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Patriots Replay Fri May 29 | 12:00 AM - 11:58 PM

Ask PFW: Steven Jackson and the No. 1 seed

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I think having Brandon Bolden, James White, Montee Ball and Steven Jackson all active in the playoffs will give the PATS a great ground attack option. What are your thoughts?

Stacy Hanson

I think great is a bit strong. Bolden has had limited success filling in and remains at his best as a backup and core special teamer. White barely is asked to run the ball – he has two total carries the last two weeks. Ball remains on the practice squad and his history of ball security issues would be a concern in a late-season call-up, if that call comes at all. And Jackson is a former Pro Bowl talent who hasn't played since last season and averaged just 3.5 and 3.7 yards per carry over his final two seasons in Atlanta as he battled injury. Don't get me wrong, I love the signing. I feel much better about the ground game today than I did before Jackson joined the mix. But the 32-year-old runner needs to prove he still has something left and is ready to play. He needs to prove he can give even the complementary contributions that LeGarrette Blount brought the last two postseasons when the big back tallied 7 touchdowns combined and averaged 4.8 yards per carry when called upon, mostly against the Colts. New England remains a team that will still likely only go as far as the Tom Brady-led passing attack takes it.

Andy Hart

I'm a little old school, because I think teams need to be able to ground and pound in December and in the playoffs. I know how much of a hardworker Joey Iosefa is but let's be serious, he is a fullback basically. What do you guys think about the running back situation, can Steve Jackson be our closer? Does Monte Ball have anything left? Or will Joey and Bolden be able to run between the tackles consistently?

John Grisham

I think maybe as early as this Sunday in New York, Jackson will be given the chance to take over the Blount role as the big back in New England. His short history working with Josh McDaniels in St. Louis in 2011 may help him pick up the offense on the fly a bit easier. Montee Ball's past fumble issues have me wondering if he was just a pre-Jackson emergency signing and whether he'll actually ever make it to the roster. Not the time of year in these important games to find out if a guy is over his looseness with the football. Iosefa and Bolden can now fall into their reserve duties, filling in where/when needed and helping get the kicking game back to its usually high standards.

Andy Hart

Getting a 1st seed could be huge as the path for the 2d seed team to SB could be tougher, and with Pats seemingly always coming off with key injuries, limping off to say to Denver for AFC game would be most unpleasant. With that in mind, how do you think BB will approach getting this one win?

Peter K.

That is a good question, which is exactly how Belichick labeled it when asked during his Monday conference call. I think he'll err on the side of cautiousness with guys who are currently injured, but won't call off the dogs altogether. But rather than me saying it, here is how Belichick answered the question: "That's a good question. I think we just probably do the best we can to manage all those things that you talked about. They are all somewhat of a consideration and we've just got to try to balance it out. I think each part of your question requires some thought and every decision impacts other things as well, so you just can't act independently when one thing happens when there is a residual effect to it one way or another as part of the conversation. We'll just have to do the best that we can to balance all those things out. That's something we'll have to give some thought to and get as much information as possible because there are some guys that are in various states of physical health. We'll have to work our way through all that. It's definitely a challenging situation. I wish I had a cleaner answer on it, but really we're just going to have to work it out."

Andy Hart

Why was the OPI called on Keshawn Martin? (on the James White 70-yard catch-and-run) As I see it Martin shortly blocks Orakpo at the line of scrimmage (not 2-5 yards down the field) and then runs his route, just like a RB or TE sometimes blocks and release on his route. The only noticeable difference is that the block is coming from the "outside".

Mads Lyskov

It seems like the crew of officials…and stop me if you have heard this before … simply blew the call. Martin was within the required 1 yard of the line of scrimmage. Some have posed the possibility that Martin was flagged because he may have held on the play, as his left arm was outside Brian Orakpo's body. But I don't think that's it. I think there has been a clear focus on offensive pass interference calls this year, especially on rub or pick routes. The official on the Patriots sideline saw the contact and instinctively threw the flag even though it was technically legal. I think it was simply a bad call. Pretty sure Bill Belichick and especially Tom Brady agree with me.

Andy Hart

Veteran running back Steven Jackson signed with New England on Tuesday, December 22, 2015.  Take a look at a few photos from throughout his career.

