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Ask PFW: Weathering the storm

Posted Oct 30, 2012

With the Patriots safely back from London and beginning their bye week, "Ask PFW" takes a look at some lingering issues from the first half.

Hello there and greetings from Denmark. I remember reading, I believe sometime last season, some statistics about how many times one of the DBs, might’ve been Devin McCourty, was targeted, how many of those targets were completed, yards given up etc. Where did you get those numbers? I’ve been looking around for quite a while now and I can’t seem to find anything resembling that. Is there some super secret media site or am I just a pretty bad Googler?
Lars Aarup

Don’t be so hard on yourself, I’m sure you’re a tremendous Googler Lars. There are some sites that track these stats but I will caution that none are truly accurate. Pro Football Focus is one site that is often referenced in the media (ProFootballFocus.com). They do a comprehensive job of tracking every game and provide detailed statistical analysis. The problem with this site, and any other that is done by the teams themselves, is they’re too subjective. Unless you are privy to the play calls, schemes, designs, etc. then you don’t know for sure which players performed their jobs properly. It’s easy to see a corner covering a receiver one on one and then determining if he got beat. But it’s much harder to assign blame on plays where zones are used oftentimes it appears as if a corner may have let his receiver beat him when in fact that was the design of the play, or others when the opposite is true and the corner passes the receiver off to the safety but wasn’t supposed. There are dozens of factors that go into every coverage that someone simply watching would have no way of accurately identifying. But the guys at PFF do a solid job of researching every game and that’s where I’d head if you’re looking for that sort of thing.
Paul Perillo

The demise of AFC is greatly exaggerated, with Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and even Andrew Luck collectively exceeding the quarterback talent of the NFC, and I wonder if the local media, who already made one unwarranted prediction of our 16-0 season, is making another mistake calling the AFC a mess?
Stan Cohan

I’m going to answer this in my best Roger Goodell impression – I’m not sure I agree with your premise, Stan. First, I believe there are more solid teams in the NFC than the AFC at the moment. That doesn’t mean an AFC team won’t win the Super Bowl. That’s one game and anything can happen. And there’s also a very real chance that the AFC representative will be a better team than the NFC champ – we’ll have to wait another eight weeks before offering more of an analysis in that regard. But I’d say the Giants, Bears, Packers, Falcons and 49ers are all worthy of title consideration in the NFC at this point. On the flip side, I’d say the Texans, Ravens and Patriots fall into that category right now, and the Ravens are woefully beaten up on defense and could fall as a result. The Broncos appear to be making a push and Peyton obviously gives them instant credibility. The Steelers don’t appear to be a serious threat at this point. And I don’t share your thoughts on the quarterbacks either. Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Robert Griffin III are certainly on par with the four you mentioned, so I don’t see any edge there. Again, there’s a lot of season left and things change in this league pretty much every week, but right now I’d have to say the NFC looks deeper and stronger than the AFC.
Paul Perillo

Hello guys and thanks for doing a magnificent job providing this forum for diehard Patriots fans like me. What are your thoughts on the Patriots letting Wes Welker go via free agency and then investing what he is paid in strengthening their secondary? Welker can be replaced by Julian Edelman, who to some degree can do what Welker does.
Mel Bo

I have no problem with letting Welker go after the season, especially if they plan on investing more money into improving the secondary. But I do not believe Welker can be replaced adequately by Edelman. First, Edelman has never shown the ability to perform week after week. He’s often banged up and has missed time in each of his four seasons with the team. He also hasn’t shown the ability to do what Welker does on a consistent basis. We’ve seen Edelman make some plays and he has some ability to run after the catch and contribute as a receiver. But he’s never been relied upon the way Brady relies on Welker. I don’t believe he’d hold up well over 16 games being the focal point of the offense. But Welker will be 32 so I could understand if the team was reluctant to sign him to a long-term deal. I’m just not comfortable handing things over to Edelman, and I actually think it would be more Aaron Hernandez in that role than anything else.
Paul Perillo

Is it time for the Pats to cut ties with Patrick Chung? He cannot stay healthy and seems too get hurt at critical points in the game.
Jay Addison

