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Ask PFW: Picking up the pieces

From looking at the first two games of the season, Devin McCourty has looked very good and almost seems like he has what it takes to be a shutdown corner in this league for a long time. But, on the other side, Darius Butler is killing us. He cannot stop anybody, first week Chad Ochocinco tore him up and this week Braylon Edwards had a good game against him. I don't think we're going to be able to win many games with him starting opposite McCourty. My question is, who else can we start? Is there a DB out there that is worth trading from at this time?
Talwinder Singh

I think you're being a bit too hard on Butler at this early stage of the season, and probably a bit too easy on McCourty. You talk about Ochocinco and Edwards like they're shoemakers who don't belong on the field. Both have been very good receivers in this league, especially Ochocinco. I agree that Butler has struggled out of the gate, no question. My concern with him is he always seems to be in position but doesn't seem to make a lot of plays on the ball. We've seen this in practice consistently as well. He needs to learn how to finish some plays, and with just 18 games of NFL experience under his belt there is still time for him to do so. McCourty has been better than Butler in the early going. But he also gave up a pair of touchdowns against the Jets – he was covering Jerricho Cotchery and Dustin Keller in the end zone. Overall I like his game and have been impressed with his penchant for physical play. But he hasn't been perfect, either. Butler is taking the heat because he is in his second year – rightly so. As for alternatives, with Leigh Bodden out, what you see is what you get. I don't want Jonathan Wilhite playing any more than in nickel situations. Perhaps if Terrence Wheatley can get healthy he'd be worth taking a look at. But I don't see many teams willing to deal top-flight corners at this point.
Paul Perillo

Will the Patriots only have success against non-playoff contender type teams this year? Or do you see them making the playoffs and being a contender?T.C. Lee

I guess it all depends on expectations. Do you feel the Patriots should be viewed as a championship-caliber team or one that would be satisfied simply to make the playoffs? Do you think Cincinnati is a worthy playoff team? The Bengals won their division last year and the Patriots dismantled them to open the season. Cincy then beat Baltimore in Week 2 and I believe the Ravens are pretty good. There's no question the Patriots have had their troubles lately against quality teams, but it's not like they can't compete. They'll beat a few playoff-caliber teams this season and they'll likely lose one or two where we don't expect it. In other words, I think the Patriots will ride a roller coaster a bit in 2010.
Paul Perillo

Why can't the Pats run? Is it the blocking schemes, the backs what is it? I have been a long time fan and I do not get it. It's been years since they had one. Ron Burton, Jim Nance Corey Dillon even Robert Edwards before he got hurt could run the ball. The last good running games they had were when Corey Dillon played. They brag about the great offensive line coach they have but they cannot run. It has to be the blocking schemes or the type of linemen they draft. The backs have to have some kind of hole to go thru because its obvious they cannot nor have they been able to make a hole on their own.
Jay Jersey

The running game hasn't been effective for a while now and I do think it has something to do with the style of their linemen. For the most part, the Patriots have athletic guys who move well but don't always possess the power and size to move people. But the schemes they use now – and the most of the personnel – is the same as it was when Dillon was doing the running. I'm not sure why the running game has been so average lately but I agree with your overall assessment. The line needs to do a better job of opening holes because there aren't many backs who can make much out of what's been available.
Paul Perillo

Brandon Jacobs wants to be traded. Do you think he and Fred Taylor would be a good one-two punch combination and give us that hard-nosed running game we have been missing since Corey Dillon?
Big Mike

Well first there are conflicting reports coming out of New York with regard to Jacobs. Tom Coughlin says Jacobs hasn't mentioned any desire to be traded. But even if he does wind up on the block, you can keep him as far as I'm concerned. I'm not a huge fan of the big backs because I believe they wear down quickly, and Jacobs has already shown signs of that. He's always hurt and lacks the speed to get through the holes the way he did a couple of years ago. Jacobs is a solid back but not a difference-maker and I'd rather not waste any resources trying to bring him in. And as I mentioned above, I don't believe the individual backs are the problem with the running game.
Paul Perillo

I've heard that A. J. Hawk isn't being used very much and isn't pleased. What are the chances the Patriots make a trade for him, given the lack of depth at LB?Kert R.

