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The first question deals with the week-to-week changes in opinions as to which team is the best in the NFL, Julian Edelman and Aaron Hernandez are hot topics, and there's even a question in here from a Jets fan (he makes a good point, which some of you may find hard to believe, I know).
Patriots players returned to Gillette Stadium today after a long weekend to being preparations for their showdown with the Jets - a game that really is deserving of all of the hype it will receive in the coming weeks.
Keep those questions coming, and we'll have a chat on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. as well.
It seems like the media wants to crown a Super Bowl favorite every week. The Pats are the favorite after they beat the Ravens, but after they lose to the Browns, they are not even favored to beat the Steelers. Now that they've beaten the Steelers, I'll bet they're again the favorites to win it all. Does anyone in the media actually have a handle on who the best teams are? How do you see it ending for the Pats this year?
Steve, Marietta, Ga.
This is certainly a fair question, Steve, and I think a lot of things are at play here. First, given the immediacy of the journalism business now, things seem to change hour-by-hour, let alone day-by-day or week-to-week. Second, power rankings are popular – most people will disagree with the author and it generates interest (interest = clicks, which for better or worse is the currency of online outlets). Third, in this season, more than most NFL seasons, there really is no clear-cut answer as to which one or two teams are the best in the league. Sure, the Patriots, Jets and Falcons are tied for the best record in the league at 9-2, but are they truly the best teams? All three teams have been winning of late, so right now the answer to that would seem to be yes, but with San Diego once again looking to make its late-season push, will they enter the argument? Does Pittsburgh belong in the debate? Does Green Bay or Chicago? The bottom line is rankings and Vegas odds don’t matter: in theory, the best team in the league will be crowned at Cowboys Stadium on Feb. 6.
I’m a Jets fan from Brooklyn, and you can imagine how much I dislike the Patriots. But over the last month or so, with the Jets winning nail-biters in the final seconds or overtime, I’ve been hearing Pats fans calling the Jets lucky, and saying Sanchez isn’t that good. Why? If it was Brady leading the Pats to come-from-behind 4th quarter wins, they would be citing it as evidence of Brady’s greatness, and how it shows the Pats are a resilient team. But it’s the Jets and Sanchez, so they’re just lucky? Were the Pats lucky in beating the Colts due to Manning’s interception in the final minutes? Maybe they don’t want to accept there is a new power in the AFC East? Can you explain it to me?
Kevin, Brooklyn, N.Y.
It’s all about perspective, Kevin. Patriots fans look at things through blue-tinted glasses, and Jets fans are using green-tinted lenses. You make a great point, though: one of the statistics often cited to illustrate Brady’s greatness is the number of fourth-quarter comebacks he’s led. Isn’t that just what Sanchez is doing right now? The NFL isn’t like college football's BCS: there are no style points given. Wins and losses are all that matters, and regardless of how New York is getting them right now, the bottom line is it’s getting wins.
After the 2009 season it looked like the Patriots had a really good player in Julian Edelman. It looked like he had the potential to be a great slot receiver. However, he has had very little impact on this year’s team, and by all accounts has had a very disappointing season thus far. That being said, what is the reason(s) for his regression?
Chris Ploch, Arlington
There certainly has been a noticeable decline in production for Edelman, Chris. According to the website Pro Football Focus, Edelman has played just 90 offensive snaps this season (out of a possible 648), which is less than 14 percent, and has but four receptions, none since Week 3 against the Bills. Last year, he played in 389 out of 868 snaps (remember he played in just 12 regular-season games), which is about 45 percent. I haven’t heard anything about Edelman that would give an indication as to why he isn’t getting a lot of snaps (ie, poor work ethic, unable to grasp offense, etc.), though certainly plays like the one against Indianapolis when he let a potential touchdown catch go through his hands don’t help his cause. Now, one school of thought would say that Edelman’s lack of playing time may have been a factor in his inability to make the catch, but another would say he’s paid to be a receiver and should make that play whether he’s on the field for 5 plays a game or 50. My best answer is just numbers: Deion Branch and Wes Welker play similar roles in this offense, but for what it’s worth, Tom Brady noted in his radio interview yesterday that Edelman, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Tate have to “get more in the mix” for the Pats’ offense.
What are your thoughts on running the no-huddle package more often to keep the Jets’ and Bears’ pass-rush off balance? Also, Mark Sanchez and Jay Cutler are prone to picks, but without pressure they'll pick us apart - will we pressure these quarterbacks or be left clinging to a lead that may or may not hold up?
Erik, Exeter, N.H.
