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Ask PFW: Winning highs and injury lows

What does [Laurence] Maroney have left on his contract? He is out yet again, this time for the season. With his inconsistent play and injury problems, is there a chance there could be question of his future here? I like his upside, but I'm afraid we may never see it. We took him before D. Williams and J. Addai. What are your thoughts?Jesse M.

Is it just me or is Sammy Morris a better running back than Laurence Maroney? Morris seems to get better runs every time he touches the ball.Jaime O.

Maroney's rookie deal runs through 2010. But I do think his future is a real question at this point. With three full seasons now in the books, Maroney has yet to prove he can stay healthy and produce consistently. He's battled multiple shoulder injuries as well as his own vague references a couple weeks ago to "issues" that he was dealing with. It will be interesting to see Maroney moving forward. You can only get by for so long on potential and flashes of success. Is he still the penciled-in starter, a spot he held for all three games he played this season? Is he now a role player or backup? Is he in a fight for a roster spot moving forward? The answers to all those questions will have to wait for next offseason and summer.
With Maroney on injured reserve, it is Morris' status that is key at this point. He ran great in the first half against the Broncos hitting for a career-high 138 yards on just 16 carries. I love the way he hits the hole, takes what is given by the defense, punishes defenders and keeps thing simple. But he missed the second half with a knee injury. Combine that with the fact that LaMont Jordan has missed two weeks with a calf injury and things are pretty thin in the backfield right now. I think both Jordan and Morris need to get healthy if this team is going to have a shot at establishing a good ground game moving forward. I don't think either guy can carry the full load each week for the next 10 regular season games.
Andy Hart

I'm glad to see [BenJarvus] Green-Ellis finally getting some snaps. I knew from day 1 after watching him play in the preseason that he has the skills to be a starter, I think I said that on PFW before and it turns out to be true. ... Glad to see a great team effort all around! Let's go Patriots!Ian M.

Hurry up, run and catch that cart. That one that's running away in front of the horse. You see it, don't you?
Green-Ellis ran well in the second half with a big lead against a terrible Denver defense that looked disinterested at times. I like what I saw from a guy who was productive (1,000 yards) for two different schools in college. But NFL starter? Let's see the rookie free agent produce for more than one week before we make that bold statement. It was a nice performance when the team, based on injuries, needed it most. Give the man a PFW game ball. He deserves it. But I'm not ready to anoint him a starter just yet.
Andy Hart

That was a great game, look at how much easier it is for Matt Cassel to look great when we have a running back. Let's hope Sammy Morris is OK. What is the word on Rodney Harrison? I hope that everything is OK but it looks like it could be an ACL, MCL tear... I hope not. Does that mean John Lynch would be coming back? Great win, I hope we can keep this up :) GO PATS...Big John

NFL Network is reporting (with other media outlets also confirming) that Harrison suffered a torn quadriceps in his right leg and that his season is over. While the injury is a little bit different, I think we all assumed when we saw Harrison carted off that it was a major injury. Clearly at this point in a career worthy of Hall of Fame consideration not only is he lost for the season but we may very well have seen the last of the hard-hitting safety. That's a sad thing to say, but injury reality is part of life in the NFL. The Patriots will miss Harrison's leadership and attitude in the secondary. Now it is time for James Sanders and Brandon Meriweather to step up. They have a good combination of experience and skills. Harrison will clearly be missed, but his two young protégés might just be ready to receive the torch in the New England secondary. Let's hope so at least.
I think Belichick will, as always, consider his options to replace Harrison. Lynch could very well be in that mix thanks to his short time in the system in training camp. I don't think he offers much help at this point beyond simple depth at the back end of the depth chart. I thought he struggled in the preseason and, to be blunt, looked old. But if a body with some knowledge of the system at safety is part of the criteria then I'm sure Lynch will be on the list.
Andy Hart

Watching the Pats victory over Denver, it seemed like on most of the six sacks by the Broncos, at least one of the defenders had beaten Billy Yates. Yates looked lost out there on those plays. However, I noticed that at some point, Stephen Neal was out there getting some snaps at RG too. Why were these two splitting time? And why did it seem as though Yates was getting the lion's share of the snaps, when Neal seems like the much better (or at least more experienced) player?Kurt Fritzsche

Neal was in his first game back from PUP and it looked like the coaching staff was trying to ease him back into action. He entered on the third offensive series of the first half and split time with Yates. He did the same in the second half. My guess is Neal's snaps will grow in the coming weeks as he takes over the starting job. His injury history necessitates that Yates remain ready at all times. The veteran backup has had his ups and downs through the first half of the season, as he did Monday night, but I don't think he's been the only reason the team has given up too many sacks. Don't worry, though, Neal will be the guy at right guard when healthy and in game shape.
Andy Hart

Our season so far reminds me the stock market wild swings of late. Do you think Morris and Jordan will be back soon? Thanks!Aron C.

