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Patriots Replay Thu May 28 | 02:00 PM - 11:59 PM

Ask PFW: Passing thoughts

Let's face it, the Pats passing game has bombed just as much Deion Branch banked it would, Scott Pioli gambled it shouldn't and Brady hoped it wouldn't. So where do you think the blame falls? "It's a little bit of everyone" is the easy answer, but the way the numbers have flopped despite a strong running game – it's fair to allot more blame some places than others. Is it Brady making bad decisions? Sloppy pass protection? Bad coaching? Are receivers not getting open and catching the ball? Or are the Jets and Bills pass defenses just better than we give them credit for? You guys have at least as good insights as anyone in the business when it comes to the Patriots.
Will Bortolin

Sometimes the easy is the right one and that's probably the case here. But since you gave ended with such a nice compliment, I'll try to focus on something a little more specific. After three games, I'd have to say this receiving corps is simply not good enough to consistently get open and make plays. Tom Brady didn't forget how to make good decisions after five years of doing just that so I pretty much absolve him of blame. I haven't seen many instances, although there have been a few, where receivers have been open and Tom hasn't gotten them the ball. The Patriots obviously expected to have Branch in the fold and without him, at least so far, the passing game is suffering. And the pass protection hasn't been the greatest, either, despite the fact that Brady has only been sacked four times. The Broncos didn't blitz him a single time and he was still under a fair amount of pressure.
Paul Perillo

I was wondering how much longer Bill Belichick is under contract for? Also, how much longer do you see him and coaching, and will he retire as the Patriots coach? I think that it would only be right for him to finish his career here where he had the most success in his career. Just wondering, your thoughts?
Brad Hanovich

On paper, Belichick's contract is set to expire at the end of this season. I say on paper because the extension he signed a couple of years ago ran through the 2006, but when he agreed to that two-year extension nobody found about it until a full year later. So it's very possible that Belichick and Robert Kraft have already agreed to another extension and simply chose not to tell anyone about it once again. My guess is that's the case and that Belichick will remain in New England for at least another two or three years. After that, who knows?
Paul Perillo

Patrick Cobbs played at UNT, where my youngest daughter attends school. Both of us were disappointed when Patrick didn't make the team. We're wondering if he moved on to the CFL or, if by chance, one of the current running backs get injured he would be an option to sign?
Bill Sullivan

Cobbs was actually traded to Pittsburgh just before final cuts were made and he spent Week 1 with the Steelers. But Pittsburgh released after the first game and he was subsequently signed to Miami's practice squad. Cobbs enjoyed a solid training camp and preseason but faced a difficult challenge given the talent and depth in the Patriots backfield. My guess is he opened a few eyes around the league with his performance and has a chance to stick around as a third-down back with some seasoning.
Paul Perillo

I want to know how many draft picks in each round we might expect the Pats to have in 2007, including what they should have from trades, and compensation for the loss of free agents. I can think of the following players that we lost as free agents: Vinatieri, McGinest, Givens, Chatham and Ashworth. I think there might be 1-2 more. Adding in the trades, please go through each round with a guess as to what they might get, after the compensation picks for lost free agents.
Steve Tibbetts

I'll tackle the easy part first: the Patriots made three trades for draft picks, sending Brandon Gorin to Arizona, Ross Tucker to Arizona and Patrick Cobbs to Pittsburgh. But only Gorin is still with the team and thus only the Cardinals owe the Pats compensation, which will likely be a sixth- or seventh-round choice. As for compensatory picks for free agents lost, I'll make one change to your list – McGinest was not a free agent lost since the team released him. That means the Patriots will not be entitled to compensation for his loss. The others will likely provide a few picks, and Christian Fauria, Tim Dwight and Andre' Davis could be added to that group as well. The NFL doesn't divulge its formula for awarding these picks, but it's basically the net result of free agents lost as compared to signed with playing time, games started, etc., factored in. My guess is the Patriots will get several compensation picks varying from rounds 4-7, but there's really no way of knowing for sure what the NFL is going to award. Also, the Patriots traded a fifth-round pick to Oakland for Doug Gabriel.
Paul Perillo

Do you think that something might actually be wrong with Brady's arm this year? Through most of the Denver game it appears that his deep balls don't have the usual Brady touch on them to drop in and outs and comebacks he's firing up short into the ground a lot. Maybe it's just not having timing with the receivers because he seems to be missing open ones. Just wondering if you noticed the same thing?Mike

