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Ask PFW: Turning over the topics

The Patriots are 9-3, riding a three-game winning streak and well positioned for a playoff run. But coming off two straight sloppy, turnover-filled home affairs, confidence isn’t exactly bubbling over in New England.

It's nice to have the O-line locked up for years to come; they seem to be quality NFL players that can continue to grow together. But what about the D-line? They are one of the best in the league right now. What is the contract status of the D-lineman? Didn't the Pats throw $4mil/yr extension at Green recently? What does that set the others at? What would it take to extend Wilfork and Warren? What is your take on this situation?

The key members of the defensive line (starters Richard Seymour, Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork as well as regular rotation guys Jarvis Green and Mike Wright) are all under New England's control through the next few years. Seymour's lucrative extensions runs through 2009, Warren's rookie deal through 2008, Wilfork's rookie deal through 2009, Green's recent extension through 2009 and Wright, as an undrafted free agent, is pretty much tied in for at least the next two years before he's even eligible for free agency. Green's five-year extension signed in the spring of 2005 reportedly topped out at around $18 million including all escalators.
As well as Warren and Wilfork have been playing this season, I think their price tags go up almost on a weekly basis. But neither guy is anywhere near free agency, so there is plenty of time to continue to evaluate their play as well as their potential values on the open market down the road. And since Seymour's highly lucrative extension is relatively short, another potential extension for him would also play into considerations for the other two starters moving forward. If Warren, in particular, continues to improve the way he has over the last season-plus, he might be on the verge of becoming one of the better defensive linemen in the game. That would mean Seymour-type money. But again, those decisions are still more than a year away and will be tied into an ever-increasing salary cap limit. This D-line is good, getting better and under wraps for the foreseeable future. It's a pretty nice position for the team to be in. Of course that's what happens when you hit on your first-round picks. They end up as the foundation of your team and are under contract for enough time to truly watch them develop to their full potential.
Andy Hart

Hi guys. Much has been said about how quiet the crowd has been this year at Gillette Stadium. Since you guys are there with the crowd and the team, do you feel that there is an atmosphere at home that has affected the team's motivational level this year? Artrell Hawkins said he felt flat from the moment he arrived on Sunday morning. Also, how concerned are you about Mike Vrabel this week? I'm certainly no head doctor but when the guy says he doesn't remember anything from the time of the play till the locker room, that's a serious hit.
Linus Kuplast

I'm not too concerned with the team's motivational level. All teams have letdown games. On paper the Lions looked like an easy win. The Patriots were coming off a tough, physical battle against the Bears and a pretty physical week of practice. IF they weren't up for the game, I don't blame the crowd. To some degree it's human nature. I'm more worried about the physical problems – too many turnovers and penalties. Those need to be corrected. I expect they will, but if they aren't the team can be, as a former coach put it, "pumped and jacked" as they want to be, they still won't win. Energy is key but it doesn't overcome all physical mistakes. The turnovers have to end.
I'm not too worried about Vrabel. I know it looked bad and him saying he doesn't remember things is not all that positive either. But the fact that he was left on his own in the locker room without medical observation, addressed the media and talked about the injury makes me believe it was as relatively minor as any brain injury can be.
Andy Hart

Hi guys, I get the feeling that Tom Brady is being hurried/sacked this season more often than in the past few seasons. Do the stats corroborate that? If true, why do you think that is? Also, a few Pats players alluded to "lack of energy and emotion" after the Lions game. I was very surprised to read that. Not sure what the team would do to fix that -- but what could be the reasons for lack of energy/emotion with the players? Thanks.Nagen
Framingham, Mass.

In terms of the lack of energy, see my above answer. It was a tough spot for the Patriots for a variety of reasons and the players are human beings. It happens.
Brady has been sacked 19 times over the first 12 games of 2006. So he's on pace to get sacked 25 times over a 16-game schedule. That would be a career-low, one fewer than the 26 times he was sacked over each of the last two seasons. As for getting hurried/hit even when he's not sacked, that's a bit tougher to gauge. The NFL didn't keep track of quarterback hits in its official gamebooks until this season. But I can tell you that just from watching all of his games as a starting quarterback, I think he's taking less big hits this year than he did a year ago. I thought he took a tremendous, grimace-inducing beating last season. At times I found it remarkable that he was even able to get up. I haven't felt that way too often this fall. So I guess neither the numbers nor my own scouting really back up your feeling. Sorry.
Andy Hart

If two or more teams in the AFC have the same and best records in the AFC, how is it decided what seeds they are?Andreas P.

Instead of my trying to explain the tie breaking procedures, it's probably easier for readers to go to the horse's mouth at
Andy Hart

The 21 points we let up against the Lions was the second most for the season. Do you think this is an anomaly resulting from Martz's schemes or a sign of things to come down the stretch? Also, taking a look at playoff positioning, it looks like we're fairly locked in to the fourth seed. We lose the head-to-head against Indy, we lose the conference tie-breaker against Baltimore (we can't have a better AFC record without having a better overall record), and we are behind SD in both conference and common opponents. Based on their remaining schedules, do you feel we have much chance of passing two of these teams to claim a bye? Who would we be likely to pass and how? Thank you.Jaime B.

