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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Sun Aug 02 - 12:00 AM | Mon Aug 03 - 11:59 PM

Ask PFW: What the heck just happened?


Alright, you can't say that Matt Cassell's bad quarterbacking didn't screw up the Pats big time. Sure, not many player really had a good game besides maybe Jerod Mayo, but Cassell chucking balls at the ground when he felt some pressure, staying in the pocket for too long, missing a wide-open Ben Watson on 4th-and-goal and deciding to run it up the middle – the team needs someone to count on. I say it's time to put in [Kevin] O'Connell. Look at the success of rookie quarterbacks around the league; I believe he can be like one of them and the team would be secure at that position for years to come.
Luke Berry

The last three games I have noticed a huge mistake that Cassel makes and the Patriots are suffering because of it. Once that pocket closes in on him he tucks the ball like a running back and looks down!!?? Is this something that [Bill] Belichick is noticing on game film? Is Cassel even aware of this mistake? Instead of moving around in the pocket while still "looking up" for a last minute throw, he tucks the ball and looks at the ground!! He is not Michael Vick. If he continues to do this, the Patriots are in serious trouble as we already know. I'm sure it's not as easy as it looks, but I have not seen any improvement on Cassel's part for this part of his playing. He has not shown any signs of trying to improve his pocket presence. I know you're not part of the coaching staff, but you would think there would be somewhat of an improvement on this. I haven;t seen him look up once for a throw when he is in scramble mode.C.D.

Cassel stunk so bad in his appearance against the Dolphins last year they had to pull him and put [Tom] Brady back in. He stunk all preseason. And now as a starter, I know you guys don't like to hear this, but he stinks. He makes slow decisions, takes too many sacks because he doesn't make quick decisions and every other pass he throws further than five yards is a duck. Why not try the rookie or [Matt Gutierrez]? It's not like Cassel is the starter next year anyway. Personally, I hope he's not on the team. He and the boy genius offense coordinator both need to go.
R.L. Flamisch

PFW: OK, where do I begin? Listen, Cassel did not play well Sunday night – particularly in the red zone, which has been his biggest problem since taking over for Brady – but the most glaring deficiency in both of New England's losses has been the lack of a pass rush. Chad Pennington didn't get touched in the loss to Miami and, in his own words, Philip Rivers was "clean all night" on Sunday. With that said, Cassel clearly has some work to do. For starters, he needs to make quicker decisions, because he's overlooking open receivers and taking too many sacks and/or throwing the ball away. He had Heath Evans and Ben Watson open in the end zone on separate plays during New England's fateful red-zone drive at the start of the third quarter Sunday and failed to see either one of them, resulting in a throwaway and a sack – the latter coming on fourth down. At the same time, let's not kid ourselves into believing O'Connell or Gutierrez would be any better in this situation. The ability to see plays develop quickly and make the right reads comes with experience, which O'Connell and Gutierrez do not have, so to suggest they'd be more effective than Cassel at this point is farfetched. If the season gets out of hand and the team has no shot at making the playoffs, then I'd agree with putting O'Connell into the lineup to see what he's made of (particularly because I don't think Cassel is coming back next year), but with a chance to still qualify for the postseason, you can't ditch one quarterback and start from ground zero again with another one in Week 7.
Michael Parente

When will the Pats put in Kevin O'Connell? Cassel isn't showing much improvement. He's indecisive, inaccurate, and he's losing the respect of the team. O'Connell started all four years in college and it seems he would give us the best chance to win. What are your thoughts?Matt Griffin

PFW: I disagree. Just because O'Connell played in college while Cassel didn't doesn't mean he gives the team the best chance to win. Cassel took most – if not all – of the reps with the starting offense during the preseason, so he has more experience working with the Patriots' first-team personnel. O'Connell worked with backups playing against future grocery clerks during those exhibition games, so you have to take his performance with a grain of salt. If you put O'Connell in now, you're starting from scratch again and putting the team at risk of losing games directly because of the inferiority of the quarterback. As of right now, the team is losing games because of its porous defense, not Cassel's struggles. Likewise, while I agree he is indecisive and inaccurate at times, I've seen no evidence to suggest he's lost the respect of his teammates. That's pure speculation at this point. Based on what I've heard in the locker room, they are still behind Cassel 100 percent.
M.P.

