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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Thu May 16 - 02:00 PM | Tue May 21 - 11:55 AM

Ask PFW: Gostkowski's struggles, pass defense concerns and more!

New England is off to a 5-1 start atop the AFC, but fans fill out this week’s Ask PFW with plenty of questions regarding some of the Patriots perceived weaknesses.


Hi guys, my question is about offensive and defensive lines. Our offensive line can't keep the pocket clean and allows a lot of hits, pressures and sacks. While Solder and Thuney are doing an OK job, Andrews and Mason are average at best and Cannon, even playing better this year, is awful. On the other side of the ball, our defensive line isn't generating pressure, needing blitzes to break the pocket. Even Sheard, one of the best DE in the NFL, is not so good this year. What can we do on both sides of the ball to improve? Is Jackson a better option than Mason?
Gregorio Ladeira

I don't see any dramatic personnel changes altering the lineup on the lines. While theoretically Sebastian Vollmer returning to right tackle from PUP would be a huge upgrade, reports have indicated that may not be a likely scenario at this point. The offensive line has certainly had its ups and downs this season. As you mentioned, the left side has been solid for the most part. We do need to remember that Joe Thuney is a rookie while David Andrews and Shaq Mason are in their second season. So, experience should lead to improvement. They should be ascending talents. Tre' Jackson could be an option, but I've always thought the team liked Mason more. When Jackson gets healthy, maybe we'll find out. The youthful potential isn't true of Cannon, but he has been good enough as a right tackle and probably is capable of that level again under Dante Scarnecchia's tutelage. Certainly the group needs to be better than it was on Sunday against Cincy when early and consistent pressure were an issue. That improvement would ideally come soon, but certainly by the Dec. 18 trip to Denver it is a necessity. As for the defensive line, I think the defensive tackles have done a really good job for a pretty solid run defense. The issues you bring up are with the edge guys and the pass rush. While I don't think Jabaal Sheard is anywhere near one of the best defensive ends in the NFL, in the wake of the Chandler Jones trade this offseason he does face increased expectations that he's not yet lived up to. Rob Ninkovich will help as he rounds into shape after his four-game suspension. Still, the pass rush has been a major disappointment to open the year. Maybe Barkevious Mingo can add an element in that area at some point. Otherwise, it's up to Sheard, Ninkovich, Chris Long, Shea McClellin and Trey Flowers to be better.
Andy Hart

Hey! Pats fan from Sweden here! The question is highly hypothetical and assumes Garoppolo keeps getting better. (If Pats want) He extends, develops and wait out Brady's contract and eventually start for Pats, a SB-eligible team but it can take some years for him to get the starting job. Or he gets traded and starts for a non SB-competing team but he gets the start right away. I wonder what you would have chosen to do? Ring or starting job? Why go to say, Browns or Bears and never get another ring? My second question is about Cameron Fleming. During preseason many predicted that he'd be cut, given BB's latest praises have he played himself to a spot on the team long term even if he's not a starter yet?
Quyen Le

I believe every player in every sport wants to ascend to the highest role possible. For Garoppolo, that would be as a starting quarterback. And there is a major flaw with your scenario, which is the assumption that he couldn't win a ring in another city. As a confident competitor I'm sure Garoppolo believes he's good enough to help a team win a Super Bowl, at least that's how I'd feel. The New England backup already has a Super Bowl ring from his rookie year in the shadow of Tom Brady, but I'm sure he'd much rather start than hang around to possibly win another as a backup without a real role on the team. That's what I would want to do. I would want to play, compete and prove myself capable of leading a team to the top of the football mountain. My guess – just a guess – is that Garoppolo feels the same way. He is on record saying you don't play football to be a backup. As for Fleming, I don't think he's done anything beyond earn a key backup role on this team. He's done a nice job filling in at both left and right tackle to help the Patriots to road victories this season. He's drawn praise for his work ethic and accountability. But that doesn't mean he's a future full-time starter or star by any means. Clearly he could be around for a while given the impression he's made on his coaches and teammates, but that doesn't mean he's a future building block(er). I don't think he is. I think he's a capable backup. There is no shame in that. 
Andy Hart