I do think, to some degree, the 21 points allowed to Detroit was a little circumstantial. The team didn't really play well in any phase of the team, turned it on when it needed to and won because it had better talent, coaching and feel for winning tight games. If they continue to play that way, we won't have to worry about any tie-breakers or seeding in the AFC. That said, I certainly don't think New England is locked in as the No. 4 seed. The Patriots are currently tied with Baltimore and trail both Indy and San Diego by just a single game in the standings. So with four games to play a lot could potentially happen. Baltimore plays at Kansas City, hosts Cleveland, goes to Pittsburgh and closes out the year with Buffalo. I don't exactly consider that a cakewalk and wouldn't be shocked at a loss or two in there. Indy plays at Jacksonville this week, hosts the Bengals, travels to Houston and finishes with Miami at home. Again, at least two of those games could be losses. And San Diego has upcoming games against Denver and Kansas City at home, travels to Seattle and closes with Arizona. More potential losses. So I don't think anything in the AFC is anywhere near set in stone or will be for a few more weeks. But again, if the Patriots don't start playing better they might be dealing with their own losses and that will render the rest of this seeding discussion moot.
Andy Hart

OK, the Patriots have played 12 games now. Usually that's when you can start to see what kind of football team you have. What do we know about the Pats? The only thing consistent with the team is their inconsistency. They can have great, dominating games (Green Bay, Minnesota) but then follow it up with horrible ones (Jets, Broncos and, yes, Lions). I know the Pats are a respectable 9-3 and will most likely make the playoffs but isn't it a little late in the season to be searching for an identity?
Paul Foster

Normally I'd say it is a bit late in the year to be searching for identity. But in today's NFL landscape I think that just makes the Patriots one of the many flawed teams in the league. There are no real dominant teams out there. This weekend showed that as both Baltimore and Indy lost while the Patriots struggled. Heck, potential playoff teams like Denver are making QB changes and putting in rookie passers. Right now the Patriots are in the midst of a poor stretch of sloppy play that's included eight turnovers in the last two games. If that continues moving forward the team will have an identity – not good a one – and will be watching at home midway through January. But what if this team gets on a roll down the stretch, builds confidence and gets a little healthier? Don't tell me it couldn't win a title in today's NFL. Look at the other good teams out there. San Diego has to come back to win each and every week while squeaking by. Indy can't stop the run and we all know about Manning's collapses in the postseason. Baltimore isn't scoring too many points and averages less than 3.4-yards per carry on the ground. There are simply no great teams destined to play on the first weekend of February in Miami. Like last year -- when Pittsburgh was considered a 7-5 also-ran on a three-game losing streak at this point in the schedule -- this year will be decided by who gets hot at the right time and can carry it through February. Are the Patriots good enough to play like they did last Sunday and keep winning? No. But is there any team the Patriots couldn't beat if they just play a good game? No.
Andy Hart

I can't figure out why this team can't play well at home. The field was a problem earlier in the year and I'll give them a pass for that. As a season ticket holder you can see that the field was a mess. I'll give them a pass for the Jets embarrassing loss. This last performance against the Lions was dreadful. Yes it was a win, but, against a team like that you're supposed to go out and put them away early and coast. The thing I liked least was the fact that many of the players said they came out flat. I can see it on the road but not at home. The Pats at one time were almost unbeatable in Gillette, now they're not. The other disturbing thing was in a few comments they seemed to be looking ahead to the Dolphins game this week. The Pats never used to have a problem with trap games. I ask the smart people at PFW, why do you think they are having so many problems at home and why in particular this year?Joe Smiroldo Jr.

In general this season, aside from Sunday's performance, I think the struggles at home have had a lot to do with the fact that the Patriots played some pretty good teams. Indy, Denver, Chicago and the Jets are all potential playoff teams with some of the better records in the NFL. Those games probably would have been struggles regardless of venue. But last Sunday clearly looked like the Patriots fell into a trap game and barely escaped. The signs were there. But that happens to teams all the time, even if the Patriots were better than that in the past. We have to stop comparing this team to those from the past, including the back-to-back 14-2 teams from 2003-04. This team only has to live up to the current competition in the league. If it does that it can ultimately be successful. If it can't, it won't be successful. I don't often agree with everything Bill Belichick says, but now more than ever what happened last week, last month or last year is irrelevant The Patriots need to play better going forward. That's the bottom line.
Andy Hart

What is the outcome when a team calls for a time out and they don't have one left? Does this call for a delay of game penalty?Sam Farrell