This is the first of what will be many Tom Brady related questions. As a warning, I'm going to sound like a broken record here defending him, but I really don't see him as the problem. Has he missed some open receivers over the first three games? Yes. But in my opinion there have been many more examples of him standing there looking for someone to get open and him having to throw the ball away than times where he's misfired to an open target. Until the receivers start getting open and making some plays, I'm afraid Brady is going to look like an average quarterback. And after what I've seen over the last five years, I know Brady is well above average.
Paul Perillo

Not long ago, Marquise Hill was a second-round pick. Now I hardly read anything about him and other guys continue to play ahead of him, like Mike Wright. I was surprised to see he made the team! So will he ever get extra playing time this year, assuming there are no major injuries?
Paul Mazzoni

That's a great question, Paul. I, too, was surprised that Hill made the team since he missed most of training camp with an injury and has played very little over his first two seasons. I wouldn't expect him to be active too many times provided the team isn't hit too hard by injuries to the front seven. Based on what I've seen, Hill just hasn't progressed the way you would hope and guys like Wright have simply passed him on the depth chart. I don't pretend to be a football coach or expert by any means, but watching him in practice he seems to stand up too much at the snap and that allows the blockers to get to his body. He needs to keep his pad level lower to maintain leverage the way Richard Seymour does. Of course if everyone could do what Seymour does the Patriots would have the greatest defense in the history of football.
Paul Perillo

I think Mike Vrabel is the most underrated LB in the entire NFL, and I don't think I am being a homer in saying that. I watch a lot of football and I can't even think of anyone I would trade for him for what he is asked to do on this team. He hardly ever takes a bad angle or whiffs a tackle. He is extremely intelligent. He can adapt quickly to anything. His being able to adjust so quickly to playing inside last year was a major factor in the Pats ability to turn it around on defense. I think he was the team's defensive MVP last year, bar none. He makes plays wherever they put him. Honestly, as much as they praise the athleticism of Urlacher, I think Vrabel is right up there in that category too. Besides, Urlacher hasn't caught eight passes for eight TDs, either. What is your take on the matter?
C Kay

First, I'm sure if the Bears wanted Urlacher to catch touchdowns he would since he's one of the most athletically gifted players in the league. But in terms of the rest of your email, I have to agree. While I'm not sure that Vrabel is underrated (I happen to think he's very highly regarded around the league) I do agree that he was the Pats MVP on defense last season and is a truly indispensable player. He plays equally well against the run, as a pass rusher and in coverage. There aren't many linebackers who can say that. Belichick also credits him with being one of the most cerebral players on the team, which allows him to be used in so many roles. I can't say I disagree with one thing you wrote about Vrabel.
P Per (See what I did there?)

What if the Pats ran the no huddle, three tight end offense? I mean, if they kept the bigger bodies out there to cover the tight ends, wouldn't they get tired and be more subject to getting burned when the tight ends shifted out to wideout spots (all during the no huddle of course)? Also, if the other teams opted to keep the smaller bodies in for the passing game that would open the Pats up to a mismatch on the running game (with three tight ends in the game)?Nick M

Well, Nick, the Patriots actually tried your offense for a short time early in the Denver game and it wasn't any more effective than any other sets they tried. A lot of people talk about the Patriots tight ends in this way and feel they represent these major matchup edges but so far I have to be honest and say I haven't seen these major edges. Benjamin Watson is a solid, athletic tight end but against a team like Denver, for example, that has equally athletic linebackers I don't see him as having such an advantage. Most of Watson's damage Sunday night came in the fourth quarter after the result had been decided. Graham and Thomas aren't going to necessitate personnel changes by the defense in a no huddle attack, either. Teams are going to cover the Pats tight ends with linebackers underneath and safeties over the top. Occasionally you might see a corner on Watson if the Patriots are trying to get him deep down the seam. But otherwise I can't see using three tight ends unless you're trying to establish the running game, which New England has done periodically over the first three games.
Paul Perillo

I continue to see people mentioning the draft pick the Pats picked up for Deion. People say they can't get enough out of the pick, they should trade up, or some other random negative comment. If my memory serves Deion was drafted in the second round, and the pats got a first-round pick for him. Benjamin Watson who seems to be one of the biggest producers this year was late in the first, and I'm not going to even mention Tom Brady and how late he was. What is your take on all this? Don't you think they will stay where they are and use two first-round picks and produce more Super Bowl champions the way they have been?
Drew Gilbert

