Offensive line overachieving
Boston Globe football writer Nick Cafardo answers your questions about the Patriots every Thursday. Click here to submit a question for next week ...
Nick, if we've got a weak spot on the team, it seems the O-line is not pass blocking as well this year. It's certainly not bad but if we look at things like BB, that's an opportunity area. I don't think the o-line has given up the sacks (stat wise) but Brady has been hurried and or hit a lot. Brady saves them at times with the ability to unload the ball or move in the pocket. The running game is better this year and it makes up for it but the pass blocking isn't up to what it was the past couple years. Is it changes (Gorin/Neal?). Light coming in off a surgery, etc?
Jim, Northford, Conn.
A: I've always been amazed the line performs as well as it does given the lack of stars. Neal is a former wrestler for crying out loud. Andruzzi was cut by the Packers. Koppen comes out of BC and starts right away. Gorin hasn't had a sniff on the field until Tom Ashworth got hurt, and who's he? Light is the only high draft pick, and he can't be 300 pounds. What we have to understand is this: Brady is a marked man. He's a two-time Super Bowl MVP. Every week, coaches plot and scheme how they're going to make life miserable for him. So teams are bringing everything they've got at Brady. It's not always easy to protect him under those circumstances. I really think that 1) Brady has enough time to throw; and 2) they run block well enough to have a 1,200-yard rusher. What more can you ask?
Can you explain Dillon's contract in terms of bonus levels? I think he negotiated 1,400- or 1,600-yard incentives, am I right? I think he was a brilliant pickup and deserves every dollar he gets. Thanks for another great year of Ask Nick.
Thom, Lewiston, Maine
A: Hi Thom. I did explain it in the Wednesday Globe. Basically he can make a maximum $2.25 million in bonus incentives based on yards up to 1,600 yards. He's earned $1 million to this point and needs 129 yards against the Bengals to reach 1,350 yards and another $500,000. There are seven steps. He also has two other steps based on 1,400 or 1,600 yards plus receiving yards and at least 11 wins by the Patriots where he can bypass the final two steps in the seven. He also has a few awards incentives, things like Super Bowl MVP. Basically, he has a chance to earn about $4 million this year. His base next year has been bumped from $3.5 million to $3.85 million because he's gained more than 1,100 yards this season.
What do you make of the controversy surrounding Corey Dillon's re-entry into Sunday's game to pick up two extra yards so he could reach 100. Are we making something out of nothing, or is there something to it?
Ron, Burlington, Vt.
A: I think it's old news now. He obviously did not have incentives for 100-yard games, just incentives for total yards. It didn't have a great look to it. He was lobbying to get back in, got his wish, had one carry for two yards reaching 100 and then he didn't get back in there. Not a big deal really.
Is San Diego for real? They don't give up much on D. Especially against the run. They pass well and they've got a good running attack. Where did this come from -- especially the D? I'm wondering if Indy going to Pitt and SD going to NE is really what we want! It is but, boy we've got some AFC competition.
Jim, Northford, Conn.
A: Jim, I'm probably like a lot of people waiting for the fall of the Chargers. It seems to happen every time they get off to a strong start. Marty Schottenheimer's teams have had a history of imploding late in the season. They are fast on defense. They fly around and make plays and their offense is well-balanced with LT and Brees is having a dream season. I think they have a tough game against Tampa Bay coming up. I've been horrendous picking games this year, but I'm picking a TB win. Personally, I wouldn't worry too much about the Pats playing the Chargers.
Greetings from Patriot Nation West! I've been a loyal reader for many years. Listen, is there something wrong with Tom Brady? I've noticed his usually pin-pointed accuracy is off in the last 2 or 3 games. He seems to be throwing high to receivers quite often. Any word on whether his arm or shoulder is bothering him? Also, I wonder if the consistent running game hurts Brady at all. What I mean is, he seems to benefit when he throws a lot and gets in a rhythm. Could Brady find it hard to get in a groove because they run so much this year? Not a bad thing by the way!
Jeff, San Diego
A: Great points Jeff. I tried to address them in a story I wrote about Brady in Thursday's editions. His accuracy stats are down a little because he's throwing the ball downfield more and trying to make big plays. There's been a shift in the offense from a short/sideways passing game to down the field. You're not going to have the high completion percentage by throwing it down the field, which is a tougher pass to complete. The running game with Dillon has definitely changed the offense from using the pass as a run, to using the pass as a big play weapon. There is probably a rhythm issue involved, I agree. But there's also the problems of if you're looking down field you need a little more time to release the ball, and the offensive line can hold things down only so long. I'm not sure about his shoulder. As you know he's on the injury report every week and listed as "probable" with a shoulder ailment. So maybe he does have something. I know last week against Cleveland he complained about the grip of the ball and was experimenting with gloves. I'm not sure we'll ever know.
Hi Nick! Great column last week. What did you think of Rohan Davey's performance in the Browns game? I did not read much about it, but apparently he played a full quarter and completed some passes. Our small cadre of PATS fans here in the Reading, Pa., area are wondering if you think we can beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh if we have too. Lots of Steelers fans, even here in Eagles country.
Bradley, Birdsboro, Pa.
A: I think the best thing to do is not to assess a quarterback or any player in garbage time. We know Davey has a strong arm, and he's capable of making plays. He did fine. But the game is pretty much over when he enters. On the Pats-Steelers, yes I think the Pats can beat them at home, but I'm still of the opinion that the Steelers will lose that home-field advantage because their schedule is a lot tougher than NE's down the stretch. But again, I've had a terrible year picking games.
Being that the Pats are solid in every position this year, Do you foresee the Pats trading away high draft picks this year?
