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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Thu May 16 - 02:00 PM | Tue May 21 - 11:55 AM

Ask PFW: The race heats up

We take a look at what went wrong in Thursday's loss to the Jets while keeping an eye on the final six games in this week's edition of Ask PFW.

It's official: The Patriots secondary is just plain awful. It's going to be the Achilles heel of this team.
Josh Strzeszkowski

PFW: I wouldn't use the word "awful," but I agree the secondary is the weakest part of this defense right now. The Jets made it look easy at times on Thursday night, particularly in the middle of the field where tight end Dustin Keller exposed the underbelly of this defense. Thursday was the first time the Patriots really missed Rodney Harrison, who often drew the tough assignment of covering the opposing team's tight end. They had no answer for Keller and couldn't do much to contain the Jets when Brett Favre spread out the defense. Borrowing a page from Miami's playbook in Week 3, the Jets ran a number of three- and four-receiver sets to open up the secondary and Favre took advantage. The Patriots need help and perhaps they'll get a boost if and when Lewis Sanders returns from a hamstring injury. We have no idea if and when Terrence Wheatley will be back, but his presence will be missed, too. Without a pass rush, the Patriots can't expect their defensive backs to make enough plays regardless of how many defenders they drop into coverage.
Michael Parente

I was just wondering what happened to Victor Hobson? He seemed to be a big acquisition during the offseason. The last thing I heard was that he was having some trouble adjusting during the preseason. Where is he and what happened to him? Also, it doesn't seem a likely chance that [Matt] Cassel will stay with the Pats. He has been playing well this season – still growing, but in the right direction. I really don't see [Tom] Brady playing no more than two to three years max. Will that be enough time for Kevin O'Connell to be ready?
Rick Vega

PFW: Hobson is currently a free agent because no one else picked him up after the Patriots released him in August. Hobson learned the nuances of the 3-4 defense under Eric Mangini in New York, but struggled when the Patriots tried to turn him into an inside linebacker this summer. The rise of rookie Jerod Mayo ultimately made Hobson expendable. Since he's still unemployed, there's a shot he could come back as a replacement for Adalius Thomas on the outside. Don't rule anything out. As for Brady's future, I think you're jumping the gun. Unless he suffers an unforeseen setback with his rehabilitation, there's no reason he can't play beyond the age of 34. Whether he wants to or not remains to be seen. Assuming Brady plays into his mid-30s, O'Connell should have plenty of time to learn the system and absorb as much information as possible. Remember, Cassel stepped in this season with only three years of NFL experience under his belt (and we use the term "experience" loosely since he barely played). At least O'Connel started in college. As for your other point regarding Cassel, I agree this is his last year in New England. He's a free agent at the end of the season and he's already done enough to this point to prove he's a fast learner and can play mistake-free football while doing what his coaches ask him to do. I can think of a lot of teams who'd like a quarterback who fits that mold and I'm sure someone will give Cassel what he wants during the offseason, which, among other things, is the chance to start on a full-time basis. He won't have that here as long as Brady comes back.

It was really great to watch [BenJarvus] Green-Ellis running so well against the Bills [in Week 10]. He made some really great and tough runs and showed great patience letting his blocks develop. What do you think his chances are at becoming the feature back even when some of the others come back from injury? Do you think he'll be consistent enough?Scott Machado

PFW: No. I think Green-Ellis has done a nice job, too, but I also think some people are getting carried away in terms of projecting what he could do over the course of a full season. At times, he's indecisive in the backfield, much like Laurence Maroney was before he got hurt, and that hesitation has led to a number of negative plays. I credit most of Green-Ellis' success to the performance of the offensive line. Stephen Neal's return at right guard has made a tremendous impact. When you consider that Sammy Morris, LaMont Jordan and now Green-Ellis have all had success running the ball this season, it makes you realize the common denominator in all this is the production of the blockers up front. No knock on Green-Ellis, who has done everything the coaching staff has asked him to do, but if and when everyone else is healthy he is still, at best, the third best running back on the depth chart. Since the health of the backfield remains an issue, I'm sure he will continue to get opportunities to produce.

