I'm interested to hear your take on some of the (questionable, at best) coaching decisions we have seen thus far. Just off the top of my head, I can think of: 1. incessant shifting of the O-line in a desperate scramble to find something that works, thereby eliminating any continuity, 2: The use of Darrelle Revis in zone coverage, when he is known as one of the best man coverage corners in the league, 3: the WR shuffle with Aaron Dobson/Kenbrell Thompkins and then holding both out only to start out in a pass dominant fashion; 4. the reliance on Shane Vereen vs. the Chiefs, particularly on short yardage running plays when Stevan Ridley is a superior north/south runner.
There's a lot to digest here and I honestly can't really disagree with much of it. I agree about the offensive line. I would not have traded Logan Mankins but the team did and now can't seem to figure out how it wants to live life without him. That makes the trade even more curious. If they had a plan in mind then I could at least understand the rationale. The constant shuffling tells me they had no plan, and it also has prevented any of the group from developing any cohesion. This was at its worst in Kansas City when they substituted as if it were a preseason game.
I also agree about Revis. Using him in off-coverage or in zones seems like a waste of his talents. I don't believe he's played exceptionally well but I also don't believe he's been used to the best of his abilities.
The wide receiver situation is perplexing. I like Dobson and even though I'm not as high on Thompkins it makes little sense to sit them both. The result was a bad Chiefs secondary playing without its bets player (Eric Berry) completely shutting down Julian Edelman and forcing someone else to beat them. Problem was most of the someone elses were inactive. Dobson needs to play and when he does he needs to get opportunities to make plays down the field.
I'll make it a clean sweep with your running back observation. Vereen is terrific out of the backfield but not as much as a between-the-tackles runner, particularly in short yardage. Ridley is the better ball carrier, and he seems to be wasted as well.
When Jimmy Garoppolo came in, we decided to run the ball more and did simple pass plays. Why is it that when Brady is in, we try to do more complex plays. At times we had second-and-three after a good running play and then we pass twice and punt. We go three-and-out and it makes it look like our defense stinks but really it's the offense making it look like that.*
First, poor tackling, not getting off blocks and poor coverage made the defense look bad in Kansas City. It had nothing to do with how bad the offense was. As for your Garoppolo question, of course the offense is simpler with him in the game. He's a rookie with no experience as opposed to having a three-time Super Bowl champion and former NFL MVP in Brady on the field. Garoppolo mopped up in garbage time and I wouldn't read too much into what he did. It's certainly a positive sign that he performed well but given the circumstances he really wasn't asked to do much trailing 41-7. He made some nice, quick throws and the receivers picked up some yards after the catch. But we're nowhere near the time to start thinking about making a quarterback change.
What was up with the offensive line in the Chiefs game? I'm really missing the physicality of Logan Mankins. And why is the player who was packaged in the "big trade," Tim Wright, not even getting a fair share of the plays?
As I mentioned earlier, I'm not a fan of the way the offensive line has been handled thus far. It makes no sense to constantly shuffle the personnel. These players should have been evaluated by now and the coaches should have an understanding of their abilities and therefore have made decisions as to who plays. But instead we're getting different guard and tackle combinations on virtually every series. That's no way to develop any kind on consistency and it's shown so far. As for Wright I'm not sure he warrants any more playing time than he's received. He arrived just before the season and hasn't been in the system long, and those in Tampa have said he would not have made the Bucs roster had he not been traded, so I'm not sure how good he is in the first place. I'd expect to see more of him as he gets more acclimated but I'm not expecting him to set the world on fire.
Is Tom Brady done? Just been hit too much and not the same guy mentally that he once was. I recognize that the performance of the offense is not all about him. We cannot run the football, we cannot block, but Tom always had the ability to get something going ... four games into the season ... nothing. I ask you, is Tom done?*
I don't think so but I can't argue that he hasn't played well. Of course you also listed some of the reasons for that, and you left out his lack of viable targets to throw to. He has not received adequate protection and the running game has been dormant. And aside from Edelman he doesn't have any reliable weapons in the passing game. That said, he's been able to do more with less in the past, and during the first month he wasn't able to do that. Is he done? I don't think so, but maybe his days of carrying the team on his back are over. But there's a long way to go.
