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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Wed Feb 21 - 04:00 PM | Thu Feb 22 - 09:55 AM

Ask PFW: Cutting to the chase

The final preseason game is just two days away as it's the worst time of year for both players and coaches -- cutdowns.


So what happens to Logan Mankins? Is he going to continue to hold out? And he if does that what are the Patriots are going to do? I guess I'm just confused. Could you explain all the different possible outcomes that could happen?
Zach Colburn

No problem. First, just to clarify, Mankins is not technically a holdout as he never signed his RFA tender and is not really under contract at this point even though the Patriots hold his rights. Beyond that, there are a number of scenarios as to how it could all end. First, Mankins could show up and sign his tender offer, which has reportedly been reduced from $3.268 to $1.54 million. He could do that any time between now and the end of the season, although he'd have to do so by the 10th week of the season if he hopes to gain credit for an accrued season in 2010 in terms of free agency status moving forward. Another option that could happen at any time is that New England could work out a deal to trade Mankins at some point between now at the Oct. 19 NFL trading deadline. Or, the two sides could reach an agreement on a long-term contract, although there seems to have been little reported advancement in that area in recent months. Finally, Mankins could simply sit out the entire season. The hope for his side would be that at whatever time the NFL returns to play under a new CBA, that Mankins' previous five years of experience would be enough to make him an unrestricted free agency and give him the ability to find a suitable deal for himself elsewhere.

Now, which of these scenarios do I think is most likely? I'd lean toward two, either Mankins getting traded for draft pick prior to the deadline or him sitting out the entire season. I just don't see him backing down and coming back at this point based on what he's said and what's transpired. I think at this point, I'd ship him to the first team that offered up a second-round pick and move on. Only time will tell.
Andy Hart

I haven't been able to see how the Patriots have been doing lately but I saw some of the Rams game and thought the offense was doing well moving the ball and scoring. My question is about the defense, since there is so much potential on this team but have yet to produce in the league. Should we be somewhat worried about how young this defense is? And are there any young players that look like they will be a big part of this defense?
John Opitz

While I understand that the offense put up some points in the middle to latter parts of the game, I didn't think New England played well on either side of the ball against St. Louis. Seeing Tom Brady and Co. put up points against the backup defense of a team that was the worst in football a year ago is not exactly a confidence builder. That said, I have few worries about the offense. The defense, on the other hand, has me concerned. There are a lot of young players who will have to be a key part of the defense, for better or worse. That list includes rookies Brandon Spikes and Devin McCourty as well as sophomores Patrick Chung and Darius Butler. That doesn't even include Jermaine Cunningham, who's missed time to injury. All those guys are talented, high draft picks. But they are pretty much unknown commodities. I've seen flashes of impressive play from Spikes, Butler, McCourty and Chung this summer. But good, solid play is about more than flashing. Consistency wins. But it's rare to get consistently good play from young, inexperienced players. It would probably be rarer to get that from a group of four or five such players all in one year. That's why I think there will be some major ups and downs on the Patriots defense at times this year. Get ready for the rollercoaster.
Andy Hart

Apparently the kind of pass rusher the Patriots are looking for only comes along once in a generation. I see other teams that can put severe pressure on quarterbacks. They're not all 6'5" tall and run a 4.5 forty. How did the Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl? They put pressure on Brady. In order to have a great defense you have to stop the run and pressure the quarterback. We don't do either very well. It seems to me this will be another wasted opportunity, just like last year. Maybe next year, if we don't trade down our draft choices AGAIN, we can solve our defensive problems. I don't understand how Belichick, the defensive genius, can allow this team to have such a terrible defense.Richard D'Andrea

Wow, somebody seems to be venting a couple years' defensive frustration in one preseason email. On some level, I feel your frustration. Part of what gets everyone worked up is comparing the Patriots defense and scheme to the others that exist across the league. But there aren't a lot of 3-4, two-gap, read-and-react defenses like what Belichick runs. And we certainly weren't lamenting the system about five years ago when some of the talent on the roster was a bit more proven and playmakers were more readily available on the roster. I will say this, looking forward, there are a couple very impressive DE/OLB prospects that could be available near the very top of the 2011 draft, including North Carolina's Robert Quinn (stud alert!) and Iowa's (pipeline alert!) Adrian Clayborn. Maybe next spring will be the time we see Belichick get his DeMarcus Ware-type to anchor the edge and make plays. Right now, the defense is lacking that ideal, edge presence and we're getting a better appreciation for just how good Willie McGinest and Mike Vrabel were at what they did.
Andy Hart

