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Ask PFW: Picking up the pieces

Not much went right in the opener and the fans are wondering what can be done to change that.


I had two thoughts about the Miami game. No.1, did you think that the Patriots looked poor overall in physical conditioning? After driving the field in the first half at will, they seemed to me to be worn down by the heat in the second half. No. 2, I see bad personnel decisions, particularly in the area of strength and toughness lacking. I disagree with letting go of Tommy Kelly, Logan Mankins and Brandon Spikes ... all brought a physical toughness to the team that it now appears to lack. I believe that lots of people underestimate that quality in compiling a team and it seems Bill Belichick has missed out as well.*
*Andrew Gomez

I would agree with the first point, although I can't say that I found it all that surprising. I felt the Patriots definitely got worn down as the game progressed playing in the oppressive humidity of Miami. The Dolphins are obviously more used to those conditions, and the Patriots didn't handle them well. It was not from a lack of preparation, however. Bill Belichick certainly did his best to get his team in the best possible conditions, running his team constantly at the end of practices and even in some pretty serious humidity down in Richmond when the team practiced with the Redskins early last month. Some things are almost impossible to prepare for fully, and the conditions at Sun Life Stadium in the opener probably fall into that category – but I agree with you that conditioning was an issue.

Your second point I also agree with, but not for necessarily the reasons you suggest. I hated the idea of letting Tommy Kelly go because I didn't see a player capable of replacing him. His size and strength were missed against the Dolphins and I bet will be missed throughout the season. Not necessarily his toughness or nastiness but more so his overall skill set for a player of his considerable size. Left behind were smaller more athletic players like Chandler Jones, who I feel isn't suited for such a role. I also wouldn't have gone to any great lengths to hold onto Spikes. While he did provide some toughness and nastiness, he also was a pretty limited one-dimensional player. No doubt he'd have helped against Miami but I'm not sure he'll be missed to that extent often in 2014.
Paul Perillo


Team photographer, Keith Nordstrom, offers his best photos from the Patriots game against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, September 7, 2014.

Why do you think Rob Ninkovich didn't seem to play much vs. the Dolphins?*
*Chris Wood

For whatever reason Bill Belichick decided to use Ninkovich in a more limited role, taking him off the field in sub packages. I'm not sure why this was case and it's not something I would have done, but Belichick opted to use Don't'a Hightower in a bigger role, and I actually thought Hightower did some nince things against Miami. It also looked like Ninkovich injured himself at one point in the third quarter while making a tackle. He appeared to be flexing his shoulder and he left the field for a short time. I'm not sure if this further affected his playing time but it's something to keep an eye on moving forward.
Paul Perillo

I know there are a lot of concerns with Stevan Ridley and his fumbling issues, do you think the Patriots might sign the recently released LaMichael James? He is a hard runner like Frank Gore and could easily contribute. What are your thoughts on him?
Trevor McIntosh

I don't think there are any similarities between Gore and James at all. James is actually more comparable to some of the smaller, versatile backs the Patriots already have like Shane Vereen and James White. James is more of a pass catching threat who is capable of doing some things as a receiver or as a ball carrier in passing situations. But in terms of a true backup to Ridley, I don't think he offers much insurance. I like James' skill set but don't think he's the kind of backup threat the team lacks so I wouldn't do much to pursue him.
Paul Perillo

I feel like the majority of Pats fans who are freaking out--how can we not?--are more concerned with the second half offense; I am more troubled about their second half inability to get the opposing offense off of the field. It seems like the same old Pats of the last half dozen or so years. What's the expert opinion at PFW? Which is most troubling in the three phases (I know I ignored what we hope is an anomaly by special teams to open the game)?
James Siegel

First I'd say I'm not sure the special teams troubles were an anomaly. Special teams haven't been overly special for quite some time. Other than the terrific field goal kicking of Stephen Gostkowski, and the occasional burst Julian Edelman brings as a punt returner, the special teams have been spotty in coverage and non-existent in the kick return game. Now it appears the long snapper is a problem as well.

