Bottom line on D-line: Expect both 3-4 and 4-3
New Boston Globe Patriots writer Mike Reiss checks in every Tuesday (the mailbag is moving from Wednesday to Tuesday starting next week) with his take on the Pats. Ask your question now, and come back next week to see if it was answered.
There has been a lot of critique by Sports Illustrated and other publications saying that the inside linebacker position will not be adequately filled by Monty Beisel and Chad Brown and that the Pats are dreaming thinking they will. Do you think they will be adequate?
Harlan, Hilton Head, SC
A: Beisel and Brown will be productive players for the Patriots, although they might not play the same roles that Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson did. I think Beisel will be a smart inside linebacker in the 3-4 but my question is if he's big enough to last a full 16 games with guards firing out at him. I have the same thought with Brown, who is 35. But from watching the Patriots over the last three years, the team's coaches usually find a way to play to the players' strengths, so I think the same will be true for Beisel and Brown.
So if the big question mark was at linebacker, how did they do? I didn't see all of the Raiders' game. And you have to like a coach who is willing to make an adjustment 3-4 to 4-3, whichever one is responsible deserves praise.
A: The new linebackers played OK in the season opener. Part of the switch to the 4-3 was because the Patriots were being pushed around in the running game a bit. Looks like we'll need a few more games to have a better gauge on the linebackers.
Everyone seems excited about the switch to the 4-3 defense during the Oakland game. With the positive results and some level of insecurity on the inside linebackers there seems to be a ground swell to move further in this direction. I question whether the Pats are deep enough with bench strength to do this in a very large way during the season. We have depth at linebackers, but not in linemen. Seymour, Wilfork, Warren and Green are maybe one of the top defensive lines as a starting unit, but who's going to back them up when the normal injuries occur? I think Belichick will use the 4-3 at times, more so than last year, but not to the degree that he would like due to the lack of quality depth there. Your thoughts?
Richard, Cleveland, Ohio
A: I think the Patriots will continue to play both the 3-4 and 4-3, mixing and matching based on each week's opponent. Don't forget that Willie McGinest could always play end in the 4-3 -- as he did in the Pete Carroll era -- providing more depth there. The d-line depth chart has Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren and Jarvis Green as the top four, with Marquise Hill, Dan Klecko and Mike Wright as the next three. McGinest and Vrabel also could possibly play some end in that alignment. The Patriots would probably activate 6-7 linemen per game, so you can get a solid group from those players.
The Pats played mostly in a 4-3 defense against the Raiders. Do you think that was a matchup thing or do you think we'll see this becoming the base defense as the year goes on. Also, any word one when Warren Sapp will be announcing his retirement now that he lost to the Pats (couldn't resist).
A: Bill Belichick wants the team to be "multiple" -- able to play both the 4-3 and 3-4 at any given moment. The game-plan will be altered based on their opponent each week. That said, you want your best 11 players on the field and playing the 4-3 probably gives the Patriots their best 11. So the roundabout answer is that you'll probably still see the 3-4 at times, but more of the 4-3. By not choosing one over the other, it forces opponents to prepare for both.
What was the song used to unveil the Pats third championship banner after Robert Kraft spoke? It will forever be linked to that moment ... in my head anyway.
Travis, Denton, Texas
A: A few folks wrote in to the mailbag about this. According to hard-working Patriots media relations assistant Casey O'Connell, the song played as the banner was unfurled is called "Carmina Burana" -- and is a classical piece by Carl Orff. It is also played at each game before player introductions, before the song "Crazy Train."
Besides his father, Steve, is there a former coach that Bill Belichick models himself after? I'm curious if someone like Vince Lombardi or perhaps John Wooden, has been a major influence to him. Thanks!
Mike, Turnersville, NJ
A: Word is that the new book coming out on Belichick, written by David Halberstam, might reveal the answer to this question. My feeling is that Belichick doesn't have one coach he models himself after, but draws different things from several of them.
When I saw Tim Dwight get ripped down from behind on his first return Thursday night I thought to myself, "Hey, isn't that a horse-collar tackle? Isn't that a penalty now?" Or, is it a fineable offense? Or, did the owners vote not to make it either?
Hiram, Toronto, Canada
A: The horsecollar tackle is illegal. It is for grabbing the inside collar of the back of the shoulder pads, or the inside collar of the side of the shoulder pads and immediately pulling down the runner. In Dwight's case, the referees must have ruled he was pulled down by the jersey, not the shoulder pad.
