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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Fri Apr 09 - 12:00 AM | Sun Apr 11 - 11:59 PM

Ask PFW: Critical times

I would just like to ask if you or others have noted a general lack of offensive play calling creativity? I believe that against a strong pressure defense like Miami's more screen passes should have been called. Am I missing something?Paul Saulnier

This seems to be the latest in a long line of complaints about the Patriots this season. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has come under fire despite the fact that he hasn't had a consistent running game to rely on, a legitimate deep threat in the passing game or even consistent pass protection from the guys up front. Basically, he's had Tom Brady as his one constant. Against Indy and the Jets the complaint was he didn't run the ball often enough. When the offense heated up late in the Detroit game by going to a spread attack out of the no huddle, there were more than a few calls for that to continue against Miami. It did, and the Patriots got shut out. When an offense is limited, which for the most part has been the case with the Patriots this season, it's tough to be consistent. But one thing I absolutely would not say the Patriots offense lacks is creativity. McDaniels has tried everything – reverses, double reverses, double passes, direct snaps to running backs – those are creative plays. Some of them haven't worked but saying he lacks creativity is wrong. The screen pass has been the complaint de jour lately but what people failed to point out was that before the Houston game they weren't all that successful when they were called. When Kevin Faulk catches one and goes 43 yards untouched, everyone looks like a genius and no one is claiming the offensive coordinator lacks creativity. Against Miami, with the Dolphins speed, I don't think screens would have been nearly as effective. We'll never know.
Paul Perillo

So now that we know that the pathetic Pats performance against the Dolphins was because the Dolphins cheated, what happens now? I know the NFL will look into the idea of teams paying for audio of vocal play calling as illegal, but that doesn't get the game back. Some could say that the Pats would have lost anyway, but if the Dolphins hadn't known when they would pass/run, and where the blocking was coming from, that could have made a completely different game.
Nathan F.

Well, since the referees didn't make any questionable calls that cost the Patriots the game I guess we had to find some reason why they lost. First, Miami claims they picked up some of the Pats signals from the audio from game tapes. They claim they didn't buy anything. The NFL said they wouldn't even bother investigating, so what does that tell you? I'm sure for some it means yet another example of how the league roots against the Patriots, but it tells me this kind of stuff happens all the time. And that fact was confirmed a day after the game when the Boston Globe quoted former backup quarterback Jim Miller saying the Patriots did the exact same thing in 2004 against Baltimore. The Patriots got beat, plain and simple. I'll admit the fallout from the tapes was kind of fun to watch over a couple of days but I honestly don't think it had anything to do with the outcome of the game. I thought Tom Brady said it best when he said how much does a 6-7 team really have things figured out? Obviously the Dolphins need more than a few audio cues to make the playoffs.
Paul Perillo

I love the Pats and Brady is my favorite NFL player but I'm starting to wonder about his future here. I was wondering if Brady is likely at all to ask for a trade and a move to a different team. I think it would be interesting to see him in another system with a different coach. Also, could you give me a percentage of Brady finishing his career as a Patriot?Chris Covan

I really don't see much chance of Brady leaving any time soon. First, he appears to really respect Bill Belichick and the two seem to work extremely well together. Brady is smart enough to know that he might not have that kind of relationship with just any head coach. Second, he's under contract, and a pretty hefty one at that, through 2010. Based on his high level of play I don't see the Patriots letting him loose from that deal before then. He'll almost certainly have to restructure things a time or two before that, but I don't see a scenario where Brady becomes a free agent. As for the remainder of his career, I'm not as certain. Brady is a Northern California kid who grew up dreaming about playing for the 49ers. If for some reason he doesn't finish his entire career in New England, I could see him trying to make his way to San Francisco, even though he was bitter about the 49ers passing on him a few times late in the 2000 draft. To answer your direct question, I'd put Brady's chances of staying here for the duration of his career at about 90 percent.
Paul Perillo

Neither Dean Pees nor Josh McDaniels, and by extension, Bill Belichick are getting the job done. The players can be blamed for an inexcusable lack of intensity at times, but it certainly could be argued that a poor game plan, and a lack of using the personnel to their strengths, would sap the life out of a team. The defense has been OK and good at times. The offense … consistently inept would be fairly accurate. Pees needs upgraded personnel, and to learn how to pressure an offense. McDaniels … he just needs to go. I know you guys seem loathe to criticize the coordinators, but McDaniel is way out of his league. Also, BB and Pioli have really drafted badly the last 2 years, with the exception of Maroney and Wilfolk. This year was quite the crop of soon to be NFL castoffs. Anyway here are 10 suggestions for 2007: how about we: 1.) Sign Adalius Thomes as a free agent. 2.) Pay Asante Samuel. 3.) Draft one, if not two, quality linebackers. 4.) Draft actual NFL caliber players such as Jeff Samardzjia or hopefully Leron Landry. 5.) Do not draft a Florida WR … ever. (Hello Chad). 6.) Hey Bill....cut your boy Marquise Hill. He was a horrifyingly bad waste of a pick and roster spot. How can you keep him over Poteat? 7.) Let Daniel Graham go. 8) Sign a veteran WR in FA. You telling me Walker isn't 20 times better than no-action Jackson? And no, I don't think he will be any good. Another totally wasted pick on someone too lazy or unintelligent to play the game at the NFL level. Please, no slight injury excuses for him. 9.) Wake up Dante and the offensive line. Also, get a new left tackle who can block … well anybody. Sorry Matt, but you've gone downhill fast. 10.) Pump in fan noise over newly installed giant speakers. Gillette mausoleum is more like it. Really guys, have you ever heard a stadium as quiet, at the worst times, as Gillette?
Chris Casey