Over the last few years, the Pats have brought in aging receivers looking for depth and experience, and perhaps an elusive SB ring (Joey Galloway, Torry Holt, Dave Patten, Greg Lewis etc), none of whom have really had an impact on the team. Rather than letting Randy Moss walk at the end of the season, would it not make more sense to sign him to another extension, allowing him to be the veteran presence in the receiving corps, and although he may not be the #1 wide out, he still looks to have plenty left to make a productive second or third receiver.
Ewan Canning

How realistic is it that the Pats could keep Moss around for say.... three more years to finish out his career? What factors would be at play?Gary Strasdin

This is an interesting question. Everyone, it seems, including Moss himself, thinks that 2010 will be the future Hall of Famer's last season in New England. The assumption is that he won't be able to get the kind of money he wants from the Patriots, that the team wouldn't commit such resources to a guy his age with some of his past issues. But in reality he's still among the best WRs in the game, has been pretty healthy and seems to fit in pretty well with Brady, Belichick and Co. So why do we all assume he'll be long gone in 2011? Was it the questions surrounding his health/effort late last year? Is it the theory that sooner or later he'll wear out his welcome, anywhere? I can't really answer, other than to say that for the most part the Patriots don't overpay players, certainly not those on their last legs. (Call that a lesson learned, in some part, with Corey Dillon?) Moss still looks good, but his best days are indeed behind him. Were he looking for a shorter term, shorter money contract, though, I have to think Brady and Belichick would want him back. He's too good not to.
Andy Hart

Hi there, I got 3 quick (but not at all) questions. First, where do you think our Raiders pick will be this year? I'm expecting 8 wins, which is around 16th pick. With the arguably worst starting quarterback in football gone (JaMarcus) and a competent one in (Campbell), a good defense, and decent running backs, I'm nervous their pick won't be the top-10 pick I was expecting. I can't believe the Raiders actually got better this offseason. Second, can Edelman and Welker consistently be on the field together? They're very similar players, and don't really stretch field for each other. They could running clearing routes, I guess, but I can't see them working too great together. Obviously Edelman is insurance for Welker, but would trading one make sense next offseason? Thanks for answering.
Mark Zimmerman

My guess is that the Raiders win somewhere in the range of six or seven games. I do think they're better at quarterback. But they're still the Raiders. There will be some scandal, coaching change or debacle to derail the commitment to excellence. There always is and always will be with the once innovative but now failing Al Davis running the team.

I think Welker and Edelman will and can be on the field together, but not all the time. It's more in passing situations and spread sets. Too often, and teams will load up on the short zones and take away their effectiveness. But I think it's way too early to think about trading one or the other. Welker must prove he's back at full health. Edelman must prove he can stay healthy and perform at a high level over a long season, not just flashes here and there. Both are very talented and can help the team at this point. Plus, we've seen Edelman take some practice reps at running back, so maybe a future role as a third-down back as Kevin Faulk's backup/replacement might be in the future. Either way, I'd keep both on the roster for the foreseeable future and find ways to use their talents and maximize their always impressive efforts and workman-like attitudes.
Andy Hart

What does it mean when you say a linebacker needs to be able to set the edge? I don't really know what setting the edge is or what I should be looking for. Thanks.Monty Borrowman

Essentially setting the edge is the process of establishing the perimeter of the defensive front. Depending on the scheme, the job can fall to either a defensive end or outside linebacker. In the Patriots 3-4, it's the duty of the outside linebacker. That guy must control either the tight end or the tackle in front of him. The linebacker must not get hooked and trapped to the inside, nor get too wide or deep into the backfield to create a big running lane inside of him. It's not an easy job, as we've seen. To better explain it, on some level, I found the following quote from former New England defensive captain and current ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi on talking about the last year's wild card matchup with Ray Rice and the Ravens:

"You saw the Patriots have some difficulty last week setting the edge against the Texans -- Derrick Burgess had some struggles -- and the easiest thing for a running game to do versus a 3-4 defense is have that runner get around the edge when there is no force. Your outside linebacker has to be a stud, set the edge and force it back to the inside pursuit. If the Ravens notice that the edge is not set, they can pick up a quick 10 yards outside. This should be the first goal of the Patriots' defense -- setting the edge."