In terms of your main question I'd say the offense is the bigger concern. I believe the defense sort of is what it is – I don't expect the problems stopping the run to continue but I also don't expect the group to turn into a lockdown unit either. Offensively this team must score a lot of points to win and I'm not sure the issues on the offensive line are going to magically disappear. Tom Brady also appears to be hampered by the calf injury, and that's something I also fear won't magically go away. If Rob Gronkowski winds up being fine physically and can return to his dominant self then everything will likely fall into place and the offense will score. But if he resembles the version we saw in the opener all season long them I don't believe Brady has enough options to make things tick. Obviously there's a long way to go but I am worried about the offensive line's ability to protect Brady, and Brady's ability to find more suitable options other than Edelman and Gronk.
Paul Perillo

Paul noted last week how unusual it was for so many starting positions to still be up in the air. I understand the cat and mouse game of keeping your opponent guessing, but there's something to be said for making sure the offensive and defensive line starters had enough familiarity with each other to jell as a unit.
Rick Gaudreau

We all worried about this heading into the opener and unfortunately some of those fears were realized. I didn't like the idea of being unsettled along the lines and that's exactly where the bulk of the problems resided. Obviously if Belichick felt better about his personnel he wouldn't have mixed and matched as much as he did, but the fact is he was forced into changing his guards and centers throughout the afternoon. That's not an ideal situation. And the schemes up front on defense – 3-4 against Miami – don't seem to best fit his personnel either. I'd like to see Belichick settled on some players and worry less about the versatility and flexibility that comes with mixing and matching his personnel groups. Probably an unrealistic wish by me but I do feel the unsettled nature has led to some uncertainty.
Paul Perillo

Well the Pats offensive line was awful. I think they should have brought in James Develin to help block. Brady had nothing but good things to say about him. Any ideas why Josh McDaniels had another one of his huge brain farts and forgot about Develin?
Matt Lucia

Well I'm not sure how much a fullback is going to prevent the physical breakdowns we saw up front. Certainly having an extra blocker would help but you're asking a fullback to pick up guys like Cameron Wake coming free off the edge and that's not something that's going to happen with much regularity. And actually in the first half when the Patriots were somewhat balanced Develin played a reasonably big role and played about half the snaps. It was in the second half when the Patriots offense sputtered early and soon fell behind that Develin was relegated to the bench as Brady went almost exclusively to the air. I like Develin as much as anyone – well, except for Andy Hart – but I don't think his absence in the second half was the difference.
Paul Perillo


Team photographer, David Silverman, offers his best photos from the Patriots game against the Dolphins on Sunday, September 7, 2014.

Fourth in the AFC East, that's what a google search brings up now after yesterday loss. Better than fourth of four in the East, right? Wait, that's the same thing. So my questions are these: Will this be like the 31-0 beat down from the Bills, and we bounce back strong? Has Bill made a mistake with Logan Mankins? Pass rush with just four is a killer - always been our weak link, is there a trade on the horizon for the line? And where was our pass rush on a Dolphins front that was all new and supposed to be a weak point for them?*
*Michael Monk

All reasonable concerns but it was just the opener that we're talking about. I'm pretty sure few people felt the 2003 team was going to bounce back from that 31-0 defeat and lose just once more time the rest of the season. Time will tell if the Dolphins game was a blip on the radar or a sign of more serious problems, but a couple of things we know. First, Mankins isn't coming back. Second, the offensive line, with or without Mankins, has indeed had trouble with talented four-man fronts and those that get pressure on Brady without blitzing have indeed been trouble in the past. The pass rush can improve, I believe, by using Chandler Jones as a 4-3 end or a 3-4 outside linebacker. He's not big enough to consistently rush from the inside, which is where he lined up as a 3-4 end against Miami. But first things first, the Patriots need to solidify their line play and clean some things up if they expect to bounce back.
Paul Perillo

I think attention needs to be drawn to Josh McDaniels. He CANNOT adapt to changes in-game. Sick of him calling drop back passes when the offensive line is struggling with heavy rush. Need to mix in screens, draws, etc.
Mike Germaine

