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Patriots Replay Fri May 29 | 12:00 AM - 11:58 PM

Ask PFW: Cassel and more

Why is this team giving up so many sacks? Once considered one of the best in the league, they have been torn into shreds this season. So is it 1.) Matt Cassel's inability to get rid of the ball quick enough? Or 2.) The O-line is simply not as good as we thought they were, and that Tom Brady is in fact the one that makes the sack numbers small by getting rid of the ball quickly.Shawn Woo

Not to sound like a politician in this election season, but I think there's some truth to both of your points. Cassel definitely hasn't gotten rid of the ball as quickly and effectively as Brady would when a play breaks down. Brady would simply throw it away while Cassel is choosing to take the sack. A lot of inexperienced quarterbacks do that so as to avoid throwing costly interceptions. But I also can't allow the offensive line to escape without mention. Brady definitely made the group look better than it actually is, always knowing where the pressure was coming from and sliding effectively around the pocket to buy some valuable time to make plays. There have been some breakdowns in protection this season that likely would have resulted in sacks of Brady as well. The line is solid, but not as spectacular as allowing only 21 sacks last year would suggest. One item that fans might find interesting – I mentioned that young quarterbacks often take sacks rather than throw the ball away. In Brady's first year as the starter in 2001 he was sacked 41 times in 14 starts. Cassel is on pace for more than that, but you can see how dramatically Brady cut back on those sacks as he gained experience. Cassel will likely get better in that department as the season wears on.
Paul Perillo

I was looking at our last four drafts and starting to realize the draft is really an inexact science. To be blunt we have not fared too well lately and it is causing major depth problems now and probably for the next three years. A couple of numbers for you. In the 2007 draft we had nine selections of which only two made the team. The 2006 draft only two guys are still around. The 2005 draft was a big success seven picks and five players still here, and 2004 once again not so good with eight picks and only two players still on the active roster with one player from that draft, Marquise Hill, deceased. I think a lot of this has gone unnoticed with the tremendous success of the team but eventually this will catch up to us and I think it's starting to happen. Your comments and thoughts would be most welcome.John Merlesena

I tend to agree with your overall assessment that the drafting hasn't been as strong lately as it was earlier in Bill Belichick's tenure. And I also agree that while we haven't really seen that as a huge problem yet as the team continues to win, the nucleus of this team's success is getting older and at some point the young guys need to fill in as effectively if not better than the guys they'll be replacing. Right now, it's hard to say how that will go based on the drafting that you analyzed. But I do have a couple of points I'd like to make to illustrate some positives. First, back in 2001 when the team quite simply wasn't all that talented, it was far easier for Belichick to draft players who found immediate roles. Richard Seymour and Matt Light were the best players at their positions the day they were drafted so it was easy for them to earn starting roles. Today, it's much more difficult for a player to come in and start right away given the level of talent in place. Another point is the team's draft position is always at or near the bottom of the round, which obviously makes it tougher. It's not surprising that the team's best first-round pick in recent years came last April with Jerod Mayo at No. 10.
Paul Perillo

What is the difference between the "new" rule allowing teams to defer to the second half, and the "old" rule of simply choosing to kick rather than receive?Ryan W.

Here's something that has been pestering me all season: the supposed coin flip "rule change" wherein the team that wins the flip can "defer their choice" to the second half. It's not a change! It's the same choice --get the ball now, or get the ball at the start of the second half. The only exception would be if a team gave up the ball to start the game, then chose to give it up again to start the second half; which I can't even think of a scenario to justify.Kenyon Gagne

Well Kenyon, the NFL certainly went through a lot of trouble to explain their rule change if they in fact weren't changing the rule. Obviously, they did change it, and here's the difference Ryan. In the past, the team that won the opening toss had a choice of whether to take the ball or choose which end to defend. In the second half, the team that lost the toss had the same choice. So even if the winning team chose to defend the north goal and wound up kicking off to start the game, the other team would have the choice to start the second half. That's why every team that won the toss under the old rule always took the ball. Otherwise, it would have meant kicking off to start both halves, and no team would want that. The new rule offers the winning team the choice of taking the ball at the start of the game or the start of the second half. The Patriots won the toss on opening day and chose to take the ball and put their record-setting offense immediately on the field. After Brady got hurt, the Patriots have been deferring their option to the second half when they win the opening toss, as they did against the Rams. It's a slight difference, but there was most definitely a change to the rule.
Paul Perillo

So hopefully you have a little knowledge of the situation unless I missed something along the way, but what's the news with Brady? I know he probably underwent surgery and some treatment by now, but when, or is, he going to be on the sidelines? I remember when Drew Bledsoe was on the sidelines for him.Ben Thompson

It's hard to imagine anyone not hearing about Brady's surgery (it took place Oct. 6) and subsequent infection but we'll offer an update. Brady had surgery in Los Angeles and soon developed an infection that reportedly required three additional procedures to clean out the infected area. The infection has delayed the start of his rehab but a doctor who consulted on the case believes Brady's knee will be good as new in due time. As for his presence on the sideline, there is a big difference between his case and Bledsoe's: Bledsoe was still an active member of the team. Brady is on injured reserve. Even after Brady's knee is well enough for him to stand for three hours on the sideline, I wouldn't expect to see much of him. He'll continue to help Cassel anyway he can (via phone, meetings, etc.) but I don't think that will be as an extra set of eyes on the bench.
Paul Perillo

After Matt Cassel has seen increased success as a quarterback, do you see him being re-signed next year?Tom Wilson

