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Ask PFW: Running concerns

Losses never bring out the best in Patriots Nation and Sunday's defeat to the Indianapolis Colts was no exception. The overwhelming theme of the week was that Bill Belichick dropped the ball by not allowing his running backs to carry it more often -- especially in the second half.

Watching the Pats in the second half against the Colts, I couldn't help but think back to the Super Bowl against the Rams. In that game, it seemed that Mike Martz would only be happy if he threw the ball – and it seemed like his refusal to hand off to Marshall Faulk was a huge factor in the Pats win. This time, it looked like Josh McDaniels "pulled a Martz" on our sideline. We followed a dominant, run-run-run TD march with a pass-happy attack for most of the second half, against THE WORST RUN D IN THE ENTIRE LEAGUE. It looked almost as if McDaniels wasn't happy to just grind out yards and points; he wanted the Pats offense to look as flashy as Peyton's. And like in the SB, the team that refused to take what it was best able to grab from the defense ended up on the short end of the score. What do you guys think about this? Does McDaniels make all/most of the play calls? Why would the Pats go away from the run? And at what point does (or should) BB take back the keys to the offense, and make sure that the Pats stay with the approach that gives them the best chance to win the game?
Michael O'Neil

This was clearly the theme of the week. We received about numerous posts with similar sentiments as Michael's (I just thought Michael's was the best) all wondering where the ground game was against the Colts. I'm going to start off by saying that I wondered the same thing myself was the third quarter was unfolding. I thought the Patriots ran early and often (22 times for 97 yards and two TDs in the first half) and I expected that to continue in the second half. The problem was the turnovers prevented them from running more often. That doesn't mean I feel the play calling was always right. Some of the interceptions came at times when I felt running the ball would have been more effective. But let's try to break it down a little further. In the second half, the Patriots passed 18 times and ran it 11. But 10 of those 18 passes and just three of the runs came after Indy kicked a field goal to take a 27-17 lead with 10 minutes left in the game. So until it was a two-score game late, the Patriots had passed 10 times and run eight in the second half, and for the game in the first 50 minutes they ran 30 times and passed 25. So up until they were chasing 10 points, the ratio was pretty close to what I would have expected. My issue with the play calling would be more on individual plays rather than game plan. For example, after Chad Scott's interception gave the Patriots the ball at the Colts 46 trailing 24-17 with 13:16 left, Belichick and Josh McDaniels opted to throw twice, the second of which was tipped and intercepted. I wanted to see Maroney run it a couple of times in that sequence. I'm sure if they didn't turn it over that would have happened, but I still would rather have run first and tried to pound the small Colts defense with the game on the line. In terms of who actually does the play calling, that is McDaniels. Belichick obviously decides how the game plan is going to be formulated and had a big part in determining the method of attack. I;m sure if Belichick wanted things called differently they would have been. Tony Dungy said on Monday that Bob Sanders, the Colts safety, saved three Maroney touchdowns with big one-on-one tackles. Maybe if Maroney got the ball more often he would have broken one of those and made a big play. Unfortunately, we'll never know.
Paul Perillo

Why did it seem like on every play the Patriots DBs were playing about 5 to 6 yards off the Colts receivers? It seems to me the game plan that has been successful over the past few years is to get up in their receivers' faces and jam them on the line and be physical with them. Is this something that the rules change a few years back has affected or have the Pats just gotten away from being physical with the Colts? Or is this a result of not having Ty Law anymore?
Nick Johnson

There are a couple of factors here that are worth mentioning as possibilities. First, the Colts receivers are pretty good and if you play them one way the whole game they're going to make you pay for that. I saw the Pats corners up in their faces at times and playing off at others. I saw linebackers in the slot trying to jam them and I saw them getting clean runs off the line at others. Losing Rodney Harrison for most of the game certainly didn't help the secondary stay physical with the Colts. Another factor is the weather. It was much safer for the Patriots to crowd the line when playing against Harrison and Wayne in the snow and wind of January knowing that Manning wasn't going to be able to chuck it all over the place in those conditions. Obviously weather wasn't a factor the other night so that tact became much more risky. And I can say for certain that the Patriots style and game plan has nothing to do with Ty Law. Samuel and Hobbs both like to play a physical style and they did so frequently against Indy. It's just not that easy to do against such a good offense.
Paul Perillo

I do not completely understand the Krafts. They spend $100 million, save $10 million, and lose a shot at the Super Bowl. They take a "long-term" view. Don't we want to win now? Why wait until the other top players like Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison get old, and then we are short in a different department. Not signing at least one top-notch receiver this season is a HUGE mistake. They counted on Branch, but let him go.
Ted B.

