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Ask PFW: Stark contrast

SOS - Mayday, Mayday! Earthwind Moreland are you out there, I repeat, Earthwind Moreland are you out there! I ask you guys, is it just me or have you guys also noticed that on virtually every big passing play, scoring play or whatever by the other team's offense, Duane Starks is right in the middle of it or should I say completely out of place. Please tell me that you figure this guy will improve or did Pioli and Coach B. completely misjudge this guy and what he would bring to the secondary? Is the Pats scheme for its secondary that difficult to learn?H. Freiter

Tell me there has got to be someone who can cover better than Starks. He is single handedly costing us games. Any ideas?? Was Law worth $12 million?
Steve Bean

Why would the Patriots ever trade for Duane Starks? The guy is clearly a coverage liability who needs to be benched. We certainly got hammered in this deal.
Travis Simpson

What should the Patriots do about the cornerback spot that Duane Starks has been trying to play? This guy has almost single-handedly lost games. "Anyone still believe Law wasn't worth the money after three weekends of watching Duane ''Somebody hose me down" Starks being lit up like a Roman candle all over the field?" (Ron Borges from the Globe) They need help in a hurry, or it's going to be goodnight Irene. Either they need more pressure up, or an upgrade at the position. So, 2 questions: 1. Is it the Mangini designed pass rush that's not working? 2. Is Duane Starks really that bad?? Btw... how many total passing yards has Starks given up? It can't be good.Tom Parker

Duane Starks seems to give up big plays in every game especially the ones the Pats lost. When is Poole and Gay going to be ready? They list them every week as probable or questionable. What is up with this every week, are they going to play this year or not. If I was a team playing the Pats I would go after Starks on every play.
James Watkins

What is the deal with Duane Starks. I am not second-guessing Scott Pioli's decision to trade a third-round pick for him. I might have done the same. But he looks lost out there and is getting beat for big plays on a regular basis. He looks nothing like the guy I saw play in Baltimore. How can Duane turn it around?
Joe Yates

The Denver game this weekend did one thing: it exposed a weakness. Is Duane Starks really that bad? Do you think Belichick can see how poor his coverage skills are? The dude got burned for 2 bombs and was nowhere in sight. And, the third and three in crunch time, where he was supposed to cover the tight end (closely), shows how clueless he is. He continues to give up big play after big play and we can't have that. Is he gone with a mysterious injury? What say you?
Sam Fracker

Duane Starks is an easy target for fans because he was the guy closest to Rod Smith and Ashley Lelie on those deep passes. Has he been great? Certainly not. His coverage hasn't been anywhere near what it needs to be. But placing all of the blame on him isn't fair. The secondary has struggled badly all season, not just since Starks entered the lineup after Poole and Gay were hurt. I didn't see Duane Starks getting beat by Randy Moss for a 70-plus yard touchdown opening night. The guy is struggling but he also is playing hurt. And with Harrison out, the safeties aren't providing much help here at all. And I don't know what third-and-three play you're talking about. The Broncos key first downs at the end of the game came on second-and-sevens, not third-and-three. It's understandable that the Patriots were preparing for a Denver running play in those situations and were caught off guard by creative play calls by Denver. Sometimes you have to give the other team some credit … but I guess it's just easier to rip the closest player anytime something bad happens.
Paul Perillo

It is very easy to blame individual players for the secondary's breakdowns, but why is it I have seen no one question the possibility that the problem is Defensive coordinator Eric Mangini? The reality is even if it was Ty Law, no cornerback should be one on one in the middle of the field with the opposing team's top receivers. Whether it is a lack of the correct calls or the teaching methods of a first year coordinator, the fact is Mangini may not be ready for the position. We have had injuries in the past but we have never been so bad on defense until Mangini took over. Do you think it is possible that Mangini is the problem?
John Johnson

PFW, what is up with the Patriots pass defense? Not that the run defense is much better, but what is up with the coverage of Duane Starks? He's terrible. Too many big plays. Also, I don't see any real pressure on the opposing quarterback, a staple of Belichick defenses in the past. If the defense plays like this against Peyton Manning he'll pick them apart. So, can you tell me why they're not disrupting the QB as in past years? Is Mangini not getting it done?? It can't all be about the injuries, can it?
Jim Porter

Finally someone willing to look at some of the other factors that may be contributing to the Patriots problems. Richard Seymour being out has definitely affected the pass rush. When you can't get anywhere near the quarterback it's hard to stay with quality receivers like Keenan McCardell and Rod Smith for very long. Starks, as I said earlier, is not playing well. But he's definitely not alone in that department. There's plenty of blame to go around. I don't think Mangini is the problem but there's definitely bound to be an adjustment period from Romeo Crennel. The players have to play better and that's the bottom line, but I agree that Starks shouldn't be asked to cover Rod Smith across the field for 60 yards all by himself. That's a tall task for anyone.
Paul Perillo