There's a lot of discussion about Tom Brady's trust of his receivers. Is this not something he talks about with Josh McDaniels? Maybe better off not putting guys out there that aren't going to get a look and going with an extra back or blocker? Finally, if you ARE going to have a receiver who is seldom targeted (basically a decoy) isn't Aaron Dobson the best option since he's a deep threat?
The bigger issue here is why is there such a lack of trust if indeed that's the case. Brady needs to give these guys opportunities to make some plays with the idea of generating some momentum for later in the season. Clearly not all of the receivers are worthy of inclusion but surely someone of the group of Dobson, Thompkins, LaFell and Amendola should be good enough to be more involved. And I agree with you with regard to Dobson. He's big and fast and needs to at least put some pressure on the defense by running deep routes even if only as a decoy. The issues aren't going to evaporate all at once but there's no reason this passing game can't be more productive with some improvement in the protection and route-running.
I was intrigued by Paul's opinion that Tom Brady is no longer like a rising tide that lifts all boats. Love the fact you guys ask the tough questions, and I had two. Has there ever been an offensive line this bad in the Brady era? If there was, what did Brady do different to lift the offense to be effective? If this is the worst line of the Brady era, what did the younger Brady do that would make this offense click despite the struggles?
This is an interesting question and I honestly am not sure I'm qualified to give the best answer. I will say I believe the early results have been the worst offensive line Brady has played behind. But I'll also say I felt Brady handled the pressure much better earlier in his career than he has recently. Brady seems to be more impatient than he used to be, both in terms of his protection and with regard to his receivers. There's no question the lack of time to throw was the biggest problem with the offense over the first few weeks. Brady was not THE problem and even a younger, more mobile quarterback would have had trouble finding receivers. But I also feel Brady hasn't stood in the pocket to deliver the ball under pressure as often and effectively as he once did. One exception to this would be the blitz he read in Minnesota when he knew the linebacker was coming off the edge and knew he was going to get hit, but he stood in the pocket and delivered the pass to Julian Edelman for a touchdown before taking a big shot. This hasn't happened consistently, however. I know the other receivers haven't always been open but there have been times when they have and Brady has still opted to force the ball to Edelman or Rob Gronkowski. This also didn't used to be the case in the past. Like I said, Brady is not THE problem. But lately he hasn't been the solution, either, and in the past that's exactly what he was – even when the protection broke down.
I enjoy reading your column each week in the truly frozen tundra of Alaska. A lot has been made of the "lack of trust" Brady has with his receivers, however, why does it seem that all the other QBs in the league can find receivers they are comfortable with? Other than Gronkowski, the Patriots have not drafted a "usable" receiver in many years, although there have been numerous attempts. Edelman has taken years to develop a trust with Brady. Admittedly, it was preseason, but Jimmy Garoppolo seemed to be able to distribute the ball fairly well. Could it be that the problem is actually with Brady and not the receivers? (This may sound like heresy but it is just a question - I still have Brady on all my fantasy teams).
This is obviously the theme this week and I certainly don't want to completely take Brady off the hook for his role in the early struggles with the passing game. I can't understand why other quarterbacks seem to quickly adjust to new receivers around the league (Joe Flacco with Steve Smith, Peyton Manning with Emmanuel Sanders, Matthew Stafford with Golden Tate, etc.) and yet Brady can't seem to find a rhythm with guys he's been with for two seasons now. There's plenty of blame to go around but at some point you have to wonder why Brady seems unwilling to allow the other receivers a chance to make some plays. And I know you qualified your Garoppolo remark by saying it was preseason, but really there's no comparison to what he's done so far and what would be expected of a quarterback in a regular-season game. It's easy to say he spread the ball around but he also was dealing with little to know game plans on defense and working with different receivers all the time. He had little choice but to spread it around, and even still most of his passes went to Brian Tyms. It's a different animal in the regular season though.
