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Ask PFW: Flores' impact, improvement up front and more

Brian Flores may not have the title of defensive coordinator but he's running the show and leads off this week's Ask PFW mailbag.


I noticed that Brian Flores was calling plays for the defense against Washington. Will he be the new defensive coordinator on opening day?
Paula Fitzhenry

All indications are that Flores is the new defensive coordinator but he has not yet received that formal title and I wouldn't expect him to this season. During the spring and summer practices that we've been able to watch, Flores has been the guy in control of the defense, calling the signals and directing the personnel groupings, etc. The players have spoken about his coaching style with plenty of praise as well, which would be another indication that he is the boss on that side of the ball. But Bill Belichick has often not given a coach the title immediately and it seems like that will be the case with Flores as well. So while he might not be officially the defensive coordinator, he is the one handling those duties.
Paul Perillo

I wasn't able to watch the game against Washington. How did the offensive and defensive lines look?
Monty Borrowman

Like the game in general it was a mixed bag. In the first half the offensive line did a pretty good job protecting Brian Hoyer but was unable to create much room for the running backs. In the second half things changed as the Patriots ran all over Washington and that was the reason they completed the comeback. The second half performance of the offensive line should not come as much of a shock given the considerable experience level of the backups. Matt Tobin (sixth year), Luke Bowanko (fifth year) and Ulrick John (fifth year) have all been around the NFL for a while and they dominated the Redskins younger players throughout the final 30 minutes. On defense the group performed pretty well throughout. They created some pressure on the passer and did a pretty stout job of stopping the run as well. Danny Shelton, Deatrich Wise, Derek Rivers, Malcom Brown and Adam Butler all saw significant action in the first half and Washington had just 60 yards on 18 carries for a 3.3-yard average during that time. It wasn't great by any means but a solid improvement over last season.
Paul Perillo

I was really hoping to see the Patriots address their defense in this year's draft. They again didn't do that. A speedy, athletic sideline-to-sideline linebacker would have been a welcomed addition instead they went offense? There is no one in the Patriots defense that instills fear or is a game changer or can get consistent pressure on the quarterback or disrupt the line. Have the Patriots ever won a Super Bowl without a consistent pass rush ala Richard Seymour, Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel, Chandler Jones? I would really like to see the Patriots aggressively pursue someone like Khalil Mack and/or Aaron Donald. This group is not going to get it done. What are the chances that the front office is even considering this? Scheme will only get you so far as last year's Super Bowl proved and you have to have skill and athleticism at some point to compete and the Patriots still stick to their frugal ways at the cost of performance.
Robert Simmons

Wow, this post really escalated in a hurry. How did we get from not drafting defense early last spring to the Patriots frugal ways? Seems like a stretch. The Patriots had a few holes that needed to be addressed coming into the season and they opted to try to fill one early in the draft with Isaiah Wynn. Nate Solder is gone and the need for a left tackle existed. They also picked up Trent Brown, and it looks like he will be the one to fill the void at the outset. But clearly left tackle was a priority. After that the Patriots took a couple of athletic linebackers early in Day 3 and it looks like Ja'Whaun Bentley and Christian Sam have a chance to stick around. They're rookies so I don't expect huge contributions in the first season but they have the potential to help. I'd also argue that New England won the Super Bowl against Atlanta without the dominant pass rusher that you're talking about although I'd certainly be in favor of adding a dynamic presence like Mack to the mix. Even so, the defense has improved on paper from a year ago with the addition of Adrian Clayborn, the return from injury for Dont'a Hightower and Derek Rivers and perhaps the maturation of Deatrich Wise. Sure, adding Mack or Donald would be blockbuster deal but that would be unlikely given the timing and resources it would take to make such a deal a reality.
Paul Perillo

IMHO, nobody should be even thinking of trading Rob Gronkowski now. Why? Suddenly, the deep receiver group does not have a single star receiver or even a true No. 1 receiver and that includes the aged, injured and suspended Julian Edelman. The RB group looked loaded but Sony Michel has knee issues and Jeremy Hill could be what Mike Gillislee should have been and not. My question is about Devin Lucien. Why would a player not help himself by also playing special teams? Lucien, like Gillislee, has the physical tools but don't play special teams even though it can be a make-or-break situation for them. I just don't get it.
Ken K.

I'm not sure anyone is thinking about trading Gronk at this time but I guess we never know. Maybe Gronk could be included in a deal to acquire Mack or Donald and that way Robert will be happy … but I doubt it. The Patriots are certainly lacking depth and talent at receiver at the moment with injuries and inconsistency plaguing the entire group. Right now it looks like Edelman, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson and probably Kenny Britt will comprise the unit. If healthy, there's some talent there but that's a big if. In terms of the special teams portion of your question, why would you assume Lucien and Gillislee are unwilling to play special teams? Usually wide receivers are involved in the return game if they play at all on special teams and I haven't seen Lucien fielding any punts or kicks. But I would assume that means he has no interest in it. Same for Gillislee. For whatever reason the coaches must not see them as fits in the coverage game or otherwise they'd be getting reps with everyone else.
Paul Perillo

I know Danny Etling only played against mostly players hoping to make the team. However, I think I saw some potential there. I have never been a fan of Brian Hoyer. What's the possibility Danny Etling makes the team and if so, do you think he may become the second backup over Hoyer?
Gordon Haym

