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Ask PFW: Start to finish

Posted Dec 6, 2011

As the Patriots embark on the final quarter of the season, the team is focused on trying to figure out how to finish football games as it finishes the regular season schedule. Fans have plenty of topics on their minds in this week's cruising-toward-Christmas edition of Ask PFW.

Do you think BB will ever draft a "lead" RB? Or will it always be RB by committee?
Nolan Michalski

I think Belichick tried to draft a lead running back with the 21st pick in the 2006 draft – Laurence Maroney. Obviously that never worked out. The team also invested a mid-round pick in Stevan Ridley this past April, likely with an eye on him potentially developing into a lead back. But only time will tell if he reaches what the team believes to be his potential. In regards to defense Belichick once made a comment that if you have a player like Reggie White, you play him all the time. Otherwise you use rotations and situational reps. So, if he had Adrian Peterson or Emmitt Smith, I'm sure the Patriots would have a lead back and not a committee. Right now the problem is that no one in the committee has a hot hand or is producing with any regularity. Until someone steps up and produces, it's not going to look good on the ground whether the carries go to one guy or a handful of guys. I'd argue that the team needs to give a better shot to either BenJarvus Green-Ellis or Ridley, give them 15-plus carries to get into a rhythm. But it's hard to argue that point too strongly as neither guy has really earned it.
Andy Hart

Can you please shed some light as to what Belichick is doing? He is releasing CBs and Safeties and signing TEs. I also hear a lot about how "thin" we are at LB and in the secondary but for some reason we carry 5 RBs on the active roster each game. Do you have an explanation for his thinking methods that might help us Pats fan sleep better at night?
Clarens Jarbath

First of all, the team is only carrying two tight ends – both very good players that they drafted last year in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. There has been a rotating door of late in the secondary and we all know the bigger cuts the team has made in the back end leading to that situation. But just because you lack depth/talent in one spot doesn't mean that you cut good talent in another spot just to fill out the depth chart with guys off the street. The Patriots have five talented runners that look like they have NFL talents. Kevin Faulk may be in his last year, but I'm not sure I'd part ways with him yet. He may be valuable in the clutch in the postseason. So I don't want to cut one of the five guys – um, hamburgers! – just to bring some JAG (just a guy) defensive back in off the street. Belichick the general manager created the issue in the secondary with his roster moves earlier in the year – though it's been exacerbated by injuries to some of the guys that remain – and now Belichick the coach has to work through it with the guys he has.
Andy Hart

Guys, it wasn't too long ago that the Pats were accused of being a dink and dunk team. Now don't get me wrong, I love the offense, but it would seem that a RB screen would be a valuable tool and this team seems to have forgotten that it exists. With Woodhead, Faulk and Vereen, you would think that they could still use this well particularly vs. aggressive pass rushing teams like the Giants and Steelers. Any reason you can think of as to why they don't do RB screens much at all anymore?
Dan Driban

This is an interesting question that I'm not sure I have a legitimate answer for. You're right that the screen used to be a huge part of the offense and the team seems to still have the runners to make plays with it. Though there are still plenty of WR and TE screens, the backs don't get as many chances. The only thing I can come up with is that given the number of underneath and inside routes the team runs, maybe the feeling is that there are too many bodies that could blow up screens. Maybe. And based on my memory of late, it doesn't seem that backs have maximized their limited chances. But it's still an interesting topic to keep an eye on.
Andy Hart

Now that the Patriots are down to their third-string center, Ryan Wendell, who is backing him up?
John McLean

This email clearly was sent before Sunday's game, when the Patriots had to start fourth-string option and practice squad call-up Nick McDonald at center. (I almost errantly typed Nick Mangold, wouldn't that be nice!) Wendell was active and played, but is dealing with a calf injury. Dan Koppen is on IR and Dan Connolly has a groin issue that left him inactive yet again. McDonald seemed to handle himself pretty well against the Colts – both in terms of assignments and communication. It's another feather in Dante Scarnecchia's coaching cap. How many teams can remain successful when down to their fourth-stringer in the middle of the o-line? Scar seems to almost always have somebody ready to step up, another reason why he may be the best line coach in the business.
Andy Hart

So maybe I'm the only one out of the loop here but where is James Sanders now, and how is his season going? Also, is there anywhere that you can check how long a player is signed for and what his salary is? Thanks guys!
Luke Berry


Sanders signed with the Atlanta Falcons after he was cut by the Patriots this summer. Sanders has started five games for Atlanta, including the last four. On Sunday he had 10 tackles and a fumble recovery in the team's loss to the Texans. As far as a good database of contract information, I urge you to head over to www.patscap.com. It's a great resource for fans and media alike looking to keep up with contract information – current, past and future!
Andy Hart

Do you think Brady is missing Dan Koppen's presence at center?
Patriot Paul
Saunderstown, Rhode Island