I am a diehard Pats fan all my 70-plus years and in my opinion Brady has become a prima donna. He doesn't like Josh McDaniels or Danny Amendola because McDaniels brought him here and if you watch closely Brady doesn't listen to McDaniels and ignores Amendola on purpose. He expects his receivers to be perfect and he is now disrespecting them aloud. Do you agree in part at least? He won last SB 10year ago with a great defense and he had mediocre receivers except for Troy Brown.*
Wow, hard to get happy after that one. I know I've been fairly critical of Brady lately and certainly earlier in this mailbag but I'm not willing to say he doesn't like and respect his coaches and teammates. I haven't seen evidence of that and if you have I'd be curious if you could cite some examples because I'd be interested in that. I'm sure Brady is frustrated with the start of the season because the offense hasn't been overly productive. But if the team keeps winning games I don't think you'll see him continue to be upset during postgame press conferences because he understands as well as anybody that the only stat that counts is winning. I understand your frustration but I don't think I agree with your assessment.
With the Pats being so dysfunctional, is it time to start Jimmy Garoppolo, being as Brady has no confidence in his wideouts?*
This is the second reference to Garoppolo I received and honestly that's two more than I expected. Given the amount of pressure Brady has been under this season do you honestly think playing a rookie quarterback would be a wise move? I think Garoppolo would be a turnover machine playing behind the line that tried to protect Brady early in the season. Rookies simply don't have the experience to avoid the negative plays that come with such intense pressure from the pass rush. No, I don't think it's time to start Garoppolo in case you couldn't figure that out from my remarks.
For some reason I feel like I'm in the minority in not being a Josh McDaniels fan. He's predictable and doesn't seem to excel in in-game adjustments. Any chance good ol' Charlie Weis comes back? I think he would greatly help this offense.
First, I'm not sure why you feel you're in the minority when it comes to criticizing Josh McDaniels. Particularly early in this season when the offense hasn't enjoyed too much sustained success it seems McDaniels has been under fire from all corners. That said, I really don't understand why. The problems in the first month have been mostly related to the offensive line. Specifically, the offensive line's inability to protect Tom Brady. As long as that's the case there's not a whole lot the offensive coordinator can do to change that. McDaniels has tried to emphasize the running game, used a lot of screens and even used additional linemen as extra tight ends in an effort to bolster the protection. The results have been spotty, and that's because the breakdowns have been far too common over the first month. Until that changes I wouldn't expect the offense to suddenly catch fire.
As for Charlie Weis, he's now looking for his fifth job since leaving New England, and aside from one reasonably productive year as the Chiefs offensive coordinator in 2009, he hasn't been successful in any of them. I'm not sure I'd be so hot to have him come back at this stage of his career.
I would like to ask your opinion why Patriots didn't draft J.J. Watt. I realize that's way after the fact, but I still wonder, what was the turn off in Bill Belichick's mind when Watt was available for us back in 2011?
I think you may have your drafts confused because the Patriots were never in position to draft J.J. Watt. He was taken with the 11th overall pick in 2011 and the Patriots didn't pick until No. 17 when they took Nate Solder. The Patriots certainly could have tried to move up to grab Watt, and they very well may have, but obviously Houston decided to hold onto that pick and grabbed Watt. I have no reason to believe Belichick was or wasn't interested in the former Wisconsin defensive end, but to criticize the Patriots for not taking a player they never had a chance to draft seems a bit harsh.
Hopefully my question is a welcome change from the usual whining about the Patriots early-season struggles. Why are Danny Amendola and Dont'a Hightower wearing Nos. 80 and 54, respectively? Is it just me, or should these numbers be retired? What are the criteria for a number to get retired, and whose decision is it?
