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Ask PFW: Questioning the big Browner hit/penalty

Fans' questions answered in this week's PFW mailbag..


Good Morning from Australia! This year, considering all replay reviews come from a central location in New York, should it be possible to have coaches' challenges on penalties as well? Clearly from the replays, Brandon Browner's shot was shoulder to shoulder, and the referees' mistake could have changed the outcome of the game?* *Ewan Canning

In general, I'm in favor of allowing coaches to challenge anything on any play. Keep the same number of existing challenges per game, but expand what is reviewable to include anything and everything. If such a change were to be made, Ewan, it would have to be proposed this offseason (or any offseason thereafter) during the NFL Annual Meeting, then voted on by the competition committee and approved by the league's team representatives there.

I hope someone brings up the issue this spring. My feelings have little to do with the specific Browner play you referenced, and are more about simplifying the NFL rule book. Your point is valid, though. Controversial penalties have the potential to determine outcomes of games and should therefore be subject to review. Erik Scalavino


Team photographer, David Silverman, offers his best photos from the Patriots-Chargers game at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday, December 7, 2014.

Great road win! But I don't understand how NFL defines "defenseless players" and is there any limitation on tackling them? How come Brandon Bolden's crush on Chargers punter Mike Scifres was a great hit when Browner's on Ladarius Green was a personal foul? And I don't understand why Brian Tyms earned an unsportsmanlike conduct/personal foul on a punt? Thank you. Go Pats!* *John Lee

A defenseless player is one who is in such a position that he cannot take evasive action or protect themselves from a blow when an opponent strikes him. For example, kickers in the process of following through, or receivers who are stretched out trying to catch an overthrown pass. What the league is trying to do is avoid cheap shots and reduce the number of unnecessary injuries. I fully support the defenseless player rule, even in instances when it appears to be a judgment call by the officials. I'd rather they err on the side of caution.

Which is exactly the case in the Browner play. When it happened live, it sure looked like an unnecessarily hard hit and a helmet-to-helmet blow, given how Green's head whipped back and he was concussed. There was, in fact, some contact by Browner's body against Green's helmet during the hit, and that is not allowed, either. So, while it may not have been helmet-to-helmet, it still warranted a flag. Players of this generation need to lose this unnatural instinct for hitting opponents in or near the head. That's just barbaric, and whatever the NFL needs to do to stop it is fine by me.

Bolden's punt block was not a "crushing" hit like Browner's. Quite the opposite, in fact. Bolden executed textbook punt-block technique by aiming for a point at the end of the punter's foot, extending both arms out, and not making contact with the punter's body. Obviously, when Bolden swatted the ball, Scifres' follow-through was impeded, and that force of impact is what caused him to flip over and land hard on his shoulder. Bolden did not hit Scifres. What he did was perfectly legal and as safe a play as possible. Most times, punters aren't injured on blocked kicks. Scifres was just unlucky the way he landed.

As for Tyms, he was flagged for jawing with a Charger after the play had ended. The official who threw the flag was right in the middle of Tyms and the San Diego player, so, he heard the entire exchange. Whatever Tyms said is what drew the penalty. Erik Scalavino

Hey guys, where is Alfonzo Dennard? I try to keep up with team transactions, but don't remember seeing anything. Monty Barrowman

That's because there have been no transactions involving Dennard. He has been mostly a game-day inactive this season, and a healthy scratch, at that. He appears to have slipped down the depth chart, is all. Erik Scalavino


What is the word on Chandler Jones? Will he be back next week? Is there any coincidence with the fact our defense, in particular our run defense, has been better without him? Time for the team to get healthy....I hope....Go Pats!* Jeff J.*

The word on Jones is that he's been practicing the last couple of weeks. Good news as he recovers from a hip injury in Week 7. It's anyone's guess when exactly he'll be back, but at this point, I'd hold off as long as possible to make sure he's fully healthy, or at least until he's healthy enough to play at an acceptable level. This late in the season, with the opponents remaining and New England's record, I don't see a need to rush him back into game action during the regular season. Continue to practice him and get his fitness back up to par, but if you can get away with shelving him until the playoffs, I'm fine with that.

While it's true that earlier in the year, when Jones was being asked to play out of position as a 3-4 defensive end, he was getting pushed around against the run, but I don't think it's fair to make the correlation between his absence and the improved rush defense. Overall, the defense is playing better, and the return of a stout run defender last week in Sealver Siliga was helpful against San Diego. New England has been playing with a lead most of the time Jones has been out, and that has forced teams to abandon their running game, and when they do run, New England's D has been in a much better position to stop it. That has more to do with the increased production than Jones' absence. Erik Scalavino

I would like to know why each team cannot have all 56 members be dressed for each game instead of 46? Lawrence LaRoche

Well, first of all, Lawrence, the active roster is only 53 players strong, not 56, but your question is a reasonable one. I've never understood why every player on the active roster can't be available on game days. It's one of many silly NFL rules that I'd change if I could. Erik Scalavino