Funny, we didn't get many of these emails last week after the Patriots dismantled Minnesota and everyone was deciding which brand of sunblock they were taking to Miami for the Super Bowl. First, the Patriots don't have $10 million in cap space. It's closer to half of that. Second, you're right, they counted on Deion Branch and thought he'd be the top receiver. But they also drafted a rookie in the second round and he hasn't really made a huge impact yet. They added another via trade in Doug Gabriel. And they signed Reche Caldwell in free agency and tried to sign a couple of others and came up short. So the result is the receiving corps has taken some time to develop. That's not because the Patriots don't want to win now and are only concerned with the future. Their system is based on remaining competitive every year, not winning once and rebuilding for three years to get a chance later on. That's why they're about to win their division for the fourth straight year and will once again be a title contender. And Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli make the football decisions, not the Krafts.
Paul Perillo

The defense was much more effective by putting pressure on Manning in the second half … yes, he beat them a few times but I would rather take my chances sending some blitzes rather than letting him sit there and pick them apart. Should the Pats have done more of that in the first half to try to slow down the Colts offense?Greg Moss

Coming into the game I was expecting the amount of pressure the front four put on Manning to be a key element so I decided to chart the number of rushers the Patriots sent on every pass play. First, let me say that I am no football coach so my abilities of observation may not be totally accurate. That said, my unofficial numbers came up with just eight blitzes (defined by sending more than four rushers) on 39 pass plays. Of those, three came in the first half and five in the second. So my point is, I don't think they did much differently in the second half. I think they just did it better in the second half. I asked Richard Seymour about the added second-half pressure and he intimated that it was more disguising what they were doing rather than sending more rushers. As a general rule, if you expect to blitz Manning more than occasionally I think you're playing with fire. Pittsburgh was successful doing that last year, but that's also what Pittsburgh does against everybody. Their secondary expects to play that way all the time. The Patriots don't always blitz to get pressure, and with Rodney Harrison out of the lineup it only made sense that a more conservative approach was used.
Paul Perillo

Do you guys take any positives from this game? For some reason I feel pretty good about the game, minus seeding implications. I think this game showed we could hang with them even when making uncharacteristic mistakes.
Andrew Seidy

While I don't think one loss is the end of the world, I don't have as positive a view of this game as you and many others have. I've heard the "we lost by only a touchdown and played so badly" line in various forms for two solid days now. I heard a lot about the five turnovers, eight penalties and the missed field goal. All true. What I haven't heard many people say is the Colts didn't exactly play a great game either. I haven't heard about their two turnovers, one of which came on a long kickoff return to negate good field position. I haven't heard much about their seven penalties or their two missed field goals (other than the Adam Vinatieri references). The Colts won because they played a little better than the Patriots and Manning in particular was much better than Brady. But you can be sure that both teams would expect to play better in a rematch. Personally, I like Brady's chances because he was particularly bad and that simply doesn't happen often with him. But I don't look at just the Patriots subpar performance and assume they'll play better and win the next time. I assume the Colts will play better as well, and as Bill always says, all that matters is which team plays better that day.
Paul Perillo

Is it just me or did the Pats-Colts game get a similar feel as the Pats-Broncos game of last year ... meaning a lot of the calls were going against the Pats that just weren't there? A personal foul on Troy Brown for trying to flip the ball back to the line judge that was horrible, hands to the face on Mike Vrabel where he only whiffed on a bump, pass interference on Asante with only normal end zone contact. I felt like it was Patriots vs. Colts/officials. It seems like the NFL no longer wants the Pats to win and rarely gives them the benefit of the doubt. What do you guys think?
Garret S.

It's just you, Garret. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised that we didn't get more of these types of complaints given the fact that the Patriots lost. Usually after a defeat, no matter how close, the prevailing reason after is the officials cost us the game. Well, that was certainly not the case Sunday night. The only play in question in my mind was the Troy Brown unsportsmanlike call. The official obviously thought Troy was flipping the ball at Colts linebacker Gilbert Gardner. The ball did go to him but Troy didn't do it on purpose and it was clear from watching that it was not intentional. It was a bogus call and fortunately it was rendered irrelevant when the Pats went down and scored a touchdown on the same drive. Do you honestly think Marvin Harrison wanted his spike to go up and hit Mike Vrabel in the chest? Of course not, but it did so they called it taunting. But the other calls were legitimate. Asante Samuel was called for illegal contact, not pass interference as you said. And the penalty occurred at the 10-yard line and not in the end zone. So you're complaining about a call that you didn't even see. Vrabel caught a piece of the receiver's facemask, which is a penalty. By the way – final penalty count Sunday night: Pats eight, Colts seven. Please stop claiming the NFL has it out for the Patriots. It's ridiculous and the cry of the truly desperate.
Paul Perillo

Do you think Kevin Faulk's lack of use this year and production is the result of Maroney's presence or is it something else all together? I know Maroney is a good back but with the inconsistency at the receiver position this year wouldn't it make sense to stick with what works?Dan Daly

The only time I've noticed Faulk getting less playing time this season was in Buffalo a few weeks ago after he missed practice with an injured ankle. Other that that, he seems to be a part of the Patriots offense. Through eight games this season he has 13 carries for 62 yards and 19 receptions for 154 yards. Those numbers would translate to 26 carries for 124 yards and 38 receptions for 308 yards. Those numbers are slightly lower than his normal production and I'm sure Maroney's presence is the reason for that, especially in the running game. While he used to get a few more carries to spell Dillon that is no longer necessary with Maroney here. But as a receiver, he's only caught more than 38 passes twice in his seven-year career (48 in 2003 and 51 in 2000) so his pace isn't far off. And he's on pace for 28 punt returns, which would be a career high in that department. When healthy, Faulk remains a key cog in the Patriots offense. Maroney is just more dangerous at this point in his career and he shouldn't be losing many touches to Faulk.
Paul Perillo

What happened to Daniel Graham? He isn't on the injury report, but didn't play? Why didn't Ryan O'Callaghan start?