I'd certainly take my chances with a guy like Hawk, who obviously showed enough as a college player to be selected in the first round. I don't watch Green Bay closely enough to know why he's become expendable but I do know when that happens to a guy this quickly it generally means he hasn't lived up to the hype. Again, given the Patriots situation I'd look into it, but he's also an inside linebacker and the Patriots depth there actually is fine with Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Gary Guyton. I'm not sure Hawk is a better option at this point than any of those three.
Paul Perillo

I'm not really sure which subject this would go in, but I wanted to put my two cents in. I know that as a little guy, only a fan watching the Patriots win tons of games, I really don't have much say, if any at all on who to select to play for the team, but I thought I'd might as well say to take a look at Punter Jeremy Boone from Penn State. I don't want to bore anyone with stats, but he's top notch, and I know that he would be a great asset to the best team in the NFL.Matthew Martin

Are you not sold on Zolton Mesko as the team's punter? I don't see why the Patriots would use a fifth-round pick on a guy and then be in the market for a new one just one year later. Boone may in fact be worth looking at but I can't see the Patriots looking for another punter in 2011.
Paul Perillo

What position is Jermaine Cunningham going to play, DE or OLB? Do you think we're going to see an expanded role for BenJarvus Green-Ellis now that Laurence Maroney is gone?J. Castroposada

Cunningham is an outside linebacker at this point. Even when he lines up with his hand on the ground as a down lineman he is serving as an outside linebacker, much like Derrick Burgess did often last year. Cunningham is still trying to make up for the lost time he had in the preseason when he was injured, so it's still too early to make many judgments on him at this point. But I see him as a definite OLB. As for Green-Ellis, he most certainly will have a bigger role with Maroney out of the picture. We saw that in the Jets game in Week 2 when he backed up Fred Taylor as the main back.
Paul Perillo

Derek Jeter fakes getting hit with a ball and all I hear from sports media is gamesmanship, part of the game, he is a competitor and other attempts to interpret his actions in a positive manner. I don't have a problem with it. What I have a problem with is everyone including members of PFW coming down on Tom Brady when he called for the flag last year. So my question is, what is the difference between Jeter faking and Brady calling for the flag?
John Howard

Personally, I was appalled by both so I'm probably not the guy to ask. In Jeter's case I have no problem with him taking his base on a ball that didn't hit him. It was faking the injury that bothered me. He didn't sell the call to get the base; the umpire immediately ruled that the ball had hit him, so there was really no need to act like a European soccer player and call for the trainer the way he did. I'm actually a big Jeter fan despite the fact that he's a Yankee, but that play was deplorable. Brady didn't fake injury on his play but whined for a flag even though the defender never touched him. I just thought it was a whiny thing to do at the time and I stand by that. But Jeter's play was far worse in my mind.
Paul Perillo

Rumors around Buffalo are spreading that RB Marshawn Lynch is on the trading block. The Pats just got rid of Maroney; Taylor and Sammy Morris have a recent history of not being able to stay healthy all season, and Green-Ellis is certainly an unproven back. The Bills desperately need help on their offensive line and the Pats need a running back. Do you see the Patriots making a trade, possibly Logan Mankins and some draft picks for Lynch? Do you see them making any efforts to get Lynch even without offering up Mankins?Ryan Collins

First, I have no desire to pick up Lynch. He's a plodding back who would simply add another average back to the stable. He in no way is a difference-maker in my mind. Also, no way would I give up Mankins for Lynch, let alone add anyone to the mix with Mankins. Mankins is a former All-Pro who is in a contract dispute. Lynch is an average at best NFL back who's been in loads of trouble off the field in his young career. No thanks.
Paul Perillo

With the way that public (and private) perception seems to affect a team's motivation, do you think that yesterday's loss might ultimately be more helpful to the Pats chances at the SB this season than a win would have been? After the Week 1 win, everyone was hyped and was mentally installing the Pats atop the AFC East. A win against the Jets would have dumped the Pats strongest challenger. It's hard for the unanimous favorite to maintain a mental edge – especially with young players. Now, they'll have a huge chip on their shoulders until they get another shot at the Jets in Week 13. If they get the momentum going by then, it will be hard to stop. Personally, I'd much rather recreate the 2003 SB season (in which they started the season with an alarming -- and motivating -- loss to the Bills) than the 2002 slump season (in which the team seemed to lack the hunger that got them to the SB in 2001).
Philip Antin

I could not possibly disagree more with a line of thinking than this. Do you really think motivation was the problem in Week 2, or in the 2002 season? The Patriots went to the New Meadowlands to take on everyone's favorites for the AFC East this year, the Jets. The same team that the Patriots themselves hate. And you think they lost because of a lack of motivation, and even more unbelievable, that it was somehow a good thing? There's nothing positive to be gleaned from that loss to the Jets – I'll just leave it at that.
Paul Perillo

This isn't really a question, but if Brady wants fans to not leave early, that can be accomplished one of two ways. 1) they can let more tickets be released to the general public so the "common" fan can get in to the game, or 2) Brady can play the whole game. Kind of hard to criticize the fans when he doesn't show up for the second half of a game, like the Jets game he just failed to show up for. No Revis Island for Moss there. It was all Brady Island. Too long and too high and isolated on one player. Maybe if he got a haircut he could see where he was throwing.
Rachel Gammell

Wow … go get 'em Rachel. I don't really have anything to respond to, but since you didn't have a question I won't give you an answer.
Paul Perillo

