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Patriots Unfiltered Q&A: Kickers, pass catchers, and more

Fans' questions answered in our weekly mailbag.


Given the Redskins have given up almost 150 yards per game on the ground this year, why do you think [the Patriots] came out throwing so much? The [TV] broadcast mentioned a career high for [Tom] Brady [pass] attempts in a half?
Follow-up question: Why did [New England] struggle so much against a defense that played a lot of zone, unlike Pittsburgh, where we always dominate and give credit to their playing so much zone?
Mark Van Kouteren

It seemed a bit curious to me as well that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels waited until the second half to start unleashing the rushing attack on Washington. Perhaps, he and the other coaches felt that they had some matchups they wanted to try to exploit in the passing game early on. Clearly, the Patriots found success running against the Redskins' defense in the second half.

Whatever struggles they had in the passing game, though, in my estimation, were not a result of Washington playing zone, but of the Patriots hurting themselves. Drops, wild throws by Brady, poor pass protection from the o-line… all these contributed to many of the miscues we saw Sunday at FedExField. Brady still wound up throwing for 348 yards and three touchdowns. Not too shabby considering how the game started. Erik Scalavino

Although Stephen Gostkowski is a decade younger than Adam Vinatieri, who appears to have shaken off the early season wobbles, do you think this hip surgery will be the end of Ghost's superb career? Yesterday was a big day for Jake Bailey, whose ability to handle kick off duty (as well as impressive punting) goes a long way toward justifying his being drafted. I know Younghoe Koo is on the practice squad, so, could this week have a competition for who is the placekicker on Thursday, with the position addressed long-term through the draft? Looking around the league, it could be a year where several clubs will be looking to draft a kicker – is that how you see it?David Beckett

Initial media reports about Gostkowski's health status indicate that he'll be able to resume kicking in 2020. How much, if at all, this operation will affect his kicking remains to be seen, but no, I don't think we've seen the last of Ghost in the NFL. Whether we've seen the last of him in a Patriots uniform is another question we need to consider at this point.

I was impressed by the rookie Bailey's kickoffs (as well as his punting) Sunday in Washington, but I already knew he could do both. What surprised me was that the Patriots didn't have him do so even when Gostkowski was healthy earlier this year. I assumed he was drafted for both reasons, and to give Gostkowski's aging leg a needed break from the constant pounding of kickoff duty.

Meanwhile, on field goal and extra point duty, my guess is Mike Nugent is the guy for the time being. I'll admit, I wasn't too thrilled when Nugent pushed his first-ever kick as a Patriot – a 33-yard extra point – wide right against Washington. However, he handled the rest of his placekicks without incident, and I certainly trust his vast experience in the NFL over the unproven and untested Koo, who's been out of the league for two seasons and only has four games under his belt.

I'm anticipating the drafting and/or signing of a rookie kicker by New England in 2020, or possibly a veteran free agent signing, unless of course Nugent or Koo somehow manages to develop into a reliable commodity. Gostkowski still has a year left on his Patriots contract, and I wouldn't discount his eventually winning his job back once he's healthy. However, I absolutely expect him to face some sort of competition, at the very least, next season. Erik Scalavino

Nugent question. I'm sure I'm not alone in not understanding the techniques and technicalities of being a placekicker in the NFL. We've seen that when other veteran players join the Patriots, they often have to unlearn what they've done in the past and learn the techniques that Bill [Belichick] wants them to play, be that offense or defense. But what about kicking? Is it done differently around the league? Will Nugent have to learn a whole new system to kick here, or does he just have to make friends with a new holder and long snapper? Jason Rubin

The latter, Jason. While there are some variations in technique and playbook assignments when it comes to offensive and defensive players, kickers only have to worry about getting the ball between the yellow uprights. Each kicker has his own style and preferences, and when he makes it to this level of competition, coaches generally don't tinker too much with what got the player there. There might be some adjustments made, but generally that happens when the player is a rookie or younger player, not an experienced veteran.

