Variety show starring 'Bony Maroney'
High above the Giants Stadium field on Sunday, members of the press watched the Patriots-Jets game unfold. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Boston Globe sports columnist Bob Ryan.
It's the first quarter and Laurence Maroney has made an immediate impact, ripping off some impressive runs on the Patriots' first scoring drive. Ryan takes notice. He pulls out his pen and notepad and starts scribbling some down notes.
No less than one minute later, Ryan turns to his left and says he has written a song about Maroney. It's to be sung to the tune of Larry Williams' 1950s rock-and-roll hit "Bony Maronie." Then he starts singing.
I've got a back named Larry Maroney.
He's a first draft pick; he ain't no phony.
Comes from Minnesota. Got a bunch of moves.
When he goes through the line, it's thundering hooves.
I love him; he loves me.
He's gonna take me to Mi-am-i.
It was a light moment, and one that seemed like a good thing to pass along to start this week's mailbag. I guess sportswriters can have some fun, too, and you have to appreciate Ryan's passion for what he does.
Each week, the mailbag seems to take on a different form. Some weeks, one topic (e.g. Deion Branch) seems to dominate the thinking of Patriots fans. Other weeks, there is more variety. This is a variety week, which I particularly like.
For our Patriots fan looking for a place to watch games in Austin, Texas, check out B.D. Riley's Irish Pub. The pub's owner is Steve Basile, a transplanted New Englander who ensures the games are always on. Thanks Steve.
On to the questions.
It looked like Corey Dillon injured his shoulder at the end of the game. How bad is it? Also, how much time will the Pats spend this week on improving their tackling techniques? That was probably one of the worst displays in a very long time.
Jim Curley, Seminole, Fla.
A: Dillon was in the locker room after the game and didn't look seriously injured to me. My hunch is that he's fine. As for the tackling, I'd say the defensive backs were the prime culprit. The defensive line and linebackers were pretty sound in that area. Knowing the way the Patriots do business, I'm sure that will be addressed in practice and meetings this week. Some of it was simply over-pursuing the play, which is a core fundamental.
My question is about the use of Kevin Faulk. In the game against the Jets, he didn't have great stats, but the Jets committed two pass interference penalties against him, which helped the Pats out in two key moments of the game. In the game against the Bills, he caught the touchdown pass to get the Pats back in the game. I just wonder why he isn't used more as a receiver? It seems like Kevin Faulk really causes problems for teams in pass coverage. Your thoughts?
Dale W. Somero, Nortonville, Ky.
A: Faulk has been used as a receiver when the team goes to its spread offense and has been impressive. Part of what makes him effective in that formation is that he has mostly been matched up against a linebacker. Faulk runs such precise routes, and is so smooth in the passing game, that it's a difficult matchup for a linebacker to stay with him, as the Bills' Angelo Crowell (beaten for a touchdown) and the Jets' Victor Hobson (called for pass interference) and Eric Barton (beaten for a 10-yard gain on the Pats' final drive) have discovered. As for playing Faulk more at receiver, I don't think he'd be as effective if the team wasn't in the spread offense, which would mean he's matched up on the outside against a cornerback.
So once again the Pats do just enough to win. Is Bill Belichick going to bench Eugene Wilson or is he having a week of tackling drills?
Cynthia Pleach, Canton
A: Wilson is a good player who I think had a down game. He over-pursued on Laveranues Coles' 46-yard touchdown reception, as well as on a big 8-yard Coles reception on third and six that set up the Jets' final field goal. He was also in coverage on Jerricho Cotchery's 71-yard touchdown catch. I don't see Wilson being benched; I still think he's one of the team's best two safeties. Also, depth is a bit of a concern right now at safety, with Artrell Hawkins (thigh) missing Sunday's game and James Sanders getting hurt on the opening kickoff and not returning. The team worked out three safeties on Monday -- Brent Alexander, Keion Carpenter and Lance Schulters.
I don't know who was supposed to be running what route and who is at fault on a particular offensive play, but to me Tom Brady is not looking sharp at all. He has his Brady moments, but overall, he's definitely not as sharp as in the past. I know it's only week three with a new group of guys, but I'm talking about uncharacteristic, un-Brady like stuff. Do you think that's a fair statement?
A: Quite fair, and I thought Brady was particularly candid about the situation after the game when asked about the inconsistency of the offense through two games. He said there are a lot of players fitting into new roles and that it takes time to get things down. I think it all comes down to Brady's comfort level. He needs to develop confidence and trust in the pass-catchers that he's throwing to, many of whom he's playing with for the first time. Also, I think Brady will be surprised to watch the tape of Sunday's game and see his body language; his shoulders would slouch at times and he just didn't have that confidence we've seen in the past. I think he needs to be careful with that because teammates can pick up on that quickly.