I haven't the faintest idea and if I did I'd be heading to Vegas right now to drop a bundle on the Patriots. First, I haven't seen too many negative comments for getting a first-round pick in return for Branch. That was a solid trade for both teams and the compensation seems adequate. I've read plenty of people complaining about losing Branch, but not necessarily because of what they got in return. Personally I'd rather have Branch than a first-round pick but that wasn't an option so I say let's go with the next-best thing. Now, I don't know how anyone who's watched Bill Belichick on draft weekend in the past can say that the Patriots probably won't trade. They almost always do make a trade, and they've done it in the first round more than once as well. If something presents itself that Belichick likes you can bet it all that he'll swing a trade. If there's a player he likes available where the Pats are picking, then he'll sit tight. It's too early to know at this point.
Paul Perillo

For the longest time I have been hearing that we are $13 million under the cap. I know that I have been hearing this since before we signed Junior, and I am still hearing it now. Does Junior play for free? Now I am hearing that Bill and Co. are stocking picks and are going use that money for some big time action in next year's draft and free agency. My question is, can you really carry over unspent money from year to year, or is this a deal where they need to pay off some player's signing bonuses this year that would have been paid out next year. Can you explain the mechanics of working this big advantage of being under the cap?
Joe Moore

I'm not sure exactly how much under the cap the Patriots currently are, and no, Junior does not play for free, but teams can definitely use extra space under the cap to their advantage. While it's more likely that the Patriots will use most if not all of their current space this year on bonuses (it's possible that Seymour got his $6.6 million roster bonus already so it could be applied to this year's cap instead of next year's) and possibly even extensions for pending free agents. But if they do have room heading into next year that can be carried over. Teams always have to be under the cap. The reason you hear about teams being over during the offseason is pending bonuses that are scheduled to kick in at the start of the new league year (March) would put the team over if they didn't make other moves. For example, McGinest was released before the start of the new league year because he had a sizable roster bonus due and the team wasn't going to take that cap hit. So in other words, teams can always use extra cap space regardless of the time of year.
Paul Perillo

In tonight's game, I noticed something that made me wonder. On one punt, there were offsetting fouls and the down was replayed. On another punt there were offsetting fouls and the play stood. In both cases the fouls occurred during the play (not dead ball infractions), so I'm curious as to what determines whether the down is replayed or the play stands.
Andrew Miskavage

I believe the difference is on the first occasion one of the fouls took place before the ball was kicked while on the second both infractions took place after the punt. The pre-kick violation (holding on the punting team) caused the fouls to offset, resulting in a re-kick (since, in theory, the kick may not have taken place without the infraction being committed). Even though there were two penalties on Denver and one on the Patriots, the fouls still offset regardless of severity. The second example saw an illegal block during the return and a facemask violation on the tackle. Both penalties took place during the return so they offset at the point of the return team's infraction.
Paul Perillo

What is up with the bad calls against the Patriots? Seriously does Denver need the officials to beat us? Honestly, the refs were completely against the Pats tonight. Two [expletive] interference calls. Yeah sure, they're just interference calls. But that affects how the corners play the wide receivers over the course of the game. Sanders and Samuel made clean plays on the ball and were called for interference. This game was obviously rigged and I think it's pathetic that Denver won because of that. Now, I agree some of Brady's throws were off target. But he really needs to suck it up that he lost Branch and play better. The defense needs to play faster. Most of the time they're caught off position and can't make the tackle due to lack of speed. They need to be much more aggressive. I'm sorry but I hate to see my team lose in an unfair game. I'm sure everyone who watched the Pats game knows the refs were against the Patriots. It takes away the integrity of the game.N

Well, I lost the pool. I predicted somewhere in the first five questions we'd get a spoiled Pats fans blaming the loss on the officials. It took 12 questions before someone went down that ludicrous road. After all, I've been working here at PFW for eight seasons now and we've never lost a single game where the officials weren't to blame. In my opinion, there was one bad penalty called against the Patriots Sunday night – the pass interference called against James Sanders down the sideline. That was a ticky tack call at best. The one on Samuel was properly called, however. He went through the receiver to try to make a play on the ball and you can't do that. And by the way, those officials who had it in for the Patriots actually called more penalties on Denver than New England (7-6). And to make your argument even weaker, you spent five sentences complaining about Brady's throws and the lack of speed on the Patriots defense. Did the refs affect that, too? Maybe the officials were calling out the Patriots plays to help the Broncos defense. In all honestly, the Patriots are too talented and classy to have fans that are constantly whining about every flag that falls out of an official's pocket. This tired act needs to end. The officiating had as much to do with the outcome of the Denver game as my pregame meal.
P* *(see what I did there, too?)

