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Ask PFW: Holiday musings

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*Is it me or does anyone else notice that part of Tom Brady's struggles this year is related to the fact that Brady becomes too dependent on his favorite receivers, Randy Moss and Wes Welker. He locks his eyes down on them without breaking his glance, making it so easy for defensive backs to key in on them. In the past, I remember Brady being able to break his glance when his target is covered. I just watched Brady throw to Moss in the Buffalo game when Moss was totally smothered in a double team and then the next play, Brady is picked off as he throws to Welker. I miss the old Brady when he didn't have favorite receivers; he would pass to "any" open man.
Brendan Chase*

While I do think there's been an element of Brady relying too much on Moss and Welker this season, I certainly wouldn't blame him for that. Those are his only two truly reliable receivers. Other than Kevin Faulk out of the backfield from time to time, where else would you rather have his throw the football? The Patriots biggest problem on offense this season has been the absence of any legitimate third option at wide receiver. Joey Galloway, Julian Edelman and lately Sam Aiken all have tried but none has succeeded in developing into a consistent threat. Brady throws the ball to Moss and Welker because, most of the time, they catch it. If defensive backs have it so easy in defending them, why are they among the league leaders in catches and yards? Again, I understand your point about the past when it seemed that Brady would throw the ball anywhere as long as the receiver was open. But I really haven't seen many instances this season when he's forced the ball to Welker when another receiver was open elsewhere. Maybe a few times, but not as much as you'd think.
Paul Perillo

Watching the Patriots offense against the Bills has been anything but exciting. When they line up for a run play, they run. When they line up for a pass play, they pass. Where has the creativity in this offense gone? I remember past years where they would involve so many play actions (and there were zero in this game from what I can recall). Remember the Statue of Liberty Play? Remember the double lateral from Brady to Moss back to Brady then to Gaffney? Remember when Brady used to look one way, then suddenly pass the other? The offense has been very bland and dull this year and I think the creativity is the biggest to blame for the lack of good offensive plays. Do you guys agree?
Jennifer Lu

I can't speak for Erik and Andy but I don't agree, Jennifer, and I'll use just the Buffalo game as my example. You don't remember any play actions in this game? Do you remember the 43-yard pass interference called against Donte Whitner on Randy Moss near the end zone? That came after a few successful runs led to a Brady play action bomb. As for reverses and such, I remember Brady in the shotgun, handing to Faulk running left and flipping it back to Welker running right. The play wasn't very successful and only gained 5 yards so maybe that's why you don't remember it, but that was pretty creative. They also used Randy Moss on underneath crossing routes a couple of times and those aren't plays we normally see Moss running. I think a lot of fans – including myself, by the way – have been surprised by the lack of production by this offense this season and they've blamed the play calling and lack of creativity. I don't think they've been predictable at all. They've gone for it on fourth down several times and have tried to run and throw to convert them. The problem hasn't been predictability but rather inconsistency. They haven't been able to pick them up often enough. While I haven't always agreed with the play calls (no one ever does) I don't think that's been the biggest problem. The play calls weren't the reason the offense suddenly stopped being able to run the ball in the second half against the Bills last-ranked run defense. That goes on the players.
Paul Perillo

Is Randy Moss hurt or has he just lost a step? It seems this season that he is having trouble getting separation from opposing DBs. Also is defensive back or defensive line a priority for the draft? It seems there is a problem pressuring opposing QBs and covering opposing wideouts. What do you think?
Tracy Robinson

While Moss remains a very dangerous receiver, I agree with you Tracy – I think he's lost a step. He hasn't appeared on the injury report for several weeks so the back problems he was having early in the season aren't the problem. He hasn't created the separation that he has in the past, especially on deep balls. He tried to get deep a couple of times against Buffalo and while he wasn't exactly blanketed, he wasn't as open as we've seen in the past. He's approaching his 33rd birthday so it's understandable that some of his incredible athleticism may be dwindling, but it's been apparent even on some crossing routes when he's appeared to be in the clear but hasn't turned them upfield for big plays. Overall, he's still a pretty dangerous receiver, though. As for the draft, I think the biggest need is a pass rushing outside linebacker – someone like Dallas' DeMarcus Ware who can impact games off the edge. If they lose Vince Wilfork to free agency, they could probably use another defensive lineman to add some depth, and you can never have enough quality corners to I see that as a need as well. But the No. 1 need in my opinion on defense is an edge rusher.
Paul Perillo

Has junior Seau been playing and/or when will he get on the field (games aren't on TV here in Chicago, much to my displeasure in watching the dreadful Bears)? I would rather see the Pats play anybody except the Ravens in the first round, who do you think would be the best and worst matchup for Pats in the wild card game?Jeff Cabral

Seau has played sparingly since arriving for the Tennessee game. He appeared in the Titans and Bucs games, then dressed but did not play in the next three games before being one of the inactives in New Orleans. He's appeared in the last three games, including the Buffalo win. In limited action in his five games, Junior has 12 tackles and recovered a fumble. As for the playoffs, I agree with your assessment of the Ravens. Their defense has played much better lately and the offense is pretty balanced with Joe Flacco and a solid running game with Ray Rice and Willis McGahee. While I think the Patriots would win the game, it's a physical opponent that makes you pay for everything and that's not ideal for a long playoff run. Pittsburgh would fall into a similar category except the Steelers defense is in shambles. Offensively they can score but just can't stop anyone. Other than that, I'd fear no one among the potential wild card opponents.
Paul Perillo

