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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Thu May 23 - 02:00 PM | Tue May 28 - 11:55 AM

Ask PFW: Offense branching out

With Randy Moss gone and Deion Branch back, fans are wondering how the offense will look going forward. We take a look at that and more in the latest "Ask PFW" installment.


I have a stats question. When a quarterback throws a pick does this get classified as a completion or an incompleted pass? As in, Brady was 20 of 26 passing with 1 INT. Other than the INT stat, does it fall under one of the six incompleted passes, one of the 20 completed or neither? Just curious.
Hank Andrews

Interceptions are considered incomplete passes so they would fall under one of the six misfires for Brady in your example above. Only passes caught by the quarterback's teammates are considered complete.
Paul Perillo

Hey guys I'm sure glad you guys picked Miami on Monday. Please continue to be honest if things the media says fires up the team, so be it. Do you think this is or could be the turning point for the defense? We still gave up 300 or more yards.
Darnell McLain

No problem, Darnell. As I told Coach Belichick after the Dolphins game, "just glad we could help." In all seriousness, the players obviously were irritated that everyone in the team newspaper picked against them but in reality it was the players and coaches who beat Miami – not us know-it-all writers. As for the defense, it was actually more than 400 yards of offense but the key was all the big plays the Patriots made. The two Rob Ninkovich interceptions were two of the biggest plays of the game. Then the special teams touchdowns put New England in control and it was pretty much over at that point. I still have some reservations about this defense over the long haul, but right now at least it is showing signs of being able to take the ball away. There have been many average to below average defenses that have looked a lot better because of the turnovers they create. Just look back at New Orleans last year.
Paul Perillo

How many more games like Monday night's will it take before we stop talking about Bill Belichick's supposed "bad drafts?" Brandon Tate, Patrick Chung, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez are all looking pretty good right now; we will probably be the team with the greatest opportunity to improve in the 2011 draft. Sure we haven't won it all since 2004, but compare where we are now to say, the Cowboys in 1998; the Steelers in 1984 the Niners in 1999 – see my point? Six years removed from our last Super Bowl win and we have been a legitimate Super Bowl contender every year since, with the prospects only looking better in the next three years.
Kenyon Gagne

I'm not sure I've heard anyone criticize Belichick's past two drafts the way you're describing. What I have heard a lot of people say is you need to wait at least three years to accurately assess a draft and I'm trying to do that with these guys. Right now it looks like most of the guys you mentioned above were great picks, but I'm going to wait a while before I do that. Things can change quickly in the NFL and injuries and inconsistency can affect perceptions in a hurry. I've also heard a lot of people criticize Belichick's past drafts – specifically from 2006-08. The Patriots basically got three players out of those three years – Stephen Gostkowski, Brandon Meriweather and Jerod Mayo – and only Mayo is a full-time starter at this point. Like I said before, I'm not willing to write off players like Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite (both selected in 2008) just yet. This is their third year and there's still time for them to prove they're solid NFL players. But when you read negative stuff about the Patriots drafts, generally people are referring to this three-year span and I would tend to agree that those classes have done very little to help the cause.

In terms of your other point about the great teams of the past, to answer your question about seeing your point I'd say no. The Niners spent nearly two decades among the annual Super Bowl contenders (1981-99). At some point there will be a drop-off. The Steelers and Cowboys were likewise at the top of the heap for a very long period of time under Chuck Noll and Tom Landry and after brief respites went back to the top under Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson. The Patriots are doing the same thing right now with Belichick – no better or worse.
Paul Perillo

Like most people I'm sure I was shocked and disappointed by the Randy Moss trade. I assumed that our offense would take a big hit without him. But then I thought back to the Patriots championship days, when Tom Brady's favorite receiver was whoever was open. I feel like Brady really got away from that and became Moss (and perhaps Welker) centric over the last few years. So maybe forcing Brady to spread the ball around will help the Patriots revert back to their old championship form. Of course when Brady was spreading the ball around we also had an all-world defense. Any thoughts?
JStor Willen

