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Ask PFW: 'Tis the season

I'm looking at the Giants and Colts, respectfully and I can't help but to think of the Pats need of a dominant pass rusher(s). The Giants have Pierre-Paul, Tuck, Umenyiora and Kiwanuka and the Colts have Freeney Mathis, and Hughes, while the Pats have no one worth mentioning. If the Pats had the caliber of pass rushers the Colts and Giants, I think they could make another run at going undefeated? Your comments would be appreciated.
Mel Buford

As I've said all offseason and season long, in my mind the pass rush remains the biggest hole on the Patriots roster. I think the team will work again to address it next offseason through the draft. But that won't help this team right now, and I do think New England is capable of winning as the team is currently constituted. While the pass rush hasn't been great, or even consistent, it has shown up a few times at key times. Jermaine Cunningham disrupted Peyton Manning's final throw against the Colts. Tully Banta-Cain got to Matt Flynn on Sunday, one of five New England sacks on the night. Much like the defense as a whole this season, if the pass rush can be timely it can be good enough. And please stop comparing it to the talent on other rosters, as you'll drive yourself nuts. Using your logic, how many teams could say that if they just had a quarterback like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning they could win the Super Bowl or be going undefeated? Take this team for what it is. And it's good enough to win this year. We'll worry about the rest after this season is over.
Andy Hart

Someone had to do it--- referring to him as the Law Firm was not exactly respectful- so I took it upon myself to correct that - from this day forward, no more law firm-- BenJ, BenJ-- he's our hero!!
John Connors

As is usually the case, I don't get it. I've always thought the Law Firm was a decent nickname. How 'bout now we just call him Lead, as in lead back. I don't think he'd be offended by that. (By the way, I enjoy your use of dashes. But could you explain to me what calls for a single, double and triple dash?)
Andy Hart

Considering how well the Patriots offense has been playing as of late, do you see the Pats keeping with this style and the receiver core they have, or do you think that they might go after another wide receiver option in the offseason to give the team what they lost when Moss left. I heard Larry Fitzgerald wants out of Arizona and Steve Smith is mostly always available from the Panthers?
John Conway

I think the receiver position could be a target to upgrade this offseason. While the offense has looked pretty impressive over the last month, it still lacks a deep threat. Brandon Tate has yet to do much in that role and hasn't really shown signs he'll do so down the road. This draft should be well stocked with big-bodied, downfield threats. With extra picks in each of the first three rounds I think the Patriots might kick the tires on those options. I'd love to see Larry Fitzgerald in a Patriots uniform and if he's shopped by Arizona I would think Bill Belichick would at least do his due diligence. Is that too much to ask for as a Patriots fan? Probably. But keep dreaming. No one thought the team would ever get Randy Moss and ended up getting three-plus great years out of him. Stranger things have happened. But the bottom line is that there will likely have to be some additions to the wide receiver spot next season as getting by with Wes Welker and Deion Branch with little depth behind them may not be a great game plan. It's working now, but the team could do better with an offseason to work on it.
Andy Hart

It would seem that NFL franchises and/or the league might have contingency plans in place should a team's stadium become unavailable for some reason. But after the Minnesota incident, it was clear that Minnesota nor the league has any such plans in place. Do the Patriots have back-up plans in the event Gillette Stadium became unavailable?
Ed Ayres

I don't have a definitive answer for you, Ed. I passed your question along to the Patriots PR department but did not receive a response. My guess is that most teams would have to scramble if their home stadium was not suitable for a game. New England could look at Boston College as a smaller, last-minute option. Otherwise maybe it would have to look to another pro facility, as was the case with Minnesota. But these situations don't come up too often, so I wouldn't worry too much about it. Not sure the teams themselves spend much time planning for it either.
Andy Hart

Hi Guys-I can't remember when Welker's contract is up. Is it the end of this season? Also, I'm sure you answered this in a previous issue, but can you also tell me when Belichick's is up too? Great paper!!!
John Holmes