I disagree with play calling as an issue in the opener. The backs were targeted plenty of times with Shane Vereen (eight), Stevan Ridley (two) and Brandon Bolden (three) all getting passes thrown their way. Most of those were screens, and not many of them were successful. This was due to the shoddy work from the offensive line, which did not do a good job of opening holes in the running game or in pass protection. Anytime the line is overwhelmed like it was in the second half, there's not a lot an offensive coordinator can do. The plays weren't the problem; the blocking and execution were.
Paul Perillo

Given that Belichick knows how difficult it is to win in Miami, was there a reason for experimenting with the offensive line and changing centers from series to series?
David Beckett

Yes but you probably won't like it any more than I did. If Belichick felt comfortable with any five players he likely would have played them more regularly together. Clearly he's still searching for answers and I wouldn't be surprised to see more combinations in the weeks moving forward. He also would have likely made some substitutions regardless since it was the opener and the players aren't yet accustomed to playing a full game. He often subs up front in the opener. It was the constant reshuffling that didn't like – and I'm guessing you didn't either.
Paul Perillo

With Logan Mankins gone do you think the Pats would consider looking at Richie Incognito? The guy is a starter and would probably come cheap. I think the guy would fit right in and bring a little nastiness to the line as well. Troubled players thrive in New England and Richie I think would follow suit and do well.
Russell Obremski

If they do I might have to consider tendering my resignation. Now before you all get excited that I'm leaving town I've made this idle threat in the past and won't follow through, but that doesn't mean I'd be thrilled to pick up Incognito. Logan Mankins was so respected by his teammates that Brady referred to him as a true Patriot. And we're going to replace him with arguably the anti-Patriot of all anti-Patriots? I don't think so. Look, sometimes the thing to do that best helps your team is not bringing such a divisive element into your locker room and if they decided to put Incognito at guard I wouldn't blame veterans like Brady and Wilfork for being quite upset. I don't think will happen anytime soon.
Paul Perillo

Any truth to the rumor that Stephen Ridley will be traded due to his fumble-itis and if so would we deploy a running back by committee approach?
Jon Dowling

Well, we do employ a running back by committee approach right now. Ridley got eight carries in the opener and Vereen had seven. And I also don't expect Ridley to get traded, although I've learned to never say never. The Patriots like to spread the carries around and I expect Belichick to do that this year as well, whether Ridley's part of that committee or not.
Paul Perillo

I think we are really looking good this year. I agree with letting Aqib Talib go. He was a good DB but he seemed to get hurt at key times for us all the time and I think we upgraded our DBs. I was really glad to see that! Any way my question was do you think our receivers have improved enough from last year to give TB some real help?

So far my answer would be no but I'd add the caveat that I haven't seen much of Aaron Dobson yet. I don't have much faith that the other guys will offer much in the way of consistent production behind Edelman and Gronkowski but I still have hope that a healthy Dobson could do it. He has the size, strength and athleticism to possibly stretch the field and offer some help outside the numbers. He just hasn't been able to stay on the field long enough to prove it. I'm hoping he was inactive in the opener because Belichick felt he wasn't ready from a conditioning standpoint after missing most of the preseason and not because he's not fully healthy. He wasn't on the injury report so I assume it was the former. Hopefully he's ready to go soon and Brady will have another option. If not, then I fear it will be a repeat of last year when Brady's options are limited.
Paul Perillo

Any chance that Bill kicks the tire on the Law Firm? We might need his sure hands as the season rolls on if Ridley falls back on his usual habits of fumbling. Thanks for all you do long time listener over 10 years.
MSgt Gagnon, USAF *
*Great Falls, Mont.

I'm mildly surprised we haven't heard anything in terms of BenJarvus Green-Ellis yet. I would have thought for sure that Belichick would have looked at bringing him in. I saw a report recently that suggested the team worked out former Dolphins second-round pick Daniel Thomas. While I really liked Thomas coming out of Kansas State, he also has trouble holding onto the ball just like Ridley – and he hasn't been nearly as productive. Green-Ellis would seem to be an attractive alternative as a backup insurance policy but so far I haven't heard anything.
Paul Perillo

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