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Steer clear of the panic button

Fans are concerned after 0-3 start to preseason

By Mike Reiss
Globe Staff / August 26, 2008
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The preseason is winding to a close and some fans are concerned about the Patriots’ sluggish play and 0-3 record. Those thoughts were the most prevalent of the questions to fill this week’s mailbag.

Here are a few key dates to keep in mind moving forward:

  • Aug. 26 – Roster cut-down from 80 to 75 players

  • Aug. 30 – Roster cut-down from 75 to 53 players

  • Aug. 31 – Teams can begin to form practice squads of up to eight players.

Let’s get right to the questions...

Why do the Pats stink this preseason? Is there really a Super Bowl hangover plaguing the team? Don't say "Brady's not playing" because to be quite frank one man does not make or break a team. Don't tell me this team is 12-4 with Brady and 4-12 without him. Am I the only fan feeling like there needs to be a true SERIOUS concern for the preseason efforts?
Matt, Brunswick, Ga.

A: Matt, I don’t believe you are the only one feeling serious concern, but I’m going to try to bring you back to more of a middle ground here. Bill Belichick regularly makes the point that the primary goals of training camp and the preseason are two-fold: to prepare for the regular-season opener (Sept. 7 vs. Kansas City) and the 16-game regular season. I think what has happened this preseason is that the games have been de-emphasized a bit due to a string of health issues. In terms of specifics, I feel the offensive line performance (a huge injury area) has crippled the offense at times, and not having Brady has been a huge factor. Defensively, it’s a fair question to ask why players didn’t win more one-on-one battles, but when the Patriots have decided to turn it on, they have generally gotten results. Special teams performance has been weaker, but I expect it to be better when more personnel returns. Overall, I don’t see the preseason performance being a reflection of what is to come.

Ugh its been frustrating the past couple weeks watching the Pats but should fellow pats fans be worried about the current situation with the Pats? I mean the players and Bill keep on saying we will continue to adjust and improve. Well as of right now they are running out of time and fast. Is it time to hit that panic button and worry about the defense? Or are the Pats still running off that vanilla type defense?
Dorian, Silver Spring, Md.

A: I say steer clear of that panic button, Dorian. Not only are the Patriots playing vanilla defense, they’re doing it with players early in games that I believe won’t be on the 53-man roster (e.g. Antwain Spann, Santonio Thomas). When the Patriots decided to turn up the heat against the Eagles, they got results. I’m not saying it was a stellar effort, but I don’t think it was as bad as it might have seemed defensively. The big issue for the defense is that it hasn’t generated pressure with just four rushers. I would imagine that’s a topic of discussion among the coaching staff – how to generate more heat with the standard four. The return of Adalius Thomas, who has missed the last two games, would certainly help.

I understand that it's preseason, and the Patriots are not using the full playbook, not scheming for the opponent, etc. But the other team is in the same situation. So it still comes down to execution, and the "fire in the belly" to beat the man across from you. Right now, I don't see it, or hear it from the Patriot players. Where's the passion, the sense of urgency to "get it done"? It's very difficult to just "turn it on" when the games start for real. If things don't change, and change fast, I think this team loses its regular season win streak on the 1st game of the season. Are you hearing any passion, sense of urgency, or "outrage" from the players in the locker room? Or is everyone just taking this as "business as usual?"
Walter

A: Walter, I haven’t sensed any outrage in the locker room, just a professional, no-panic type of approach. It will be interesting to see if we see a different type of team once the regular season starts. I agree that it will be hard to “turn it on” but I do believe that’s what the Patriots will do – and I think they’ll hammer the Chiefs pretty good.

Mike,

With one pre season game left, how will the Patriots attempt to get into game speed, particularly on offense with Tom Brady out?
Dana

A: Dana, my hunch is that they’re going in on the fly. I’d be surprised if Tom Brady plays in the preseason finale. So the timing is going to be a work in progress during the regular-season opener against the Chiefs. One aspect to keep in mind is that the Chiefs look like one of the NFL’s weaker teams, so the Patriots will likely have some more margin for error.

