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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Tue Apr 23 - 02:00 PM | Wed Apr 24 - 11:55 AM

Ask PFW: Trapped up in Cleveland

After Sunday's dominant, dismal and embarrassing loss in Cleveland the Patriots head into what might be the biggest two-game challenge of the year. New England heads to Pittsburgh before hosting the Colts.

What a difference a game makes! Suddenly it went from "this team can win any game" to "this team can lose any game." I always felt it would be a dog fight into the playoffs, and it still is. Would you agree?
Ed Tut

I came into 2010 saying this would be a roller coaster season and I think we experienced the extreme, 100 mph free-fall drop on Sunday in Cleveland. The first two months had more ups than downs, but the latest down was the lowest of the low. No doubt there are more ups and downs on the horizon – hence the roller coaster. It's not just the young, inexperienced Patriots, though, it's the NFL as a whole. It's cliché but true, this season just about any team can win any game on any given Sunday (or Monday, Thursday and Saturday as we get late in the season and the league expands its broadcast footprint). At 6-2 the Patriots are still very much on the road toward a postseason berth. But it won't be easy. They'll have to earn it. They have plenty to work on this week to ensure that Sunday's dismal defeat doesn't turn into a losing streak.
Andy Hart

Hey guys, I really enjoy reading your column every week. My question is about Darius Butler. His level of play was definitely sub-par the first two games of the season and it appears he found his way in BB's doghouse. Fortunately, Arrington has been very solid in Butler's absence. Is Arrington's emergence to blame for Butler's bench warming heroics? Has Butler just been under-performing in practice? Or would you speculate that BB is just frustrated with Butler's woeful performances early in the season and has no intention, barring injury to the defensive backfield, to put Butler on the field? Whatever insight you can provide is greatly appreciated! I hope to see plenty of other Pats fans at the game in Pittsburgh on Sunday night. GO PATS!
Jake Ruff

I don't have a lot of information to go on with Butler's falling from the lineup, so I'll just give you my theory. Clearly he was flat-out benched after his play against the Jets. That was about not making plays on the ball and doing what he needed to do as a professional. Beyond that, though, I think Arrington's physical style might be more to the coaching staff's liking on defense. He's a stocky player who likes to hit, against both the run and pass. He's been up and down in his coverage, but I think his physical style give him the nod over Butler right now. He fits in with the young, swarming, physical defense that I think the Patriots are trying to build. And I'm not sure that Butler fits that mold as a more athletic, seemingly finesse-based cover corner. Again, that's just my own made-up theory with very little to base it on other than observation from afar.
Andy Hart

I'm going to back off from the probable thousands of emails you guys are getting about our loss on Sunday. What's peeving me off right now is I watched the Sunday night game from this week (Dallas @ GB) and watched Clay Matthews destroy the Cowboys on multiple occasions. Why didn't we grab this guy in the draft 2 years ago?
Mark V-dizzle

I've answered this question before, but I'll give it another shot. I'm not sure the Patriots thought that Matthews was a good first-round value as an OLB for the Patriots 3-4. The Packers defense is a little different than the Patriots. He's clearly a good NFL pass rusher, but I don't know that he'd be a great run player for the Patriots purposes. I also have to admit that I didn't think there was any chance that Matthews would be this good an NFL player. I thought he was an overrated special teamer coming into the draft. He's clearly much more than that when it comes to the pass rush. I was wrong. Maybe the Patriots were, too. Or, maybe Matthews would not have fit quite as well in the Patriots scheme as he has for Dom Capers in Green Bay.
Andy Hart

Hi guys. In a very embarrassing loss I thought that Hernandez looked really good, especially on the first TD, jumping up to grab a high pass from Brady. The O-line also gave Brady a lot of time. But what do you think the team as a whole needs to do to beat Pittsburgh? Clearly stop dropping balls would be good, but that can't be all. Thanks a lot and continue the great work guys!
Pierre Steenblik

