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Patriots Unfiltered Tue May 21 | 12:00 PM - 02:00 PM

Ask PFW: Moving on to playoffs

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What adjustments do you feel need to be made for stopping the run and getting to the quarterback? These are essential to closing out games and the Patriots have been lackluster in those two departments. This seems to be a constant theme through the weeks, but it does not seem to be improving. It looks there’s a certain spark or edge missing, what are your thoughts?
Vaughn Brownlee

The run defense has been an issue for quite some time now, even going back to last year. To me it’s an issue of personnel as the Patriots have generally been more concerned with containing the passing game and using extra defensive backs to help in coverage. That leaves fewer players – and at times smaller ones – up front to deal with the running game. Now, that doesn’t explain why the last three opponents have averaged more than 7 yards per carry against New England. That’s about much more than just game plans and personnel usage. The defenders need to do a better job of getting off blocks up front and making tackles. Too often opposing running backs have been able to find open spaces and pick up yards before they’re even met with any resistance. The defense needs to do a better job against the run, and that will help the pass rush and coverage as it will keep the opponent in more long-yardage situations.
Paul Perillo

What is going on with the two-minute offense? Situational football used to be this team’s strength. The last weeks the two minutes of the first half have been so frustrating to watch. What was that?
Lars Blom

I agree that it has been strange to watch. We’ve become so used to the Patriots executing at a high level in virtually every situation, so to see Tom Brady lose track of his timeouts and throw interceptions is certainly very surprising. I don’t think there’s really any explanation for it other than to just say he’s human like everyone else and he made some mistakes. I don’t worry about those continuing because for the better part of the last 20 years he avoided those kinds of mishaps on a regular basis. But it has been troubling.
Paul Perillo

Every time we hear Patriots say: “We are going to fix it.” Then they fix one thing, two others break. And this is happening late in December, when this healthy team should be clicking on all cylinders. So either it is not a well- coached team or the cylinders can’t deliver the power they need. So which is it, or may be both?
Sean Dockett

Interesting phraseology there, Sean. I’m going to steal that at some point. As for the answer – it’s almost impossible to say for sure but I believe it’s more of the latter. I still believe strongly in Brady and Belichick, but I’m not as sure of the cast around them as I have been in the past. Rob Gronkowski appears to have slowed down considerably. Julian Edelman hasn’t been consistent either. The depth isn’t as strong as in the past. Defensively there are problems stopping the run. The pass rush is effective at times but not consistent – and they seem to need to scheme things up in order to get some heat on the quarterback. Overall I think the team isn’t as talented as some of its predecessors and that’s the big problems. Some questionable drafts in recent years have left the team lacking in terms of young talent, and as some of the veterans have lost a step the team is struggling to find the answers. There’s still a long way to go, but normally we know much more about the team than we seem to at this point.
Paul Perillo

Please note my email comes from a place of appreciation for how lucky and spoiled we have all been over the last 18 seasons. Sunday in Pittsburgh I tried not to let past years’ stats of success influence me. I really thought this would be a 38-35-type game, especially after the first 10 minutes. Just wanting your take on the offense. No Gronk, Gordon, Edelman, Hogan (other than the big play), White (who I thought was Pro Bowl bound). I purposely listed the talent we have. My question is whether you think Josh McDaniels is losing his creativity, or is Tom Brady finally showing signs of a long season at 41? It was strange to see Brady last week with time running out to close out the second half and tonight with the rookie like pick in the fourth. Always just counted on Brady to be gold if you gave him time in the fourth with a tie, lead or win on the line. Not feeling that this year. I think it’s gonna be a wild card home win then see ya later on the road in the divisional round. Sad that I think this way, but 3-5 on the road doesn’t instill much confidence.
Steve Lawlor

I can’t really argue with much of anything you said – and you guys know I love to argue. The receivers have been too inconsistent – both is getting open and catching the ball. Brady hasn’t been as sharp as normal, either. He’s either not seeing open guys and not always giving them accurate passes to catch. The decisions haven’t always been sound, either. I don’t think there has been any huge problems with McDaniels’ play-calling. I feel like they’ve been patient with the running game and have used some creativity to get guys open often enough to be productive at times. I think the lack of consistency is more on the talent than the coaching, but I will admit the coaching hasn’t always been great either. The good news is the Patriots aren’t the only team battling problems with consistency and they will likely get a chance to play against someone who also has some flaws in the playoffs.
Paul Perillo

