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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Wed Sep 30 | 12:00 AM - 11:55 AM

Ask PFW: Aggressive defense, RB committee and more

A lot of teams have a running back by committee, but the Patriots have the running back committee. This LeGarrette Blount, James White and Dion Lewis combo, it is an underrated weapon moving forward. My only small concern is that is seems Blount likes to talk more smack that other Patriots. I even saw him after the game taking "shots" at the Rams for bailing on tackles. I don't this think it's a big deal, but isn't that something that violates Bill's policy when talking to the media? Any chance Blount will get disciplined for his comments?
Bill Tamme

I agree the running back group is pretty solid with a mix of runners and pass catchers. I feel the committee approach will also help keep the individual workloads down and potential keep them all healthy for the playoffs. As for Blount's comments, I didn't hear anything that I felt was too egregious, and generally Belichick prefers the players to keep a lid on it prior to the games but doesn't normally have much of a problem once the games are over unless it's something that really crosses the line. We likely won't ever know, but I doubt that Blount will be reprimanded for his comments.
Paul Perillo

Recent reports indicate the Patriots will make the signing of Martellus Bennett an offseason priority. It has also been reported that Bennett had earlier passed on a Patriots offer which would have paid him a salary comparable to Rob Gronkowski's 2017 cap figure. I say pump the brakes on this decision. Since the Cleveland game, his play has been very pedestrian. Against the Rams he had two catches for 4 yards and two holding penalties. This, in a game where I wanted him to show us that the Patriots could still have productive tight end play. Admittedly, I don't know the extent of his injury or of it is significantly decreasing his productivity. If that is the case, he should be rested and allowed to heal before the postseason.
Gary Madera
East Hanover, N.J.

I have my reservations about re-signing Bennett as well but they're more geared to his overall attitude rather than his play. So far things have been great for Bennett in New England. He's been upbeat and truly seems to be enjoying his winning experiences. But things have not ended well in his previous NFL stops and I fear the same will be the case here as well. Therefore I'm not looking to make him any sort of long-term offer, especially considering the fact that he'll be 30 once any new deal begins. If he'd accept a two-year deal then perhaps I could be convinced but I would be real cautious in terms of having him feeling too comfortable. Also, as you pointed out, he hasn't been overly productive as of late as he's dealt with injuries and that's a concern for a 30-year-old tight end moving forward as well.
Paul Perillo

It seems as if Kyle Van Noy was all over the field and making plays against the Rams. He also seemed to be calling the plays on defense. How do you think he was so comfortable in that role? Has he been showing this aptitude in practice?
Justin Ashburn

Van Noy has done a nice job assimilating to a new defense in his short time with the Patriots. He's taken to a role as a sub linebacker and Bill Belichick talked about how he's gaining a better understanding of the communication on the defense every day. We don't get to watch practice every day but Belichick is obviously seeing him progress and felt it he was ready to assume some of the play calling duties when they were resting Don't'a Hightower against Los Angeles.
Paul Perillo

So the Patriots finally blitz and played aggressive D, and they have their best defensive game of the year (granted it came against the JV squad).  Do you think they might subsequently be a little more aggressive going forward and less zone oriented? Bend but don't break is fine, but if you're breaking anyway, why not go down swinging?
Zack Olson

My guess is you answered your own question by mentioning the caliber of offense the Patriots faced against Los Angeles. If the Rams had a more experienced quarterback there were plays to be made against the blitzes New England ran. In particular the play that Logan Ryan blitzed took a long time to develop and Jared Goff held onto the ball too long before getting sacked. Against a good offense with an experienced quarterback there was a chance a similar scheme could have led to trouble. That's why Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia have been a little more conservative in their approach, but were able to be more daring against a limited offense. Also, the Patriots have been incorporating a lot of new players into the defense over the past month and now seem to have settled on roles for players like Trey Flowers, Kyle Van Noy, Eric Rowe and Shea McClellin. As those players have gotten more comfortable the past few weeks the coaches have been more comfortable asking them to do different things.
Paul Perillo

I'm not sure exactly how IR rules work. Is Rob Gronkowski allowed on the sidelines to root his teammates on? Traditionally, I don't think I usually see Patriots players that are injured on the sideline; is that a team policy?
Joanne Bosker

Gronkowski is allowed to be on the sideline as an injured player, just as Jacoby Brissett was on the sideline for several games while he was on injured reserve. But as a general rule the Patriots haven't had many injured players on the sideline during games, likely to eliminate any distractions. In Gronk's case he's likely nowhere near healthy enough at this point to be on the bench during an NFL game. Players are often tackled in the bench area and collisions take place all the time. Putting Gronkowski in harm's way wouldn't seem to make a lot of sense.
Paul Perillo

It looks like the Patriots will yet again play their last game in Miami for the first seed. Last year, it was a disaster as they did not rest some of the key injured players and still lost. This year it looks like they will be in about the same physical shape minus Gronk. Is it a clear cut decisions - Patriots are going for the first seed no matter what or they may consider a few factors for playing the final game?
Brian F.

