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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Thu May 23 - 02:00 PM | Tue May 28 - 11:55 AM

Ask PFW: A peek at SB crystal ball

This week's mailbag features a look into a fan's Super Bowl crystal ball.

Hello from California! What can the Patriots do better to not only make it easier to get to the Super Bowl, but to win it all? Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions!
Dylan Damewood

Obviously the Patriots have done things well enough to position themselves as a favorite to get to and win the Super Bowl at this point. With a 13-2 record matched only by the Cowboys, there isn't much the Patriots need to improve overall. But for the purposes of this question there are some areas I believe could be better even if they wouldn't necessarily be the difference between winning and losing it all. First, the pass rush has been pretty inconsistent most of the season, although it has shown signs of life lately. Allowing an opposing quarterback too much time could make life difficult on the secondary in the playoffs against a quality passing game like Pittsburgh's as an example. They also could be running the ball more effectively. LeGarrette Blount's production has really taken a dip lately with just 81 yards on 37 carries during Weeks 15 and 16 combined. I'm always concerned about the offensive line providing enough protection for Tom Brady, but that has been much improved over the last several weeks as well.
Paul Perillo

My crystal ball says that Patriots will play Cowboys in Super Bowl and lose in close one, while if they played the Panthers last year they would have gotten the fifth rings. They will regret that 3-TD surrender performance on special teams to Eagles, and I wonder why Jerod Mayo still calls the special teams as the most unpredictable?  What has the team learned from that unprecedented breakdown?
Charles Putnam

I understand where Mayo is coming from especially since he made that comment in the aftermath of the Ravens game when the Patriots turned it over twice on special teams and allowed Baltimore back into the game. But games like that, and the Philadelphia one from last year, have been the exception and not the rule. And not that it makes it any better but the special teams allowed two TDs against the Eagles, not three. As a rule the Patriots special teams have been solid, especially in terms of coverage. Cyrus Jones has had some issues with ball security returning punts and I doubt we'll see him in that capacity in key spots during the playoffs. Otherwise I see no reason to fear special teams heading into the postseason. Stephen Gostkowski has righted the ship and the coverage has been air tight.
Paul Perillo

Surprisingly, the back-up QBs are playing quality football for many teams. This brings into question drafting a QB in high rounds? There seem to be plenty of gems, starting with Brady.
Sharon B.

I know Brady broke the mold by becoming the greatest quarterback of all time after being selected in the sixth round but that's not really the ideal way to find the answer at the game's most important position. Most of the best quarterbacks in football today were high picks – Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Andrew Luck, Philip Rivers, Cam Newton, Joe Flacco, Carson Palmer, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were all first-round picks while Drew Brees, Andy Dalton and Derek Carr were taken in the second round. Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott and Kirk Cousins pretty much represent the quality starters who were taken after Round 2. So if you want to find a serviceable quarterback more often than not you need to draft one early.
Paul Perillo

The only roster move I do not understand that the Patriots made this year is giving up a fifth-round pick for Barkevious Mingo, who is nothing more than a special teamer in his last year of the contract. They have drafted Kamu Grugier-Hill in the sixth round and simply lost him to Eagles while spending a fifth-rounder on Mingo. I don't get it?
Sheldon Roberts

This is a fair criticism as I believe Grugier-Hill would have been every bit as successful as a special teamer as Mingo has been for the Patriots. The rookie was active during training camp and showed some athleticism that I feel would have translated to a successful stint as a coverage player on special teams. But I believe Bill Belichick was intrigued by Mingo's athleticism and rolled the dice on a former top pick and decided grab him. It hasn't worked out on defense but Mingo has performed well on special teams, and losing Grugier-Hill is not something that is going to impact the team negatively in the future. I understand your point, and agree with it, but I don't feel it will have any lasting impact.
Paul Perillo

I was watching a replay of Matt Lengel's TD and there was a second-long pause as the announcers probably had to check who that guy was, but it almost felt like it was Rob Gronkowski with his size and all. I wonder if we may see more of the Gronk impersonation? And why not? The guy has all the physical attributes.
Jeremy Lukas

There's a lot more that makes Gronk great other than his size. First, he has incredible athleticism for a man of his size, not to mention his toughness and soft hands. He's able to make plays in traffic that few others can. Asking a fringe NFL player like Lengel to in any way resemble Gronk because his 6-7, 266-pound frame in similar in stature is insane. He doesn't have nearly the skills Gronk does and asking him to do things he's not capable of is unfair. Lengel's TD catch was a great story but expecting him to consistently do that is asking way too much of a backup tight end.
Paul Perillo

Merry Christmas from Pennsylvania!! What is your assessment of Vincent Valentine and how do you think he performed stepping in for Malcom Brown?
Michael Pizzoli

