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Ask PFW: Back on track

What do you think the Patriots can do to improve their pass rush and do you think they should take a look at Dwight Freeney?
Mike Oswald
Bayville, NY

Certainly adding talent to the pass rush either through trade or signing remains a possibility. Freeney is a proven veteran who showed last winter to have a little something left in the tank as a rotational option. Right now, though, I wouldn’t necessarily be looking to go down that road. I like the idea of seeing where things go with Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise Jr. and even Cassius Marsh as well as oversized edge options like Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler. The rush has been OK the first couple weeks. There has been some push and some production. It certainly can be much better and will need to be moving forward with more challenging passing foes on the fall schedule. I’d like to see where this group can go before the emergency button is pushed. We still have time before the trade deadline. That said, I would consider a move for a pass rusher if the right guy came available via trade. I’m just not ready to jump at Freeney, or even Rob Ninkovich, off the street at this point.
Andy Hart

What would you guys think about a possible Dion Lewis and Malcolm Butler trade for a pass rusher like J.J. Watt?
Dylan Little

I’d do that deal in a heartbeat. I just don’t think the Texans would. Watt looks healthy to me and ready to return to his spot as one of the game’s truly unique forces. Lewis has been a non-factor the first two weeks in a very deep Patriots backfield and will be a free agent next spring. Butler strangely served a reserve role on Sunday in New Orleans after starting every game each of the last two seasons. The writing seems to be very much on the wall for this to be the former Super Bowl hero’s final year in New England, so dealing him for something before he walks away as a free agent could be seen as very good value-based business especially with Stephon Gilmore now apparently entrenched as New England’s No. 1 corner. This is a fun trade scenario, but probably not too realistic. It would be one of the ore interesting player-for-player trades in recent NFL history. 
Andy Hart

I was extremely impressed by the win and the team's performance. I found it remarkable that Phillip Dorsett, who joined the team only 2 weeks ago was able to play nearly 40 snaps and to contribute with a couple of great catches. My question, was on the end of the first half, when they were driving. After an incompletion, Brady ran the ball down to the 10 and then the field goal team had 10 seconds to get on the field and make the kick. I didn't get why he ran at all and why he did not just throw an incompletion. It seemed like Belichick wanted to test the special teams unit’s ability to execute the speed kick. Do you think this is what happened or did Brady lose track of the situation?
Joel
South Florida

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Dorsett getting into the mix is a good sign, although it may have been as much about need as anything else. New England had just three WR bodies healthy in New Orleans, and he was one of them. It will be interesting to see where his role goes in the coming weeks, assuming he’s healthy limping off with a knee issue against the Saints. It’s also worth noting that the man Dorsett was traded for, Jacoby Brissett, started this week at quarterback for the Colts. I find that far more impressive for the second-year passer to pick up the offense enough to be the best option for Indy at this point. I’m rooting for Brissett and was impressed that he’s done enough in a short time to earn his coaches’ trust. As for Brady’s run, I think it was a terrible decision. I don’t think there was any upside. For a guy who often tells us he weighs the risk and reward in situational football decisions, I just don’t see the upside to his run. With all due respect, he wasn’t going to run for a touchdown. So the best-case-scenario was always going to be a field goal. Even if he ran for the first down he’d have had to spike the ball to stop the clock and get the field goal. To me the only thing that Brady did was put the field-goal try at risk. But that’s easier for me to write about two days later while listening to the George Strait channel on Pandora through my tremendous Bose headphones than it is for him to make the call in the heat of the moment. I do not think it was something Belichick told him to do in order to test the field goal teams ability to run on the field and get the job done, though.
Andy Hart

The Patriots should try to acquire Zach Zenner from Detroit. He is exactly the type of slot receiver and all-purpose back that we could deal for a fourth-round pick. What do you think?
David Ewert

I don’t see the point. Zenner is a versatile running back. But he’s not an every-down slot option to fill the Edelman/Amendola void any more than the trio of versatile Patriots backs already are. As it is Dion Lewis has been almost a forgotten guy in the first two weeks and I think he’s a far more dynamic weapon than Zenner. Sorry.
Andy Hart

What is wrong with Solder and what do we do about it? He looked bad against New Orleans.
Andy
Sioux City

Though Solder did not play in the preseason due to an undisclosed injury, I don’t believe there is anything wrong with the left tackle at this point in terms of his health. He has not been listed on the Patriots injury report through two weeks of action. He did not play very well Sunday against the Saints. He struggled both in the running game and the passing game. Maybe he’s still knocking off the rust. But we’ve seen Solder have some suspect games in the past and then bounce back to string good games together. Given that this is a contract year for the former first-round pick, doing just that again would benefit him greatly while also helping out the New England offense. I’ve always thought Solder was a middle-of-the-road tackle – there aren’t nearly enough good left tackles to go around the NFL these days – but he’s better than he looked on Sunday.
Andy Hart

Prior to the start of the regular season, I had high expectations from our new acquisitions.  I hoped to see Gilmore obliterating opposing teams’ passing game, I anticipated massive yardage gains from Gillislee, and I dreamed of a Brady/Moss like connection with Cooks.  Unfortunately, I may have placed my expectations too high (my problem, not the teams).  With that said, what are your thoughts on the expectations of these players versus their (limited—only two games played) performance?  Regarding Brady/Cooks connection, do you feel they just need to build chemistry?
Tom 
Yorktown, Virginia (Born and raised in Connecticut)

I may have been as guilty as anyone of having expectations that were too high, both for the team as a whole and for some individual players. Three guys I would put into that category would be Cooks, Gilmore and Chris Hogan. Cooks looked great on the practice field and I thought he was going to be an electric playmaker right out of the gates. So far, he’s been a solid contributor but has not lit up the scoreboard or ignited the team. I still think that is coming as he gets more comfortable with the offense and Brady. I didn’t love seeing Cooks mostly blanketed by Saints rookie Marshon Lattimore, though I do expect him to be a Pro Bowl cover man in the NFL. Gilmore has had his issues in some communication and hasn’t had any marquee playmaking yet, either. He faces the heavy expectation of his massive contract and may never really be able to live up to that. I thought Hogan would step up after the Edelman injury and certainly after Amendola went down, but so far his production has not increased like I thought it might. As for Gillislee, so far I think he’s been basically a replication of LeGarrette Blount. He’s done the job on the goal line and hasn’t proven an ability to pick up yards on his own with any regularity. In the end, though, I expect all these guys to perform at a higher level in the coming weeks and months. Doing so will lift the team’s overall performance as well. 
Andy Hart

G'day boys. Apologies if this has already been discussed. But what's the deal with Alan Branch? Is he just in Bill's doghouse or has he lost a step? I was somewhat surprised to see Adam Butler take the majority of snaps.
Sean Jessiman
Melbourne, Australia

Branch did not play well in Week 1 and didn’t play much in Week 2. This came after he missed much of the summer on PUP after re-signing this offseason. He’s not off to a great start on any level and that’s especially disappointing given how well he played last year in the middle of New England’s very good run defense. The Saints are a passing team, so it’s probably not a huge surprise for a guy like Branch (who played six reps in New Orleans) to see his snaps cut. But it will be interesting to keep an eye on his role and, more importantly, his impact moving forward in the middle of a defensive front that already has plenty of other questions in other areas. 
Andy Hart

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