I'm sure on some level Brady is missing having Koppen in front of him on every snap. The duo has played a lot of football together and Koppen has proven himself as a Pro Bowl center. They are also very good friends. At times the interior line has give up plays, especially to games up front from opposing defensive lines. Koppen may have helped out in that area. Overall, though, I think Koppen's trio of replacements have done an admirable job in his absence.
Andy Hart

OK, does anyone else think that BB should be in the running for coach of the year? Is the Pats defense really this banged up we have offensive players in the mix playing defense each week? BB must be one of the best teachers of the game and the work he does on the total roster speaks volumes as we have seen with the Colts this year. So my question after all this is do we have a chance in hell of winning anything come playoff time with this make shift band of brothers in the back field? I can't help but give this team and BB props for their ability to plug players where ever they need them but I just don't see them surviving a playoff game against elite competition.
Tommy Raymond

In my opinion Belichick is always in the running for coach of the year. That tends to happen when you have 11 straight seasons above .500. He's doing another impressive job this year, although I think some people hold it against him that he has one of the greatest passers to ever play the game at his disposal. If I were voting, I'd probably be giving a lot of consideration to Jim Harbaugh for what he's done in San Francisco. I'd also have to consider Gary Kubiak in Houston and, as he chases perfection, Mike McCarthy in Green Bay. But as of now, Harbaugh would be my choice for what he's done turning his team around with a still suspect quarterback and dealing with a lockout in his first year at the helm. As for the Patriots long term chances, I'll be honest and say I really don't know. I think they can beat any team in the AFC. But will they? And can they beat good teams on consecutive weeks, say against the Ravens and then Steelers? I have my doubts. This defense is still more than suspect. Remember what Pittsburgh did to them already? Hard to get that out of your head. Combine that with recent January failings and this team will have something to prove when the playoffs roll around. But it's always hard to bet against Belichick and Brady, especially at home, even given their recent postseason history.
Andy Hart

Have the Patriots revealed why they chose to cut Sanders and Meriweather? Were there locker-room issues? Also, what happened to Shaun Ellis? Finally I counted 23 injured Patriots at one point...given this number, I find it amazing the patriots are winning but how do you explain so many injuries?
Mark Davis

The Patriots, aka Bill Belichick, will never reveal why they make certain decisions other than to say it was in the best interests of the football team. From where I stand, that was true with Meriweather who is now active but not playing for the Bears. He's never been nearly as good as anyone has thought, or as he's thought in his own mind. But I still don't get the Sanders move. He could be helping this team right now, and while he was clearly overpaid, it wasn't make-or-break money. As far as questionable decisions go in the Belichick era, cutting Sanders may end up near the top of the list, right next to fourth-and-two and Eric Alexander starting his first career game in the AFC title contest against the Colts in 2006. Ellis, a $4 million free agent addition, has been a major disappointment in his first season in New England. He's made little to no impact and his playing time has decreased over the year. (He did miss some time to injury.) In my opinion he's looked slow as the left 4-3 end. Many in New York weren't impressed with his season a year ago, though those of us in New England thought he looked pretty good in the playoffs against the Patriots. To me, he looks like a guy who has simply gotten old at age 34. It happens.
Andy Hart

What's up guys? I love what you're doing. Reading your blog keeps me somewhat connected down here in Houston. Anyways my question is, how do you guys feel about Jerod Mayo? He is a great tackler and a somewhat above average player, but is he really the playmaker that this defense needs? Should we draft Dont'a Hightower if we have the opportunity in next year's coming draft?
Jamal Jenmi

I've always said that Mayo is a solid tackler and seems to be a solidifying force of leadership on the field calling plays. But he doesn't make impact plays from the linebacker position that would be expected of a guy who earned All-Pro honors a year ago based almost solely on tackle numbers. He doesn't rush the passer much. He doesn't get to a lot of passes in coverage. He doesn't seem to forced/recover fumbles for a guy around the ball as often as he is. It's not supposed to be a shot, but he's no Patrick Willis or Ray Lewis. And those are the guys he should be compared to. I'm sure his agent will be comparing him to them when he calls looking for a new contract. Heck, even his own teammate Rob Ninkovich has been joking with him that it took him four years to get an interception. And you know the saying, there is a little bit of truth in every joke. Mayo is a solid player. He's just not nearly an elite one. Hightower is a guy to keep an eye on as a great linebacker coming out of Nick Saban's defense at Alabama. He could be a top-20 pick or higher once the draft process unfolds. He clearly has the size that Belichick likes in his linebackers and can make plays. But I'm not sure the need is there to trade up to get him if he goes that high. If he's on the board when the Patriots make either of their potential two first-round picks then my guess is he'll warrant consideration.
Andy Hart

Is Julian Edelman still going to play on defense?
Abraham Cassab

Last week Belichick clearly left the door open in his press conference for Edelman to keep seeing snaps on defense. And what happened? Matthew Slater played defense last week and Edelman did not. I'm sure part of it had to do with the Colts game and matchups. And we could very well see Edelman, Slater or both on defense as the season continues based on need. But I still think that Edelman's long term future is at wide receiver and punt returner. Not at defensive back. But only Belichick knows for sure.
Andy Hart


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