I think Valentine has enjoyed a steady if unspectacular rookie season. He's a run-stuffer on the inside and has received pretty consistent playing time in a rotation with Brown and Alan Branch. Against the Jets his playing time was a bit higher than normal and New York had some success on the ground – more so than the Patriots have allowed in recent weeks. I think Valentine has performed reasonably well in his role and it will be interesting to see if the coaches feel he's outperformed Brown or were simply looking to get him some extra work as the playoffs are set to begin.
Paul Perillo

I just wanted everyone to know that I appreciate the Podcast and all it offers to us fans especially the fans who live in enemy territory. My question is how do we approach Miami after injuries like Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota ... not just in QB area.
Steven Duffield

I'm assuming this will be the main storyline this week as the Patriots prepare for Miami. The Patriots still need a win (or an Oakland loss) to lock up the No. 1 seed, which is the same situation the team was in a year ago. My guess is there will be some players who are dealing with injuries (like Dont'a Hightower last week against the Jets) who might get the week off or see their playing time cut back. I also could see Tom Brady start the game but not play much if at all in the second half depending on how the game is unfolding. Belichick doesn't want to give everyone rest since the team will be getting a week off regardless and he likely doesn't want everyone sitting around too much, but in cases where some rest might benefit a player (Martellus Bennett?) I could see him adjusting his lineup a bit.
Paul Perillo

I just saw the schedule for next season and the Pats are away to Denver again. How is this decided? Surely if teams play each other in consecutive seasons home advantage should be flipped? Not that the Pats fear anyone but the mile high factor is one you would avoid if possible.
Len Carmody

The schedule rotation is pre-determined and the Patriots are set to play the AFC West next season with games at Denver and Oakland and at home against Kansas City and San Diego. The last time the AFC East played the AFC West was 2014 and that year the Patriots hosted Denver and Oakland and traveled to Kansas City and San Diego so it flip-flopped. In 2015 and 2016 the Patriots and Broncos met due to the fact that they finished in the same spot in their respective divisions. So in 2015 the Patriots were set to travel to the first-place team in the AFC West, which could have been any of the four teams. Just like in 2012 and 2013 the Patriots hosted the first-place team in the AFC West, which also turned out to be Denver. The Patriots hosted Denver in 2012, 2013 and 2014 before traveling to Mile High in 2015, 2016 and now 2017. It's just the way the rotation worked out.
Paul Perillo

Is there any reason why Bill Belichick passed up on drafting running back Jay Ajayi in late rounds?
Fred Larsen

There are a lot of teams that allowed Ajayi to fall to the fifth round so the Patriots were certainly not alone. Also, the Patriots chose three players in the fourth round – Trey Flowers, Tre' Jackson and Shaq Mason – who have all started for the team in their first two seasons. Ajayi is having a nice second season but by no means do I look at him and say the Patriots, or any other team, really blew it by not drafting him.
Paul Perillo

If Miami decides to rest Jay Ajayi not to risk him to injury, will Patriots consider resting Dont'a Hightower's knee and Martellus Bennett's ankle?
May J.

I would doubt that Miami's personnel decisions will have much bearing on what Belichick decides to do with his players. As I mentioned earlier, if Belichick feels certain players could use some rest then I believe he'll rest them regardless of what Miami decides to do. Adam Gase has said he plans to play the game to win but that doesn't necessarily mean Ajayi or anyone else will be part of that. Belichick will have to weigh the pros and cons of playing his guys and my guess is we'll see some starters either sit out or play sparingly against the Dolphins.
Paul Perillo

This past offseason one of the biggest questions was if LeGarrette Blount was the type of running back the team could lean on as a prime back. With over 1,000 yards and the new team record for TDs in a season do you think he's earned a multi-year deal and the No. 1 job in New England?
Doug Somers

I've received some criticism because I haven't necessarily been impressed by Blount's season the way some others have but I don't believe I'd be alone in saying absolutely not to the idea of giving him a multi-year extension. He's a 30-year-old running back who will be coming off his career high in carries and yards. No way do I want to give him a long-term deal. If he wants to stick around for a year, maybe two, at reasonable money then I'd have no problem with that. But tying up an aging back averaging less than 4 yards per carry in his career season makes little sense to me.
Paul Perillo

Guys, this may seem like a silly question, but if noted correctly, until about midway through the third quarter (when CBS switched to a more competitive game), the Patriots hadn't been flagged with a penalty. Was this correct or did I miss something? Also, did they have any penalties after the 34-0 score? Seems that they played a relatively penalty-free game.
Keith Nelson

