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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Fri Apr 23 - 12:00 AM | Sun Apr 25 - 11:59 PM

Ask PFW: The run coming to an end?

After my usual rush home Tuesday to catch last week's batch of Ask PFW, I was pleasantly surprised to see the selection was nearly all overwhelmingly positive. I, for one, can appreciate the need to provide a "balanced" selection in comments received and further appreciate the objective and realistic analysis of the champ's chances at a Super Bowl run this year. But I question Mr. Hart's repeated negativity to a customer base that tunes in to read current news on their team. Objectivity is one thing but comments such as "I just hope a late season run against sub par competition doesn't build false confidence/hopes" (yeah, I'll bet you don't), and "Anything is possible…but that doesn't mean moving on and winning is likely." And finally (and especially) "when people look back 20 years from now and wonder what derailed New England's march toward a third title in a row, injuries will be the answer they settle on". Pats faithful all hope for a decimated secondary to recover and gel--while we celebrate the clear advantage of having a Brady, a Bruschi, a Vrabel, a Brown--and a team full of champions. It just seems Andy is quick to continually profess his foregone conclusions of a lost season, despite the extraordinary run they've enjoyed given similar challenges in the past few years. It ain't over 'til it's over and I give the Pats every chance in the world.Tom

Tom, you are putting me in a tough position. You are forcing me to defend Andy Hart and God knows I don't like that doing that. Andy, myself and Paul Perillo get paid to give our honest thoughts on how we think the Patriots are doing and what we think will happen with the team as the season goes on. I don't think Andy was being negative just for the sake of being negative. We all want the Patriots to go to the Super Bowl but he is just pointing out the obvious fact (something he is famous for by the way) that it appears the Patriots quest for a three peat is coming to an end. I believe further proof of that was seen this week in Kansas City. I know the Patriots have battled through injuries before but this season just seems different. They have started 43 different players and so many key guys have been lost for the year. The fact that they are most likely going to win their division is remarkable in my opinion. It is a testament to the coaching, leadership and mental toughness of this team. Hey, it's okay if they don't win the Super Bowl this year. No team has ever won three straight but guess what? 2006 will be here soon and I fully expect the Patriots to reload and make a strong run at their fourth Super Bowl title in six years. And don't listen to what Andy Hart says. No one around here does.
-Tom Casale

Dear PFW, Why did the Pats make Kaczur a tackle and Mankins a guard, when each player played the other position in college? I have been impressed with the improvement of each player so far (especially Kaczur) but Brady has taken quite a few sacks from his blind side this year. The running game at the start of the season wasn't too good. Might the rookies' learning curve be a little shorter if they were playing familiar positions?Ian Kirkwood

As for players switching positions, some guys are just projected to play different positions in the pros coming out of college. I know from covering the draft, Mankins was projected to be a guard and Kaczur a tackle in the NFL, so it wasn't just the Patriots who thought that. As far as tackle goes, a player's quickness off the ball usually determines whether or not they can play there. I think Mankins has done a fine job at guard and Kaczur started off well but has struggled the past couple of weeks. However, we need to be more patient with Kaczur because left tackle is a much tougher position to play in the NFL than guard is and to be fair to Nick, he wasn't expected to come in and start this season. I think he has done a fine job for being a third round draft pick from Toledo. The line has struggled this season but there is a silver lining behind all these injuries. Next season, the Patriots should have a strong line with all these young guys getting unexpected playing time. Offensive line is a tough position to throw a rookie in and expected them to succeed, forget having two of them playing together on the left side of the line. I think Mankins and Kaczur have done well in their first season and I would expect a much-improved Patriots offensive line in 2006.
-Tom Casale

With everyone having a fit with us losing, isn't this just another one of coach Belichick's grand schemes to put us in position to finish possibly 10-6, winning the AFC East and putting all the pressure on the opponent? Example: Pitt in the AFC Title Game last year. Thanks.Patrick Loughran

If you know Bill Belichick, you would know this is an impossibility. He coaches and the Patriots play to win every game. That's the reason why they've won three Super Bowls. I'm not sure what pressure you're talking about. The pressure is on the Patriots. They are 6-5 right now and struggled to beat the Bills, Dolphins and Saints. No victory is guaranteed no matter how bad a team looks on paper. They will have to scratch and claw to win every game. As for the Steelers last year, I'm not sure what you are insinuating. That they lost in October just to give the Steelers a false sense of security in the playoffs? If you aren't I apologize but if you are, that's ridiculous. At this level, players go out and try to win every single game. If you are 13-1, maybe you can take the foot off the gas but at 6-5, there won't be any schemes or anything going on. The Patriots are just trying to win football games at this point in the season.
-Tom Casale

