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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Sun Aug 02 - 12:00 AM | Mon Aug 03 - 11:59 PM

Ask PFW: A healthy Patriots playoff outlook

Since 2001 the one thing that the Patriots have been consistent at is finishing strong in the month of December. This has been the first year since 2001 that I have seen this. I know they have a lot of injuries, especially along the offensive line. Do you think they can turn this thing around for the playoffs or do you think we will be one-and-done this year?

Joseph Roy

Certainly New England's 2-4 finish to the 2015 regular is less than ideal and very much uncharacteristic. We've never seen the team limp into the postseason with so many questions in the midst of a two-game losing streak. But there are plenty of ways to explain some of the struggles. Clearly the injuries and absence of guys like Julian Edelman, Sebastian Vollmer, Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower and others is a major part of it. So, too, is the way the team played out the final few weeks. Rob Gronkowski was used on the sidelines and as a blocker, not in the middle of the field where he does most of his damage and is so difficult for defenses to deal with. New England tried – too hard – to run the ball in Miami in the finale. So I definitely think that the team that will take the turf Saturday evening at Gillette Stadium against the Chiefs will have a great chance to win thanks to returning personnel and a more focused attack aimed at maximizing its own strengths. I'm not as fearful of Kansas City as so many fans and media seem to be. I fully expect a "comfortable" Patriots win and a fifth straight trip to the AFC title game. No one-and-done this year. Not happening. Maybe I'm whistling past the ol' graveyard. But I don't think so.

Andy Hart

Cameron Fleming and Marcus Cannon are horrible starting tackles. Why don't they put in LaAdrian Waddle at left tackle, and move Sebastian Vollmer back to his right tackle spot? Is Waddle still injured?

J.P. Galasso

Yes, Waddle is still dealing with a shoulder injury. Plus, remember that he was essentially on the street as a waiver pickup late in the year. He's not exactly a proven NFL commodity. Fleming is a practice squader trying to hold down the fort. To me, the big problem is that Cannon isn't playing up to his resume and paycheck. He's supposed to be the swing tackle paid like a starter to fill in when Nate Solder and Vollmer have problems. Cannon just hasn't gotten the job done, though he's dealt with his own toe injury most of the season. I never thought Cannon was a very good option at left tackle, though. Vollmer is the best lineman on the team and the best choice for the left tackle spot at this point, assuming he's back to decent health for the Divisional Playoff. There is no doubt the line has missed Solder (torn bicep) as well as Dan Connolly (retirement) and Ryan Wendell (IR). But now is the time to make the most of things and that involves Cannon stepping up and Vollmer getting his job done as well as his health will allow.

Andy Hart

As Paul and the other excellent PFW-writers have often said and written, protection of TB12 is one of our key problems this year. Could it have something to do with Dave DeGuglielmo? In the times of Dante Scarnecchia we were able to solve every problem on the offensive line. He was a Magician. Thoughts? Greetings from a longtime fan from Germany.

Thorsten Geil

I am the biggest Scarnecchia fan and promotor you will ever find. I think he's one of the greatest assistant coaches the game has ever seen and an even better guy outside the world of football. That said, the line had its issues at times under Scarnecchia's watch as well. Let's not romanticize it too much. The line has struggled this year with a ton of change, lots of injuries, many guys in new roles and a lot of young guys trying to learn/improve on the fly in the ultimate fire. All those factors have shown up in the play on the field. It's been good enough at best and, at times, putrid at its worst. But the protection in New England has so often over the years been tied to the quick passing game, riding the coat tails of guys like Tom Brady, Wes Welker and Edelman. When those guys are clicking the line looks better. When that area is struggling, the line looks worse. DeGuglielmo may deserve a chunk of the blame pie for a bad season, but there are a lot of other factors at play as well. Not sure even Scarnecchia could have used his magic on this group in this specific season. It is what it is. And it needs to be better Saturday evening against a Chiefs defense that has a very talented (if banged up) front that will look to pressure and hit Brady early and often.

Andy Hart

Is it true that the patriots are signing Terrell Owens?

Rodney Rhodes

No.

Andy Hart

Given the key kicks that he has missed this year, are the Patriots in the process of releasing Stephen Gostkowski anytime soon?

Eliza Rivers

No. And even though it's only the first month of 2016, this is a very early, strong candidate for the worst, most unbelievable email of the year. Wow. Just wow. (P.S. Have you watched the rest of NFL's kicking problems this season? Geesh.)

Andy Hart

If the Patriots end up having to travel to Denver, do you think BB will take them out on Monday? It takes more than a few days to acclimate to the altitude, and oxygen on the sideline is only a Band-Aid.

Bill Duncan

Monday? No way. A day early? Maybe. The team has done that in the past. But, more likely, I think he would travel on the usual schedule that the team utilizes. Of late, rather than try to overcome the altitude, Belichick has been more likely to pooh-pooh its effects. He did that earlier this year and my guess is he'll do very little to acknowledge Denver's obvious home field advantage if the teams are to meet again in the AFC title game. I just can't see any way Belichick would take the unprecedented move of going to Denver for basically a full game-preparation week in the postseason just a day after the previous playoff game. NFL players and coaches are creatures of habit and schedule, my guess Belichick will stick with that as closely as possible.

Andy Hart

A lot of talk regarding Calvin Johnson's retirement now, what are the chances the Patriots pull the same move on Johnson that they pulled on Randy Moss? I think had they got Johnson they probably form the most unstoppable offense in the NFL yet, don't ya think? (Brady, Gronk, Johnson, Edelman and Amendola and Lewis as extra puzzle pieces).

Thanks

Shuki Harow

Hi,

Is there any realistic chance to get Calvin Johnson?

Greetings from Hungary!