With all of the talk about the lack of a playmaker in the Pats' WR corps, I think we are overlooking a drop in the quality of Brady's play. Maybe I am wrong, but against both the Bills and Jets he made some very poor throws that had nothing to do with the receivers' skills: the under-throw to Watson in the end zone, the underthrown bomb to Doug Gabriel, throwing passes behind other guys. Is part of it due to communications and getting comfortable with his new receivers? That's the standard answer you hear all the time, but Brady's numbers don't lie.
Mike Worden, Colorado Springs, Colo.
A: Brady is 26 of 52 for 383 yards, with three touchdowns and two interceptions through two games. His completion percentage is down, which I'd mostly attribute to the learning curve of playing with new pass-catchers (he's a career 61.9 percent passer). The biggest thing to me, though, is that Brady had been rocked on back-to-back on blitzes, losing fumbles. Throwing bad passes is one thing, but being subjected to runaway rushers is a prescription for trouble, and injury. Those type of hits can also shake one's confidence. Overall, Brady's performance is down through two games -- and there is no denying he's made some poor throws -- but I don't expect that to be a regular occurrence. I still think he's the best quarterback in the NFL.
Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli and Co. are very consistent in their bargaining stance when it comes to unpopular trades and veteran releases, but how do prospective incoming players feel about the Patriots' organization regarding their cold personnel tactics? Does this hinder them from signing free agents at times? I am comparing this to past occurrences with the Bruins' lack of success to bring talent and leadership, such as Mike Modano. He seemed discouraged to sign because of the direction and instability of the hockey franchise. Is a potential issue progressing?
Jerry Herald, Fairfax, Vt.
A: My feeling is that it depends on what is important to the player. I don't see the Patriots' approach turning away all free agents, but perhaps some. Ty Law is one example, as he considered re-signing with the team but ultimately chose the Chiefs. Yet on the whole, I believe the Patriots are still a destination for many free agents because of the things a lot of us don't see behind the scenes, such as top-notch facilities, top-notch coaching that will make players better, and committed ownership that does little things like serving players three meals a day. For every situation like Law, there are players like Rodney Harrison and Junior Seau.
I thought I saw Mike Wright stand up and cover the tight end a couple times. Was Mike Wright playing some linebacker on a few plays in the Jets game?
Joshua Heyman, Framingham
A: Wright answered some questions in the locker room on Monday, and he said he solely played defensive line, and was never over the tight end. He was flattered, however, that you felt he had those skills. I'm guessing that might have been Mike Vrabel over the tight end.
This year, offenses appear to be going to no-huddle in an attempt to keep defenses out of the huddle and off balance. Are the Patriots prepared for this, and when do you expect that we will first see this approach used against them?
Pete Clark, England
A: The Jets used the no-huddle against the Patriots and I thought the team handled it well. Bill Belichick commented on the challenges to defend the no-huddle last week, saying: "Everything goes a little bit quicker. You just have to have communication with all 11 players, however that is done. When you huddle, it's a little bit easier because you have them all right there. I think the big thing is communication."
Did Bill Belichick or anyone reflect on Chad Jackson's outstanding first performance? I always had a soft spot for Chad Jackson watching him at Florida and following his serendipitous fall to the second round. He looked like a legit number one out there catching that great ball through double coverage and then getting open in the end zone.
Danny Ferraro, New York, NY
A: Here was Belichick's take on Jackson: "I think that Chad did some positive things. He was in there for a decent amount of plays. Some good. Some could have been better. Really it was like his first preseason game, only it's not. He really hasn't been practicing all that long either."
Is there any reason to be concerned about Gostkowski's ability to get enough lift on field goal tries? Has anyone reviewed the film to determine if this was a fluke or whether he may have buckled under the pressure and booted it at too low a trajectory?
Dan Gerwatowski, Franklin
A: Watching the kick again, it looks like it was low, and the Patriots also had a protection problem on the right side. I also wonder if the timing was a bit off. I remember snapper Lonie Paxton once saying the Patriots like to have the process of snap-to-kick completed in 1.35 seconds, and it might have been slow on this kick, allowing the Jets the extra time to penetrate and make the block. As for what this means for the future with Gostkowski, I wouldn't make any judgments on one kick.
I would be interested in knowing what production the Patriots got out of their three tight end sets offensively. It seemed to me while watching the game that some big passing and running plays came out of that three tight end set. Do you have the breakdown on that?