I really, really like the Steven Jackson signing. I know he is relatively old for a running back with plenty of miles on the clock, but will have at most five games (with a bye week after the second) and can always split the load with Joey Iosefa if we need to 'pound the rock'. Additionally, if there is an injury, Montee Ball is on the practice squad learning the playbook and getting into shape. Also, Jackson is good in pass protection, something Belichick, McDaniels and Fears want all backs to do very well. As well as physicality, he also brings experience to the table, which neither James White, Iosefa, nor the interior offensive line have in abundance. Perhaps most importantly, his addition allows Brandon Bolden to concentrate on special teams, which has been uncharacteristically sloppy in the past few games. Am I unrealistically happy about this roster move, or do you share my optimism?

DJB

England

As I said in my earlier answer, I do think you might be a shade too optimistic. We need to see what Jackson has left and if he can stay healthy. Even though he only has to play five games, with a bye mixed in, you never know how a body will react to its first football action in a year. He may be in good shape, but that's not football shape. Only time will tell how that plays out. And I don't have the same optimism regarding Iosefa carrying the load. He was a nice story last Sunday. Watching him run over Titans cornerback Coty Sensabaugh was one of my favorite highlights this year. But he averaged just 3.6 per carry on his 51-yards, even with a 15-yard long. I didn't think he looked quick or decisive enough. The ground game will be a complementary aspect of the offense over the next month-plus regardless, but I think Jackson is the only real chance of it being a positive factor down the stretch here. I do like the idea of Bolden trying to fix the special teams, though I'm not sure he will have much of a say in that given the issues have come in roles that he's not a contributor in.

Andy Hart

I really liked Joey Iosefa's debut. He basically produced the same amount LeGarrette Blount has in some recent games. But with the Steven Jackson signing, it sounds like Belichick has more in store for him. Do you see the offense deploying Iosefa as a lead blocker for Jackson or Bolden? I know our three-TE set has been effective at times (particularly last year), but Iosefa running over Sensabaugh Sunday was awesome, and he could open better holes. He obviously gives a good running option as well.

Dante Swinton

As I just said, I think the legend of Iosefa is a bit ahead of the reality of his performance last week. I also am not sure he's capable of being a lead blocker with any regularity. He had a few reps in that role on Sunday and I didn't think it looked very natural for him. He was a ball carrier at Hawaii. Despite his size, I don't think he's ready to be a lead blocker in the NFL at this time. Maybe that could come with some offseason development, but there is no time for that. He may be a backup option to Jackson to carry the ball, but I also think there is a chance he could end up back on the practice squad at some point. He was a nice story as a stop-gap fill-in. But let's not project that to him being a key contributor on a Super Bowl run. I don't really see it.

Andy Hart

I see Hankerson played some according to the stat line. How did he look and is this our Ayers from last year?? This guy really seemed to be pretty explosive in the early games this year for Atlanta, what do you think happened and do you expect him to do great things for us in the playoffs?

Tommy Raymond

Hankerson was not thrown to in his 10 snaps on offense. I think he played that much due to the injury to Danny Amendola and even Brandon LaFell getting dinged up. I can't imagine he's all that comfortable in the offense with less than a week under his belt. He certainly has produced at times in his career, but drops and injuries have been an issue. I don't see him doing "great things" in the postseason. Maybe he'll have one or two catches down the field, but hopefully at that point the regular passing attack of Julian Edelman, Amendola, Rob Gronkowksi, LaFell and James White are carrying the load.

Andy Hart

With the rash of injuries we have seen this year by both the Pats and their opponents at Gillette Stadium, do you belief that possibly the synthetic turf on this field is causing many of these injuries? Thank guys. Enjoy your show.

Derrick
Fredericksburg, VA

I have always wondered what the injury statistics were on these modern turf fields. It's certainly not specific to Gillette or even one brand of turf. Injuries are up all over the league on all surfaces, at least it would seem. But I'm a traditionalist and always think that natural is the way to go. I've also wondered what role modern footwear plays in injuries – in all sports – but that is probably a different topic for a different day. Maybe the offseason!

