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Ask PFW: Close call concerns

Why was Eddie Jackson playing instead of Brandon Meriweather? Jackson hasn't been a star in his career and he got burned by the Eagles, whereas a lot is expected from first round picks. Does this indicate that #31 is a disappointment, or is he like Ty Warren and just needs a year before he starts contributing? Thanks.Pete M.

Why was Eugene Wilson inactive for the Eagles game? He is a long time starter at safety and a fairly decent one. He is not injured that I know of. All of a sudden he is nowhere to be seen. Can you fill us in on what went on to bring about this sudden change?Preston Holmes III

I have noticed that Brandon Meriweather has not been on the field (at least he doesn't seem to be involved in any plays) for some time now. I didn't think much of it until the Eagles game when the likes of Ellis Hobbs and [Randall Gay] had to take themselves out of the game and Meriweather still did not get on the field. Is he on IR, am I just missing him or has he fallen so far on the depth chart that recently activated practice squad players are getting on the field in front of him? I thought he was a nice draft selection for the defense (youth, speed and a willingness to hit) but it seems unusual that a first rounder would not be playing and having more of an impact than he is.Don MacKinnon
N.Y.

Are E. Jackson and R. Baker legitimately ahead of B. Meriweather on the depth chart or is he being disciplined?Chris Noble

The issues of the New England secondary were a common topic among emailers this week, which is understandable following the group's Sunday night performance. Rodney Harrison admitted the unit had a bad day in allowing A.J. Feeley to basically have his way throwing the ball around to open receivers. Save for Asante Samuel's two key interceptions, the secondary (combine with a lack of pass rush) could very well have left the Patriots feeling defeat for the first time. The unit needs to improve because we've seen other teams (Bills, Browns, Cowboys and others) find open receiver in the secondary all year when game were actually competitive. There is no question in my mind at this point that the defensive backfield's pass defense is the biggest weakness on this team right now. I'm not sure at this point that it's a fatal flaw that will cost the team a perfect season or Super Bowl, but as Bill Belichick would say, isn't what we're looking for.
As for the personnel in the group, based on Sunday night it's clear that both Meriweather and Wilson are near the bottom of the unit's depth chart. Wilson was removed from the injury report last week, apparently now healthy after the ankle injury that had limited him previously, and there was an apparent healthy inactive against the Eagles. That's quite a fall for the guy who was the starter at free safety when healthy over the last four years and jumped out to a great start on his playmaking career over his first two seasons. Since then he's been oft-injured and has been an incredible disappointment.
Meriweather also has to be considered a huge disappointment at this point as guys like Baker and Jackson are considered by the coaching staff to be better options for the defense. Meriweather has been active every week, but basically as a special teamer and nothing more. That's not good. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees alluded to difficulties for all players learning the New England scheme as a reason some guys take longer to make an impact, but at this point it's hard to fathom that Meriweather doesn't have enough of a handle on the playbook to get on the field at some point as a sixth or seventh defensive back. It's too early to give up on the first-round pick who was such a versatile playmaker at Miami, but he clearly has a long way to go.
One last thing, Warren showed way more as a rookie than Meriweather has. He was able to get on the field at both nose tackle and end and made plays. People seem to forget that while he wasn't an instant impact playmaker, he did enough to earn reps on defense. Meriweather hasn't been able to do that.

Andy Hart

Some tabloids are talking about what other teams can learn to beat us. Meanwhile Tom Brady says that Pats need to learn from this game. So my question is what? What can we do better to counter other good teams using the Eagles "blueprint"?Larry G.

Not sure what you mean by tabloids, unless you are referring to places like the Boston Globe and ESPN. That's where I've seen a lot of the so-called blueprint talk. Is the National Enquirer doing a story on the blueprint? Sounds a little tame for their usual stuff. I like it better when they do things like "Britney bombshell: Talentless singer saves drowning fish."
I don't really agree with all the blueprint chatter. The Eagles had a great game plan on both sides of the ball and, more importantly, did a pretty good job of executing on both sides of the ball. It's not just about defending Brady and Co. In order to challenge the Patriots teams must move the ball on offense and score points. That's what the Eagles did. Feeley ate up the New England secondary and took advantage of almost everything the defense was giving him. In the end, though, it still wasn't enough as the Patriots made the plays they had to for the victory over the huge underdog. The theories of the blueprint have been there all along. You have to pressure Tom Brady while maintaining an ability to disrupt Moss and the rest of the receivers. You also have to score points and move the ball to help stay with New England as well as to help keep Brady and the offense off the field. But making it happen is another story. Not too many have been able to do that, and regardless of all this blueprint talk I don't think too many teams moving forward will be able to do it either.
Andy Hart

