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Ask PFW: By the bye

I think the bye week is a good time for reflection. After what I have seen so far, I am pretty convinced the Pats are winning the Super Bowl. Are they as good as last year? No. Are there holes? Yes. But who will take the division from them? You think the Patriots have holes? Look around the AFC East and tell me who you want as your quarterback. So regardless of the struggles, I think the Pats are clearly favorites to make the playoffs. Once in the playoffs, all the Patriots advantages come in to play. The Patriots will have already played all the best AFC teams (except Cincy), and Coach Belichick seems to do well when playing a team twice in a season. And every other team has holes too. San Diego has a coach who has never won in the playoffs. Denver has a quarterback who, while really good sometimes, has thrown more career interceptions than touchdowns. Indianapolis has a monkey on their back so big that it could choke the entire team at any moment in the postseason. You can debate all day about the "best quarterback in the NFL". But I think the debate gets a little easier when you talk about one game with everything on the line. Who do you want running your team? People forget that when the Bills won 4 AFC Championships in a row, one of those years they were a wildcard. When SF won 4 of 6 Super Bowls, one of those years they finished 10-6. But both of those teams knew how to win big playoff games, which is something that New England still has. You can't draft "clutch".Mike Mammay

Is it just me or am I the only one tired of hearing all the 'haters' bring their A-game to one or two people as the 'sole' reason the Patriots are 3-3. As I read through the PFW columns (you guys do a great job keeping true fans up-dated by the way) I see more scapegoats than republicans in Massachusetts on election day. Remember, the Patriots opening schedule was BRUTAL, unmatched by any other opponent! There's a reason you hear about the schedule difficulty. The Pats are in decent shape in my book as of right now (bye week) considering there injuries are going to be healing down the home stretch, they play most of the games at home, and their mental edge and veteran leadership has to account for something. I am tired of hearing how they are through (maybe you hear something else). I am really ashamed of all the fans who put the blame on one or two person(s). Let's get serious here. You win as a team and you certainly lose as a team. Sorry, I just had to say that. My question is simple, do you see, as I see, the Patriots getting stronger, healthier and ready to "rock and roll' down the "home-stretch"? I think they Pats (right now) are a stretch for the Super Bowl pick, but CANNOT be ruled out of being a serious threat come play-off time. If yes, to my question, who do you think will step up (or who HAS to) and if 'no', who do you think will be the scapegoat when it's all said and done? Believing in Springfield, MO (shout out to York Beach, ME!)Paul Earwood

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While I'm not "convinced" the Patriots are in line for a third straight Super Bowl title, I don't think they are done, either. They are one of the better teams in the NFL right now, one with plenty of strengths and holes. If they get a boost from the return to health from guys like Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour, Corey Dillon and others, I think they could be ready to roll right through the AFC East (six games in the next 10 weeks) on the way to a postseason bid. In fact, I don't see any way this team doesn't win the division. After that, anything can happen. But I caution fans not to pull any false confidence out of late season wins against some inferior competition. When the Patriots get to the postseason, potentially as a three or four seed in the AFC, they are going to have play three playoffs games and maybe two on the road to reach the Super Bowl. And those games will come against the likes of Denver, San Diego, Indy, Pittsburgh and the other tough teams in the conference. It all depends on how well the Patriots are playing come late December and early January. I think some of the pieces are in place for another run, but it will be interesting to see how all those come together.
Andy Hart

It is very easy to blame individual players for the secondary breakdowns, but why is it I have seen no one question the possibility that the problem is Defensive coordinator Eric Mangini? The reality is even if it was Ty Law, no cornerback should be one on one in the middle of the field with the opposing teams top receivers. whether it is a lack of the correct calls or the teaching methods of a first year coordinator, the fact is Mangini may not be ready for the position. We have had injuries in the past but we have never been so bad on defense until Mangini took over. Do you think it is possible that Mangini is the problem?John Johnson