I keep hearing that the Patriots schedule gets easier from here on, but I'm not buying. How can anyone ignore the fact the Indy, KC and Tampa are still on the schedule? What makes anyone think that the AFC East is going to roll over and play dead when the Patriots show up? Buffalo, Miami and the Jets are all capable of exploiting the same weaknesses that have been evident from Day 1 of the preseason? The defense has not shown the ability to stop anyone; even before being beset by injuries. The plain truth is that the players (Brown, Beisel and Starks) brought in to replace Law, Bruschi and Johnson are not getting the job done. Even worse, some of the guys who have been here for a while (Wilson, Samuel and Colvin) are not performing as expected. But to put the blame solely on the defense would be a mistake too, for the offense has its own share of trouble. Whenever I see that VISA commercial with the OL and their "five layers of security" it makes me cringe. Anyone who saw the beating that Brady took against Denver (and virtually every other game) would have to wonder where's the protection? It seems that the only time Brady has time to throw is if the other team is playing dime, with no blitz on. Sure, injuries have hurt the OL too but as BB would say, "all 53 players must be prepared to play." With no running game, it is no wonder that teams are teeing off on Brady. Is there any hope for the rest of this season? Is the return of Bruschi the one thing that will turn this mess around? I honestly don't buy it. There have simply been too many changes to the team and not enough talent or time left to solve every problem. If it were only one or two things that they had to overcome, them maybe I would not be so pessimistic. What do the experts at PFW think?
John Farrell

I think yours was one of the most thoughtful emails we've received since starting this forum a couple of years ago. I don't agree with everything you say, but most of it is right on. The schedule certainly does indeed get a bit easier if only for the fact that most of the remaining games will be at home. Six of the last 10 are at Gillette, and Buffalo, New York and Miami do not have the quarterbacks to take advantage of the shaky secondary that has been on display thus far. I'm not saying those teams can't beat the Patriots right now because I believe that any of them could. I'm just saying a 75-year-old Vinny Testaverde isn't going to be throwing for 350 yards and four touchdowns like everyone else seems to be doing. I think the Patriots are better than they've shown thus far, even with the injuries. The defense has to start making some plays and creating turnovers, and the offense must become more consistent and less reliant on big plays. But this team is so mentally tough I can't see all of these problems continuing throughout the season. Things will get better.
Paul Perillo

The Patriots need to put more pressure on the quarterback and it must come from the guy who was late to camp or holding out (Seymour). I don't know what he was doing when he was holding out but wasn't staying in shape or practicing. Someone should not be babying him and asking him where his game is and when is it coming back?Bruce Wadleigh

You cannot be serious. Before Seymour was injured the guy was playing out of his mind. He was single-handedly responsible for the strong pass rush they had early in the season and his absence the last two weeks has been glaring. I know it's easy for fans to pick on a guy that held out because of money, but before he was injured he was absolutely at the top of his game.
Paul Perillo

On that 4th quarter non-catch, where Branch took the big hit, it seemed like a catch to me --with the ground causing the fumble. Didn't the ball come loose when he hit the ground? I am surprised that no one has commented on this idea. How was it NOT a catch? No "football move after the catch"?Tom Money

You answered your own question, Tom. The catch wasn't completed because it came loose when he hit the ground. If he had landed on his feet before being knocked down and then he lost the ball when he hit the ground, it could have been ruled a catch. But Branch never actually established control of the ball while being on the ground so it's an incomplete pass.
Paul Perillo

Richard Seymour, Tyrone Poole, Corey Dillon, Troy Brown and to a lesser extent Guss Scott, injured or not injured. These are all players who could've helped us win games, specifically the game against the Broncos and they were kept out. I totally have confidence in BB and thank him for making all of Patriots Nation happy, but is he keeping player out a little to long? These player appear to be "nicked up" and not seriously injured and the last time I've checked "nicked up" NFL players play. I would love your opinion on this. By the way, I still believe!
Mel Burford

I think it's dangerous to try to say whether a player is injured or not. How can you sit in the stands and determined if a player "should" be playing or not? You can't. So to suggest a player isn't seriously inured enough to sit out is wrong.
Paul Perillo

Hello, I have mixed feelings about the Pats this year. Sure it was a difficult stretch of games but the Defense is just awful. Is there any hope going down the stretch? Tedy may be a help but the DBs are what we need to shore up. What's your prognosis for the second half?Chris Morris

Injuries have been a major problem thus far and since many of them aren't going to go away anytime soon it's hard to make an accurate prognosis. Bruschi coming back will obviously help, but he can't play safety where Rodney Harrison excelled. I think the Patriots will improve in the second half because that's what they do. They'll be a much better team down the stretch than they are right now, regardless of how many injured players are able to return.
Paul Perillo

Dear PFW, What is going on with the Patriots game planning?? I don't see much scheming. Is the offense missing Charlie Weis that much? They seem to be out of synch. And, why, why, why aren't they using the tight ends more as receivers? Those guys are monsters and open all day long. Just throw short passes to them for freak sake. Jeesh!
Rod Newton