I'm curious - how many dropped passes were there in the Eagles game?
Paul Shaw

According to PFW's very much unofficial statistics (You don't get much more unofficial than having them done by Patriots.com's own Erik Scalavino) the Patriots dropped four passes in Sunday night's win over Philly and have dropped 24 passes over the course of the season to date.
Andy Hart

With A.J. Feeley torching the left side of the field, he made Ellis Hobbs look like Duane Starks out there. Further, with the activation of Eddie Jackson, who looked completely lost on the touchdown he gave up, should Pats fans be a little concerned about the play of the secondary? (excluding Samuel, who the Pats better re-sign)Graham Smith

As I said to kick off the mailbag, the secondary's play is my biggest concern moving forward, as it has been throughout the course of the season. I agree that Hobbs has had a pretty bad year. He seems to always be giving his receivers huge cushions and allows them to catch way too many passes in front of him. He doesn't seem to close on the ball well, misses too many tackles at the line of scrimmage and has just two interceptions over the last two years while Samuel has had 18 in the same span. I'm not saying we should compare Hobbs to Samuel, that's not fair, but playing opposite one of the best corners in the game should give Hobbs enough chances to make a couple plays. He hasn't done that.
The coverage in the middle of the field has been inconsistent, too. One week Harrison is shutting down Dallas Clark. A couple weeks later he's struggling to stay with L.J. Smith and Matt Schobel. That's not good. Too many guys have been running free in the New England secondary all year. That needs to be tightened up in the coming weeks or sooner or later it could cost the team a game. If that happens in the postseason it will be a stunning end to what has the makings of an historic year.
Andy Hart

I, like most of Patriots Nation, am a little concerned about our team. Were our shortcomings last [Sunday] night a result of personal execution, or Eagles game plan? Our defense scares me sometimes. Was this a one-time deal, or will other teams be able to duplicate the Eagles success. I don't know too much about the Xs and Os of the game, but it seemed like John and Al were able to pick up on the short slant route vulnerability in our defense. Is this a real concern? I don't believe that it would be that simple... they can't be the first to try this! I don't buy into any real struggles for the offense, I think they tried to force the ball to Moss too much when Wes Welker and Jabar Gaffney seemed to be open on most plays. However, I do believe that we need a running game to win the Super Bowl, and I have yet to see one. I am hoping that this is some BB plan to unleash some rushing fury on the rest of the league in the playoffs. Lastly, where is the pass rush?!?! That was terrible!!! Thanks, you guys do a great job, so please ease my tensions... we host Pitt in a couple weeks, and that now scares me a lot!Chas Andres

I've been telling people all year that the Steelers have the type of balanced team that could scare the Patriots. Did you see the way they handled the winless Dolphins 3-0 last night? I told you they are great.
Seriously, this email pretty much sums up all the concerns coming off the Eagles game. New England never even tried to run the ball (or even put Laurence Maroney in the game) until the second half. The pass rush left the secondary helpless to cover the Eagles receivers.
The only thing I'll say about the short routes, intermediate routes and in-cuts is that I think that was a by-product of what the Patriots were trying to take away from Philly. It's clear any defense against the Eagles starts with a focus on Brian Westbrook and the Patriots defenders admitted that. I also think New England looked to keep Kevin Curtis (15.9 yards per catch on the year) from getting deep and making big plays. You can't focus on stopping everything. By looking to shut off Curtis deep and keep Westbrook from doing damage out of the backfield I think that left the middle of the field a little vulnerable. Credit Feeley and the Eagles for taking advantage. But that wouldn't have been as easy had New England gotten a better pass rush. They didn't.
If I'm ranking the Patriots "problems" (By the way, who made me the critic of Belichick's 11-0 team? I've got some gall!) I'd start with the secondary, move on to the pass rush and then maybe get to the running game. I think Brady and Co. are good enough to win it all by throwing every play if they have to. It may not be ideal, but it's possible.
Andy Hart