What is the status of Rosevelt Colvin? I didn't see him in the game against the Raiders.
Bill, Hollywood, Fla.
A: Three similar questions came into the mailbag on Colvin. He was active for the Raiders' game and was the third outside linebacker after Willie McGinest and Mike Vrabel. He finished with one tackle and wasn't a big factor in the game.
Do you think Rosie Colvin will be a contributor this year as he was inactive against Oakland?
Gary, Charlotte, NC
A: Colvin was active against the Raiders, although his impact on the game was minimal. He played well in Super Bowl XXXIX but forecasts that he would return to his dominating self in 2005 haven't come to fruition to this point. This will be an interesting situation to watch going forward.
Couple of things I was surprised about, and wanted to see if it surprised you a little as well: 1) Bill Belichick going with Bethel Johnson over P.K. Sam or David Terrell? Seems Bethel did nothing because of injury, and even now he is listed as questionable ... given how long they have worked w/ him I would have thought they would have given P.K. a chance instead? 2) Given that three (of the six) receivers were questionable in Week 1 and that position is injury prone, I would have thought Bill might go with seven receivers on the 53-man roster to protect against it. Seems like keeping Wesly Mallard as extra LB is risky vs. extra WR which seems injury prone.
Jeff, North Reading
A: I never felt Bethel Johnson's roster spot was in jeopardy because of the explosive speed he brings, especially on kickoff returns (impressive 24.8 yard average in 2004). A few years back, Bill Belichick mentioned that it's extremely difficult to cut speed. I think he was talking about David Patten at the time, and I've never forgotten that. On the second point, it looks like the Patriots have protected themselves at receiver by signing Sam to the practice squad. So really, the team has the best of both worlds -- it has depth at receiver on the practice squad and Mallard is a core special teams player.
I wanted to know your thoughts on P.K. Sam? I saw that he was re-signed to the practice squad, does this mean anything? I for one think he has the tools to eventually earn playing time.
Josh Blais, South Burlington, Vt.
A: As I was projecting the final 53-man roster, I had a hard time cutting Sam (and actually projected him to make the team). He was the youngest player drafted in 2004, and because of that I felt he would be a 2- to 3-year project. The fact the Patriots re-signed him makes me think they still believe he can help them if needed. At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, he has a makeup different than the majority of the team's receivers.
P.K. Sam was wearing the number 14 -- Steve Grogan's old number. Why are the Patriots allowing that number to be used? I would think that it would be either officially or unofficially retired. The Red Sox don't let anyone use the No. 14 (Jim Rice) even though it's not officially retired.
A: Grogan is a member of the Patriots' Hall of Fame, but his number isn't officially retired. The retired numbers are 20 (Gino Cappelletti), 40 (Mike Haynes), 57 (Steve Nelson), 73 (John Hannah), 78 (Bruce Armstrong), 79 (Jim Lee Hunt) and 89 (Bob Dee). Your question is an interesting one, since Andre Tippett's old 56 isn't retired but also isn't given out. I guess the question is whether Grogan's accomplishments merit his number being retired.
I'm assuming that Bill Belichick won't respond to Steve from Winchester's comment from last week, so let me. His basic premise is incorrect because his calculations presume random events like coin tosses. Football games are not random events. I will say that the Golden Nugget in Vegas Odds for the Patriots to win the Super Bowl before the start of 2000-2001 season was 65-1. I had been putting $10 on them before the season for a few years, mostly as a joke. So when that field goal split the uprights and beat the Rams, I also made $650.
Ted, Madras, India
A: You're not the only one responding to Steve this week.
Your latest mailbag had a comment from a reader discounting the "long odds" of a team winning three Super Bowls in a row. He did this by saying a team has a 1 in 32 chance of winning the Super Bowl at the beginning of the year, "same every year for every team, mathematically." That is not true, because Super Bowl champions are not selected by flipping a coin, pulling names out of a hat, or any other simplistic, mathematical random selection. The game is played with deliberate, directed intention, by coaches and players of varied skill levels, and under varied conditions and strengths of schedule. Random luck plays a role (injuries, favorable bounces, etc.), but it is minor compared to these factors for purposes of odds-making. It is inane to say the Saints or 49ers have the same odds of winning the Super Bowl right now that the Patriots or Colts have. The most recent bookmaking odds I've seen -- which are different from straight statistics, but obviously based on them -- have the Patriots' Super Bowl odds at 4-1 and the 49ers at 200-1. That is a closer match to reality. Your reader was right to say talk of the odds of winning three Super Bowls in a role is irrelevant. But he didn't go far enough. Talking about any football odds in simplistic coin-tossing terms is irrelevant. Unless, of course, we're talking about the coin toss.