I think the keys in Pittsburgh are to stop the run up front on defense and find some consistency in the passing game on offense. Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and company were pushed around and run over by Peyton Hillis and the Browns. That can't happen against a Steelers team that wants to run and has a great running back in Rashard Mendenhall, but also has some injuries/moving parts on a suspect offensive line. As for the offense, Tom Brady needs to be a bit more accurate. Wes Welker and the receivers must do a better job getting off the line, getting open and catching the football. It sounds like a lot, but I don't expect the Patriots to come out anywhere near as flat this week as they did in Cleveland. As many of them said postgame, they got a wakeup call at the hands of the Browns. Now we'll see if they're ready and talented enough for the challenge of going into a primetime game in Pittsburgh and beating the Steelers. It's another tough test in a season full of them for this young team.
Andy Hart

In the Browns game, both teams kicked off short intentionally many times and in both directions. Why was this?Chris Noble

For the Browns, I think it was clearly a game plan decision to keep the ball away from Brandon Tate and avoid the big plays by kicking it to less athletic guys like Rob Gronkowski, Alge Crumpler and Dan Connolly. For the Patriots I think it had to do with Stephen Gostkowski being hurt and unable to do much more than pop it up on his final kickoff attempt before leaving the game. Then, I think Wes Welker just did the best he could as the fill-in kicker. So it was a decision for the Browns and special teams coach Brad Seely. It was just circumstantial for the Patriots.
Andy Hart

Hi guys. I knew we would struggle on D, because we are so young there. However, the offense has been slow. I know we lost [Randy] Moss, and that didn't help. Brady's plays in particular this season thus far have been less than good. I thought he was worse than last year. Is that a fair statement?
Danny Austin

I think Brady has been OK this year. He hasn't been at his best, but I think that's more to do with what he's working with than what he's doing. Sure he was a little off-target on Sunday. But he's also working with three new tight ends, including two rookies. His top receiver and favorite target is still coming back from major knee surgery and admittedly not near 100 percent. His new/old favorite target, Deion Branch, has a hamstring injury, has only been back to the team a couple weeks and isn't the guy he once was. He doesn't have a deep threat. He doesn't have a single receiver that's a sure, completely known commodity at this point. I do think trading Moss has set the passing game back a bit as these smaller, underneath receivers learn to deal with a lot more attention from opposing defenses and less room to work. Maybe I'm making excuses. Maybe I'm just pointing out the facts.
Andy Hart

Maybe you all can help me. I hate to sound negative, but do you feel we are good enough to compete at an elite level with the current wide receivers? I know that Welker is an All Pro, but that is when Moss is taking the double teams. Having taken Moss away, he turns into an average receiver. Tate, has speed, but there isn't a team in the league threatened by him. While I was excited to see Branch back, he has obviously lost a step. Perhaps his current injury is to blame, because I was one of the biggest applauders of his effort against the Ravens. The tight ends are great, but it seems as though we are very average (albeit, young) on offense, and that is a shame when you have someone like Brady at the helm. Do you see much chance for the current receiving corps, or is what we see what we can expect. I was not able to watch the game as it wasn't aired in the mid-Atlantic region, but the stat lines don't seem to automatically refute my concerns. Thanks for helping out the out-of-staters!Chas Ackers

As I said in the previous answer, the passing game is a post-Moss work in progress right now. Receivers are learning what life after Moss is like, with more attention given to the remaining pass catchers and no one, as you alluded to, who puts deep-ball fear into opposing defenses. Do I expect it to get better? I'll answer that with a weak yes. Remember when Brady finally got rolling with Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney in 2006? Why can't that happen again? I like the tight ends and think they'll only get better. I'm not as confident in the health/improvement for Branch and Welker this season. They may be what they are going to be at this point, at least for 2010. Tate is still the wild card in my mind for this offense. If he can be more productive in the passing game, especially stretching the field on occasion, I think it would be huge for the group as a whole. I'm just not overly confident that's going to happen.
Andy Hart

No wonder BB doesn't want to talk to the local media much. This bunch of football "gurus" started down on the team, then hyped it up to the SB contender and now tell the fans to calm down. Get real people, cause we fans are.
Sam Felling

You're the best! Although, I guess you weren't one of those who sent in expletive-laced emails calling for Bill Belichick's firing. And also I won't tell you that I was the guy who worried about last week being a trap game or the guy who said from the first game this season that we were in for a roller coaster ride. I'll just say it again, you're the best! Us "gurus" are morons. Although I think that's the first time I've ever been labeled a guru.
Andy Hart

Tom Brady has been embarrassing. The media lets him slide but his last 2 years have been sub par. More like Kerry Collins. Is Brady done?
Craig Fricke

