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Ask PFW: Cassel concerns

Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour, Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi, Matt Light and Kevin Faulk have all had great runs with the Patriots. Can't we just enshrine them in the Patriots Hall of Fame and get on with the business of finding out which of the kids can really play? Or am I the only one who would like to see the Pats fast track the rebuilding this team?Chris Noble

I'm not sure if you're the only one, but there can't be many of you who believe the Patriots have no chance to win in a league filled with parity at this point. I understand your desire to get younger, and I agree with it, but is a total rebuilding job necessary for that to happen? Jerod Mayo is a fixture inside. Brandon Meriweather (second year) is a big part of the secondary. Pierre Woods (third year) is getting time on the outside. Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite will likely be worked into the mix in the secondary as the season progresses. That's a nice dose of youth for the defense. On offense, Laurence Maroney is in just his third year and David Thomas is also a third-year player. The rest of the starters aren't exactly spring chickens but they also aren't ready for social security, either. Each member of the group you mentioned above has played well thus far. Bruschi and Harrison could possibly be in their final seasons, but the rest will likely be back. Do you want Bill Belichick to bench them in favor of unproven players even though those veterans are still productive and winning games? I don't think that sounds like a recipe for future success.
Paul Perillo

I really think Matt Cassel should be benched. We all gave him a chance. If the coaches aren't considering giving the other QBs a chance, then they should go to an outside source. Who knows how the outcome will be when we face teams far better than the Dolphins. And can someone please explain what's the deal with Ellis Hobbs. He should be kept on special teams. I really think it would be a good idea to sign Ty Law. I hear all he wants is $6million. The secondary looked clueless out there. It would be a good look if Deltha and Law where the starting corners. The linemen need to step it up. They made Chad Pennington look like Tom Brady with all that time. Anyway these are my opinions and suggestions.
Paul Alexis

Wow, Paul, you must be the life of the party where you hang out. How this team managed to win two of its first three games is fairly remarkable considering everyone stinks according to you. You think three games – two of which he played well – represents "a chance" for Cassel to prove himself. It's time to make a move at quarterback because Cassel has had sufficient opportunity to show what he can do? I don't agree with that. Cassel wasn't part of the problem against Miami, even though he didn't play particularly well. He's still learning and gaining experience. If a few more weeks go by and his play seems to be regressing, then maybe I'd be open to a change, especially if the team is losing. But until that happens I feel Cassel gives the team the best chance to win.

As for Hobbs, I've been somewhat critical of him over the years but I actually thought he played a terrific game against the Jets. He's been more aggressive in his coverage thus far, and even though he hasn't been perfect, he's been better than in the past. Ty Law wants too much money at this stage of his career, where he'd be little more than a part-time player. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to have him and I believe he'd add depth to the secondary. But if he's looking for $6 million, as you claim, then I'd have to pass.
Paul Perillo

The defense didn't look all that great against the Fins. Could this persuade our front office into giving a call to Junior Seau? And/or do you think that would be a good idea?
Scott Macone

I'm not sure Junior Seau would have made much of a difference against Miami. First, Jerod Mayo and Tedy Bruschi have played well thus far. Second, it was poor play from the defensive line that opened up the running game for Miami in that disappointing loss. I'm not sure how Seau would have corrected those problems up front. If Seau is interested in coming back, which is by no means a certainty at this point, then it probably would make sense to explore that possibility. But I'd assume Seau would only be an option if a starter were to get injured.
Paul Perillo

I think that the coaches have throttled back the offense too much to try to help Matt Cassel. But if he can't run the offense full tilt why is he out there if the first place. What do you think?Bob Eaton

I do think the coaches were guilty of being too conservative in the passing game through the first three games. They allowed Cassel to throw plenty but mostly short stuff around the line of scrimmage. I'd expect that to change in the coming weeks and for the offense to have more of a vertical look. Cassel has a strong arm and with confidence will start to hit some big plays if given the chance. Randy Moss showed last year that he doesn't need the pass to be perfect for him to make a big play. I'd like to see Cassel get some chances to make some of those. I don't think the game plan has been an indication of the coaches' belief that Cassel can't run the offense full tilt. And even if it did, Cassel is playing obviously because the staff feels he gives the team the best chance to win – so that's why he's out there. I just think they've tried to have him avoid mistakes with safe throws in an effort to get him some confidence before putting too much on his plate. Tom Brady has never lacked confidence a day in his life and the coaches used a very similar approach for his first few games back in 2001.
Paul Perillo