Chung has been a rather frustrating player during his four years with the team. He does seem to get injured from time to time and that makes him hard to rely on every week. I like his aggressiveness and when he’s playing around the line of scrimmage he can be a valuable player. The problem is he’s not big enough to play in the style that he prefers, and I believe that’s a major reason he often breaks down. His pass coverage isn’t anywhere near as effective, so having him play deep in a more traditional safety role doesn’t really suit his abilities. The Patriots will have an interesting decision to make on his this offseason when he becomes a free agent. There were reports during this past offseason that he would be in line for somewhere around $5 million a season on the open market. If that’s the case, I would definitely cut ties with him, to use your words. But if he were willing to accept to more team-friendly deal I wouldn’t be opposed to having him back. I feel he has solid leadership qualities and does a good job in the locker room. That doesn’t mean I’d be willing to break the bank to keep him, but I wouldn’t want to just throw him away either.
Paul Perillo

Are the Patriots running the ball too often? Would the fourth-quarter leads be significantly larger (and maybe hold up) if the Patriots went back to more of a quick-strike offense to generate a bigger lead come, say, the mid-point of the fourth quarter? Even if the opponent gets increased possession time? The Patriots have one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history in Brady, the greatest possession receiver in NFL history in Welker, a tight end who may end up as the greatest tight end in NFL history in Gronkowski and the greatest tight end combination in NFL history in Gronkowski and Hernandez. So... they run more often?! How about running about one-third of the time instead of half of the time? I thought Josh McDaniels was going to make this offense more explosive. Has the opposite occurred? Would you rather have a 5-yard gain or a 12-yard gain? Remember, every running play takes the ball out of Brady's hands.
Joe Theban

This is a very interesting question. Some would argue that the team’s inability to run the ball has prevented it from achieving its ultimate goals in recent seasons. When the passing game breaks down, and inevitably there will be games when that happens, then the offense has no running game to fall back on. I would not be one of those people, however. I tend to agree with you, Joe. While it’s great that the running game has improved tremendously, I honestly think there are some defensive coordinators out there that are just fine with that. In others words, I think some teams – like the Jets a couple weeks ago – were perfectly content to let the Patriots run the ball 31 times. That made it easier for the undermanned Jets secondary to stay competitive and remain in the game with the score much more manageable. I would even argue that the 45-point explosion in London was the result of abandoning the running game early to put up points before Stevan Ridley piled up his yards in the second half when the game was over. While I wouldn’t go as far as you and suggest running the ball is bad, I do see your point where the increased emphasis on running the ball has oftentimes left the opponent hanging around.
Paul Perillo

I have been one of the many Patriots fans that have been blasting the Patriots secondary for its poor play this season. And of all the offenders to choose from by far the most frustrating player to watch thus far has been Devin McCourty (although Kyle Arrington is making a recent push for that honor). I used to think that Devin McCourty’s play was so poor that he had absolutely no place on the field, anywhere. His one-on-one play is atrocious, however he does have the size and the speed needed to play safety, and he’s a strong tackler as well. I like the thought of putting Devin McCourty back there at safety full time, what do you think?
Ryan Collins

McCourty continues to be the most polarizing player in the Patriots secondary. Now he’s been at safety the past two games and people seem to think that’s a better fit for him. I’ve grown somewhat frustrated with his inability to stick with receivers at cornerback but I haven’t seen much of an improvement at safety. He hasn’t made many glaring errors there – although he was unable to help Tavon Wilson on a deep ball to Chris Givens against the Rams in London – but he also hasn’t made many plays. McCourty has the tools to be a successful member of the secondary and I’m not ready to give up on him. I would keep him at safety for now and use Alfonzo Dennard in his place until the group gets healthy. But at some point he needs to show some consistency wherever he plays.
Paul Perillo

I love reading your comments. Good writing indeed. Last Sunday I watched the Giants game before Pats, envying their WRs. It got worse after the passes Brandon Lloyd dropped. He and Deion Branch are supposed to play that part but they don’t help Brady at all with big catches. Another thing, do you also think that the front line in defense give the opponent QB too much time in important plays?
Isler Ba

I bet Eli Manning would gladly change places with Brady and throw to the Patriots receiving corps over the Giants in a heartbeat. Hakeem Nicks is better than Lloyd as an outside threat, but Victor Cruz and Welker are a wash in the slot and the Giants simply have nothing even remotely comparable to the two tight ends. Your larger point about Lloyd may be a bit unfair. He hasn’t wowed anyone through the first half of the season but he has made some plays. Thus far he hasn’t made any catches on deep balls and that was one area where many felt he would improve the offense, but he has chipped in with some production outside the numbers – mostly on deep outs and back-shoulder fades near the sideline. But with the way the offense has operated thus far, leading the league in scoring, I find it hard to nitpick every little aspect of the group. Lloyd is solid as Brady’s fourth option, and Branch is a reliable fifth option as well.
Paul Perillo

