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Ask PFW: Assessing the roster

With the Patriots finalizing their roster over the weekend, the moves generated most of the buzz this week in the "Ask PFW" mailbag.  

I know a lot of folks are up in arms over the way the Pats have drafted over the last few years, especially with two third-round picks on the practice squad, which is not typically where those draft picks end up. Do we owe a little benefit of the doubt to Bill Belichick (after all, he seems to generate extra picks we wouldn't have normally had in the first place)? Or does BB need coaching/drafting help?
Phil M.

I think our analysis should be made in a vacuum. In other words, when moves work out they should be applauded and when they don't they should be criticized. Too often we focus on the past when analyzing the present. Just because Belichick did a great job of drafting earlier in his tenure doesn't mean he should be given the benefit of the doubt; just as he shouldn't be criticized for the 2009 draft because many of the selections from 2006-08 didn't pan out. I don't feel Belichick needs any additional help for the most part, although obviously the more guys around him that he trusts the better it would be. I feel Belichick has always been the guy in charge so I see no reason to change things in that regard. Overall, he's done a fantastic job of building and maintaining a team that has generally been in the thick of things for the past decade.
Paul Perillo

I am extremely disappointed in Belichick's offseason moves for this defense. Releasing Tyrone McKenzie (practice squad), Shawn Crable (practice squad), Derrick Burgess (third-round picks should pan out much better than this). OLB has been a problem for at least three seasons (2007 was covered by the offense in my opinion) and this position still has not been addressed. What is going on in this guy's mind? Rob Ninkovich? Marques Murrell to start? Now that I'm done complaining, can you see anyone that we could possibly pick up because none of these guys can set the edge from what I've seen.
Dave Sarro

I don't think it's likely that the Patriots can find guys off the scrap heap that will make a discernible difference on defense. They may find guys who can fill in and help, but I'm skeptical that they can find guys who will improve anything significantly. I, too, was disappointed that Belichick wasn't able to dramatically improve the defense. There was a glaring need at outside linebacker and aside from drafting Jermaine Cunningham in the second round, the team didn't little to address it. At this point I think what you see it what you get at the position and we'll all have to see what the Murrells and Ninkoviches have to offer.
Paul Perillo

I like the fact that Shawn Crable is on the practice squad because now he has a chance to show his injury woes are in the past and if he can prove he has the talents he showed in college, I think he stands a good chance of being signed for real. Do the Patriots have first refusal on practice squad players or can any team come in and sign him like he is a free agent?
Tim Hart

Practice squad players are free to sign anywhere and the existing team does not have a right to match. Often times players choose not to sign with other teams in an effort to stay where they're most comfortable, but the existing teams don't possess any rights to prevent players from signing (other than offering more money as an incentive). I don't have as much optimism with regard to Crable as you do, and that has little to do with injuries. Crable has been around for three years now and when he has had opportunities on the field in practice he hasn't shown anything. I don't expect him to be contributing anytime soon.
Paul Perillo

My question is simply about the one-gap 3-4 defense. How is it different from two gap? Two gap 3-4 is basically what the Pats run more times than not. I understand the idea is that the defensive linemen head up on an offensive lineman and are responsible for the gaps on either side of their man while pushing him as far into the backfield as possible, and ideally, creating a wall that the running back can't cross while shrinking the quarterback's pocket. It also frees up the linebackers, giving them the whole field to move around without worry of an offensive lineman getting a block on him. So the one gap system I would assume means that the linemen involved, would line up in between any two offensive lineman and try to shoot the gap as quickly as possibly, like most 4-3 lineman are supposed to. What are the linebacker's assignments in this scheme though? Their roles obviously change if there are going to be free offensive linemen roaming the turf. Can you clarify the functions and the purpose of the 1 Gap system for me?Gage Brown

I think you pretty much explained it perfectly. One-gap schemes have players lined up in gaps and trying to penetrate consistently while two-gap players control blockers instead of getting into the backfield. Linebackers also are asked to two-gap, taking on guards and controlling both sides of their respective areas. The one-gap scheme is where linebackers hope to be free to move as the big guys in front of them occupy the blockers. The basic difference is the two-gap requires more of a read and react style while the one-gap is more of an attacking scheme. But overall your breakdown was pretty solid based on the way Belichick talks about the differences in the schemes.
Paul Perillo