Who were the players the Patriots exposed to the Houston Texans in the 2002 expansion draft? Was Willie McGinest on that list? Can't imagine these years of glory without the services of No. 55.
Bru, Washington, DC
A: The Patriots exposed McGinest and fellow linebacker Ted Johnson, as well as receiver Charles Johnson, cornerback Terrance Shaw and safety Matt Stevens. The Texans picked Stevens. At the time, McGinest and Johnson were on the list due to their higher salaries.
I was just answering a previous person's question about where to watch a Patriots game in Chicago. I have lived in Chicago for a while now (still a loyal Boston sports fan). I remember watching Patriot games at "The Store" in Lincoln Park on Halsted Street, when they were pathetic. A lot of loyal New Englanders gathered there for Red Sox and Patriot games. I no longer get down there for Patriot games but I am sure there are still New Englanders who gather there on Sundays and most of them are diehards who followed them before their recent success.
Tom, Long Grove, Ill.
In responding to the below comment by Mike posted last week ... We have a group of Pats fans that watch all the games at Floyd's Place in the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle.
For the guy in Seattle who was looking for a place to watch games with Pats fans: Floyd's Place (Queen Ann 'hood); 521 1st Ave N; Seattle, WA 98105. Quite a large group of Pats/Sox fans gather here in the back room for Pats games, as well as Red Sox playoff games. The managers agreed to put in a large screen for us last year, with the promise that we'd make it our home base for games. It's been great watching our teams with fellow New England fans! Decent BBQ to boot.
Any word on what Warren Sapp did after the Raiders lost? He vowed if the Patriots ever beat him, it would be the day he retires. Considering Sapp is a low-keyed guy who doesn't usually flap his gums, you gotta take him on his word.
A: I'm pretty sure Sapp will be in uniform this Sunday night when the Raiders host the Chiefs. But I'm also sure the Patriots, and especially Russ Hochstein, haven't forgotten Sapp's derogatory words leading up to Super Bowl XXXVIII.
What's the current status of Andy Katzenmoyer? I understand that he slipped into oblivion, but was curious if there are any rumblings about a possible return to the game.
Rick, Rockland, Maine
A: Andy's agent, Neil Cornrich, passed along word that Andy is living in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, and is involved in a number of activities. But he is unable to resume his career to a cervical injury he sustained while playing football.
One cut that surprised me a little was Rodney Bailey. He figured to be an integral part of the defense last year until he ruptured his Achilles tendon. Prior to camp, I thought that maybe his presence would help the Pats re-work the defense, especially with Bruschi out and Johnson retiring. Why was he cut this year? Also, how did his cap hit figure, at all, into the equation?
A: My guess is that Bailey was cut because the Patriots didn't feel he was the same player he was before injuring his Achilles. The Patriots paid Bailey $1.625 million over the last two seasons and he didn't even play a down for them. His cap hit would have been around $700,000, so that might have been a factor. But that's not a very high number if the player is productive. Bailey signed with the Seahawks on Tuesday.
The Pats schedule looks tough this year. Away games at Carolina, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Denver? Are you kidding me?!? What I want to know is the Pats strength of schedule the toughest in the league? And can you compare it to the other teams that made the playoffs last year (Philly, Indy, Pittsburgh)? I mean, does the NFL have it out for them or what?
Joe, Los Angeles
A: Every team is subject to the same rotating schedule and it just so happens the Patriots are playing the NFC South and drew Carolina and Atlanta on the road. What I find interesting is that none of the teams you mentioned are in the AFC East and I believe those are the most important games on the schedule -- and will be the most challenging. I also think Pittsburgh and Denver won't be as good as last year. As for judging the team's strength of schedule, so much changes from year to year in this league that it's not always the best barometer to judge a schedule.
Was Tedy Bruschi finally put on injured reserve? I believe he had to go from the PUP to injured reserve list by the time the 53 man rosters were due.
JJ, Burlington, Vt.
A: Tedy is still on the physically unable to perform list, which technically leaves the door open for a potential return after Week 6.