Since the Patriots are in the playoff hunt without a horrible collapse, do you think Cassel might get an extension to his contract beyond this year? He seems to be improving every start.
Cole Wiegmann

I think Cassel has been every bit as effective as anyone could have hoped. He's done a nice job of keeping the offense together and avoiding mistakes for the most part. However, I don't see a scenario where he remains in a Patriots uniform next season. If he continues to perform well he would no doubt draw interest from around the league as a free agent. If he bottoms out and hits a cold spell, then the Patriots wouldn't likely want to invest in him any further either. So the best case for the Patriots would be for him to play well the rest of the way and have a rival overpay for his services in the offseason while New England promotes rookie Kevin O'Connell to the No. 2 spot. There's always a chance that Belichick decided to offer him a modest deal and Cassel decides the comfort of New England is worth staying for, but that would have to be considered a long shot.
Paul Perillo

With the rash of injuries at running back, would it be really crazy for the Patriots to look at and sign Shaun Alexander? He has not been signed by anyone and might be willing to sign for less money for the chance to showcase his skills post injury.
Don Dube

I could think of a lot of solutions that would make less sense than signing a former NFL MVP as insurance at running back given all the team's struggles staying healthy at that position. But unfortunately Alexander signed with Washington a couple of weeks ago. The good news, I guess, is that Alexander didn't do much in his first few games as a Redskin. But given the Patriots current situation, having Alexander as a possibility would have made sense.
Paul Perillo

Why are there no more player photos in the middle of the Patriots Football Weekly editions anymore?Mike Goodwin

Space constraints caused our posters to become a casualty for a few issues but you'll be happy to hear that they're back, Mike. Starting with issue No. 20, the Rams recap issue, posters will be back in the middle of PFW like they always are during the season. We apologize for the few issues that had to go without.
Paul Perillo

Please help me solve an argument. Who was it that during the playoffs a few years back made a reception and fumbled, however, during the play he was knocked unconscious, his head was on the sideline out of bounds and the fumbled ball touched his leg that was still in the field of play? Was this play one of the main reasons the Pats won that game or most certainly would have lost if the fumble went to the other team?
Brian Doobs

The play you're talking about occurred in Buffalo in December of 2001. David Patten caught the pass near the sideline and was belted to the ground. He fumbled the ball and was knocked out, which caused his head to fall to the turf. About 95 percent of his body was still in the field of play, as was the football, but Patten's head fell limp and touched the sideline. At the same time, the ball was touching his leg, which meant the ball was out of bounds. The Bills had scooped up the fumble and were deep in Patriots territory in overtime where a short field goal likely would have won Buffalo the game. Had the Patriots lost, it's possible they would not have won the division and received the first-round bye. So I guess one could say they wouldn't have won the Super Bowl, but it's quite a stretch to say that one play in a regular-season game decided the championship.
Paul Perillo

With Rodney Harrison on IR, what is the status of John Lynch? The reason he was in training camp and then released had to be for this type of problem.
Lance Thornton

With Rodney Harrison out for the season is there any hope that we can see John Lynch back in a patriots uniform adding depth and hard hits to the secondary?
Jeffrey Weathermon

I think the reason Lynch was in training camp was because Belichick felt he could help the team. I also think the reason he was let go was because Belichick watched him and no longer felt that was the case. Lynch appeared more than a step slow in coverage and was inconsistent in his tackling. It certainly looked like his long, successful career was over, and the fact that no one picked him up – including the Patriots with their injury-filled secondary – seems to back up that claim.
Paul Perillo

As we all know that Pats biggest weakness is their DBs, they don't have a "shutdown" corner. Do you guys think that they will go after someone like Nnamdi Asomugha, who I believe will be a free agent next year? I think he's the best if not one of the top three corners in the game today.
Talwinder Singh

I don't get a chance to watch Oakland play very much, but when I have seen Asomugha play I have been as impressed as you have. He's a terrific cover corner in the Champ Bailey mold, and opponents don't throw the ball his way too often. He was franchised this season so there's a possibility that he will be a free agent next year, but that's not a certainty. I'm not sure the Patriots would break the bank to sign him when they seemed unwilling to do that for Asante Samuel, who also is among the top handful of corners in the league. Samuel "only" got $57 million from Philadelphia, which is a high price but not outrageous. I would guess that Asomugha would be looking for at least that and likely more. Maybe the Patriots believe he's a much better player than Samuel and will be willing to pony up, but I doubt it. They've succeeded in the past with average to below average play from their corners and likely will try to do the same going forward.
Paul Perillo

I was never really convinced about Laurence Maroney, even after his strong showing at the end of last year. Even before his injury this year, he was less than impressive, although some of that was certainly the O line. My question is this, what do you think the chances are of the Pats finally packaging Maroney and their other underwhelming high draft pick, Chad Jackson, while they're still young?Brian McElwee

It's a little late for that trade scenario to unfold since the Patriots cut Jackson before the season and he's now playing in Denver. As for Maroney, I was intrigued by his late-season development last year and thought he'd be ready to make the jump to the league's upper echelon of running backs this year. I was obviously wrong since that didn't happen. Maroney seems to be struggling with some issues that he's been vague about. Whether those were injury related and landed him in injured reserve is unknown. But when he did play this year he seemed unwilling to employ the straight-ahead style that served him well down the stretch last year. He was looking for the big play all the time and ultimately didn't make any. He's still young enough to make an impact in this league, but I have my doubts about whether that will ever happen in New England. Either way, I don't think talent is the problem. He just needs to get physically and mentally tougher.
Paul Perillo

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