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Ask PFW: Breaking the ties

The Patriots are heading to the home stretch and "Ask PFW" is doing the same. Judging from the lack of posts this week, Patriots fans are well-versed in all the tie-breaker scenarios that await the team int he final two weekends.

Who can replace Matt Light on a full-time basis, and what is the depth chart at ILB?
Bank F.

When Light left the Raiders game he was replaced by Mark LeVoir. Earlier this season LeVoir replaced Nick Kaczur at right tackle when Kaczur was banged up in San Diego. LeVoir played the rest of the way against the Chargers and started the Denver and St. Louis games. He played well in both, as he did in relief of Light in Oakland. The have been reports that Light suffered a slightly separated shoulder but he could play with the injury. Bill Belichick said the team suffered no "season-ending injuries" so Light obviously wasn't hurt seriously enough to land on injured reserve. If he misses any more time the rest of the way, my guess is LeVoir would replace him.

As far as inside linebacker goes, with Tedy Bruschi out you're dealing with a three-man rotation of Jerod Mayo, Gary Guyton and Junior Seau. That's the trio that handled things against the Raiders, although Guyton limped off the field in that game with an ankle injury and didn't return. Bruschi's knee injury reportedly will keep him out for a few weeks so I'm not sure we'll see him before the playoffs. Other possibilities would include moving Mike Vrabel inside, where he has played in the past, but given his preference to play on the outside and the lack of depth at that spot as well, I doubt we'd see such a move. Right now, the situation is not ideal but as Bill would say, it is what is.
Paul Perillo

If the Pats win the next two, the Dolphins and Jets win next week but tie when they meet, would the Pats go into January?James Siegel

Absolutely, and they'd do it as AFC East champs. Assuming the three teams entered the final weekend tied with 10-5 records, a Patriots win would make them 11-5 while a Dolphins-Jets tie would leave both at 10-5-1, a half game behind New England. I believe the Jets hold the tiebreaker over Miami so New York would then need help in the form of a Baltimore loss to earn a wild card while the Dolphins would likely be eliminated (unless Indy loses both ... nevermind).
Paul Perillo

What do you think about trading for Justin Miller? He could be the receiver on the other side of Randy Moss with Wes Welker in the middle and two men that could spread the field like that. He would also give a three-man rotation to kickoffs with Welker and Ellis Hobbs. What are your thoughts about this?
Joshua Pales

I've always liked Justin Miller dating back to his college days at Clemson. But Miller is a cornerback, not a wide receiver. So, he wouldn't be a candidate to join Moss and Welker in three-wide sets. As far as kick returns go, Welker hasn't really been a factor in that department in his two years as a Patriot but with Hobbs' production I'm not sure they would need anyone else. Miller is obviously quite dynamic in that role, but he's yet to establish himself as a legitimate cornerback and he landed in the doghouse in New York before getting released last month. I'd definitely be willing to take a chance on a player with his skill level as a candidate to join the Patriots secondary next season.
Paul Perillo

Just wondering if coaches can challenge a non-call by the refs.Sean Oxford

Coaches are not allowed to challenge penalties – whether they are called or not called. If a player is held coming around the corner but the refs miss it, all a coach can do is complain. They aren't allowed to ask for a replay review – much like they wouldn't be allowed to challenge a questionable pass interference penalty. Those are judgment calls and they cannot be review via replay.
Paul Perillo

Every year it seems like the Patriots are tight under the cap. What is their current team salary, and what is the salary cap? It seems like every year they let go a standout defensive player because of their "pay scale" and it's hurting them badly. When are the Pats going to wise up and pay those who are extremely effective on the defensive side of the ball? Judging by the way the secondary is playing this year, Asante Samuel was worth the money. Lastly, and I know it's a bit early, but do you think the Patriots should make a run at Nnamdi Asomugha in the offseason?
Andy B.

The current NFL salary cap is roughly $116 million for 2008. It has increased by about $7 million in each of the last two seasons, so something in the $123 million neighborhood seems likely for 2009. But I'm not sure I agree with the notion that the Patriots lose players because they are so tight against the salary cap. The Patriots believe in a value system that distributes the cash more evenly than some other teams do. In other words, they could have given Samuel his contract but that would have forced them to take away some other mid-level players to make the finances work. Right now, losing Samuel certainly looks like a bad move. But there's no way of knowing how retaining him may have affected the depth of the team this season, especially in light of all the injuries the Patriots have suffered. Managing the salary cap is really about making choices – very few players are let go strictly for cap purposes. Rather it's a decision teams make about the player's value and whether or not they are willing to exceed it. The Patriots obviously weren't with Samuel, but I believe they could have made the numbers work if they chose to. It's sort of an argument of semantics, but there are always ways to fit guys under the cap if a team is willing.

Asomugha is a talented player who will command top dollar on the open market. Perhaps the Patriots struggles in the secondary this year will have them re-thinking letting Samuel walk and encourage them to splurge on a player like Asomugha. But perhaps they've already started rebuilding the secondary through the draft with Jonathan Wilhite and Terrence Wheatley (who is on IR) and they believe those players are the secondary of the future. My guess is the team won't give a corner $60-plus million in free agency and instead will look to add some lower-priced veterans and probably another corner or two in the draft.
Paul Perillo

In your most recent edition, you were asked about the stat "Yards After Catch." I found that stat at Go to Sports, NFL, Statistics then receiving. At the bottom of the page you'll find "Yards After Catch."
Gayle LaCasse

Thanks Gayle. We were aware that some stats companies to track numbers like YAC, but the NFL does not treat it as an official statistic. There was a time when the league didn't consider quarterback sacks an official stat either, so maybe YAC will make the cut some day. The league sends out an enormous stat pack every week and YAC isn't included among the mind-numbing minutiae such as third-down passing, third-and-one rushing and other gems. But we do know that Wes Welker is the league-leader in that department according to the companies that do keep track of such things. Thanks for pointing it out.
Paul Perillo

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