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Ask PFW: Getting over Miami

The loss to Miami left many wondering about the team's mindset heading into the playoffs.

Rumor has it that the Bills will cut ties with Mario Williams this offseason. Would it be a wise move for the Patriots to jump on this opportunity and sign him to boost the defense, or is he a player that is not worth investing the time and money because he's past his prime?

Sergio Oliveira*

I would definitely be interested in taking a run at Williams, provided that he isn't looking to break the bank as he did when he originally signed as a free agent in Buffalo. Williams is a gifted pass rusher off the edge but there have been a lot of stories out of Buffalo this season intimating that he wasn't necessary engaged in what the team was trying to do. Part of that stemmed for his displeasure with his role, which changed under Rex Ryan from the past. But there's never an excuse to quit on your teammates and that's what some of them have accused him of doing. Despite that, for a modest price and short-term deal, I'd love to bring Williams in as a pass rusher off the edge and allow Bill Belichick to figure out how to use such a talent best. Stockpiling former first-round picks is something Belichick has done often in the past and I could see this type of situation unfolding again with Williams.
Paul Perillo

Have the referees been instructed by the league to call offensive pass interference simply any time the Patriots complete a long pass? Because most of the time it's called, THERE IS NO OFFENSIVE PASS INTERFERENCE HAPPENING. It's the most over called penalty I have seen this year, and would be one thing if it's legit, but it almost feels like a conspiracy at this point. The call against Martin wiped out a huge gain and a great catch, and upon replay showed not even close to OPI happening. It's almost like the refs see long pass and just assume OPI when it's the Pats. I'm very concerned about this terrible officiating trend for the playoffs.

Nathan Feiles*

While I'm always very concerned about the officiating I can't say I agree with you about the particular play you're complaining about. I thought it was pretty clear that Martin pushed Brent Grimes as the pass was coming down. In fact, without the push I don't see any way that pass would have been completed, and in all actuality Martin's push more than likely prevented an interception. While I haven't always agreed with some of the offensive pass interference calls this season, especially the one on Rob Gronkowski in Denver that negated a key first down late in the game, I didn't have any problem with the call on Martin in Miami.
Paul Perillo

Given the injury situation and limited personnel, I didn't mind the conservative play-calling and limiting drop backs to focus on the running game, which may be needed in the postseason. However, if that was the game plan, why risk Brady when Jimmy Garoppolo can hand off the ball to the running backs, deliver short dump-off passes to the RBs/receivers and is more athletic to escape the Dolphins pass rush, which was always going to dominate a beaten up and shorthanded offensive line?

David Beckett*

I think it's a reasonable second-guess to suggest that Garoppolo could have played given the nature of the game plan the Patriots used in the first half in Miami. I didn't like the game plan, however, regardless of the personnel available. The Patriots do not have the ability to line up and run the ball effectively enough to win a game exclusively on the ground so to try to win that way didn't make a lot of sense to me. But like you said, if that was going to be the plan I wouldn't have minded playing Garoppolo to prevent any opportunity for Brady to get nicked up, which is exactly what happened when Ndamukong Suh landed awkwardly on Brady's leg. But regardless of who is playing for the Patriots the offensive line must figure things out quickly.
Paul Perillo

Obviously with the active players against Miami, we'd be one-and-done in the postseason. Of the players who can return, who are the two most important offensive and defensive players to get back with any hope to at SB50?

James Siegel*

If we're talking about the players who missed the Miami game but have a chance to return I'd say the two most important are Julian Edelman and Dont'a Hightower. Hightower is just so versatile and does so many things for the defense that it's tough for one player to replace him in the lineup. The offensive line is a mess and Sebastian Vollmer is probably the unit's most talented member. So having him back should at least help the group, although things weren't really all that much better when he was playing. If Edelman can return to anything close to his normal form he should give the offense a lift, giving Brady his reliable outlet receiver and some run-after-catch ability. Chandler Jones would probably be next on the list, but considering the defense still has Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard as edge rushers I feel his loss is more easily absorbed. But if we're going with my top two it would be Edelman and Hightower.
Paul Perillo

Bill Belichick definitely got outcoached, forget the irrelevant Josh McDaniels. Why runs up the middle, when it did not work? Why very little passes during the game? The Miami QB outplayed Brady big time (completed more passes for various distances). How is this team going to advance in the playoffs? And where is David Andrews? Why is he not playing center?