Hey guys. It's hard to be a Pats fan in Western NY because all we get on TV is the Bills, and of course we all hate the Bills. Thought Shady McCoy's season was history after a knee injury in the 2nd quarter, but he was right back out there after half time. Barring an injury like that to a key player like McCoy, are the Bills the biggest legitimate threat to the Patriots this year? Even writing that feels like I should just laugh about it, but seriously, I don't see another consistent, well balanced team in the AFC right now. I'd love your thoughts!
Andrew Silbert

Certainly at this point in the year the Bills look like the closest and only competitor to the Patriots in the AFC East. That's obviously strengthened by the fact they knocked off New England in Foxborough a couple weeks ago and will host Bill Belichick's team on Halloween Eve in Buffalo with first place in the division possibly on the line. But they are far from the only competition in the AFC. I think the Steelers, when healthy, have the weapons to compete with anyone in the conference. Flipping that script, the Broncos have the defense to remain a contender if they get even adequate play on offense from the quarterback position. I also think the young, upstart Raiders have the talent and ability on both sides of the ball to make some noise this season. None is as consistent as Belichick's Patriots, though. That's for sure.
Andy Hart

Who would you want to play against in the Super Bowl? I personally would like to take it to Dak Prescott and the 'Boys but I don't want them to have the privilege of getting there. Plus I feel like their tailback could give us problems. What are your thoughts?
Robert Miles

The idea of the Patriots and Cowboys meeting in the Super Bowl is an intriguing one. The storylines are endless. It's America's Team from decades ago against America's Team of the present. Prescott would be on a Tom Brady-like run as a young passer taking the job from a franchise legend. But there are other matchups I think would be cool, first and foremost a rematch with the Seahawks that would pit Bennett vs. Bennett. The upstart Vikings might be interesting, too. But as far as Star power, nothing would beat Jerry Jones and the Cowboys, with the Patriots likely ruining their championship dreams in Houston. 
Andy Hart

Love hearing your insights on Malcolm Mitchell. To me he seems to be a great, young talent and I know with the deep array of weapons N.E. has, he is still learning a lot about the big leagues. How does he get on with Tom and his teammates? How long is he signed with them and when can we expect to see him become the weapon he should be? Or am I wrong about his potential? Because barring injury, I think this kid is the real deal....Please fill me in...Thank you...
Mike Dumas

Mitchell (who is signed through 2019) has certainly shown a lot to like in his short time in New England as a rookie fourth-round pick. He's seemingly picked up the offense well. He showed some toughness coming back from what looked like an ugly preseason injury. Now, there is obviously a long way to go before he cracks into the inner circle of Brady's weapons. There are a lot of very talented, experienced guys ahead of him on the depth chart. And with Brady missing the first month to suspension, his relationship with the young receiver is likely a work in progress. There was nothing to indicate it wasn't going well in the preseason. But due to Mitchell's injury and Brady's suspension the players just haven't had as much time to work together as might have otherwise been the case. Mitchell has set a nice foundation to build on in New England, but he has a long ways to go. If everyone else stays healthy, he may be a complementary option as a rookie with the potential of an increased role down the road. Still, I like what I've seen from him more so than what we saw from young receivers in the past such as Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and others. Only time and opportunity will tell what the future holds.
Andy Hart

Hello from Nashville. A year or two ago one of you gentlemen wrote that we wouldn't see the Patriots in throwback uniforms that season because the NFL instated a rule that required using same helmets week-to-week as a concussion protocol. Thursday night's Chargers/Broncos game, in those unpleasant color rush uniforms, featured throwback helmets. Are helmet changes no longer a safety concern and does the NFL helmet rule reversal apply all season or just to the color rush gimmick, i.e. can/will the Patriots be bringing back Pat for a game this year? Thanks for entertaining this random question.
Aaron J.

