PHOENIX -- Greetings from Phoenix, where we'll be filing mini-mailbags each day leading up to the Super Bowl.
Today is a quiet day in the city, but it is expected to pick up tomorrow when the Patriots arrive around 7 p.m. ET.
There are a wide variety of questions flowing into the Patriots mailbag leading up to Super Bowl XLII, and we'll touch a few of them in our first submission of the week.
Mike, what do you think the chances are that the Patriots come after the Giants in a traditional 4-3 defense rather than their usual 3-4? I think it might catch the Giants off guard, and also limit the lack of coverage abilities of both Junior Seau and Tedy Bruschi. It may also lead to Richard Seymour being an absolute beast in that game and cause a lot of headaches for Eli Manning.
A: I'd say it's possible, but unlikely. The reason I say possible is that the Patriots did just that in their last Super Bowl win, over the Eagles. They came out in their "Cali front", which was a four-man line focused on shooting gaps. It was an alignment they hadn't used all year, so imagine the Eagles' surprise that day. I think the plan was effective because a big part of that game was keeping Donovan McNabb in the pocket. I don't think they will treat Manning the same way as McNabb, because he's not as much of a threat with his feet. The other factor is that limiting the Giants running game will be a top priority and I think the Patriots play the run best out of the 3-4 alignment.
How much will it affect the offensive game plan now that Tom Brady has missed multiple practices? Will they be able to get all the different plays in that they want?
Bklyn Pats Fan
A: It's obviously not ideal, but I think it's far from crippling. In one respect, what's the point of practicing if you don't need to be there? But in the other respect, Tom Brady is a special player and I don't think it will hold him back much at all. I compare it to the Randy Moss situation in training camp. I felt as if Moss could have practiced with his slightly tweaked hamstring, but the team was playing it safe with him. You weigh the risks vs. the rewards. The team obviously wanted Brady at practice. But team officials obviously didn't think that was more important than the rest he could receive by laying low.
What was Brady's injury in the Steelers playoff game in 2001? Is this something similar?
Seth, Enfield, Conn.
A: Brady sprained his left ankle in 2001's AFC Championship game against the Steelers, and the swelling of that injury was considerable. His ankle looked like a bowling ball. This sprain is to the right ankle and the swelling is much less severe. So I'd say they are considerably different situations, Seth.
In all seriousness, does Belichick tell players how to talk to the media? Are there meetings about this because they all seem to speak the company line and never mess up when talking you the media, almost like the Stepford wives, they are programmed. For example, do you think he told them on Thursday and Friday "OK, Brady is here, he is getting treatment and will play, but don't let anyone in the media know this."
A: I don't think he tells them what to say, but every morning when the team meets as a whole Belichick goes over points about the opposition that are often repeated by the players. And I would imagine at that time he probably says something like "Be prepared as you'll probably get a lot of questions about Tom Brady. Just worry about yourself. Do your job."
Why is Giants defensive Steve Spagnuolo getting such praise? I remember the Pats getting Moss behind the Giants secondary on two consecutive plays and Donald Driver taking a ball 60+ yards in sub-zero weather. Given how decisively Ryan Grant was shut down, I can't believe the Pats are going to ignore a secondary prone to such coverage breakdowns.
A: I think part of the reason Spagnuolo gets praise is that he's a likeable, energetic coach who has implemented an effective pressure-based system. Furthermore, he's come from a good system in Philadelphia, where he learned the ropes under respected defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. That is not to say Spagnuolo's defenses aren't vulnerable in certain areas. All defenses are. But players really responded to him this year and the defense has been an overall bright spot (e.g. league-leading 53 sacks in the regular season).
Can you explain the difference from the roster of this match-up with the Giants vs. the one in Week 17. Are we in better shape with regards to the offensive line now? And will the defense be able to put more pressure on Eli? I think that they can limit the ground game, but after the last matchup it didn't seem to matter. Hopefully the Pats D will get better reads and know when to bring on more of a pass rush.
A: The Patriots were without the starting right side of their offensive line against the Giants, as Stephen Neal (guard) and Nick Kaczur (tackle) were sidelined due to injury. Tight end Kyle Brady (foot) also didn't play. On the Giants' side, cornerback Sam Madison pulled up later in the game, but he's healthy now. And you can expect to see Ahmad Bradshaw, an impressive rookie running back. He did not play for the Giants in that game.
I am curious as to how the Patriots have fared in the opening coin toss. Given the fact that the Giants, Jaguars, and Chargers each got the ball first in the last three games, I'm guessing the Pats have lost the coin toss at least 3 times in a row. This is a significant disadvantage in my opinion. An opening drive score for the Pats would put serious pressure on an opponent.
A: The Patriots finished the regular season having won seven opening tosses, with nine losses. As you pointed out, Sam, the team has lost both tosses in the playoffs.
In your blog regarding Sunday's AFC Championship game you mentioned the following: "The Patriots get the ball to start the second half. It will be interesting to see if they consider taking the wind for the fourth quarter instead of the ball." I'm confused exactly how the coin flip effects both halves. Can you elaborate. Plus if San Diego got to choose, why didn't they pick the wind in the fourth quarter?
A: The team that wins the opening coin toss can choose whether it wants the ball or to defend a certain direction in the first quarter. The team that loses the toss gets that same choice in the second half. I heard Patriots coach Bill Belichick, on sports radio WEEI, mention that he was happy to have the wind in the fourth quarter.
Now that Mel Mitchell has been placed on IR, who is most likely to fill that extra roster spot?
A: If it is to be filled, I would assume it is someone off the practice squad. Receiver Bam Childress, offensive lineman Dan Connolly, receiver C.J. Jones, cornerback Tim Mixon, tight end Jason Rader, cornerback Gemara Williams, linebacker Kyle Bissinger and defensive lineman Santonio Thomas are the practice squad possibilities. Since Mitchell was a gunner on special teams, Williams would be my choice. Yet whoever is activated to the 53-man roster isn't a slam dunk to be on the 45-man game-day roster.
Do reporters ever stay later than the 15-minute allotment they are given to watch practice? Do they ever sneak back in to see if a player came to practice late? Are there penalties for this? Thanks.
A: Reporters are not allowed to stay after the 15-minute period, Matt. We are ushered out of the practice by the Patriots' media relations and security staff. There is no way to sneak back in.