What, you didn't have any problems with the cheerleaders or the concessions? Really, how did this team find a way to win 10 of its first 14 games based on all of your assessments? I'll start at the top with your criticisms of the coordinators. I'm not sure where you got the notion that we're afraid or unwilling to criticize the coaches. Did you ever consider that maybe we don't think they're doing as bad a job as you do? Particularly defensive coordinator Dean Pees. I think the defense has played great football in virtually every game. The only exceptions in my opinion would be Indianapolis and Detroit. Every other game I'd consider the defense's play solid. As I stated earlier, I believe McDaniels' biggest problem is a lack of talent on the offensive side of the ball. Where are the playmakers? Just look at how many times Brady has put a deep ball right on target only to have the ball fall incomplete. Jabar Gaffney's drop against Houston was the latest example. It's hard to be a creative, record-setting offensive coordinator with an inconsistent running game and a serious lack of weapons in the passing game. I actually think McDaniels has done a fine job, admittedly mostly because of Brady. As for your suggestions, some I'd actually agree with. Adalius Thomas seems to be a perfect fit in the Patriots system, but he's also perfect in the Ravens system and my bet is that Baltimore will find a way to keep him. So saying "sign Adalius Thomas" is a lot easier than actually doing it. Samuel is going to cost a fortune on the open market so it might not be wise to make a blanket statement that he should be re-signed at all costs, either. I'd love to see a linebacker come early in the draft, but not at the expense of passing up a more talented player at a certain position. If linebacker makes sense, then take a linebacker. I actually agree with the Pats philosophy of setting a draft board and trying to stick with value over need when it comes time to pick. Nos. 5 and 6 I'm on board with. I don't like Florida receivers (except Darrell Jackson in Seattle) and I haven't seen anything out of Marquise Hill that warrants him having a roster spot (although losing Hank Poteat was nothing to cry over). I think Daniel Graham is an underrated player and is better in the passing game than he's given credit for. So basically I'd like to see the Pats re-sign him if he's interested in staying. As for the offensive line, I agree this hasn't been Matt Light's best season. He's had a tough time in pass protection in several games and I'd like to see him switch to the right side in favor of a young stud left tackle. Perhaps Logan Mankins could be that left tackle some day. Finally, and I'm not sure if your last item was a bit tongue-in-cheek or not, but it's against NFL rules to pump in artificial noise. So I guess you're going to be stuck going to games at the Gillette Mausoleum – according to you the team is dead anyway so that shouldn't make much of a difference.
Paul Perillo

It seems that there is a lack of a deep threat on the team and it has finally hurt us. What are the Pats going to do about this?Dan Gregoire

This has been a problem all season, not just recently. There's no need to rehash the problems from the offseason. They lost David Givens partly because they thought Deion Branch would be back. And they also failed to sign anyone other than Reche Caldwell, who has been fine as a complementary part. But none of this group has the ability to stretch a defense consistently. I thought Chad Jackson would be the one to do that, but he hasn't been on the field nearly enough. I think the receiving corps, to steal Bill's phrase, is what it is. Other than maybe Jackson, there aren't any options that figure to present themselves going forward that haven't done so already. So unless Jackson suddenly "gets it" and emerges in the playoffs, Brady is going to have to get it done a little at a time.
Paul Perillo

What's up with Belichick's contract? What about Chad Johnson coming to New England next year? He's great and he isn't as mouthy as people make him out to be. He's more tongue-in-cheek than anything. He also has a great work ethic. He has been known to spend so much time watching film that he sleeps at the stadium. And I get the impression Belichick likes him. He is only making $400,000-$500,000 this year.Jasson Cote

While there is no definitive word about Belichick's contract, people who are in the know have told the good folks at "Ask PFW" that he will be the coach beyond this season. He originally signed a five-year deal when he came in 2000 and signed a two-year extension after the 2001 season. That means that deal is set to expire. But we have been assured that Belichick will be the coach in 2007, and probably as long as he wants. As for Chad Johnson, I'm not sure where you're getting your information but he is not set to become a free agent and he makes a heck of a lot more than $400,000-$500,000 a year. The Bengals have him signed through 2010 and he's set to earn $2.75 million this year, $2.5 million next year and never less than $3 million any season after that. So there isn't much of a chance that he'll be available, or that the Patriots would pay him that kind of money.
Paul Perillo

It appeared that Kelvin Kight took more snaps at receiver than Chad Jackson. This raises a few questions. First, what's wrong with Jackson that he's seeing his snaps go to a guy signed off the practice squad just last week? Is it the injury, or something else?
Leigh Jackson