Hi, Love the Pats. I heard the players saying where they went to school at the start of the game. Some said they went to high school. Could you please help me with the players that were drafted directly from high school. I have a dinner bet on this that some were from HS. ThanksJoe Bradford

No Patriots players were drafted directly from high school. By league rules potential draft picks aren't eligible for the draft until at least three years after their high school graduation. Sorry, but it sounds like you lose the bet and owe a dinner. I'd go Taco Bell.
The references to the players' high schools is just something players started doing a few years ago. Some do it because they have a problem with their college, others just to be creative or funny. All the players went to high school. All Patriots players went to college.
Andy Hart

Tom, last week you were excited about Adalius Thomas playing at OLB and mentioned how this could make our D better. Here is my question: ARE YOU NUTS??? I also like Thomas outside and I think he is better suited to it than inside. He has more experience there. But who is going to play inside in the 3-4? You going to move Vrabel back to the Will or Mike? I don't like that idea. He is pretty good outside in case you haven't noticed. You going to start Bru [Tedy Bruschi] and [Junior] Seau full time?? I love the rotation they have going and don't like that idea. Going to start Alexander at ILB, I really don't like that idea. Going to switch to a 4-3 full time and rotate Bru and Seau at ILB...not going to happen. As soon as Thomas was signed, I thought his size and speed made him the perfect candidate for ILB. Big and strong enough to shed guards blocking him in the running game, fast enough to cover RBs and TEs in coverage. Rotating Thomas with Colvin and Vrabel might strengthen OLB (which I don't think is a weakness), it would weaken IL. You're getting excited about this possibly strengthening our D isn't very bright in my opinion. Leave him to settle in at ILB now that he is in full health. Leave Vrabel and Colvin at OLB where they will continue to wreak havoc. Leave Bru and Seau rotating. An occasional visit by Thomas at OL during passing situations is fine, but let's not weaken ILB to strengthen an existing strength.Darin LaFalam

A. Thomas is clearly a better OLB than ILB. But so is Vrabel. Nobody will ever question that Colvin is better on the outside. How do you decide who lines up next to Teddy? Is this why we have seen a lot more 4-3 fronts this year? For a team that has been questioned about their depth at LB, I think the question should be which one do we put where.Jesse M.

The question of where to play Thomas is an interesting one. But the answer may come on its own with the injury status of Colvin. He left Sunday's game with a foot injury and did not return. If he can't go this week, and my guess is that he won't be able to, it sort of solves the issue. If you stick with the 3-4 I think you have to play Vrabel and Thomas on the outside with Bruschi and Seau inside. I actually like the idea and am intrigued by the pass-rush options it presents. I think having Thomas inside -- and I've said this from day one -- sort of wastes his talents and playmaking ability. I'd like to see him get some run on the outside, and it should be even more interesting if the action comes opposite Vrabel. Of course that does leave two old inside linebackers inside and takes away any real safety net if either of them gets banged up. Alexander may once again have to get ready to play.
It may not seem like an ideal situation long-term, but I'm intrigued to see what happens with the two beastly playmaking linebackers on the outside.
Andy Hart

With Randy Moss having a STELLAR back to old form type of year and Kelley Washington seemingly non-existent in our offense, wouldn't it be better suited to cut Washington and use that extra money to re-sign Moss? It seems to me even a 50% motivated Moss for the next few years would give us greater production than what Washington would.Kyle Witkoski

No offense, but Washington's future and pay are in no way related to Moss'. Washington has a $4 million roster bonus due next spring that he's not going to get whether Moss re-signs in New England or not. Washington has done a nice job as a core special teams player for the Patriots, but those types of guys don't get big roster bonuses. If he wants to come back and the Patriots want him back he'll have to re-do his contract.
Moss may very well be back. I have come full circle on this issue and would re-sign him, even if it costs some pretty good money. I don't think you have to worry about his motivation or attitude any more. To me the only concern with Moss is whether he starts to lose anything as he gets older in the next couple years. I'll take the risk. He's too good to just allow him to walk away. Plus, I think he wants to be here and will be willing to work with the team on a deal that might be palatable for both sides. That's just my observational opinion. I think, and hope, that we'll see more of Moss in the coming years. And I'm glad, because he sure is fun to watch work.
Andy Hart