The Broncos used their regular helmets in the game, simply with a throwback decal on the side. They did not change helmets and that is still not allowed by the NFL. The Patriots could do something similar – with either a Pat Patriot decal on the current silver helmets or a full-helmet wrap – if they wanted to. As of now, though, there is no plan for such. And I take offensive to the "unpleasant" description of the uniforms for Denver and San Diego. I thought they were awesome. There is nothing better than a team wearing all orange (without question the greatest color) for a football game. The Chargers uniforms were pretty cool, too. I know I'm in the minority but I look forward to the Color Rush uniforms Nike has put together each Thursday night. It's a cool gimmick for some otherwise pretty bad mid-week football games.
Andy Hart

I'm wondering about the status of the PUP guys and how likely is it that they will be back at 100% by the end of the season? It seems with the lack of depth in the interior of the O-line that BB must think Tre Jackson will be ready to go as soon as he's eligible - which is: 6 or 8 weeks? Lewis's injury seems like something you just don't know, could morph into IR. What was the injury that put Vollmer on PUP? Is there a good chance he'll be back, or is it just that he was eligible, so why not?
David Pineo

Jackson would seem to be the closest candidate to at least begin practicing, which is now an option for all three PUP Patriots. He's been out on the field with his teammates before practice at times in recent weeks getting loose. There is also not a ton of depth on the interior line right now, so Jackson's return might be welcomed assuming his knee is ready to go. Lewis has been in the locker room recently, but his status seems a bit more uncertain after a follow-up knee procedure while coming back from his torn ACL. The consistent play of James White in the passing back role at this point allows the team to take its time and not rush Lewis. Certainly it would be nice to see Lewis back, at full health, to add yet another dimension to the offense as he did for a short time early last season. Finally, when Vollmer went on PUP with a hip injury this summer reports indicated that it might be a season-ending issue. Nothing I've seen or read has added to or undercut those reports. As such, I'm not counting on Vollmer at this point.
Andy Hart

Being a Pats fan I'll be honest I'm worried that about out cornerbacks' contracts. Do you think Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan will be in New England next year? Another question regarding Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower, which one of them is of more value to the team if the Patriots are unable to keep them both this offseason?
Les Cox Jr.

I've said all along that I don't see Ryan in a Patriots uniform after this season. He has an impressive resume playing out his fourth season and will be an enticing commodity on what is generally a seller's market for cornerbacks in free agency, likely driving his paycheck well beyond what the Patriots might be looking to pay. On the other hand, I don't see any way that Butler is anywhere but New England coming off his third season. He'll be a restricted free agent this coming spring, so his options will be limited. Whether he gets an extension or has to play on a tender, I expect Butler to be the Patriots No. 1 cornerback again in 2017. The linebackers are an interesting topic. After Collins' huge game in Week 3 against the Texans, everyone was promoting the idea of signing him. Now, after Hightower's huge day against the Bengals everyone says he's the guy who must be taken care of first. I don't see any reason why the Patriots can't keep both players for at least one more year. One could be signed to a long term extension and the other given the franchise tag. Or, both could get deals. Certainly consistency and health are an issue for both players, who've rarely been on the field together for New England the last couple years. But the impact, potential and upside of each is also huge. Right now – and I'm sure I'm like the rest of the world and swayed by Sunday's game – I'd sign Hightower first. But, there is no reason that they both can't be back for at least one more year together next fall.
Andy Hart

How much does losing a coach or coordinator affect a game? Such as in the Denver Thursday night game, the Broncos were without [head coach] Gary Kubiak, so I'm wondering to how much effect it could have if say the Pats lost McDaniels, Patricia, or even the great BB for a week? I know the other coaches would help fill in but how much behind the scenes stuff would be lost?
Ashton Stelljes

Certainly it's far from ideal to lose a coach, either for the game planning during the week or for game day. Kubiak's situation is interesting in that he's the primary play-caller in a unique system on offense in Denver that actually has many voices getting a say in the operation. Losing a play-caller changes many things, including the voice in the quarterback's ear (or linebacker's) as well as the feel and flow of the plays called. The Patriots attempt to prepare for this scenario each summer giving others, such as tight ends coach and former Browns/Dolphins/Chiefs coordinator Brian Daboll, a chance to call plays in the preseason. The biggest loss, by far, would be losing Belichick for a week of game planning. He has his hands in everything that's done in all three phases of the game. Losing that in the game plan process simply can't be overcome, even with an all-hands-on-deck approach. Still, with veteran staffs with some continuity like the Patriots have, guys would always be able to step up and cover for a short-term loss on the staff as they did in New England a few years back when Belichick left the team after the death of his father. It's not ideal, but it happens from time to time. Of course, the Broncos didn't look great without Kubiak. Was that just because of his absence or related to the many other factors in a Thursday night road game? No one can know for sure. The next man up theory is great until that guy isn't capable of doing the job.
Andy Hart

