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Ask PFW: 2-2 and on to October!

This week’s Ask PFW has fans still pondering some of the issues facing the Patriots after an up-and-down start to the 2018 season.


When Brandin Cooks was traded to L.A. back in April I was a bit disappointed to see Cookie go, but felt the Pats got the better end of the deal. But now, having watched Cooks tear it up against Xavier Rhodes and the Vikings defense on TNF, I'm no longer so sure it was good trade. Cooks is on pace to finish with 100+ receptions and 1800+ yards. Those are MONSTER numbers, well worth the 5-year, $81-M deal the Rams gave him. Part of Cooks' early incredible success is surely due to McVay's genius, but you don't put up numbers like that without great individual play. Did Bill make a mistake in refusing to pay Cooks and then trading him away? Brady could've surely used Cooks these first 4 games.

Woody Woodson

Cooks' explosion of production and the Patriots implosion of personnel at receiver have combined to make the trade look much worse today than the day it was made. I was stunned at the time New England was able to get a first-round pick for Cooks, who was traded away from a Hall of Fame quarterback/Super Bowl-winning coach for the second straight offseason. I thought he was a good not great player and not worth the $80 million it was going to take to sign him. Despite his production this season I still feel the same way. I was never a huge fan of Cooks when he was here and never thought he lived up to his pure athletic ability either New Orleans or New England. He may just be doing that in L.A. in an offense that's rolling right along under Sean McVay. But I stand by the trade Belichick made, no matter how bad it looks right now.

Andy Hart

As much as it drives me crazy sometimes, one of the things I find most interesting about watching the Pats is seeing how they handle roster moves. While I'm scratching my head trying to figure out why they let this guy go or brought that guy in, they keep finding ways to make all the moving parts work together to win football games. Given that no other team has done it better over the past two decades, it's safe to say the Patriots' staff knows how to build a team and keep it sharp. Do you think their process differs from other teams' approaches in some fundamental way, or are they just better at it than most of the league?

Steve Chiasson

I would answer "yes" to both final questions. I think the Patriots – mostly Belichick – are generally better than the rest of the league in personnel matters over the long haul. And I think the New England process differs in that all personnel decisions are made with the strength of foundation that Tom Brady has brought to the team as the best quarterback in the game for two decades. Brady's ability and leadership have covered up a lot of personnel mistakes over the years and magnified good moves. The value of that can't be overstated. Still, I think Belichick finds a way not only to put together a talented roster but to pull the plug on/make up for mistakes he makes in roster construction. Make a trade for Cassius Marsh and see that he doesn't fit? Cut him. I will say, though, Belichick's roster moves and construction are being questioned right now, maybe more than ever.

Andy Hart

Patriots won - great, but Hightower was more of a cheerleader than a playmaker again. I wonder if Patriots may try to trade for a fast ILB before the trade deadline?

Stan C.

While I think that Hightower was more than a "cheerleader" against the Dolphins, I do believe there is a need for depth and speed at linebacker. That's been magnified with Ja'Whaun Bentley going on IR (as reported by ESPN not a candidate to return based on his injury) and Elandon Roberts now dealing with a calf injury. I'm starting to resign myself to the idea that Hightower is not the player he once was, but that doesn't mean he's not a productive part of a front that's coming off by far its best game of the young season. Still, I would like to see the Patriots make an addition at the position if possible.

Andy Hart

Is there a concern for lack of depth at RB now, given we have White and Michel and another RB (forgot his name) and lost Hill and Burkhead to IR?

Dylan Damewood

Certainly between training camp and Week 4 running back went from one of the deepest positions on the roster to one with some depth concerns. Kenjon Barner re-signing doesn't exactly make me feel great, either. He's more of a returner and change-of-pace fill-in than a guy who could be relied upon. Sony Michel looked very good on Sunday afternoon and is default workhorse right now despite missing the preseason to a knee issue. James White has always been much better in the passing game than as a runner. If they both stay healthy, then I am comfortable with the backfield. But we know that over the course of the long NFL season that's unlikely. If either gets hurt, things in the backfield will really be hurting. That would probably require either Ralph Webb to be brought up from the practice squad or an outsider to be brought in.

Andy Hart

I wonder just how much better the Pats are without Rowe in the d-backfield?

Dave Brown

Though some believe this to be a fact – especially with the "experts" throwing around an opponents' passer rating of 150-plus throwing at Rowe this season – I still believe that Rowe can be a valuable matchup asset in the secondary. I've never believed he was a high-level starting corner, but a bigger, more physical guy who could have success in some matchups who needed to be assisted in other situations. I still pretty much feel the same way. I'm not sold on any guy opposite Stephon Gilmore right now. As such, I think a group including Rowe, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson and Keion Crossen may be leaned on in different ways at different points this season. Still, I think the Patriots are a better, deeper pass defense with Rowe healthy and in the mix.