A: You've hit a soft spot in my football heart, Charlie. I'm a tight ends guy, as there is something about the position that captivates me. Here are the numbers: The Patriots called the three-tight end set 25 times. There were 19 runs for 81 yards (4.2 avg.) and two touchdowns. They were 2-of-6 passing for 58 yards and one interception. Both receptions were 29-yarders, one to Daniel Graham and the other to David Thomas. The interception was the long ball to receiver Doug Gabriel. Here is Graham's take on the three tight end set: "We saw other teams do that to the Jets and move the ball pretty successfully. So we felt going into the game that we could do the same. It feels good to be able to be able to run and catch the ball out of what is usually a running set. It expands our offense."
What is your take on the Belichick and Mangini sideshow that really was nothing? Why would Bill have a cold shoulder toward him?
Kevin Pickett, Rochdale
A: I wish I knew the whole story. I'm guessing there is more to the whole situation than what has been reported, and that Belichick is ticked off about something regarding Mangini's departure -- whether it was the Jets' involvement with Deion Branch, that Mangini flew the coop after one year as coordinator, that Mangini was potentially taking inside trade secrets to a division rival something went on that has seemingly created some less-than-warm feelings.
Do you think that Doug Gabriel and Chad Jackson will turn out to be the wide receivers the Patriots need?
David Sheridan, Washington, DC
A: My early thoughts on Jackson is that he's going to be a solid player, while I'd like to see more of Gabriel before making a final judgment. The approach of the coaching staff is to coach the players they have like Gabriel and Jackson, get them comfortable with the system, then evaluate. So I do think any evaluation on either player is a bit premature because they are at the beginning stages of being implemented into the system. But you had to like the early returns from Jackson on Sunday. I thought he looked smooth.
Great to see the 4-3 again. Just like against the Steelers last year, they stuffed the run against the Jets. Do you think this a one-shot deal like it was against the Steelers last year or is the 4-3 here to stay as part of a multiple defensive package? I was also surprised to see Mike Wright get the start at DT with Seymour at DE and Jarvis Green off the bench. Do you think Wright has moved ahead of Green? It appeared they played better with Seymour at his usual DT spot in the 4-3 with Green or Colvin at the DE spot opposite Warren.
A: Barring any injuries, I'd say the 4-3 is here to stay as part of a multiple defensive package the rest of the season. As for Mike Wright, I think he's a great story, rising from a rookie free agent to a spot in the d-line rotation. At the same time, I wouldn't read too much into his starting assignment on Sunday. Had the Patriots kicked off to start the game, my feeling is that Jarvis Green would have started the game on defense, because Wright would have been coming off his duties on the kickoff coverage team and would have been winded. What I would read into is the fact Wright was part of a five-man line rotation and is apparently ahead of others, such as Marquise Hill, Johnathan Sullivan and Le Kevin Smith.
I have been very, very impressed with the d-Line play. I know they were an expected strength but their play has been excellent. Seymour is Seymour, and Wilfork is a rock in the middle, but the best player on that line this year (so far) is Ty Warren. He is becoming a better player every game and a player I respect for his work ethic and obvious game time preparation. Do you think the Pats administration agrees with me?
A: I think the Patriots administration would agree that Warren is becoming a better player each day, although it might be taking it too far to say he's outperformed Seymour and Wilfork to this point. Both Seymour and Wilfork have been rock-solid as well. As for the d-line as a whole, that was a dominating effort on Sunday. In the season opener, I didn't think the d-line was sharp in the first half before playing well in the second half. So I think the d-line has played six out of eight solid quarters.
Do you think Bill Belichick gets way more credit than he deserves? Since Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel left, the Patriots have never been the same, both on the field and in the free-agent market. Last year's Denver debacle was a complete offensive collapse, which has never happened before, mind you, with David Givens and Deion Branch. I have also started following Notre Dame and cannot shake the feeling that I'm seeing the good old Patriots in different uniform. Without Charlie/Romeo, the Patriots' free agent record is just plain atrocious. I don't care how many extra draft picks we get, stellar free agent signings used to be the strength of the team. I seem to be the only one who doubts Bill. What are your thoughts on this?
Gary Ark, Massachusetts
A: I think Bill Belichick is a Hall of Fame coach. He makes mistakes, just like every other coach at every other level, but I think what he has accomplished in New England is remarkable to this point. Actually, sometimes I wonder if he gets enough credit. I do think the losses of Weis and Crennel had some on-the-field impact on the team, but the Patriots have generally held it together in a time of transition and maintained their success. As for that offensive collapse in Denver, I can also remember collapses when Weis was the coordinator, such as 2002 against the Packers (28-10 loss) and Titans (24-7 loss), 2003 against the Redskins (20-17 loss) and 2004 against the Steelers (34-20 loss). I also wouldn't necessarily correlate the team's free-agent performance with Weis and Crennel, as that is the area that vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli oversees.
The Patriots need a couple of receivers after losing Branch. Jerry Porter is sitting the pine for the Raiders. Why aren't the Pats making a run for him?