I thought that the defense in the red zone did a pretty good job but we had too many turnovers on offense. I think we need to just run the ball more even if it doesn't work and even if we are behind we need to just play our game, not get into shutouts like we did with the Colts and take some pressure off of Brady. Tom had a lot of passes that sailed on him but someone else needs to step up. It isn't all just Brady. Great job Troy Brown 500 career catches; it has been great over the years watching him play. I think we are going to be a different team whenever we get back Faulk, Dillon, Light, and Givens. We get the Jets, which is a much-needed win. Plus it would be a great feeling to beat Martin and Law. One game at a time guys. Lets Go Pats!!!!John Cavallo

John, it's hard to run the ball when you have your two top backs hurt and are playing from behind every time you go on the road. Saying you still want to run the ball when you are behind sounds good now but how would you feel if the Patriots were down 28-0 like they were in Denver and were still running Heath Miller up the gut? In their last three road games against the Broncos, Dolphins and Chiefs, the Patriots have a combined six points at the half and fell behind big to the Broncos and Chiefs and were forced to ditch the running game. I agree that Brady can't just sit back there and throw 50 times a game but it's hard to be committed to the running game when teams are scoring at will on your defense and you are running the ball into the line for a half yard at a time. I'm not sure how different this team will be when those guys come back. I think they are capable of playing better than they have been playing but I don't think they have the horses this year to beat the Colts and Broncos of the world.
-Tom Casale

Really, what is going on? I am glad I went to Magic Kingdom and recorded the game. At least I got to enjoy part of the day. This defense is so bad it is almost beyond words. We have been talking about all the injuries and yes, in the secondary it's a disaster, but the defensive line isn't and they can't stop the run or put pressure on the QB. I said I was wrong about Seymour but rethinking I wasn't, no matter what Paul says. I saw Seymour more times than not trying to tackle with his arms and not even want to hit anyone. Hello, this is tackle football not tag or grab. By this game I thought I was going to see him be a leader and show us Pats fans what we have been missing. Well guess what, it didn't happen and it should have. Coaches have to take blame also. No one should be getting paid they all should be unemployed.Bruce Wadleigh

Well, I'm not quite ready to fire everyone in the Patriots organization but I do agree that the defensive line has been the most disappointing aspect of the team this season. With three first round draft picks on the defensive front, they should be playing much better and with more effort than they have been playing with. The Chiefs totally dominated the Patriots defensive line. Willie Roaf manhandled everyone he went up against, including Seymour. I think as a unit, they aren't playing with any fire or intensity and that's disturbing to see. You know what else is disturbing to see? The Patriots defensive linemen consistently being pushed back into the secondary. It's been happening way too often this season and Seymour, Warren and Wilfork need to step up their game. Warren actually played well against the Chiefs but as a whole, this group has been underachieving all year long.
-Tom Casale

I have a couple of questions. For starters, it seems that Brady's recent incomplete passes have been due to overthrows. Do you think the cause of the overthrows is he's a little more conscious of defenders breathing down his neck? With rookies blocking his blind side and people starting in secondary positions across the front line, it seems that Brady is feeling the heat a little more and is getting rid of the ball in a bit of a hurry (not that I blame him). Secondly, I read that Corey Dillon is expected to play before the end of the regular season. I hate looking ahead beyond the next game, but with five games left, we have four against division foes and we currently have a two game lead. Plus we've won head to head against Buffalo, so effectively a three game lead. Because we almost have the division wrapped up, is there any reason to believe that Dillon and some of the others will see much playing time before the playoffs? With no real urgency (assuming we don't blow a couple of division games) to make the playoffs, it almost makes sense to start giving the guys more rest unless needed. What is your take on that?Rick Schneider

You make a good point about Brady. I am actually going to discuss that very same topic with former Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan Wednesday on Patriots Today and get his take on it. My opinion is the beating Brady has taken all season long is not only getting to him physically, but mentally as well. I can't believe he's still alive to tell you the truth. I don't know how well you can see it on TV but from the press box, you can see Brady getting hit on virtually every pass attempt. I think he may just have had a bad day in Kansas City but a player can only get hit so much before they break down a little bit both mentally and physically. I am interested to hear Grogan's take on the subject.