Another one of those level headed fans that Sam Felling was referring to. No reactions here, not like with the "gurus" in the media! What the Fricke are you talking about, Craig? No, Brady is not done. He's still one of the best quarterbacks in the game, despite lacking any semblance of an elite group of receivers right now. His best option these days is a fourth-round rookie tight end. Maybe that has something to do with why the offense is dragging its feet a bit. Brady has the sixth-best passer rating in the NFL at 95.7. He's tied for sixth in touchdowns, has just four interceptions and is completing 63.6 percent of his passers. He hasn't been exactly breaking records, but he has a young, inexperienced team in playoff contention. Before last week, I actually thought he was the leading candidate for MVP. We'll see if that extends to the end of the season. But I wouldn't trade him for too many other NFL passers. Maybe only two. One would be Manning, who I think we can now all agree is certainly a great player. The other, and this would be a long term trade, would be for Sam Bradford. I think he's going to be a franchise quarterback for the next decade-plus.
Andy Hart

I know the Patriots mantra is always 1 week at a time and never look beyond the next opponent but could one reason for the awful performance on Sunday be that in actual fact the Pats spent last week preparing for the Steelers & Colts knowing that those games are season makers/breakers?
Mark O'Callaghan

No. While I do think that there was a trap feeling to last weekend's game against Cleveland, that's something that affects players on an individual basis. I don't think there is any chance that as a coaching staff or team the Patriots were looking past the Browns and preparing for supposedly more difficult, important upcoming games. Maybe I'm nuts, but I just can't see Bill Belichick doing that. Call me a homer, guru or whatever you want. I just can't see that happening.
Andy Hart

I hate to say it, but Hart was right and this was a trap game.... It was too easy to say BB would have the team ready. How do you think the team will respond? How much of the team's offense troubles do you put on Brady? Is it me or were the Browns picking on Mayo?
Phillip Tarbox

Why do you hate to say it? What's up with that? Can't you just give a man his props? (Did I just write props? I probably should never do that again.) the problem with assuming that Belichick would have his team ready is that it assumes that it's within his control. There is only so much a coach can do, after that it's up to each individual player's motivation, preparation and mentality. That's one of the few things that are beyond Belichick's control and it bit his team on Sunday. I think the Patriots will respond with a tough, physical effort this week. I think the team and individual players got a wakeup call. That doesn't mean they'll beat Pittsburgh, but it's a start. Although it would have been hard to take the Steelers lightly regardless of last Sunday's outcome. My thoughts on Brady can be found in the previous few answers, so scroll on up. I don't know if the Browns picked on Mayo, but I thought they did try to focus on him in terms of his importance to the defense. Some Browns talked about that in their blocking schemes and they're game plan. He didn't have his best day against Hillis and the Browns, but the same can be said of every single one of his defensive teammates. Bad day.
Andy Hart

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! I'm guessing that will be the majority of the media/fan reaction. I think you guys are smarter than that though, so here's my question: was the Browns game really that unexpected? I think we have a young team that had lots of initial success; they got cocky and didn't listen to what Belichick was surely preaching this week, and got whooped in return. Hopefully they learn their lesson and this never happens again... but it probably will.
Sean Oxford

Some of us posed that very possibility last week and were laughed at. But I don't know who that could have been. "I think his name rhymes with an immature bodily function.) While I didn't pick the Browns to win, I did think it was a real trap game for the young Patriots. The examples I used were Hernandez and Jermaine Cunningham. These are guys who had a ton of success in college at Florida. They get to the NFL and despite playing for a young, inexperienced team in transition they begin their rookie season at 6-1 as the best team in football. You don't think it's possible they started to feel pretty good about themselves and their team, feeling that football just works this way and success is automatic for the teams they play for? There's no way to prove that did or didn't happen, but it was a clear possibility. And whatever happened, it ended with an ugly loss that the entire team should be able to learn from.
Andy Hart

What has happened to our offense? Tom Terrific is looking more like Terrible Tom, the receivers are dropping passes and we have a horrible running game, What are the chances Bill will actually hire an offensive coordinator and draft some actual talent in the draft this year?
Clarens Jarbath

