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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Tue May 21 - 02:00 PM | Thu May 23 - 09:55 AM

Ask PFW: Managing the defense

The defense is struggling and fans are looking for a change in philosophy in this week’s mailbag.


The weakness of the Seahawks is their offensive line. On their last minute scoring drive in the first half, the Patriots used a two-man rush and dropped nine into zone coverage. They also used a three-man rush and dropped eight into coverage. Russell Wilson, a mobile and elusive QB who throws well on the run, was able to buy time and allow his receivers to break their patterns off and find an opening in the zone. This just doesn't seem like a well-designed defensive scheme.
Gary Madera
East Hanover, N.J.

Well it certainly didn't work so I can't necessarily disagree with you in terms of the results. But the problems on that last series before the half were about much more than scheme. The touchdown that came, as you said, with two men rushing and nine dropping into coverage almost certainly had to be a mistake. To give Wilson as much time as he got by design I would agree is foolish. My guess is someone was supposed to rush but dropped into a zone instead. Also there were clearly mistakes made in coverage with Patrick Chung left all alone patrolling the deep half of the field on the touchdown, so in addition to a poor design there was some really bad execution as well. If run properly, dropping extra players into coverage should have prevented the type of breakdown that occurred, so I won't necessarily rip the play call but rather the execution. 
Paul Perillo

There is one thing that I have been looking for an answer for, for a long time regarding this team. Why does Matt Patricia still have a job? I can't stand the way he calls defense! Especially in the first half of the game against Seattle, it seemed like they were playing way too much zone with no pass rush what so ever. Why does he insist on rushing four or less on every play? Why does he only call a blitz when the opposing offense is in the red zone? I realize we are ranked high in terms of points allowed, but it seems like the last couple games they have played very poorly and I think that is at least partly due to the poor defensive play calling.
Murray Roberts

This is tied into what we just talked about but I included it because of the specific criticism of Matt Patricia. He is the defensive coordinator and certainly deserves some blame when things don't go well on defense but I feel like you just glossed over the fact that the Patriots are among the league leaders in terms of points allowed (sixth) and don't give him much credit for that. If we're going to assign blame we also need to offer credit, and with Patricia I feel like the credit for success usually goes to Bill Belichick while the blame is always assigned to Patricia. Overall, I agree the schemes could use a little more aggressiveness in terms of man coverage and some occasional blitzes, but it's really telling to me that they stayed conservative more often than not. Part of that is due to the fact that they haven't faced any top offenses but it's also tells me they're not sure they have the personnel suited to do much more. As Belichick has stated, they're doing everything they can.
Paul Perillo

On the plays leading up to the Seahawks last field goal which put them up 25-24, the Seahawks were the 2-yard line and I'm pretty sure they ran two plays up the middle getting to the 1 and then ran another play which was reviewed and resulted in no TD. The ref then said the next play was third down and no one disagreed so another play was run which also came up short. Then the fifth play of that series resulted in a field goal. I assume you have access to the film, am I right about this ref error or was I dreaming?
Robert Devito

Definitely dreaming Robert. Wilson threw a 38-yard pass to C.J. Prosise that gave Seattle a first-and-goal at the 2. Prosise picked up a yard on first down then was stopped on second down on the play that Pete Carroll had reviewed. Seattle lost the challenge, setting up third down. The Seahawks were guilty of a false start, moving the ball back to the 5 and Wilson's third-down pass fell incomplete, leading to the field goal. There was no official error made on the series.
Paul Perillo

The defensive performance Sunday seemed our worst of the season. Was the loss of Jamie Collins the biggest factor or is the constant rotation of players the root cause of the struggles of late?
Mark Bennett

I felt the team missed Collins against Seattle, particularly in coverage against Prosise as a receiver. He caught seven passes for 87 yards and consistently took short throws and got upfield with Shea McClellin and Elandon Roberts in coverage. He also beat Roberts and Devin McCourty on a deep ball, although we've seen Collins victimized on similar plays in the past so I'm not going to say that wouldn't have happened if Collins was still in New England. But I will say Collins would have helped the defense overall and his absence was noticeable. But the defense also struggled with him so it's not fair to say he's the reason for the Seattle game. The defense needs to improve over the last half of the season, as it has typically done under Belichick.
Paul Perillo

Why hasn't Barkevious Mingo had much of a shot at a starting linebacker role? He seems very athletic and seemed like he would have matched up well against the Seahawks.
Tim Fitzgibbons

Mingo hasn't looked ready to contribute on defense when he's been given an opportunity. He hasn't played much but when he has it hasn't been good. His speed and athleticism are only valuable if he understands how to play and so far I haven't seen evidence that he's ready to fill any sort of significant role as of yet. There is still time for him to emerge, and with the need for some depth at the position it wouldn't surprise me if he got a shot to do more in the coming weeks. But based on his time in Cleveland, where he was mainly a special teams player, and his brief career in New England I would be surprised if he makes a significant impact going forward. I'd rather see if Kyle Van Noy, who was starting in Detroit, is capable of picking up some playing time once he's comfortable with the system.
Paul Perillo

Brandon Browner is a free agent. I seriously think the Patriots should consider bringing him in for a workout. Ryan and Coleman are not getting the job done. He's a penalty machine, but he can't be any worse than anyone we have aside from Malcolm Butler. Thoughts?
Matt C.