I know it might have been tough to sort through all 21 names that were listed on the Patriots injury report, but Daniel Graham was most definitely one of them. He's missed the last four games with an ankle injury and has been listed as questionable on every report that's appeared during that time. Last week he said he felt like he had a shot to play against Indy but obviously didn't. Hopefully he can get back in there soon. As for O'Callaghan, I'm not sure. Maybe Nick Kaczur hasn't been completely healthy enough to get his job back until now. My guess is his play during practice recently has improved and Belichick decided he was a better option than O'Callaghan.
Paul Perillo

How can I find the Patriots all-time record against the rest of the NFL?
Vin Foley

After speaking with the folks in media relations, about the only ways you could find the official records would be to purchase a Patriots Media Guide or the NFL Record & Fact Book. The media guide is available in the Patriots ProShop and the Record & Fact book can be found at most major bookstores. Both publications list the Patriots records against every team in the NFL. I can tell you that as a franchise overall the Patriots are 361-358-9 including 17-11 in the playoffs during their 47-year existence.
Paul Perillo

My question is concerning the future of the Patriots RBs. Patrick Pass will have to be activated relatively soon from the PUP, do you really think the Pats will keep five RB and six if you consider Garrett Mills as a blocking back? Also is there any particular reason we haven't seen much of Mills this season? I thought perhaps with Graham injured he might see some playing time.

Pass is scheduled to start practicing tomorrow and that will start his three-week window for activation. But that doesn't mean the Patriots must activate him at that time. They could simply keep him on PUP and he would by lost for the season. Or they could activate him and place someone else on injured reserve or release someone to make room. Mills hasn't been a part of the team's plans and my guess is he's not ready to contribute. Personally I didn't see much from Mills during training camp so I'm not surprised he hasn't been active for a game yet.
Paul Perillo

What is the NFL record for largest number of different receivers to catch a pass for one team in one game?
Kevin Coskren

I do not have the information on this specific question but the good folks at Elias Sports Bureau informed the media relations department that the Patriots set an NFL record with 12 different receivers catching touchdown passes last season. We're working to find out the answer for one game and hopefully we'll be able to post something if we get it.
Paul Perillo

The last time the team brought in a player, Jabar Gaffney, they released Hank Poteat. He is a guy who was somewhat productive for us. This has happened a number of times over the past couple of years. A guy is brought in and someone has to make room for him. Oftentimes it is someone who has shown some value. Why is Marquise Hill still on the roster? Why hasn't he been asked to make room for someone more productive?Howard Wolfe

These roster decisions are often more complicated than they appear to us on the surface. I'm not entirely sure why this particular one was made, but my guess is Poteat was brought in at a time when there were some injuries in the secondary (Hawkins, Wilson were out) and they needed some depth back there. When they let Poteat go, those guys were back on the field. Marquise Hill is behind several quality players up front and hasn't gotten much playing time so it looks like he's wasting a roster spot. But obviously the coaches still see some potential in him or they wouldn't keep him around. I must admit that whenever a roster move needs to be made he's the first guy I think of, but at least up to this point Belichick thinks he has potential.
Paul Perillo

If a kicker on a kickoff manages to get the ball through the opposing goals, is it a touchback or a field goal? Second, does the Pats changing to artificial turf have even the slightest to do with accommodating Mr. Gostkowski?
Jim B.

A kickoff through the uprights would be a touchback, not a field goal. As for the turf, first of all the Patriots haven't even announced they will make a change in the first place. They are exploring all possibilities and could opt for field turf in the future, but it won't have anything to do with Stephen Gostkowski. It will be due to the weather and the constant use of Gillette Stadium making it virtually impossible to maintain the playing surface.
Paul Perillo

Why is Tom Brady in a game that is 31-7 in the fourth quarter? For that matter why are any starters in? Why wouldn't we want to give other players some time?
Gary Cervone

Another good question and one that I've asked several times myself. Not only was Brady still in there late against Minnesota, but he was still throwing and still getting hit hard. To lose Brady anytime would be disastrous but to lose him after the outcome of a game had been decided would be even more catastrophic. Belichick simply says that football players play football and it's as simple as that. Brady also says constantly that he always wants to play. But I agree with you that the risks seem to outweigh the rewards in cases like these.
Paul Perillo

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