The Patriots committed just three penalties in the game (and the Jets only had six so maybe the crew was simply looking to get home to get a head start on Christmas). The Patriots had two penalties in the first half, one of which was declined. Malcolm Butler was called for illegal hands to the face for the only accepted penalty while the Jets had a huge pass interference call for the only flag of the first half against them. New England had another penalty early in the third against David Andrews for illegal use of hands, and after it was 34-0 Brandon King was called for offside on the ensuing kick. That was it.
Paul Perillo

The strength of every team begins with their lines, and I am not sold on the Patriots lines being good enough for a trip to the Super Bowl yet. I am particularly concerned of the D-line where its top player is sitting on the bench (for underperformance?) while the rest of them are surrendering chunks of yards to the 27th-ranked offense of an unmotivated opponent. What's up with all that?
Gavin L.

I'd say what's up with this post? The Jets had some limited success running the ball in a game in which the Patriots won, 41-3, and we're asking what's up with all that? Honestly I don't know how the Patriots could possibly satisfy all of their fans based on that. The defensive line has performed well all season long, limiting opponents on the ground virtually every week. If the Patriots don't advance to the Super Bowl it won't be because they couldn't stop the run.
Paul Perillo

What has been the most impressive win by the Patriots this season? Was it embarrassing the Jets on Christmas Eve? Beating Denver on a short week at Mile High? Doing enough, despite the miscues, to beat the (then) number one defense and (probably) the second-best coach in the NFL when they beat Baltimore? Or was it the opener on the road against the heavily favored Cardinals with Jimmy Garoppolo under center?
David Beckett

I'd add in the Miami win in Week 2 to this group, which is sort of the opposite of the Arizona win in terms of perception. At the time everyone thought the Cardinals were going to be a great team. They have not and sit under .500. Conversely no one was overly impressed with the win over Miami, but the Dolphins have now won nine out of 10 and will be in the playoffs so that victory, with Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett playing, looks a lot better. My pick would be the Baltimore game, however. Tough team and the Patriots made life difficult on themselves with some fumbles that allowed the Ravens back in it, and they still were able to come away with the win against a good, not great, opponent.
Paul Perillo

The Patriots took Jacoby Brissett off injured reserve last week. I know there are limitations on taking players off injured reserve. What is the rule? Is Gronk still eligible to be taken off injured reserve for the Super Bowl -- assuming the Patriots make it that far -- assuming Gronk is healthy enough?
Gordon Rowlinson

Teams can only have one player return from injured reserve per season and Brissett was obviously the player the Patriots chose. So even if Gronkowski were healthy enough to return, he would not be eligible to do so. That won't really matter, however, since Gronkowski would not be healthy enough to participate in the Super Bowl just eight weeks after back surgery regardless.
Paul Perillo

Have we seen the last of Sebastian Vollmer? Since 2009 he has twice landed on IR. If I recall he was an "older" draft pick when the Pats got him from Houston and he is now 32-years of age. Given BB's history of typically have younger OL in the pipeline that are being developed and getting playing time, combined with the injury history and cap hit I cannot help but wonder if Vollmer will be released this coming spring. Any thoughts or insights to share?
Chip Ruckins

The most important factor here in Vollmer's contract expires at the end of the season, so in all likelihood you are correct and Vollmer's days in New England will be over. The Patriots also gave Marcus Cannon a huge contract extension so he will be the starter at right tackle while Nate Solder enters the final year of his extension in 2017 on the left side. Vollmer played extremely well for the team but at this stage in his career it would seem his days are numbered.
Paul Perillo

As maybe one of the biggest Jimmy Garoppolo fans, I hope he has success somewhere else next year. Could that success be with Josh McDaniels? Could we possibly trade them both together in the offseason? I have no idea what Josh's contract is like, but I know coach trades are a thing. Do you think this is something we should even try to do? I love Josh and I honestly hope he never leaves New England, but every week now it seems like there is going to be more openings. Sadly, that just means a slimmer chance of him staying. If he does have to leave though, then what do you think about us packaging Jimmy and Josh together to a team like the Jaguars? They would be a scary team with those two! Just looking for an opinion on this from someone who actually knows more about it.
Dakoda Esposito

It would be interesting to see if McDaniels winds up getting a head coaching job next season if the Patriots would trade Garoppolo to that team. The Patriots would not be able to trade McDaniels because he's just a coordinator and teams don't have the right to receive compensation for coaches who are advancing their careers. The coach trades are guys moving from one team to another in the same capacity, which is what could happen with Sean Payton this year. I do believe Garoppolo will be traded in the offseason and I wonder if Belichick would look to move him to McDaniels. The Patriots traded Matt Cassel to Scott Pioli and Kansas City after the 2008 season. This would be a similar situation.
Paul Perillo

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