The Patriots have certainly had some great success moving the ball when they’ve gone no-huddle, Erik, and you’d have to think they’ll turn to it again against both the Jets and Bears. As the Patriots were preparing to face the Colts, Bill Belichick mentioned that one of the things defenses have to deal with against Indy’s no-huddle is that you can’t make substitutions as often as you’d like and you essentially have to play with whomever you have out there until the opportunity arises that you can make changes. That’s probably a smart strategy against the Jets in particular; 3-4 defensive linemen tend to be bigger and therefore would likely tire faster.
As for pressuring Sanchez and Cutler, your observation is correct, and really stands for any average NFL quarterback – if you give them enough time, they’re going to find an open receiver. But pressure or not, I believe strongly that the key for this Pats’ defense is third down. They have to find a way to make stops and get off the field on third down (they’re currently allowing opponents to convert just over half the time). It nearly cost them against the Colts, and to me it is their Achilles heel.
Is Aaron Hernandez being underused, or is this just Bill Belichick keeping him for certain game plans in the future? With all the success of Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, etc., it seems as though he is getting just one or two passes per game recently. While Woodhead seems pretty durable and is used strategically, wouldn't Hernandez coming out of the backfield on screens and as an H-back give Woodhead a break?
Bevan Manson, Santa Monica, Calif.
Why isn't Brady throwing more to Aaron Hernandez?
Tim Baker, Columbia, Md.
My understanding of why Hernandez’s numbers have dropped recently is that the Patriots right now prefer him against man defenses, knowing that he is a matchup nightmare and it is very tough to cover him. Against zone defenses, a stronger route-runner and the ability to find the soft spots in the zone is needed and Hernandez isn’t quite there yet. We have seen him come out of the backfield on occasion, but Woodhead has been productive on screens, to the point that some are comparing him to Kevin Faulk.
I'm getting tired of hearing about every other team's injury problems: “The Steelers were missing two of their starting offensive linemen,” “the Colts are all banged up.” As if these are reasons why the Patriots beat, or might beat them. What of the Pats? They're missing their best cornerback (Leigh Bodden), second best defensive lineman (Ty Warren), and are using a third stringer on the offensive line (Dan Connolly), and a fourth stringer at running back (at the season's start, BenJarvus Green-Ellis was behind Fred Taylor, Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk). Why do you think the opponents' injury problems get such big play in the media, but the Pats' injury issues don't seem to get equal time? It seems to me the cliche needs to be employed: this is football; every team is dealing with issues.
Been asked this once or twice before, Walter, and my best assumption would be that the Patriots have been dealing with the injuries that you mentioned since the season began: Warren and Bodden were placed on injured reserve in the preseason, and Nick Kaczur was hurt very early on in training camp and never returned. Maroney was traded after Week 1, and Faulk was hurt in Week 2, so those were fairly early as well. For the Colts, it is just sheer numbers: it seems that nearly all of their starters, on both sides of the ball, have missed time at some point this year, and Dallas Clark was lost about six weeks in. Timing would play a role with the Steelers as well. The earlier a team loses a player, the more time it has to adjust to his loss. That said, the Patriots do deserve credit for making do without Bodden, Warren and Faulk, though it is hard not to wonder what this defense would look like with Bodden and Warren.
Please explain to me the rise and fall of Shawn Crable. He went from an often injured, disappointing high draft choice to a player that played over half of the defensive snaps against the Steelers. It appeared he was finally contributing, then three days later he is suddenly cut again! Can you shed any light on this situation?
Crable did play 39 snaps against the Steelers (his high for the season was 40 vs. San Diego), but the metrics used by our new friend Pro Football Focus show he wasn’t effective: for the Pittsburgh game, Crable’s grade was minus-3, which is about the worst grade they give (grades are based on effectiveness against the run and pass). To the best of my knowledge there wasn't anything else that precipitated his release, just a failure to perform from a player who seemingly should have a thorough knowledge of the playbook after two-plus years studying it.
Besides their own, what other teams’ draft picks do the Pats own in 2011?
Sal Borden, Scottsdale, Ariz.
After the three in-season trades the Patriots have made this year, here are the picks they have through the first four rounds:
* First round: their own and Oakland's (from Richard Seymour trade)
* Second round: their own and Carolina's (from draft-weekend trade this year)
* Third round: their own and Minnesota's (from Randy Moss trade)
* Fourth round: either their own or Denver's (the Broncos pick came in the Laurence Maroney trade, but under the terms of their trade with the Seahawks for Deion Branch, New England will give Seattle whichever pick is higher, likely Denver’s)