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Ask PFW: Defense stepping up

Can I please ask why James White's catch in the third quarter against the Texans wasn't awarded? He clearly has the toes of both feet down in bounds, well before his heel comes down. If you compare that to catches like Odell's against Miami (albeit in the end zone) but also with similar catches in the normal field of play, where the receiver drags both toes from inbounds to out of bounds, are ruled as catches. What's the difference? Is there something specific in the rulebook about the heel? It seems inconsistent to me or was the overturn incorrect?

Vaughan Sellick*

There are really two things at work here. First, there is a difference between the toes and the heels. If the toe comes down inbounds but the heel lands out of bounds, then it's considered out of bounds and there's no catch. Generally when receivers drag their toes, their heels are behind the toes and this is not an issue. But on plays like White's catch, he had his back to the sideline so his heel came down out of bounds. However, I do think there's a case to be made that it was unclear in looking at replays whether the heel actually touched out of bounds so I think it would have been possible for Jeff Triplette to rule it inconclusive and stick with the call on the field. It was a close call and that's why Bill Belichick has been clamoring for additional cameras on the sidelines and at the goal line.

Paul Perillo

It seemed as if the Patriots were more aggressive on defense this week. Was Matt Patricia calling more blitzes or was the Patriots front seven just getting to the quarterback more effectively? Second, with the injury to Dominique Easley, what is the depth looking like at the defensive tackle position?

Ben Manaro*

I thought the Patriots did a nice job of disguising their pass rushes and confusing the Texans but I didn't think they were overly aggressive in terms of sending extra rushers or blitzes. I just thought the front did a nice job of beating one-on-one blocks and getting after Brian Hoyer, who also looked confused by the pass rush at times. This was particularly true at right tackle where Derek Newton seemed to double team one pass rusher while another – Jabaal Sheard – had a free run at Hoyer. As for depth at defensive tackle, that's one of the deeper spots on the roster. Sealver Siliga started there last season and has been an occasional healthy scratch this season – including in the Texans game. With Malcom Brown, Alan Branch, Akiem Hicks and Siliga the Patriots should be fine even if Easley is forced to miss some time.
Paul Perillo

Do you think that Patriots made a mistake not signing up a RB, someone like Robert Turbin, when he was available for depth?

CN*

The Patriots don't have a ton of depth in terms of a traditional, between-the-tackles ball carrier and if LeGarrette Blount is unable to bounce back from his hip injury that could be a problem. Turbin would have been an option but he would not necessarily make me feel much better about the Patriots ability to run the ball, which at this point of the season is what it is – which is to say not very good. I could see Belichick trying to get by with James White and Brandon Bolden if Blount is unavailable. I also could see the Patriots continue to work out running backs and trying to find one with the ability to run the ball between the tackles for some added depth. It's not an ideal situation but it's one I believe the team can manage.
Paul Perillo

The Texans game was one of the best performances from our defensive line that I can ever remember. The front dominated most of the game and wreaked havoc on the Texans. It would be great if the team could muster up this type of relentless D-Line attack against the good teams as well. Come playoff time, when we face much higher quality of teams, the defense will need this type of performance. The other takeaway was the Patriots actually made a dedicated effort to establish the running game. This definitely helped open up the passing game. Why they don't run the ball more frequently is puzzling. Would like to see more creativity in the running plays as it seems they run up the middle every time, and if that doesn't work, they give up on the run completely.

Jeff Cabral*

I completely agree with you about the defensive effort in Houston but disagree about the running. First, the defense. The front definitely dominated the line of scrimmage and as I mentioned earlier did a nice job of creating confusion along the Texans offensive line. That resulted is six sacks and some solid play against the run as well. The Texans never got any offensive flow going and that was due to the Patriots excellent effort on defense. Yes they ran the ball a bit more successfully but not to the point where it impacted the defense. Houston was content to let the Patriots run and in reality the Patriots offense was not all that potent in during the game. New England barely managed 300 yards of offense and took advantage of turnovers and short fields to post 27 points. It wasn't like the running game was gashing Houston's front and forced the defense to add extra defenders to the box and that exposed their secondary. The fact is both defenses played well in the game and the Patriots defense was just better and led the team to victory.
Paul Perillo

With the playoffs approaching, which team is most prepared to face the Patriots in January?