I think you already mentioned my feelings on the situation. Spreading the ball around is all well and good but you can't argue with the production the offense has enjoyed during the three-plus years that Moss was with the team. Here's a quick stat for you to illustrate this point: since Moss arrived the Patriots are 4-9 when scoring less than 20 points. In similar situations during the three Super Bowl winning years (2001, 2003, 2004) they went 10-6. So not only did the team fail to score 20 points more often before Moss arrived, it also stood a better chance of winning in those cases because of the defense. I still believe the offense will be fine without Moss because there are others who should be able to provide Brady with alternatives. But I have a hard time with the theory that the unit will be better off without him due to some over-reliance on him and Wes Welker. The offense has been remarkably productive on a consistent basis over the past three-plus seasons and taking away Moss won't help. Again, with Brady I expect the offense to move and put points up but perhaps not as much.
Paul Perillo

With Moss gone do you think that there is any chance we would go after Vincent Jackson?
Robert Nadeau

I don't think the Patriots would be interested in Jackson. He would require too much to get in terms of compensation both in a trade and in salary. It would cost at least a couple of draft picks plus something in the neighborhood of $50 million. And if he slips up just once off the field Jackson could find himself suspended for an entire season. That doesn't sound like the kind of guy the Patriots should be pursuing. And this may not be relevant in any way, but I find it interesting that the Chargers passing game has been one of the league's best thus far without him.
Paul Perillo

I'm a long time Pats fan and my question to you is now that Moss is gone will they go back to no named receivers like David Patten, Deion Branch days and put the stars on the defensive side of the ball like when they won back-to-back championships, or will they go looking for another big named offensive player or did they learn there lesson?Emmanuel Hart

I'm not sure what lesson the Patriots need to learn unless you consider being the most successful organization in football over the past decade – as Belichick himself mentioned last week – a problem. The Randy Moss "experiment" in New England was a wild success. He caught 50 touchdowns in 52 career games – that's an absurd amount of production. No disrespect toward the players you mentioned, all of whom were terrific for the Patriots during the Super Bowl years, but none could hold a candle to Moss. Basically, people look down on Moss because the team didn't win a Super Bowl with him. So if the defense could have held onto the lead in the final minute of Super Bowl XLII and the Patriots had gone 19-0, would anyone be wondering if New England "learned its lesson" with talented players like Moss? I doubt it. The reason the Patriots teams won Super Bowls were because they were balanced offensively and defensively. Now the offense is far superior to the defense and that's generally been the reason the team has fallen short in recent years. Until that changes I'd expect more of the same – and that has nothing to do with Moss.
Paul Perillo

There is no apparent powerhouse this year in the NFL, so the Jets are very lucky to be staffed at the right time. If they win the SB, and there is a lockout, they may even wear the champs hats for a few years. Would you say that the Chargers deserve a shot at the SB more than a Gang Green?
Adam K.

I totally agree with your assessment of the league this year. It's still early but I haven't seen a single team that has separated itself from the pack just yet. There are some good teams but so far no great ones. The Jets are one of the teams I believe will contend, and despite some special teams disasters the Chargers will likely be heard from as well. The Ravens and Patriots should be in the thick of things as well, which makes Sunday's game so intriguing. And don't forget about the Colts and Steelers. Overall there's still a lot of football to be played but right now I don't see a team that is setting the pace.
Paul Perillo

Thanks guys for all your keen insights. Two questions please. Even though the Pats obviously have rights to restricted free agent Logan Mankins, he hasn't signed a contract or tender, so can they still trade him? And, secondly, do players under contract still get paid if there is a work stoppage due to no CBA?Bob Robertson

The Patriots do hold the rights to Mankins and they can trade him anytime before the Oct. 19 trading deadline, which is exactly one week from today. If there is a work stoppage it would mean there would be no new collective bargaining agreement and therefore the players would not be paid.
Paul Perillo

I just don't get this complete turnaround in Bill Belichick's approach. We used to have one of the oldest teams in the NFL and younger players hardly got a look in. Now it seems if you're over about 28 - bye bye. We've now got a bunch of high-round draft picks again next year and so what is likely to happen then - more experienced players get ditched to make room? Don't you think we should package up a lot of these picks and get some experienced players who can help the team now? Great job BTW.
Ray Towey

I understand your frustration Ray but what Belichick is doing really needed to be done. The team had grown old, particularly on defense, and some speed and athleticism was sorely needed. He's done that through the draft over the past couple of seasons. Now we'll have to wait to see if he's picked the right players, but many of them are starting currently and earning valuable experience on the field. That should bode well for these guys moving forward. I certainly don't think this has anything to do with a philosophical shift from Belichick where he has an aversion to older/experienced players. It's just hard to rebuild without getting the younger guys the reps they need. In other words, don't expect Vince Wilfork, as an example, to get cut next year because he's approaching 30.
Paul Perillo

