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Ask PFW: Making progress

After a tough start to the season the Patriots defense is showing signs of improvement. That and much more in this week's edition of "Ask PFW."

I turned on ESPN this week and they had Rex Ryan on talking about Mark Sanchez. I'm not sure when this audio was from, but he made the comment that maybe after they won a championship that people would acknowledge Sanchez is a good QB. (He may have said great, it was earlier in the week when I heard the quote.) If the Jets were to pull their season together and win it, would it make you see Sanchez in a different light, or would it be a case of a team that won in spite of a mediocre QB.
Tyler Edwards

My initial reaction would be the latter, but I'd have to see how it all unfolded to form a full opinion. Right now, if the Jets were to turn it around and make a run, I'd assume the defense and running game led the way. Sanchez is just too inconsistent in my opinion. At times he looks solid and others, like against the Patriots in Week 10, he's all over the place. I will say that he doesn't appear to be afraid of the moment. Some guys wilt in the spotlight and underperform. Sanchez doesn't. That's why he and the team are able to perform well in the playoffs. For a game or two, things look good. But in the regular season when sustained play is needed, Sanchez doesn't deliver week in and week out. Because of that the Jets can't win the division and get home games. So if you're asking me a hypothetical about Sanchez, I'd say if the Jets won it he'd probably have to play well to get it done. They certainly didn't beat the Patriots in the playoffs last year in spite of him – he was as responsible as anyone.
Paul Perillo


WHY, WHY, WHY does Julian Edelman continue to catch punts inside the 10-yard line (including the 6 yard line)? Why does Bill Belichick not tell him to let it bounce into the end zone? We are consistently starting inside the 10, and people wonder why they're scoring fewer points. C'mon, this is basic stuff that I'd expect someone to correct!
JP Galasso

Edelman has made his share of mental mistakes in fielding punts close to his goal line this year, but I will say I've talked to Belichick about this in the past (not specifically about Edelman) and he said it's important to field them in order to prevent the coverage team from making a play. He feels punters are getting more adept at keeping the ball out of the end zone, so when the return man has a chance to get it out of harm's way he should. Now, that doesn't excuse every decision to field the ball inside the 10. There are times when the ball should be let go and often times it's not. But as a general rule teams are getting better at pinning teams deep in their own end and that's not always due to poor decision-making on the part of the returner. In fairness to JP, Edelman's 72-yard touchdown on a punt return happened after he sent in this question.
Paul Perillo

I wonder in some games why the Pats did not use Danny Woodhead much in the running game but they used Kevin Faulk instead. It seems K.F. is slower to hit the hole than Woodhead.
Peter Pham

I really haven't noticed this much to be honest. In Faulk's first game back against Pittsburgh, he got the majority of work in Woodhead's place. Faulk carried six times for 32 yards (5.3-yard average) and caught five passes for 20 more. Every other game Woodhead has been featured more than Faulk, and only twice was he more productive (69 yards against Miami and 38 in the second Jets game). Both will get some opportunities to contribute but my guess is Woodhead will continue to get more chances as the third-down back down the stretch.
Paul Perillo

What has become of Shane Vereen? Given his size and college record I thought he would be the solution to the Patriots ground game.
Dewey Meteer

I'm not sure what size you had in mind for Vereen because at 5-9, 205, he's probably not suited to be "the solution to the Patriots ground game." But Vereen is very much in the team's future plans as a potential replacement for Faulk and Woodhead as a versatile third-down back who has the ability to chip in as a more traditional ball carrier as well. Vereen was an explosive player in college with the ability to catch the ball and run out of some spread formations as well. He injured his hamstring early on in training camp and that seemed to derail his season before it got started. So far he hasn't had many opportunities to showcase his skills, but my guess is he will eventually emerge as a valuable member of the Patriots backfield committee.
Paul Perillo

Are players who are not on the 53-man roster or the practice squad allowed to practice with the team? There are lots of guys who seem to be released and then brought back every other week (Ross Ventrone, Sterling Moore, etc.). Is there any rule prohibiting them from practicing with the team every week, all season long?
John Mann

Yes. Players need to be either on the active roster or the practice squad in order to participate in practice. When players like Ventrone are released they are not permitted to practice. Even players on injured reserve are not allowed to practice. They can rehab their injuries with the team's training staff but technically not allowed to practice. Usually, when someone like Ventrone is let go it's a procedural move and once he clears waivers he usually returns to the practice squad and resumes his work.
Paul Perillo

Why is everybody complaining and especially Andy about Jerod Mayo? Hasn't everyone noticed the defense has gotten a lot better since he returned?
Joey Smiraldo

