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Ask PFW: Battling for the division

The Patriots head into Sunday's game at Miami tied with the Dolphins for second place in a highly competitive AFC East. The winner of the contest will answer a few questions heading down the stretch toward the postseason.

Hi Guys: I am shocked at the poor tackling technique the secondary has been displaying. I would think with the big money those guys make they could practice proper tackling. The linebackers hit hard and wrap people up, but these other guys should have learned more from Rodney. Missed tackles made for some extra yardage for New York [Thursday] night for sure! If the guy is bigger than you then go down low, but use your arms to wrap up the legs. Don't just throw your shoulders at the guy. Please!!!Joe Wood

Poor tackling, particularly by safety Brandon Meriweather, was clearly one of the problems on defense against the Jets. Obviously professional football players should have mastered such fundamentals by this point in their playing lives, but we see in all sports that sometimes the guys at the highest levels struggle with some fundamentals. Ever see some of the free throw shooting in the NBA? Or how about when some MLB players try to bunt? Not pretty. Tackling is also something that's difficult to fix, as you simply can't spend a ton of practice time or energy on full-contact tackling. First there isn't enough time in the week. Second, the players would never stay healthy enough to play on Sunday. I'm sure the coaches will – and have been – preaching to the secondary about wrapping up in tackling. Now the players just need to get it done on the field. You are right, there is no excuse for it.
Andy Hart

Ok so I question and a comment... Now in my mind Tom Brady is the best QB in history, I put him slightly above Joe "Cool" [Montana] because the 49ers teams he won with were more talented then the teams Brady won with. Now the 49ers had a great QB in [Steve] Young who took over when Montana's best days were behind him. Now do you think we have any chance of keeping Cassel around on the bench for say another two years then give him "the keys to the car" because I believe after watching Cassel improvement that he has got a chance to be great! Hell, I'd go as far to say that he looked very much like Steve Young in the game with the Jets? What's your thoughts, do we have any chance of keeping Matt? If so do you believe he can be a great QB in the further? Thanks again keep up the good guys! Cheers to lightening striking twice!Max Yovanovich

So an idea struck me the other day. It occurred to me that Cassel will be a free agent at the end of the year, and will most likely be in very high demand based on how he has played so far. So my question is: Would the patriots ever consider franchise tagging Cassel and then trading him to a team like the 49ers or the Vikings for a 1st or 2nd draft pick?
Eric A.

I have been very impressed with Cassel's continuous development over the course of the season. I think he's proven a lot of people wrong. Include me in that group, as I thought during the preseason that Cassel should have been cut. Now he's a legitimate, talented NFL quarterback. He's getting better and showing more skills by the game. I expect a lot of other NFL teams are seeing that as well, and certainly after his signature effort with 400 yards passing, 62-yards rushing effort against the Jets. Off the top of my head I'd say the likes of the Chiefs, Lions, Bucs, Jets (if Brett Favre retires, again), Dolphins, Titans, Vikings and 49ers could all be in the market for a quarterback this season. Cassel should have more than one team looking to hand him decent money and a shot at a starting job. That's more than the Patriots can offer him, short-term, on both accounts. The team could choose to either franchise or transition Cassel, but that would come at a stiff, $10-plus-million price tag. It could use that option with the idea of trading Cassel, but that's a difficult scenario to speculate on at this early point in the process.
It's tough to say, but Cassel is probably playing his way right out of New England and into the first starting job of his post high school playing career. It's an opportunity he deserves and I really hope it works out for him. Kevin Garnett screamed to me (and the rest of the world) after the Celtics 17th NBA title that anything is possible. Sure Cassel could technically remain in New England, but I wouldn't count on it.
Andy Hart

With us losing to the Jets and Miami's easy ending schedule, do you think that Miami will steal the extra wild card spot and leave us just missing the playoffs? Secondly, do you think that 3 teams from the AFC East can make the postseason? Thank you for your input, I enjoy reading the weekly blog.
Nicole Audet

I don't think three teams from the East will make the postseason and I do see the Dolphins having a solid shot at the playoffs if they can knock off the Patriots on Sunday. As of right now, with six games to play, there are nine other teams in the AFC within two games in either direction of New England's 6-4 record. There is a lot of football to be played and a lot can happen. This will probably be one of those years where the last weekend of games will decide many different playoff scenarios. The Patriots will probably be in that mix with a lot of other teams. My guess is that two teams from the AFC East make the playoffs. If the Patriots pull out a win this Sunday in Miami I think New England has a better than decent chance to be one of those teams. If not, I think the road to the playoffs will be a very difficult one in final month-plus.
Andy Hart

I know it's difficult to compare players in different systems, but can you give us an overview of how Jerod Mayo's season stacks up against those of players thought to be on the Patriots draft board, specifically Vernon Gholston, Sedrick Ellis and Keith Rivers (before he was injured)? Thanks.Justin Shaka

Two words -- Jerod Mayo! You go...Chase Foster

I have been very impressed with Mayo since just about the first day of training camp. He's coming off a signature-type 20-tackle performance against the Jets. He's still making mistakes at times, but he's shown the package of abilities to do it all on the football field. I'm sure he'll go through growing pains, as Patrick Willis is right now in his second season in San Francisco, but Mayo is going to be a star in this league. Gholston has yet to do much in New York, a scheme similar to New England's. I still think he can be a playmaker off the edge, but so far he doesn't measure up to Mayo. After getting a late start due to contract issues Rivers was playing well for the Bengals before getting knocked out due to injury. He looks like a first-round success and future playmaker on that defense, but in terms of the fit for the Patriots it's clear that Mayo was the better pick at linebacker. Finally, despite missing time with a knee injury Ellis has played in seven games with seven starts for the Saints. He's recorded 16 tackles, a sack and a pass defensed. He's also off to a decent start, but again I'd say Mayo is the far better fit for the Patriots. After searching for a young, athletic, playmaking linebacker for more than a decade New England has, in my humble opinion, found its man. Mayo will be in the Pro Bowl soon.
Andy Hart

