Dillon helping Brady take more risks
Dillon helping Brady take more risks Boston Globe football writer Nick Cafardo answers your questions about the Patriots. Click here to submit a question for next week ...
Hi Nick, thanks so much for this forum. I will get right down to it, watching Brady this season, he seems to not be as sharp in his throwing as he was last year, especially the last few games (ball thrown short or long). Brady has been listed each week as having an injured shoulder. Might this be the cause of this, or is it something else? Yes they won, and I am not trying to be a cranky old New Englander looking for something to complain about in my team that is doing so well, just wondering. Thanks much.
David, Gordonsville, Va.
A: Boy, I know he's missed a few throws, but I think he's having a great year. You have to remember that he's really playing a different offense this season. Prior to the advent of Corey Dillon, he used the short passing game as a running game. Now he's able to throw the ball down the field much more. I think it's much more exciting, but with it you take more risks. I'm not sure if that's what you're seeing or not, but he's able to get big chunks of yardage down the field, which he didn't do earlier in his career.
Why are the field conditions at Gillette so poor? I'm not just talking about the game against Baltimore when it was raining but in general. In it's short existence the field has a reputation as one of the worst in the NFL. It just seems odd that a stadium that is state of the art in all other areas would have such a lousy playing field.
A: It's always been difficult to maintain a nice field in New England at this time of the season especially when there's a lot of rain. The other aspect of it is the Patriots like it to be sloppy and muddy. It's to their advantage, just as the poor condition of Heinz Field is to the Steelers' advantage and I believe had a role in the Patriots' loss to the Steelers. The league made the Patriots re-sod the field last year before the AFC championship game and I know the powers-to-be weren't too happy about it because it's an advantage lost. The field is supposed to be state-of-the-art, able to absorb moisture much better than the old field.
Hi Nick, Great discussion forum -- I always get the best, gut-level instincts and insights from you and other fans in this forum. Now that Butch Davis has resigned, do you think the road is now clear for a Scott Pioli-Charlie Weis or Pioli-Romeo Crennel combo in Cleveland? I personally wish that city a good management staff -- they are as good a football town as Boston (given the recent poor performance of the Indians), and they deserve a run at the big show. Also, if we lose such high-caliber people, how will the Pats offset this loss?
Ram, Nashua, NH
A: Cleveland has become such a graveyard for coaches. One disaster after another since Belichick in '95 with a team that was leaving town. I spent some time talking to Pioli this week and he said he's not leaving until his contract is up after the '06 draft, and all we can do is hold him to his word. I agree that Weis and Crennel will definitely be under consideration. It all depends how long the Browns can wait to name a coach. Can they wait until after the Super Bowl and consider Weis or Crennel? Or will they try to lure Nick Saban, another guy with Cleveland roots? Browns fans are so passionate about football that they deserve good coaching and good management. They haven't had it for years. For decades, really.
Any word on Matt Light's injury? Is he the key component to that offensive line? If he's out are the Patriots in trouble? Maybe not against the Browns, I'm thinking more down the road.
A: He's good to go. He said the ankle injury last Sunday against the Ravens looked worse than it was. He practiced Wednesday, and barring a setback, he'll be on the field Sunday. I agree that Light is a huge part of that offense. When he got hurt a couple of weeks ago and they had to switch Brandon Gorin from right tackle to left tackle, it wasn't pretty. Gorin has done a nice job at right tackle, but has problems moving to the other side.
Unlike the past two seasons, the Patriots have had some comfortable wins this year. They had 20+ point wins against the Rams, Bills & Ravens. Why do they play Tom Brady almost the entire game and not give Rohan Davey or Jim Miller some garbage time? Brady has been hit a lot this year and it would seem to me that he could use the rest and not risk getting hurt in games that the outcome is already decided. Furthermore, it gives the back-up QBs game time experience, which in Davey's situation is critical. I'm not saying they should pull Brady after three quarters in these blowouts but I think they can pull the trigger a little quicker for the reasons mentioned above.
KC, New Jersey
A: It says a lot about the good state of Patriots football that we are having this discussion. I'm of the school of thought you pull the starter for the backup when the lead is comfortable. The problem is, the coach seems to have a different opinion of comfortable than everyone else. You can understand why he would think that way, but I'd like to see Davey or Miller get some snaps. Though I must admit the situation they'd be coming in wouldn't be indicative of the situation they might be forced into should Brady go down. But I hear what you're saying. You'd hate to have a guy hurt when the game is in hand. But I also think certain guys shouldn't play both ways.
Can you give any updates on Ty Poole and Ty Law? I know the defense has succeeded the past few weeks, but come playoff time, these two are essential to the success of the D.