I have been a Pat's fan since the 1970's and I don't think I have missed a single game in 15 years. I have been paying close attention to the Steelers play since Carson Palmer was taken out in the first quarter 2 years ago. I don't think it's my imagination that the Steelers seem to be going low on players more often than any other team. It doesn't seem to be limited to quarterbacks and it doesn't seem to be accidental. Am I the only one talking about this or has someone else noticed? The Steelers seem to be the team that has the most to gain by taking out Tom Brady. Do the Patriot's have people that watch for stuff like this and is there anything they can do about it? Maybe a warning from the NFL before the game would help??? I'd hate to see this incredible season end on a cheap shot! Thank you.Tom Dionne

I don't think the Steelers play dirty or try to hurt opposing quarterbacks. And the guy you are referring to who hit Carson Palmer and injured him a couple years ago is defensive lineman Kimo von Oelhoffen. He doesn't play for the Steelers anymore. In fact he's on the Eagles now and was one of Philly's game inactives for Sunday night's contest.
In theory, if Bill Belichick had the same concerns as you do, he could ask the officials to look out for such practices in his weekly pre-game meeting with the officiating crew. All coaches meet with that day's crew before each game. Both sides discuss what they'll be looking for in the game and air any issues they might want to express.
Andy Hart

Hello- First off, thanks for all the great work you do! I'm an avid reader and completely obsessed Pats fan, but this is my first time asking you guys a question. It's about ties in the NFL. I've been following the team since I was a young kid playing the sport myself, and I've never seen a game end in a tie. Not when I've been playing OR watching. I have a pretty good idea that the NFL put the current overtime system in place to avoid any real possibility that a game could end in a tie for pretty obvious reasons: It's not that exciting and creates the potential for all kinds of weirdness as far as team standings go in an already very complex playoff seeding system. My question is this: when was the last time a Patriots game (or any OTHER NFL game, for that matter) ended in a tie, and how did this result come about? In all my experience with the game, I can never remember this happening, but I DO see historical win/loss/tie records flash on the screen during games when the commentators are talking about this record or that record being broken, and many times there are three numbers there indicating wins, losses, and ties. Could you possibly shed some light on this for me? Thanks in advance! GO PATRIOTS!! I'll be at the game this weekend vs Philly- CAN'T WAIT!!!!
Marty
Plaistow, NH

Ties are possible in the NFL, they just don't happen too often under the modern overtime rules. When modern games end regulation in a tie, the current sudden death overtime system (instated for regular season games in 1974) makes it likely that a decisive outcome occurs in overtime. The first team that scores, even on a field goal or a safety, wins. With kickers capable of hitting plus-50 field goals that makes ties pretty rare. The last tie came when Pittsburgh and Atlanta played to a draw in 2002 as neither team was able to break the tie in overtime. The last Patriots game ending in a tie was in 1967, when there was no overtime and games that were tied at the end of regulation went into the record books as a tie.
Andy Hart

Hello! The three-headed Ask PFW monster (Tom, Paul, and that other guy) are a big part of my Tuesday afternoon. I look forward to the Q & A and appreciate your humor and perspective. Despite living in Orange County, CA my entire life (38 years), I have nurtured an unreasonable attachment to all things Patriots for a while (at least 30 years?) and I have to say that these past few years have been football heaven. I have a question for you, if you would: Can you list all the draft picks we do have for 2008? Thanks!
Daniel
Calif.

I would answer you, but I'm just "that other guy." Maybe you should email in again and one of our big-name writers will get the info for you.
Andy Hart

Hi Guys, Wow, that was a close one. You have to hand it to Andy Reid and his coaching staff to have masterminded such a game plan. It seemed like something Belichick would have come up with if they were facing a team he thought was better. Here is my question. All season many have been commenting on the failure of achieving parity in the league. With yesterday's game, could one make an argument that the issue of league parity is more an issue of building balanced quality coaching staffs than balancing player talent? Len LaPadula

Len, I've said all along and often right here in Ask PFW that the two keys for success in the NFL are a good coach and a good quarterback. If you have either one of those you are a good team, have both and you consistently vie for championships. I really do believe it's that simple. The coaching issue clearly goes down through the head coach's ability to put together a good staff and maintain some continuity in that staff. Coaching is more important in football than in any other sport. Coaches can make a huge different on a weekly basis. Bad ones can ruin a team (see: San Diego) and good ones can turn mediocre into much more than that.
Andy Hart

I saw the question about Troy Brown the other day, and I realize that he's growing in age and this is possibly his last season with the NFL. But I think that's all the more reason to give him some more playing time! A while back, I remember him being our most reliable receiver, and we were so desperate with injuries, we had him playing on defense. Doesn't he at least deserve to be suited up? I think he's still capable of making the big plays, and to leave him out in the cod is just wrong. Thanks for your time.
Doug R.