Enjoy the ride. At least when the Patriots get blown out it doesn't kill your 401k or portfolio. Of course, when they blow someone out it also doesn't make you money either. (Well maybe it does for some of you, but Roger Goodell would prefer I not address that Elephant.)
I do think Jordan will be back soon. He's been around the locker room and seems to be walking well so I don't see this calf issue becoming a major injury at this point. As for Morris, time will tell. He obviously missed the entire second half last night with a knee injury when he remained in the locker room after halftime. I don't have much new info on his status. It will be interesting to see what his practice participation is this week. Be sure to check back with Patriots.com for updates from the practice fields on Wednesday.
Andy Hart

Wow...great win. By the way, Erik's post game analysis was the first in history to use King Pyrrhus of Epirus and the Romans at Asculum in it. My question is about this year's rookies. How would you grade the Patriot's draft this year? Any surprises? Rookie free agents? I especially would like to know more about Shawn Crable. The Pats need nore spped on the edges....how come this guy doesn't get any plays at rushing the passer?Shawn Teehan

I have no idea what any of those references are. And I'm guessing the bulk of our readers at Patriots.com don't either. But I did like the movie 300. That was cool!
The rookies are an interesting group at this point. Here's my quick rundown on the class. Mayo has been as advertised and looks well on his way to leading the team in tackles as a rookie starter with a very bright future. He's played a bit less in sub packages over the last few weeks, but still led the team with eight solo tackles last night. Second-round pick Terrence Wheatley was a healthy scratch against Denver, and that's sort of a head scratcher for me. Fellow corner and former late-round pick Mike Richardson was activated from the practice squad for the game and played quite a bit. Not sure exactly what that says about either player, but it's clear Wheatley isn't exactly hitting the ground running as a rookie. On the other hand fourth-round corner Jonathan Wilhite has seen a lot of work in sub packages in the slot. He's been a pleasant surprise at times and is building a nice rookie foundation. Crable has been inactive, I think as much because of his lack of roles on special teams as anything else. I think his build makes him less of a candidate there, then say rookie free agent Garry Guyton. He plays on special teams and as such has also gotten a surprising number of reps on defense through the first two months. At best Crable is the fourth outside linebacker right now behind Pierre Woods. That and his more limited special teams work have made him inactive. Green-Ellis took full advantage of injuries and his opportunities last night to produce. I don't want to go overboard, but he certainly didn't fall on his face. I'm intrigued to see him play, as injury might require within the position, in the coming weeks. And quarterback Kevin O'Connell hasn't done much. I like that. Give him time, as a raw but talented rookie, to sit back and learn. It will help him big time down the road when he will be asked to contribute at some point.
Overall at this early point the class has both some positive and negative surprises but looks to be a pretty deep group that will help the team at a few spots for quite a few years down the line.
Andy Hart

First off I would like to say fore shame to all those who said that Cassel and BB could not get it done. God forbid that we lose one or two games without Brady. What ever happened to in BB we trust? Second, do u think that BenJarvis Green-Ellis will help to fill the void where Maroney was. And third is the addition of Neal to the line a leading factor to why the line looked much better. And fourth do u think that Cassel will ever learn not to hold the ball so long this seems to be his biggest problem but it is something that he can fix so I am still behind him. GO PATSBritt McPhee

Nothing's better for along list of quick questions than a long list of quick answers.
1 – Cassel has taken more than his share of criticism and I enjoyed the success yesterday. Of course we didn't get hundreds of emails apologizing to him. Guess the emailers only come out to hate. Haters!
2 – I think Green-Ellis had a nice game when the team needed him. But I would expect, in health, Morris and Jordan will be asked to split the load moving forward.
3 – Neal is very talented and a road grader. When healthy he's comparable to Pro Bowler Logan Mankins. It wasn't all him yesterday, but he clearly does make the line better when he can stay healthy.
4 – I know this sounds funny since he was sacked a career-high six times, but I thought Cassel was a microsecond better yesterday. He still holds the ball too long and tucks it too much to take sacks. But I do think that will improve a tiny bit each week as he gains comfort and experience. Of course all the Cassel haters out there say that line of thinking is merely propaganda. Take it for what it's worth.
Andy Hart

Most "VALUABLE" Player... the word valuable in sports means what he brings to his team, in the past, it seems the MVP was based on stats from that season. This might sound dumb, but can Tom Brady even be considered for the MVP award, because obviously it's a lot different without him from one season going from 16-0 to 3-2. So obviously he brings a lot to the team if the difference in winning percentage is already down that much.
Chase Foster