I think whoever can play, will play. Like I stated earlier, the Patriots just aren't a good enough football team right now to rest people and assume they can beat anyone. Especially in Dillon's case. The running game has been terrible all year long so he is going to want to get in there and try to get things rolling before the playoffs. Right now, the Patriots don't have the luxury of sitting anyone. They need their best 11 on offense and defense to be in the lineup. If you rest Dillon, that means they throw the ball more, putting Brady at greater risk and no one wants to see him go down. I think you can expect to see both Dillon and Faulk sooner than later.
-Tom Casale

Dear PFW, What's up with the defense? I thought with Mangini taking over for Crennel that his philosophy was to be more aggressive this year? Yet, obviously, we haven't seen much pressure on the QB. (31st in the league in sacks) So, although the secondary is young and inexperienced it doesn't seem like they've been put in the best position to succeed, which I find troubling for a Bill Belichick coached team. Isn't it time to stop making excuses for all of the injuries and accept the blame... somewhere... by someone? Cash Allen

I agree with you 100 percent. The Patriots are obviously scared to send blitzes because of their injured secondary but here's a newsflash: what they are doing isn't working. I understand trying to protect the cornerbacks but teams are still killing them through the air so you might as well try to be more aggressive. They have given up over 300 yards passing in four straight games and that's unacceptable. Especially when it's the likes of Gus Frerotte and Aaron Brooks who are torching you. At least that's my take on it. Not that I know nearly as much about football as Belichick and Mangini but if you are going to get beat on defense, you might as well get beat being aggressive. I grew up in New York so I am quite familiar with Belichick's defenses with both the Giants and Jets and this is by far the least physical defense I have ever seen him coach. Whether it's because of personnel or coaching, I don't know but I do know every offense they face is having their way with them and doing whatever they feel like doing whenever they want to do it. It can't hurt to try something different because the way they are playing right now simply isn't working.
-Tom Casale

Watching the game, Hawkins looked like he was always in position but he was just physically outmatched. Stone had played strong safety the previous two games and seems to be the more physical player. So why did the Patriots not start Stone and have Hawkins play either in place of Hobbs or as the nickel-back?Chris Brownlee

I'm not sure why Hawkins started but I have not been impressed with Stone at all. I think he is a very nice guy who tries really hard but I don't think he is starting safety material. He is one of those guys who is being forced to play because of injuries and if the 2006 season started today, he may not make the team. He is a solid special teams player but as a safety, more often than not I see him standing around the pile and leaving receivers wide open. Hey, it's not his fault. He probably shouldn't be in this position in the first place and he's giving it his all but the Patriots are forced to go with what they have right now and that's not always a good thing.
-Tom Casale

It's time to stop complaining about what the Patriots are not, and start to recognize what they have accomplished despite all the injuries and changes to the coaching staff this season. In all likelihood, they will win the division and make the playoffs despite a roster full of spare parts and cast-offs. Throw in the fact that they lost their offensive and defensive coordinators in the offseason and it is pretty amazing to see where they stand. If anything, this team is quite lovable for the being able to hang in there despite the long odds they face each week. Prior to the Kraft family era, a Patriots team like this would have packed it in long ago and we'd be looking forward to the number one pick in the draft. I for one am grateful that this team will not quit and continues to battle each week. They may not make it to Detroit this year, but they won't go down without putting up a good fight.John Farrell

I agree with everything you said. Hey, they won three Super Bowls in four years for heaven's sake. Remember last year when Carolina had all those injuries and went 7-9? People on ESPN thought John Fox should win Coach of the Year. It looks as if the Patriots just don't have the horses this season. I agree, they will put up a fight in the playoffs but against teams that have balanced offenses, they will most likely come up short. I think fans should still root for them to win the Super Bowl, just be prepared that it probably won't happen this year and remember that they still have guys like Brady, Bruschi and Vrabel heading into next season and they will make another run at it in the near future. And hey, if they do win it again this season, the NFL should really think about changing the name on that trophy they give out because this would be the most incredible coaching job ever in the history of team sports I believe.
-Tom Casale

You know, I'm getting really sick of stats making things out to be much worse than what really happened. It sickens me after watching the NE/KC game that Brady was stuck with four interceptions. The NFL should start counting actual interceptions as interceptions. In other words, balls that are picked off by the opposing team before it can get to the receiver. Once a player from the offensive team has his hands on the ball, it should be a fumble. Three of Brady's four interceptions may have been thrown a little high but they were hardly intercepted. They were hit off Patriot players' hands into the air, and then brought down by a Chiefs player. Not an interception but rather recovering a ball off of our receivers' hands. While the throws could have been more accurate, it's really annoying that these count so harshly against the QB.