I think the Chad Jackson situation is complicated and I'm not sure anyone other than him really knows the answer. He got off to a slow start because of the hamstring injury and he never really recovered throughout the summer. That put him way behind as a rookie receiver in a complicated offense. He seemed to be progressing once he got back on the field but then he had a few drops and got injured again. Based on the way he was used when he did play, it looked to me like he perhaps didn't have a great grasp of the offense. He usually was sent downfield of go routes or asked to carry the ball on end arounds. Pretty simple, straight-forward assignments that didn't call for him to have to read a coverage or adjust his routes. While Jackson was missing all that practice time, Kelvin Kight was on the field pretty much every day learning the ropes and working hard. That hard work evidently paid off because now he's seeing time ahead of the second-round pick. I obviously don't have any in depth knowledge of the Patriots offense, but from what the players say it's pretty sophisticated and a player that lacks the experience necessary might struggle to pick things up. In Jackson's case, no amount of studying could replace all the on-field hours he missed. That's why a practice squad player is currently playing at least as big a role as he is.
Paul Perillo

Do you think Ellis Hobbs will continue to return kicks if Laurence Maroney is healthy again?
Jeff H.

I'm not sure, but he should. Hobbs gives the Patriots much more explosiveness than Kevin Faulk does, and I believe he should be next to Maroney when the rookie returns to health. I like the idea of having two home run threats back there to eliminate the chance for opponents to kick away from one or the other.
Paul Perillo

Why haven't the Pats officially clinched the AFC East? Even if the Pats lose the last two games and the Jets win the last two, making their record the same, the tiebreakers (all tied) come down to strength of record: the Pats have won against a stronger record and thus have clinched. Am I right here?

I'm feeling really stupid right now, as I can't for the life of me figure out why the Patriots wouldn't have won the AFC East with their win against Houston. If they lose the next two weeks and the Jets win, they will have the same record and the Patriots win the tiebreaker, correct?Chet

No need to feel stupid because the NFL's tiebreaker system is anything but simple. But if the Pats lose two and the Jets win two, New York would win the AFC East based a better conference record. Remember, if the Pats lose twice, that would mean they lost to Jacksonville and Tennessee, both AFC teams. That would give New England six losses in the conference while the Jets would have only five (one of their six losses was against Chicago). So if they wind up tied at 10-6, the Jets win the division and the Pats would be hoping for a wild card.
Paul Perillo

The passing offense was completely ineffective against Houston, squandering four really short fields and making them into field goals. So, late in a game like that why wouldn't you put guys like Chad Jackson and Jabar Gaffney out there and try to get them the ball and try to get that passing offense worked out. Instead, they ran the ball and kept Troy Brown on the field the entire time. I'm pretty sure we know what we can get from Troy Brown. Also, how is it possible that Ray Mickens can come off the street and unseat Ellis Hobbs like that? Good thing Ellis Hobbs had an awesome game or that ridiculous act might've continued into the playoffs.
Robbie Mitchnick

First of all the passing offense wasn't completely ineffective against Houston. The yardage was down mostly because the offense didn't have far to travel in order to score because the defense kept giving them the ball in great field position. And Chad Jackson was out there more as the game went on (I think I counted 19 snaps he took part in). The problem with your theory is the Patriots couldn't throw the ball much late in the game because they had such a big lead. In the NFL generally teams don't keep throwing with a big lead but rather are content to run the clock out. So having Jackson out there at the end wouldn't have made much difference. As for that "ridiculous act" as you called it, I'm not sure we won't be seeing it moving forward. Hobbs returned a kick for a touchdown, which was great to see, and picked off a pass in garbage time. But at the start of the game it was still Asante Samuel and Chad Scott as the starting corners and I'd expect that to continue. I thought Ray Mickens did a great job at Miami, holding Wes Welker to one catch for minus-1 yard. That's a far cry from the torching Welker gave Hobbs in the first meeting in Foxborough when Belichick said the Patriots had to start double-teaming him in the second half after Welker had seven catches in the first half while Hobbs was covering him.
Paul Perillo

My question is about the LBs. At the end of the Houston game we got a look at some of the younger LBs and I was wondering if you guys at PFW have a prediction as to which young LB will be the next to step up. Tully Banta-Cain has most definitely elevated his game this year. A lot of fans have been hoping the Pats take an ILB high in the upcoming draft and I was/am one of them. However, the Patriots have been developing Tully for 2 or 3 years now and the only ILB that's been there that long is Alexander. Do you see an up and comer in that group?DC

Tully is actually in his fourth season and is developing into a decent situational player. I'm still not sure he's the answer in an every-down setting but as a pass rusher in subpackages I think he does an OK job. He gets to the passer once in a while (5.5 sacks after the Houston game) and usually applies pressure. I'm not sure about the other young LBs but Corey Mays appears to be a guy worth watching on the inside, and Pierre Woods might be a guy to keep an eye on at outside linebacker. They're both undrafted rookies but have shown potential. But I still believe the Patriots need to draft some young athletes at the linebacker spot and I hope one of the two first-rounders goes to that spot.
Paul Perillo

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