There's a lot of football that is still left to be played before we assume the race for the top seed is coming down to the final week. There are a wide variety of options to be weeded out between now and then. The Patriots could win the next three games and be comfortably ahead of the pack, they could lose a couple and need to beat the Dolphins simply to win the division and make the playoffs or more likely they will wind up somewhere in between those two extreme scenarios and we'll figure it out when it comes. Either way the Patriots won't likely enter the Miami game with a specific mindset in terms of roster management. Those decisions, as always, are made on a case-by-case basis. How New England will choose to handle the season finale is a question that won't likely be answered until the situation arises, but to answer the specific option you've unfolded I feel Belichick would treat the game more seriously than he did last year and do everything he can to win. If players are injured and unable to play, then they would sit but otherwise I'd expect everyone healthy body to be part of the game plan, unlike a year ago when they decided not the throw the ball in the first half.
Paul Perillo

After noting the usual heaping measure of gloom and doom from my fellow Pats fans in last week's mailbag, I spoke with my 88-year-old mother on the phone the other day, and all she wanted to talk about was how disappointed she had been by the team's play in the first 53 minutes of the Jets game. My parents bought our Pats seasons tickets in 1966, exactly 50 years ago, and, though my dad died a few years back and my mom can no longer manage the stairs at Gillette, she still watches every game and shouts at the television throughout. I told her, "Mom, relax, we're leading the AFC as usual, but you and everyone who writes in to the mailbag can only focus on the negatives." To which I thought her reply was priceless: "We're only following our leader. Doesn't Belichick say all the time that we made enough plays to win but we're going to have to play a lot better than that if we want to get anywhere?"
Evan Carlton

I'm not sure exactly what to respond to this post but I enjoyed reading about the thoughts for your 88-year-old mother so much I included it. I'd say we could all learn from her wise words when she quoted Belichick – the Patriots most certainly need to play better than they have recently in order to have success in the playoffs. But at the same time 10-2 at this stage has put them in position to do what they want to do this season.
Paul Perillo

With Gronk out for the rest of the season it sheds more light on the personnel moves Belichick made. We could use AJ Derby now more than ever. Is there another TE out there that we can get to help Martellus Bennett?
Stacy Hanson

Derby definitely would have been beneficial to have at this point with Gronk out. Same could be said of Clay Harbor, who was let go earlier in the season as well. There are many tight ends capable of helping out teams dramatically that are on the street as this point. Veteran Bear Pascoe is one tight end who spent time with the Patriots during camp so he would at least know the offense, but he's really just a blocker and Cameron Fleming is already handling those duties so I don't see the need to add him. The Patriots have also had Kennard Backman on and off the practice squad at times. At this point I think it will be Bennett and a combination of mixed and matched parts the rest of the way.
Paul Perillo

Hi - first off I really enjoy Paul Perillo's weekly appearance on Felger and Mazz. After the Buffalo game I thought maybe this year's Patriots were like the 2003 team - beating the Bills by the same score that they lost previous in the season (pts). Then after the Seattle game with no confidence in defense - so maybe like the 2009 team. Then after the SF game, I begin to think that Brady will have to carry them like 2011 (that game vs. Ravens - Gronk going down changed the game).
I was pretty happy about the Jets game ... but then I watched the Chiefs-Broncos game ... I can't see this year's Patriots winning on the road in either KC or Denver. Which brings me to another comparison - the 1985 Dallas Cowboys, the last team of the Landry era that made the playoffs. They had a series of decent wins before they played the Bears (in Dallas) .... and it was an embarrassing loss, not competitive, and they lost in the first round of the playoffs. Belichick and Landry have similarities - attention to detail, innovation, cold-hearted decisions. By the end of 1985 Landry had lost it: could we be saying the same thing about Bill after this year, after the mishandling of players on the defense (Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins, Dominique Easley)? Of course they still have Tom Brady.
D'Arcy Mackenzie
Toronto