Gary, South Boston
A: Ty Law's cast is off his broken left foot. He does use a removable boot to protect it and he has started to do some bike work. He claims he's a couple of weeks away. We might be looking at the last two or three games at the earliest. I thought Poole was a week away last week. It seems the more the Patriots win, the more they make the decision to rest him for one more week to make sure he's completely healthy. I think that's what they did with Deion Branch. He could have played sooner if they absolutely needed him, but they were able to be cautious and I think that thinking paid off for them.
Hi Nick! Love the mailbag as always. You and Direct TV are my only connections to the Homeland. Was very impressed with the Pats 2nd half performance over the Ravens, however my question is about Marquis Hill. I figure a 2nd round pick should contribute something to the team (even though we are very deep at DL). Ty Warren has really impressed this year, but I ask you, did BB miss on Hill? Or is he just a victim of the depth we currently have? Thanks, Nick and keep up the great work!
T. Beary, Leesburg, Fla.
A: I'm not getting any feedback that Marquise was a bad pick. The only feedback I get is that the guys ahead of him are playing well, they're healthy, and therefore hasn't been opportunity. When they drafted him they felt he was a project of sorts even though he was familiar with the Belichick/Nick Saban defense down at LSU. He's a young guy, who probably needs to mature physically and then you'll see him. The other thing is he has to show he's better than the guys ahead of him in practice. Tough to beat our Richard Seymour, Ty Warren and Jarvis Green.
This plays off a previous email you received about Pioli and Weis. With Pioli most likely taking a GM position with another team next year or after his contract ends here. Do you think it would be possible for Belichick to become just the GM and hire Weis as the Pats head coach or do you feel Belichick prefers to be head coach and GM for years to come?
Todd, Rochester, NY
A: Great question, Todd. Personally, I never see Belichick being just a GM. I think what he loves most is coaching. He handles the other aspect of it because basically he's picking the players for himself with help from Pioli. If he were older, what you're saying might be plausible but he's still in his early 50s and I don't sense there's any burn out with him. I think when you always win, you want to ride that out as long as it goes. I think Charlie's best bet is to get out of here and either become a head coach someplace else, or become a coordinator in another place where he can explain his offense and talk about his strategies during a game. And I'm not sure that Charlie would be the one he'd chose as a head coach. Wouldn't it be Romeo?
Hi Nick, great column. Assuming the Eagles sail through the NFC like a hot knife through butter, which AFC teams (other than the Pats) do you think can handle them at "the Big Dance"? Do you think the Pats, if healthy, can beat the Steelers on the road in the AFC championship game?
Bradley, Birdsboro, Pa.
A: I like the Eagles, but I don't love them. There's always been something missing and I can't put my finger on it. I know Terrell Owens has made a big difference and they have a decent defense, but I just think the Patriots, Steelers or Colts could beat them in a Super Bowl. As far as the Patriots beating the Steelers on the road, yes, I think that could happen. I know the Steelers dominated the game on Halloween, but I just think the second time around the Patriots would have corrected their mistakes and I think they'd be better prepared to handle the physical nature of the Steelers, which in my opinion, is what has made them the best team in the AFC so far.
What are guys like Rodney Bailey, Ben Watson, Gus Scott, Cedric Cobbs and P.K. Sam doing now and who supervises their progress?
Reginald, Woonsocket, RI
A: I see them around the locker room. They're all working on their individual rehab programs for their respective injuries. Cobbs is on the active roster, so he's OK. It looks as if Bailey, Watson, Sam are all coming along fine. They walk around like they're OK. In some cases they were placed on the injured reserve because the team just didn't think they would recuperate quickly enough to be a factor and they had to fill the roster spot. It's too bad because I think Bailey and Watson in particular could have helped them. I thought Watson looked terrific in preseason. They are under the watchful eye of the trainers and they probably go off for other types of ultrasound and laser treatments at other facilities.
I am a lifelong Patriots fan, and have really basked in their Super Bowl success the past couple of seasons. I think they have a great shot again this year, but am a little concerned about their defensive back situation right now. Troy Brown has been admirable and the Tys (Law and Poole) will return for the playoff push, but has there been any thought of our old friend Otis Smith returning as a stop gap? He knows the coaches and system. Any thoughts?
Peter, Hudson, NY
A: We threw Otis Smith's name into the mix a while back, but no bites. I think as time has passed and they've been able to win with these younger guys, they'd rather have that speed and athleticism than bring in an older vet who they thought had seen his better days. What's really helped them is Rodney Harrison's leadership and Eugene Wilson's versatility. They also scheme well and their front seven -- particularly their linebackers -- have done a great job making plays, which has taken the heat off the young guys. The schemes have been great in that they're very simple. They haven't asked too many of these guys to cover man-to-man, though they did more of it against the Ravens last week.