So we are 11-5 at best this season not the end of the world, we got some bad looks on some big plays by the refs and some bad performances by ourselves as well against the Steelers, sometimes things happen. I realize it’s not as simple as just give this guy the ball but it seems like we haven’t been utilizing James White like we did when the offense was rolling. We are not running the ball nearly as efficiently as Sony Michel pre-knee knock/Rex Burkhead return. The offense just doesn’t seem to have an identity and the defense is playing well enough to keep these games tight. Can this offense find its niche to make us successful on the road and in the playoffs? Can this offense find the short game that was opening up so much of our attack through the air down the field? I guess the real question, is it plausible that we can get this offense moving? Britt Huff

Well, I must start somewhere, so here goes. Why aren’t the Patriots utilizing James White more? He was such a huge part of the offense. What happened? Are they managing him? Is he injured? What’s up with the penalties? And finally, it seems like the Patriots have all of the moving parts on offense but can’t seem to bring these parts together? Why is this, in your opinion? Disappointed, but hopeful.
Allana Miller
Tel Aviv, Israel

The James White situation is an interesting one. The numbers are what they are in terms of his usage. When he’s more involved the team usually wins. When he’s not, they haven’t. I love White and believe he’s been a very underrated part of the offense for several years, but I don’t think winning and losing is as simple as getting him involved. I believe teams have adjusted to how the Patriots have been using him from earlier in the season. Tennessee, as an example, used safeties against him in coverage rather than overmatched linebackers. So the screens and dumpoffs that were successful earlier haven’t been as productive lately. I also think Rex Burkhead’s return has cut into White’s workload a bit. White was used extensively last season as well before he dropped off down the stretch due to injury. My guess is the coaches want to make sure he’s as fresh as possible when the playoffs arrive this year as well. But it’s true that he hasn’t gotten as many touches when the Patriots lose and it’s easy to wonder why.
Paul Perillo

Ever since Duke Dawson was taken off IR, I’d been hoping to see him in action. Any idea of when he will see playing time? Mark Bushnell

I actually think the secondary played pretty well in Pittsburgh, especially J.C. Jackson going against JuJu Smith-Schuster. So, I wasn’t really wondering where Duke Dawson was but it’s seems logical to think that after missing so much time due to his hamstring injury that he’s not at the level of the guys who have been playing all season. He represents solid insurance should one of the regulars go down with an injury but I’m not expecting him to make much of an impact down the stretch if everyone stays healthy.
Paul Perillo

My question is related with the run defense. Patriots were decent in run defense until Week 11. Now, especially last three weeks, they are terrible. Presently the Patriots are healthy. Danny Shelton hasn't played the last three weeks. How is possible that this big issue isn’t fix for three weeks in a row?
Vincent Kaculini

As for Shelton, I would disagree that the run defense was ever strong when he was part of it. Yes it has been awful the last three weeks without Shelton, but teams have been running on the Patriots all season. Opponents are averaging 5 yards per carry against New England for the season, and Shelton was part of that for all but the last three games. With or without Shelton, the defense needs to do a better job of stopping the run.
Paul Perillo

BB had several right ideas last year but did not execute on them. Tom Brady is playing like a 41-year old QB who has nobody to compete with on the roster. It became apparent when he was kicking sand on vacation while the team was in spring training. Thus keeping Jimmy G was the right idea. Trading Gronk, who openly stated that he would rather do something else for a living if it paid, was also a right idea. The last right idea was to draft playmakers, which BB did not execute on well again.
Maricio Giovani

Well that’s certainly a pretty fatalistic look at things. First, I know it has become fashionable to suggest that the Patriots should have moved on from Brady and handed things over to Garoppolo. I disagree, especially coming off Brady’s MVP season in 2017. Has he played up to his standards this season? Absolutely not. But no way did I want the Patriots to pull the plug on the GOAT anytime before he was ready to leave. Garoppolo is a good young quarterback but I’m not convinced he’s ever going to be great. We’ll see on that. As for Gronkowski, a case could be made for a trade. I would have been interested in dealing him for a first-round pick at last year’s draft, especially if that meant packaging some picks to move up and grab a quarterback to replace Brady down the road. Players with Gronk’s wear and tear don’t last too long and while I wasn’t expecting him to drop off this dramatically after his All-Pro season a year ago, I also didn’t expect him to continue playing at that level for much longer. In fact, I believe Brady will still be productive longer than Gronk. Your final point about the draft is a good one. No arguing that the team could have done a better job acquiring talent in the draft in recent years, and that way the depth would be greater than it is at this point. We’ll see about this current class, which includes several players dealing with injuries, but prior to this year it’s been bleak.
Paul Perillo