I know that Matt [Cassel] is not Tom Brady, but it seems that Josh [McDaniels] is calling a very conservative offensive game plan. Against S.D., that screen pass to the outside was called several times, and it seems that he is not taking many shots down the field – at least to spread the defense. That's probably why we are not running the ball well, because opposing defenses are putting eight guys in the box without worrying much on the deep pass. What's your take on those ideas?Phillip Chicola

PFW: I agree with you to an extent. Clearly, the Patriots have tinkered with the playbook in Brady's absence simply because Cassel is a different quarterback and does not have the same accuracy and pocket presence as Brady. The running backs should be shouldering the load, but they've been a colossal disappointment thus far. Laurence Maroney has had problems staying on the field and hasn't really done much when he's had opportunities to carry the ball. Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan are what they are, which are good, complementary running backs who cannot afford to be overexposed. If I were an opposing defensive coordinator, I, too, would stack the box and force the Patriots to beat me deep until Cassel shows he has the accuracy to stretch the field on a consistent basis. We've seen flashes of brilliance, but not consistency. Until the players on the field start to step up their performance, there's not much McDaniels can do. He has no choice but to be conservative.
M.P.

After a second blowout in three games, coach Bill Belichick is somewhat upbeat in his comments. I agree being harsh with the team is not right, but let's not put any lipstick on the pig either. We are not yet competitive with top teams.Banta Jules

PFW: Lipstick on a pig? Is this Barack Obama? All kidding aside, I, too, was surprised to hear Belichick suggest Sunday's performance wasn't as bad as it looked on the field once the team sat down to watch the game film. My guess is he's saying the rights at this point because there is some concern about the team's morale going forward. This reminds of a situation toward the end of the 2002 season when Titans' running back Eddie George beat the Patriots for 100 yards in a Monday night game in Tennessee. Belichick responded by pointing out George needed a heavy amount of carries to crack the century mark, insinuating his defense's performance wasn't as bad as it appeared. Of course, the bigger issue was the fact the Patriots allowed George to get that many carries in the first place. To me, this is a similar situation where Belichick may be slightly worried about how his team will respond to this loss, so he is choosing his words carefully. My concern – and perhaps he feels the same way – is the problems that occurred Sunday night are the same ones we've seen in other games, which, as you would say, means we can't put "lipstick on a pig."
*M.P. *

Do you think that Tom Brady has a shot at the MVP this year? I mean, if you think about it, Brady NOT playing shows how valuable he is – especially now that he's given other teams a shot at winning, not only against the Pats, but he's also made it possible for other teams to have a shot at the Super Bowl. Brady has my vote for MVP 2008!Nathan F.

PFW: Surely, you jest, but I see your larger point. Brady always has and always will be the most irreplaceable player on this team. I was surprised to hear so many fans predicting 11, 12, even 13 wins in the aftermath of his injury, as if to suggest any quarterback can win in this system. Didn't Patriots' fans spend years rebelling the notion that Brady was nothing more than a system quarterback? As Phil Collins once said, "You don't know what you've got 'til you lose it!" I'm not advocating voting him as the league MVP, but I do think some fans – particularly those outside of New England who haven't watched every game in the past – are starting to realize just how valuable he really is.
M.P.