Personally I'm not a fan of retiring numbers and unless it's the rarest of the rare circumstances. There just aren't enough numbers to have a lot of retired one. In fact I believe the Patriots probably already have too many retired at this point. Obviously the Patriots should retire Tom Brady's No. 12 when he hangs them up. But the honor should be reserved for Hall of Fame players who spent the majority of their careers with the team. Troy Brown and Tedy Bruschi are great Patriots and deserve to be remembered fondly as Patriots Hall of Famers but they are not candidates for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Like I said, only the select few should be considered and I have no problem if the team simply honors its best players by inducting them into the team Hall of Fame without retiring their numbers.
With all of the talk focusing on our offensive line, it seems everyone has given a blind eye to our anemic pass rush. With Chandler Jones as our only pass rush threat I think it's time we focus on it in the next draft. Rob STINKOvich is overrated and we do not have enough depth. Think of how great our defense would be with a great pass rush. Still early in the year ... maybe I'm just panicking.
I do believe the pass rush needs to improve but I also feel you're being a bit negative with regard to the defense thus far. No one played well in the opener and that includes Jones and Ninkovich, who you are really being tough on. After that I thought the pressure was reasonable. Jones was terrific in Minnesota and against Oakland I felt the game plan called for the pass rush to make sure Derek Carr remained in the pocket rather than rushing him and exposing themselves to some runs. The plan worked well as the Raiders only managed three field goals. Ninkovich is not the flashiest player but he is able to make plays and is one of the most consistent players on the defense. He won't get 15 sacks or anything, but he'll chip and come up with timely plays that help the team win games.
It seems obvious to me that even though Bryan Stork has missed time, that he is an upgrade over Jordan Devey when Dan Connolly shifts to guard and he takes over at center. He's a big body and seems to have done well in his limited time on the field. Why do you think they are not pursuing that at a higher rate of plays? Am I missing something?
Maybe I'm the one who's missing something because I really haven't seen much of Stork so far. Stork is 6-4, 310 while Devey is 6-6, 317 so I'm not sure if size is the problem. Stork is a fourth-round pick and was highly regarded coming out of Florida State. He suffered an injury in training camp and that's why his playing time has been limited in the early going. I expect to see more of him as the season progresses and that started Monday night against the Chiefs. We'll see how that progresses because the offensive line definitely needs to improve and personnel changes are one way to make that happen.
Last season was probably my favorite Patriots season of all time. The Patriots had no stars, every game was close and hard fought, and it was fun. Why does this year feel so different and frustrating? It's the same close hard fought games, but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth at the end of it.
I think the reason you probably enjoyed last season so much is you weren't worried about style points and the final score as long as the Patriots won. If you're so frustrated this year – and I can understand that – perhaps you should try to stop worrying about style points and continue to focus on the results. Last year the team dealt with several injuries to key players and therefore you were probably thrilled that the team simply won. Obviously the team hasn't really dealt with any injuries yet this season but the Patriots are still not looking like their former selves. There's still plenty of football left to be played, though, and Belichick's teams tend to improve as the season progresses. We'll see if that's the case in 2014.
Thanks for all your continued insight. Thus far Mr. Revis' performance has been journeyman at best. Yes, the Pats have the No. 1 rated pass defense in the league but that is, in part, a function of the competition faced. What is your honest assessment of Revis' performance so far?
Santa Fe, N.M.
While I wouldn't be quite as critical of Revis as you I don't believe he's been great thus far. He's been solid but unspectacular, and to me that would be fine for any other corner on the team other than Revis. He's supposed to be the future Hall of Famer and I expected him to shut down half the field every week. So far that hasn't been the case. He hasn't been beaten badly and has given up mostly short passes but some of those have resulted in key first downs and there have been others where only the competition – as you pointed out – prevented bigger plays from happening. Revis is the least of this team's problems right now but I would agree that I was expecting more and hopefully the coaches will him to do more in the coming weeks because I feel like his talents have been wasted a bit so far.