To continue with the discussion of the offense's struggles, I don't really buy the theory that it has to do with the play calling or the lack of a coordinator in a titular sense. Bill O'Brien is the play caller and essentially the offensive coordinator, even if he doesn't get that title or paycheck. I think the last part of the question is this bigger part of it. The team has spent its highest picks on defense the last few years. I think that could change a bit in 2011. I think the team could put running back and wide receiver near the top of its list of needs heading toward next April with all its extra early picks. A true lead runner and big-play receiver would go a long way toward changing the look of this Brady-led offense and probably make the play calling look better, too!
Andy Hart

Need to get someone that can stretch the field to open up the offense. Let's face it, the midgets and the rookies got stuffed by the Browns. It is going to get worse with the skill level of opponents getting better every week. Who will step up?? Where do we get someone that can do it? Tate can't.
Edward DiBiase

Everyone's got a price…sorry, had to do it. Loved the Million Dollar Man and Virgil. The receiving corps likely is what it is at this point. So if Tate doesn't improve and step up, I'm not sure there are a lot of deep options. Brady will have to learn to maximize his tight ends and underneath receivers. Or, maybe Taylor Price could join the fun on game days. Though he's never going to be Randy Moss, maybe he could add something like the David Givens complementary intermediate role that helped the offense click back in the day along with Branch. So it's up to either Tate or Price to make a late season push or for Brady to simply strap the team on his back and make some good things happen.
Andy Hart

Is there anyone who still thinks that Gronkowski should have been taken in the 1st round? A situational player who drops catches and cannot hold on to the ball. He should have gone after Hernandez.
Dam Rimoff

Yeah, me. I think Gronkowski is going to be a star for the Patriots and one of the team's key offensive players for years to come. Despite what we saw on Sunday, he has very good hands. He may need to get more comfortable in the offense and his route running, but I still have faith that he's going to be a stud tight end for this team. He's the best all-around tight end on the roster right now. He'll be better by the end of the season and star down the road. I thought he was the best tight end in the draft last spring and still believe that today. Thanks for reading and allowing me to go off.
Andy Hart

The good news is that Pats are a fairly even team, good but not great at any position. And may be having Brady and BB is not enough to be a true contender?
Kelly S.

Tedy Bruschi emphasized the Brady and Belichick point last spring at a draft event here at Gillette Stadium. He told the crowd with passion that he never wanted to hear again that it was enough to have the best quarterback and coach. Football is a team sport. Having Belichick and Brady allows the Patriots to remain competitive every year and to not have to waste resources trying to fill those two key spots. But it isn't enough to win championships. You have to surround them with talented playmakers. Sure, Brady and Belichick were key to three Super Bowl titles. But so were Bruschi, Mike Vrable, Ty Law, Richard Seymour, Willie McGinest, Rodney Harrison, Givens, Branch and endless others on both sides of the ball. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a team to win a Super Bowl.
Andy Hart

Coach BB did not state this time that the Pats were outcoached by the Browns, and I wonder if he didn't want to tip anything to Eric Mangini, or he felt that his team was well prepared but just didn't execute.Stan C.

That's a very perceptive observation by my man Stan. Belichick usually does say the team was outcoached and outplayed when it gets manhandled like it was by the Browns. He didn't do that in Cleveland. Why? I have no idea. But it is an interesting observation and your theory, Stan, is certainly a potential answer. I'm not saying it's correct, but it's at least plausible. It's also possible he couldn't stand saying such a thing about his former assistant, with whom he's clearly had a somewhat strained relationship (to put it mildly) with since he left New England. To be fair, though, Belichick did reference being outcoached in his comments the day after the embarrassing loss.
Andy Hart

Is it me, or does Gary Guyton seem a bit sluggish? He's starting to remind me of Eric Alexander.
Steve Poole

Guyton hasn't played as much in 2010, going from starter to sub player. I have noticed him chasing plays and receivers more than I did a year ago. He's supposed to be one of the faster linebackers on the team and maybe in the league. Keep in mind that Guyton missed time with a knee injury in the preseason. Maybe he's still a bit slowed from that. Remember how Jerod Mayo looked last year after returning from his own knee injury? He never looked quite right and seems a bit quicker at full health this season. Maybe his good friend Guyton is in a similar boat this fall.
Andy Hart

Hello PFW. I have a question regarding the release of Al Harris by the Packers. Do you think the Pats would be interested in signing him? He would bring some veteran experience to the defense. Plus I don't think the secondary, and especially Kyle Arrington, can hold consistently, and that's even if the Pats can get pressure, although they've shown they can just hardly any good coverage. What say you all? Thanks!
Chris C.

