Dependent on Dillon?
Boston Globe football writer Nick Cafardo answers your questions about the Patriots. Click here to submit a question for next week ...
Last Sunday the Pats really showed a weakness when Corey Dillon couldn't play. In the past, this team had no problem winning without a running game. Now, it seems they're dependent on Dillon. Do you think that's the case, and if so, is there a solution?
A: Great question, Tony. It surprised me that they were unable to go back to their dink and dunk passing attack. Clearly they've changed the offense this season to one where Dillon provides the running game while Tom Brady has been asked to throw the ball down the field. I'm surprised they weren't able to revert to last year's offense. I give the Steelers credit, they concluded what others have, that you have to pressure and blitz Brady to rattle him. The difference was the Steelers were able to get there, and they got there because Dillon wasn't in the lineup to pick up blitzes and the Patriots offensive line was banged up.
Now that it's over, do you think the Patriots' 21-game win streak will be surpassed ... ever? Did we just witness the greatest streak of football of all-time?
A: I'm sure it will be broken sometime, but probably not for a while. I think time will view it as a truly amazing run. It's too bad the coach and some of the players didn't enjoy it more while it was going on. I think they'll look back and wish they had had more fun with it. It's also a shame that it coincided with the Red Sox' run at the World Series championship because it was overshadowed by the Sox. How ironic it would end the same week the Sox won for the first time in 86 years?
If Ty Law needs to miss a significant amount of time with his ankle injury, are the Pats in big trouble?
Ryan, Richmond, Va.
A: Ryan, conventional wisdom is the Patriots will be in trouble, but let's see. Overcoming adversity has been a big part of the success of this team and right now they're facing a major challenge. Belichick usually loves these challenges and I think he'll come up with something to hide what ever weakness the Patriots will have in the secondary, whether it's playing more zone, disguising more coverages, doing more zone blitzing where linemen or linebackers pop back to cover receivers and backs. What ever it takes, I can't wait to see what Belichick, Crennel and Eric Mangini have up their sleeve.
I have been wanting to ask this question since preseason but to be honest it's hard to criticize when you are undefeated. Now I have no problem asking it especially since they had five rushing yards against the Steelers. Why did they release Mike Cloud? He seemed to be a perfect back-up running back with plenty of experience. ... Kevin Faulk has never been a traditional running back so I don't buy the argument that they can use him if the need arises.
KC, New Jersey
A: This is a legitimate second-guess, or first-guess if that's what you did back in training camp. Cloud was a veteran making the higher end of the veteran minimum. They had a bit of salary cap problem at the time. They had drafted Cedric Cobbs and felt they would wait for him to come off the PUP list and use him as their extra back. As Belichick said recently you just can't have an answer to every injury. What happened is Kevin Faulk didn't have a very good game against Pittsburgh. In fairness to Faulk, he missed all of that time in training camp and early in the season after his mother died, so he's been a little behind as far as conditioning and getting into game shape. I think Faulk will be a decent option in the future, just give him a little time. They seem to be high on Cobbs as well, but he's a rookie and he needs to get his feet wet.
Great having you back to cover the Pats for us out-of-staters! Just finished watching the loss to the Steelers and have a question about why Kevin Faulk is held is such high esteem by the Pats' brain trust. Faulk is good for a fumble a game and cannot seem to get it through his head that he should run toward the end zone rather than the sideline. This guy dances toward the line better than Britney Spears! Isn't there anyone better available as a backup to Dillon?
Steven, Reston, Va.
A: Steven, it's true that Faulk had some fumble issues earlier in his career, but I feel he solved them last season. His fumble last Sunday was bad, but he got popped pretty good. I'm not making excuses for the guy because I think he's valuable on a team. He's a very dedicated player and he knows he needs to step up.
Hey Nick, this Steelers loss really has me nervous about the Pats. I didn't understand the play calling on offense, especially in the first half. It appeared that Weis panicked and abandoned the run totally, while the Steelers D just teed off on Brady. I understand the absence of Dillon certainly factored into this, but they became one-dimensional very early. Would you agree? Additionally, was there any word as to why the field at Heinz was in such poor condition? It looked as if the New England players were having more difficulty with their footing than the Steelers. Thanks for your weekly insights in the mailbag!