What up, Holmes? No other jokes to open this one, this is a family paper/web site. I'm biting my tongue, as well as my typing fingers. Welker is currently under contract through 2011, with a salary set for next year at $2.15 million. That's the highest salary of his five seasons in New England. Clearly there will have to be some discussion this offseason (depending on the CBA situation) about a possible extension. Now that he's pretty much proven himself healthy and productive, my guess is Welker is/will be looking for a nice (read: lucrative) extension. As for Belichick, his salary and contract are a highly-guarded secret that few people know about. It generally stays between Belichick and Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Forbes reported this offseason that Belichick earns $7.5 million a year. And ESPN reported back in 2007 that he'd signed an extension that ran through "at least" the 2013 season. That's about all I can offer up at this point.
Andy Hart

Hello AskPFW: My question has to do with one of New England's surprise success stories this year: Danny Woodhead. Do you think Danny Woodhead is talented enough to be the featured running back in New England? He's putting up some impressive numbers, including 5.2 yards per rush, 11.2 yards per catch and four touchdowns. Woodhead's small stature seems to come up frequently but does this matter so much? Ray Rice and Maurice Jones-Drew are the same size (or smaller) than Danny Woodhead and they do pretty well. I'm not suggesting that New England should switch to a 'featured back' approach, or that The Law Firm isn't up to that task. (It's hard to imagine much that would improve upon New England's already great success this year.) I mean the question more from the standpoint of Woodhead's talent. Do you think he's good enough to be an "every down" back, if New England ever went that route? Or do you see him staying in more of a "situational" role? Thanks.Ryan Pasquini

I don't think Woodhead could be an every-down back. To clarify, he's much smaller than both Rice and Jones-Drew. Woodhead is generously listed at 5-8, 195. Rice is 5-8, 212 and Jones-Drew is 5-7, 208. Having seen all three up close, the latter two are much thicker and more built than Woodhead. With guys that short an extra 15 or 20 pounds of packed on muscle is a big difference. I don't think Woodhead could take the pounding of 200 or 300 carries. He makes his money running out of passing situations, using his lateral quickness to make people look bad. I don't think he'd be able to do that on first down, running between the tackles. I like Woodhead in the role he's in and think you'd see diminishing returns if you tried to expand on that role too much.
Andy Hart

Saw and heard good things about Rich Ohrnberger, but haven't seen him recently. Is he still on the roster? What does his future look like???
Marcelo Guevaraara

Ohrnberger is on the roster, although he's been inactive each week since his joined the team off the practice squad. The former fourth-round pick has done a nice job putting on weight and muscle in his year-plus in New England. Given the uncertain future of the team's veteran players at guard – Stephen Neal is hurt again and was considering retirement last winter, while Logan Mankins will be a free agent – Ohrnberger could be in the mix next summer. I think he's a pretty smart, athletic player and if he can continue to get bigger and stronger while working in the background, who knows what his future holds? We'll see, but I'm not quite ready to give up on him yet in the Dante Scarnecchia-led offensive line development program.
Andy Hart

Paul, you seem confident that Steve Neal will be back next season and that you can count on him. With his history of injury and his thoughts of retiring this past offseason, what are you basing it on? I would think that O line is a need, with Neal and Mankins possible losses as well as Light's contract expiring....
Edward Boyce

I'm taking the questions this week, so I'll pretend you care what I have to say and aren't only looking for the wise words of PFW sage Paul Perillo. I think Neal is a very consistent player. While you have to be ready for him to miss somewhere between four and eight games a year due to injury, when he's on the field he's a very good player. If he wants to come back, and he recently said he's rehabbing his shoulder with that intention, then I'd take him. You have to prepare for him to be hurt with a solid backup, but given Dan Connolly's work of late that hasn't been an issue. And if Mankins does leave via free agency, then I really think you need to try to keep Neal for another year so you don't blow up two guard spots. Either way, I think the Patriots will be on the lookout for offensive line help this offseason, especially on the interior line. In an ideal world New England will re-sign Mankins, keep Neal and continue to groom Connolly. But it isn't always an ideal world. So I wouldn't be surprised to see the addition of a guard/center type in the first couple rounds of the draft come April. Tackle will also likely be an issue with Light playing out his final year under contract. The line could be in quite a state of transition next summer and fall. That's why I'd like to hold on to both Neal and Mankins as long as I can.
Andy Hart