The Pats' defense is NOT a threat anymore. That secondary is still being torched just like last season. [Jerod] Mayo is their BEST improvement. I know [Bill] Belichick wants longtime, experienced players. Warren Sapp, Jerry Rice have experience, too, but they know when it's time to call it a career. They are the Patriots of "OLD." When will they realize their defense needs that same threat like the Giants, Colts and Eagles?Shawn Robbins

Once again, our great weakness seems to be our defensive backs – especially the corners. I was very excited when Dom Capers was hired to coach the secondary, but now it seems like any improvement is going to be slow in coming. How do you rate the job that Dom is doing so far? Thanks for the info.Ian Kirkwood

PFW: To the first fan, is this the Shawn Robbins I went to high school with? If so, how's it going? If not, welcome aboard, friend! I combined these two emails because they generally speak on the same topic. In regards to last season, I agree the weaknesses on defense were overshadowed by the fact the team scored 30 points a game on a weekly basis, however, the secondary isn't the only problem this year. Where's the pass rush? In both losses, neither opposing quarterback got sacked. In fact, Philip Rivers didn't even get hit on Sunday. You can blame the "old" players all you want, but every player on this defensive line, including Jarvis Green, is younger than 30. Age is not an excuse. Ellis Hobbs is 25. James Sanders is 24. Nickelbacks Jonathan Wilhite and Terrence Wheatley are rookies. Lewis Sanders is 30. Even Deltha O'Neal, who got torched repeatedly Sunday, is still only 31. The only "old" players on defense are Tedy Bruschi (35) and Rodney Harrison (35) and they haven't been the biggest problem. The heat has to full on the defensive line, which needs to win the battles in the trenches in order for the Patriots to put pressure on the opposing quarterback and allow their secondary to make plays in the passing game. Performance is the problem, not age. As for the second question about Capers, he's doing everything he can with the personnel he has at his disposal. If anything, the secondary has played above expectations despite the lack of a pass rush.
M.P.

While I was disappointed with the team's performance in the loss to S.D., I thought Jim Miller should at least get credit for looking like a football player instead of a punter when he tackled [Darren] Sproles on one of the punt returns.
P. Evenson

PFW: You have successfully combined two players into one, and you still have the wrong guy. Jim Miller was a backup quarterback for the Patriots in 2004. I assume you're also referring to Josh Miller, who was New England's punter from 2004 through 2006. The player you are crediting is Chris Hanson, who made a great play to take down Sproles on that punt return against the Chargers, so, in essence, I agree with everything you said. I didn't think the special teams' play was all that bad Sunday. Unfortunately for the Patriots, that's about the only thing that went right. Get your Millers right and lay off the Miller Lights!
M.P.

Where's Randy Moss? I ask where is he because he sure doesn't appear to be showing up to games. It's like he doesn't want to accept any passes unless they are thrown by Tom [Brady]. Matt [Cassel] had some great throws [Sunday] night and the Moss that played last year would've jumped up and got them. This year, I see an "Oh, it didn't land in my arms; too bad," attitude. I have been a die-hard Pats fan since I can remember what football was growing up in Worcester County. I saw many games at Foxboro and some at Gillette and have even gone to other stadiums. Now I live in N.C., with my truck covered in Pats gear and pay extra money to see non-telecast games, so I want to know, "WHERE is Randy Moss??"
Marcia Thompson

PFW: Much to your surprise, Moss is still on the roster. He's the guy wearing No. 81 being double-teamed most of the night or running perfect routes while his quarterback chucks the ball aimlessly off-target. I'm not sure what else Moss could've done Sunday night other than play quarterback himself. Give credit to Quentin Jammer for making two great defensive plays on pass attempts by Cassel. We all expect Moss to make every play because of his tremendous athleticism, but the other guy gets paid, too, and the guy covering him from Sunday night is no slouch himself. Moss actually torched Antonio Cromartie on a post pattern at the start of the third quarter – and Cromartie even admitted it afterward – yet Cassel underthrew the ball horribly and came nowhere close to his intended target. To quote Bob Eucker playing the role of fictitious play-by-play announcer Harry Doyle, "He'll need a rocket up his [rear-end] to catch that one!" Moss isn't the problem.
M.P.