Possible? Anything is possible. And the change in coordinators likely has played at least a part in the team's defensive struggles. I hate to throw facts in to your little theory that it's all Mangini, but did you think Romeo Crennel was a good defensive coordinator? Well, under his watch (before he moved on to become the job as the Brown's head coach) replacement cornerback Randall Gay ended up one-on-one down the middle of the field with Pittsburgh wide receiver Plaxico Burress, resulting in a 47-yard Steelers touchdown. So it happens to the best of them. Mangini has been groomed in Bill Belichick's defensive system for more than a decade. If Belichick thinks he's ready and the best guy for the job, I believe him. But there is still going to be an adjustment phase. Mangini is not Crennel and doesn't have his experience. He's learning as he goes with this team and the position, just as any new coordinator would be at this point of the season. Give him time, my feeling is he will do fine over the long haul, especially when he gets a full, or at least partial, roster of talent to work with.
Andy Hart

Hey guys! A couple of thoughts I wanted to share with Patriot Nation, and a question. First, welcome back Tedy! If you and your family are confident you're doing the right thing, then who are we to question it? Next, a lot of talk going around on why the tight ends didn't do much against Denver. My thoughts are that because neither Kevin Faulk nor Corey Dillon played (both of whom are excellent at pass protection), the tight ends were needed blocking to help keep the pressure off Brady. As amazing as Patrick Pass was, I've never thought of him as particularly strong in pass protection (no pun intended...) Do you sages at PFW agree with that assessment? Lastly, a question. When a quarterback spikes the ball to stop the clock, why isn't that intentional grounding? He's certainly between the tackles and throwing a pass intentionally at the ground. Is it because there are eligible receivers nearby, or is there specifically a rule that allows clock-stopping spikes without worrying about grounding penalties? If a quarterback tries to spike to stop the clock and accidentally hits a lineman (say, on the foot), is it illegal touching?Mike King

I definitely think the tight ends' role in pass protection limited the players' contributions in Denver, just as it has to some degree all season. I think Pass is a serviceable pass blocker, just as he is with just about anything else you ask him to do. The offensive line needed help with Dillon and Faulk in there and continue to need as much help or more with those two sidelined with injuries.
The quarterback spike is not a penalty for a couple reasons. Firsts of all, intentional grounding is called when a quarterback is "facing an imminent loss of yardage because of pressure from the defense." That's clearly not the case with the spike to stop the clock. Second, the NFL rule book clearly notes the spike option in Note 3 under Intentional Grounding that states, "A player under center is permitted to stop the game clock legally to save time if immediately upon receiving the snap he begins a continuous throwing motion and throws the ball directly forward into the ground." And to answer the final part of your questions, it would be illegal touching if it hit a lineman's foot instead of the ground. That happens occasionally.
Andy Hart

Is the defense playing scared? It just does not seem as though they have been playing aggressively against the run. It does not seem like all of the players on defense are fearless, like in past years.Bert Letvin

I don't think scared is the right word, Bert. I think it is more of a case of a lot of new players who are unsure of themselves and their responsibilities. It's hard to play aggressive, playmaking football when you aren't even really sure if you are in the right spot or doing what you are supposed to do in the first place. Most of this team's playmakers in recent years were guys who were in the system for three or four or even more years and knew exactly what they were supposed to do. That confidence in your role makes it easier to be aggressive and make plays. That's a comfort level that guys like Monty Beisel, Chad Brown, James Sanders, Duane Starks and others are clearly searching for at this point. We'll have to see if/when that starts to come together and what effect the potential return of guys like Bruschi, Seymour and others has on that evolution.
Andy Hart