All night John Madden and Al Michaels commented on how lackluster and downtrodden the Patriots appeared last night. That they played with no passion or desire. I couldn't agree more. My question is why? I thought that they were waiting for this game the whole offseason. That they were going to show who the best team really was. How does a team play with so little fire in a game apparently chock-full of emotion? I understand that the Broncos played a major hand in making life difficult for them but that is no excuse to play like it was a preseason game. I don't feel that 100 percent effort was given and I bet that Bill B and Robert Kraft feel the same way. That was an embarrassing performance, especially by the offense. What happened to these guys PFW?
David Moss

I think it's easy after a loss to question the heart and desire of any team. Based on the past five year, I don't question the desire of these Patriots. Aside from the opening day loss in 2003 in Buffalo, I haven't seen an example where I felt the team lacked the proper effort. I thought the Patriots played hard against Denver but the visitors were simply better. Maybe they just played better Sunday night, but based on the 60 minutes I watched I don't see how anyone could come away from that game saying anything other than the better team won. Belichick certainly pointed in that direction in his postgame press conference when he basically said everything has to improve in order for the team to expect to win. Maybe the intensity level wasn't as high as it might have been, but the poor execution was a much bigger factor in my eyes.
Paul Perillo

I just finished watching the Broncos game. We finally saw how good our running game really is against good teams. I have been noticing something for the past three games. Am I the only person that thinks Maroney is being used the wrong way? I believe the Pats are trying to shape him into a Dillon-type runner, but he has a lot more quickness. I think he should be used more on outside running plays. His ability to break tackles outside is great. Do you agree with this? Should Maroney be given more toss plays and outside plays then just down the middle they ask him to do?Andreas P.

I don't know if you're the only one who thinks Maroney is being misused, by I don't agree with you. There's nothing wrong with tossing an occasional pitch to Maroney and letting try to get outside, but it's very difficult to run wide in the NFL with the speed and power of most defenses. Tatum Bell is a lot smaller and quicker than Maroney and the Broncos didn't venture him outside too often (by design, anyway) in his 27 carries. If a running back is to be successful in the NFL he has to be able to take it between the tackles for the tough yards and Maroney has shown the ability to do that for the most part. He was shut down against Denver but that was one game. Let's see what happens in the future when the Patriots play against another tough run defense somewhere down the road before we write him and the team's ground game off.
Paul Perillo

Where was Chad Jackson? I thought Doug Gabriel came in and really showed some good effort of several diving catches, making sure his toes were in. I see him becoming the third receiver if Jackson can't come in soon.
Brian Bim

According to Belichick, Jackson wasn't one the Patriots best 45 players for the Broncos game so he wasn't dressed. Whether that was related to an injury or some other reason is unknown. But Belichick didn't feel Jackson being in the lineup gave the Patriots their best chance to win. As for Gabriel, I thought he did some nice things but I don't want to get too caught up in a few catches that all came well after the issue was decided. The Broncos completely backed off in coverage after they went ahead 17-0 and allowed the Patriots to work the ball down the field slowly. It took New England almost four minutes to score their one touchdown, and with such a large lead at the time that was OK with Denver. So Gabriel made some plays but I'll reserve judgment until I see him making some when the game is on the line. Against the Jets he had a very tough time getting off the line and getting open. He was free on the one long pass that was intercepted but other than that, nothing. And he wasn't open at all during the third quarter against the Broncos either. It wasn't until the Broncos went to the prevent that he began to assert himself.
Paul Perillo

After what I saw yesterday, I have two observations. 1. The patriots HAVE to get Gabriel on the field. He played what, a quarter? Six catches, 65 yards and a touchdown? Get Gabriel on the field. 2. ENOUGH of the deep ball already! The patriots would make a 6-yard pass, followed by an 8-yarder, first down. Then they'd throw 30 yards downfield three times in a row and punt. That was what the offense did.
Brian J.