Ok, so did anyone see Dan Koppen getting absolutely man handled on Sunday night? [Nose tackle Jamal] Williams from San Diego was pushing Koppen into the backfield like he was a child. I actually felt bad for him. When the O-Line gets man handled like that, Cassel doesn't have a prayer.Thomas Raymond

PFW: I agree. The offensive line struggled Sunday and has been an issue throughout the season, though I expect things to get slightly better if and when right guard Stephen Neal returns to the lineup. I say "slightly," because Nick Kaczur and Logan Mankins need to do a better job as well. Brady could get by with adequate pass protection because he's an elite quarterback capable of stepping up in the pocket or sidestepping to his right or left to make something out of nothing. Cassel hasn't reached that stage of his development yet. He needs everything else around him to be perfect – as was the case in the Jets' game – to have success. He cannot handle the pocket collapsing, which has been a problem far too many times this season.
*M.P. *

To the scribes: Now that the so-called "best team in the NFL" mailed in a pedestrian effort against a 1-3 Browns team – and fell from the ranks of the unbeaten – do the Patriots panic after a beatdown from an inspired Chargers team? Or, do they realize that the NFL is populated by many very talented football teams and, on any given week (Roger Goodell will love me for this), a top team can be beaten. Should the Patriots rush to a change at quarterback (if they can), or just let the season play out and do the best job they can? If the defense wakes up, they are still a playoff team at the least.
Dick Goodwin

PFW: I've been saying this along. The AFC is weak this year with no clear-cut favorite. If the one-dimensional Tennessee Titans and the not-ready-for-primetime Buffalo Bills are truly the best teams in the conference, then the Patriots still have a chance. Keep in mind the Titans are getting it done with Kerry Collins at quarterback while Bills' quarterback Trent Edwards is trying to bounce back from a concussion. San Diego looked great on Sunday night, but let's see them put together back-to-back games of that caliber before we rush to judgment. The same goes for the Indianapolis Colts, who finally got it together last weekend against Baltimore. Until anyone other than Tennessee or Buffalo shows an ounce of consistency, I wouldn't write off the Patriots yet. Granted, they need to improve in a lot of areas, but they are still 3-2 and trail the first-place Bills by one game in the AFC East. Anyone jumping off the bridge at thus point is foolish. As for switching quarterbacks, I refuse to entertain that thought unless the team falls out of the playoff race, which mathematically hasn't happened yet.
M.P.

What was the issue with [Josh] McDaniels yelling at [Bill] Belichick on the way to the locker room at halftime???Robert Allen

PFW: Belichick touched upon this subject during today's conference call and said, "We were talking about the first half, some things we wanted to talk about at halftime and how we wanted to approach the second half. That's exactly what it is." My guess is McDaniels was yelling because it was too loud on the field to be heard at a normal volume. I didn't see anything from that clip that suggests the two were arguing.
M.P.

Back in the late '80s and early '90s my daughter was a cheerleader for the Midlothian, Il., Wildcats junior football team. There was a terrific runner, I thought his first name was Rodney. Could that be Rodney Harrison?Nancy Calcaterra

PFW: Possibly. Harrison, who grew up in Chicago, played for the Midlothian Wildcats, the Marian Catholic High School Spartans and the Western Illinois University Leathernecks before the San Diego Chargers selected him in the fifth round of the 1994 NFL draft. Hopefully, you took some pictures, because those would make for excellent keepsakes down the road!
M.P.

In what year did the Boston Patriots become the New England Patriots?Pauline Powers

PFW: The Boston Patriots were renamed the New England Patriots on March 22, 1971, which was 13 months after the AFL and NFL announced their merger and six months after official groundbreaking ceremonies for Schaefer Stadium began in Foxboro. The Patriots selected Foxboro as their new playing site in April of 1970.
M.P.