I know everyone is saying Randy Moss has lost his speed and isn't what he was, but I see two things, firstly everyone said the same when he was in Oakland and he went to NE and proved them wrong, and in week 2 versus the Jets, he made that terrific one-handed grab in the end zone. I believe he still has something but he became disgruntled at being double teamed and Brady throwing to open receivers, and he just felt left out and stopped trying, so he was traded and now he is at a team he doesn't want to be so he's not trying like with the Raiders. In the offseason, I think he is worth a try for a cheap salary for one year. Maybe reuniting him with Brady might reignite his passion and his burners. I know our offense has evolved into a possibly great offense, but imagine next year, maybe 5-10 plays to include a potentially reinvigorated Moss, to open the D even more. What do you think, is he worth a go at a good price?
Tim Hart

This is an interesting question considering there was plenty of speculation that Moss could return to New England if he'd cleared waivers after being cut by Minnesota. My gut tells me that the Moss era is over for the Patriots. The biggest issue may be that he doesn't have the downfield playmaking ability anymore. Beyond losing a step, it just doesn't seem like he goes up and gets the football like he did back in 2007. Plus, he's not worth the trouble of having to deal with his personality off the field and the way he might adversely affect young players. With all that said, we heard nothing but good things from both parties when he left the Patriots earlier this season. So maybe the team would consider him. I doubt it. New England needs a developing deep threat at this point, not an aging one.
Andy Hart

Hey guys. I realize it is still early but I am wondering about Devin McCourty. He is going to be a star! Will the Patriots let him walk like so many other good corners drafted or will they re-do his contract to keep him around?
Tim Bartlett

Holy early contract renegotiation Bart-man! And I thought that Darrelle Revis was looking for money early. McCourty still has four years left on his deal. A lot could happen in that time. Why would you want to just tear it up now? Let the man prove himself for a couple years before we anoint him worthy of a new deal. While there is always a chance that he gets a little tweak to his deal, as Jerod Mayo did early in his career, I don't think you'll see McCourty get a significant new contract for a few years.
Andy Hart

Can you please tell me what brand of winter face protection Tom Brady and other players were wearing under their helmets during the Chicago Bears game? The brand, material and where can one purchase the protection. Looked really warm and would love to know where I could purchase it. Thanks. GO Pats!!
Dennis Pires

Brady has been wearing a wet suit top for cold weather games over the last few years. I can't tell you what brand it is, but he raves about how warm and comfortable it keeps him. So you might want to check out a local dive shop if you want to dress for the cold weather like your favorite quarterback.
Andy Hart

Submitted prior to the packers game Do you think Tom Brady is playing better than he ever has right now?
*Josh Strzeszkowski

*I'm answering this after the Packers game. Brady continued his streak of seven games with at least two touchdowns and no interceptions. It wasn't as good as it was against the Bears or Jets, but No. 12 is clearly having a great year. Considering all the uncertainty he's had to deal with in terms of all his young and changing weapons, and considering the leadership he's had to show off the field, I do think this is the best season of Brady's career. The numbers aren't quite where they were in 2007, but he is leading the league in TD passes and putting up pretty impressive stats. He's back scanning the field and making accurate, timely, perfect throws. He's been in the zone of late and it's been fun to watch.
Andy Hart

Where's Taylor Price. I thought he would contribute this year.
Peter O'Connell

Price has been inactive all season. I spoke with him extensively for a recent PFW story, and he's treating this as a redshirt year right now. He's working hard and trying to lay the foundation for it to pay off down the road. He doesn't come from a very sophisticates college offense at Ohio, so I think that has hurt his transition to the pros. He also wasn't allowed to join the team as soon as the other rookies, due to the late graduation at his school. Put it all together and I think he has been behind in his development all season. Aside from a nice first week of camp, he admitted the process has been a bit of a struggle. I like his set of skills and still think he might be a contributor for the Patriots, but it's looking like that will have to wait for next season.
Andy Hart

Congrats to coach BB for becoming the tenth most game winning coach in the NFL history. Does he have a shot at number one?Seth G.