Interestingly Rice did his biggest initial damage in that embarrassing loss with a big run up the middle to open the game. But the importance of setting the edge and the difficulty of that job should never be underestimated. It's part of the reason why the Patriots have struggled to fill the outside linebacker spot in recent years. Some guys are powerful and capable enough to set the edge. Others can rush the passer. Few can do both at a high level. Again, we now appreciate even more what McGinest and Vrabel did in the past.
Andy Hart

I've seen in past couple weeks we have lost a few players to injury. We were already questionable at d-line and outside backer and possibly defensive back, but now questionable at o-line and even more so at d-line, and we know it all starts at the line so my question is, is there cause for concern at those positions I listed?
Mike Davis

There is always reason for concern about depth at certain positions, especially when that depth is tested before the season even starts. Bill Belichick often says that depth in training camp doesn't necessarily equate to depth in November and December. Well, does a lack of depth in August equate to a severe lack of depth late in the year? We all were concerned about outside linebacker and defensive end heading into camp. Since then, Jermaine Cunningham has missed a lot of time to injury and Ty Warren has landed on IR. So, yes, I'm very concerned about the edge of the defensive front. Even if Gerard Warren can fill Ty's spot, the question remains whether Mike Wright and Co. can hold down the fort on the other end. And at outside linebacker, I think the team lacks both proven, productive starters and depth. But I'm not as concerned about the offensive line. Dan Connolly has played well so far in the Logan Mankins/Nick Kaczur left guard spot. Returning starters fill out the rest of the jobs. The team also has a few experienced veterans and unproven youngsters to turn to at guard if Connolly falters. Overall, my concerns for this team at this point fall on the defensive side of the ball. And I'm not sure what can happen between now and the season that would make me feel better. Until someone, anyone, proves they can rush the passer and make plays on the edge of the defensive front you can simply color me concerned with that area of the team's roster.
Andy Hart

Do you think that the Patriots played so soft in the secondary [against St. Louis] because Bill [Belichick] wanted to have his guys practice tackling? The team had 111 tackles, the Falcons game had only 57.
Joe DeLuca

I think this is a joke. But it would be nice to think that Sam "The Samchise" Bradford's work leading the lowly Rams down the field with ease was a product of Bill Belichick's planning. Coach told the secondary to play soft and the offense to go three-and-out in the early going to give the defense a chance to work on its tackling. I like it. Yeah, why don't we all go with that at this point. It'll make us feel better.
Andy Hart

It seems to me, in general, that a proven highly talented NFL player would be worth more than a high-round pick (the Jared Allen trade as an example). Why do teams seem reluctant to trade a high-round pick which may or may not pan out for a proven player, who has already proven their high value/worth?
Paul Evenson

This is an interesting and broad philosophical question you bring up. There is a lot in play with the answer. I think much of it has to do with money. Draft picks, especially relatively high ones, theoretically produce players that a team has under reasonable financial control for four, five or even six years of action. That's a long time in the world of the NFL. It allows teams to develop those talented players, see them in their system and get a lot of production out of them before deciding whether to pay them a big second contract. It's good value. Now, that's a little different when you talk about the huge contracts that come with picks at the very top of the first round. Those aren't always good value. The problem with trading for proven veterans, is that generally the only time those guys are available is when they are looking for a new contract that their team isn't willing to pay. So the team trading for the player not only has to give up a draft pick, but also has to sign a big-money contract with the player. The Vikings did that with Allen and I'm sure, at this point, they're happy with the deal based on his production and how well their defense has played. But, many times, you may be paying for what a guy has done in the league and not what he's going to do. So if you have confidence in your drafting ability and scouting department, then a high draft pick is a great value player. At least that's the theory.
Andy Hart

Hi, Thanks for all of your coverage of the Patriots. I was just watching SportsCenter on ESPN when I heard Tim Hasselbeck and another host say that Brady was poor at eluding the rush. Am I incorrect in thinking that they are completely wrong with this statement? I hate to question Tim, because he was obviously a much better quarterback than Tom, but I would argue that avoiding the Rush is one of Brady's strengths. Cassel taught us that Brady makes our O-line look good. He never stops looking downfield and subtly sidesteps rushers that you didn't even think he knew were there. Honestly I'd say he's as good or better at staying alive in the pocket than anyone in the league. I'm sure some people will say Big Ben is better, but he is sacked much more often than Brady because he stops looking downfield when breaking a tackle and takes too long to do something with the ball. What do you think is Tim a moron or do I think too highly of Brady? Also, what is wrong with our defense? We haven't given up big plays this preseason but it seems like we let the offense take anything they want underneath. How can this problem be fixed?
Garrett Raymond

