached 37 sacks only because of a weak Miami offensive line protecting a rookie QB. Is this pass rush good enough to win in the playoffs against good teams? Will Ninkovich play?
Ken
Conway, NH

I do think that Ninkovich will play after he returned to practice last week and is out there again this week. It looks like he avoided a major injury. But he’ll also likely be limited, so it remains to be seen how long he can play and how effective he will be. As for the larger question, I do think this pass rush is good enough to win with when paired with the Patriots offense. Does the pass rush scare anyone? No. Is it elite? No. Will it have to be better in the future? Yes. But if Talib and Dennard get back to the field in the back end and the secondary is more competitive, then I think the rush will be good enough. I like what I’ve seen in terms of depth at the spot in recent weeks with guys like Justin Francis, Trevor Scott and even Brandon Deaderick. I also thought that Chandler Jones looked a little more lively over the final game-plus of the season than he did when hurt and coming back from injury in the middle of the year. He needs to be closer to the guy he was in the first month-plus, and I think he’s capable of getting back to that level. I have hope for the pass rush as he we head into the postseason, hope that it will be good enough. It doesn’t need to carry the team or the defense, it just needs to be a complementary aspect of winning.
Andy Hart

How long will it be for the Detroit Lions and the Cleveland Browns to reach the Super Bowl.
Denny O’Brien

A long time. I’m going to guess seven years for Detroit and 13 for Cleveland.
Andy Hart

Dear PFW, Are Patriots playing with a chip on their shoulder? Or are they playing "business as usual"? I remember the fire during that 2001 season when they came out as the hungry team. Do you see this edge in the Patriots this year? I don't - I worry that they are not hungry enough to win it all and the Broncos are. (except Brady of course).
Ravi Joshi

I have no worry about the hunger of the Patriots. I think leaders Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are two of the most competitive, hungry guys on the planet. There are a lot of guys on this team – the bulk of the roster – who’ve never won anything. So while I think the team preaches a business-like approach and one-game-at-a-time, I think there is a passion to win that is ever present and burning strong. New England may not win it all, in fact the team may not even be good enough all around to win it all, but I don’t think it will be for some lack of hunger.
Andy Hart

OK two questions: 1. Why didn't the Patriots go after RG3? in the draft, he would be suitable back up quarterback to Tom Brady? 2. What does Coach Belichick have against Heisman Trophy Winners?
Paula Fitzhenry

I don’t want to ever be accused of ignoring questions or not answering them because I think they’re a joke. The Patriots didn’t have the immense need at quarterback to trade up to the No. 2 overall pick in the draft – in doing so likely trading away the bulk of the team’s next two-three drafts – to get RGIII. The Redskins had that need, and made the huge trade. As for Heisman Trophy winners, I don’t think Belichick has anything against them. After all, he really seems to like Tim Tebow and had dinner with him prior to the draft a few years back.
Andy Hart

Randy Moss signed a 1-year deal with the 49ers last offseason, he didn't dominate this season but he didn't have a quarterback like Tom Brady, what are the chances he comes back? Were the Patriots interested in him last year?
William Towle

William, I think that go pattern has run its course, so to speak. I don’t think there is any chance the Patriots would re-visit bringing Moss back to New England at this point. He’s not anywhere near the player he once was. He’s reportedly been a good soldier in San Francisco this year. Good for the 49ers and Jim Harbaugh, but the Patriots have been there and done that.
Andy Hart

Osi Umenyiora appears to be done in NY. What are the odds of the Pat's going for him, do you think he has enough left for BB to go after him this off season? I think he would be a tremendous compliment to an already talented defensive front. The Pats a great at giving players like Umenyiora a chance to flourish on the back end of their careers.
Jim Willard

As I said earlier, I do think the Patriots might go after a veteran defensive end/pass rusher in the offseason. I think that could be a nice addition to a young group that includes Jones. Umenyiora might be a consideration. He’s a backup for the Giants now and has had a decent year with six sacks. But he’s only a couple years removed from a season of double-digit sacks and, amazingly, double-digit forced fumbles. We all know the Patriots won’t throw the bank at Umenyiora, but if he wants to go to a contender and maybe even stick it to the Giants, I bet New England would be interested. I certainly would be. But at 31, he might be young enough for another team to pay him higher, starter money and that might be more appealing to the former Super Bowl champ.
Andy Hart

When watching last Sunday’s game against the Dolphins it seemed like the addition of Gronk caused them to have issues with coverage. Do you really feel after his performance that will carry to the playoffs or will teams be more likely to ignore him and attack other receivers? And if so, could that have been the plan all along given the strength of the receiving core to unleash him later with the Dolphins game not really being worth the loss of any starting player and to unleash him in the later rounds?
Roger Peterson

I think Gronk is physically and mentally working his way back into football shape. I think the game against Miami saw him play very cautiously with his surgically repaired left forearm. That’s understandable since it was his first contact in six weeks. But I don’t think defenses can ignore him in the postseason by any means. He looked pretty good catching the ball against the Dolphins and is one of the most dangerous pass catchers in the game. He adds a different, irreplaceable element to the Patriots offense that opens things up for others, especially Hernandez. Even if he’s not at full health, Gronkowski will be a big boost to the offense and a factor that opposing coaches need to spend a lot of time preparing for.
Andy Hart

Many thanks to all the writers for keeping me and the other fans in (Old) England informed and up to date with events in New England. There is always an immediate draft analysis about a week after the event takes place but that's before any of the players selected have practiced or played a down of professional football. With selections including Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower, Tavon Wilson and Alfonzo Dennard, how would you now evaluate Bill Belichick's picks? It seems to me that he did a great job in Radio City Music Hall and throughout the season.
David Beckett

Our pleasure (and job)! I think this year’s draft class has the chance to be a very good one, maybe even great. I think Jones has been very good when healthy and has a bright future. Hightower has battled a couple injuries, and left me wanting more, but he’s seen a lot of action in his first season and should be solid for years to come. I still have my doubts about Wilson, but physically he seems to have a lot of potential. Dennard may be the steal of the class. He looks like a possible starting cornerback, something the team desperately needs and that would be a steal in the late rounds. The only real disappointment in the class, for me, is Jake Bequette. I thought he might contribute right away as a situational pass rusher and has been inactive all year. Right now I’d grade the draft class as a B with a chance that it’s an A-plus when it all shakes down.
Andy Hart

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