Dear PFW, What a great win in San Diego, where, at least from what it sounded like on TV, the Pats had their share of supporters. Still, in any road game, crowd noise plays a role. Here's my question: with all of the headsets and radios on the sideline, what does Brady (and, Sunday night, LB Jamie Collins) hear via the speaker in his helmet? Do the communications-enabled helmets allow Brady to hear all of the chatter between coaches and coordinators? Or does McDaniels have the only direct communication line to the QB? Also, does the league regulate exactly what radio communications teams can have with these on-field players? Thanks for the info... and good luck Pats as we enter the stretch drive!* *Mark Aiken, Richmond VT

While I've never donned a helmet with the communications equipment, I've been told the connection is between the respective play callers (offensive and defensive coordinators) and their assigned players. So, Brady and Collins, in the San Diego game and any other game, are hearing directly from their coordinators. Whatever ambient noise is in the background will likely be picked up, too, but the idea is for the player to hear the call directly from the man making it.

And yes, there are people known as "frequency coordinators" whose job it is to organize which channels are used during the games in each stadium and in each team's helmets. This is to ensure that opposing teams don't hear what's being said on the other sideline, and also so media in attendance don't inadvertently hear those conversations or get their radio and television broadcast audio interrupted or interfered with those signals. It's a very important and elaborate process that's overseen by a group of people who wear maroon ball caps with white letters GDC (game day coordinator) on them so they are easily identifiable in the event of a frequency issue. Erik Scalavino

I heard an interview with Jonathan Kraft, and he was talking about player incentives and how it counts toward the salary cap. I didn't know that was the case. Kraft said with incentives that the team projects to pay and at least one more roster move in the near future that the team will roll over only about $1.5 million to next year's cap. Any chance that "incentives" affect play calling, e.g., abandoning the running game. Nick Cabrera

Not all bonuses count toward the cap, but likely-to-be-earned ones certainly do. I didn't hear the interview you referenced, so I can't speak directly about the numbers you're suggesting, but I would be utterly stunned to hear that any coach or team would call plays based on bonuses. The best business practice in pro sports is winning games, and you do that by putting your best players on the field and calling the plays that put them in the best position to succeed.

Earlier this season, in fact, the Patriots reportedly reworked the contract of right tackle Sebastian Vollmer to ensure that he received certain playing-time bonuses because, for a while, he and left tackle Nate Solder were giving up game reps to backup Marcus Cannon in a scheduled in-game rotation. That seems to have subsided (thankfully), but the team wanted to be fair to Vollmer and were said to have lowered his playing time requirements so that he could still attain his bonuses. So, to suggest that a team would not call certain plays to avoid paying a player? I won't say it's never happened, but it would truly shock me if that was the case, especially with this team. Erik Scalavino


As the weeks go by I get more concerned about Patrick Chung at strong safety. I was shocked that we signed him this year, more shocked that he made the team, and just flat-out stunned he's starting, given how he's playing. All the writers are saying he's been good this year, that the he's being used properly and not covering deep passes, etc. I see the same small, slow defender who is often a step late, who struggles to wrap up ball carriers, and, as we saw so plainly in Green Bay, isn't even good or quick enough to keep up with very slow tight ends. Is it too late in the year to try someone else at strong safety? Ebner, Wilson, best available free agent?* *Harry Ford

You obviously aren't watching film as closely as the rest of us, Harry. I was as big a detractor of Chung's play as any during his first go-round with New England, but he's made marked improvement in pass coverage (a few plays here or there notwithstanding) and is making plays in the running game as well. He's having the best season of his career, and if you can't see that, I suggest you take a closer look. And no, there isn't a better option on the roster right now.* Erik Scalavino*

Ok, my family and I are huge fans, used to live out east but now live in Minnesota. Anyway my father and I were talking and I had mentioned that Tom Brady has thrown the ball to someone (not sure who it was) but they had caught the ball and then threw it to another for a touchdown. My dad said, "No way," that only Brady gets to throw the ball. Has Brady ever done that as a designed play? I'm almost positive I remember it happening. Please let me know. Thanks in advance for your help. Go PATS! John Warren

You are correct, John. In October 2001, wide receiver David Patten became the first NFL player since Walter Payton in 1979 to run for, catch, and throw touchdowns in the same game. It happened at Indianapolis in one of Brady's first few games after taking over for Drew Bledsoe. Patten threw a 60-yard TD to Troy Brown, caught a pair of TDs from Brady (including a 91-yarder), and ran one in from 29 yards out. Erik Scalavino

Greetings from the Great White North! Love your weekly Q&A. I recently got to meet Brandon Bolden at one of the restaurants at Patriots Place on November 3rd, just after the Broncos game during a vacation. I have, like I'm sure many Patriots fans, befriended Patriots players such as Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, Tedy Bruschi and more on social media such as Facebook. Are you aware of any social media for Brandon Bolden? Michael Jewis

I don't follow any players on social media, but each of those platforms has a simple search tool that allows you to find whomever you're looking to follow. Most accounts of high-profile athletes and other celebrities are either verified with a check mark or, using basic intuition, you can just look at their number of followers. Generally, if the figure is really high, it's safe to say that he or she is the real person. But there are plenty of fake accounts out there, so, just use your best judgment. *Erik Scalavino

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