Can you please tell us what it is that Dom Capers has brought to the team? The secondary is AWFUL! Capers was supposed to be some sort of a secret weapon...Pats fans sure are in "shock & awe."Sal Gomez

It sounds to me like you, and probably other Patriots fans, had too high of hopes for what Capers was going to be able to do with this secondary. He's a very respected, experienced coach with years working on defense and in the secondary. But he's not a magician. The Patriots lost an All-Pro cornerback and proven playmaker this offseason (Asante Samuel) and replaced him with a guy who was cut by the Bengals at the end of training camp (Deltha O'Neal). The heart of the secondary, Rodney Harrison, is lost for the season. And Ellis Hobbs is considered a No. 1 corner for this team. I think the writing has been on the wall for this to be a questionable secondary, maybe fans just didn't want to read it. I also don't throw the blame just on Capers' secondary. I don't think the front seven has gotten a consistent enough pass rush over the first 10 games to help the secondary out. In the end the lack of talent and experience in the secondary combined with an inconsistent pass rush has given opposing passers too much room to work through the air. Those are just the facts. Maybe Capers, like everyone else, could do things little better. I'm sure he'd even tell you that. But I don't think he's the reason that the secondary, in Sal's words, "is AWFUL!"
Andy Hart

Can the Pats franchise Matt and and then trade him?
Barry McNally

Yes. Despite what Peter King has been writing of late the Patriots could use the franchise tag (at a potential cost in the range of some $14 million next season) on Cassel and then trade him. It's been done many times over the years. The Chiefs did it last spring with Jared Allen. New England did it a few years back with Tebucky Jones. It's actually relatively common. It would be difficult to do considering all the cap ramifications and such, but it's certainly not out of the question at this point.
Andy Hart

OK I'm sure I'm not the only one who doesn't like the NFL OT format. But it's fresh in the minds of Pats fans. Do you think there is a chance they would go to a NCAA OT format or something similar? Second question is why didn't the Pats use Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis (the Law Firm) more in the Jets game he came off if a 100 yard game and had scored a TD in 4 of 5 games he played in this year. I want to see more of The Firm, he looks like he could be a viable replacement for Mr. Glass (Maroney), maybe trade Maroney and keep The Firm. Thanks for answering all the questions.Gary Coe

I've never really been all that passionate about the overtime argument. I think it works fine the way it is. The college rule would never work in the pros. The games would last forever, like some college games do now. The only two options I see is either some format that guarantees each side at least one possession or one in which they simply play a full fifth overtime period. There are arguments for and against both formats. My guess is nothing will change anytime soon. I also don't think the Patriots have much of an argument after watching the Jets drive 14 plays to victory to open overtime. It's not like New York returned the opening kickoff for the score. New England's defense had its chances and could do nothing to stop the loss.
I like what Green-Ellis has done, but I'm not sold he's a starting or every-down back in this league. I think he may have a nice career as a productive backup. He doesn't have the pure talent and tools that Maroney has and has been relatively productive for a short span. Maroney was more productive over the last month of 2007, something many fans have already forgotten. Green-Ellis' popularity seems to have grown thanks to the fact that he's not Maroney and because of some of the former first-round picks struggles this season. That doesn't mean the rookie free agent is a star in the making. Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet. As frustrated as well all are with Maroney's first three seasons and inability to stay healthy or establish himself as a top talent, try to keep an open mind when assessing the talent in the backfield.
Andy Hart

Can you please settle a "discussion" between my son and me regarding field goal attempts? If a FG is attempted and missed on a down other than 4th, does the team get another down, or is the ball turned over?Chuck Najimy

If the kick gets off (meaning it's not blocked behind the line or the snap doesn't go bad) you don't get another attempt. The early attempt is only insurance in the case of the bad snap or block behind the line that is then recovered by the kicking team. Then, in some cases, a team could get a second try. Other than that, once the kick crosses the line of scrimmage and either falls short or misses, the kicking team has lost its chance.
Andy Hart

In the early days of the AFL, the then Boston Patriots defeated the Denver Broncos 11-10 on a last second field goal by Gino Cappelletti, can you verify this incident? If so, why do NFL records say it just happened for first time?Ronald Pelletier

I checked the Patriots media guide and can find no record of an 11-10 Patriots victory over the Broncos. Had such a game existed it would have counted, as official NFL records do include AFL action. But sorry, I don't think that game ever happened as you remember it.
Andy Hart

Necesitamos los aficionados del los Patriotas la pagina en Español, ojala consideren esa opcion, gracias.
Victor Santillan

No hablo Espanol.Andres Corazon

I figured it was very appropriate to give thanks to Troy Brown for all he has given New England. I remember at one point he got an offer to go play for the Saints, but instead declined to continue his play in New England. He is the definition of a New England Patriot. Through and through he gave everything for the team, coaches, organization and to us fans. I am glad he made it into the Patriots Hall of Fame because his chances of going into the NFL one is slim to none, but just like Troy has always done he put his team before his own personal stats. He may not go down in history with all the other greats, but when you think of 3 outta 4 championships Troy should be one of the first men you think of. No disrespect to Randy Moss, he's a great player, but the greatest wide-out whom played for the Patriots will always be #80. So, again thank you Troy for your commitment to New England and to US fans. Good luck with whatever life has in store for you.Michael Hobbs

Well said. I hope Troy enjoyed his night in the spotlight on Thursday at Gillette. He's an all-time great in so many ways. I'm sure he'll be successful in the future in whatever he decides to pursue.
Andy Hart

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