The offense hasn't been very consistent, but it has managed to score plenty of points most weeks. The running game has been terrible. Only once in the first six games has it approached the level it maintained last season. But is that poor game planning or poor execution? I say it's the latter. They've tried to run the ball in most games but have just been unable to. And the tight ends are often asked to help out in pass protection so they can't get the amount of passes thrown in their direction that you would probably like. Again, I think that's less of a coaching problem as a talent problem.
Paul Perillo

For the last couple of years, especially during preseason, I have written in and asked why the Patriots don't use Patrick Pass more. With his size and receiving ability he deserves a chance to be a quality backup in this league and get 8-10 touches a game. I was answered the same both times: Pass looks good in preseason because he went up against third-string defenses. That he is a special teams player that can fill in in a pinch. Well...that was no third string defense on Sunday, and Patrick looked like he deserves more opportunities to me. What do you guys think now?
Mark Marks

I don't about third-string defenses or anything else, but my view of Patrick Pass hasn't changed at all. I still think he's a quality fill in and an excellent special teams player. He did some nice things in the second half against Denver when the Broncos were protecting a huge lead and laying back in coverage. That doesn't take anything away from what Pass did because he ran hard and broke tackles and made some big plays. But in the first half when the game was in doubt he carried twice for 2 yards and caught two passes for 11 more. When the scored was 28-3, he started making his plays. When the Patriots cut the lead to 28-20 and got the ball back with a chance to tie, he caught one pass for a mere 2-yard gain. Again, this is not meant to be a slam of Patrick Pass because he did a great job. But if Kevin Faulk and Corey Dillon are healthy, I don't want him getting 8-10 touches per game because he's not as good as those guys.
Paul Perillo

Was Logan Mankins "punch" really enough to deserve being ejected from the game? I mean lets face it, we have all seen some nasty late hits and cheap shots much, much worse than Logan's that only got a flag. How can taking a punch at a guy with a helmet on merit ejection? If anything, Logan himself is going to hurt his own hand more than hurt the opposing player. I know that rules are rules but this seems a little far-fetched. Is this a judgment call, or is a punch immediate ejection no-matter what the circumstances?
Duane Raws

I honestly can't believe anyone watching that incident could possibly put forth a defense for Logan Mankins. The only thing I could say in his defense is that there was likely something done to him to precipitate that reaction that maybe we all didn't see. But from what we did see, there's no way to ignore punching an opponent in the groin … and there's also no way Mankins was going to hurt his hand punching Ekuban where he did. He not only deserved the ejection, but he'll likely be fined as well. And judging by Belichick's reaction, I'd say he agrees.
Paul Perillo

I keep on hearing about LaDainian Tomlinson having an NFL record by scoring a touchdown in 18 consecutive games. Didn't Johnny Unitas have a touchdown pass in 47 straight games?
Nathan Graf

You are correct, sir. Johnny Unitas had at least one TD pass in 47 consecutive games from 1956-60. The next longest steak was Dan Marino with 30 from 1985-87. It's probably one of the most amazing streaks in the history of sports … but I'm not sure what that has to do with LT's current streak of actually scoring a touchdown in 18 straight games.
Paul Perillo

I'm glad to see the Pats made a game of it in the second half. We knew Denver would be tough to beat on the road, I suspect these teams may meet again this year. What baffles me is the decision to kick a field goal in the third quarter, down 28-3, while on the opponent's 20-yard line. I would have preferred to see Coach take a shot, worst case scenario is Denver starts on their 20 but at least it would appear you are trying to win the game.Phil Troutman

I completely disagree. If the Patriots failed to convert the fourth down they would have still been down 25 points, which is at least four scores (including two-point conversions). By kicking the field goal, it allowed the Patriots to get on of those four scores and ultimately they didn't run out of time to complete the comeback; they simply couldn't pull it off and were stopped. There were more than five minutes left when the Patriots took over trailing by just eight points. That's more than enough time, but if they hadn't booted the earlier field goal, they would have been down 11 at that point if they failed to convert. And even if they scored the touchdown, they still would have been trailing 28-24 (or 25 if they made a two-point conversion at some point). It was the right call.
Paul Perillo

Are Poole and/or Gay expected back after the bye week? Starks definitely is not the answer. We have watched all kinds of different receivers simply run away from him. It seems like he has lost half a step and hasn't adjusted to it yet. Opposing teams sure have, for example Denver just looked for situations where Starks would be in single coverage and threw at him.
Craig McTavish

Hey Craig, any plans to come out of retirement … the Bruins could use a goal scorer. Gay returned to the field against Denver so he should be ready to continue after the bye. Poole said h could have played in Atlanta two weeks ago but still hasn't returned. My guess is the Patriots showed extra caution with him as the bye week approached and held him out. Both should be ready after the bye, but whether that means things will improve remains to be seen. After all, it was Poole who was burned for a long touchdown opening night. I know Randy Moss has done that to a lot of people, but so has Rod Smith.
Paul Perillo

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