Explain, please, the faith so many football writers place in the Colts winning the Super Bowl this year. The Colts must be one of the most overrated teams of all time and, in my opinion, Peyton Manning may well be the reincarnation of Dan Marino, a quarterback with great stats but unable to lead his team to a Super Bowl win. I sometimes wonder if one of the problems with the Colts is, in fact, Manning.
Mark, Manchester, Conn.
A: The Colts have an explosive offense but just haven't put it together with a good enough defense or special teams performance in recent years. With the additions of free-agent Corey Simon (defensive tackle) and draftees Marlin Jackson (first round, cornerback) and Kelvin Hayden (second round, cornerback), some "experts" are predicting the Colts have done enough to put together a complete team. I think Manning is one of the best quarterbacks in the game and don't see him as the problem in Indianapolis.
I saw that the Dolphins put Kyle Eckel on something called the reserve/military list. Why couldn't/didn't the Pats do that and hang onto him?
Jay, Helena, Mont.
A: My understanding of the situation is that when the Dolphins signed Eckel, the Navy didn't approve his transfer from his military base in Newport, RI. So the Dolphins wanted to retain his rights (and perhaps keep him away from the Patriots) and placed him on the reserve/military list. In the Patriots' case, they wouldn't have been able to place Eckel on the list, because he would have been at the base in Newport and given the opportunity to play for the team.
I'm really impressed with Logan Mankins. He appears to be a steal as the last pick in the first round. Should we expect him to be a cornerstone on the o-line for years to come?
Chris, Scotia, NY
A: He's off to a great start and is signed through the 2009 season. So yes, he'll be a big part of the team's plans over that time, and possibly longer. One factor that deserves mention here is the work of agent Frank Bauer, who made it a priority to get Mankins into camp on time because he knew Mankins had a great opportunity to emerge as a rookie. Meanwhile, the Rams are struggling to integrate Alex Barron (19th overall pick) into their mix after his holdout.
Can you explain Vince Wilfork being credited with an interception? I understand the ball never hit the ground, but the ball was clearly knocked out well before Kerry Collins' arm went forward.
A: After further review, that play was changed from an interception to a fumble recovery on Monday.
Who do you feel will be the team MVP in 2005?
A: Quarterback Tom Brady is my choice, and probably the obvious choice for most who follow the team. He's a top-notch quarterback in the prime of his career and is surrounded by some nice weapons. Should be a big year for Brady.
Eagles running back Brian Westbrook recently stopped renegotiation talks with Philadelphia. Is he a UFA next year, and do you think the Patriots would pursue him? Although on the small side, he would make a great addition as a change of pace back (to Dillon) and also an upgrade over Kevin Faulk as a runner and receiver.
Andrew, The Bahamas
A: Westbrook doesn't seem like a fit here, especially since he'll command a big salary. The Patriots have Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk is the perfect complement -- both in running style and salary. For how the Patriots would use each player, I'm not sure Westbrook would be an upgrade over Faulk, who is an underrated receiver.
This appears to be the first time that a team (Oakland) has figured out the 3-4 alignment. What did they do to beat it? Also I think we have a good offensive line, but in the first half of the Oakland game there was no room to run. What did the Oakland defense do to stop Dillon?
A: Oakland pounded the ball with running back LaMont Jordan to beat the 3-4 defense. Early on, the Patriots' run defense wasn't especially sharp. On the Patriots' running game, Oakland's defensive line is one of the better units in the league and Bill Belichick said they created a lot of problems for the Patriots. The Raiders ranked near the bottom of the league in run defense in 2004 and they obviously committed to not letting that area beat them on Thursday night.
I think the area where Belichick is an absolute indisputable master is game-planning and I think that the Pats coaching will hurt the least there from the "defections" of Weis and Crennel. But what I'm especially concerned about with the loss of Charlie Weis in particular, is in-game adjustments. I think Weiss deserves a lot of credit for the Pats Super Bowl victory last year in how they adjusted at halftime. What are the chances of someone on the Pats staff assuming the offensive coordinator position and handling more of the in-game adjustment role with the Pats offense. And whom would that most likely be if it were to happen, Josh McDaniels, Dante Scarnecchia?
Steve, Phoenix, Ariz.
A: Belichick has spent the most time talking with McDaniels during the games. McDaniels, wide receivers coach Brian Daboll and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia hold playsheets while watching the game from the sidelines. I'll pick McDaniels.