I have an alternative for the Patriots: Start Kevin O'Connell. Here's why: First, Matt Cassel is on the last year of his contract. If he turns the corner, the defense recovers and we find ourselves deep into the playoffs, we are going to have to pay him a lot of money to have him stick around. On the other hand, if it never clicks for Cassel, we would have squandered a great opportunity to give an entire season of playing time to our projected backup (perhaps even eventual starter), O'Connell. Which brings me to my second point. As it stands now, we have two QBs on the roster with about the same amount of NFL real game experience (O'Connell actually played all four years at San Diego State). If we are going to break one of them in, shouldn't it be the guy that is going to be here longer, is younger and more athletically gifted? I know the term "upside" is an overused and vague term, but I think it applies here. I'm not knocking Cassel. I think he might be all right if given the chance. His numbers are eerily similar to Brady's back in 2001. I'm just thinking about the team both now, as well as in the future. Give Kevin a shot for three games, and see what happens. I don't really see how the offense can produce any less than it has this year so far. Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts.Jeremy Roy

You make a lot of interesting points, Jeremy. I just think you're jumping the gun a bit. Right now, Cassel is light years ahead of O'Connell and gives the team a better chance to win. Now, that might be the case all season. Who knows, it might not even be the case when the bye is finally over and the team gets ready to play more games. Cassel's experience in the system gives him a huge leg up on O'Connell at this point. I agree with your point about Cassel not being part of the future. If he plays well he'll likely earn a decent contract via free agency. If he plays poorly he won't likely be welcomed back, and not many other teams would want him, either. But if the Patriots are to have legitimate playoff aspirations in 2008, Cassel would seem to be the guy to get them there. A rookie would have an awfully tough time handling that kind of responsibility. Even Brady had a year of experience under his belt before he took over for Drew Bledsoe in 2001. I'm not saying it won't happen because I've seen Belichick do too many things that caught us by surprise. But my guess is if and when Belichick makes a move it would be after Cassel struggles for a time and the won-loss record is not playoff-caliber. At that point, O'Connell would make more sense.
Paul Perillo

Saw some of the people's comments on the situation with the Patriots. I hated the Drew Bledsoe years and that looks like what we have here again. Cassel is like a Bledsoe, has all the quarterback requirements but loses too many times. Brady is my favorite player of all time. Some past great Patriot quarterbacks were Steve Grogan and Doug Flutie. Wish Flutie could come back, he wins and makes games fun and interesting. Even Scott Zolak was a better quarterback than Cassel. I always favored Zolak over Bledsoe, big time. These last three games of the 2008 season have been the boringest games I have ever seen. Winning ugly and losing badly. The rookie O'Connell should be the man in there until Brady comes back.
Roy Jordan

I usually delete posts like this but I found so much humor in this one that I decided to keep it. So winning two out of three games is boring to you (sorry, boringest)? I'd hate to see you during a three-game losing streak … they'd have to take your shoelaces away. Most of our readers know I'm a big Bledsoe fan, but even his detractors would have to admit he's the second-best quarterback in team history, and Scott Zolak himself would laugh at your assessment of him. You must have really hated going to the Super Bowl in 1996 with Bledsoe at the helm.
Paul Perillo

What is going on with the offensive line? Starting (I believe) in the Super Bowl they became a sieve. They have been unable to protect the QB with any regularity and as a result Cassel has not been given a true tryout at the position. I would like to see him have at least a couple of seconds to look downfield before the flood gates burst and he gets hammered into the ground. Remember Brady standing back there like he was waiting for a bus? Did the line get old overnight or what?Jay Brooks

Can you tell me how the offensive line seems to always escape criticism? Cassel may not have been great but it's hard for any QB to look good when he seems to be facing a jailbreak most plays (ala Brady in the Super Bowl). The things teams learned from the SB was not that Brady is less good under pressure, it was that the line can't stop the blitz. Fair criticism or not?
Cal Roberts

I'm not sure why you think the line escapes criticism – they were pretty much single-handedly blamed for the Super Bowl loss for the past six months. The line has been under the gun all offseason and they were even blamed – unfairly – for Brady's injury in the opener. That play came on a safety blitz and Sammy Morris picked up Bernard Pollard. Morris did his job and Pollard did his by not quitting on the play. But still the line came under question. I feel the Patriots front is solid but unspectacular. They had three members earn Pro Bowl trips last season but I feel that was largely the result of the team's overall success. I think the group is usually pretty solid in pass protection and rarely gets fooled by blitzes that result in runaway rushers. But I also think Brady covered up for some of their weaknesses at times. Overall, I think the offensive line is average and with Cassel at the helm it's probably not going to look as good as it has in the past.
Paul Perillo

Why are so many in the sports news suddenly saying Belichick is nothing without Brady? Am I crazy or did Belichick also win two Super Bowls as the defensive coordinator of the Giants, take a Browns team 5-11 in his first year and then 11-5 in the next year and to the AFC championship (before being booed out of Cleveland by those buckeye nutjobs) and then take a mediocre Patriots team talent wise to the Super Bowl in his second year as head coach and then add two more super bowls, a super bowl berth, and two more playoff appearances? How can they even ask the question?Zackary Barron

