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Ask PFW: Looking for more weapons

Lots of love for the offense and questions on defense in this edition of the "Ask PFW" mailbag.

In the past we've seen Stevan Ridley benched for fumbling. In two games, Dion Lewis already has two fumbles, yet hasn't missed a beat in the rotation. What do you think is the difference for Coach Belichick?

Gary Goldstein*

It's been one of the more interesting aspects of the early season so far. Lewis has been terrific but he has put the ball on the ground and that's usually the fastest way to the bench when Belichick is involved. My guess is Belichick is looking to see more from Lewis before he decides exactly how to proceed. For starters, Lewis has been extremely productive, making some explosive plays both as a runner and receiver. Second, he's just getting started as a Patriot. Ridley wasn't immediately benched for his fumble but once they became a regular occurrence he found himself watching, and he also didn't provide nearly the amount of explosive plays that Lewis has so far. But despite the production, Lewis needs to hold onto the ball or he will soon be banished to the bench just like Ridley was.
Paul Perillo

What's going on with Branden LaFell, will he be back soon?

Nicholas Spano*

LaFell is currently on the physically unable to perform list and must sit out at least the first six weeks. He's dealing with a foot injury that caused him to miss the entire offseason. If LaFell is healthy enough to return after six weeks, he can return to practice and the Patriots would then have three weeks to decide if they want to put him back on the active roster. He can begin practicing anytime between Weeks 6-9 and would have three weeks from the time he starts practicing to be activated. Until then, he's out.
Paul Perillo

Without LaFell, why doesn't Belichick try Duron Carter? He is young, had good numbers in the CFL and a good preseason with the Colts. Maybe he can even put some pressure on Aaron Dobson.

Gregorio Pampaloni*

Carter has certainly had quite a journey just to get to the Colts practice squad. He attended several colleges and went undrafted before playing in the CFL for a couple of years. The Colts gave him a shot and now he's in Indy. I'm not sure if he would represent an upgrade over Dobson, who performed well in Buffalo in Week 2. He's also Cris Carter's son, which would eliminate him from consideration in my book. I'm kidding … sort or …
Paul Perillo

If I were the Pats GM, I would trade Jerod Mayo for a cornerback and maybe even pick up a 2017 fourth-round pick to replace the lost pick. This would also clear up cap room to pay Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins and/or Chandler Jones. Do you agree?

Mel Buford*

The trade market in the NFL is always difficult to project. I had no idea the Patriots would be able to acquire a cornerback as talented as Aqib Talib a couple years ago when they picked him up from Tampa Bay at the deadline. So perhaps there's a talented corner out there who Belichick could get in exchange for Mayo, but something tells me deals involving talented players like Talib are rare. Mayo would be worth a solid corner if one were available, but it would have to be one who could provide an upgrade. Mayo, despite his limited playing time, is still a valuable veteran and needed depth at a position where the Patriots are thin. There will be times when his role will expand so I wouldn't want to trade him unless I was getting a solid return. Like I said, it's hard to forecast the players who might be available but I would hold onto Mayo. As for paying the other three … the cap will continue to rise and the Patriots can make decisions in the future with plenty of money to spend. If one or more of those players leave, it won't be due to a lack of cap room. It will be because the team deems them not worthy of the money they're looking for.
Paul Perillo

I have three rule-related questions from the Buffalo game : 1. On Tyrod Taylor's sack near the end-zone – why was that not a safety? 2.  Why did Rex Ryan attempt to challenge whether Taylor was out of bounds before or after he threw the ball – it would have been fourth down either way? 3. Had play stopped when Rex threw the challenge flag, would the Bills have been penalized? What could the penalty have been?

Bob Bennett*

I felt Taylor was wrapped up with the whistle blown when he was at the 1-yard line and therefore it wasn't a safety. Obviously the Patriots pushed him back into the end zone, but it seemed clear that his forward progress had been stopped before the goal line. Ryan challenged the Taylor sack because it cost his team 7 yards. Replays clearly showed that Taylor threw the ball away before stepping out of bounds, so even though it still would have been fourth down it would have saved the team some yardage. In the grand scheme of things I would argue that it was not worth challenging because even though he would have won, it would have forced him to be correct with his next challenge in order to have another at his disposal later in the game. Your final question relates to the second. The Taylor out of bounds play was not reviewable and therefore irrelevant, but if Ryan had thrown his flag on the field sooner the officials could have taken a timeout away for delaying the game.
Paul Perillo

Excited by our start, but since preseason, I felt the Patriots are one quality cornerback away from having a roster which can win SB 50. We need another solid CB opposite to Malcolm Butler and I have a question. Why not ask McCourty move to CB for a season in Patriot way "what's good for the team?"

