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Patriots Replay Tue Dec 11 | 04:00 PM - 11:59 PM

Ask PFW: Thanksgiving edition

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What are we doing to better the defense for the rest of the season? What is it going to take for us to have home field advantage? Henry Meza

There’s really nothing that can be done to improve the defense at this point, aside from the players themselves actually stepping up and playing better. Any player acquisitions at this time of year do not fall in the “impactful” category. So, the team must go with the roster it has, essentially, and hope that it performs better on Sundays.

Realistically, to secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC, it’s going to take winning the remaining six games and hoping the Chiefs and Steelers lose a couple each, including the momentous Week 15 date between the Patriots and Steelers in Pittsburgh. Erik Scalavino

That loss last [Monday] night by K.C. really helped the Patriots. With a relatively light schedule to round out the year, I think the Patriots are in good shape to own their destiny to the No. 2 seed and now, with a little help, pull off the No. 1 seed. I know [QB Tom] Brady is looking a little less Brady-like, but the bye came at a good week. The Patriots have had a few players not quite live up to expectations (Trey Flowers, Gronk, Brady, Stephon Gilmore, etc... ok maybe more than a few...). Who do you see as breaking out on offense and defense over the second half of the season? Nathan Ellsworth

Offensively, the obvious answer is Gronkowski. He hasn’t been fully himself all season, and when he is, he’s the most dominant offensive player in the league. He’s a game-changing player. If he can rekindle that spark, it will help lift this offense to the level it needs to reach to compete with some of the other high-octane teams in the league.

Defensively, the player who might have already started to play up to his potential is Flowers. It appears he’s finally at full strength, health-wise, and if he can continue getting consistent pressure on opposing QBs, he’ll help open up opportunities for other defensive teammates to do the same. Erik Scalavino

After watching the Saints score 48 points against the Eagles and the Rams score 54 against the Chiefs, it is abundantly clear that the Patriots D stands no chance of stopping either offense. Conversely, the Patriots offense as it stands is not an unstoppable force. Do you think that there is a part of Tom Brady that is hoping the Patriots don’t make the Super Bowl, because if they do, it is fairly likely that his legacy would drop to 5-4 in Super Bowls? I hate to admit it, but as a Patriots fan of over 40 years, after the string of success the Pats have had, I actually would rather see them not make the Super Bowl (only to get trounced) to help preserve the team’s and Brady’s legacy. Gary Goldstein

It’s true. Today’s Rams, Chiefs, and Saints offenses look like finely-tuned juggernauts – as did the 2001 Rams offense, which you may recall was nicknamed “The Greatest Show on Turf.” Entering the Super Bowl that year, New England had an 0-2 record in championship games. Yet, I don’t remember one member of the organization being scared to appear in that game for fear of the club’s legacy being tarnished even further.

The point is this, Gary: Every player wants to go to the Super Bowl every year, regardless of any other mitigating factors. Every fan should want his or her team to reach the Super Bowl every year as well, because, as we saw in 2001, in 2007, and in 2017, all it takes is for the underdog to play better that particular day to become a champion. Erik Scalavino

I was wondering what your thoughts were of Duke Dawson. New England thought him valuable enough to be brought off IR and put him on the roster soon thereafter. Have you guys seen anything that would suggest that Dawson could contribute in any way down the stretch of the season? Another decent corner added to the defensive backfield would definitely help. Matthew Haff

With Duke Dawson being activated to the 53 man roster do you believe he will be able to make an impact after the bye week or was he activated purely because he should be ready by the end of the season/playoffs and Bill [Belichick] wanted him on the roster just in case he was able to recover fully? What kind of role do you believe he will play if he is activated? Will he start as a situational nickel corner or in the slot, or might he start on an outside 1 or 2 receiver? Thanks again for the column. It keeps me optimistic throughout the season. Logan Morrison

Dawson clearly has a future with the Patriots, as evidenced by his second-round draft status and the faith his coaches have placed in him by allowing him to travel with the team while injured and then activating him off IR.

What we’ve been able to see of him on the field, however, has been limited to a handful of spring practices and a smattering of training camp sessions. Media viewing windows during the regular season are limited mostly to watching the team stretch, maybe with a drill period or two thrown in. We aren’t permitted to watch team periods, where players are truly judged on how they’re performing.