My first thought is you haven't watched Brandon Browner much because he can definitely do worse than Ryan and Coleman … in fact he was so much worse that he's currently out of a job. You admit he's a penalty machine, which he certainly was in New Orleans, and yet you want to bring him back after he was cut in Seattle this summer. Browner did a nice job in 2014 with the Patriots but the fact is no one believes he's capable to doing much at this point and I'd be surprised if any team, including the Patriots, brought him in.
Paul Perillo

It seems like we have some good talent on defense, but they are not creating turnovers. Nine in nine games, plus-1 for the season. Any chance this changes by the end of the year?
Hermey the Great

Turnovers can be a fickle thing and really that's one stat that isn't always necessarily indicative of great defense. Obviously you want to create as many as possible, but sometimes turnovers just sort of happen. It's true the Patriots haven't played an overly aggressive style, one that can lead to pressure and mistakes which result in turnovers. I'd like to see the defense go after the passer more frequently, but I feel the fact that we haven't means the coaches probably aren't comfortable with the coverage being exposed. Sometimes turnovers can come in bunches and maybe there are some waiting for the Patriots defense, especially with some really bad quarterbacks on the horizon with Colin Kaepernick, Bryce Petty or Ryan Fitzpatrick and Case Keenum coming up.
Paul Perillo

I love being at a competitive game and this one was. Of course as a Patriots fan I would have rather had the outcome be in our favor. So my question is ... was it wise to work the clock down so low when the Pats were on the goal line? And also I have to ask why wait for the very last play to try and hit Rob Gronkowski in the end zone? Having Brady try a second QB sneak, especially considering he was nicked up, seemed like a bad idea too. That's not a great way to protect him.
Gray Abrams

I agree with your entire premise here. I found it really surprising that both Brady and Belichick admitted they were being conscious of the clock as well as trying to score when the ball was on the 2-yard line in the final minute. I don't think you can worry about the time in that situation and it came back to bite them. Having Brady try to sneak in twice was curious, especially considering LeGarrette Blount already had three rushing touchdowns at that point. Just get in the end zone and worry about stopping the Seahawks later. In terms of throwing to Gronk on one of the four plays, I would rather it be a slant or out rather than a fade, but I have no problem with your two best players being involved with the game on the line. It was the clock that bothered me most on that last series.
Paul Perillo

Why didn't Belichick just let Brady be Brady throughout the game … spread the ball around, dink and dunk, and take some deep shots? Too many plays were just LeGarrette Blount up the gut for no gain. Where was James White in the second half?
Chris C.

Fans have been complimenting the Patriots offense all year for its ability to remain balanced even though the production in the ground game hasn't been great. Blount then rushed for three touchdowns, and yes he also struggled for much of the night as well, but it's hard to be too critical in the one game where the offense looks merely human. In fact, we all agree they should have been able to pick up one more yard and that would have meant 31 points, and win or lose from there I doubt we see this criticism. The only part of the above I agree with is White. I thought he got off to a strong start and yet we didn't see much of him after that. Perhaps the Seahawks made some adjustments on him and forced the Patriots to do it differently, but I was still surprised.
Paul Perillo

It was pretty evident that the defense went backward on this last game. Huge holes in the middle of the field, poor coverage down the field and absolutely no pressure on the quarterback. Since the beginning of the year we had lost two marquee defenders in Jones and Collins, and it could not be argued that they are not being missed. My question is, why is it that it seems like New England always struggles to keep under the cap while paying all its marquee players, while other teams such as Denver or Seattle manage to pay for blockbuster deals to multiple players and retain numerous players (Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller. etc)? Could you delineate who is getting the big money in NE? And why it is Bill feels the urge to make space by cutting star players in a year we are potentially Super Bowl bound?
Yaniv Khen

This is an interesting question and one I'm sure you'd get a lot of different answers on depending on who you ask. Personally I don't believe the cap had much if anything to do with trading Jones and Collins. I believe the team felt it was going to move on from Jones after the season and decided to try to get something back (especially in light of not having a first-round pick). Collins' situation has been done to death but I feel it had more to do with something off the field than money or talent. For whatever reason, Belichick felt he was better off getting him off the team. That was not cap related either. He wasn't making much money in the final year of his rookie deal, so it wasn't a cap move. They could have moved on in the offseason and not taken any financial hit. Your larger point is valid as well. Teams have to decide how they want to break up their salaries and it's possible to do it a number of different ways. Some fans argue that you can't give big money to a small group and win, which is false. Denver obviously did just that and won a Super Bowl, and more importantly has been one of a small group of teams in contention for several years doing that. There is no right or wrong way to manage finances.
Paul Perillo

Do you think the Patriots could drop 10 men into coverage, to cover one receiver, and still allow that receiver to get wide open? I know that situation would never actually occur in a real game, and therefore we will never know if such a farcical coverage failure is even possible, but I think that if anyone can do it the Patriots can.
Keith Perry
Winfield Brooks, Colo.