Knowing full well the Pats desire in the "counterintelligence" game, is there legitimate reason to be concerned about Brady's availability for the season opener? Even if he does play, what effects on the offenses timing can be expected given his lack of playing/practice time?
Jason

A: Jason, I really don’t think this has anything to do with counterintelligence. I think Brady’s foot is indeed sore, and it’s a concern. I think it will have to managed carefully but I think he’ll be playing in the opener, as he’s said. As for the timing aspect of things, it’s not ideal, but I think it helps that Brady and his top three receivers are all returning from 2007. They also had spring camps. So I don’t think it will be too crippling. One area to keep an eye on is how Brady slides in the pocket. I remember Charlie Weis saying it was one area in which Brady was really underrated, his ability to sidestep from pressure and keep plays alive. With a sore foot, he might lose some of that, as I believe he did in Super Bowl XLII with the ankle injury.

Hey Mike, I’ve heard a couple of people throw around the idea that the reason the Pats offense isn’t doing so well (putting aside the fact that Brady isn’t starting) is because Belichick isn’t

using a lot of the formations and plays he plans to use in the regular season so as to not give any of the other teams something to study. Do you think there is any truth to this? And how much are you buying into Brady’s “injury”? Is this like the “probable-shoulder” that’s been ongoing for the past four years or is this something to legitimately be worried about?
Jason, Framingham

A: Jason, there is no doubt that the Patriots are not scheming much in the preseason, but I don’t think that is the primary reason for their lack of production on offense. I think a combination of poor play at the line of scrimmage and poor quarterback play trumps the lack of scheming as the reasons for the lack of production. As for Brady’s injury, I do believe it’s legitimate. I don’t think it’s “probable-shoulder” – as I’ve watched him move around for parts of practice and he doesn’t always seem to be moving with the same urgency or confidence. I remember Brady often leading the sprints at the end of training camp practices, but I didn’t see that consistently this year. I remember him sprinting through the bags, but I haven’t seen that of late. So I do think this is a legitimate injury that must be managed.

During the 2007 pre-season, am I wrong, or did the Patriots lose most every game they played before posting a perfect regular season? If so, why does there seem to be so much more public concern about the losses during this preseason?
Daniel, Shrewsbury

A: Daniel, the Patriots were 2-2 in the 2007 preseason. They lost their first two games, before beating Carolina in the third game (24-7) and then topping the Giants in the finale (27-20).

Do we know if Light and Neal will be available for Week 1? That would ease concerns for the o-line. Fans shouldn't be too alarmed about the preseason debacles, but watching most of the starting defense has looked like a sieve, so I can understand some concern. Do you see the non-emergence of Victor Hobson as a door opening for "Surfin' Seau"?
Phil

A: Phil, the Patriots’ offensive line received a boost when Light returned to practice on Monday (Aug. 25). I think that paves the way for his return for the Sept. 7 season opener. The clock is ticking on Neal, however. Each day that goes by, it makes me think he is headed to the reserve/physically unable to perform list, along with Oliver Ross. As for Hobson’s non-emergence, I don’t see that re-opening the door for Seau. I think it could open the door for someone like rookie free agent Gary Guyton to earn a roster spot.

Mike, have you sensed any regret on the part of the Pats coaching staff, that they failed to address the o-line more aggressively? The pass on acquiring Alan Faneca comes to mind. With Neal hurt for the latter half of the 07 season, why didn't they get this guy (or even try)? Do you think the lack of o-line ability is killing their running game?
Frank, Mansfield

A: Frank, I have not sensed any regret, because the team could not have predicted the run of injuries it experienced on the line. As for Faneca, I don’t think the Patriots would have shelled out $8 million per year for him, especially not with a looming contract negotiation with Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins (contract expires in 2009). In terms of the running game, I do think the o-line issues are a big part of the lack of success in that area.

Are we going to be surprised by any of the first round cuts? Perhaps Webster? Cassel? Seems like there are some back ups that have not really stepped up when given a chance. Any shot of Kyle Eckel Making the team?
Blake, Washington, D.C.