Andy Hart

The return of the Edelman is upon us. With Brady's guy back in the fold do you think we will see a sharper Brady in the pocket? The O-line was a bit leaky last week but it's really odd to see Brady throw this many picks so early on in the season. Do you think the return of Edelman and the emergence of Michel will make life easier for him or do you think other things need to be cleaned up? Thanks again for all of your hard work covering the best team in the NFL if not all of sports. Have fun with your shortened work week deadlines! Looking forward to reading it all.

Robert Hayes

I think Edelman's return is huge in a variety of ways. First, is the placebo effect of Brady getting his guy back. He just has a trust and comfort level with Edelman in the slot that can't overvalued. His trust of Edelman to get open quickly and be in the right spot is huge. That's magnified when the offense is struggling or the line is giving pressure. Edelman should also make life easier for his fellow pass catchers. He's not the cure for all that's been less than perfect for the Patriots passing attack but, assuming he's healthy and contributing, he's a step in the right direction. Getting Edelman back and Josh Gordon up to speed has the potential to inject plenty of life into the New England offense. Now we just have to wait and see if/when it all comes to fruition on the field.

Andy Hart

Patriots one defensive weakness, and one of the reasons for losing last SB, was the lack of speed at ILB. Hightower is back but he is slow and suggested to be placed on the edge of the line. And what do the Patriots do - they bring yet another edge defender, a former Colt, so now they have 6 players not including Hightower at DE/OLB while ILB is the position which desperately needs help. Even if the coaches are somehow fine with their ILBs, I don't understand why they brought in another player to play on the edge while they need help on the inside with Bentley out on IR?

Pat O.J.

First, Hightower is a still an inside linebacker when needed, even if he dabbles in other areas. He's more than capable of playing in the middle. Elandon Roberts is also on the inside, though he's now dealing with a calf injury suffered on Sunday against Miami. And Nicholas Grigsby is a depth guy on the inside. Really, though, Hightower and Kyle Van Noy are somewhat interchangeable pieces who can play inside or out. All that said, I do think it would be nice to add some speed to the linebacker position if the right guy came along. I was hoping rooking Christian Sam might be a candidate before he landed on IR. I posed the idea of trading with the Cardinals for former first-round pick Deone Bucannon. As for John Simon, I think the Patriots simply took the best player on the open market when he came available. He looked pretty good in his debut against the Dolphins, too. Maybe he fills in on the edge and Hightower spends more time in the middle?

Andy Hart

With the Patriots injuries and overall lackluster play at linebacker, have you heard if they have any interest in NaVorro Bowman? He looked like he could still play last year and he is free agent so there are no draft picks or players required to get him. Maybe he would not want to come to the east coast, but if he would, why wouldn't the Pats take a flyer on him? He's got to be better than the most of the players already on the roster (and IR). What do you think of Bowman?

Peter Blair

In his day, Bowman was a superb player. It's no longer his day. I don't think he adds anything in terms of speed or athleticism to the Patriots front. If more injuries occur and you are just looking for a capable body to make tackles in the middle, the 30-year-old Bowman may be an option. I don't think the Patriots are quite at that point right now.

Andy Hart

Do you think the sluggish start and what seems like confusion on both sides of the line is a direct result of the changes to the practice rules and not having joint practices with other teams?

Gary Smith

No, I do not. The practice rules didn't really change this year, they've been under the current limitations for quite some time now. And Belichick chose not to have the joint practices this summer, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that he knows what he's doing. I think the Patriots are not as talented on both sides of the ball to open the new season and working through some things. They always get better as the year goes one. I expect that will happen again. They also have a new playcaller on defense, which could be part of the equation. Mostly, I think it's a combination of talent and execution, with some communication mixed in. Which it pretty much always is.

Andy Hart

Why doesn't Bill Belichick go to free agency and pick up a defensive player, and a wide receiver?

Richard Treggiari

Why didn't Bill think of that? Sorry for the sarcasm, but quality players don't grow on trees and they generally aren't unemployed a month into the NFL season. The Patriots have added players on both sides of the ball since the season started. Gordon is a big name with potential. We'll see where it goes. I'm not sure exactly who you had in mind – maybe Dez Bryant, I'd guess – but it's not easy to find team-altering talent at this point in the process. Teams pretty much are what they are at this point baring a big deal at the trade deadline.

Andy Hart

Asked before the Dolphins game...