In the last PFW someone asked about the blame in the Indy game. The response they got was pretty weak – "It's a team game and the blame goes on the team." Is someone running for office? Gaffney drops the [touchdown], the [Dave] Thomas penalty, wasting time outs and running a shovel pass on third-and-long in that order were the reason they lost. Now my questions: Did the Pats make any attempt on DeAngelo Hall? If not, why? Since [Adalius] Thomas is out the rest of the year, will the Pats activate Vince Redd (played well in preseason) from the practice squad or will they try to sign Rosevelt Colvin to fill in some linebacker space?
Gary Coe

PFW: I agree with your assessment of the Indianapolis game. Since Bill Belichick has been here, that was one of the rare moments where you could actually question some of his decision-making and perhaps put some of the blame on his shoulders. What's frustrating about that game is the Patriots were well within striking distance, but made critical mistakes down the stretch. The only wasted timeout would be the one Matt Cassel used in the second half when he didn't like what he saw at the line of scrimmage, though I disagreed with challenging the ruling on the play in which Belichick felt there were 12 defenders on the field and that non-reversal cost them a second timeout. When you play a close game that comes down to the wire, you can't afford to make those little mistakes. They add up quickly. As for Hall, the Patriots "aggressively" pursued him, according to various reports, but he ultimately chose to sign with Washington because, as his agent said, "he's a Virginia Tech guy." I don't think Colvin is a realistic option right now because of his health and performance. The Houston Texans cut him at the end of training camp. That says a lot. Redd would be a more realistic option, but only in certain situations. He's worked hard in practice and has made a positive impression on the coaching staff, so he could be activated sometime before the end of the season. The bottom line is replacing Thomas will fall on a number of players, not just one, because the Patriots don't have anyone else outside of Mike Vrabel on their roster who can do all the things Thomas did.

I can't believe that Ty Law has signed with the Jets! Why didn't the Pats sign Law? Was it a question of "value?" Was it the money or do you think he lost a step?Jack DiPietro

PFW: My initial guess was the Patriots didn't sign Law because his asking price was too high, but as we learned from various reports Thursday, he is playing for a prorated version of the league minimum. The Patriots certainly could afford that, so it makes you wonder why he chose New York over New England. My guess is he might've had issues with the way the Patriots were planning on using him in their defense. Perhaps he's more comfortable with Eric Mangini's plan of attack going forward. Or maybe he thinks the Jets have a better chance of winning than New England does. We'll never really know. What we do know is Law said, "I want to be somewhere I [was] wanted" and he also indicated he was "that close" to coming back to New England as he held his thumb and index finger centimeters apart. Your guess is as good as mine. Obviously, he's not the player he was toward the end of his New England career, but as long as the Jets put him in an advantageous position to make plays, he should be fine. They plan on using him at safety, too, which reminds me of how teams used Ronnie Lott and Rod Woodson toward the end of their careers. Granted, this is a much different situation, but there's no reason Law can't help the Jets or at least give them more than what they have now.

Hi guys! I enjoy the weekly chats on the season. I am sure I am one of the very many with this question. Now that Thomas is headed for injured reserve what are the chance that Junior Seau could step in for the remainder of the season? I am sure his conditioning won't be top notch, but he knows the system and is a veteran who could help us out. What do you think? Thanks.Ray Stratford

In light of all the season-ending injuries the last few weeks, what do you think the chances are that the team will bring in some veteran help to shore up those positions that are really hurting? Regards.Thomas Smith

With the recent loss of Adalius Thomas, the Patriots have increased their already high total number of season-ending or critical injuries on defense. Although Dean Pees and Bill Belichick have done a great job managing to keep a solid defense, I think it's time for some reinforcements. Do you think we will see some new faces on the field soon? Or will Belichick just continue to work with what he has?
Joey Goldman

PFW: Thanks, guys. I will address all three of these emails at once since they all basically ask the same question. Starting with the outside linebacker position, Seau is not a viable option right now. At this stage of his career, he's an inside linebacker and the Patriots have already established a solid three-man rotation with Jerod Mayo, Tedy Bruschi and Gary Guyton. Why mess with what's working? If they signed Seau, they'd have to do some reshuffling and that would ultimately weaken two spots instead of one, so the move makes no sense from a logistical standpoint. The rest of the free-agent market is barren right now. Keep in mind there's a reason most of the unemployed players don't have jobs. They either can't play or they're not 100 percent healthy. Some of them have maturity issues as well. Victor Hobson and Rosevelt Colvin remain possibilities at linebacker, but the Patriots might be going with what they have since they know what they'll get from Pierre Woods and/or Vince Redd. A move might need to be made at defensive back if Terrence Wheatley is out for an extended period of time, but my guess is the Patriots will try to weather the storm until Lewis Sanders comes back from a hamstring injury. They've already brought in Jason Webster, so they have options. Remember, it becomes more and more difficult to manage the salary cap when you continuously add veteran free agents during the season, so the Patriots might have to bite the bullet at some point and stick with what they have.