Stan C.*

I agree with your notion that the defense is lacking at cornerback and that could ultimately be the team's undoing. But I disagree that McCourty would offer an improvement in that area. McCourty has struggled at corner since his rookie year and when he played there during the preseason in New Orleans it was a disaster. The Patriots will need to find some answers at corner because at some point the offense won't be putting 40 points on the board.
Paul Perillo

What are your thoughts on the recent movements at WR? Firstly I'm happy Chris Harper was re-signed to the practice squad as I feel he offers legitimate cover for Edelman and Amendola should the worst occur. However I bemuse why we moved him just to sign and pay a draft pick for Keyshawn Martin.

Mark Collier*

The Patriots needed some more experience there as insurance and Harper is still there if they need him so they can always change course if they feel the need. I, too, liked Harper's preseason performance and feel he's worthy further developing. Martin might be able to provide something and he already has experience in the Patriots system from his time with Bill O'Brien in Houston. If things don't work out, then perhaps Harper gets another shot. I don't feel the Patriots needed to make a move for a deep threat with Brandon LaFell scheduled to return soon and Aaron Dobson showing signs of life. Neither is a true deep threat but both have had success outside the numbers and can keep a defense honest.
Paul Perillo

I've always been intrigued by defensive back blitzes, both safety and corner. How does Bill use them, in what situations and with which personnel and players?

Andre Fumis*

I've seen Belichick blitz a corner out of the slot quite often in the past, particularly with Kyle Arrington when he was with the team. It's not something the Patriots do on a weekly basis, but it has been used periodically and with some success. I remember a blindside sack by Arrington against Miami that cause a Ryan Tannehill fumble two years ago that really changed the game. Again, blitzing defensive backs is not something the Patriots do all the time but I can recall occasional blitzes from the slot.
Paul Perillo

Is the secondary a concern for New England?

Raulie Acosta*

This is my kind of question. Short, succinct and to the point. In a nutshell, yes, I feel the secondary is a concern. The defense has played well at times but too often have left open receivers available to do damage. The team lacks depth at cornerback and at some point I fear this will hurt the entire defense. So far the offense has been so productive that it hasn't mattered, but I am concerned.
Paul Perillo

While it seems like everyone is pushing the panic button on the defense already, I feel they played pretty well against a good Pittsburgh offense. What can we really expect from the defense this year?

Levi Hall*

This dovetails right into the previous post. First, Pittsburgh was missing two of its top three offensive weapons in Le'Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant. And yet the Steelers still moved the ball at will and probably should have put more points on the board – two missed field goals and a sure touchdown lost by poor footwork by the wide receiver. Overall, I agree the defense has been better than advertised but it also hasn't exactly been stout. The unit allowed 53 points during the first two games, and that's too much even when considering the Patriots had big leads in both. I expect the group to improve as the season goes on because that's generally what a Belichick defense does, but as I stated above, I fear the lack of playmakers in the secondary will be a problem.
Paul Perillo

I heard a rumor that the Patriots do not wear their throwback uniforms because of some league related issues with Pat Patriot and the white helmets? Can you respond?

Mike Arieta*

It doesn't have anything to do with Pat Patriot or the white helmets per se but rather the fact that the throwbacks are aligned with a different helmet from the ones the players normally wear. Concerns over concussions have led to regulations about players using just one helmet, so unless the team decides to use the same helmets with their throwback uniforms I wouldn't expect to see them anytime soon.
Paul Perillo

Can you imagine what would happen if the Pats were winning by 3 points and had a second down on the 3-yard line with two minutes left in the game if Brady told LeGarrette Blount to not score? Then let's say Brady threw the football into the seats on third down when he had receivers open. The team then had to settle for a field goal to put them up by 6 instead of getting the touchdown that would have put them up by 10 points with 1:30 remaining. That's exactly what happened in the Giants game except the culprit was Eli Manning and not Tom Brady. How is that not point shaving? It changed the outcome of the game along with the over/under if not also the betting odds. Wouldn't Tom Brady have been suspended immediately and driven out of the NFL by the bloodthirsty Goodell?

David Allen*

This has to be one of the most ridiculous assertions I've ever come across in all my years doing the mailbag. About the only thing that was more ridiculous was the fact that the Giants actually did what you said and had Rashad Jennings intentionally not score. First, it was a terrible decision to not have Jennings get in the end zone. Obviously a 10-point lead at that stage would have ended the game for all intents and purposes. But to suggest point shaving is laughable. You actually think Manning didn't want to win the game rather than consider that he simply made a huge mistake? And you're wrong to suggest he had open receivers on third down. He had no one open but erred by not taking a sack to keep the clock running. The Giants screwed up in all sorts of ways – losing track of the score, poor clock management, terrible prevent defense – but I'm sorry if I'm not buying that they did it all on purpose. And if Brady did it, just as Manning did he would have been roundly criticized – not suspended.
Paul Perillo


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