Most Valuable "PLAYER" … See I can use capital letters and quotations to make a point too. I understand the idea behind these Brady for MVP emails we've been getting the last couple weeks. But the award is for players who actually take the field and what that do during the season in question. I think we all knew how valuable Brady was all along, a point he cemented for me when he carried the offense on his right shoulder during the 2006 season. The MVP award is voted on by 50 writers across the country. I believe they can vote for anyone they want, although I assume there is a provision about the player actually playing that season. Brady did play part of a single quarter so maybe he is eligible. Of course if he gets a single vote it will devalue the award forever.
Andy Hart

Richard Seymour and Ty Warren were both high draft picks and are very good but they're not performing at the high level in which they were drafted. Seymour has gone to a couple of Pro Bowls(and is very good) but never has double-digit sacks. So shouldn't they go to a 4-3 defensive scheme?Elias Blume

There is a lot going on in this short email, but I agree with the overall point. The front seven, including both Warren and Seymour, is not carrying its weight. The group includes first-round picks like Warren, Seymour and Wilfork as well as well-paid guys like Mike Vrabel and Adalius Thomas. Those guys aren't playing to their resume or paychecks right now. I don't think going to the 4-3 is the answer. Plus, when the Patriots play 4-3 they use the same basic two-gap principles they use in the 3-4. I also think that option is limited a bit with the injury right now to Jarvis Green. The bottom line the front seven needs to play better and become a more dominant force on this team. I look at it like this of the areas of the team that have been criticized most in recent weeks – including Matt Cassel at quarterback, the secondary, the offensive line and whatever else you want to throw in – which is playing the furthest below its talent level or expectations? The answer for me is pretty simple – the front seven. The talent is there. The resumes are there. The investment is there. But the production just hasn't been there. That has to change if this defense, and by extension this team, is going to get the job done moving forward.
Andy Hart

Hello, I have noticed that Bill Belichick likes to defer kicks to the second half. I am sure it is all to see that our offense is not good scoring points. By deferring kicks we are already behind because most of the time the opponents score. And Matt Cassel who is under pressure to perform is already facing even more pressure before stepping on to the field. Why are the pros of deferring a kick to the second half?
Juzar Shakir

The major advantage to deferring the kick is the possibility of getting back-to-back possessions from the end of the first half and into the start of the second half. Early in the year Belichick said he expected that the trend around the NFL as a whole would be for coaches to defer the option nearly 100 percent of the time, as is the case for the most part in college football. But the numbers through the first couple months don't bear that out just yet. It's a lot closer to 50 percent at this point. I personally think the decision has a lot to do with how a coach feels about his own team, both offense and defense, as well as his opposition and the game conditions. I don't think any team should just blindly defer. There is more to it than that in my mind.
Andy Hart

Just quickly looking forward to next year's draft. What's the Patriots biggest need?.....Is it the secondary or perhaps upgrading the O-line to protect your biggest star and his surgically repaired left knee???Lar Jones

Wow, I guess some people really have given up on this season. Already looking ahead to the draft? Well, I'll play along. At this point I'd say the Patriots need playmakers in the secondary. That's first on my want list. Then I'd go with offensive line, running back and more help at linebacker, not necessarily in that order. But a lot can change between now and then. A lot depends on how the draft shapes up in terms of both top-end talent and overall depth.
Andy Hart

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 number two. How you guys can defend him in any way is beyond me. Perhaps one of the worst decisions Belichick has made during his tenure was not signing Chris Simms after 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

I'll keep with what you emailers seem to think is the company line. Cassel hasn't been good every time out, but he's getting too much criticism. A lot of other more experience, higher-priced players are underperforming at times a lot more than Cassel. As for Simms, the Patriots could sign him at any time because he's out of football. No one wants him. The Titans had him for a couple weeks when Vince Young was injured. You really want Simms? He of his career 71.2 rating, 59.1 completion percentage, low average and just 12 touchdowns with 17 interceptions. That Simms? He is what he is. He's not a very good NFL quarterback. That's why he's not in the league. Cassel's experience in the system makes him the best option right now. Maybe O'Connell with get a chance later if Cassel really struggles moving forward. But as much as I think O'Connell is physically gifted and a part of the future at quarterback in some form, anyone who watched him in the preseason knows he's very raw. He lacks accuracy on many of his passes, especially short ones. (I don't know how many times I saw him throw dump-offs and screens at the receivers' shins in training camp.) He also didn't play much against top defenses, so keep his preseason action in perspective. I'm not sure he'd even have a complete handle on the system at this point based on his lack of reps to date. We may see him. He may have some success. But I don't think he's the best option at this point. And I have no interest in seeing Simms in a Patriots uniform.
So you keep calling Cassel a bum. See where that gets you. Keep accusing us of being blind, or worse. And we'll keep calling 'em like we see 'em. Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts.
Andy Hart

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