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Ask PFW: Playoff edition

The playoffs are upon us and fans are looking for answers. We'll take a look at some issues heading into the postseason.

!Why is it that the Pats don't make Danny Woodhead the lead back instead of Stevan Ridley? He fumbles less (0.8% vs. Ridley's 1.4%), is a better receiver, seems to block as well or better and with an average of 4 yards per carry, would have about 100 yards less than Ridley for the year if given the same number of carries.
Paul Hartford

I think Woodhead is perfect in the role that he is in – working out of spread formations, running occasional draws and delays and catching passes out of the backfield. He's been pretty good at blitz pickup so using him in passing situations over Stevan Ridley makes sense. But asking him to be the every down back would be a mistake in my opinion. Ridley is the much tougher runner and he's obviously much bigger to handle the pounding of 300 carries. Woodhead wouldn't be as effective if were asked to handle that type of workload. In fact, as a runner he's been rather average this season, averaging just 4 yards per carry despite getting most of his attempts in situations where the defense is expecting a pass. Runners in those situations usually average more than 5 yards per attempt. I love the way Woodhead was used over the last month and I believe that's the best role for him to succeed. Keep Ridley where he is and let Woody do his thing as a change-of-pace back.
Paul Perillo

Are the Broncos really that good? In their 11-game winning streak (since we beat them) here is who they have beaten: San Diego (twice), Kansas City (twice), Carolina, Oakland (twice), New Orleans, Cincinnati, Tampa Bay and Cleveland. Combined record of those teams: 62-114. Of those teams, only the Bengals have a winning record. In listening to Phil Simms on the CBS broadcast, you'd think the Broncos were the best team in the NFL. I get they have a slight advantage should we meet them in the AFC Championship in Denver. Let's not hand them the Lombardi Trophy just yet.
Pat Keough

First, no one is handing the Broncos any trophy. In fact, all I've heard over the last several days is how Peyton Manning is 1-3 at home in the divisional round coming off a bye. So, let's not act like everyone is anointing Denver as the overwhelming favorite. The Broncos are considered a contender and they should be – just as the Patriots are and should be. Neither team has faced a very daunting schedule. During the time you rip the Broncos wins, the Patriots beat Houston and Indy – so a 9-2 record with one more victory over a team with a winning record than Denver during the same period. Otherwise, the Patriots beat the Jets (twice), Miami (twice), St. Louis, Buffalo and Jacksonville. Not exactly Murderer's Row. They also lost to Seattle and San Francisco. The Patriots have beaten the Broncos rather easily the last three times they've faced them and I feel the offense in particular matches up well with Denver's defense. But I also feel that game will be a tough one in a tough environment. What happened over the last 11 weeks won't make a difference then. And I do believe we'll see that game in a couple of weeks.
Paul Perillo

With Romeo Crennel just axed by KC, what do you think the chances he comes back to the Patriots as defensive coordinator? I think Matt Patricia has done a nice job with the ever changing personnel he has had to work with, but the defense still needs work.
Anthony Curtis

There's always a chance, just like last season when Josh McDaniels came back. I'm not sure if Crennel would come back in time for the playoffs like McDaniels did last January, but I could see him returning next season. Crennel is considered to be an excellent communicator and many of the veterans of the past Super Bowl winning teams loved that about him. He's an excellent defensive coach with the ability to decipher the game plan to his players. But the Patriots have had chances to bring him back in the past and it hasn't happened. He's been gone since 2004, and that's a long time. Maybe he doesn't want to come back to New England at this stage of his career. But if he is interested, I would think Bill Belichick would at least entertain the idea of bringing him back.
Paul Perillo

!Watching the game on TV, there was a segment focusing on Rob Gronkowski during various plays, and he was essentially blocking one-handed, not engaging any blocker with his (formerly?) injured forearm. This assured no one that the forearm is fully healed. Is this a case where he wasn't mentally ready to block with the arm, or a physical issue where the arm isn't ready or strong enough to be used to block; and, if it is the latter, won't that negate one of Gronk's strenghs - his blocking?
Tony D.

That's an excellent question. He said after the game that he was physically cleared to play so I must infer that he was affected mentally at least to some extent. Gronkowski hadn't blocked anyone with the arm in more than five weeks, and after surgery it's understandable if he were a little hesitant to just throw himself back into it right away. I saw the same clips that you are referring to and I must admit that they worried me. Seeing Gronkowski protecting his arm the way he was did not generate a lot of confidence on my end. But hopefully he got those initial plays out of his system and now he'll be good to go in the playoffs without any mental reservations.
Paul Perillo

Great work all year. Bouncing off a question from a recent issue, what are the chances of making a play for Larry Fitzgerald in the offseason? He is clearly unhappy with his situation and the lack of opportunities in Arizona. He would make a great complement to Brandon Lloyd and, of course, Wes Welker if we can sign him. It seems about time the Patriots looked for another strong, fast receiver on the outside.
Doug Tozier

Well, first, Fitzgerald wouldn't complement Lloyd; he more likely replace him. He's a much better outside threat and all-around receiver. Lloyd's role would be diminished significantly assuming Welker does indeed return. Now, getting Arizona to deal Fitzgerald seems a bit far-fetched to me. He's the biggest asset on that team and is the only player on offense worth building around. The Cardinals need to find a quarterback who can get him the ball, but dealing away Fitzgerald doesn't seem to be the best way to do that. Arizona will be in the running for a veteran free agent quarterback and if it gets one, Fitzgerald will return to his place as one of the best receivers in the game. I doubt very much that will take place in New England.
Paul Perillo

! I have two questions. How much would it cost to franchise tag Wes Welker again if we needed too, and in a worst case scenario could you see the Patriots giving the franchise tag to Welker again after this season and then trade up to try and grab a good wide receiver to replace him in the 2014 draft?
Jacob Mattson

Welker would be due 120 percent of his current salary (because that total figures to be higher than the 2013 franchise number for wide receivers) and that should place him around $11.4 million if he's franchised again. I definitely see this as a possibility, but I also think there's a chance he'll sign an extension to avoid that situation. Welker has proven yet again that he is the focal point of the passing attack and the Patriots can't just let him walk until he is adequately replaced. So far I haven't seen signs that Julian Edelman or Aaron Hernandez, two guys many people felt could do so before the season, are durable enough to do the job consistently. Welker is going to get some money next season – it's just a matter of where he'll get it. As for the draft, I believe the Patriots will take a wideout at some point relatively early on but I don't see them trading up to get one.
Paul Perillo

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