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Ask PFW: Rowe's emergence, trade deadline and more

There's a variety of Patriots-related topics explored in this week's mailbag.

Because of his injury I know it's early to give a full evaluation (that can wait until the end of the season). However, now he seems to have returned to full health and even played every defensive snap against the Steelers, what are your current thoughts on the Eric Rowe trade?
David Beckett

Like you said it's still too early to properly assess Rowe, but based on what I've seen thus far I'm rather unimpressed. He looks like he was trailing the play a lot against the Steelers and Justin Coleman looked like he replaced him covering Darrius Heyward-Bey for a few plays while Rowe covered someone else. He came up with a nice play in the end zone against A.J. Green a couple of weeks ago but other than that I'd be hard-pressed to come up with many examples when he showed strong coverage. I thought Heyward-Bey ran past him on an early deep route and Rowe was fortunate that Landry Jones' pass was well underthrown and led to a penalty on Heyward-Bey. But the bottom line is Rowe has played two games for the Patriots and I have no real idea of what kind of player he will be in the Patriots defense. Let's watch over the next few weeks so we can get a better assessment.
Paul Perillo

Wondering about recent OTs that could be up for grabs. The 49ers are asking for a first-round pick for Joe Staley while the Browns are willing to part with Joe Thomas for a second rounder. Personally, I like Thomas-year younger, nine-time pro bowler and could be acquired with a second-round pick. With the trade deadline looming, wondering what your thoughts are on this and who would you rather see come to the Pats.
Nikita Maryanov

Personally it wouldn't matter to me in the least – I'd take either one in a heartbeat and I'd give up a first-round pick for either as well. Thomas seems like the perfect Patriots given his durability and toughness. He'd be a huge upgrade at tackle and allow Marcus Cannon to serve as a backup, whether they wanted to move Nate Solder to the right side or put Thomas or Staley there instead. The Browns certainly seem intent on cleaning house so I wouldn't dismiss the possibility of acquiring Thomas in a deal that would greatly help the Patriots.
Paul Perillo

I am not impressed with this year's free agent additions considering the fact that Patriots surrendered several draft picks and paid handsomely to several players. Is BB expecting the other teams who dump/trade their under-performing players be so dysfunctional that they let the good players walk? Or does he think that he is such a phenomenal coach that he can get a lot more out of them? I have seen that being rather an exception than the norm.
Leonard Dulles

I'm not sure exactly what players you are referring to. Free agents don't require compensation in return and really most of the free agents the team signed didn't get huge money. Chris Hogan was an exception as he received $15 million, but he also has performed reasonably well in his short time here. In terms of lost draft picks, those are the result of trades and Martellus Bennett certainly has been worth the fourth-round pick New England gave up to get him. Eric Rowe (fourth round) and Barkevious Mingo (2017 fifth round) also cost the team picks but both have contributed. Shea McClellin (three years, roughly $9 million) and Chris Long (one year, $2.375 million) got some money but I wouldn't describe either as having been handsomely paid. Overall the offseason provided some role players and experienced veterans – like Long – who have added some leadership in the locker room. While none of the newcomers beyond Bennett has made a huge splash, I don't think any have hurt the team with their play or salaries.
Paul Perillo

Very much enjoy your commentary and insights. I wonder if you could speak about the special team performance, and specifically the contributions of Matthew Slater, Brandon King and Nate Ebner. I feel like their special teams coverage unit is one of the big reasons why the Pats are so successful this year, and that King really seems to be coming on, Ebner leads in tackles and Slater is the number one target of the other team. Can you discuss your view of how the special teams units (other than punter and kicker, which get a lot of press) are doing, and specifically those three players?
Jim Sailer
Brooklyn, N.Y.

The Patriots are traditionally strong on special teams, especially their coverage units, and that has been the case during the early part of the season, at least until the Pittsburgh game. The Steelers turned in three kickoff returns that crossed the 25-yard line, something that happened rather infrequently over the first six games. Slater is instrumental as this group's leader. His professionalism is apparent every day in the locker room and the young guys like King and Jonathan Jones have taken note. King is very athletic and Jones can flat out fly. Both have been strong covering punts and kicks thus far. Mingo's speed is also evident covering kicks. He had two really big hits in Cleveland in that department. Ebner is a very versatile athlete who can be used in a variety of roles. He's got a nose for the ball in coverage and it's no surprise that he racks up tackles on special teams. The return game hasn't been as strong as the coaches would like to see it, but in terms of coverage these guys have been quite solid this far.
Paul Perillo

