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Ask PFW: Regular season finale edition

The focus of this week's PFW mailbag is on New England's offense heading into the playoffs.

!It seems to me that after being one of the potentially most lethal teams through the air going into the season, the loss of two players has exposed the Pats. Obviously the first player is Gronk. He truly might be the greatest TE ever with his ability to block and catch. He helps the run game, and opens up the pass. It goes without saying that we miss him on O. The other might be one of the most underrated players we have: Edelman. When he's healthy, it's like having two Welkers. However, with both of those guys out, we have to lean on just one Welker, which really limits us. Hernandez seems to be nothing without Gronk out there. Lloyd has been a disappointment so far only making the circus catches and dropping the easy ones, and never getting yards after. After that we have no one, including Branch, who unfortunately is just too old. As such, how should we address this problem? Draft, free-agent, trade, more balance with the run game? Mike Aboud

Some of your points are valid, Mike. Gronk being the best tight end is one. The lack of quality depth at wide receiver is another. The rest are questionable at best.

Julian Edelman is a decent receiver who's still developing, but a much better punt returner. That's where New England misses him most right now. Only having to rely on "one Wes Welker" is something the Patriots have been doing (with great success, mind you) for several years now, in case you've missed it.

Aaron Hernandez "nothing" without Rob Gronkowski on the field? Clearly, you're just not paying attention. Hernandez is one of the most dangerous players at his position in the league today. He's a mismatch nightmare for defensive coordinators because he's too big to be covered by a defensive back and too fast to be shadowed by a linebacker. Plus, he has phenomenal hands and elusiveness. The Patriots are very fortunate that he came back from his injury problems when they lost Gronkowski.

Brandon Lloyd hasn't quite lived up to lofty expectations, I'll grant you, but I would submit that those expectations were far too high to begin with; furthermore, Lloyd has been more active in the offense of late, and has been far more productive than the last big-name free agent receiver who wore 85 in this offense.

Again, you may not have noticed, but New England is still putting up considerable points with all their so-called "problems," as you've erroneously enumerated them. The only major problem with the offense, at this point, is the thin receiver roster. There's only so much that can be done at this point to bolster it (calling up players from the practice squad, like Kamar Aiken this past weekend). That will have to be addressed this winter and early spring in free agency and the draft. Erik Scalavino

After 14 games the stats for Stevan Ridley and BenJarvus Green-Ellis are virtually identical. Considering Ridley's return case of fumble-itis, do you think there are any regrets coming out of Patriot Place that they let the Law Firm go? Gary Goldstein

Nope. None whatsoever. First of all, let's discard this fallacy that Ridley is fumble-prone. He's lost the ball a couple of times lately. Same last season toward the end. He's human. He's not the only player on the offense who's turned the ball over. Tom Brady's been throwing INTs at a relatively troublesome clip of late, you know. These are merely aberrations, not trends.

Look, Ridley is far more talented than Green-Ellis ever was or will be. Patriots fans got too spoiled by the unlikely good fortune that Green-Ellis had in never fumbling during his career in Foxborough (he's since made up for that as a Bengal, by the way). Far too much has been made of Ridley's troubles holding onto the football. Fumbles happen to him once in a while, just like every other player. Obsessing about his one or two miscues is just preposterous.

Patriots coaches agree with me. If they didn't, you wouldn't have seen them give Ridley the ball so much this past week against the Jaguars. They have confidence in him, and so do I. Erik Scalavino

!It's been a couple of years since I had a question answered so I hope this one goes through. 1) Do you guys think Ryan Mallett is the future of the patriots? I really thought we hit a jackpot when we got him so late a couple of years ago. 2) How many elite QB seasons does Brady have in the tank? 3) What do you guys see as our long term WR solution, I don't think Welker will be back next year and I don't see anything great coming out of the draft. Thank you so much guys! J. Castro

Let's go in order. 1) It's doubtful that Mallett will be Brady's heir, but it's also almost impossible to say just how well this young player can develop because he almost never gets a chance to play any meaningful minutes in games. Rarely today, it seems, do teams find starting quarterbacks in the middle or late rounds of the draft. So, if New England wants to get a replacement for TB12, they'll likely have to get one in rounds one or two.

2) Who knows…

3) I'm not convinced Welker is playing his last games for New England. That said, I'll reiterate that the Patriots need to get more talent around him or whoever remains at wide receiver for this team next season. Whether that's in the draft or free agency (or both) remains to be seen. We've not begun our draft evaluations, and free agency is still too far down the road to address with any seriousness yet. Erik Scalavino

Many people freak out at the idea of not having a first-round bye. I understand that it must be nice to rest players, but honestly I prefer a 3-seed over a 1 or 2. We'll get a pretty nice warm-up game to prepare us for a better team in either the Bengals or the Colts, then we'll have momentum going up against a Broncos team who has not played in two weeks and whose defense we have torched the past 3 times we've played them. Am I the only one who prefers not to have a bye week? Hunter Brooks

Yes. Erik Scalavino

What has become of the coffin corner? These days all punters go for having their kicks downed inside the 10 yard line. Too many go into the endzone for touchbacks. Are coffin corner kicks that hard to angle? Jeffrey Anderson

Excellent question, Jeffrey, and one I'll try to ask special teams coach Scott O'Brien when next I get a chance. For now, I'll give you what I know about the subject.

The coffin-corner punt was the direct ancestor of what's known today as "plus-50" punting. In the old days, punters used to kick the ball the same way, no matter where they were on the field. Almost every kick was a high, arching spiral. So, when a team punted from near midfield, the punter would be asked to try to angle that kick toward the pylon, to give the return man very little, if any, chance of returning the ball.

Nowadays, most punters handle the ball one way to kick it deep (to get that spiral effect) and a completely different way to "pooch" punt, or to kick the ball when his team is past the 50-yard line (hence the term "plus-50"). The latter case typically sees the punter hold the ball like in rugby, with the nose pointed straight to the ground, to get an end-over-end rotation on the ball. The intent on such kicks is to create backspin so that the ball bounces away from the end zone should it hit the turf.

The kicking game has become such a specialized aspect of football today. Most coaches want their punters just to get the ball inside the 20- or 10-yard lines and let their coverage men get under it, rather than leaving the job all up to the punter to try to pin the other team deep with a coffin corner. Again, I'll try to get an answer from Scott O'Brien as to why this change in philosophy seems to have taken place across the league. Erik Scalavino

What is the symbolism behind Aaron Hernandez touchdown dance? He lays one hand flat and does like a chipping or a dusting motion with the other. What's it mean? Thanks. Eugene

What he's doing is called "making it rain." The term refers to the distribution of dollar bills to… well, I think I've given you enough details to do an advanced internet search for the remainder of the explanation. *Erik Scalavino


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