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Ask PFW: Looking ahead to 2018

Hello again from Pennsylvania. As always, thanks for everything you do covering my favorite team. I am still trying to get over last Sunday and it’s not going well at all. What area of the defense do you think is most in need of improvement? A DT to play alongside Malcom Brown is a must, in my opinion (Do you think Alan Branch would have made a difference in the trenches last Sunday?). DE and an outside linebacker would be nice also. Do you think Kyle Van Noy is worth keeping? I actually like him. He seems smart and versatile and has some athleticism.

As much as I like Eric Rowe, I do not think he is Number-2-corner material. Do you agree or do you think he can be good alongside [Stephon] Gilmore? I love Patrick Chung, but maybe they should start looking for some youth and more athleticism at the SS position, and by that, I do not mean Jordan Richards. Am I just still hurt from the Super Bowl or does this defense need a major shakeup? Michael Pizzoli

The answer to both of your last two questions, Michael, is yes. I’ve no doubt that you, like so many other Patriots fans, are still having trouble coping with this latest Super Bowl loss. You’re also correct in your assessment of the defense. In fact, this was my No. 2 offseason priority item for the Patriots in a story I posted Monday.

What I didn’t do in that post was prioritize the needs on D, so, I’m happy to do that for you here. My main concern is the same today as it was entering the 2017 season: pass rush. New England was not much of a blitzing team last season, and its front three or four rarely got enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks. As bad as the Patriots were on third downs in the Super Bowl (and much of the year, I’d submit), that wasn’t entirely the fault of the secondary. Had the up-front guys, including the linebackers, been able to apply more pressure throughout the season, this would have made life much easier on the corners and safeties in coverage.

Changes definitely need to be made on all three levels of the defense this offseason. My primary concern, though, remains the pass rush. Erik Scalavino

Hey guys, big fan of the show. Love listening to the way you guys break it down for us fans. My wife is from New Bedford, Massachusetts, and we fell for each other during the 2001 season at a wedding in Canada – both huge Patriots fans. We now live in London, Ontario.

My question is, the offense looks good going into the 2018 season, so, should the Patriots just draft all defense and pick up all defensive free agents because the offense looks fine?  Thank you. Dino Rocha

It’s unlikely that New England will only bring in new players exclusively on defense. There will be some additions on offense, for sure, but the focus, as I made clear in my previous answer, needs to be on the defensive side of the ball, yes.

Also, glad your love of the Patriots helped you find the love of your life. Happy Valentine’s Day!* *Erik Scalavino

Why not make [Josh] McDaniels Assistant Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator? Sometime later, hire a new offensive coordinator, which would allow McDaniels to spend all of his time with Belichick readying Josh to be the next head coach. Is [linebacker coach Brian] Flores the next man up to be Defensive Coordinator? Gordon Haym, a Patriots Fan in Eagles Territory

Let’s not forget that McDaniels has head-coaching experience in the NFL. Like Belichick, it didn’t go well for him the first time around. In the long run, though, BB became a better coach as a result of that failed experiment in Cleveland, and I believe McDaniels will be better served by his failure in Denver than anything else.

McDaniels doesn’t necessarily need to be tutored by Belichick. Josh has been around this team and this head coach long enough to have learned through osmosis and observation what Belichick knows and believes when it comes to running a football team. Having an extra title might eventually come, but as long as Belichick and McDaniels are together on this staff, the latter will be the OC and no one else.

On the other side of the ball, yes, it seems Flores is the most popular candidate for that vacant position of DC, but I would not be stunned if, like his predecessor, he isn’t immediately named to the post. Matt Patricia served as the de facto coordinator for a couple of seasons (2010 and ’11) before being given the title outright. The same could happen to Flores, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if he is promoted this offseason. Especially after he received head coaching attention last month from the Arizona Cardinals. Belichick might believe Flores is ready to assume control of the D, or he could go in an entirely different direction. One never knows for certain when it comes to Belichick’s thinking. Erik Scalavino

I will be interested to see if Bill [Belichick] drafts a QB because I could see him being a guy where, of course there is a need in the near future, but if there isn’t one he likes this year, and the value of that draft pick addresses a more urgent team need, and the Patriots see better QBs in next year’s 2nd or 3rd round, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them pass on drafting one this year. I don’t think the Patriots are in a position that they have to rush it this year if they don’t love what’s there. If Brady goes down with injury next year, I don’t think they’re any more likely to be Super Bowl contenders with a rookie QB than Brian Hoyer. Austin Evans