Going into the bye week, the team stands at 3-3. How do you see them doing anything other than going 8-8 this season. They will win five of the remaining six home games (Buf, NO, NYJ, Mia, TB) and lose all the remaining road games (@Mia, @NJY, @KC, @Buf) and then the Colts will finally get them this year in NE. Wouldn't it be better to go in the tank (if that is not what they are already doing now) the rest of the way, go 4-12 and maybe try and snag a top 3 or 4 draft choice next year? They need so much help, better to start with a good draft.Op-Tim Istic

As I said in an earlier answer, I think there are more reasons to think the team's record over the second half will be better than there are to the contrary. Admittedly I am assuming the team will be a bit healthier, but I don't have to assume the competition will be worse. The Jets, Bills and Dolphins are clearly less talented than the Patriots. They don't have quarterbacks and I would be surprised if the Patriots go anything less than 5-1 in those six games. So that's at least eight wins right there and a likely division title. Get in the postseason and anything can happen, especially with an experience, well-coach, Brady-led team. By the way, the team is 3-3 right now, almost like 0-0 to start the second half. Why didn't they just give up and prepare for the draft from day one? Funny how what was considered one of the deepest rosters in the game now needs "so much help" that it should start tanking games for good draft position. I think you should start signing your emails, Lun-atic.
Andy Hart

What is wrong with Duane Starks. On almost every big pass play, he gets burned. So I got thinking. Are there any free agent corners like Terrell Buckley and Ashley Ambrose that could help on those long pass plays. One more question. Was Duane Starks worth a third-round pick? Did Scott Pioli see potential in him?
Michael Panelli

As hard as this is to argue following the events of the first six games, I really think Starks is more talented than he is playing right now. I don't think there are any guys on the street that would be a better option. Starks basically said it himself in Denver when he said he'd never felt so good and yet played so bad. I think he will come around at some point, but there certainly haven't been a lot of signs to point to that so far. Right now, he was not worth a third-round pick. But it doesn't matter what he's worth now, that was the market this spring when the deal was made. I think Pioli and Belichick definitely saw and continue to see potential in Starks, but the bottom line is that sooner or later he has to make plays to prove his worth. Until that happens he will continue to be one of the biggest disappointments for the Patriots this season.
Andy Hart

I have what looks like an authentic Patriots helmet. The name on the front is Brewer. Has there ever been a player for the Pats with the name Brewer?Howard Seid

According to the Patriots 2005 Media Guide's all-time team roster (players who have appeared in at least one game or have accrued at least one season of veteran status) no one with the last name Brewer ever played for the team. But that doesn't included players who spent time with the team in the preseason or training camp. The team did select QB Billy Brewer in the 1960 draft and it's possible that there are endless other rookie free agents or camp bodies that could have had a helmet with the name Brewer on it.
Andy Hart

Dear PFW, There was a comment in this week's mailbag (10/18) about Logan Mankins and his ejection from the Denver game. Paul Perillo said that the action is definitely indefensible, but he may have been provoked. I agree 100% with this. Just to let you know, he WAS indeed provoked - if you watch the replay, the Broncos player steps on his hand prior to Mankins' punch. Again, the punch was indefensible... but he was provoked. Thanks.
Nick Proia

That's just part of the game, Nick. It's not being provoked, unless you can prove to me that Ekuban stepped his hand on purpose. Otherwise it's just an unfortunate part of the game and led Mankins to do something that has no place in the game at any time for any reason. Period, end of story.
Andy Hart

I enjoy reading PFW on a regular basis and for the most part all the thoughts and questions that I have had been asked and answered. However, nobody seems to pick up on one defensive loss that I think is the real problem this year -- Keith Traylor at nose tackle. The Pats won two SB with two good nose tackles, both of whom were signed to one year and both of whom wanted long term deals, so they were let go. It is a pretty trivial fact that if you cannot stop the run with your front seven you will not be able to stop big pass plays. I think this year's Pats have the same problem as in 2002 -- no good nose tackle. So, they will probably end with 9-7 record, which may be enough to get them into the playoffs, but not for long. What are your thoughts?Gary Ark