I think there is a middle ground between you and Hasselbeck. I think Brady used to be superb at avoiding the rush with subtle moves within the pocket and a great intuitive awareness, maybe best in the league. I think he's fallen off a bit in that area since his knee injury. I'm not sure if it's physical, mental or a little bit of both. I don't think he's as good at it as he once was. Case in point would be a play against the Rams when Brady assumed the rush was going to get to him and basically took a dive. But Sammy Morris picked up the rush and that was the play Brady had to get up to throw the prayer up to Alge Crumpler. I don't think the old Brady would have gone down as quickly as No. 12 did this time around. In general, though, I still think Brady is above average at avoiding the rush and making his offensive line look better. Just not as good as he once was.
Andy Hart

What is up with Jermaine Cunningham? We have not seen him in any preseason action, yet I have not seen his name on any injury list!
Matt Bengle

Interesting scouting type question, Mr. Bengle. Or should I call you Mr. Bengal? Snooping for Marvin Lewis in advance of the opener, eh? Anyway, Cunningham has not practiced since Aug. 11. He's missed all three preseason games and all practice action since that time with an unknown injury. While there is no official injury report or list at this point, we, like all media outlets, have listed Cunningham among the guys missing from practice/games since that Aug. 11 date. While I don't know the specifics of his injury, I do think it's a major concern. He's already missed a ton of time and reps. He was already making a tough transition from college defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker. It's a tough job for anyone, especially a rookie. I had very high hopes for Cunningham and thought he might be a key to the defense's success/failures this season. After missing so much time, I don't think Cunningham will have the type of positive rookie season that I once thought might be in store. That doesn't mean he won't get healthy, play and contribute. It just means he's missed a lot of time, time I think it's unrealistic to expect to him catch up with on the fly.
Andy Hart

Am I the only one who thinks the Rams game wasn't that bad as everyone is making it out to be? Belichick has to be disappointed, that's his job. And yes, our defense needs some work, but how do you game plan against a rookie quarterback and a rookie tight end that you have no tape on. All I'm saying is that the Rams had the ball for 43 minutes and were only able to put 36 points on the board. The Pats had the ball for a measly 16 minutes. 35 points in 16 minutes. Not many teams in the league that can pull that off.
Adam N.

You don't game plan, much, in the preseason. Neither does the other team. So your point about a young QB/TE isn't much of a point. The Patriots had the ball for 16 minutes mostly because they couldn't get a first down against the worst team in football from a year ago. And they put up most of those points you're highlighting in the second half against said worst team's backups. If the Patriots get to play bad team's backups all year, maybe they'll be OK. But the Patriots struggled mightily on both sides of the ball Thursday night, a point made first and most emphatically by Belichick. And, of course, his opinion is really the only one that matters. The rest is just fluff, or maybe in your case, putting perfume on a pig.
Andy Hart

BB: "When your team doesn't perform well that's a reflection on the coaching" . So why are we hearing it for the third year in a row?
Stan C.

Belichick has always considered his own performance first when assessing/criticizing a tough loss. He did it when his team was winning titles and he does it now when championships aren't exactly on the horizon. He's been consistent in that. When the team fails, he believes it fails as a team. He's a big part of that team. Not sure the question here, other than the implication that you're not happy with the coaching. You're clearly entitled to that opinion. But I'll begin any discussion on that subject by asking the same question I always ask emailers who are calling for a change in coaching: who would you like to replace Belichick with?
Andy Hart

Love your work my question is how are we going to create a pass rush? The way the Rams took it to us is scary on the bright side our offense started slow but finished strong!
Israel Lopez

We've seen many examples this preseason of how the team may attempt to create a pass rush. Blitzes involving corners, safeties and inside linebackers have been on full display at various times. It's worked with some varying success. But I still believe that if you have to live by the blitz all the time, you will also die by it at times. So I continue to hold out hope that guys like Banta-Cain, Burgess and even the second-round pick Cunningham will be able to boost the pass rush in a more traditional sense. I'm not going to lie and say I feel good about that hope right now, just that I'm holding out hope.
Andy Hart

If you could, who would you fill up the Patriots practice squad with?
John Moore

I'm going to assume we're limiting this projection to the guys that are in camp with the team this summer, as I haven't really scoured the bottom of other teams' rosters. So of the guys that are in New England and could be cut, I'll start my practice squad draft with Sergio Brown. The Notre Dame safety has made plays throughout camp, seems pretty athletic and has special teams ability. Next I'll go with Dane Fletcher. The converted defensive end has shown good athleticism at inside linebacker when healthy. Good body to have to fill out a variety of practice roles. Always have a PS receiver, so I'll go with Rod Owens. He's made a couple spectacular catches in camp and had a pretty impressive career at FSU, so let's give him some development time. Also have to have a tight end, and I'll go with Rob Myers. He was on the squad last year and is a very nice man who made some good catches early in camp. With some uncertainty at the bottom of the depth chart on the offensive line, and assuming they don't make the roster, I'll keep both Ted Larsen and Thomas Welch. Larsen is a versatile interior guy (maybe he can even practice at D-line in a practice pinch) and Welch could serve as a backup long snapper, too. I'll round out my roster with defensive lineman Kyle Love and defensive back Ross Ventrone. Love has the look and feel of a solid down-the-road backup nose tackle, while Ventrone's family produced one of the best Patriots practice players in recent memory.
Andy Hart