Gábor Kakuszi

What are they chances the Patriots go after Megatron in the offseason? We saw what happened the last time that Brady was given a toy (Randy Moss 23 TDs, Brady 50 TDs). It would free up Gronk and the Edel-Dola.

Ryan Dewulf

While this is a fun talk radio and offseason topic, it would seem incredibly unlikely New England could pursue and land Johnson He has a major contract/salary cap issue, beyond the obvious hurdles of landing a Hall of Fame talent and franchise legend from another team. Maybe former Patriots director of pro personnel Bob Quinn settling in Detroit as the new GM will fuel this fun speculation, but I'd put the chances of it actually happening somewhere down around one percent. But, as Lloyd Christmas would say, "so you're telling me there's a chance!" So let's table this fun topic till the actual offseason, hopefully in the aftermath of more Super Bowl glory. Because adding Johnson to the Brady-led offensive mix certainly could be record-breakingly explosive.

Andy Hart

With the bye week having just past I spent some time looking through potential free agent targets this off season at positions of interest. The top 3 I saw that really intrigued me were Mario Williams, Sean Smith and Alshon Jeffery. Mario could help out a lot on the pass rush, Smith could basically be the new version of Brandon Browner just with better coverage skills and Jeffery could be the over the top threat the offense needs to complement the underneath passing game. I am keeping in mind that the team should probably look for a solid member of the O-line as well but there are so many holes it's difficult to pick where on the line to improve. What are your thoughts?

Doug Somers

I like all three of your ideas. Williams is the most intriguing to me. He's made huge money on two different contracts, but has never had much of a chance to win. Maybe he's reached the point where that is more important to him than another big contract if he's indeed let go in Buffalo. He's a proven, well-rounded defensive end. I think that Chandler Jones' future in New England is very much in doubt given his scheduled $7-plus million fifth-year option for 2016 and the fact that he'll likely be looking for a long term deal worth big money. Williams would be a potential replacement to work with guys like Ninkovich and Sheard. Smith is a guy I thought might make sense as a trade target this season and wouldn't rule him out a as bigger man corner to add to the mix as a No. 2 or No. 3 option. Jeffrey would seem to be the least likely given his relative youth and the fact that he will likely cost more than the Patriots are willing to spring for. It should be a fun offseason, but let's enjoy the remainder of the season first!

Andy Hart

Given the hobbled OL for the Pats, and more specifically the injury to Vollmer, do you get the sense that the Pats will need to keep Gronk on the edge to provide pass protection given the top pass rushers the Pats could face in the playoffs (if we face KC I'm really concerned about Houston and Hali). I question whether this offense will be able to simply "flip the switch" on offense if Gronk can't roll out wide, and we are left with the options of a less than 100% Edelman and Amendola. Thoughts?

Matt from Westford

I don't think Gronkowski will need to be kept in for protection against Kansas City more than usual on Saturday evening. I expect him to have a huge, resurgent game catching the ball in the middle of the field where he does his most damage. There are ways to help out the line in protection, including the use of running backs as well as big backup tight end Michael Williams. Gronkowski will have his chances to catch the ball against the Chiefs and I expect him to make the most of those opportunities. I also think that the return of Vollmer, the team's best offensive lineman, will be a boost to the front, even if he's not at complete health.

Andy Hart

Is Montee Ball going to be on the playoff roster?

Kaeden Spurlock

Ball remains on the practice squad, so he could certainly be called up to the active roster at any point. But I don't expect that to happen unless such a move is forced by additional injuries. The signing of Steven Jackson, along with Brandon Bolden and James White, gives the Patriots solid depth and versatility at the running back position. Ball also has had ball security issues in the past and I'm not sure that Bill Belichick would be looking to find out if that is still an issue, for the first time in a Patriots uniform, in a postseason game. That would seem to be a last possible option at this late point in the process and given Ball's track record.

Andy Hart

Bringing Steven Jackson in to run the ball for Blount isn't going to help much if our offensive line is not up for the challenge. I know we have lots of energy, but is it possible that maybe White and Bolden could have gotten the job done and got more protection for Brady?

Youlanda Sanders

I don't expect Jackson to suddenly carry the offense or for the running game to be the leading part of the New England attack over the next three (fingers crossed!) games. Jackson has shown some ability to move the pile and find the end zone. But he's not going to put up huge numbers, by any means. Nor do I think Bolden or White would have given extended carries. The running game is and always will be a complementary aspect to the passing game. It is historically really only a key factor against the Colts, which is really the only time Blount had any postseason rushing success the last two postseasons. The offensive line isn't built to run first. The team is not built to run first. It is what it is. Jackson, as his age, certainly isn't changing that.

Andy Hart

With Ryan and Butler making such a great season, do you think it's necessary to draft a CB early in the draft? What does Belichick see in Jonathan Freeny as a defensive player? His coverage stats are awful (17 of 24, 150 yards). he has completion written in his helmet.

Gregorio Ladeira

I do still think the cornerback position is a major area of need. There is absolutely no depth at the position, which is why guys like Leonard Johnson and Rashaan Melvin have gone from the street to the defense this season. I also don't think that Ryan is a long term solution as a top-two cornerback. So I believe that the position is still a potential target in the first couple rounds to find a young, developmental talent who can immediately join the sub rotation and maybe evolve into a starter to play opposite Malcolm Butler to give the defense more game planning options in the back end. It's a passing league and pass defenders remain a premium commodity. As for Freeny, he certainly has struggled at various times this season. He's a career special teams guy who elevated to a bigger defensive role in his first season in New England. All linebackers, to some degree, struggle in coverage. But I also wonder what Belichick and Matt Patricia have seen from Freeny to want to play him so much, when healthy, on defense. It certainly hasn't played out that well, as you point out, on the game field.

Andy Hart

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