So, yes, what Nugent has to do now is get accustomed to his new snapper and holder. Actually, it's more incumbent on Bailey, the holder, to learn how Nugent likes his placements. Each kicker has his own slight variations on how the ball is put down – perfectly straight up, slightly tilted back, to the side, et cetera. Erik Scalavino

I am very concerned about the wide receiver position. It looks average at best. Do you have any good news about rookie [N'Keal] Harry? Ludovic Boisseau, Versailles, France

I can report that Harry, this year's first-round draft choice, has not been a stranger in the Patriots' locker room since going on Injured Reserve at the start of the season. He seems in good spirits and remains a candidate to be one of the two players activated by New England off IR this season. I'd like to see it happen because you're right, the receiver position has been anything but stable thus far in 2019. Erik Scalavino

Why did the Patriots release Cam Meredith when he did not count against the roster, he was eligible to play this year after Week 8, would not have counted against the two players allowed to return from IR, and, significantly, we need receivers? Did his contract count against the cap even though he was on the PUP list, making this a cap space move? Michael Schindelman

Yes, the contracts of injured players like Meredith who are on either the physically unable to perform list (PUP) or IR do count against a team's salary cap. Meredith wasn't breaking the bank with his Patriots contract, but I can't rule out that salary cap implications played a role in his release. I was mildly surprised to learn of the move. The team may have felt he wasn't progressing well enough in his recovery and thus wasn't going to be a factor for them this year. Erik Scalavino

Who is coaching the defensive side of the ball? There has not been any clear indication of who that is going to be since the [previous] defensive coordinator has left the Patriots. Are they still doing it by a committee or are they taking turns or is [Belichick] running the show? I thought that when they hired Jerod Mayo, they were going to appoint him as the new defensive coordinator. He was a great player with the Patriots, has a great mind, and always seemed to make the right choices. So, what the heck is going on? Debra Parent

There hasn't been an officially titled defensive coordinator here in Foxborough since Matt Patricia left for Detroit two years ago. Linebacker coach Brian Flores (now head coach in Miami) had the play-calling duties last season, and it remains somewhat of a mystery who's doing so this year for New England. Mayo certainly had the headset on during training camp and the preseason and appeared to be relaying signals to his players during practices and games at that time. It could be a group effort at this point. None of the coaches, including Belichick, is saying for certain. With the way this Patriots defense is playing through five games, does it even matter? Erik Scalavino

Two ideas for strategy: 1) Late in a game, 4th quarter, when the Patriots offense is deep in its end on 4th down and has to punt, say, leading by three points, might they be better served to take a safety and then get a decent kickoff to win the game by one point? 2) In an important game, to block an extra point or a field goal, might the Patriots utilize a cheerleader technique where two linemen fall to their hands and knees and two players from behind run onto their backs and jump and extend their arms to block the kicked ball? George Marchand

No on both counts, I'm afraid. On your first point, there's no guarantee of a "decent" kickoff or of preventing a return for a score, or even a long return that sets up a field goal attempt. And the second strategy just isn't allowed by the rulebook. Erik Scalavino

Hey, gang. Coming to you from Bradley Beach, NJ, enemy territory at its finest (NYC, NJ, Philly). With A.J. Green becoming a free agent in 2020, do you see the Patriots making a move for him? I know he's coming off an injury, but who wants to play in Cincinnati! I understand [Stefon] Diggs contract is more team-friendly, but I assume the Patriots would have to give up less in draft pics for Green. Thanks for entertaining my question... GO PATS! Jeff D'Ambrosio

Possibly, but 2020 free agency is still a long ways off. Let's revisit the question when the time draws nigh and we know more about the landscape of the market. All things considered, though, I'd be happy with either one of those players in a Patriots uniform. Erik Scalavino

Do you legitimately think a trade for Stefon Diggs could be in the works? Grayson Howe

Anything's possible, trade-wise, between now and 4 p.m. on Oct. 29, this year's NFL trade deadline. I wouldn't hold my breath, though, for a blockbuster deal involving New England. My sense is the team will go with what it has, more or less, for the remainder of this season. Erik Scalavino

I'm thinking as the season unfolds that we have a solid roster, with perhaps the O-line and tight end needing some improvement. Then I hear we sign Jordan Richards. I don't understand, probably due to my ignorance. In his first stint with the Patriots it was pretty clear he was way too slow to cover anyone, including tight tends. I wasn't particularly impressed with his tackling ability. I don't ever remember him really making any significant play. Why add him? Is he really that good on special teams that he would make such a difference? Why not promote [Obi] Melifonwu instead? Why not keep the depth on the O-line and continue to figure out who of the backups will be dependable going forward? Will Dargie

Last week, heading into the Washington game, New England had three players – safeties Patrick Chung and Nate Ebner, along with running back Rex Burkhead – who were dealing with injuries that eventually ruled them out of action against the 'Skins. All three typically have considerable roles on special teams, and that's likely why a player with system experience such as Richards was brought in. It wasn't for defensive purposes, in all likelihood. Richards, in fact, played on special teams throughout the win over Washington. Erik Scalavino

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