I think you bring up a very good point, Gary. (By the way, do you have a boat and if so is it "Gary's Ark"?) Anyway, Ted Washington and Keith Traylor were both instrumental in New England's defensive success on the way to Super Bowl glory. Washington took the free agent money and ran (well, at his size probably didn't exactly run) to Oakland. Traylor on the other hand was still under contract when the Patriots released him this offseason. While I don't know the exact reason, I think it had something to do with the fact that he's an older big guy with injury concerns who wasn't working out in the team's offseason program. On top of that Traylor had already talked openly about retirement and I'm not sure the team knew where his commitment/focus was. Well, that (and the release of Ethan Kelley after he failed the conditioning run in training camp) has left you with just Vince Wilfork at the nose. Through six weeks I think Wilfork has had a terrible season. I think he's been blown off the ball with regularity and I even remember a play in Denver when he was a few yards down field getting blocked with his back to the line of scrimmage. He's a young, talented player, but I think throwing the entire bulk of the nose tackle duties on his shoulders in his second season was a bit much. He only started six games at the spot a year ago as a rookie. Now he's the one and only real option at the spot. That's a lot of responsibility and so far I am not sure he's lived up to it. I think that, along with injuries and poor play at a lot of other spots, has played a big part in the Patriots defensive struggles.
Andy Hart

Where did Cedric Cobbs finally end up playing, if anywhere?Gorgon Haym

Cobbs is currently on the practice squad in Denver. Just a side note, I saw Cobbs in the press box at Invesco Field and said hello. While he didn't develop as Patriots fans might have liked, Cobbs is a good guy and I am rooting for him to have success somewhere, even if that is pursuing his post-football dream of becoming an actor.
Andy Hart

I know there is a lot of work ahead of the Pats this season and fans are bummed...myself included. But to focus on the positive for a second...how awesome has Tom Brady been so far this year? He has been incredible with his game-winning drives and his passer rating is out of this world. I know wins are a team effort, but let's not forget how lucky we (the fans) are to have Brady, his arm and his positive attitude when the chips are down. Keep the faith people! GO PATS!
Mark Sullivan

Brady does deserve a great deal of praise for his six-game successes. He's on pace to set career numbers and put up record-type passing yards. Whether that can continue over the second half as the weather changes, I don't know. But he's been as productive as any Patriot at this point in the season. And looking around at the rest of the teams in the division, Patriots fans probably couldn't be happier with their own quarterback. So I echo your sentiments that Pats fans should count their QB blessings.
Andy Hart

Dear Paul [Perillo], Read the stats and tell me again how good Richard Seymour is? He had one outstanding game 6 0 2, Pro Bowl numbers, the other two average. So who is insane, not me. Believe me, I want him to excel and this team won't win unless he is healthy and excelling but don't make average numbers which he has for this season something more than it is average. He was hurt last season and hurt now, he has probably been out percentage wise more than Willie [McGinest] has in his career. Respectfully,
Bruce Wadleigh

Yes Bruce, you are insane. Anyone who's watched Seymour play and doesn't think he's been at a Pro Bowl level when healthy in 2005 is nuts. The contributions of a defensive tackle cannot always be measured in just tackles, sacks and other numbers (but even then, Seymour is on pace to set career highs in most categories). Seymour is a guy that demands other teams to game plan for him each week. He can dominate a game at times by making plays. Other times, he dominates by forcing double teams and clearing room for others to make plays. He's got three Pro Bowl nods and two All-Pro honors in four full seasons. He will probably add to that, if he returns to health, again this season. He may even be the best player at his position in the NFL. The only other Patriots that could probably argue the same thing are Brady and Adam Vinatieri. He's that good. Maybe he has missed a similar percentage of time as McGinest, but could McGinest ever even make an argument that he was the best at his position in the league? I didn't think so. He's been a very productive player for a long time, but Seymour is special.
Andy Hart