I read your forum regularly (hoping for any information), and while you often rip people's comment for the lack of logic, your own arguments often are not very impressive. And listening to you on the radio, feels like listening to a bunch of boys. BB should give you "pretty good" too.
Frank Temlin

This critical email came in under the subject line: "Grow up!" Boy, if I had a buck for every time I've heard that in my life…I'd probably have as much money as real grownups do. But I don't, I haven't and I don't. (Follow that sentence and win a prize.) My response to Mr. Life of the Party Temlin would fall under the subject line: "Lighten up!" As much as some people try to suck the life out of it, football is supposed to be a form of entertainment. It's the greatest game on earth, but it's still a game. And as far as PFW in Progress, you are listening to a bunch of boys. We try our best to make the email-driven show one big worldwide web barroom chat about the Patriots. Sorry if we offend your more mature senses. But I'll compare our knowledge of the team and information provided with any news outlet anywhere, bar none. We can't please everyone. And if you're looking for dry, humorless analysis, check out PFW's Erik Scalavino every third Tuesday right here in Ask PFW.
Andy Hart

This might be a dumb question. It seems that many sacks from a 4-3 defense come when the ends and tackles stunt, change places, come from different spots. Does our 3-4 make this more difficult or impossible? Are our guys so anchored to their "gaps" that they are forbidden to stunt? If so, this makes our rush more predictable and easier to defend..... Also you never answered my question if the team provides tutors to help the poor readers on the team learn the playbook.
Robert Koenig

Let's start at the end. I never saw a question about tutors, and to be frank don't know the answer. I'll try to look into it and get back to you. As for the stunts, the Patriots do less of that than many teams. The nature of the two-gap, read-and-react front calls for guys to control their man/area and not to shoot around the front. I do think, on some level it makes life harder on the guys up front. But when played well, I think the defense can be as consistently productive as any scheme.
Andy Hart

Not really a question, more of an opinion. Stating the obvious, the D played like straight trash on Thursday. To put it mildly. But I thought one of the worst parts of the game was actually Belichick not letting the offense go for it on 4th and inches. There was no reason not to. It's a preseason game - the time of year when you are supposed to be able to play at least somewhat fearlessly in terms of play calling because nothing is on the line. Brady obviously wanted to try for it and the team desperately needed a spark -- getting that yardage could have given them one. So Belichick says no to teach them a lesson? The lesson being that he has no faith in them less than three weeks before the regular season starts? I get that he's a hard ass kind of coach, but who knows how the momentum of that game would have shifted if Belichick had let them try? Plus, if it worked it would have kept the defense on the sidelines longer...and if it didn't, what did any one on the team have to lose? Nothing'. I don't get it. Why would a coach take away an important learning opportunity with nothing on the line? Isn't that the purpose of this time of year? You can do all the goal line and short yardage situations in practice that you want, but why not let the team actually play it out against another defense and see what they're made of? That call made really no sense to me.
Brooklyn Schwartz

I think you're putting a little too much stock in the decision to punt in a preseason game. Many decisions made in the preseason are due to coaches wanting to see certain things get done, not based on the actual game situation. Sometimes that's going for it when you wouldn't normally do so on offense. Sometimes it's punting when you normally would go for it. In this case I think it's possible that Belichick may have wanted, early on, to see his rookie punter and punt team get some reps. In that regard, it worked. Punting from midfield, Zoltan Mesko hit a 46 yarder downed at the 4. Now, knowing that the offense wouldn't be able to stay on the field for three-straight drives after that maybe Belichick, in hindsight, would have made a different decision. But it was the first possession of the game, so the offense certainly didn't need "a spark." And players always want to go for it. Regardless, I don't think it had anything to do with a confidence/lack of confidence in the offense or the defense. This isn't fourth-and-two in Indy. It's the preseason. You're right in that the preseason is about learning opportunities, but your not looking at it from the viewpoint of learning opportunities for the entire team not just a single unit.
Andy Hart

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