So, until Dawson actually gets into a game, it is difficult to project just how much of an impact he’ll make down the stretch. What little we saw of him in the spring and summer was solid, if unspectacular. Coming off this injury so late in the year, I believe it would be unfair to place high expectations on him. Erik Scalavino

With [running back Rex] Burkhead coming back with [rookie Sony] Michel and [James] White looking respectable, to go along with a downgraded passing attack, is it possible the Patriots could become a run-heavy team? When the Patriots went offensive line and running back in the first round [this year], I was thinking they were gearing up to run the ball more. I’m not a believer in the Brady-is-41-and-isn’t-good theory or that the passing options are bad. I like what the passing team provides, just not for 30-plus throws a game. I just think with the defense being what it is and the passing game being inconsistent, along with what is invested in the running game, I would like to see the Patriots line up and run the ball as much as possible within a winnable game plan. Jamie James

Is your scenario possible? Sure, anything’s possible, but it’s extremely unlikely. The Patriots are a pass-first team in a pass-first league. The drafting of Michel and Isaiah Wynn, to whom you alluded in your question, were made, I believe, more to fill talent holes on the roster than to undertake a complete overhaul of New England’s offensive philosophy. Besides, the injury histories of Burkhead and Michel should not leave you feeling very confident in their long-term availability, and White is not a traditional, every-down, between-the-tackles ball carrier. The running game should better with a healthy Burkhead and Michel spelling each other and White, but it will continue to play a secondary role to the passing attack. Erik Scalavino

In looking back for many years, New England has had two great slot receivers on the 53-man roster. First, [Wes] Welker and [Julian] Edelman, then Edelman and [Danny] Amendola. They would be able to put pressure on any team with the quickness to get free at almost any time needed. In assessing the offense this year, against teams like Tennessee and Jacksonville’s youth and speed on defense, do you think they miss that second great slot? From what I see they now have Edelman and… ??? Greg Findlay

I understand the point you’re making, Greg, but what I think the offense has missed more this year is a healthy, productive Rob Gronkowski and a consistently healthy Sony Michel. Having a reasonable deep threat in Josh Gordon, an intermediate force in Gronkowski, and an underneath outlet in Edelman, along with a solid running game with Michel, would make this offense dynamic and very difficult to stop. Perhaps we’ll finally see all these pieces together at the same time in these final games of the season. Erik Scalavino

Should the Patriots pick up a wide receiver like Terrelle Pryor to give Brady a big body (6-4, 4.38 40) to throw to? He could spread the field and allow the underneath routes to open up. Also, should the Patriots look at [running back Le’Veon] Bell in the offseason to take pressure off Brady? Bell is one of the best backs in the league. Giving Brady a consistent running option as well as another receiving back would prolong his career in order to find his successor. Zach Flowers

In recent years, it’s not unusual for the Patriots to take late-season chances on high-profile receivers (e.g., Michael Floyd, Kenny Britt), though these players typically don’t end up playing much of a role. While it wouldn’t stun me if New England looked at Pryor (they’ve expressed interest in him in the past), I wouldn’t expect him to make too much of a difference in this offense at this late stage. Erik Scalavino

Where is Martellus Bennett? Why isn’t Marty in Foxboro right now? Pete Blair

I assume this question is being posed because of the current poor health status of New England’s tight end position. All three tight ends are dealing with at least one injury that is limiting their availability, but Bennett is retired. To my knowledge, there’s no interest on his part or the team’s to change that. Besides, there’s no indication that he has kept himself in any sort of football shape. He is not an option for the Patriots. Erik Scalavino

Erik, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article on [Patriots character coach Jack] Easterby. It shed light on Bill [Belichick] and how important it is for his players not to overlook important aspects of life. Of course, it also shows how Bill will leave no stone unturned to get the most out of his players because he understands that non-football-related life events and issues can impact what happens in practice and on game day. Victor Chata

Thanks for reading, Victor. It was a fun story to write. We might eventually publish it in Patriots Football Weekly, but in the interim, if anyone else is interested in taking a look, here’s a convenient link. Erik Scalavino

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