Okay spent the week reading the blogs, news feeds and thoughts from the media, everyone seems to be ready to bury this year's team; apply the brakes it is still Sept. The fish game is going to be the turning point, I believe this week's practice will be pretty intense, the vets on this team will hold the youngsters accountable, and the coaching staff is going to put a whole new attitude team on the field Sunday. My question is the backs, why don't we see White and the rookie in the backfield together? That would keep the defense guessing if it is run or pass, and not just telegraphing the play when either back is in. I must have asked that to the TV a dozen times during the Lions game! Josh has never been so predicable before, seems strange, and reminds me of a game few years back when they did something similar with Jackson against Miami...

Corky Decker

Answered after the Dolphins game…and I gotta say, you pretty much nailed it. The Patriots played by far their best game of the season against Miami. Now, we'll have to wait and see if it's a turning point of the season. There is still a lot of football to be played and plenty of challenges remain on the horizon. In a two-week span I thought the Patriots played about as bad and as good a game as they can expect to. Now we have to see them put some consistency together, ideally closer to the performance against Miami than the one against Detroit. I think the idea is that once Michel gets up to speed and gets more comfortable in the passing game – he has looked anything but comfortable catching passes the last few weeks – he will be the type of dual threat that Dion Lewis was to bring uncertainty to the defense. We may see some two-back sets with White and Michel, but I don't think it's going to be a lot once the overall attack is healthy and working together. Good call on the Miami game, though.

Andy Hart

I know this will not get read or responded to but I will try anyway, I have been a long time Patriots fan dating back to the early 1980s and the past two games are reminiscent of many of those games back then when the Patriots were everyone's favorite team to play against for a relatively easy win. It seems like many of the bad decisions that have been made not keeping Amendola, Lewis, Malcolm Butler to name a few and only getting a second-round pick for Garoppolo and not signing any quality replacements for the players lost. It seems like the decision makers have decided to forgo this year and get an early first-round pick next year to get Brady's replacement. Is this a possibility or am being too critical of all the bad decisions that have been made?

Jesse LaFrancis

Not sure why you or others would assume we won't read and/or reply to an email. We read every Ask PFW and respond to and post the ones we feel are appropriate in any given week. Or, maybe it's your way of trying to bully us into reading/replying? If so, it's wasted energy on your end because we read them all! Now, as to your email that came in before the blowout win over the Dolphins, I don't believe the "Patriots are playing for an earlier first-round pick" as your email subject pondered. I believe they are going through some early season struggles and trying to figure out some things in terms of personnel. They may not be as good as some past teams, but I think they are trying to win.

Andy Hart

Since we don't really have a deep threat yet, every time I see Brady throw a deep pass to one of our receivers this year, it kind of feels like the old days when Slater used to occasionally come in on offense and get a deep ball thrown his way. Does Slater ever get any reps on offense anymore? When was his last reception?

Blake Norris

Hopefully, Gordon is going to turn into the deep threat that the Patriots need. As of the summer, the last time reporters were allowed to watch practice, Slater was indeed getting chances on offense, including deep balls. Slater's last and only NFL reception came on a 46-yard grab against the Dolphins in September of 2011.

Andy Hart

Do you think now that Jimmy G tore his ACL Bill will stop pouting and concentrate on the defense? And he has to fire Josh, three-and-out gives the other team too many chances to score.

Larry Kothe

I don't believe that Belichick was ever "pouting" or lacking concentration. He's had some personnel decisions fail to work out. That happens. But I'm not ready to attack his attention, emotional state or effort. I think he still does what he thinks is best and right. It doesn't always work out. He's never been perfect in his decisions. No one is. But, more often than not, he's led a team with Brady that's been among the best in the game when it matters most late in the season. He certainly has the chance to do that again this season, even if things didn't start out as well as fans like you may have hoped. I certainly don't believe he should fire Josh McDaniels. I think he's one of the best offensive coordinators in the game. Did he make mistakes in the first month? Yup. Just like every other player and coach.

Andy Hart

It seems like teams like the Rams, Steelers and Chiefs spend a lot of money on their players compared to New England. I know you guys have talked about how the Patriots spend almost their entire cap every year, but with guys taking pay cuts where do the Patriots spend their money?

Porter Morrell

Just looking at this year as an example, according to Spotrac the Patriots top salary cap hits belong to Tom Brady, Stephon Gilmore, Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Dont'a Hightower and Marcus Cannon, a group that totals some $70 million on the cap. They have 36 guys with a salary cap number of more than $1 million but only seven with a cap hit of $5 million or more. The Rams have only 25 guys with a cap charge of more than $1 million, but 14 of those with a cap charge of $5 million or more. L.A. has only four guys with a number between $2-$5, whereas the Patriots have 20 such guys. Some teams spend a lot of money atop the roster. Some spent a lot on the middle of the roster. Some have a strong middle class, or upper middle class. It's all how you go about spreading the wealth and differing philosophies of building a team. The Rams also obviously benefit from not yet paying Jared Goff top money. That time is coming, though.

Andy Hart

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