Arthur Avellino*

It's funny because the team I believe is best-suited to give the Patriots problems in January right now would be out of the playoffs. The Steelers are still in decent shape to earn a wild card but if the season ended after Week 14 Pittsburgh would be out, losing to the Jets and Chiefs on tiebreakers. Things change quickly, as the Patriots just saw, and the Steelers can still make it. If so Ben Roethlisberger has the ability that Brian Hoyer, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tyron Taylor, Brock Osweiler, Ryan Tannehill, Kirk Cousins, Sam Bradford and many of the other quarterbacks the Patriots have faced do not and he has the weapons to put pressure on any defense. Roethlisberger throwing to Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton and Heath Miller would be tough to deal with in January even though Pittsburgh's defense is nothing special. In terms of potential difficult opponents, Pittsburgh would be at the top of my list.
Paul Perillo

If you could make an all Patriots team, just offense and defense, who are the 22 players from Patriots past and present you would pick?

Ryan Sylvestre*

What a tremendous question and one that requires a tremendous amount of thought. Since we're smack dab in the middle of the playoff run I don't have the time to do the proper research so I'm going to do what I do best and simply fly by the seat of my pants. On offense: Left to right up front I'll take Leon Gray, John Hannah, Jon Morris, Stephen Neal and Shelby Jordan. Rob Gronkowski is the obvious tight end with Stanley Morgan and Randy Moss at wide receiver and Troy Brown in the slot. Curtis Martin is my running back with Sam Cunningham my fullback. Some guy named Brady can play quarterback. On defense it's a little trickier but here goes: Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork and Houston Antwine up front with Steve Nelson and Tedy Bruschi at inside linebacker and Andre Tippett and Willie McGinest on the outside. Ty Law and Mike Haynes at corner with Raymond Clayborn as my nickel back and Lawyer Milloy and Rodney Harrison at safety. That's 24 players with an extra receiver and defensive back. I'm sure I did that far too quickly and missed an obvious choice, but I'll take my chances with that group.
Paul Perillo

If by a virtue of the league's matchups and injuries the Patriots move back to having a two-game lead over both  the Broncos and Bengals, and need to win only one game on the road vs. Jets or Dolphins to get the top seed, is it remotely possible that Bill Belichick may rest much abused Tom Brady lately and key players who are questionable vs. playoff-seeking Jets, get healthier and go for this win against Miami? Knowing his history it's highly unlikely, but on the other hand maybe this is "best for the team?"

Ken Luboff*

I don't see that as having much of a chance to happen. Even if the Broncos and Bengals lose the Patriots will still likely want to keep playing unless it's a situation where an injured player is involved. Like the case with Rob Gronkowski in Houston, perhaps Belichick would err on the side of caution and sit him out if he didn't feel the game was vital to playoff seeding. But I can't imagine Brady sitting out without any significant injury. He may take the second half of the finale off as he did last year, but I'd be stunned if he missed the entire game while healthy. Of course that's still two weeks away so a lot can change between now and then – like it did in Cincinnati when Andy Dalton broke his thumb and likely ended the Bengals chances of finally doing something in the playoffs.
Paul Perillo

If the LeGarrette Blount injury is serious (hopefully not), is there any chance the Pats bring Ray Rice in for a workout and possibly sign him? I know it would be a press nightmare that Bill Belichick would hate, but I feel like he will do anything to improve his team, and with his love of Rutgers players it may be a very good fit for a career revival for the troubled former star.

Rory Harwood*

Belichick has taught me to never dismiss anything but in this case I'm pretty close to dismissing it. Robert Kraft has stated on the record that he would not sign Ray Rice in the past due to his domestic violence issues. Given that it would be quite difficult for me to ever imagine Rice in a Patriot uniform. I understand that conditions can change and a statement made in the past can sometimes be modified and change altogether, but in this case Kraft was quite adamant and I doubt he'd agree to go back on his word. Plus, the last we saw Rice on the field he was barely averaging 3 yards per carry. That, more so than any of his personal problems, is why he's no longer in the league.
Paul Perillo

The Patriots historically have excelled in clock management, but I cannot comprehend the recent decision made in the Denver game. Late in the fourth quarter with the Patriots holding a four-point lead, they get a first down at about the 45 with 2:53 left on the clock with Denver having only one timeout. Instead of running the football three times and then probably punting, Denver gets the ball back deep in their own territory with no timeouts and needing score a touchdown in the snow, the Patriots tried a pass and ironically that's the play Gronkowski got injured on Your thoughts?

Bill Parrott*

My first thought is this game took place three weeks ago and this entire scenario was analyzed and dissected to death. I totally agree with you and said so at the time. The Patriots should have melted clock and forced a young quarterback making his second career start to have to go 80-plus yards with no timeouts and less than two minutes left (probably around 1:15 if things went according to plan). Instead the incomplete pass allowed the Broncos to save the timeout and eventually get the ball back before the two-minute warning. Ultimately they had more than enough time without having to go into desperation mode and eventually took the lead with a touchdown. It was some curious clock management by the Patriots at a time when their decision-making is almost always spot on.
Paul Perillo

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