Adam Young, Raleigh, NC
A: Probably a few factors come into play with Porter. First, the Patriots want to see what they have with Chad Jackson and Doug Gabriel, and adding another new receiver into the mix would stunt that process. Tom Brady has said it several times: it's a process to develop chemistry with receivers, and I think adding another target at this time would only complicate matters. Second, while Porter has had solid production over the years, I wonder if he'd be a good fit in the locker room. These same comments would apply to someone like former Lions receiver Charles Rogers, too.
Regarding Branch, was this a Belichick/Pioli decision made for the better of the team or was Kraft involved and he did not want to pay $39 million for Branch? For what he has contributed (Super Bowl MVP) and wanting to surround Brady -- a rare QB in his prime -- with known quality the decision seems questionable. With Belichick's track record I would have no problem with decision, however if Kraft is getting involved for monetary reasons, I would start to wonder about the direction of team. Thanks for your input.
Phil, Princeton, NJ
A: Just speculation on my part, but I believe everyone is on the same page with the Patriots, meaning that the decision was made as a group with Belichick/Pioli and the Krafts working together. I don't think the Krafts are unwilling to spend the cash. While the team's total payroll is a bit down this year -- and in the lower end of the league -- I don't think that's a conscious intention on their part after being at the top end of the league in total payroll the last two years. I do believe the team had serious intentions to sign Branch and Ty Law, and also think they were dealing with uncertainties with the collective bargaining agreement that affected their spending this year.
With all their extra cap room, can the Patriots exercise their option bonus for Richard Seymour this year and have it all count against this year's cap? Is it too late for that? Is there a deadline? Must the bonus be spread over the length of the contract? If the Patriots could take the hit this year, then it'd free up a lot of room for the following years.
Jon Averback, Arlington, Va.
A: The Patriots, with Seymour's consent, can turn that option bonus into a roster bonus, and that bonus would count only against this year's cap. I believe they have until the end of the season to do that and that seems likely given the team's cap space. There have been quite a few questions on cap space in recent weeks and team president Jonathan Kraft spoke on the cap during an interview last week with Mike Felger of 890 ESPN Radio in Boston. Here are Kraft's comments about why the team was approximately $10.3 million under the cap before the Deion Branch trade: "It's not a conscious intention to be under the cap. First of all, the season is not over. Clearly, monies were being held for [Deion Branch's situation]. It's publicly known we were looking at the Ty Law situation at the time. Those two situations would have taken up a fair amount of the money. And there are some other things we'll be able to do potentially between now and the end of the year." I think it's also important to point out that the cap went from $85 million to $102 million this year, but teams couldn't necessarily plan for that with the uncertainty surrounding the collective bargaining agreement.
What happened to the kid Patrick Cobbs. He was a dynamic athlete. I had hoped they would keep him at least on the practice squad.
John L., Milton, NH
A: Cobbs was traded to the Steelers, then cut by the Steelers. At that point, the Patriots tried to sign him to their practice squad, but Cobbs felt like Miami was a better situation due to the Dolphins' thinner depth at running back. Answering a question from another e-mailer on Cobbs, I don't think the Patriots will receive a conditional draft choice from the Steelers as part of that trade.
As stirring as the first two victories have been, I can't help but wonder if maybe we're seeing a repeat of the 2002 season, after the Pats won their first Super Bowl. The team got off to a good start that year (won their first 3), but of course eventually missed the playoffs. While no slouches, this team certainly has its share of holes, starting with the receivers and extending through to the middle linebackers and, to an extent, the defensive secondary. Of course, we've seen the Pats overcome losses to injury and other factors before. Have you seen any clues as to which direction this year's team is headed?
Eric O'Connor, Portland, Ore.
A: I felt the biggest thing with the 2002 season was the Patriots' inability to stop the run (opponents averaged an astounding 4.7 yards per carry). In that scenario, most teams are in trouble. I don't see that problem this season, so I wouldn't draw the comparison to 2002. Overall, I think the Patriots are going to get better as the season progresses, win the AFC East, and make a run to the Super Bowl. Seems to me a lot of football followers want to be first to predict the team's demise, and I just don't see it that way.
Hey Mike, about this whole touchdown song thing, here's what I think: if you had a poll of the fans and asked them whether or not to scrap Rock and Roll Part II as the song, fans would overwhelmingly vote to keep it. As the saying goes, trust the art, never the artist. Gary Glitter may have run into trouble with the law, but his song has significance and importance in the fan community. I think this is a case where the Krafts should not be so ready to toe the NFL political correctness line, and should make their own decision. There are too many other examples of artists indulging in the worst behaviors still collecting royalties from the use of their music. What are your thoughts?
A: I hadn't put much thought into it, but consider your voice heard. I know the Patriots' ownership values the fan experience at games, so perhaps they will reconsider.