A: I don’t think there will be any surprises on the first wave of cuts, Blake. From listening to Bill Belichick on WEEI on Monday afternoon, it sounds like a few players could end up on injured reserve (Ryan O’Callaghan? Mike Richardson?) and there might be only a cut or two to get down to 75 players. I don’t see Kyle Eckel making the club, unless there is an unexpected injury.

Hi Mike, I've noticed that Matt Cassel got ripped again for his performance. I thought he did well considering the O-line gave him no help. He did make two nice passes for first downs that were negated because of penalties and led fourth down. It seems like he had bad luck more than anything. Your thoughts?
GG, Portland, Maine

A: GG, I do think Cassel had some things go against him that were out of his control, but I don’t believe that’s the sole reason the offense has not scored a touchdown with him leading a drive. I thought a good example of this came on third-and-10 on the Patriots’ first drive against the Eagles. Cassel had time in the pocket, and had Randy Moss crossing over the middle, but led him too far. I felt that was a situation, early in the game, where the protection was there and the play wasn’t made. As talent evaluators, I’m sure Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli take into account all factors – I heard Belichick mention on the radio that a few Cassel-led drives ended due to breakdowns elsewhere – but I just think there were still opportunities to make plays that just didn’t happen for Cassel.

Hi Mike, In preseason competition, it is impossible to disregard the poor performance of Matt Cassel. He has been unable to move the offense at all (except maybe backwards) despite having plenty of opportunities to do so. The entire offense looks listless with him at the helm. More should be expected of a guy in his 4th season. What are the chances that Matt Cassel doesn't make the final roster cut?
Scott, Randolph

A: Scott, I don’t believe Cassel will make the club at this time. One thing I’ve learned from covering Bill Belichick-coached teams is that it’s about performance. I don’t believe Belichick will view the performance as worthy of a roster spot.

Why is the year of the back-up? Does anyone with any sense really think that if Brady went down in like Week 3 that the Patriots would not go and a real QB to fill in. This whole preseson has been about Brady's backup. His back up is a free agent not yet signed by the Pats. Your thoughts?
Bob

A: I see it a bit differently, Bob, as I’m not sure there are any quality free agents available at quarterback. Last year, more than 60 different quarterbacks started at least one game across the NFL, and a team like Carolina comes to mind as a club that lost its starter in 2007 and could never really recover last year. I think a guy like Daunte Culpepper might have the name recognition, but I’m not sold he’d be an upgrade over what the Patriots have right now.

Hey Mike, I've decided that I don't like the deferring to the second half on the coin flip. I've seen a stat cited that says the team receiving in the second has won something like 56 percent of the time. This has been the only legit reason I've seen to do this. I think a better stat would be what is the winning percentage of the team that scores first in a game. Last year as the Pats scored first in most of their games the opponents were immediately behind the eight-ball. Football is a game of aggression. Deferring seems too passive to me. Could you find the stats on first possession scoring and let me know what you think? Thanks, Dave.
Dave

A: My computer crashed hard this week and is still in service, Dave, so I was scrambling to put the mailbag together by forwarding emails off my BlackBerry. Thus, I did not have the time to research the scoring-first stat. But I wanted to include the question because I can understand where you are coming from – the Patriots have won all three opening coin tosses this preseason, have deferred their choice to the second half all three times, and the opposition has then marched right down the field and scored on the opening possession. I can see the arguments for both sides, and I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer. I tend to lean toward receiving the kickoff in the first half.

What’s up with Brandon Meriweather? Is he going to be able to play this

year or is he out for the season?
Keith

A: Keith, my colleague at the Boston Globe, Christopher L. Gasper, had an item in this notebook last week that Meriweather dodged a serious injury (see second item). So I’d expect to see Meriweather back on the field in the near future.

Mike, do you think LaMont Jordan makes the squad and if so, when does he get used?
Brian

I do think Jordan makes the club, Brian. I see him used on the goal-line, as a kickoff returner, and in a pound-it-out role against specific opponents depending on the specific matchup. I believe the Patriots will keep five running backs – Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, Heath Evans and Jordan.