I'm not sure what Andy's issue is, but actually what you say about Mayo isn't entirely true. While I believe it to be purely a coincidence, the Patriots two best defense games of the season to that point came in the weeks when Mayo was out. The best was against Dallas when the Patriots offense sputtered much of the day and allowed Tom Brady a chance to pull out a 20-16 victory at the end. When Mayo returned the defense played one of its worst games in Pittsburgh when it allowed the Steelers to control the ball for more than 40 minutes. The effort wasn't much better the next week against the Giants when the Patriots let New York drive to two go-ahead touchdowns in the final minutes. Things improved in the second Jets game and even more so against the Chiefs, but to say the defense has gotten better since he returned isn't really true. Again, I'm not suggesting the Patriots are better off without him because clearly that's foolish. I'm just pointing out the facts.
Paul Perillo


Hey I actually have 2 questions. 1. I've been watching a lot of the big yardage that the Patriots have been giving up and almost every time they gave the receiver like a 10-yard cushion. But when they bumped them at the line and threw off their timing (which gave Andre Carter and Mark Anderson more time to get to Mark Sanchez) they showed good signs on defense. Do you think we should put more pressure on the wideouts with this patchwork D? 2. I know some people have mixed feelings about Chad's week but I feel really good about it. My question is do you think he will end up fitting well with the hurry-up offense? If he does then that would definitely get him more yards and without a question get him some TDs. 
Kevin H.

I think the Patriots have done plenty of both in terms of coverage this season. They opened the year playing a lot of man-to-man and pressing at the line. It was almost exclusively man in the opener against the Dolphins and Chad Henne ripped them for 416 yards. The Patriots have also used some zone schemes in games against Dallas and the Jets and the results were far better. Overall, New England's secondary has struggled this season, especially when the pass rush hasn't been great. But it hasn't been due to any schemes or designs. For the most part, the team has struggled whether using zones or pressing at the line. The good news is there aren't many solid passing games remaining on the team's schedule during the regular season, so maybe the cover guys can gain some confidence down the stretch as they prepare for the playoffs.

As for Ocho, I'm not as optimistic as you. At this point I think enough time has gone by that we can make an accurate assessment and I don't see him being a huge part of the offense. There may be an occasional game where he makes an impact or even scores a touchdown or two. But I don't see him suddenly emerging as a consistent threat for Tom Brady, especially in hurry-up situations.
Paul Perillo

Hi Guys, with the Patriots not having any speed at receiver, and the history of making horrible selections in the second round of the draft, should they take a page from the Raiders and draft the fastest receiver available in the second round?
Monty Borrowman

I understand your reasoning here but how exactly has that philosophy worked out for the Raiders? Speed is one element for a receiver but not the only one. Route-running and making adjustments are just as important than speed if not more so. Wes Welker may not be able to beat Jacoby Ford or Darrius Heyward-Bey in a race but who would you rather have? The Patriots need to find a young receiver in the draft at some point, and they also need to find out if Taylor Price can be part of the future. Again, the soft schedule down the stretch may allow them the opportunity to use Price a bit and perhaps figure out if he can be a legitimate downfield threat. But there's no question the receiving corps could use some more speed.
Paul Perillo

A couple games ago Wes Welker got tackled right by the first down marker. The officials called for a measurement, yet instead of using the chains right there a foot away from the ball, they took the chains from the far side of the field. I notice this is always done. Why not use the nearest chains?
Jeffrey Anderson

There is only one set of chains that is considered official in every game. They use chains on both sides simply to help the everyone know where the first down line is in order to make it easier for the players. But one set is approximate while the other is considered official. So if the referee called for the chains from the opposite sideline it was because that set was the official marker. There are times when the ball is spotted on the same side as the "real" chains and those are used to measure, although due to the proximity the officials don't have to pull them out onto the field as often when that occurs.
Paul Perillo

What happened to Jermaine Cunningham? With no-name undrafted free agents getting starts all over the defense, Cunningham must really be disappointing coaches. Any news on his issues? I am surprised this has not gotten more attention. Good news is they have not cut him.
Eric Picard

Cunningham hasn't had many opportunities this season after being a full-time player as a rookie a year ago. One reason has been the change to the four-man front, which has put players like Shaun Ellis and Mark Anderson ahead of him on the depth chart. Another has been injuries, which Cunningham dealt with during the summer and into the season. But he's been healthy lately and hasn't had many chances to showcase his talents. I'm not sure if that's due to his play, that of those ahead of him or something else. But clearly this has been a disappointing sophomore season for a guy many felt was part of the future as a pass rusher.
Paul Perillo

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