Assuming Tedy Bruschi plays at least as well as Monty Beisel and Chad Brown have, what do you guys think about Mike Vrabel and Bruschi both playing inside? Vrabel seemed to do decently there against the Broncos, and since Brown is more of an outside backer, the Patriots seem to have better depth, skill-wise, at outside than inside.Chris Brownlee

I think there is a very good chance that over the next couple of weeks Bruschi and Vrabel will establish themselves as New England's starting inside linebackers. That's how the front looked in practice action last week. Vrabel did look very productive against the Broncos and with the potential of using McGinest, Brown, Rosevelt Colvin and even Tully Banta-Cain on the outside, using he and Bruschi on the inside could be the best the team has to offer this season. But this all assumes that Bruschi is able to come back and play at a highly productive level (something I think is very possible). That would leave Beisel to rotate in and would potentially give New England the versatile, playmaking front that's been missing in the early going.
Andy Hart

Hello PFW, I've just noticed a little interesting stat. That the Patriots pass defense is only allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 54% of their passes, or second best in the league...Not bad. However, having said that, I guess you don't have to complete much if your completions are going for long/big plays…any thoughts?George Youngberg

You can always find stats to find to say whatever you want. The New England pass defense has been terrible this season. No number will convince me of anything any different. And you're right, completing 50-percent of your passes for 50, 60 or 70 yards a pop is just as effective or more so than completing 70-percent for 10 yards each. But I think you might have a career in public relations, because that's a tremendous spin job you tried to pull with that one.
Andy Hart

I see Marc Megna (former, Pats, Jets, Bengals) was cut by Montreal in the CFL last month. Do you think the Pats have any interest? I know he is a smart player with speed. Maybe backup LB or special teams??
Steve Maurer

No offense, but have things gotten so bad that the Patriots need to resort to bringing in CFL castoffs? (Yes, I know Earthwind Moreland fit that bill and help this team win last year.) I don't think the linebacker play has been that bad or that there is a real need on special teams at this point. But on another personal side note, I played against Megna in high school. Boy, was he a dominant player at that level. He was a man among boys. And yes, I was one of those boys.
Andy Hart

Hey can I ask you guys a few questions about the '85 Patriots? As a relatively new fan ( I have no recollection of any Pats teams prior to 1994) i want to know a little about their first Super Bowl team. Who was playing QB- was it [Scott] Zolak? also, who were the best players on the team, what chances did everybody give the Patriots to win the game before they were mercilessly slaughtered? Oh, one more thing... In Madden 06 you can play as historical teams, including the 04 Pats, 03, 01, 96, 85, and also the '76 Pats- were they good or something?Ed Plunkett

Tony Eason was the starting quarterback for the '85 Pats, although he was replaced by veteran backup Steve Grogan midway through the season. Grogan led the on a winning streak until he broke his leg in a game in late November. Eason returned to the starting role, leading the team to a wild card playoff berth and three playoff wins to get to the Super Bowl before being replaced again by Grogan in the big game after an extremely ineffective start. The Patriots were double-digit underdogs to the dominant Bears in Super Bowl XX and weren't given a shot to win outside the borders of Patriots Nation. That '85 Pats team was led by eight Pro Bowl players including cornerback Raymond Clayborn, returnman Irving Fryar, guard John Hannah, tackle Brian Holloway, running back Craig James, free safety Fred Marion, linebacker Steve Nelson and linebacker Andre Tippett. James led the offense with 1,227 yards rushing, while fellow running back Tony Collins chipped in with another 657 yards rushing. Collins led the team with 52 receptions for 549 yards. Defensively, Marion led a playmaking unit with seven interceptions, followed by Clayborn with six picks. The defense pressured the quarterback to the tune of 51 sacks, including 16.5 for Tippett.
The 1976 Patriots were very good and considered by some to be the best Patriots team ever. The team went 11-3 in the regular season and lost 24-21 to the Raiders in the playoffs thanks in large part to a controversial roughing the passer penalty. Grogan (a record 12 rushing touchdowns) led that team as a young running quarterback that helped a rushing attack that totaled 2,948 yards and averaged 5.0 yards a carry as a group.
And by the way, I don't have a recollection of games pre-1994 either. Just kidding. But really, many new fans do act like Patriots history began in 2001, so I am glad you brought up the '85 team that is celebrating its 20-year anniversary this season.
Andy Hart