You make some interesting points and comparisons (and you obviously enjoy interesting and insightful sports talk radio) but I'm not willing to go there with Belichick. I'm not familiar enough with the end of the Landry era in Dallas to know that what you explained about the legend losing it is accurate. But I do know that Belichick is still the best coach in football and nobody else is even close. So while he confounds us at times by dealing Collins (the Jones and Easley moves were quite predictable) and choosing not to use his timeouts at the end of halves on occasion, there is still no coach in football that gets more out of his roster than Belichick does. And the last part of your post … they still have Brady … is really important to keep in mind. Brady certainly won't guarantee victory but it's nice to have the game's all-time winningest quarterback on your side.
Paul Perillo

"The three most likely factors in a potential season-ending loss are the offensive line, the pass rush and the coverage in the back end. -Andy Hart. This was part of your answer to a question last week. We as fans need to think about that for a second. That's basically the entire team besides Tom and the guys he throws too. That's a scary thought. Yes I am one of those, in Bill we trust guys, but it's time to admit our team is severely flawed. More so than ever before. If we see the Cowboys in the Super Bowl, we lose. That's if we can even make it that far in the playoffs. I am in the minority agreeing with the Jamie Collins trade. What I don't understand is where our money is going if we aren't paying our players. Other teams seem to be able to pay for more than one superstar. Why do we just ship off all the 'expensive' guys?
Dakota Esposito

I certainly don't agree with your assessment that the Patriots wouldn't stand a chance to beat Dallas – or anybody else – in the Super Bowl. I'll admit that the injury to Gronkowski has leveled the playing field in the AFC considerably, but I still feel the Patriots have the inside track to get to Houston. And if that happens I'm not sure why anyone would feel they wouldn't have a chance to win it all. As for paying the players, I thought this tired act had been eliminated. Marcus Cannon just got $32.5 million and many fans thought that was too much. Now we're complaining about not spending enough. The Patriots as a rule are pretty steadfast in their approach that they won't often extend themselves to retain players, but they have done it. They did it with Devin McCourty and they've been aggressive with some others as well. I'm not suggesting they're always right when they choose to let a players go – and I've often disagreed – but to say they never spend money is silly.
Paul Perillo

I know the season isn't over and the best is to come but, I am really excited for the draft and my two biggest questions are: do you see Christian McCaffrey falling late in the first round and if he does, do you think the Pats will pick him up? Do you think the Pats will take a chance on Cooper Kupp? He has good speed, hands, a large frame, a great work ethic and has been described as easy to coach. He has also been dominant, not just against Division II teams, but against Division I teams as well.
Connor Heim

I'm not anywhere near ready to start thinking about the draft but I'm relatively certain McCaffrey would be available at the end of the first round and into the second. The Patriots already have some pretty productive and undersized backs in Dion Lewis and James White so I don't know if he'd be on their radar but I would be surprised. I know next to nothing about Kupp other than he's a wide receiver who plays at the FCS level who some project in the second or third round. But again, it's too early to be thinking draft. There's a lot of potentially exciting football to be played.
Paul Perillo

Josh McDaniels has to go. He was fired from Denver and without Brady he would be gone. Tight ends do not line up as wide receivers they are both hurt. Thanks Josh.
Larry Kothe

So I guess you were pretty upset watching Gronkowski lead the league in average yards per catch because you were sure he was going to get hurt running deep routes down the seam? Hey, football players get hurt sometimes and unfortunately Gronkowski has dealt with more than his share of injuries. It's life in the NFL, and it's not the offensive coordinator's fault.
Paul Perillo

One of my biggest concerns is the back end of our defense. I think in recent weeks Logan Ryan has improved drastically from the start of the year, but I would like to have a true No. 2 corner and keep Ryan in the slot like he was for most of his rookie and second year. It makes me wonder why we don't bring back Brandon Browner. He was an excellent fit here and Robert Kraft gave him a high amount of praise after he left. Our secondary is missing that physical force. Hits like his one against the Chargers in 2014 changes games and makes future opponents terrified of you. He had a Rodney Harrison-like presence but at the corner position, vocally and physically. Eric Rowe has a very similar body type but just isn't an intense leader. Why haven't we brought Browner back? Or do you think it was discussed and he's not willing to sign anywhere for cheap?
Jason Roeder

I can't believe how many inquiries we've gotten regarding Brandon Browner (actually it's only been two all season but to me that's too many). Browner was a nice piece to the puzzle in 2014 but would have been irrelevant without Darrelle Revis on the other side. In fact he only played nine games that season, so really he was along for the ride. He made a huge contribution in the Super Bowl by jamming Ricardo Lockette at the line and allowing Malcolm Butler to make his huge play, but Browner is not the answer. He was awful last season in New Orleans and he was cut by Seattle in the summer. He's been out of football since despite the league dying for more quality corners who can cover. No thanks on Browner.
Paul Perillo

