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Ask PFW: September 11 Edition

Posted Sep 11, 2012

On this most somber of American anniversaries, we pause to remember and give thanks for what we still have, like the freedom to talk football.

Overall, after watching the first game, I must say that I was quite impressed with many aspects of this team including the running game, the passing threat, the run defense and the energy level. That being said, what areas are you most concerned about? Our pass coverage seemed a bit soft at times, but for me the biggest weakness seemed to be that Solder was beat off the edge several times during the game, leaving Brady susceptible to blind side pressure. When Gronk lined up on the left, Ridley was able to break off some huge runs and Brady had time to throw, but Solder alone, didn't seem to be able to handle the blind side. Do you think this will improve? What other areas concerned you? Thanks, you guys are fantastic!!
Jeremy Schain

First of all, a big thank you to all the first-responders, military personnel, and civilian authorities who had a role on 9/11 and continue to serve and protect us today. And to the victims and their loved ones, we will always remember'

On to football.

I think you may be overreacting a bit to Solder's performance against Tennessee. Yes, he was responsible for the sack that damaged Tom Brady's nose, but aside from that, he and the rest of the offensive line did a better job than they had all preseason, and that was encouraging to see.

I am more concerned with the depth at o-line than with the way the starters fared, particularly in light of Dan Connolly's head injury, which he sustained late in the Titans game. I'm also still a little unsure of the pass defense in the secondary, but even there, I saw improvement over last season in that first game.  Kickoff returns could be better, too, but overall, there wasn't much to nit-pick about that 34-13 win in Nashville.
Erik Scalavino


So which one or two players surprisingly played significantly better than you expected in the first game of the season? And what was it about their game that surprised you? And which one or two players played surprisingly poorly?
Wayne Y.

I wasn't necessarily surprised by the play of the top rookie draft picks - defensive end Chandler Jones, linebacker Dont'a Hightower, and safety Tavon Wilson - because we'd seen them grow throughout the preseason. I was encouraged to see that they continued to improve in their regular season debut.

I will say I was a little surprised to see how much playing time tight end Michael Hoomanawanui received, having just arrived a few days earlier. Not only was he involved in the running game as an extra blocker on the line of scrimmage, he was also utilized in the passing game several times, which, to me, demonstrated his quick grasp of enough of the offense to contribute in that area.

There weren't a whole lot of poor efforts, either. Ras-I Dowling had some early mistakes at right corner, but he seemed to settle down after the first quarter, so, that was somewhat encouraging.
Erik Scalavino


Hi Guys, Great game against Tennessee. I know this is jumping the gun, but I was really impressed with [Jermaine] Cunningham's performance. Not that he dominated the game or anything, but that he contributed at all. Were you as impressed as me? Should I be excited about his play?
Monty Borrowman

I've been one of Cunningham's strongest detractors, but I must admit, he's had his best summer in this, his third season. Against Tennessee, he was often inserted as a defensive tackle, rather than his usual defensive end - something we'd seen from him during the preseason. It was unfortunate to see one of his best plays against Tennessee be called back due to a penalty, but you're right, he was contributing, and that's more than I expected from him at this point. It's a good sign of his progress. For the team's sake, hopefully he can continue it.
Erik Scalavino

After the strong preseason showing by Cunningham, and a slower transition of [Rob] Ninkovich from OLB to DE, can we expect Cunningham to eventually be more the full time player at DE opposite Chandler Jones?
Ryan Collins

I haven't really seen this "slower" transition by Ninkovich, as you put it, Ryan. Size-wise, he's more of a fit at OLB than DE, I'll give you that, but he hasn't played any worse at his new spot, in my estimation. Nor has Cunningham yet proved he is any better. Yes, as I mentioned earlier, he is having his best year to date, but Cunningham has yet to prove he deserves a starting role. He might be one of those players ' like Mike Wright or Jarvis Green before him ' who is at his best in a situational sub role.
Erik Scalavino


Looking at how many different tight ends the Pats have brought into camp or signed since, I keep wondering if they are looking to run a three (or four) tight end formation. It would put a lot of bigger guys on the field for run blocking and if the TEs are all able to catch the ball, what would the opposing team do with the size mismatches? Have any teams in the past deployed 3 or 4 TE sets other than on the goal line? What would you consider to be the advantages or disadvantages of these formations? Thanks in advance.
Arthur Taft

When I went back and looked at the film from Sunday's win over Tennessee (please check out my After Further Review article here on patriots.com), I was pleasantly surprised by how many times the Patriots used all three tight ends who were active that day. Not only were they used in running plays, but in the pass as well. In the locker room Monday, I had a few minutes to talk with Wes Welker about the anomalous formations, and even he agreed that there was more usage of three-tight-end sets than he remembered from previous seasons.

As I see it, the advantage to have three tight ends on the field at once is clear: if they are capable of run blocking and pass catching, you have a distinct edge on the defense. You can line them up in what looks like a run formation and send them out for passes, as we saw against the Titans a number of times. Tennessee almost always bit on the run in those situations, and Brady took advantage of the mismatches.

The biggest disadvantage would be in terms of speed. The fewer receivers and backs on the field, the slower your offense might be.
Erik Scalavino


What are the chances in your opinion of us bringing back one of our receivers we released such as [Deion] Branch? I don't quite understand his release in the first place and think he would be very valuable to the squad.
Jon McQueen

I could envision a scenario in which Branch would be brought back. Unfortunately, it was mean the loss of one of the receivers already on the 53-man roster (to injury, for instance), and that's not what you're looking for as a fan. It is interesting that you bring up Branch's name, though, as he still does have a locker space in the Patriots locker rom.
Erik Scalavino


If both Patriots QB's were to get injured in the same game, then who would be the next "emergency QB" to take over for that game? How many current Patriot players could become "emergency QB's", should such a situation ever occur?
John Moore

Interesting question, John, and one for which you better hope we never find an answer. The team does not have to divulge who that player is, of course, so, we're left merely to speculate. I would say Julian Edelman is the most likely candidate, given his experience as a college QB (albeit a mostly running one). If he were forced to take snaps under center, the Patriots' passing offense would be severely limited, though, I would imagine.

Aside from Edelman, it's anyone's guess who would be capable of filling that role. In all likelihood, you could take your pick of any number of offensive skill position players ' the ones who would be most familiar with the play calls. Defenders might be an option, too, but not very likely ones, in my estimation, based on their relative unfamiliarity with the offense.
Erik Scalavino


Which player on the Patriots' practice squad is most likely to become a core contributor? [Tight end Alex] Silvestro and [linebacker Jeff] Tarpinian head my list, but it generally seems to be an o-lineman (Scar is a master teacher).
Michael S.

With the embarrassment of riches at tight end, it might be difficult for Silvestro to break through. Tarpinian may be more likely at linebacker, given that he was on the 53 last year and the team is somewhat thin at that position currently. But you're onto something with the o-line, I think. Matt Kopa is a name to remember. He was on the p-squad most of last year, and, despite being injured and missing most of this year's training camp, was signed to the practice squad again. With the injuries to the o-line seemingly growing, he might be a leading candidate to make the leap to the active roster.
Erik Scalavino


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