Hey PFW, this question comes from a Cajun down Louisiana way. How does Bill consistently draft players, not in the first round, and make them world-beaters? (Gronk, Brady, Butler, Collins, the list goes on). I also was wondering when you guys think the Pats might host a Super Bowl? Would be awesome to see Brady go out on the big stage in Gillette.
Spencer Baum


Belichick has been able to find talent all over the draft and even in free agency over the years to build a consistent winner. Certainly nothing had a greater impact on that than landing Brady in the sixth round. He's also had a very strong run of first-round picks with maybe only Dominique Easley falling into the bust category in his two-year stint in New England that saw him start just three games. Other than that Belichick regularly added starting-caliber players in the top round, not something that's true for all teams. Now, Belichick has had plenty of misses in the second round and beyond, as is the case with all personnel men. His hits have come in various ways. He's had the opportunity to take chances on guys like Gronkowski, who came out with a back injury. Not all teams could/would take that risk. As for the Super Bowl, I can't see any way it will ever be in Foxborough. Sorry to burst your cold-weather dream, but I don't share your vision.
Andy Hart

Given that Hightower and Collins are expected to get pretty big deals and Belichick thinks highly of both of them and Malcolm Butler's contract expiring soon, what are the realistic expectations of us extending those 3 and Bennett?
Yogi Patel

The Patriots will have the money to get just about anything they want done given how clear the team's books are moving forward. But you still have to prioritize players and do smart deals that make sense with the cap and budget short and long term. I also haven't joined the mix of the must-sign-Bennett crowd. He's off to a nice start in his New England career. But it's the honeymoon period and I'd like to see it all play out before we jump to contract conclusions with a guy who has a history of bad divorces with previous teams. He's also in his ninth season, so he's no spring chicken. And the better he plays this year, the more his price tag will probably go up. Rob Gronkowski is the top dog on the tight end depth chart and pay scale in New England. I'm not sure the budget will warrant spending big money on Bennett moving forward. I probably wouldn't as I would focus on keeping Collins, Hightower and Butler in the fold.
Andy Hart

Hi from Mexico. How do you see our secondary? This last few weeks our opponents keep attacking it, specially Logan Ryan and made profit almost every play, I'm confident in the roster but I haven't seem improvement in the back end.
Antonio Cazarez

Hola from Foxborough! The secondary still scares me. Before Sunday it looked like the group would get a huge test this week against the Steelers, but the injury to Ben Roethlisberger changes things a bit. Still, teams continue to convert third downs and make plays when they need to through the air. Beyond Ryan being picked on at times, I am concerned with the depth at cornerback. Cyrus Jones and Justin Coleman, who I thought were the top options as the No. 3 corner, were healthy scratches on Sunday. Eric Rowe came on and had a key pass defense covering A.J. Green in his debut, but is the newcomer a guy capable of starting if either Ryan or Butler got hurt? I have my doubts. Given the continuity and supposed talent in the back end, I've been a little disappointed that the group hasn't shown more improvement in the early stages in 2016. 
Andy Hart

Not meaning to offend J. Richards but I still can believe we didn't scoop now Cardinal RB David Johnson up with that pick. Can you imagine?!
H. Horvath

To be fair, Johnson did go 22 picks later in the draft after the Patriots took Richards at No. 64 overall. Two other running backs even went before Johnson. Now, Johnson has gone on to be a stud running back in the NFL while Richards has not been able to carve out even a rotational role for himself on defense. So it doesn't look great. And Johnson certainly would look very good as the single back in the Patriots spread attacks. But, it is what it is. (Why is that phrase always on the tip of my tongue? I feel like I hear it all the time from somewhere.)
Andy Hart

Bonjour from up here! What's happening to our favorite kicker, Stephen Gostkowski? He's been regularly missing kicks since last year's playoffs. Is he injured, is this permanent or just a phase? Should we try to trade him back for Adam Vinatieri (just kidding...)?
Alain Lecavalier
Shefford, Quebec