I remember earlier in the year when we tried signing Neil O'Donnell as our backup quarterback during training camp but he refused to sign with anyone until playoff time when he sees who's a contender for the Super Bowl. Considering that we look to be a lock to get a bye week and homefield through at least part or all of the playoffs do you think we may still sign him for insurance or will we stick with Rohan Davey and Jim Miller? Also do you think we will draft a quarterback next year and if you think we will who could be potential quarterbacks to study under Brady?
Roy, New Bedford
A: Roy, I'd be surprised if someone new came into the mix right now. I haven't heard that the Patriots are not happy with their backup quarterback situation. I know people get uneasy about Brady possibly going down and Davey coming in based on a couple of preseason games, but I think they have more faith in him than the public does. It's the 12th game of the season and he's still the backup over Miller, which tells you that Davey has done a nice job in practice keeping the backup job. The only thing I would question is why they didn't re-sign Damon Huard. Miller hasn't played much the past couple of years either, so it's not like you've got a veteran QB who has seen a lot of game time.
This question is a little early and may seem kind of odd, but in spite of all their success on the field and with recent drafts, the Pats will have quite a shopping list for April's draft. Obviously they have to think about the secondary, though the Fla. kid could contribute next season. I see a need at LB with Johnson and Bruschi on the older side. The OL has been great but could have a defection a la Woody, and backup QB is still an issue. How many picks have they stored up, and what are your thoughts on where they will focus their early picks?
Doug, Alpharetta, Ga.
A: Judging by what happened to the team this season and Ty Law's future salary cap issues, I'm guessing they're going to draft a corner very high. I agree that linebacker will be another spot of need because Roman Phifer is likely not coming back after this season, and Johnson and McGinest are older. I can see them drafting an inside type guy because I think they like Tully Banta-Cain's progress as an outside LB. I agree they could use some depth on the offensive line, maybe a right tackle. But I don't think they'll spend a high draft pick for one. By the way, Alpharetta is a great town. Spent some time there with Tom Glavine a few years back.
Two weeks ago the Pats secondary caught some heat for a supposed hold on Tony Gonzalez. Given that for much of the play, both Gonzalez and Phifer were playing patty-cake with one another, I find this sort of crying to the officials about the Pats annoying. Contact was incidental, any holding by players was mutual, and most contact was created by Harrison whose eyes were already locked on the ball. Is this simply a case of sour grapes, or with the patchwork secondary, are we going to see more calls go against the Pats because this went uncalled?
A: I know that opposing teams (and I know some players around the league who have told me) feel the Patriots get away with a lot. I mean we can go back to the Indy game last year in the playoffs and what they did to the Colts' receivers. I think it's out there in the league now that the Patriots hold and grab a lot. I think teams make it a point to mention it to the officials every game. A high-profile guy like Gonzalez I'm sure gets held and grabbed a lot because it's the only way you can stop him. I don't think it's just a Patriots thing with Gonzalez. I'm sure he sees it every week to some extent.
I don't get to see every game out here in PA, but I did get to see the game against KC on Monday night. Ty Warren looked great; is he beginning to legitimize the number 1 pick the Pats spent on him? I notice his numbers are above last year's already, with 6 games to go, but the numbers don't always paint the full picture -- your thoughts on his progress please? Thank you!
Todd, Royersford, Pa.
A: Ty has become an effective player. Is he a stud like Seymour? Not really. But he's showing up more on film. He's making plays. He's a guy that opposing offensive lines have to account for and because Seymour gets so much attention, Ty has been able to get a lot of one-on-one coverage and he's making plays. He's a good player. He does his job. I think he's finally getting comfortable with the two-gap system the Patriots play. It's a big adjustment for guys to play in this system because they're not going to have big stats like sacks or too many tackles for that matter because the linebackers are going to get most of those.
Would you provide some insight to the Kevin Faulk performances lately? It seems he isn't getting used much in passing situations and his punt returns have been OK, at best. is he still hurt?
A: Frank, he got whacked pretty good on a punt return against the Ravens and he had to come out and be replaced by Troy Brown. I think he started slowly because he missed so much time because of his mother's death, but when you talk to the coaches about him, he's doing the same things he always has. Belichick said the other day that he's one of their most dependable players. He's been there a long time. He's a good guy, who knows his role and he gives them what they need.
Hi Nick. In preparation for the noise level in Kansas City, the Pats practiced with noise levels piped in. Coach Belichick then went on to say that he used a "silent count" for the entire game at the line of scrimmage. What exactly is a "silent count" and how is it employed? Thanks Nick. Happy Holidays.
A; Jack, a silent snap count is basically when each player on the offense counts to himself once the quarterback signals for them to start the count. Whatever that number is, once the count begins the ball is snapped on that number. Teams practice this all the time, but it takes one guy to mess up for a team to be called for a false start. The quarterback can signal the count different ways, sometimes by lifting his right leg up in the air, which means the offense needs to start counting.