Belichick is currently at 175 wins, including postseason, ranking 10th on the all time list. But Don Shula's record is 347 wins. That's a long way to go. If Belichick averaged 12 wins a year, he'd need at least 14 more seasons to reach the mark. That's a lot considering he's only in his 16th season as a head coach and hasn't averaged 12 wins through those first 15 years.
Andy Hart

Any nicknames for Dan Connolly yet? How about: Devin Hefster?? Anyone?
Hermey The Great

I like it. I'll poke around the locker room and see if Connolly has a nickname, but none that I know of at this point
Andy Hart

Why does Julian Edelman continue to be activated on game day? Welker can return punts and the two passes I've seen to Edelman all season clanked off his hands. He's only caught 4 passes for 14 yards all season, so why not deactivate him and thrown Taylor Price into the mix?
Sam Frankel

Edelman has done a nice job on punts this season, a role that I don't think the team wants to have to leave to Welker on a weekly basis. Right now Edelman is simply a depth guy at receiver. I know he's had a couple bad drops. But Price hasn't proven himself ready to be active on game day, doesn't have the same punt return ability and probably doesn't know the offense as well as Edelman at this point. I think Edelman's ability on punt returns is enough reason to keep him active each week, and I think his being an insurance policy at receiver is a bonus at this point. Don't be so down on No. 11.
Andy Hart

Why can't you run the 2 minute offense almost every play or when you know that they have the right defensive personal to your liking?
Chong Her

You can run the two-minute offense any time you want. But sometimes it comes at diminishing returns. It can tire out on offense like it tires out a defense. It limits you to the personnel you have on the field, much like it does for the defense. It also is dangerous for your defense. New England's defense has struggled enough at times this season, that would only get worse if the offense had a couple three-and-outs in hurry-up mode and failed to take much time off the clock. I like Tom Brady in the no-huddle and think it's something the Patriots should and do use pretty much every game. But given the makeup of the team, considering the different personnel groupings it likes to use on offense and the current state of the defense, I don't think you want to be going to the no-huddle too often. At that point it could hurt your chances of winning more than helping them.
Andy Hart

Hey, did you guys see the awesome hit I put on my teammate McCourty? I completely took him out of the play with 1 hit. Now, had I taken the right angle and gone for the tackle on the Packers receiver, I might have been able to prevent the touchdown. But that's not gonna make ESPN highlights. So, my question is ... should I start asking for a raise or pack my bags cuz I'm just too good for this team?
Brandon Meriweather

Meriweather is drawing a lot of heat from New England fans this week after his poor play that led to a 66-yard touchdown. The fact is that he did take a bad angle on the play and did knock McCourty off stride, keeping him from making a possible tackle that would have minimized the damage. Meriweather's playing time has been up and down at times this season as a rotational guy in various personnel packages from week to week. As a fourth-year player, coming off a questionable Pro Bowl trip last winter, he hasn't developed into the guy fans thought they were getting with a first-round pick in 2007. He continues to struggle with his tackling, his angles, his assignments and simply seems to lack good football instincts. Put it all together and, to answer your question Brandon, I think there is a better chance that Meriweather is much closer to the end of his career in New England than he is to a raise or a contract extension. But like so many of these questions that's a topic more for the offseason than for right now.
Andy Hart

I am listening to the coach BB postgame interviews and reading the other coaches interviews, and I notice how much more detailed questions and answers they provide. Why is our press asking so many meaningless questions?
Ed Surkin

I guess we're just lame. Don't know what to tell you. It seems to me that the media asks Belichick a lot of questions in a lot of different ways. He doesn't always answer those questions, but that's his job. He's in the business of collecting information, as they say, and not giving it out. And he does that better than anyone in the game. I've been to press conferences for other teams and in other cities. I never noticed a big difference between the questions being asked. There is a huge difference with how some coaches answer questions, though. Belichick has his own style and approach to press conferences and I personally think that the media in New England does as good a job as possible trying to do its job. Sorry you don't agree. For the record, why don't you email us in the questions that you want answered and maybe we can try to get them to Coach Belichick.
Andy Hart

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