Is anyone else concerned about our running game? I can't help to remember in 06 draft when we drafted Maroney instead of Addai. Addai has become a stud, in my opinion, with 952 more total yards, 10 more total TDs, and 55 more receptions than Maroney, I am starting to wonder in Maroney is a bust. Heck, even Maurice Jones Drew is outdoing Maroney, 662 total yards, 11 more total TDs, and 60 more receptions, and he went late in the 2nd round. Your thoughts?
Mike

A: Mike, I have closely watched all three preseason games and I believe the running backs have – more often than not – done a good job getting the yardage that was there. I think the blocking up front has been rough – leading to penetration in the backfield and too many negative plays. I believe the results would be the same if it were Addai or Jones-Drew. As for the statistical comparison, Maroney has missed some time due to injuries, and that needs to be factored into the equation but at this time, I think it’s fair to say Addai is a better back – as is Jones-Drew at this time. All that being said, I still believe Maroney can break out.

how do you think the Pats will stand up to the AFC East opponents? Also, besides Mayo, do you see any rookie starters?
Gary

A: Gary, I think the Jets have done some nice things to improve their matchup against the Patriots. I see that Week 2 game as a dogfight, within a touchdown. The Bills look extremely fast, but I’ve always felt the Patriots matchup better against them; the factor with them is that the season finale is in Buffalo Dec. 28 in what could be frigid, snowy conditions, and those elements must be considered. I think the Dolphins could give the Patriots some minor trouble, but I’d expect a sweep there. On the rookie starters, I don’t see anyone besides Mayo.

Mike, a quote from Ty Law in Sunday’s Boston Globe said. "I should be out there holding it down opening week. I have not decided which team I'm going to play with yet. I have to talk to my agent and family, and will make a decision soon." The article states there are 3 teams in the running -- Jets, Browns and Pats. Other than Ty Law, who wins?
Chris, Worcester

A: Chris, I’m not sure where Law will end up, but I think his first choice is the Patriots. There might be other suitors that I am unaware of, but if I had to pick one of the three at this time, it would be Cleveland based on their more pressing need.

Why not have Crable and Mayo in at the same time, with Vrabel and Adalius Thomas. Do you think BB would try that combo?
Lou, Arlington

A: I could see that combo, Lou, although I think it would probably mean that Adalius Thomas is on the inside of a 3-4 alignment and I feel the coaches believe he’s best utilized on the outside, creating havoc in a pass-rushing type role.

Hi Mike, with the release of TE Marcus Pollard last week, it appears that there is a good possibility the Pats will open the season with just two TE's on the roster. Given that premise, my question has to do with how the Patriots will approach short yardage and goal-line situations from a personnel standpoint. While they don't use run-heavy formations as much as they used to, the Pats are still going to need to run some 3-TE sets on 3rd and 2, 4th and 1, etc. Has anything from practice/preseason games given you an indication as to how the Pats plan to approach those situations? I believe OL Russ Hochstein worked as a blocking TE at times last season, and I wonder if Heath Evans or LaMont Jordan could be effective playing on the line as opposed to out of the backfield.
Dan, Manchester, N.H.

A: Interesting question, Dan. I haven’t seen anything in practice, but based on history, I think we’ll see an offensive lineman like Wesley Britt play that role. He basically becomes like a sixth offensive lineman. I don’t see LaMont Jordan playing on the line. Heath Evans has at times, but I’d say he’d be used sparingly in that type of role.

Mike, any thoughts on Kyle Brady and his possible return, or was his release totally

due to injury? He played quite a bit last year and the protection was excellent, so it is a bit puzzling why the Pats would consider Marcus Pollard, Steven Spach and others before a proven vet like Brady.


Jim

A: Jim, I think the Patriots and Brady both felt like they weren’t the right match for each other and thus they decided to move on. I don’t see Brady returning.