To thy PATS fans, vote for thy player from the PATS for the Pro Bowl...That's all I really gotta say, plus GO PATS!!!Jan Yaakoob

Go do your thing, Patriots Nation. Show the power of the technologically equipped New England sports fan. And Jan, is that your real last name? I'm not buying it.
Andy Hart

My question is, how do you rate our draft going back 3 years. Especially the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th-round picks. I rate it a C and that is stretching it. Thanks
Bob Sulik

Looking at the 2002, 2003 and 2004 drafts (I am assuming we disregard this season because it is way too early to evaluate) I would be a little more generous than you and go with a B to B-minus. I think the top three picks in all three years are good players with the chance to contribute for this team for a long time. Looking at the mid rounds, 2004 is a disappointment (Marquise Hill, Guss Scott, Dexter Reid and Cedric Cobbs), 2003 brought you a pair of starters in the secondary in Eugene Wilson and Asante Samuel, as well as a two contributors in Dan Klecko and Bethel Johnson, making it a more than capable draft, and 2002 gave you a Super Bowl MVP in Deion Branch and a long term defensive contributor in Jarvis Green, wrapped around a disappointment in Rohan Davey. The back end of the 2002 draft was the best, with the team getting starting wide receiver David Givens in the seventh round, although 2003 is close with the addition of starting center Dan Koppen in the fifth round. I would say the biggest downside to the three drafts is the fact that none of the three has proven to provide a true star like Richard Seymour in 2001 or Tom Brady in 2002. Other than that the depth has been solid and the starting level players developed has at least been adequate. Based on the early reports, 2005 could be similar, decent talent and depth, but maybe no true stud.
Andy Hart

Could you please update me on what extra picks the Patriots have in next year's draft and how they received them. Thank you.Steve Raffa

As of now the Patriots have one pick in each of the seven rounds of the 2006 draft and an additional pick in the third and fourth rounds. The extra third-round pick came in a draft day 2005 trade with the Ravens, while the extra fourth came in a draft day trade with the Lions. New England had an extra fifth-round pick, but traded one the two to the Browns in training camp for receiver Andre' Davis.
Andy Hart

I have watched every game this year and other than the lack of production in the running game the biggest change I have noticed on the offensive side of the ball is infrequent utilization of the screen pass. It seems to me they used it more frequently in the last few years. When we have used it this year (2 to 4 times per game) it has been for big yards. Do you think we should use them more and why don't we?SFC Gerard Dubois

How many times do you want to run screens? I think they work best as a change-of-pace call, along the lines of a draw play. Go to them too often and thye lose their effectiveness. Beyond that I think there are plenty of other options for this team to turn to. A few years ago the offense didn't have the weapons it has now and screens were more a necessity. Now you have talented wide outs, a trio of pass catching tight ends, a dominant running back (although I know the numbers don't show it through six games) and one of the best quarterbacks in the game. The screen can be successful, as they have been at times this season, but shouldn't become the basis of this offense. The bottom line in the running game is the offensive line needs to do a better job on the line of scrimmage opening holes for Dillon and not forcing him to make cuts in the backfield as soon as he gets the handoff. Dillon is dangerous if he gets moving forward and has even a little room to work with. When those holes open up through physical work by the line, not by any trickery or scheming, the New England running game will become more successful. Not to mention, the team's best screen back (Kevin Faulk) is sidelined for the near future with a foot injury.
Andy Hart

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