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Ask PFW: Secondary concerns

Posted Nov 13, 2012

The focus of this week's PFW mailbag is squarely on the defensive backfield.

Hey guys, love your work. It’s great to be up to date half a world away. I'm a long-time reader, first-time writer from Sydney, Australia. I have a two-part question for you in regards to the defense. Why is that we seem to play so many soft zone coverages. It seems like it’s always going to be hard to generate a pass rush that will actually worry opposing quarterbacks only rushing three or four and letting that QB pick apart holes in the zone scheme. If we're going to give up the big play anyway, which we do, why not throw in a corner or safety blitz, something more unexpected? And secondly why with how little hesitation we have cut players do we not cut the d-coordinator for the play calling and coaching? We have one of the worst Ds in the league two years in a row, but we don't have that bad a talent pool. Zac Auton

First off, thanks for your loyal readership, Zac. Glad to be of help. Your first question is a valid one. If I were to pose that to defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, I wouldn’t get the answer you’re hoping for (it would be a generic “we do what’s best each week based on the opponent” kind of response), so, I’m left to speculate.

I can only assume that with how badly the secondary has been at covering, the coaches don’t want to risk any more big plays than have already been surrendered. That could be one reason. Another could be that they’re seeing improvement in the four-man rush – which there has been, compared to last year. Maybe the hope is that if given time to develop, the four-man front will be sufficient to get to the opposing QB without the need for a defensive back to join the blitz party. Again, I wish I could give you a more concrete answer based on intel we get from the coaching staff… but they don’t provide us with such information. Ever.

Your second question, now. Coaching moves are up to Bill Belichick. Obviously, he feels that Patricia is the right man for the job. Until he feels otherwise, or until Belichick is no longer here, Patricia will remain in that position. Erik Scalavino

Hi PFW. Long-time fan of New England all the way from Australia. Two questions for you. My first question is: do you think Devin [McCourty] being put to safety will be a waste of his talent? In my opinion I would put both Devin and Aqib [Talib] at the corner position, even though Talib comes with baggage. If BB can't control him, I don't see other teams chasing after him. Also what do you the best outcome would be at corner? Thank you. Evan Bahre

Another Aussie fan?! Love it! Thanks, mates… I’ve said before, I believe, among this current group of DBs, McCourty is too talented not to be on the field, whether at corner or safety. Having him and Talib on the field at the same time is imperative. I’m not so much concerned about which spot McCourty plays, just so long as he’s on the field. Erik Scalavino

Hey guys, the Pats secondary is really ineffective this year as well as last. It seems that we don't value players with good coverage skills. Can you guys see the team making some changes next year? Clearly the coaches can't just coach up this group of players it just doesn't work. It just doesn't seem we did enough last offseason to address the secondary issues. Thanks. Danny Knox

It’s possible you won’t have to wait that long, Danny. With the arrival of Aqib Talib this week, we might see more man coverage from the Patriots this week and going forward. Might is the key word there.

But I must take issue with your initial point. It’s not that the team doesn’t value players with “good coverage skills.” Of course, the coaches are always trying to find such players. The issue seems to be partly talent (or lack thereof) and partly the technique and scheme being coached. Either the coaches are bringing in players who aren’t very talented, or they are and are then coaching them incorrectly. Either way, it’s a problem that needs to be fixed ASAP. Erik Scalavino

Do you see the Patriots making a play for the recently released Stanford Routt? Could be a solid addition for the stretch run. Anonymous

I’d be surprised if they didn’t bring him in for a look, given the state of the secondary. Erik Scalavino

Should we be very concerned about [wide receiver Wes] Welker’s and [left guard Logan] Mankins’ ankles? Frank Coleman

In Mankins case, I’d say yes. We all know how tough a character the co-captain is, having played on two torn-up knees last season. But he’s struggled this year with hip and calf injuries. Now, this left ankle problem, which forced him out of the game early in the second half against Buffalo. He was limping very badly on the sideline, even after getting re-taped. A third injury does not bode well for Mankins going forward.

For those who may not be aware of Welker’s situation, he has been on the injury report the past few weeks with an ankle issue, but has practiced and played with it. After the Bills game, he reportedly had the ankle x-rayed. I did see him walk through the locker room about an hour after the game ended, and he appeared to be walking normally. I’m inclined, therefore, to be less concerned about him than Mankins, but that’s just based on my own anecdotal evidence. Erik Scalavino

Midway through the season, has Chandler Jones lived up to your expectations? Marcus Patterson

No. He has exceeded them. I thought he’d be lucky to have a half-dozen sacks by season’s end, because he wasn’t that prolific a pass rusher at Syracuse. But he’s already reached that mark and there are still several games left. He has shown much more of a repertoire of moves than I thought he had, too. He has a bright future in this league. Erik Scalavino

How better do you think the Patriots will get when all their starters are healthy, like [safety Patrick] Chung and [tight end Aaron] Hernandez? Tyler Donovan

Not much, I’m afraid. Chung isn’t exactly a consistent playmaker out there, and the defense is about as good as it’s going to get with the current personnel – unless newcomer Aqib Talib can be enough of a difference-maker in the secondary. Big if.

And on offense, how much better can you get than 30-plus points per game? Even without Hernandez, the Patriots are doing that. Yes, it will be great to have him on the field again, but his presence won’t do much to augment what is already one of the league’s most dangerous offenses. Erik Scalavino

Hi. What happened to crossing your heart during the National Anthem? Watching from home, the cameras often zoom in on players and only a few are shown crossing their heart. Perhaps they have forgotten what they were taught in grade school. Perhaps you could get the word out to players to set a good example for all the fans. Thanks. Ellen Cole

Amen, Ellen. Erik Scalavino

This is more of a personal question… my wife and I and a friend are planning a trip from Northern Canada and have already obtained tickets for the Pats/Texans game on December 10th. I have been a loyal follower of the Pats since 1972 growing up in Saint John, New Brunswick, and now live in Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada. We are also hoping to attend the Sunday nighter vs. the 49ers. Was hoping someone on staff would have some insights on a different experience. I have attended games, but was wondering how to get a bigger, better experience. I see people who are able to get on the field after the game, or be able to meet players. Hoping you can help. Keep up the great work at Ask PFW. Read your column every week of the year. Michael Jewis, Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada

Thanks for the steadfast support of the team and of PFW. Normally, the folks you see on the field and mingling with players after games are either family/friends of the players and coaches and staff, or are corporate clients of the team who get special privileges as part of that business relationship. So, in that regard, you may be out of luck.

However, if you’re serious about doing the twin bill of home games, might I suggest, if you can swing it, booking a room now at the Renaissance Hotel at Patriot Place and staying the week here in Foxborough. You can experience The Hall at Patriot Place (a must for any true fan like yourself), where players often appear for what’s known as the “Speaker’s Series.” Fans are encouraged to attend these informal question-and-answer sessions with the players. That might be your best chance of seeing and meeting a player.

But definitely try to stay the whole week and see the area. Rent a car, take the short drive to Boston to the north or Providence to the south. It will be a true New England experience you, your wife, and your friend will never forget. Erik Scalavino

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