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Ask PFW: Reaction to first win

I saw several highlights from the [Bengals] game, and I wanted to know how you think [the Patriots] did on the three sides of the ball? Because from what I saw, they played pretty well on defense for them being so young.
John Opitz

As I wrote in my post-game analysis for patriots.com, there were plenty of positives, but a good deal of negatives as well from the Bengals game. I'll start with the good and work my way down.

On offense, I like what I see all around. The development of the new members of this group continues to meet expectations (I'm speaking specifically of the tight ends, Alge Crumpler, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez). The additions of Dan Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer to their new spots on the o-line look to be seamless. Running back Fred Taylor looks downright sprightly in his 13th season. Randy Moss and Wes Welker are their old selves, and Tom Brady couldn't have looked better.

On special teams, Brandon Tate is quickly proving that what he did so well in college, he can do at the NFL as well, and that's return kicks. His preseason kick return TD against the Rams was no fluke, and neither was the opening kickoff of the second half against Cincy. The guy has moves (some of which he makes up on the fly) and speed, despite having endured some knee injuries, and his blocking up front looks worlds better than it did a year ago. New England has a real weapon in Tate.

My biggest concern, as I've been saying all year, remains the defense. Yes, there were some bright, individual spots – the combo sack of Carson Palmer, Rob Ninkovich's forced fumble/fumble recovery, Gary Guyton's pick-six, to name a few. I'll even add that the variation of formations and personnel groupings may have contributed to Palmer's poor performance in the first half.

However, the second half provided a glimpse of what, I fear, we're going to see too much of this year: an ineffective pass rush, a soft, holey middle for running backs to navigate, and a secondary that's usually close, but doesn't come up with the cigar nearly enough. Is there any hope for improvement? Absolutely. But at the moment, I'm still not satisfied.
*Erik Scalavino *

Hello, guys, and thanks for keeping all of Pats Nation informed. Now to my question ... What were your first impressions of Jermaine Cunningham? Did you see anything that leads you to believe that he can be an elite pass rusher in the NFL? I'm know that it's only his first game, but this is an area of priority for the Pats and I'm curious to know your thoughts. Thanks for the response.Mel Buford

An elite pass rusher? No, I didn't see anything from him or anyone else on the Patriots defense that made me think that. Like you said, though, it's only one game. Furthermore, he was coming off an injury that kept him out of action for a significant period of time. The most notable aspect of Cunningham's NFL debut was how low to the ground he gets in his pre-snap stance. The guy gets almost horizontal, apparently in an attempt to get the best leverage he can against the opposing tackle.
Erik Scalavino

Why are there 54 players listed on the depth chart? I thought there were only 53 players on an NFL roster. I noticed [Logan] Mankins was not listed. Did we release him? Does he not take up a roster spot? Thanks.
Will Faiella

Offensive lineman Quinn Ojinnaka was the 54th player that you saw on the roster last week, Will. He was on there because he is a member of the Patriots, but was serving a league-imposed, one-game suspension. The team released outside linebacker Marques Murrell late Monday this week to get back to the 53-man limit. Meanwhile, Mankins is not on the active roster because he is not under contract. However, as an restricted free agent, New England retains his rights, for now.
Erik Scalavino

Reading between the lines, do you guys think [Murrell's release] is either a vote of confidence for Cunningham, perhaps calling up Shawn Crable/Tyrone McKenzie from the practice squad, or perhaps seeing more playing time for Dane Fletcher? I got to think as wafer thin at OLB as we are, this is not just about making a roster spot for Ojinnaka, but something more.
John in Dallas

As I stated Monday evening on the PFW Blog, Murrell's nameplate remained above his locker, which still looked inhabited – perhaps an indication that his departure from New England will be short-lived. Regardless, no matter what the coaching staff thinks about Cunningham, the team needs both quality and depth at outside linebacker. One could argue that there's nothing the team can do about the former, but certainly the latter is well within the club's control. Which is why I'm astounded that Murrell was given the axe and not some bottom-of-the-roster o-lineman.

It's possible, I suppose, that the no-OLB or one-OLB looks that we saw against Cincinnati will become the norm as this season progresses, as the Patriots transition to more of a four down-linemen, five (even six) defensive backs look, but, again, who will put pressure on opposing quarterbacks if that's the case? Color me concerned.

Now, I wouldn't be surprised at all if Crable is eventually activated to the game day roster, but John … come on, my friend. You should know from your faithful listening and calling in to "PFW in Progress" that both Dane Fletcher and Tyrone McKenzie are inside linebackers in this system. Neither is part of the equation at OLB, despite their experience there in college. Granted, there were times when "Mike" linebacker Jerod Mayo was positioned on the outside versus the Bengals, but those times were few and far between and were meant simply to disguise what the defense was planning.
Erik Scalavino

Love the work, keep it up man. Season starting and now really we see what teams are doing. I'm worried about Randy Moss, he's been a huge addition to the team since he came. Has been nothing but spectacular 2007, bailed us out 2008, helped put up monster #s 2009, and is keeping 2 defenders on him every play in 2010. This team strikes fear in defenses throughout the NFL when using the pass. Will we end up losing him like we lost other great playmakers with the end of their contracts?
Kristopher Jones, Hamilton, Canada

Good Morning, Ask PFWers. What a great morning! I'm trying not to get too excited but it's tough considering how good we looked yesterday. I'm sure this is your only Moss related question so hopefully you can get to it. In your opinion is he more motivated now, with a chip on his shoulder, or when he first came to the team and everything was right by him? Something to prove vs. feeling the love. Thanks for all your hard work.
Maxim Carpenter, Canada

I'm going to let Moss speak for himself on this one. Because, to be blunt, after sitting in the front row of his post-game press conference, with Andy Hart right behind me, we both came away bemused, yet intrigued and wildly entertained, by what we witnessed. But judge for yourself. Moss' entire opening statement and subsequent lively Q&A exchange with reporters is available for your viewing pleasure right here on patriots.com, whenever it's convenient for you.

There's a transcript that accompanies the video, but do yourself a favor and watch the video, because you really get a better feel for where Moss is coming from by seeing and hearing him directly. Besides, this could be the last time we hear from Moss for quite a while. There's a lot to muddle through there, I admit, much of it confusing. What I got out of it was that if he's not offered an extension before the end of this season, he's not coming back next year.

Erik Scalavino

Why don't we ever see punts or kicks hit the cameras or the wires that they zip around on within NFL stadiums? Some of those cameras hang pretty low. It's impressive how often they come into view on TV when you watch the games but you never see a stray ball collide with one.
Gage Brown

Because they're a lot higher up than they appear, for one. Plus, if you notice, those camera angles are used mostly from behind the offense or the kicker, so the play (and hence, the ball) is headed away from the camera. When they're not in use, the cameras are sent off to the side so they're not dangling above the field and potentially interfering with the action below. Good question, though … I have to say, your thought has crossed my mind several times when I've seen those cameras in person at stadiums around the league.
Erik Scalavino

Hi, I would like to say you guys at PFW do a great job! I will be in Boston Oct. 15-18 and was wondering if the Pats would be having any open practices on the 16th in hopes that I can see the players. I will be there to watch them play Baltimore.
Edward Kortz

Sorry, Edward. Only during training camp are fans allowed to watch practice. Even we media types are downgraded from full practice viewing in camp to a 15-20-minute window during the regular season. Thanks for the kind words, though. We always appreciate them.
Erik Scalavino

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