John Daley*

Well I can't say I disagree with you about the game plan in Miami. Way too much running early and not enough of the short passing game that has become the staple of the Patriots offense. It seems as if the Patriots are intent on throwing the ball deep and that doesn't appear to play to the strengths of Brady or the receivers. I'm not sure why you're wondering about Andrews, who played plenty of center in Miami even though he didn't start. Regardless of the personnel things up front haven't been good enough. Whether it's Andrews or Bryan Stork in the lineup to me is not a huge deal.
Paul Perillo

Regarding the Dolphins game, I have just watched the first half, and I cannot believe that the game plan was to run up the middle. I did not count, but I believe the total passes thrown was around 4 or 5.  And somebody, anybody, should tell McDaniels that side passes do not work, which they didn't. They got minus yards on maybe the 2 side passes thrown. What is going on? Are they trying their best to lose the game?

Ron Dionne*

As I've already stated I didn't like the game plan to run so often early in the Miami game. However, I had no problem with the short passes and screens; they just didn't work. The Patriots passing game is often filled with quick throws and screens that rely on mismatches in coverage and rub plays that get the receivers in the clear. I thought the Patriots actually went deep too often in Miami and those low-percentage throws fell incomplete. But overall I'd agree with you – that game plan was not the best.
Paul Perillo

I am writing this email at halftime of the game at Miami. This reminds me of the Super Bowl loss to New York. Brady under center for most of the game! This team is built to be in the gun and using the short in cut/crossing routes as a substitute for the running game. The Patriots will not repeat if they continue to try and be what they are not and that is a running team under center. I understand the want to run the ball but this year that just isn't in the cards.

Ron Scarlata*

Groveland, Fla.*

Obviously this is the hot topic this week and at this point I'm not sure how much more I could add to the equation. I didn't like the run heavy approach but it has nothing to do with the shotgun or being under center; to me it was simply about running too much. The Patriots offense generally needs to set up the run with the pass and on Sunday they tried to do it the other way around. It didn't work.
Paul Perillo

Random thought regarding the running back position; why didn't the Patriots go after Dujuan Harris instead of Steven Jackson? He was cut by Seattle, and in my opinion had more upside than the "elderly" Jackson. He's a younger guy, so I would think that would be a better way to go. What's your opinion of Harris?

David Sarro*

While I haven't been impressed by the work of Jackson thus far I'm not sure why you're enamored with Harris. He was on four teams in his first four years in the league and that doesn't even count the five different teams he's been a part of in 2015. He finished the season in San Francisco but since entering the league in 2011 he's played 25 games and has 80 carries for 312 yards and a pair of touchdowns. At 27 years old it's not like he's a rookie. At this point I think Harris is what he is and that would appear to be a journeyman at best.
Paul Perillo

Where you surprised by the amount of press man coverage and man blitzes the Patriots deployed against Miami? Doesn't playing man coverage work AGAINST a secondary that struggles against the pass? I would think that since we have a formidable pass rush and a less talented secondary, we would use more zone coverages and zone blitzes to confuse the quarterback, take pressure off of the cornerbacks and avoid giving Ryan Tannehill easy one-read progressions and pick plays. I felt every time we blitzed or played press man, we gave up solid chunks through the air. Your thoughts?

Heber Guerra*

I honestly didn't see it that way at all as I didn't feel like the Patriots blitz an inordinate amount of times. And really the Patriots secondary has played a lot of man coverage this season and the secondary has actually performed reasonably well in those situations. I thought there were some communication breakdowns against Miami where the safeties appeared to be out of position at times, but really the biggest problem was DeVante Parker got the better of Logan Ryan and Greg Jennings proved to be a problem as well. The pass rush rarely forced Tannehill to make any throws under duress and the results were obviously not good. But I didn't really see any problems with the defensive game plan – of course I'm by no means a defensive coordinator in waiting either.
Paul Perillo

Where has Scott Chandler been? Chandler seems like almost a forgotten weapon. Whatever happened to him and Rob Gronkowski lining up in 2 TE sets? Is he just not getting it? Or is more that Brady doesn't have confidence in him?