A decision on Brown's future will come by 4 p.m. today. He's been practicing for the last three weeks and the team must decide to either activate him to the 53-man roster or leave him on PUP/IR for the rest of the season. I'd like to see Brown on the roster. I still think he has something to offer a team and could produce if given the chance. But the Patriots already have six receivers on the roster right now and Chad Jackson was a healthy inactive on Sunday. It might be a numbers game and Troy could be the odd man out. That would be disappointing. I know Belichick can't take a sentimental approach to these decisions, but I do. Brown was a big part of this team's success in recent years and it would be a shame if his career ended with a final season spent on PUP. Unfortunately, that may be the case.
Andy Hart

I just want your opinion on the Pats toughness. It just doesn't seem like they can come out and hit someone in the mouth on offense or defense. They never seem to try to pound the on offense with any of the RBs and on defense they are a smart team but it doesn't seem like they can line up man to man and win the battle. Thank.
Steve Murray

Steve I'm going to have to go ahead and disagree with you. I also think you are confusing running the ball with being tough. Sure trying to run the ball down another team's throat is a powerful, demoralizing approach, but passing when you have the type of talent the Patriots do is just smart football. Defensively I think the Patriots have some pretty tough players willing to hit you and, as you put it, line up man to man. I also think some of the lack of toughness you perceive could be because the Patriots have blown most of their opponents out this year. Toughness usually shows up in tight games and New England hasn't had many of those. Are there tougher teams in the NFL? Maybe, but I don't think the Patriots are a bunch of ballet dancers or anything. (And as Bill Parcells might say, no disrespect to the ballet dancers. You guys and gals do things that I could never do. And I don't even want to think about what I'd look like in tights. Anyone have a sock I can use?)
Andy Hart

The could have lost him for this season by not paying him the money he deserves, but Asante Samuel is in New England proving himself all over again as a game changer just like the recent Eagles game. Will the Patriots FINALLY pay him or will they let him go at the conclusion of this season?Russell Sedam

There is no question that Samuel's performance this year has solidly established him as one of the elite cornerbacks in the game. His price tag goes up every day. That said, my gut tells me the Patriots will get a deal done with Samuel before he reaches the open market. He's the one proven playmaker in this secondary and the back end of the defense would be seemingly helpless at times without him. I don't think you can afford to let him walk away this spring. It's going to take huge money, but I think New England needs to bite the bullet and get it done. You never know until the contract is signed, but my guess is it will happen. Of course I've been very wrong on most of my contract related predictions in the past.
Andy Hart

Not much mention has been made of it, but I believe the Patriots would have blown the game wide open if not for the interference call in the end zone. The ref was in no position to make a call and I think he mad the call based on film he has watched of Moss and what he thinks Moss would have done. Any thoughts?
Bill Fraser

Hey guys...I was wondering if you can explain to me why Randy Moss is being called for offensive pass interference at least once a game (it seems). I'm beginning to question my understanding of offensive pass interference. I'm really not seeing it on the replays. I don't want to think these are all bad calls. What am I not seeing?Bethany P.

The Moss pass inference was another popular email topic this week. I know fans won't like this, but I thought it was a good call. Watching live my immediate reaction before the flag even hit the ground was that Moss deserved to be called for pushing off. I'll admit that the replays that NBC showed didn't look as blatant as I saw live, but I still think it was the right call. Even if it was ever so slight, he got an advantage on the play. For the record, I think Moss has gotten away with pass interference a couple times this year. He uses his hands well to get position and go up and get the ball. Sometimes that will end in a big play. Sometimes that will end in a flag. They will even out over the course of time. You take the good. You take the bad. The facts of life.
Andy Hart

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