Tom Brady had an awful game against the Chiefs and that's the bottom line. How about when a receiver makes a great catch? The quarterback gets a completion so it goes both ways. Listen, who cares? Seriously. This team isn't about stats, it's about winning. I really don't care how many interceptions Brady has. I only care if the Patriots win the football game and I imagine, the team and most fans, would agree with me on that. Brady makes a lot of bad throws that his receivers come down with so if he has four interceptions during the season that go off a receiver's hands, you and your fantasy team are just going to have to live with it I guess. They lost. That's all that matters.
-Tom Casale

One quick comment before my question and it pains me to say this, because I'm a diehard Patriots fan. It's pretty obvious that we can't match up with the better teams in the league this year. We will probably win the AFC Least errr East by default because everyone else in the division stinks. But I have a bad feeling that we will get dismantled in the playoffs unless something miraculous happens. Now for my question: It seems that while we had injuries the past two years, the one constant was Rodney Harrison. He seems to have been the one guy that was irreplaceable. Maybe if he had not been injured this year, we would still be able to compete with some of the better teams because he was the glue that held the secondary and quite possibly the whole defense together. What do you guys think?Nick Johnson

Unfortunately, I think your bad feeling is the right feeling. Let's hope we are both wrong. As for Harrison, I think you are dead on. It looks like other than Brady, he was the one guy the Patriots couldn't afford to lose. His leadership on and off the field just can't be replaced. Now, with all their other problems they've had this season, I'm not sure how much better the team would be with Harrison but I do think he could have made some kind of difference. Especially against the NFL's top tight ends who have killed the Patriots all year. We all knew the loss of Harrison would be big but now that it's almost three months after his injury, losing Harrison looks to be the one thing this defense just can't overcome. You always have a better chance against any team with a player like Harrison in the lineup.
-Tom Casale

The Patriots have a significantly different team this year than previous years. Why? It seems like the Patriots let too many people good players leave to other teams; put most of it's money in one man, the quarterback. Injuries have something to do with it as well but letting Ty Law go may not have been the best thing to do. Letting other Veteran linebackers go like Roman Phifer go may not have been the best thing to do. Right now, it seems like "it's the quarterback show". The QB is passing all of these yards is emulating a Dan Marino of sorts. If a team has a person that throws the ball but the defense is no good, teams don't win. Look at the Chicago Bears right now. No all-stars, just hard playing football, like the Pats have been in the last few years. People think that it's all about the QB. The owners and the coaches have to tell the media and fans "NO, NO, NO."Jason Quail

Man, this e-mail really chaps by behind. Are you kidding me with this crap? Now, let me say that I don't think this is the opinion of 99 percent of Patriots fans out there but this kind of garbage is why Boston fans get a bad rap. The last few years? I'm pretty sure that same quarterback had something to do with the team's three Super Bowl titles. Ty Law was coming off a serious injury and Roman Phifer's career is over with. You want those guys instead of Tom Brady? The hardest thing to do in the NFL is solidify the quarterback position. There are a lot of other teams out there who would love to have Brady. The Colts put a lot of money into their quarterback. How do you think they feel right about now? I love how you mentioned the Bears. How many Super Bowls have they won recently? Brady isn't passing for all these yards because he wants to, it's because he has to. What do you think is going on here? Brady went up to Belichick and said, "You know what? I'm really sick of winning Super Bowls. I think I would rather lose and just pad my stats from now on." I'm sorry to be abrasive but this is by far the most comical e-mail I have received in my three months with the team. From now on the Patriots will use your approach. Cut guys like Brady, Bruschi and Seymour and have a whole team full of Heath Evans, Hank Poteat and Michael Stones. Maybe they can even go out and sign Heath Shuler to be their quarterback. I'm sure the Super Bowls will just pile up with a bunch of non all-stars like that.
*-Tom Casale

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