Andy Hart

Is there any hope that BB rests questionable players including banged up Gronk who may get even more banged up with both Edelman and Amendola likely out. If they are all held back, then why expose Brady to Jets abusive pass rush? Why not let players recover and win one in Miami? It would be most unfortunate if Pats get even more banged up against the Jets, still lose to a highly motivated and healthy Jets team on the road, and face Miami in a must-win then. Finally, is there also some benefit to let Garoppolo and the new players some work out to see what they can do?

Ben Javorsky

Belichick admitted that health and monitoring the roster will be a consideration over the next two weeks. Guys who are hurt or banged up could very well sit out. But I would be stunned if Brady were to sit out in New York. Yes, that would keep him safe. But it just doesn't feel like the Patriots thing to do. And maybe there would be a benefit to some reps for Garoppolo with other players. Still, I think the guys who are healthy will play. The guys who are dealing with injuries may not. And the guys who do play will be motivated to win the game, which they will be expected to do. I also don't think the decision will be made as it relates to trying to keep the Jets, or the Steelers, out of the playoffs.

Andy Hart

I do not agree with BB exposing constantly injured and valuable due to depleted offense Amendola to punt returns, and I don't understand why coaches cannot train a couple of players to catch the ball. Just have some machine throw them 500 balls every day in practice. It ain't rocket science. Why is it an ongoing problem late in the season?

K.M.

I'm guessing the players know how to catch the ball. They probably do it all the time in practice with great success. But translating that to a game in front of 70,000 people against a vicious opponent can be a big step. They are struggling in the kicking game and on punt returns. Amendola himself fumbled long after catching the ball. The third phase is in a slump right now. But Martin is an experienced, productive veteran returner. I think he's capable of getting the job done with Amendola and Edelman dealing with injuries. I think Martin will get the chance to prove that again over the next two weeks.

Andy Hart

How does BB continually identify players strengths, current abilities and potential? Undrafted players, castoffs from other teams, waiver wire pickups, waived injury settlement players and 2nd time around stints w Patriots? BB's player acquisitions and development plan seems straightforward enough. Identify players strengths (along w/ team chemistry) and put those players in a position to utilize those strengths and succeed. Why can't any other NFL organization copy BB's philosophy successfully?

Brett Larson

I don't think it's a philosophy thing, it's an execution thing. All teams scout and pick up players. But they don't do it as well, at times, as Belichick. But I think the biggest thing is the coaching the New England players get and, as you say, those players being put in roles to succeed based on their strengths. Staffs in other places don't do that as well. All teams find ways to fill out the bottom of the roster and find diamonds in the rough at various rates of success. It helps the Patriots that Belichick is the on doing the coaching to put those players to use. It also helps that those guys are surrounded by elite talent on both sides of the ball that let them fit into generally pretty specific roles where they aren't asked to do more than they are capable of.

Andy Hart

**It may seem like an odd time of the season to be asking this but don't you think that the Patriots need to find a way to re-sign/extend Chandler Jones, Donta Hightower and Jamie Collins. All 3 are young playmakers and crucial to sustained defensive success. What is the contract status of these 3? 

Thanks.*

Gary Abrams

Hightower and Jones will play under their fifth-year options next fall and then potentially be free agents in the spring of 2017. Collins will play his fourth season next fall and could be a free agent in 2017 as well. It would probably be hard for the team to sign all three players, although far from impossible. Picking the guys to sign is an interesting question. I would probably go with Hightower and Collins, especially given the contributions from Jabaal Sheard this year and the fact that Trey Flower and Geneo Grissom are in the pipeline at defensive end. But Jones has had a very solid season and is putting up big numbers. Those numbers could increase his price tag into a level that the Patriots won't want to go. The contract status of these two key young stud defenders will indeed be a major storyline after this season and through the time they are either signed, traded, franchised or leave via free agency. I would never rule out a trade of one of them, maybe as early as after this season, and I've said before I think the most logical guy to be dealt might be Jones. Malcolm Butler is probably due for a new contract/extension as well. But there is a long way to go before all that happens. There is another Super Bowl to win.