Well, Etling really didn't play much at all and when he did things weren't really all that smooth. He completed 2 of 5 passes and nearly had one of those picked off. He also fumbled when he and Gillislee had trouble on an exchange that looked like it may have been a run-pass option. Considering his lack of experience it wasn't a terrible debut, but I didn't see the positives from that performance that you evidently did. In terms of practice, Etling looks like he has a long way to go just to get to the level of a backup. I don't think Hoyer played all that well either, but at this stage his experience has him well above Etling and looking pretty safe to return as Brady's No. 2.
Paul Perillo

I looked at all of Bill Belichick's second-round picks. I would say he's batting about a .500 with the stars like Gronk, Sebastian Vollmer, Deion Branch, Matt Light, Patrick Chung and Shane Vereen offset by the putrid duds like Chad Jackson, Ras-I-Dowling, Terrence Wheatley, Ron Brace, Aaron Dobson, Jermaine Cunningham, etc. with plenty of JAGS in between. I'm not including Jimmy Garoppolo because if he turns into a star it will be for another team. What I noticed about the duds is that BB really made a stretch for most of them where the scouts pegged them much lower in the draft such as Tavon Wilson most recently. On the current roster, Jordan Richards is next up as a stretch second-rounder who was a bust. Cyrus Jones is probably next after that although admittedly he was less of a stretch pick. What's with BB and his lousy track record taking second-round stretch picks.
Alan Bernstein

Belichick has certainly struggled at times in the second round and some of the players you mentioned are prime examples. Picks in that area are expected to help the team and too many of the guys you mentioned did little to nothing for New England during their time here. But I don't look at Belichick as being any different from most coaches in that regard. First, forget about the notion of stretch picks. Just because the Patriots board may differ from some others doesn't mean it's wrong. So you might think a player is a stretch but the Patriots had him rated in the area they took him. Sometimes that turns out to be a guy like Vollmer. Other times it's a guy like Tavon Wilson. There are plenty of hits and misses in the draft and while I'm not dismissing the misses you mentioned, I am giving more credit to Belichick for the hits than you are. There have been some pockets in the draft lately that have left the team a little thin in terms of young talent, and Tom Brady's greatness among other things has helped cover up for some of those weaknesses. Overall I'm pretty content with the way Belichick constructs the team every year and has the Patriots in contention for the title. So there are some misses in the second round but they are outweighed by the fact that the Patriots are always a treat to win it all.
Paul Perillo

With Jeremy Hill apparently taking on more special teams work, and running well between the tackles, is it possible he makes both Mike Gillislee and Brandon Bolden expendable, thus opening up a roster place for someone else? I also wanted to know how Cyrus Jones was getting on. He struggled as a rookie but given he was injured last year could he still be in line for a theoretical Year 2 jump? Also, how do you see the receiver depth chart shaking out? Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Julian Edelman, Eric Decker to make the team, possibly Devin Lucien while Edelman is suspended?_
Alex Marr

Lots of questions but since this has been a rather light mailbag I'll try to touch on all of them. Hill has definitely been more impressive than Gillislee and if there's only room for one on the roster I'd have to say he has a leg up. But I wouldn't be so quick to right off Bolden, especially with Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel injured. Burkhead has battled injuries throughout his career and he's dealing with something now that has kept him off the practice field the last few days. Michel could be out until the start of the regular season, and if that's the case Belichick probably would want some added depth in case he's not quite ready. Bolden always seems to be on the bubble and we've written him off before, but somehow he seems to stick around. As for Jones, yes he will looking for a Year 2 jump of sorts but that's asking a lot of a guy coming off a torn ACL. My guess is he'll get a chance to be the punt returner and if he wins the job he could serve in that role during September with Edelman out. If he fares well he could stick around. In terms of defense, his reps thus far have been limited to the scout team, but he's only been practicing for a few days so that could change. Overall I don't view him as much of an option in the secondary but if he can improve his ball security he could provide some value as a punt returner. Finally the receivers – I agree with your top four and I'd add Kenny Britt as the fifth. Decker looks like he's squarely on the bubble at this point. He hasn't been able to consistently get open and he's struggled to catch the ball. The latter point is as important as the first since he's probably battling the mental side as he tries to learn the system. But the first point is relevant. Some believed the reason he was still available in the first place was that he could no longer run effectively. After his initial practices when he was clearly fresher than everybody else, he's looked slow in his routes and has had trouble getting off press coverage. He could make the cut based on availability but at this point he's no lock.
Paul Perillo

What do you think the great BB sees in Eric Rowe and Jordan Richards? They were targeted in the Super Bowl and were constantly beat. Just the thought of those two being on the team in 2018 sets us up for failure. What gives?_
Jim Sullivan

I don't think those two players are comparable at all. Rowe has been far more effective in coverage than Richards and he's certainly worthy of a roster spot. Now, I wouldn't have started him over Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl, but if he's one of your four corners I don't see anything wrong with that. He has some length and physicality to his game and has shown the ability to perform when healthy. Richards is strictly a special teams player in my mind and I don't see him as a true option at safety. He struggles with angles tackling and hasn't shown the ability to cover. Belichick obviously likes him because Richards is part of pretty much every special teams unit so I'm not sure he's going anywhere. We'll have a to wait a few more weeks to see how it all plays out.
Paul Perillo

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