Don't you think that Brady's deep throw to Malcom Mitchell instead of to a wide open Julian Edelman for the first down was what messed up the clock management at the end of the first half against the Jets?
Joe Kil

Actually I disagree with that entirely. The problem with the clock management came before that throw to Mitchell in the end zone. The Patriots had 40 seconds left in the half and a timeout when they completed a pass to the Jets 21. At that point they could have spiked the ball quickly or called timeout. They did neither and by the time they snapped it for the next play there were just 12 ticks remaining. So at that point they had no choice but to go to the end zone. Going underneath to a wide open Julian Edelman wouldn't have done much because unless the Jets missed a bunch of tackles the Patriots would have been forced to settle for the field goal anyway. The clock management prevented them the opportunity to have at least a couple of shots to score a touchdown.
Paul Perillo

Is it by design that the Pats seem to ease most defensive backs into the system? Duron Harmon is now seeing more significant playing time as the first safety off the bench in his fourth year after being drafted in the third round. Jordan Richards seems to have completely disappeared this year, but maybe he's being groomed to eventually replace Patrick Chung at SS? Likewise, Cyrus Jones is raw but maybe this year it's about practicing against the offensive starters before next year trying to win the nickel slot with the eye on starting in year 3. Is this the plan or a symptom of bad drafting?
Will W.

I do not think this is specifically by design. Devin McCourty played immediately as a rookie and Patrick Chung saw at least some time as a rookie as well. Same for Logan Ryan. Others haven't been able to crack the lineup as quickly. Unfortunately I believe this is more the result of some questionable draft picks than any pre-determined plan. If Harmon or Richards were deserving or more playing time they likely would have received it. Tavon Wilson is gone now but I'd put him in that same boat.
Paul Perillo

I think the playoffs could be truly meaningful if the wild cards were eliminated and only the division winners went to the playoffs. Of course this would mean eliminating one whole weekend (four games) from the schedule. That would mean a huge monetary loss, but it would hopefully eliminate some of the more mediocre teams from the playoffs. Your thoughts?
Keith Nelson

I love the idea of tinkering with the playoff system. I think we too often fall into the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" trap instead of wondering if some things could be improved. Honestly, I don't love your idea, although I don't think your reasoning is wrong. I don't like eliminating wild cards because they make up for weak divisions (like the AFC South) having a champ that inferior to a potential wild card. I do like the idea of adding two playoff teams to eliminate byes though. I think the byes are unfair, allowing two teams in each conference the opportunity to play one fewer game to get to the Super Bowl. I understand how they are earned and all of that, but my suggestion would be making eight playoff teams in each conference and seeding them by record regardless of divisions. Top four get home field and go from there. I understand there are already some mediocre (and even bad) playoff teams and this would water things down even further, but I feel eliminating the byes would be worth it. I'm definitely on an island on this one though.
Paul Perillo

I want to know why McDaniels is not featuring Marty Bennett more in his offense other than blocking and targeting him four or five times a game. With Gronk's frequent injury absences we finally have a guy with hands and athleticism almost equal to him but yet he seems like almost an afterthought in the offense in most games. I know he's nursing a bum ankle but when he's on the field he seems game to do anything. Why are they not using him more?
Paul Tiberi

That's a good question and I can only assume his role has decreased since his injuries have become more of a factor in recent weeks. I do feel he's had some opportunities to make more plays and hasn't always taken advantage. One such example came on a back shoulder throw in the end zone against the Rams when he failed to haul in a very catchable touchdown pass. Overall it has been a little strange to see how quiet Bennett has been but the ankle and shoulder injuries certainly have to be at least part of that.
Paul Perillo

My concern is with one of my favorite current players, Julian Edelman. Is his foot a bigger concern than any of us know? He is not getting separation from opposing secondaries. He isn't being used in other ways, such as running from the slot or even a trick throw. We are struggling with big plays. Why isn't our playmaker getting chances?
John Haversack

Edelman is enjoying a very solid if unspectacular season in my opinion. He making plenty of catches but hasn't always been able to shake free of tacklers and make as many yards after the catch as we've seen in the past. It's not necessarily the same every week as there have been times when he's been able to get open, and since many of his catches are short throws he's still managing to pick up some yards, but to me he seems to lack some of the explosiveness we've seen from him at times in the past. He's on pace for his lowest average yards per carry since he became a full-time player and that number (currently and even 10 per catch) has been on the rise a bit lately. Overall Edelman remains a valuable cog in the offense but I do have some reservations about his foot and how it may be affecting his performance.
Paul Perillo

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