Just watched another heartbreaking loss. The Pats have been pitiful on the road this season, and I don’t think they are going to go deep into the playoffs. My questions are twofold: The defense has played stout up until they miss tackles. The offensive play calling has also been very inconsistent. Is the coaching staff going to get their act together for the playoffs, or do you think that this will be held off until the end of their run? And two, what do you see being the spark that will get them to wake up?
Roe Clark

There has been a lot of talk about the coaching and the play calling, and coming off a week in which the Patriots scored 10 points and committed 14 penalties it’s obvious to understand why. Clearly the penalties have been a huge problem and that’s at least partly on the coaches. I don’t necessarily have a problem with the play calling but I do wonder where the consistency is on offense. There are times when I question decisions but for the most part I feel the lack of production is based on a lack of depth at the skilled positions. Gronk hasn’t been the same and Edelman is also struggling at times. Josh Gordon is learning on the fly and all of that has led to the struggles. I’m not sure there’s a switch that can be turned in the playoffs but we’ve seen Brady, Gronk and Edelman perform at high levels in the postseason and it could be that simply moving on to January will lead to a spike in production.
Paul Perillo

With the Pats first-round opponent to be decided amongst KC, Colts or LA, do you envision them getting out of the first round?
Dave Brown

Well, there are a lot of possibilities in the first round and it would seem that KC and LA are not two of them. The Colts are a possibility, as are the Titans and the Ravens. If the Patriots wind up with the third seed they would face the sixth seed, which would likely be among a group of teams including Indy, Tennessee or Baltimore. But the Patriots could also finish with the second seed and have to wait to see the outcomes of the wild card games. In that case, the only team they could face in their first game would be the third seed, which would be Houston in that scenario. So, it’s really hard to predict this far in advance.

Paul Perillo

Yes, the offense only scored 10 points and kept shooting itself in the foot with penalties. However, this loss, like most others this year, is on the defense. THREE TIMES the Steelers started a drive inside the 10, twice inside the 5 and once at the 1. Each time the defense allowed them to drive out and allowed them to score twice. It’s pathetic. Plus, they allow a third string runner to run for over 140 yards including running for positive gains and first downs when they were in obvious running situations. Malcom Brown is a complete waste (and yet another wasted first-round draft pick). Defense is not only about giving up points, it’s about holding the opponent deep in their territory and maintaining field position for the offense. Yes, the offense only scored 10 points, but if the defense ever held Pittsburgh to three-and-out when they were deep in their territory instead of having to drive 75-80 yards every drive the offense would only have to drive 40-50 yards to score. Your thoughts?
Gary Goldstein

I agree that the defense wasn’t perfect in Pittsburgh despite allowing only 17 points. The Steelers were pretty sloppy at times, throwing two interceptions and missing a short field goal after an intentional grounding penalty pushed them back. But bottom line is they only allowed 17 points, and that should be enough to win. The offense wasn’t able to stay on the field and move the ball with any level of consistently and that’s the reason this game was lost.
Paul Perillo

Everyone is talking about the unfortunate interception on the penultimate drive and the sailed passes on the final drive. But let's focus on the fact that the game could've been tied on both the last two offensive plays. James White was open on both after chip-blocking. Like, Hogan-open. Everyone on the defense went to the end zone, and James has the speed to the get to the end zone as they would try to get to him. At the worse, he would’ve been stopped a couple yards short and out of bounds, but it would’ve been a first down. Tom never bothered to check down because he kept going for it all, even though there were 20 seconds left, and there was not that much field to cover if an underneath route didn’t get out of bounds. I hope that’s captured in film this week.
Dante Swinton

I saw the plays that many are talking about with White but don’t necessarily have the same feeling, at least not the third and fourth down calls. White may have been able to pick up some yards on second down when there was still plenty of time left but it would have been highly unlikely that he could have made it to the end zone. There were at least seven Steelers all playing back in coverage and to expect all of them to react slowly enough for White to score would have been unrealistic. Assuming he didn’t make it to the end zone, then you would need to be sure he got out of bounds. Again, if you’re looking for significant yardage to cut it down from the 21, then there was no guarantee that he would have been able to get out of bounds. The Patriots had no timeouts and knew they would have at least four plays to score. The last three came from the 21, meaning anything short of a touchdown in bounds would have taken ensuing plays away. I saw White alone in the flat but 21 yards is a lot to ask in that situation and getting tackled in bounds would have been disastrous. Tough to blame Brady for going to the end zone in that situation.
Paul Perillo

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