Obviously it's pretty apparent that both Brady and Belichick are at or near the top of their respective professions. Both have achieved a tremendous amount in the game of football. With that said, the reason people will question either of them is because their success has come largely together. That may not be fair, but it's a fact. Belichick was not a very successful head coach before he got Brady. He was the head coach in Cleveland for five years and had one winning season – his fourth. He did not go to the AFC Championship Game with the Browns, as you said, and he didn't go from 5-11 to 11-5 in his second year. He went 6-10, 7-9 and 7-9 before going 11-5 in 1994. They then dropped to 5-11 in 1995 when the team announced its move to Baltimore. The mediocre Patriots team, and all the other Patriots accomplishments you mentioned, all came with Brady at quarterback. So having someone say that Belichick is nothing without Brady may not be accurate but there's a reason people say it. I believe both are outstanding and over the long run would prove to be great without the other to lean on.
Paul Perillo

I have been looking for news on Tom Brady's surgery with no luck. Has the surgery taken place? Any news would be great.Charlie Villemaire

The surgery has not taken place yet because doctors are reportedly waiting for the torn MCL to heal before repairing the torn ACL. Usually that process takes about a month, which would be around the second week of October. There have been reports that the surgery will take place in California. Other than that, Brady has been around the team's offices occasionally but has yet to discuss anything with the media.
Paul Perillo

When Brady was on the line, after a play call, he would always seem to be making adjustments to react to the defense, (54 is the Mic, etc.) and pointing at people who looked like blitzers. Does it seem to you like Cassel is making those adjustments? I haven't noticed him commanding the offense at the line, at all. Do you think that's played into the poor protection?
Will B.

Ever since Bill Belichick came to New England in 2000, Patriots quarterbacks have called out the Mike on every single snap – game or practice – that I've witnessed. Cassel has done the same. Now, in terms of adjustments and reads, obviously Cassel is not going to be as effective as Brady was in doing those things. I'm sure that's one reason he's been under more pressure than Brady usually was each week. Assessing a quarterback's ability to read and recognize defenses is an impossible task for a non-coach who is not familiar with the play calls and things of that nature.
Paul Perillo

I know Troy Brown holds a number of Patriots team records but I was wondering, does he hold any NFL Records?Erik Lesko

Troy holds five team records – most catches, playoff catches, playoff receiving yards, punt returns (number and yards) and single-game receptions. He does not hold any NFL records, however.
Paul Perillo

I'm a bit of a football junky and I've been looking over player stats recently and I noticed something odd. In 2004 Peyton Manning threw for 4,557 yards, 49 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and had a completion percentage of 67.6. Now in 2007 Tom Brady threw for 4,806 yards, 50 touchdowns, eight interceptions and had a completion percentage of 68.9. So one would assume that Brady would have the higher passer rating because his numbers were better, and yet he does not. Manning's rating was a 121.1 and Brady's was 117.2. So my question is, did they change the formula for calculating quarterback ratings between 2004 and 2007?Wesley Nickle

They have not changed the formula during those years. While Brady's numbers were slightly better in all the categories you listed, Manning did his work in far fewer throws, which gave him a 9.17 yards per attempt compared to Brady's 8.31. Manning threw just 497 passes in 2004 compared to Brady's 578 last year. So Brady needed 81 more attempts to throw for 249 more yards. Since the completion percentages, yards, touchdowns and interceptions were virtually the same, the only category that was markedly different was attempts, and yards per attempt is one of the many criteria that goes into calculating passer rating.
Paul Perillo

Do you think that the Pats will have the ability of going back to that old Patriots football? If you remember, during the Championship seasons the core of the team was the defense, and Tom Brady just managed the game (of course he also had some great performances as well). But we used to win games with scores such as 10-7 or 17-14; it wasn't until 2005 that Tom had to put the team on his back. I see Tom's injury as an opportunity to go back to the type of ball that gave us three SB. And sure, it's not the same team, but I think that the D and a good game-manager in Cassel can pull it off. What's your take on those ideas?Phillip Chicola

I think you're right about the strength of the Super Bowl teams being defense, but I also think you're underestimating Brady a bit. You casually mention that he had some great performances. Do you really think the Patriots win three Super Bowls without some of those great performances? Even in 2001, when Brady wasn't asked to do too much and the team relied on the running game and the defense, Brady was huge down the stretch. In wins over San Diego, the Jets, Buffalo and Oakland in the playoffs – not to mention the Super Bowl – Brady made plays late in the games that were the difference. If the Patriots lose any of those games an argument could be made that they don't win the Super Bowl. Brady was a bigger part of the team's success in 2003 and 2004 than you're giving him credit for. Without him, I don't think we'd have those shiny trophies sitting at Gillette Stadium.
Paul Perillo

Is there even the slightest chance that Tom Brady could return this season, even for a late playoff game, if we can make it? If Cassel fails again, do you think Belichick would look for a big name experienced QB somewhere?
A.J. Simms

Brady was placed on injured reserve so that means he cannot return to the active roster at any time this season – playoffs included.
Paul Perillo

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