Chad, Charlotte, NC
A: Chad, Heinz Field is notorious for a poor playing surface. As is Gillette Stadium. I think the media tried to make a big deal out of the poor conditions, but at least two Patriots players I heard, one of them Bethel Johnson, and the other Richard Seymour, shot back that Gillette's surface is just as bad or worse. That's one reason why the Patriots have a big homefield advantage. What bothered the Patriots is the inconsistency of the league when it comes to surfaces. Gillette was all chewed up last season prior to the AFC championship game and the league made them re-sod. As for Weis, I agree that they should have stuck with the run. Problem is, they were down 21-3 before the end of the first quarter. I think we just have to admit that Pittsburgh played a tremendous football game.
Their secondary not withstanding, one of the biggest problems seems to be lack of depth at the receiver position when early in the year it seemed to be one of the real strengths. When can they expect Branch back? Also, what's Dillon's status? Obviously, a stronger run game will help free up those wideouts.
Geoff, Portland, Ore.
A: Geoff, it's been hard to get info on Branch. My gut feeling, and not anything official, is he probably had a scope on his knee and he's coming back from it. I was told by someone on the team that he had a "10-week" injury. Let's see if when he gets up to 10 weeks, we may see him on the field. As of Wednesday he was still listed as "doubtful." Dillon has had both a foot and a thigh problem. The injury report only lists the thigh, but I suspect the foot is what's keeping him out.
Whether it is due to injuries or a case of not being ready to contribute, do you think the Patriots draft picks in 2004 have been a disappointment so far? Everyone made such a big deal about the number of picks they had this year but so far Wilfork is the only one contributing. Again, I realize that Watson, Scott and Sam are injured but do you think the Patriots are suffering since they expected major contributions right away from most of these players?
Bill, Portland, Maine
A: Even the top personnel guys in the league can't draft great players every year. I don't think they expected immediate returns from everyone, though they were hoping they'd get it from Wilfork because they had a need at nose tackle, and he's had some good games and some games where he's been pushed around. I still think Marquise Hill is going to be a good player, but he hasn't been able to crack the rotation yet, though if the line gets pushed around as it did last week vs. Pittsburgh, he may get some action.
As usual love the mailbag: I have two questions: First, and I feel kind of silly even criticizing a team that has won 21 games in a row, am I the only one that right now feels that a tailspin is near for this Patriots team? Although we have been winning up to the recent Steelers game I haven't had the same confident feel I had from the mid-point on last season. I've had this uneasy feeling that we were on the verge of being totally exposed as we were this past Sunday versus the Steelers. I just don't feel the same spark or intensity and maybe that's just attributed to the fact that it is extremely hard to maintain that level for such an extended period of time. I also don't feel the same "vibe" with Brady this season. Do you agree?
Ron, Cranbury, NJ
A: It's a very normal feeling. I've heard a lot of fans and media express the same thing. This is untested waters because no team in history has won 21 straight, so there has to be a letdown, doesn't there? You can't be that intense game-in and game out for that long without a burp. That burp came last week. Prior to that, I really believed they had a great chance to go undefeated. But I think we all need to calm down and let this injury situation play out. As for Brady, the guy is getting hit. Teams understand you have to blitz him and hit him and make him get rid of the ball faster than he wants to. Under those conditions, every QB in the league will make mistakes.
With Jim Miller hardly ever being activated for the games amid concerns for his ailing shoulder still, why did the Pats take a pass on Damon Huard when he became available recently?
A: Originally, I thought they wanted a QB who had some recent game experience, but after Vinny Testaverde and Neil O'Donnell turned them down, they were painted into a hole and Miller was left. Huard would have been happy to stay. I ran into him this summer, and he couldn't understand why they had no interest in him because he was a good guy on the team and he got along great with Brady and Rohan Davey.
What exactly is the nature of Ben Watson's injury. Did he under go surgery?
Scott, Exeter, NH
A: Watson had a torn ACL in his right knee. He had surgery.