I was looking at some Tom Brady stats for 2001 and I compared them with Matt Cassel's of this year. So far, it seems like Cassel has started much better. His pass yards per game, completion percentage, and passer rating are all better than Brady's. I know that Cassel hasn't played the full season, but it's hard to think with his rapid progression that he would fall off. Do you think there's a slight chance we will ever keep Cassel as possibly a quarterback of the future? It seems as if [Tedy] Bruschi and [Rodney] Harrison would retire after this year, leaving some cap space to keep Cassel. I know it's a stretch, but it's worth a question.
Matt P.

I would like to know what you think could be an obvious scenario and a repeat of 2001. What if [Matt] Cassel leads the Pats on a solid run into the playoffs, do you think it is possible, just possible, that [Tom] Brady could lose his starting position next season?John Holmes

PFW: Not a chance. Brady is under contract through 2010 and even though he restructured his deal in 2007 to help the Patriots fit Randy Moss under the salary cap, it'd be next to impossible to unload him at the end of the season. Why would they want to anyway? Brady is the reigning league MVP and one of the greatest quarterbacks of this generation. He's proven himself over the last seven years. Cassel has proven himself for 11 weeks. Furthermore, this situation is nothing like the one in 2001. Brady is not at the end of his career. Drew Bledsoe was, therefore making the transition from the old to the new made perfect sense. Brady is still in his prime. Likewise, in order to keep Cassel, the Patriots would need to give him a significant raise during the offseason. Do you want them to have two multi-million dollar quarterbacks on the books? That makes it virtually impossible to sign anyone else. Simply put, it's not smart business and makes no sense under any scenario. Whatever Cassel does from here on out will help him greatly when he hits the market next season, but he's gone at the end of the year unless Brady suddenly retires. As for the comparison of numbers, Brady didn't have as much talent around him in 2001 as Cassel does now, so I'd expect Cassel to be better statistically.

Hi guys! I realize he's not the flashiest name in the NFL, however Kevin Faulk has been one of our clutch go to players for many years as we all know by now. My question is why isn't Faulk being considered as a legitimate candidate for the Pro Bowl? The man has three Super Bowls to his credit and more to come and all he does is convert third downs on screens and draws like it's nobody's business. Do you think he'll ever get a legitimate consideration as a Pro Bowl candidate? We all know he should, but will he realistically? I mean, how much more does a player have to do for his team? Tackle everyone else in the process? Certainly, he's a Patriot Hall of Famer in my book. I might also submit that he hasn't fumbled once this season and I believe only one time last season. That ought to count for a lot as well.John Derryberry

PFW: I agree that Faulk has been the unsung hero on this team for a long time and is one of the more underrated players in the league, but you have to remember that the Pro Bowl awards running backs – and all other positions, for that matter – based on statistics, not intangibles. Faulk is not, nor has he ever been, the featured running back in this offense, so he doesn't have the opportunity to put up the same numbers as those who get the bulk of the carries for their team. Faulk entered Week 11 ranked 24th in the AFC in rushing. You can't expect him to get the nod over the likes of Thomas Jones, Chris Johnson or LaDainian Tomlinson. Your point about his Super Bowl titles is not relevant in this discussion either. That's not what the Pro Bowl is about. Nor is it about converting third downs. Believe me, the players, coaches and fans in New England appreciate everything he's done and that should be enough for all of us. He's a solid, complementary player, but he's not a Pro Bowler.

The Pats now stand at 6-4. In a weak AFC, is it conceivable that they could end up with the number two seed in the conference? And what would it mean for [Bill] Belichick's legacy if he takes a Tom Brady-less team deep into the playoffs?Josh Strzeszkowski

PFW: After Thursday night's loss, I'm not so sure the Patriots will get a first-round bye anymore. Come to think of it, they're not guaranteed a playoff spot, either. Losing to the Jets momentarily dropped them into second place pending the outcome of Sundays' Week 11 games. A loss to Miami in Week 12 would be even more disastrous. We know Tennessee will grab that top seed barring a catastrophic meltdown, but now we must keep an eye on the Colts (5-4 entering Week 11), Steelers (6-3) and Broncos (5-4) in terms of eyeing the No. 2 seed. The Colts own the tiebreaker since they beat New England in Week 9. The Patriots can't afford to lose to the Steelers in Week 13 either, or else they'll be on the short end of that tiebreaker as well. Of course, they need to win the AFC East first, which means they must erase a one-game deficit in the next six weeks and finish with a better record division record than the Jets, who improved to 3-1 against rival opponents by beating New England. Thursday's loss made the situation much more complicated. If Belichick can take this team deep into the playoffs, I think it'd rank second among his greatest coaching accomplishments. I still say 2001 is the hallmark of his career. That team was nowhere near as talented as this one, with or without Tom Brady.

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