The win against the Bills wasn't pretty, but there were a lot of good things on defense that we haven't seen earlier in the year. There were people running plays down from the backside (Mike Wright making the tackle downfield late in the game was a great example) and significantly more energy from other "premier players" who had been "disappointing" until now (Derrick Burgess and Adalius Thomas, for example). While I am certainly not an apologist for A.D., in the past we have heard him say that he is doing what the coaches ask him to do ... do you think they switched from "read and react" to "attack" mode on defense in this game? Also, what do you think about the possibility that Bill Belichick was giving some of the new members of the defense playing time early in the season vs. more experienced players (James Sanders, Thomas, Shawn Springs) to make them better prepared as a team for the playoffs?
Aric S.

I don't think there was any change in philosophy for this game in terms of the principles the team plays with. Defensively the Patriots still employ two-gap techniques and don't often charge upfield into the backfield to make plays. But that doesn't preclude the players from making tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Honestly, I thought Buffalo had a lot to do with that since the Bills offensive line is in complete disarray. They started a guy at guard that played for the Rams a week earlier. How prepared could he have been to play that game? Wright has been a pretty solid performer all season. The Bills game was probably his best, but when called upon he's been pretty active up front. As for the personnel Belichick has used, I don't think there's any chance he played younger players for any reason other than believing it was in the best interest of the team to win that particular game. Brandon McGowan was playing a lot in place of Sanders early but his play leveled off and Sanders is back in there. If McGowan continued to play the way he did in October I don't think Belichick would have made that change. Springs seems to have taken Darius Butler's reps away from him, but again, if Butler played well in Miami I don't think he would have lost his playing time. These things can change from week to week and Belichick tries to assess what works best for a particular opponent. It's not an attempt to get guys experience but rather an attempt to win games.
Paul Perillo

Tom Brady is bruised, lacks sleep, misses some practices, and has Moss not firing on all cylinders. I wonder if all of that, and what else is contributing to his slump?Ted B.

Well, if Brady's slumping then sign me up for all those "problems" because I'd love to be in a similar slump. Brady didn't play well against Buffalo, no question. But I thought he was outstanding against Carolina despite having just average statistics in that game. When the team really needed it, he led the offense on a 96-yard drive and made several key throws to Welker that allowed the Patriots to take the lead. He showed tremendous leadership on the sideline and pretty much rallied the team to a victory it had to have. For the season, while I don't think he's always been perfect, his numbers are excellent. His passer rating will likely end up being the second-best of his career behind only his other-worldy 2007 performance, and the Patriots are headed to the playoffs despite all the problems he's dealt with that you listed. And for the record, saying he's "bruised" is like saying I'm bald. It's true, but doesn't even begin to tell the story.
Paul Perillo

So, after some serious searching, I have determined that the pats have essentially won the AFC East division. According to the NFL, if two teams are tied for the division (assuming we lose our last two games, and both New York and Miami win out), the first tiebreaker is division records. We are tied with Miami at 4-2, while the Jets are 2-4. So, the Jets would lose contention. Next, the team with the most wins in common games should be the winner. Well, according to my count, the Pats and the Dolphins have shared 12 games this season. If the Dolphins win out, they would be 5-7 while we would be 7-5, meaning we would win the title. Am I right?
Mark Vaccher

Here's a good rule of thumb to go by at this time of year when trying to determine the playoff picture: Never doubt the NFL. The league always gets these things right and with good reason – they're the ones that make the rules. Here's where you went wrong, Mark. Assuming the Jets and Dolphins win out and the Patriots lose out creating a three-way tie, you incorrectly eliminated the Jets based on division record. That's the second tiebreaker procedure. The first is record in games played among the clubs. In that scenario, Miami would win based on its 2-0 mark against the Jets and 1-1 against the Patriots for a 3-1 total. The Patriots split against both to finish 2-2 while the Jets would be 1-3. Now, if the Patriots and Dolphins finish tied at 9-7, the Dolphins would win based on best conference record. You miscalculated the teams' common games by not taking into consideration the Patriots would lose to Jacksonville and Houston – two teams the Dolphins would have beaten in order to finish 9-7. That means both would be 7-5 in common games. Conference record is the next tiebreaker and Miami would again finish 7-5 while the Patriots would be 6-6, giving the division to the Dolphins. All of this can be rendered moot if the Patriots simply win one of their remaining two games, but the possibility of losing the division does still exist.
Paul Perillo

Who were the 2 quarterbacks prior to Tom Brady?
John Bryant

Assuming you mean regular starting quarterbacks that would be Drew Bledsoe and Hugh Millen. Bledsoe was the team's starter from when he was drafted in 1993 through 2001 when he was injured and lost his job to Brady. Before Bledsoe arrived, Millen started 20 of the 32 games the Patriots played from 1991-92. Tommy Hodson started six while Scott Zolak (4) and Jeff Carlson (2) also filled in.
Paul Perillo

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