Hi, Chris from England here. My question is while I only get to watch what games British Sky Sports put on the television I follow the Patriots games through the app and it seemed to me Brady was missing a lot of deep passes. Is this something you have noticed or am I making something of nothing?
Chris Anderson

Brady has been pretty solid for most of the season. There have been times within games when his accuracy seemed to abandon him – in the fourth quarter of the Seattle game as an example – but for the most part he’s been pretty effective. I don’t think the deep ball has ever really been a huge strength of his game. Not that he can’t complete bombs or doesn’t have the ability to do so, but overall I’d say he’s more effective underneath the coverage in intermediate zones. To be honest, I don’t remember him missing too many this season, though. He missed Lloyd twice early in the season and Gronkowski once against Arizona. He also has made some really good deep throws to Lloyd and the wideout was unable to catch them. Like I said, I don’t think Brady is the best deep-thrower in the game but it certainly isn’t a problem.
Paul Perillo

The Patriots played mostly a 4-3 defense last year as well. However just before the playoffs they switched back to their traditional 3-4 defense. They seemed to have better situational play in this setting than they did in the early part of the season. With one of the best nose tackles in football and some young players familiar with the 3-4, do you see a change coming?
Jeff Dayger

I’m going to channel my inner Bill Belichick and say the defense is versatile and can operate out of multiple fronts. For the most part it’s been a 4-3 but at times Rob Ninkovich has been used as a linebacker in place of Dont’a Hightower and they’ve shown 3-4 looks. I don’t really think it makes a difference. As Belichick often explains, Ninkovich is an “end of the line player” and whether you call him an end or a linebacker is largely irrelevant. I like the four-man fronts with Wilfork and Kyle Love taking up space inside and Chandler Jones and Ninkovich having the ability to both anchor against the run and bring some heat as well. I don’t anticipate any major changes unless they are specifically related to that particular week’s game plan.
Paul Perillo

Why is Brandon Lloyd still in starting line-up? All I here about is circus catches, all I see is circus attempts!
Russell Spencer

Another surprising Lloyd criticism. I just don’t see why so many people are upset with him to this point. Lloyd is the fourth option on an offense that is leading the league in scoring. At the halfway point Lloyd has 37 catches for 435 yards and three touchdowns. Nothing wrong with that production. He has had some drops and maybe some plays that perhaps should have been made. But overall I find it hard to believe he has so many people wondering about him. As a secondary threat, he’s been fine.
Paul Perillo

Can you please explain the offensive strategy in using the shotgun formation with an empty backfield and a RB as a wideout? It seems when the Pats use this formation the RB is never thrown the ball and they usually run a go-route and at best become a blocker downfield if the play comes their way. It would seem having that RB offset from Brady would be beneficial for blocking if needed or usually RBs are wide open for short throws when they come out of the backfield. Or at least put the RB in the slot so they could be thrown a quick screen like they often do with Welker.
Stephen T.

There are times when the Patriots do feature the running back as a receiver in those situations, though admittedly that is not often the case. The five-receiver sets usually have the ball coming out of Brady’s hand quickly so there really isn’t much of a need for an extra blocker. By splitting the back out wide it forces the defense to commit a player – usually a linebacker – outside and thus takes him out of the middle of the field where he is usually more comfortable. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ridley or Shane Vereen used more as receivers in these sets as the season continues. I feel they create matchups advantages outside and I think we’ll see Brady taking advantage of those before too long.
Paul Perillo

I love the work and articles I’ve been reading thus far this season, but I was wondering what has happened to our pass rushing game? It seems pretty mediocre. And what is wrong with Jake Bequette? I haven’t heard any updates or news. Also any chance Jonathan Fanene gets healthy and signs anytime soon? Thanks for listening.
Justin Smith

The pass rush could always stand some improvement but Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich have been OK in that regard. They definitely need some help on the inside but that won’t be from Fanene. He was released and won’t be coming back anytime soon. There was some question about whether or not he disclosed an injury before signing as a free agent and the sides departed on not the best of terms. Bequette obviously isn’t ready to contribute; otherwise he’d active on game day more often than he has. Jermaine Cunningham is one player to watch. And I’d also add Myron Pryor to that list. He’s on PUP and could provide a pass rush boost from the inside if he’s healthy enough to return. Overall the pressure needs to improve but with the way Jones has played it’s realistic to expect it to moving on.
Paul Perillo

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