Jason, Washington, DC
A: When people asked me whether they'd trade for Corey Dillon last year I basically said "Are you kidding?" and of course they traded for Corey Dillon and gave away a second-round draft pick to boot. Having said that, my first inclination is to always say no, they won't trade it away. I really believe they feel that way too unless they see something really extraordinary that they feel projects perfectly on their team on the field and in their salary cap.
During Randall Gay's fumble recovery/return for TD in the Browns game, the TV announcers were joking about Willie McGinest's tug on Gay's jersey. It seemed obvious to me that Willie knew he needed to get in front of Gay so that he could block for him, but the rookie may have been too excited about the return to recognize the need to look for some blocking. What is your take on it?
Charlie, Allentown, Pa.
A: Exactly what I thought when I saw it live. I asked McGinest and that's exactly what happened. He wanted to make sure the kid wasn't over-running his blocks. McGinest is one of the smartest players on the field. He doesn't get enough credit for the way he reads things out there. He's extraordinary at that.
I got kind of an off-beat question concerning former Patriot Bryan Cox. I remember when he was not re-signed by the Pats after their first Super Bowl season, he had some choice words directed at the organization. Who, specifically, were those words being aimed at? Was it Belichick? If so, has the relationship been mended?
Richard, South Portland, Maine
A: It was my story back in August of 2002. Cox said, "I'm still bitter. Things were handled very poorly. I have a real problem with (Scott) Pioli and that `Asinchuck' guy [Andy Wasynczuk, chief operating officer]. I've been around a lot of organizations, and even though they won the Super Bowl, that wasn't one of the better ones," Cox said. Cox went on to say that he no problem with Belichick, so I'm assuming they're OK.
Has anyone done an analysis on how other teams have fared the week after playing the Patriots? In the last two years, it seems that most of them lose the week following the Patriot's game.
John, Scarborough, Maine
A: This year, teams are 4-7 the week after facing the Pats. Here's how it breaks down:
Indy loses to Tenn, 31-17.
Arizona loses to Atlanta, 6-3.
Buffalo loses to the Jets, 16-14.
Miami loses to Buffalo, 20-13.
Seattle loses to Arizona, 25-17.
Jets beat Miami, 41-14.
Pittsburgh beats Philly, 27-3.
St. Louis beats Seattle 37-17.
Buffalo beats St. Louis, 37-17.
KC loses to San Diego, 34-31.
Baltimore loses to Cincinnati, 27-26.
It appears that Charlie Weis is number one on Notre Dame fans' list. Wish list that is. Have you heard that he is interested or has been contacted? Someone added that his brother, close to Pats, said that contracts are fixed and that several, including Charlie will be leaving anyway. Have you heard that also?
Hank, San Dimas, Calif.
A: Hank, Charlie would be very interested in ND job. As of Wednesday, I had not heard of any contact yet. Buffalo offensive coordinator Tom Clements appears to be the guy they're courting for the time being. Charlie is at the end of his deal so he's free to leave after the season. There are a few other assistants who are in the final year. It'll be interesting to see if any of them would stay in NE or follow Charlie or Romeo if they land NFL jobs.
How far away is Ty Law from returning to the starting lineup? Is he at least practicing in pads? What about Ty Poole?
A: I try to ask Ty every time I see him and he really doesn't know. I don't believe he's working in pads yet. Poole is clearly ahead and he could begin to see action either later this week or next week. As of Wed. Poole was still listed as doubtful. If there's a week where that could be upgraded to questionable this might be it. There's also the school of thought that as long as the Patriots have an easy time winning these games, why not just take your time with the injured guys and let them heal all the way. I think some of that is going on with Poole.
Do you think Corey Dillon would benefit more with a bigger blocking fullback? I admire Patrick Pass because I think he's one of the toughest players on the team but he is undersized when it comes to taking on linebackers at the line of scrimmage. I think that is why you see the Pats go to Seymour when they are in goal line situations. Why not give him the same type of blocker up and down the field?
KC, New Jersey
A: KC, I don't believe I've heard Corey Dillon being called undersized very often. He's very strong. The Patriots offense really doesn't value the role of the fullback or else they would have one. They are content to have Dillon back there either on his own or with a little help from Pass and Seymour. I think they believe that using a roster spot on a pure fullback is a waste.
Do think the Pats will utilize their tight ends more in a possible playoff matchup vs. the Steelers. It appears that the Steelers like to blitz often leaving the flats open for tight end play? Or do they go to two tight ends against the Steelers and run Dillon.
Rod, Saco, Maine
A: Rod, I think it's tough to use the tight ends in the passing game against Pittsburgh because you need them to provide support blocking with their blitzes. That's a team where you need max protection for Brady, or he's going to get hit a lot. I'd think they'd rather use two tight ends and run the ball. You've got to beat the Steelers at their own game, which is controlling the line of scrimmage, which is what they did so well against NE on Halloween.
Should the Pats rest Dillon the next few games? I would think the team would want him rested and injury free for the playoffs. I understand the team still needs to win out the season but besides home field advantage isn't a rested Dillon a priority too?
A: Well Bill, he got plenty of rest against Cleveland. I can see them resting Dillon in the SF game at the end of the year, but before that? Unless it's a blowout, I would say that's not Belichick's style. He likes to keep his regulars out there as long as possible. Dillon also has a bunch of incentives I'm sure he wants to reach so he can be paid reasonably well for a top-echelon back. He has a chance to make about $4 million. Right now he's at about $2.75 million. He agreed to this incentive-laden contract, so the Patriots, I feel, are obliged to let him earn it.