Is it just me or do the Patriots have a serious problem closing out games? It's been a serious problem last year and I saw signs of it against the Bengals and Jets. Should we start worrying about the players' mental toughness to play 60 minutes of football?Clarans Jarbath

I would definitely worry about that. The players certainly mentioned it enough after the game. Pretty much everyone we talked to mentioned the need to play 60 minutes. For whatever reason closing out games, especially on the road, has been a problem. I'm not sure why that has been the case, maybe it's due to all the quality coaches the team has lost over the years, but it's definitely a major concern at this point. And after a year in which that was the main problem, it was scary to see that right away at the start of the 2010 season.
Paul Perillo

The rumors of Dallas being interested in Mankins makes me wonder if they'd be willing to part with Anthony Spencer for him. If so, what do you think the trade would look like? Are their values similar or is one worth more than the other, and how much more?Pascal Rawls-Philippe

I think their values are probably reasonably close, but I don't think the Cowboys would want to part with Spencer. If Mankins were on board and playing I doubt the Patriots would want to send him packing either. Obviously the Cowboys need help along the offensive line and New England could use some playmakers at outside linebacker. But Dallas likes Spencer and I don't see them tinkering with their bookend pass rushers to add a guard.
Paul Perillo

In the first half at Jets game Brady got the ball to Wes Welker many times for first-down yardage. In the second half I didn't notice one attempt to Welker. Instead Brady went to Moss. Why did the Pats get away from what worked so well in the first half? Were Brady and Moss just trying to prove a point to everyone that they can beat the Jets coverage?Bob Lacourse

This was a common lament after the Jets loss, and while I think there is some merit to it, it isn't entirely accurate either. Brady targeted Welker five times in the first half and twice in the second half. But the Patriots also ran 34 overall plays in the first half and just 23 in the second. So clearly there were less opportunities to throw the ball to anyone. Moss was targeted six times in the first half and just four times in the second. So, it's not like there was a disproportionate amount of passes thrown in Moss' direction in the second half as opposed to the first. In fact, just like Welker the number actually went down after the break and that was due to the Jets defense. New York made stops in the second half and didn't allow the Patriots to control the ball. Therefore, neither Welker nor Moss was as involved in the offense in the second half as they were in the first. The Jets defense made some adjustments, most notably changing up their pressure package, and the Patriots offense failed to adjust. I don't think the second-half shutout was entirely due to Brady throwing to Moss. It had more to do with the fact that the Patriots receivers simply weren't getting open.
Paul Perillo

All last year, fans heard how Bill O'Brien as the de facto OC was a bright young coach growing into the job, and not as overmatched as he appeared when we watched the games. Now we're into year 2, and in the Jets game, we got the same old story - they figured out better ways to defend the Pats, and the Pats had no answers (other than INTs and fumbles). At what point does BB need to concede that his team, which has plenty of offensive talent but limited ability to capitalize (especially in game, on the road, in the second half), needs to find someone better than O'Brien to direct the attack?Michael O'Neil

This is another one that aggravates me. Why is it that when the offense is terrific, like in the Cincinnati opener when the Patriots finished the game with an impressive 81-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, it's all because Brady is doing a great job of spreading the ball around and moving the team. But when the offense stagnates and fails to generate points it's because of Bill O'Brien's unimaginative play-calling? I've said this many times but I don't believe it's as simple as many people think it is. When Welker lined up in a stack formation behind Alge Crumpler and Rob Gronkowski in the opener, how many people weren't expecting a quick screen? People were calling it out in the press box and we don't know anything. But Welker easily made it into the end zone despite the fact that the Bengals likely knew what was coming too. That's because the Patriots executed the play to perfection. I'm not saying I agree with every play call – if I see another run on second-and-10 I might scream – but I also don't put it all on O'Brien's shoulders. Brady has to make plays and the fact is he wasn't sharp in the second half of the Jets loss. He has the ability to throw the ball to whomever he deems to be open. The fact that he chose to throw it to Moss is not O'Brien's fault. He certainly doesn't get the credit for the bomb Moss caught for a touchdown in the first half, so why does he have to take blame for the second?
Paul Perillo

Why can't our head coach/defensive coordinator, Bill, get an acceptable defense? He has had essentially three years of a poor defense. No pass rush whatsoever and no secondary. He continues to trade down. Green Bay and other teams had a quick turn around in a year or two. It is growing old watching poor offenses steamroll this team. What do you see as a fix?Craig Ficke

Unfortunately the only fix is to get better players and what we've seen over the past couple of seasons is the result of poor drafts from 2006-08. Those three seasons yielded two starters – Brandon Meriweather and Jerod Mayo. Other than that, the players chosen are either gone or playing minor roles. Those guys should be making up the nucleus of a developing defense. Instead the 2009-10 drafts are doing so and the inexperience is going to make life difficult. Hopefully in a year or two we'll be looking at a turnaround like the ones you talked about, but until the talent emerges we'll have to wait.
Paul Perillo

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