First of all, Gabriel played the entire second half, you just didn't notice him until late in the fourth quarter. As I stated above, the Broncos backed off in coverage and he was able to get open underneath. Maybe he'll continue to catch some balls as he gets more comfortable in the system, but so far he's been unable to get open against tight coverage. As for the deep balls, I guess I'm missing the possessions where the Pats are chucking it 30 yards downfield on three straight plays. The only time I can recall anything close to that was with a bout five minutes left in the Broncos game when the offense was backed up inside its 10. Brady tried to get the ball downfield on a couple of occasions on that possession because basically that was the only way the Patriots stood a chance to win. The passing game has struggled to find consistency. There's no question about that. But I don't think the play calling has been a large part of that.
Paul Perillo

I'm sure you're getting a lot of "where's Vinatieri?" letters. My question is more about the mindset of the Patriots organization on this one. Did they think that Vinatieri was too old and that to "overpay" him for just a couple more years was not worth it? Kickers can play well into their 40s as long as they keep kicking hard and straight. Vinatieri could have been here for eight more years or so. I'm wondering if the Pats undervalued him based on age, feeling that they should replace him now rather than spending a bunch of money just to get someone new in three years. I hope this wasn't the lens they were looking through because so far the decision is costing the Pats, regardless of why those kicks were blocked. (Hey the field was probably a bit slippery in the snow, but Adam didn't slip and slide the way Stephen did on dirt/grass last night.)
Nathan F.

Actually, you're the first and only one to even bring up the kicking situation this week. Not re-signing Vinatieri is an old and tired story at this point. The Patriots just didn't feel like the value was there. They felt he wasn't worth the money that Indy offered him and that was that. I'm not saying I totally agree with the choice to let him go, but at this point there really isn't anything that can be said. The Patriots have been very consistent on their approach when it comes to these kinds of negotiations so it's hard to be too critical of these decisions. Would I rather have Vinatieri here? Absolutely. But that's not happening.
Paul Perillo

Not having Branch as a receiver may hurt the team but as I watched the Denver game, Tom had plenty of receivers to pass to but was not able to get the ball to them. He either was short or way off his mark. I don't see Tom Brady being as sharp as he was last season. Maybe the receivers aren't running the proper pass patterns, I don't know. What is your opinion?Arthur Donais

After three games I'd have to say definitively that Tom Brady has not been as sharp as he's been in the past. But at the same time I'd also have to say that I strongly disagree with your assertion that he's had a lot of open receivers that he's missed. Have there been a few? Sure, but not a lot. To answer the analysis portion of your question, the way I look at it is this: After five years of watching Brady excel in every conceivable manner, when I see a pass that looks like it is thrown well off target, I automatically assume that the receiver didn't run the proper route. There's no way of knowing this for sure because it's impossible to dissect every play with Brady and the coaches after the game to find out why. But again, when Brady is throwing to receivers that are new to the system, and the pass doesn't appear to be anywhere near them, I'm going with Brady.
Paul Perillo

Last year we were one-dimensional on offense with no running game. This year we are one-dimensional on offence with no passing game. How long do we have to put up with 10-6 or 9-7 seasons with no chance at SB?
Fred J.

Put up with 10-6 seasons? Wow, are we getting a little spoiled? There was a time when making the playoffs and going 10-6 was considered pretty successful. It speaks volumes that the success the Patriots have enjoyed recently has made 10-6 seasons something fans "have to put up with." I understand your frustration and after winning Super Bowls you should not simply be satisfied with just getting to the playoffs. But there's a long season still to be played. I wouldn't write of Brady and that passing game just yet.
Paul Perillo

To most it seems obvious that there is a very large problem within the Pats offensive unit. Brady seems to be very uncomfortable with his throws, which I feel is directly attributed to his lack of confidence within the Pats receiving unit. So I made a list of possible receivers of the future that I felt could fit into the Belichick system (and wouldn't hurt too much against the salary cap). Kevin Curtis, Reggie Brown, Jerricho Cothchery and Antwaan Randle El. I felt most of these guys are very well rounded players who have great speed, awareness and understanding of the game. Also (aside from Randle El) I feel Pioli could find a way to get these guys cheap. What do you guys think?Ben McHugh

I have no idea what these guys would sign for. And I have even less idea how and when they all would become available. In Randle-El's case, he just signed a long-term deal with Washington so it will be quite some time before he's even available. And unless you know these players personally I don't see how you could know about there understanding of the game and ability to fit into the Patriots system. You can't tell those things just by watching them. And in Cotchery's case, my guess is you're wowed by one absolutely astonishing play made against the Patriots. Let's wait and see which receivers actually become free agents before we decide how to attack next offseason.
Paul Perillo

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