One has to expect diminished results on offense and defense after losing two players – [Asante] Samuel being an elite corner and [Tom] Brady as an elite quarterback, but how much do the losses at those positions affect the results in the trenches? I feel the Pats are off there, too.James Siegel

PFW: Amen, brother. While having Samuel now would certainly be an upgrade over Deltha O'Neal, who's to say opposing teams simply wouldn't throw to the other side of the field and pick on Ellis Hobbs? And while having Brady would certainly help the offense get off to a better start, it's impossible to tell whether or not the defense would benefit from his production. Yes, it worked last year, but the offensive and defensive lines were far more productive then, too. The problem, as you pointed out, is up front – on both sides of the ball. The Patriots aren't protecting Cassel and they're not putting enough pressure on the opposing quarterback. Games are won and lost in the trenches and the Patriots have come up short thus far.
M.P.

As bad as a game the Patriots had against the Chargers, I look at this as a learning experience for Matt Cassel. The common theme I see is getting lit up in the secondary. My question is: Why doesn't Bill Belichick put our rookie corners in the backfield for some playing time, especially during these blowouts? Deltha O'Neal doesn't appear to be answer.
Greg Bourdon

PFW: Terrence Wheatley got burned on Philip Rivers' 59-yard bomb to Vincent Jackson at the start of the third quarter, so let's not assume the rookie cornerbacks would be that much better if they got the majority of the playing time. I, too, have been surprised by Wheatley's inactivity on defense, but Sunday's game proved he still has a lot to learn. He's a rookie and he's going to make mistakes. The same goes for Jonathan Wilhite. They'll get more playing time as the season progresses – assuming they earn it – but they're not going to turn into Ty Law and Tyrone Poole overnight.
M.P.

I know that Bill Belichick is the defensive genius, but I've read several articles arguing that we miss Asante [Samuel] and that Belichick has not been able to adjust for his departure. Having said that, I've noticed that we've played a lot of man-to-man on the outside, with Rodney also man on the tight end or the slot receiver, but considering that our secondary is still a patchwork secondary, isn't it a bit risky to play man coverage (as shown in the game against S.D.)? What can we do schematically to overcome those issues?Phillip Chicola

PFW: I agree 100 percent. I noticed on two of those long pass plays how Harrison was playing close to the line of scrimmage with only one safety (James Sanders) deep. Until the cornerbacks – particularly Deltha O'Neal – prove they can cover elite (or even adequate) receivers 1-on-1, the Patriots may need to tone down the aggressiveness in their game plan. Then again, you can't blame them for looking for more help with the pass rush considering the front seven isn't getting the job done. My prerogative would be to play it safe and perhaps utilize more Cover 2 assuming their current personnel can make the adjustment.
M.P.

It seems to me that you guys have been overly sanguine with regard to your outlook on the Patriots' chances for success this season. Matt Cassel is, without mincing words, a bum. He is not an NFL starter, nor is he an adequate No. 2. How you guys can defend him in any way is beyond me. Perhaps one of the worst decisions [Bill] Belichick has made during his tenure was not signing Chris Simms after [Tom] Brady went down. Perhaps he can vindicate himself by taking a chance on [Kevin] O'Connell. He's a rookie and is guaranteed to make mistakes, but staying with Cassel is tantamount to forfeiting the season. He's that bad. And shame on you for not saying so.Sean Ryan

PFW: First of all, no one here has been overly sanguine, with, perhaps, the exception of Fred Kirsch, and even he gave the team a scathing review on today's episode of PFW In Progress. I just don't think O'Connell's the answer and my colleagues would agree. Neither is Chris Simms, who can't even beat out Kerry Collins in Tennessee. If you're going to criticize Belichick for not signing Simms, then you should harp on Jeff Fisher as well. Fisher, by the way, currently coaches the only undefeated team in the NFL. Furthermore, no one is defending Cassel's performance. We are simply pointing out how he is not the only problem right now. The defense looked awful in both losses. Cassel didn't look great either, but the alarming lack of a pass rush is the biggest concern because those defensive linemen are expected to perform better.
M.P.

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