Andy Hart

Patriots draft priorities currently look like adding quality depth at Running Back and Wide Receiver. With Lewis on IR and Edelman out for now, I can see a remarkable difference in the performance of the offense. But the Patriots greatest need in the draft must be along the O-Line; better depth at Tackle (for aging Vollmer and Solder) and quality depth at Guard. There is no question that in past years when the O-Line has had talent, both the passing and running games have been phenomenal. I see struggles in both this year. As for the defense, I think Coach Belichick has built a strong D-Line, talented Linebacker group and a surprisingly competent Secondary. I would like to read your opinion on the Patriots greatest draft needs as things now stand. Thank you. Love your publication.

Joyce Rogers

Florida

Right now, I would list running back, cornerback, outside wide receiver and tackle as key potential targets in next spring's draft. While the team has Lewis and White in the passing back role, we are seeing the need to add a big, lead back type for the future, although that could obviously come in free agency as well. I still think the cornerback spot lacks depth and maybe even some more high-end talent. The tackle spot would be looking for a replacement at right tackle as Sebastian Vollmer gets older and Marcus Cannon plays out his contract. I don't think the interior line is a big target given that Bryan Stork, David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Tre' Jackson are first- or second-year players. That group could/should be a strength moving forward.

Andy Hart

The common wisdom is that it takes three years to evaluate the success (or otherwise) of what a team did at the NFL Draft. As such, the Patriots' selections: Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower, Tavon Wilson, Jake Bequette, Nate Ebner, Alfonso Dennard and Jeremy Ebert look pretty good, with Belichick (and his advisers) certainly hitting with the first three (and arguably most important) selections, with the 'mysterious' pick in the sixth round of a converted rugby player also looking good due to Ebner's contributions on special teams.

It's funny to look back and see how Andy Hart thought Trent Richardson "maybe the best overall pick in this draft and barring injury will have approach 10,000 yards in the NFL. He is going to be a star", but, along with Paul Perillo, correctly predicted the Patriots would trade up and select Chandler Jones with their first pick.I can't see what grade you gave Belichick for the draft at the time – three years down the line, what grade would you give now?

David Beckett

I would say that draft could be an A-minus. Jones has been a starter and his impact has grown through this year. Hightower is the same, probably the team's best all-around defender along with Jamie Collins. Two Pro Bowl caliber players is pretty impressive, although Belichick pretty much always nails the first round. Wilson in the second and Bequette in the third were terrible picks. The former is basically an afterthought on defense save for one great game this year and the latter never did a thing. Ebner has been a solid special teams guy and at times an extra defensive back in sub packages, while Dennard was a starting-caliber player for a time. He's out of the league now, but not because of a lack of physical talent. He was a unique pick given his legal issues and that ended up being a precursor of things to come for him. And there is no doubt that I blew the Richardson pick. I thought he was going to be an absolute stud. I was as wrong as the Browns and Colts were. Hey, we all make mistakes.

Andy Hart

I think there are a lot of people out there who find Roger Goodell's allowing communication between the refs and the NY offices during the game to be highly suspicious (count me as one of those people). My question is, can the NFLPA, or any other third party, in some way insist that all communications be monitored and documented by a neutral third party to provide for the possibility of legal recourse if these external communications produce questionable results…like trying to foster a certain outcome of games (like making sure the Patriots lose, or pushing other teams — like the Packers or Broncos or other NFL office favorites — to win)?

From: Nathan F.

NY, NY

I believe the officiating and rules are all controlled by the league and not part of the collective bargaining process. While I'll admit the officials have been terrible this year, I just don't understand people who think the games are fixed. Why would you watch a supposed competition that isn't on the up-and-up? If I actually believed that, I know I wouldn't keep watching. I'd turn to wrestling, where at the least the scripts are better. I think the league tries to get things done right in terms of officiating, it just doesn't succeed in that goal often enough.

Andy Hart

With all the players that rotate through a roster every year, how does a team decide who gets a ring when the team wins the Super Bowl?

Richard Lew

It is left up to each individual team to decide who gets a Super Bowl ring, beyond those on the active roster and practice squad at the time of the game. Occasionally a player will complain and file a grievance if left off the list of recipients. And teams are generally pretty generous with their dispersal of the biggest ring in all of sports.

Andy Hart

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