As someone often referred to as Snarky Paul, I can appreciate the effort here. Well done Keith.
Paul Perillo

In the postgame reports I've been reading so far, I've seen no mention of the potential turnover that New England should have had in the first half. If I recall correctly, it came during Seattle's drive post-INT on a run play. The running back was tackled, with a Patriots defender putting his helmet right onto the ball and popping it out for what should have been a fumble. When this happened there was a huge pile-up, and the ball was not immediately visible to the officials. A Patriots defender did come up with the ball, but I believe no fumble was ruled and Seattle got the ball. The announcers mentioned during this time that Belichick was likely getting advice "from upstairs" about whether or not a challenge flag should be thrown, and as we already know none was thrown. What do you guys think, missed opportunity by Belichick or referee failure to account for a fumble?
Pearci Bastiany

Actually, the officials did rule it a fumble but they said the Seahawks recovered. Alex Collins lost the ball after a short run and clearly it was a fumble. The officials ruled it a fumble but in the ensuing pile it was unclear what happened. The ruling was that Collins recovered. The replays didn't really show definitively who had the ball, so even though a Patriot emerged from the pile that doesn't mean the call would have been overturned via replay. So yes they ruled it a fumble but I'm not sure a challenge flag would have overturned the call that Seattle recovered so I think Belichick was wise to hold onto his flag.
Paul Perillo

Now the Pats will beat up some mediocre teams, but it would be a near miracle for Patriots to win the Super Bowl with this defense. In fact, the Patriots would be lucky to make it to the SB. BB did not improve defense this year, and in fact, it probably regressed a bit from the last year. The O-line is also a paper tiger. I am just puzzled why people did not see it from the first eight games when the Pats beat nobody plus a few injured teams?
Gorin B.

There's nothing like a post-loss Patriots fan. Does the team have some issues? Yes. Is the defense one? Yes. Is the offensive line a concern? Yes. Now that we have all that out of the way I would like to know who the Patriots would be lucky to beat in order to get to the Super Bowl? Honestly, the Patriots problems are far less serious than most of the other potential playoff teams. Denver is dealing with a weak offense and quarterback, Pittsburgh's defense is so bad the team is below .500 and I'm not sure the young Raiders, particularly on defense are coming to Foxborough to beat the Patriots. So yes, there have been warning signs that the Patriots have some flaws but their strengths are so much stronger than most that I expect the team to be a Super Bowl favorite come the playoffs.
Paul Perillo

Always wondered what Tom is indicating when he says "someone's the Mike." Obviously the defense can hear that, and I've heard other teams use something similar. What does that indicate?
Keith Nelson

Brady and the rest of the quarterbacks point out the Mike, or the middle linebacker, in an effort to set their protection schemes. Basically, the blockers all need to know which player is considered the Mike so they can adjust their protections accordingly. It's obviously more complicated than that but I my in-depth knowledge of blocking schemes will not be confused with Dante Scarnecchia's so I'll leave it at that.
Paul Perillo

Whenever I see those broken scramble plays I yell at Tom to not throw the deep ball. Do you know Brady's stats on scramble plays were when he throws longer than 20 yards? I feel the risk/reward on those plays don't justify the throws. Maybe it's time to change the scramble rules.
Yuji Mishina

I do not have specific stats from plays where he scrambles before throwing deep but I can think of several completions he's had this season off such plays. One came in Buffalo when he threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to Chris Hogan after leaving the pocket before finding Hogan all alone. He wasn't as fortunate against Seattle when he underthrew Malcolm Mitchell and threw an interception, but this season he's been great on deep balls overall, and many of those completions have been after scrambling out of the pocket.
Paul Perillo

Sorry to see that Tyler Gaffney was released again. The Pats have been showing signs of a more balanced attack this year and I thought Gaffney showed great potential. I know he'll likely be back on the practice squad but what am I missing?
Jim McKinley

I don't think you're missing much. Gaffney was a nice story during training camp and if Blount slows down or gets injured I'd expect him to get a chance. As you said he's already back on the practice squad and he'll continue working to get in position to contribute. But at this stage I don't see the need to add another running back to the mix, especially with Dion Lewis ready to go and back on the roster.
*Paul Perillo *

I love that you are actually willing to be so opinionated, that's what makes PFW so great. On that note who do you think the most underrated current Patriot is? Also, the Pats are getting older at some key positions, who do you think is the best player drafted by the Pats in the last 3 drafts?
Paul Bigalow

This one is easy for me – it's James White. For whatever reason some felt White would get cut before the season and they are constantly criticizing him for not making plays. All I ever see White do is make plays when give the opportunity, especially in the passing game. He almost always makes the first tackler miss and rarely do his catches not result in first downs. He's been a very sure-handed and consistent player but I know that not everyone feels the way I do about him. The best player of the last three drafts is a little tougher but I'm going to say Malcolm Brown. He's a no-nonsense run-stuffer so it's hard to quantify his presence but I feel he's been pretty consistent since arriving as the first-round pick in 2015. Jimmy Garoppolo may emerge as the best from the last three drafts but we just haven't seen him enough yet.
Paul Perillo

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