I have never had so much anxiety from our kicking game in about 20 years like I do now. Poised for the long haul, I would hate to lose games to missed field goals. If Stephen Gostkowski seriously starts to regress, do the Pats have any options? Is this an area BB will continue to monitor?
Stan Byron

There's no doubt that Gostkowski is struggling and he was the first to admit that after the Steelers game. But I'm not sure the Patriots are ready to do anything drastic at this point to fix it. Kicking is such a mental exercise and even the best like Gostkowski suffer through periods when their technique and confidence are out of whack. Obviously Belichick will not simply cross his fingers and hope for the best if the struggles continue but right now the Patriots best option is to ride it out with their All-Pro kicker and wait for him to return to form. If he continues to miss kicks then Belichick might be forced to make a move but I don't think we're at that stage yet but you can best Belichick is monitoring the situation closely.
Paul Perillo

Is this the week you finally give LeGarrette Blount some love? Admit it, he's a solid back.
Mike Milbury

I call them like I see them and against Pittsburgh Blount was more than just solid. He did a great job of finding holes and finishing runs, taking advantage of a defense looking for the pass. My criticisms in the past have been due to his inability to make defenses that play like the Steelers pay. In other words, Blount needs to punish the lighter fronts and nickel packages like he did in Pittsburgh on a regular basis. But no complaints from me this week – Blount got the job done. I hope that's what you and the Bruins were looking for Mike.
Paul Perillo

Both of the Patriots last two second-round choices, Jordan Richards and Cyrus Jones are healthy and sitting on the bench. Given that a team was stripped of the first-round pick, the Patriots again misfired with the second round. So I question drafting down from the first-round strategy. Most of the Patriots first-round picks aside from high-risk Dominique Easley became solid contributors so I wonder if you would trade down from the first round as often as BB does?
Derek R.

Obviously the higher you select a player the better chance that player has of succeeding. It's just common sense. And yes I probably would not have traded down and out of the first round as often as Belichick has in the past, but that's also a rather misleading way of looking at things. We always point toward Belichick's success with first-rounders and wonder why he's trade down. But we never take into consideration the possibility that when Belichick trades it could have something to do with the players available in the first round. In others words, just because Belichick's first-rounders usually hit doesn't mean he should take a player he doesn't like and assume that will be the case again. If you don't like the options why not trade down, stockpile some picks and take your chances? Belichick has done that successfully in the past and clearly his overall track record speaks for itself. That said it is absolutely disappointing to see both Richards and Jones sitting as healthy scratches.
Paul Perillo

A play that could have playoff implications in the Buffalo-Miami game, 6:09 second quarter when JarvisLandry drills Bills safety Aaron Williams in the middle of the chest with his shoulder on a Jay Ajayi run to the Bills 4-yard line. Landry is flagged for unnecessary roughness, knocking the Dolphins back to the 21 (instead of presumably the 16 off the holding call). I do not understand the call. The announcers were yammering about a crack-back block, which had nothing to do with what happened. I do not understand. These safeties get to unload on pass catchers, from behind, driving their helmets into the receiver's kidney, but a wide receiver can't hit the safety from the front with his shoulder? I could not find the rule Landry broke. Could you please explain it? The Dolphins could not get a touchdown but may have called different plays.
Ralph Colucci

The play that you are defending – presumably only because it benefited Buffalo – was absolutely a penalty and even Jarvis Landry admitted that. He apologized immediately to Williams, who was the very definition of defenseless on the play. "If I could take that hit back, I would. The guy has a family to feed and this is his livelihood. You never want to see that with anybody," he said. Landry was delivering a crack back block and did so high with a blind hit. Fox rules expert Mike Pereira explained why the hit drew a flag.  "Jarvis Landry was called for a personal foul for a hit on a defenseless player. It was a crack-back block, and the player that is being blocked in a crack-back block is defenseless, so you can't hit him in the head or neck area with a shoulder, helmet or forearm. This is clearly a foul and it was called." So no conspiracy theories here … just a vicious hit that was properly penalized. And you're right about the potential playoff implications – Williams was knocked out of a game the Bills were leading at the time and went on to lose.
Paul Perillo

Based on the competition in both the AFC and NFC, this is a great year for Patriots to win a Super Bowl, and this is why they likely won't. GM decisions: paying a proven non-performer Shea McClellin $3.6M and $7M to aged Sebastian Vollmer, who is injured for the second year in a row while shipping your best pass rusher to save on his salary. I don't get it - do you?
Brian Dolling