It might be crazy to question Belichick, but over the past several years, the Patriots have had several disappointing draft picks and problems reaching contracts with star players. Might the Patriots need a true GM, instead of having BB handle everything?
Sam Frankel

I understand that some moves haven't worked out but I wouldn't necessarily call for a change in how the Patriots operate. Belichick has been in charge since the day he arrived way back in 2000. He was running the draft and deciding which free agents to sign right from the start. Scott Pioli, Thomas Dimitroff and others have been around in the past to help Belichick in that process, but he's always been the head coach and the de facto general manager. The Patriots have had a lot of success doing it that way and I don't see that changing anytime soon.
Paul Perillo

Looking at where the roster stands right now, you would be hard pushed to say it was full of talent, and ready to "win now". I accept this was probably the case in 2001, but would argue that those three Super Bowls were perhaps more "scheme" than talent, certainly the first. Now the coaching tree has spread throughout the NFL, scheme doesn't seem to cut it, meaning this team needs talent to win. Bearing in mind Tom's age, and Randy's contract situation, why have they not moved already to shore up the gaps we have all seen for the past 2-3 years; namely d-line, outside linebacker, and o-line? This franchise is now six years removed from a ring, and free agents aren't as keen to come. Wouldn't it be a good time, an essential time, to tilt the see saw more toward "win-now" to regenerate free agent interest, and to help bring on the young talent? Right now, this team is probably at best a 10 win team, who will struggle to get to the QB, struggle to stop the run and struggle to run the ball. You have your finger on the pulse, so tell me there is another strategy at play here, and we arent just wasting the best QB to ever play the game, perhaps the best player to ever play the game, finest years when he should be winning rings. I think you can list 12 teams who have a better chance than we do right now, maybe more.
Simon Jeffrey

While I agree the current roster is probably not as talented as in the past, even you admitted it might be capable of winning 10 games. If you win, can you honestly say that the team is that far away from competing for a Super Bowl? Belichick is obviously going with a bunch of young, unproven players, particularly on defense, and he's hoping that in a year or so the tune we're all singing is much different. If that's the case, there's no reason to believe Brady's talents are being wasted. I think you put too much emphasis on the role schemes played in the past titles. While the coaching was indeed excellent, the Patriots also had a lot of very talented players. Right now many of those players have gone and Belichick is working hard to replace them. We'll find out if they're talented enough to do so – whether guys like Patrick Chung can be like Rodney Harrison, or if Brandon Spikes can be like Tedy Bruschi, or Jermaine Cunningham can be Willie McGinest. Right now that seems far-fetched, but with some experience maybe we're all looking at things much differently.
Paul Perillo

Love your work, my question is how big of a chance is there to pick up Jarvis Green back? GOD knows we need help on defense and he would strengthen our D-line.
Israel Lopez

I really don't see Jarvis Green as a difference-maker it this point. I think his play dropped significantly over the past several years and the Broncos cut him even after giving him a $2.5 million signing bonus. It's hard to swallow that kind of salary so his play must have really been subpar, especially considering Josh McDaniels is more than familiar with his game. I wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots looked into re-signing him but I wouldn't expect him to add much more than depth at this point.
Paul Perillo

Is it possible that Tom Brady might be getting rid of the ball a bit quicker this year to protect his biggest asset - himself, having no new contract yet.
Ted Hizer

I just don't see it … even in the preseason game against the Giants he held onto the ball until the last possible minute before getting buried while throwing a touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski. If Brady was worried about his contract, I doubt he'd be subjecting himself to unnecessary hits during the preseason.
Paul Perillo

Love the job you all do. Living in Virginia trying to follow Pats every chance I get. With Logan Mankins holding out why don't the Patriots try and trade him to the Rams for a Steven Jackson or Carolina for a Jonathan Stewart. Both teams have young QBs and would benefit with an experienced quality lineman that will help protect their future. The Patriots could use a star running back.
Ed Trivisonno

Talented running backs are pretty valuable to young quarterbacks too. Why would the Rams or Panthers want to get rid of quality playmakers like Jackson and Stewart? I don't see it, even though Mankins would definitely help up front. I think the best the Patriots could hope for with Mankins at this point would be a draft pick, maybe a second or third rounder. You also have to remember that whichever team accepts Mankins would also have to pay him a lot of money. That drives the price of the trade down, and that's probably why he's still the property of the Patriots as we speak.
Paul Perillo

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