Hey guys, I figure I would move on from Moss. All the huge plays they made in Miami on the defensive side of the ball were spectacular. Third-and-long in my mind is a good barometer of how well the defense is performing. How much do you think they have improved in this area?Kristopher Jones

Third downs overall have been a disaster for this team thus far. Teams are converting well over 50 percent against the Patriots through four games and that's simply unacceptable. Obviously the Patriots have a hard time putting pressure on the passer and that has contributed to the struggles, but the coverage also has been weak at times and the tackling shoddy at best. Miami moved the ball up and down the field but the Patriots defense came up with big plays by taking the ball away. If New England can continue to do this perhaps things will improve. But I'd like to see the team force a few punts because relying on forcing turnovers is a dangerous way to play in the NFL.
Paul Perillo

I find some contradicting statements in the media about which offense is better. It used to be that if you control the ball, run the clock, wear the defense down, that was the way to go. Now more and more I read that the defenses would rather have you dink and dunk while they beat up on the receivers than give up big plays. Scoring aside, I have a feeling that the secondary is more afraid of the big play, while the front seven are less interested in grasping for air on the field. What is your take?
Frank Semion

The generally theory I believe in is forcing a team to dink and dunk is the better option defensively. Obviously you never want to give up big plays and surrender "easy" points. You want to make the opponent earn everything. By forcing the offense to work the ball downfield, the chances of a mistake stopping the drive increase dramatically. A dropped pass, a sack, a penalty – there are a number of things that can help stop drives. So forcing a team to use 10, 12, 14 plays before scoring makes the likelihood of a mistake halting the drive that much higher. Offensively, if you score that's all that matters so I don't think controlling the clock is as important as scoring points. Obviously if you can score by controlling the clock then that's even better.
Paul Perillo

How do you rate Dan Connolly so far as a replacement for Logan Mankins? My feeling is that he has been OK.
John Gawienowski

I barely noticed Connolly over the first month of the season and for a guard that has to be considered a good thing. He hasn't allowed much pressure up the middle and the running game has been pretty productive overall. He's even worked as a short-yardage fullback on occasion. Connolly is not playing at Mankins' All-Pro level, but your assessment is accurate – he's been OK.
Paul Perillo

Is it possible for an NFL team to use a UFL team as a reserve team to evaluate talent and help players who are lacking in game time to get some decent competition? I know the National Rugby League competition in Australia (NFL equivalent) has a reserve team for this reason.
Pearce Bennett

I think an arrangement like that would make a lot of sense for both sides. The NFL could have a place for inexperienced players to develop while gaining valuable playing time while the UFL would certainly benefit from an affiliation with the NFL. Right now that is not the case. Players in the UFL are under contract to their teams and would have to be released from those deals in order to play in the NFL this season. Jeff Garcia was in the news recently in this regard as the Eagles were hit hard by injuries at quarterback. If the UFL shows a level of legitimacy, I think it's possible that the NFL would invest in the league as a minor league of sorts moving forward. But that's probably not very high on the agenda at this point considering the labor situation and everything that goes into that.
Paul Perillo

Everyone is mentioning that it's good to not let Moss go at the end if the year without getting anything for him. However, let's say Moss had played out the year and the Pats lost him to free agency. Wouldn't the Pats (provided that they did not sign more free agents than they lost) receive a pretty valuable compensatory pick? What round do you think that would have been awarded and do you think it's better for the team to get a Vikings third rounder versus getting the compensatory pick plus having him in the lineup every week? I just don't see the "value" of the third rounder given the possibility of the compensatory pick in the third or fourth round. From that I surmise something else was at play (regardless of what Bill says to the media).
A. Snibbets

Well the Patriots would likely have been entitled to a compensatory pick by losing Moss as a free agent but the highest it would have been is a fifth rounder because that's the highest awarded for a player with 10 accrued seasons, which Moss has. I agree with your overall point about value, though. Clearly the team did not get value for trading Moss for a third-round pick so I would tend to agree that there were likely some other factors at work. In cases like these we simply aren't privy to all the behind-the-scenes details that precipitate moves like these. Perhaps we'll never know for sure.
Paul Perillo

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