So just exactly how has the money spent on those two players hurt the Patriots? I would agree the McClellin contract confused me at the time and nothing I've seen has convinced me I was wrong. But it's not like that contract has cost the Patriots any players. The decision to trade Chandler Jones had nothing to do with acquiring McClellin or not cutting Vollmer – who played 14 games last year by the way. Vollmer had trouble recovering from a hip problem and therefore might miss the entire season. I'm not sure that was something the Patriots could have envisioned when they decided to retain him. Jones' absence has hurt the pass rush, there's no question about that. But his absence has not hurt the team in the won-loss column. There's no doubt the Patriots could have afforded to keep Jones and still acquired McClellin and kept Vollmer, but they chose to deal a player headed to free agency and got a reasonable package in return. Bottom line here is the presence of McClellin and Vollmer combined with the absence of Jones is not going to have an impact on whether or not the Patriots win the Super Bowl – and they will most certainly have every opportunity to do so.
Paul Perillo

Hypothetically, a team loses all six of its division games but still has the best overall record in the division of let's say 10-6, (other division opponents have fewer than 10 wins). Does the best overall record make that team the division champion even when they lost every division game? Has that ever happened in the history of the NFL?
Joyce Rogers

The team that finishes with the best record in the division is the division champ, regardless of how they fared in division games. Obviously it would be quite difficult to go 0-6 in the division and still finish on top since the other three teams would all have two automatic wins to start with. But in your scenario, as long as the 10-6 team is alone at the top (no tiebreakers) that team would win the division. That has not happened in the history of the league however.
Paul Perillo

How do you think this year's rookie class is doing so far? I think that Jonathan Jones has been the best rookie, playing really well on special teams. Joe Thuney has impressed, but still has a lot to learn. Elandon Roberts has been playing well, but I would like to see him play like this a little more to really see if he is the real deal. Cyrus Jones has really struggled, both on defense and special teams. Jacoby Brissett played all right before he got hurt. Everyone else has barely seen the field. Malcolm Mitchell, Ted Karras, Vincent Valentine, D.J. Foster and Woodrow Hamilton all have very limited snaps. What do you think of this group? I think it is very talented, just need some work done to it. It'll definitely be a key group to the future.
Joe Wright

Based on playing time and performance the top rookie would have to be Thuney, but overall there hasn't been too much to crow about this rookie class. That's to be expected on a team like the Patriots with plenty of established players on the roster leaving little room for newcomers to work their way in. Thuney has been a starter from Day 1 and although he hasn't been perfect (seems to pick up at least a penalty every game) he's been solid and steady. That's why he'd be my pick. Valentine also has performed reasonably well as a run-stuffer in the middle before hurting his back. Looking forward, Mitchell is the player I have my eye on. He impressed during the summer before he was injured and when he's had opportunities he's generally succeeded. I believe he can be an important role player the rest of the way and I expect him to emerge as a big part of the offense next season.
Paul Perillo

I was wondering when Dion Lewis gets back how much of an impact him and James White will have in the offense. I think White is just as good as Lewis and how will that play out when he returns?
Anthony Brown

If Lewis can get back on the field and perform anywhere near his capabilities the Patriots could have a very dangerous tandem of backs at their disposal. Lewis is much better than White as a runner, maximizing space out of spread formations and moving the pile. I believe White is every bit the receiver Lewis is, and he is underrated when it comes to making tacklers miss in the open field. Lewis is more dynamic but White is very good as well. We've seen some two-back sets in passing situations and envisioning Lewis and White split next to Brady in the shotgun has to make defensive coordinators worried. Having two talented pass catchers could make this offense all but unstoppable.
Paul Perillo

Is Jordan Richards becoming the newest version of Tavon Wilson - a high draft pick who never moves beyond a special teams player? He hasn't shown up much if at all on the defensive play chart all this year.
John Trainor

I had some hope for Richards early on during the spring OTAs and at the start of training camp. He seemed to be getting plenty of work with the front line players, although injuries to others likely played a part in that. Since the preseason and regular season began, however, Richards has been limited almost exclusively to special teams. Now he was a healthy scratch in Pittsburgh. I always try to go watch Belichick's actions rather than listen to what he says, and it certainly seems the coach is saying Richards isn't ready to contribute on defense. Halfway through his second season it's more than reasonable to expect a second-round pick to be getting some time in the secondary, and definitely reasonable to expect him to be active for every game. Right now I fear you may be right.
Paul Perillo

What are the chances of the Patriots keeping Jimmy Garoppolo past his current contract? I think it is a no brainer to re-sign him. What say you?
Joe Roemer