I think there have been several factors that have contributed to Chandler's problems, not the least of which was unrealistic expectations from the fans when he signed. There was a lot of talk about two tight-end sets like the old days with Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and I couldn't really understand why people felt Chandler was that kind of player. Throughout his time in Buffalo he was a capable receiver and a suspect blocker, but not real dynamic in terms of his pass-catching ability. Hernandez was really a slot receiver disguised as a tight end, and Chandler doesn't move anywhere near that well to fill that sort of role. He started out getting some opportunities in the red zone and frankly he didn't catch enough of the passes Brady threw to him to maintain that role. Not surprisingly Brady hasn't looked his way as often during the second half of the season. Then as the season wore on injuries took their toll and Chandler has been limited greatly by a knee problem over the last month. Overall I'd say he's been a disappointment but not to the degree that most others feel. I thought Chandler could catch around 40 balls and maybe rack up six or seven touchdowns, and while he hasn't met those expectations his 23 receptions and four touchdowns haven't fallen that far short of my perception.
Paul Perillo

Much criticism, and rightfully so, has been heaped upon the poor play of the offensive line after the Dolphins loss.  We keep hearing about injuries, but all teams have injuries this time of year and for the offensive line to be playing like a turnstile after several weeks is inexcusable. However, I see the defense as the even bigger problem. 438 yards given up to the lowly Dolphins is pathetic. In your opinion which is the bigger problem right now, the O-line or the defense.

Kim Goldstein*

I understand what you're getting at and I don't believe the defense has played all that well over the last two games but to me the offensive line is the top area of concern at the moment. The Patriots offense hasn't looked the same in weeks and the reason for that is the front can't protect Brady. They haven't been able to run the ball effectively all year, especially since Dion Lewis left the lineup and took with him some of the surprise draws, etc. that he ran so well. Overall injuries and ineffectiveness have left the offensive line searching for answers and until the unit finds them Brady will have a tough time getting into any rhythm. The defense has been pretty stout against the run and been able to generate pressure on the passer most of the season. It hasn't been great, but if the offense was scoring at the early-season rate I don't think there would be many questions on that side of the ball.
Paul Perillo

The Pats used to run more hurry up. That used to work well and seemed to slow the defenses down a bit if they could string a couple first downs together. Do you think they should do more of it? Any ideas why they don't use that much anymore?


It's hard to use a lot of hurry up when there are so many young/inexperienced players in the lineup. The offensive line has included LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming at times in recent weeks, and with receivers like Keshawn Martin and tight end Michael Williams filling significant roles it's hard to ask those players to do things they've never really done – like the hurry up. But the biggest reason to me is the line's inability to protect Brady. In Miami the Patriots barely threw the ball and Brady still was under siege. Running the no huddle could further expose those linemen to mistakes that could put Brady in further jeopardy. I understand the Patriots have used it well over the years and I expect to see some of it in the playoffs, but only if some of the regular personnel returns.
Paul Perillo

If Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia leave, who would be "on deck" to take those positions, if the Patriots elect to promote from within?

D. Schumacher*

The answer on offense is a bit easier as tight ends coach Brian Daboll has experience as an offensive coordinator during his time with Miami and Cleveland. He also came up in the Patriots organization and has been a trusted member of Bill Belichick's staff for a long time. He'd be the most likely candidate to replace McDaniels. On defense my first thought would be linebackers coach Patrick Graham, but the more likely answer may in fact be nobody. Belichick has occasionally opted against naming an official coordinator when a vacancy comes up and instead sticks with the status quo. This happened to Patricia himself when Dean Pees left the organization in 2009 and the Patriots didn't name a replacement for two years before Patricia got the title. I could see such a scenario unfolding again this time if there are more defections.
Paul Perillo

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