Gostkowski is clearly in a bit of a slump. He's already missed three field goals this fall, the same number he missed all of last season. He also missed a PAT against the Bengals. And we all remember the PAT he missed last January in Denver. But we should also remember that Gostkowski was the All-Pro kicker last season, when he didn't miss a kick until late November. Gostkowski called his most recent PAT miss – snapping his NFL record at 478 consecutive PATs dating back to 2006 – "inexcusable." He knows he needs to get back to his best. I'm not aware of any injury. I don't think he's gotten old overnight. Some wonder if his work on high, short kickoffs has affected his stroke. I don't really buy that. I think he's in a slump. It happens. He needs to work his way out of it.
Andy Hart

Hey PFW, huge fan. I was wondering if you guys are also seeing the struggles of Cyrus Jones? He has had multiple muffed punts or not fair catching when he should. He also got beat, pretty badly in man, on the first TD by the Browns. I am not sure if we can say these are rookie mistakes, because he fielded punts and covered NFL caliber players in the SEC and was extremely solid, any concern to you?
Paul Bigalow

Jones has not gotten off to a great start in his NFL career, there is no question about that. Things probably bottomed out over the last week when he gave up the touchdown you mentioned, was ejected for throwing a punch in Cleveland and then was a healthy scratch against the Bengals. He's definitely had his issues as both a returner and in coverage. He is a rookie and there is a major transition, even for guys coming from the SEC. I'd be lying if I said I didn't have any concern about Jones' shaky start, but I also don't think it eliminates the possibility that he can be a major positive factor for this team later in the season as both a returner and at cornerback, where I think there is a borderline alarming lack of depth right now. 
Andy Hart

Why hasn't Eric Rowe been playing? If they were willing to part with a relatively high draft pick based on playing time and he was a former 2nd round pick and a 6-1 corner as well, what do you all think?
Lory Divita

Rowe made his debut last weekend against Cincy and had a key pass defense in the end zone in the fourth quarter covering A.J. Green. That's a pretty good first look. Rowe had been dealing with an ankle injury suffered in practice a week after he arrived in New England following the trade from Philly. He didn't get here till after Week 1. He needed to learn a new system on the fly and do so while dealing with an ankle injury. Now he's healthy, he has a month under his belt in practice and seems ready to help out in the back end. I'm intrigued with his size and potential as a second-round pick just a year ago. I also think there is a major need at cornerback, even if he does end up just being more of a matchup player, a possibility Belichick posed when the trade went down.
Andy Hart

Hello. I was wondering if we were to trade Jimmy G., how many draft picks do you think we would get?
Ship Crat

I know everyone assumes the Patriots will get a first-round pick, and I was once hopeful that would be the case, but I'm not so sure anymore. I think it's more likely that it's a second-round pick and them maybe another conditional pick or a player. Garoppolo only played for about six quarters as a starter and then got hurt. That's a limited sample. Plus, any team that adds him has to still give him big contract as a starter. It's similar to the situation with Matt Cassel back in the day, who brought a second-round pick from the Chiefs after he'd played essentially an entire season in 2008. Now, Cassel was a late-round pick while Garoppolo is a former second rounder, but I still think it may be hard to find a team willing to give up a first-round pick, especially since teams looking for a quarterback usually have pretty high draft picks. That's a lot to give up for a guy who is still a relative unknown with an injury history.
Andy Hart

Can you speak to how the Patriots are using Barkevious Mingo and how that will change in the future? Lots of promise since the acquisition from Cleveland but to only use him on special teams. Seems like a waste of a talent. Patriots fan since 1960.

Thomas Blaze

Hot take from the Blaze man! Sorry, couldn't resist. Mingo had a huge performance in the preseason finale after arriving via trade from Cleveland but has played primarily special teams in the regular season. Once seen as a defensive end with the Browns he's now a linebacker, or at least that's how he describes himself. He saw limited action on Sunday, which led to a bad matchup on the outside against Giovani Bernard on which he gave up a long double-move completion. Mingo is a unique athlete but has yet to it together as a productive NFL player. He's pretty undersized (skinny) and has been learning to play more in space. I think it's a work in progress. Given his late arrival and the learning curve on this defense it will be interesting to see if his role evolves as he settles in. At best, I think he's probably a situational player in certain game plans. But even that is a projection at this point given the limited reps we've seen from him on defense. 
Andy Hart