Belichick always teaches us to never say never but the chances of your scenario playing out depend entirely on Brady. If Brady continues to play like he has he's going to remain the quarterback beyond next season when Garoppolo's contract expires. If that's the case, I can't see Garoppolo re-signing. Why would he? He'd be entering his fifth season in 2018 and he would need to have the ability to start somewhere. As long as Brady is still at the top of his game, as he is now, he's not going to get that chance in New England. No one wants to be a career backup and Garoppolo would need to find a team that needs him to start. Still a long way off so things can change, but assuming Brady is still rolling Garoppolo is doubtful to re-sign.
Paul Perillo

Hi, big fan from France. I wanted your opinion on the good start of Elandon Roberts. It seems that he had a hard time making the 53-man roster but he played well. Where do you think his ceiling could be?
Florian Durieux

Roberts has definitely been one of the pleasant surprises of the early going. He's an athletic linebacker who has shown the instincts to make plays and isn't afraid to throw his body around. My concern with him is his size. At 6-0, 235 pounds he's giving up a lot of size to the guys he's knocking heads with on the interior and I wonder if he can physically hold up over the long term. He's already dealing with a head injury (Cincinnati game) and was on the injury report with an ankle problem heading into Pittsburgh. But I like what I've seen of the sixth-round pick and look forward to seeing him develop further.
Paul Perillo

It's tough to see the Patriots have such an anemic pass rush. While I think our cornerbacks do a serviceable job, they are not elite, shutdown talents who can consistently be left on an island against top-tier talent. Last year they looked better because we were frequently pressuring the quarterback, and Devin McCourty is a great safety. My concern is that we are going to see our secondary get picked apart against good QBs unless we can start getting after the QB. Are there any rotational pass rushers on your radar, or do we have a developing solution in-house?
Terry Classen

Why aren't we utilizing the same defensive scheme as last year? I feel like this year, we are relying more on blitzes to break the pocket, and key players like Jabaal Sheard and Rob Ninkovich have seen decreased production.
John Bob

The pass rush has been one of the concerns of the first half of the season. The Patriots haven't gotten much pressure on opposing quarterbacks this year and the little they've gotten has mostly been the result of the linebackers blitzing. The defense was without Rob Ninkovich for the first four games but Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long failed to produce much in his absence. Part of that has been by design in terms of the lack of blitzing, but even when teams rush three or four they should provide at least some occasional pressure. This is an area that needs to improve in the second half.
Paul Perillo

I thought AJ Derby showed some promise in the preseason. I recognize it's hard to break in to a lineup with Bennett and Gronk but, barring injuries to those two do you see him getting more than blocking snaps anytime soon? And what ever happened to the three TE experiment near the goal line last year? Do you think we'll see that again?
Ayr Wickline

Derby was a nice summer story after showing some promise as a pass catcher but he's not ready to be much more than a spot contributor. Like you said, there's not much of a chance to supplant Gronk and Bennett for time so he'll likely be inactive most games unless injuries crop up. In terms of three TE sets, I don't really see the need based on how productive the offense has been. I'd rather have Gronk and Bennett with Edelman and some combination of Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and James White on the field than Derby. But remain intrigued by Derby's athleticism and believe he can be a part of the future.
Paul Perillo

You are simply wrong when it comes to throwback helmets. Four teams have used an entirely different helmet and according to equipment managers some teams carry the regular and throwback helmet at their facility. Please don't continue to misinform.
Andy Johnson

These are my favorite kinds of posts. Strong and emphatic about facts – and wrong. The league mandated in 2013 that teams wear one helmet during the season for safety reasons. They do not, however, prevent teams from changing the decals and stickers, so some teams – like Denver a few weeks ago – change the logo on their helmets. The Patriots could do this if they wanted by replacing Elvis with Pat Patriot on their silver helmets. Or they could put a white wrap over their silver helmets and have the throwback look that way. But in terms of multiple helmets, the league does not allow that. Just trying not to misinform.
Paul Perillo

So far this year the Pats are ranked seventh in team rushing in the NFL. Last year they were ranked 30th. Do you think that the biggest factor in contributing to this improvement here is that the Pats brought back Dante Scarnecchia or was it that last year's team ranking was a result of being decimated with injuries upfront? Also, do you think the Pats will finish ranked seventh or better in team rushing at the end of this season?
Derrick Vendettuoli

I think the biggest factor in the Patriots rushing ranking is Brady's missed more than half the games. Had he played all seven games it's highly unlikely the Patriots would have attempted as many runs as they did in the first four games. Blount was excellent in Pittsburgh with Brady but the other games Brady played featured much more yardage through the air, and this is what I would expect moving forward. I think Scarnecchia's return has also helped but not as much as the play calling necessitated by Brady's absence.
Paul Perillo

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