Do you want to know how it is supposed to work or what happened against the Lions? The officials are supposed to ignore the whistle and just keep play moving. But the officials mistakenly blew the whistle against Detroit, stopping play. There is no penalty for trying to call a timeout when a team has no more timeouts at its disposal.
"The rule is real plain," Referee Jeff Triplette said after Sunday's game. "It's in the book. Any excess timeout granted in error outside of two minutes, we don't penalize. We just put them back on the field and let them play on. The only penalty would be if it were a trying to freeze the kicker [situation]. In that situation, there would be a penalty, but that's the rule. That's what I explained to the coaches.
"I think in this situation our guy just granted the timeout in error. So, best to ignore it, best to play on. We granted the timeout in error. We just put them back over the ball and went on. It was our crew mistake for granting the excess timeout in error."
Andy Hart

Hello, I had two questions. First, what happens to the player when put on IR? Finally, when the Pats win the Super Bowl this year will Seau get a ring?
Bill K.

When a player is placed on injured reserve he is lost for the season. He continues to collect his full salary and count toward the team's salary cap, but does not count toward the team's 53-man active roster limit. Depending on the injury and what the team wants, he then generally works to recover from the injury and prepare for his next season. Seau would be in line to receive a Super Bowl ring this season should the Patriots go on to win it all.
Andy Hart

I know it is early, but when will the 2007 schedule be announced? Trying to get a road trip together and organized. Thanks
Herb Degon

The NFL announces the season schedule in the month of April, although there is no exact date set each season for the announcement. This year's schedule was announced last April 6.
Andy Hart

Just wondering what happened to Josh miller, I haven't seen him playing lately?Rob Ciano

Why was Ken Walter punting last week? Is Josh Miller hurt? Is he gone, will he be back or someone else? No offense to Ken Walter but..... Thanks for your time.Deb Lagueux (a dedicated fan in Maine)

Miller was placed on injured reserved on Nov. 24 with a shoulder injury, two days after the team had signed Walter. Miller is under contract through 2008, but reportedly has a roster bonus due next spring. Assuming the injury heals, I think he'll be back as New England's punter next season. In two games since taking over for Miller, Walter has punted five times with a 38.4 average as well as a 38.4 net average. He's yet to record a touchback or have a kick downed inside the 20. As many fans remember, this is Walter's third tour of duty with the Patriots. He had a career year in helping the team through the final 11 games of 2001, but struggled over his next two seasons in New England in 2002 and 2003. He spent 2004 in Seattle but was out of football last season and until he signed with New England in late November.
Andy Hart

I have two questions for you, a general football question and a specific one to the Pats. The first may actually answer the second for me. Question #1 is, what is the difference from the returners point of view between a punt return and a kick return? Question #2 is...why not use Maroney on both since he is such a great kick returner. Thank you in advance and keep up the good work.
Jim Espo

There are different ball skills and return abilities involved in the two roles. A kickoff returner hs more time to catch the ball before the coverage units get down the field. But he has a greater need to work within the return blocking scheme that's called in order to have consistent success. A punt returner has more decisions to make, has greater coverage pressure and then needs to make more happen on his own. He must decide whether or not to catch the ball and then how he's going to beat the first couple guys down who may or may not be blocked. Guys are flying down the field and bearing down on him just as he makes the play. There are also differences in terms of the flight path of the ball through the air and the rotation of the ball. So while the roles seem very similar there are a lot of differences and neither is very easy to do well. Some guys are better suited for one more than the other. Some can do both. And, as many of us have seen, some can't do either very well.
Andy Hart

What is the maximum number of shutouts achieved by the Pats in a single season? What is the NFL record in the Super Bowl season for the number of shutouts recorded by a team?Kalyan Chatrathi

The Patriots record for shutouts in a season is three in 2003. The only other season in which the team recorded more than a single shutout came in 1982 with back-to-back shutouts including the famous 3-0 win over Miami in the Snow Plow game. I believe the league record for shutouts belongs to the 1976 Steelers, a team that had a three-game shutout streak in the middle of the season and recorded five shutouts in its 10 wins on the 14-game season.
Andy Hart

In your opinion where does Drew Bledsoe end up next year? Oakland? Tampa? Minnesota? Do you think he will drop to just a number two or will he just wait until a team has a need?Mark L.

Unless he gets an offer as a starting quarterback, I think Bledsoe will retire at the end of the season. I just don't think he has any interest of hanging around to hold a clipboard and be a back up.
Andy Hart

What do the Patriots three Super Bowl wins under Belichick have in common? The Patriots drafted impact defensive players at the beginning of the year (Seymour '01, Warren '03, Wilfork '04). Call it a useless stat or coincidence if you will, but with two first round picks next year, I'd like to see a young linebacker or defensive back taken with one or both of the picks. What do YOU think the Patriots should do?Jeff H.

I'll call it a useless coincidence. And I do think the Patriots will need to pick up a young playmaker at both linebacker and cornerback in the near future. But there will be plenty of time to break that down this winter. Let's not give up on this season and start looking to the draft just yet.
Andy Hart

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