Hey PFW, big fan from Australia, I was wondering if much this years bolstered running game, which we saw in the first 4 weeks without Brady, will now be incorporated with the air attack with Brady back in the lineup, especially against teams like Denver with a vicious pass rush? With the addition of Bennett, surely we will not need to rely on the pass game as much, preventing many of the hits on Brady we saw last year. This wasn't really evident in the Cleveland game as we saw the patriots rely on the pass game and Brady passing 40 times.
Mike Su

I think that with Brady back under center the running game will go back to being a secondary, complementary aspect of the offense. Simply put, Brady dropping back to throw is a much more consistent, proven, productive option for the attack. The Blount-led ground game got more chances and was able to churn out some second-half production early in the year with the Patriots playing with young, unproven quarterbacks. That's no longer the case. We're kind of back to the days when the Patriots may try to establish the running game early against certain teams, but when that doesn't work it could be replaced by Brady-led passing attack pretty quickly. At least that's what I would do. I always think the chances for success are better when Brady drops back and looks for Gronkowski, more so than giving the ball to Blount. To me, most handoffs are a win for the defense when they play the Patriots. That would sign up for that most days. The Patriots – at running back and offensive line – just aren't built to be a run-first team right now, even if that would be a nice option to have against certain defenses that are teeing off in their pass rush.
Andy Hart

Hi guys big fan of yours. I just want to look a little further ahead if I may regarding next year's draft. Now that we have our first-round pick again, what position do you think we should address, I personally feel drafting either a tackle or cornerback should be our main priority with running back coming a close second. What are your thoughts? Thanks.
Faud Nehemen

Wow, this is looking ahead. But I love it. A lot of the needs could be decided by how things play out with contracts and free agency leading up to the draft. For example, if Hightower and Collins were both somehow allowed to leave via free agency then linebacker would be the top need by far. If they stay, then I think that cornerback is probably the top need (I assume Ryan will leave via free agency), followed by running back, defensive end and tackle.
Andy Hart

Is there a cap on how much a team can pay its coaches? If not, would the Pats ownership consider paying Josh McDaniels head coach money to keep him in NE until Belichick retires? Or do you think that McDaniels wants to run his own show regardless of whether the money was the same?
Dave Adams

This is a little like the Garoppolo question from earlier. First, there is no NFL cap on paying coaches. But my guess is that the Patriots have a budget in that area and that Belichick is paid very handsomely to lead the coaching staff. I do think that McDaniels wants to have his own gig again, maybe this coming offseason. There are no signs of Belichick hanging it up any time soon. While this isn't a bad idea – coaches-in-waiting were all the rage in major college football a few years back – I don't think it makes sense right now in New England for either McDaniels or the Kraft family.
Andy Hart

I've been to Denver several times on business, and it takes me a few days to adjust to the altitude. I think that the Patriots should head out there on Monday before their game, Tuesday at the latest. Any chance Bill will take my advice?
Bill Duncan

I very much doubt it. He's gone out west a day or two early over the years, but never as early as Monday or Tuesday. You can never rule anything out with Belichick as he's always willing to change and try new things. But this seems to be very unlikely, even if the team's track record playing in Denver is pretty poor.
Andy Hart

It seems the Patriots always pick up one or two players that do not succeed in other systems and than perform outstanding at the Patriots. I was wondering if you can name any players which did not have success at the Patriots but did at another organization at All-Pro level?
Best Regards, 
Peter Roozen
The Netherlands)

I don't believe there is a player that fits your description. I also can't think of players who failed with other teams who came to New England and played at an All-Pro level. Guys like Corey Dillion, Randy Moss and even Martellus Bennett were Pro Bowl playmakers with other teams and then were rejuvenated in New England. Lower level examples of guys like Jabaal Sheard, Akiem Hicks, LeGarrette Blount or Akeem Ayers improved with the Patriots, but didn't become elite talents by any means and their improvement could be attributed to playing with better talent around them. Some guys have been very good in New England and good elsewhere, like Drew Bledsoe, Lawyer Milloy, Adam Vinatieri, Ty Law, Richard Seymour and Logan Mankins, just to name a few. Not sure if this answers your question, but hope so.
Andy Hart

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