I haven't heard too much about how Warren and Wilfork look this year. But both are up for contract extensions in the next two years. Can you comment on how they seem to be playing, if you've heard any rumblings about extensions, and what you think we can expect in those regards this season?
Jason

A: Jason, I think both guys have been rock solid. Warren ended up signing the extension last year, through 2013. Wilfork is up after 2009 but I would imagine the Patriots would want to get moving now. There have been no breakthroughs at this point.

Mike,

How much of Chad Jackson's struggles this pre-season can be attributed to Tom Brady's absence? It seemed like the reports were generally positive early in camp but then in the first game, it looked like Cassel misfired on some balls which were not caught, not to mention the blown up screen pass.
Matt, Shelburne

A: I really don’t think any of it, Matt. Sometimes Jackson’s route-running is a bit sloppy, and to me, that has little to do with the quarterback. I thought Jackson played one of his best games against the Eagles, so perhaps he’s ready to turn the corner, but I wouldn’t feel right saying his prior struggles were a result of not having Brady.

Can the Patriots find someone better than Ellis Hobbs at the cornerback position? He seems to play so far off the receiver that it's an easy first down whenever teams throw his way. He also seems pretty easy to beat deep. What are the chances someone beats him out for the starting job this year. I think any of the other CBs on the roster can beat him out.
Tim, Plantation, Fla.

A: Tim, if Hobbs is playing off, that generally wouldn’t be his choice, it would be dictated by the scheme called by the coaches. So I can’t hold that against him. I agree that he could have had tighter coverage at times this preseason. In terms of players who could challenge him for his starting spot, I think rookie Terrence Wheatley would be the player to keep an eye on.

I haven't heard much about Troy Brown. What's going on with him?
Rich

A: Rich, Troy has been spending time with his family, pondering his future. In one respect, he feels he’s a lifetime Patriot. In another respect, he’s a football player who feels he still has some more to offer – and some NFL clubs have at least called him to express interest. Those two worlds are sort of colliding right now, but my hunch is that Brown retires.

What is up with Kelley Washington? Where is he on the depth chart?
Cindie, Lexington

A: Cindie, I’d put Kelley Washington as the No. 5 receiver right now, as well as a core special teams player. I think his roster spot is safe. He adds value at receiver because he plays more than one spot.

I’ve been impressed with C.J. Jones. He’s made some nice catches and seems to run his routes well. Any chatter on his pre-season and might he make the team?
Jon, Amherst, N.H.

A: Jon, I don’t see Jones making the club, mainly because I think the team is stocked at receiver with Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Jabar Gaffney, Chad Jackson, Kelley Washington, Sam Aiken and possibly even rookie Matthew Slater. While Aiken and Slater are more special-teams types, I just don’t see room for anyone else.

How has Bo Rudd done in camp so far? I know he was injured for a time, but I haven't heard his name in a while.
David

A: David, I think Ruud fell behind early and never really could catch up. It’s why I think he’s a candidate more for the practice squad than the 53-man roster. He was on the first-unit kickoff coverage team Friday against the Eagles, but I haven’t seen him play much in the base defense in a game. On the flip side, rookie free agent Gary Guyton saw extensive playing time at inside linebacker in the Tampa Bay game.

Hey Mike,

I had read in the offseason that the NFL wasn't going to be allowing reporters to live blog from the press box at the stadium anymore beginning this season. Did this rule pass? And does that mean you won't be able to give in-game updates and analysis anymore?
Ben

A: Ben, credentialed members of the media can distribute information as long as it’s time-delayed and/or limited in amount (while a game is in progress). We can’t write play-by-play accounts of what is happening. I don’t see this changing the updates on Boston.com that we’ve had in the past.

Hey Mike, I was just watching the Colts/Bills preseason game and noticed that they shut the roof during the third quarter. Isn't there a rule that states that a retractable roof must remain the same throughout the entire game (e.g. if it is open at the start it must remain open, and if its closed at the start it must remain closed)?
Adam, Burlington, Ontario

A: Adam, I remember that rule from Super Bowl XLII, because a decision was made in the hours before kickoff to close the roof. I’m not sure on this, but my hunch is that it might have been a situation where the NFL allowed the Colts to close it during the game, so players could assimilate to both the open and closed conditions.

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