I don't really think Harris is a good fit in New England and the team's youth movement in the secondary. The 35-year-old veteran is coming off a major knee surgery that had him open the year on PUP. So who knows if he's even at full health in terms of his competitive level of play. Plus, I'd rather the Patriots continue to go with Arrington, Devin McCourty and the young players. Add in the fact that the team released the oft-inactive Terrence Wheatley, seemingly a sign that it's happy with the depth in the secondary, and I don't see Harris as a fit in New England.
Andy Hart

Someone asked if all kickoffs were live balls after 10 yards, my question was somewhat similar: Could you catch your own punt and gain yardage? If a player on the kicking team catches the ball downfield before it hits the ground is that akin to a completed pass?Alex Mack

No. Punts belong to the receiving team. If the punting team touches or catches the ball, the receiving team gets the ball at that spot. Only kickoffs can be recovered by the kicking team after 10 yards, not punts. Different rules.
Andy Hart.

I thought I saw a fair catch on a kickoff into the wind on Sunday. If so, what qualifies for a fair catch on a kickoff and could you fair catch a short kickoff?
Jim Kearns

Lot of kicking questions in recent weeks. You can fair catch a kickoff, of any length. We saw it come into play on Sunday when Rob Gronkowski signaled for a fair catch before a miscommunication with returner Sammy Morris caused the rookie to move away and not catch the ball. Generally you only see fair catches on kickoffs that are short, usually by tight ends, linebackers or linemen that are on the field to block and have no desire to run with the ball after being forced to catch with it. Returners generally would not call for a fair catch on a regular kickoff because you'd be taking the ball somewhere inside the 10-yard line. That's not a smart play that would make any sense. When a guy like Dan Connolly catches it at the 30-yard line that's solid field position and avoids the chance that eh might fumble if he returns it. So, the fair catch is a relatively common call on short kickoffs.
Andy Hart

Is a healthy Fred Taylor really better then BenJarvus right now? So far Green-Ellis is averaging 4.4 yd/carry, Fred hasn't averaged better then that since 07, and hasn't played a full season since '03. To be fair the Law Firm hasn't gone the distance yet either. But he seems to have upside, he's patience, decisive and explosive. Shouldn't we stay with the hot hand?Dylan Berry

I still think that, when healthy, Taylor is the more talented option at running back. Green-Ellis has had some good games and some not so good, like Sunday in Cleveland. I don't know how much upside he has. He has done a nice job on the goal line, with six touchdowns. But he's had too many games where he averages around 2 yards a carry or worse. That's not all his fault, the line is clearly a factor, but it's not great production. Obviously the team has kept Taylor on the active roster because it believes he'll be able to return to health at some point this season and is worth the wait. I would tend to agree with that theory.
Andy Hart

I've asked this question before and have seen others ask the same since...why do the Patriots love (keep) Matt Light? Time and time again when Brady is under pressure or is sacked, it comes from Matt Light's defender. Light is extremely SLOW and any athletic move put on him yields big problems for Brady...yet the Patriots continue to play this lummox week after week. Light looks ridiculous out there as his man constantly gets past him, play after play. I'm sorry, but I don't care who you are or what position you play, there are always others who can step in when someone can't play their position effectively. I cringed each snap last year and I'm cringing again each snap this year. He needs to go. I know PFW is in love with this guy too, but I'll ask anyway. What are your thoughts?
Douglas McCusker

Not sure what you're worse at, Douglas, breaking down games or reading the work of the PFW boys. We've often been critical of Light's work at times over the years and never had him anywhere near the elite in the game, or worth of the All-Pro status he earned in 2007. But he's nowhere near as bad as you paint out, either. He struggles at times with good speed rushers. That's a fact. But he's also had some very good games against very good rushers over his career. He's pretty consistent and you know what you're going to get. That said, he's in the final year of his current contract and likely playing out his final season in New England. Sebastian Vollmer, who I think has struggled more than Light at times this season, is the likely candidate to slide from the right side to protect Tom Brady's blind side next fall. By the way, over the years with Light protecting Brady's valuable backside the MVP passer has often been among the least-sacked in the game. Take that for what it's worth.
Andy Hart

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