I don’t see any QB draft prospects to be in [Jimmy] Garoppolo’s league, never mind Brady’s. They all lack one thing or the other more so than Jimmy G. Would BB consider trading for some talented “damaged goods” or “system failed” QB currently in the league? Stanley Lugarski

I will be astonished if the next New England starting QB is “damaged goods” who “failed” elsewhere in the NFL. In all likelihood, he will be a draft pick, whether that’s this year or in the near future. Austin is probably right that New England’s chances of winning it all this coming season would be severely diminished without Brady, but the Patriots still need to find a viable long-term alternative to him sooner rather than later. Erik Scalavino

The Patriots were killed in SB LII on 3rd downs, so, would it be worth it if BB splashed on another top free agent CB to upgrade on [Malcolm] Butler? Do you really have confidence in Eric Rowe being a quality second corner? I don’t, and I don’t see how [safety Jordan] Richards got on the field in the Super Bowl over Butler? Jason McCluster

What are the chances the Patriots go after Colts free agent CB Vontae Davis? With tensions high between the two teams, this makes perfect sense to solidify our pass coverage. Pat Keogh, Fairfax, VT

Getting back to the discussion about the defense, cornerback is absolutely among the areas that need to be addressed, be that in free agency or the draft, or both. Especially in light of Butler having likely played his last game in New England. Which free agent might be the best fit remains to be seen. We’re in the early stages of our annual examination of the veteran class and will offer our analysis of each position in the near future on patriots.com. Erik Scalavino

How many draft choices do the Patriots have this year and what rounds are they in? Hank Nelson

As of today (Feb. 13), New England owns five picks in the 2018 NFL Draft: one in Round 1, a pair of second-round picks (including San Francisco’s from the Jimmy G trade), plus its own third- and sixth-round selections. New England’s fourth-round choice was sent to Philadelphia as compensation for CB Eric Rowe in the 2016 trade, its fifth-rounder is now in Seattle’s possession after the Cassius Marsh trade, and Cincinnati acquired New England’s seventh-round pick in exchange for LB Marquis Flowers.

The Patriots might be in line for a compensatory pick or two, but those won’t be distributed until sometime next month. Erik Scalavino

Do you think Patriots must retain [left tackle Nate] Solder, and if yes, what’s the right cost/year/secured money you think is affordable? Ludovic Boisseau, Versailles, France

I would consider Solder among the priorities to bring back, but I’m loathe to speculation on potential contract figures because there are so many variables to consider. How much would the Patriots be willing to invest? How much would Solder be willing to take to stay, or is he looking to maximize his value on the open market? Does he even want to continue playing – a legitimate question, I think, given his young son’s serious health issues?

In the end, I’m optimistic that he’ll remain in a Patriots uniform, and both sides will be satisfied with the investment. Erik Scalavino

I have two questions about Kyle Van Noy. He seems to be a bit of an enigma. He can look like a Pro Bowler on one play and like a 3rd-stringer on the next. Sometimes he makes great, instinctive plays against the run, and other times he takes a horrible angle towards the ball carrier and completely whiffs on the tackle or simply gets lost in the traffic. Sometimes he makes nice plays in coverage, as he did on the Eagles second two-point attempt in the Super Bowl, and other times he will completely miss a tackle in space or simply react too slowly to receivers in his zone.

I looked up his Pro Football Focus grade for the season in the hope of finding some clarity, and was surprised to see that PFF rated him as one of the worst LBs in the entire NFL. I don’t think PFF grades are the holy grail of player evaluation, and certainly have some qualms with their methodology, but I think they are an important component of any assessment. First, I am curious to know if you agree with PFF’s assessment of Van Noy as one of the worst linebackers in the league. Second, I would be interested to hear what you think we can expect from Van Noy going forward. Do you think he can eventually put it all together to become a solid linebacker, or will he continue to be plagued by inconsistency? Ben Offen

When it comes to evaluating talent, I have no use for the stat-based football sites that have cropped up in recent years. My own two eyes are enough for me, and you should trust yours, too, Ben. Your description of Van Noy is fairly accurate. Van Noy will be entering his fifth NFL season and third with the Patriots this coming year, meaning I don’t expect to see much, if any, significant growth or increase in his production. What he is now, in all likelihood, is the best he can be: He’s a solid player who’s best suited in a complementary role, not a primary one. Erik Scalavino

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