Dillon stuck in neutral
New Boston Globe Patriots writer Mike Reiss checks in every Tuesday with his take on the Pats. Ask your question now, and come back next week to see if it was answered.
Not a very good looking game against the Panthers by either side of the ball. Two observations I wonder if I could get your views on.
1) When did we trade back for Antowain Smith? All we heard from the media during camp was how much better Corey Dillon was supposed to be. This is not a function of good defenses. What is wrong with the running game?
2) Matt Light is the most overrated lineman in all of NFL. You are guaranteed at least one false start, one holding penalty, and one sack. He is supposed to be an anchor and I don't see it. What are your thoughts?
Kyle, South Glens Falls, NY
A: Both players aren't off to as strong a start to the season as I'm sure they hoped to be. Dillon doesn't look as strong and powerful as we saw last year, as evidenced by the fact he already has five rushes for negative yards and five that went for no gain through the first two games. I think it's too harsh to call Light the most overrated lineman in the league. He's a solid player who hasn't played as well as he can to this point.
It seems like over the past couple of years the number of injuries have increased. Is the coach at all concerned about their conditioning program?
Adam, Portland, Maine
A: My feeling is that Bill Belichick is a big believer in what Mike Woicik and his strength and conditioning staff are doing. Woicik has six Super Bowl rings (three with the Cowboys, three with the Patriots) and players rave about him. A lot of the injuries (i.e. Randall Gay in Sunday's game) are less about conditioning and more about football's physical nature.
Tim Dwight when he was in college and also when he came into the league ran back punts (and kickoffs I think) different than he does now. He would run full blast while it was still in the air, run under the ball at top speed and catch it, and continue to run. I have never seen another player do this and I am wondering why he doesn't do it any more. Perhaps because he is older or because the coach does not like it? Can you ask Tim Dwight about that?
A: Tim was flattered that you remembered his style, Adam. Here is his answer: "I did that in Atlanta (with the Falcons) on kickoffs. Back in the day, they could doctor the balls and they could kick it five yards deep (into the end zone). We had a bunch of guys who were really good up front, so I would try to time it up and catch it on the run instead of catching it stand-still. It actually gave us an advantage because the wedge wouldn't have to come back as far. On punts, you can't do that (and I haven't returned kickoffs here)."
My question is, who's up in the box during the games telling Coach Belichick whether or not to challenge plays and does that person still have a job after Sunday?
A: This was a hot topic of discussion in Belichick's Monday press conference. Knowing how meticulous he is, I'm sure Belichick has one person in charge of potential replay calls. Belichick said on Monday that even after reviewing the play after the game, he's still not convinced there was enough evidence to overturn the call on Stephen Davis' 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. So my guess is whoever that person is, they are still employed by the team.
I have three questions. First, the running game is clearly a problem. From where I sit, it looks like Dillon has no locomotion coming to the line. By the time he hits it, there's nothing there. Has he really lost a step? Second, what's the kick and punt coverage problem? Is it a lack of speed? We never seem to have guys anywhere in the vicinity of the returner. Third, why do the media ask such stupid questions of Belichick at his postgame press conference?
A: Let's go to the bullet points to answer these three, Jason.
I don't think I've seen such sloppy play from the Pats in years. It was a team loss and I believe they need to improve all around. But my question is, what do you think is wrong with the special teams? This was the second week with a horrible performance from that squad. What are your thoughts on it?
A: Veteran Patriots players always say that special teams are a priority in New England, more so than other places they've played. So it's certainly not for a lack of practice time. Don Davis said missed tackles might be the culprit. And the special teams coach, Brad Seely, is considered one of the best in the business. "In a situation like this, there is accountability everywhere," Belichick said at his Monday press conference. "I need to do a better job of coaching, we need to do a better job with our specialists, we need to do a better job with our coverage, our leverage, we need to do a better job of tackling. There are a lot of things we need to improve. All of it would help."
Knowing that you can't really question Belichick, I would like to know why he didn't challenge the TD and the forward motion calls during the game.
Tim, Bronx, NY
A: On the touchdown run by Stephen Davis, Belichick said he didn't have enough evidence at the time and reiterated that point on Monday, even after looking at the film. One thing he might have been considering is that had a challenge been lost, the team would have lost a timeout, and potentially could have lost a third challenge later in the game. If a team challenges two plays and both are overturned, they get a third challenge later in the game. If a team challenges two plays and only one is overturned, that team is out of challenges. On the forward motion call, Tom Brady explained that's the open-palm rule and was indeed a fumble.
Did the offensive line fall apart against Carolina? Carolina got incredible field position again and again against the Patriots. No one could win in that situation. Wasn't the offensive line at fault?
Milton, Centereach, NY
A: Actually, Belichick said he felt the offensive line held up well in the face of Carolina pressure. Here was his comment from Monday's press conference: "Overall, I'd say the pass protection was pretty good. They blitzed 40 times, or whatever it was. Overall, I thought it was picked up pretty well. It can always be better, but throwing the ball as many times as we threw it I've seen a lot worse than that." Four false-start penalties (2 by Russ Hochstein, 1 by Matt Light, 1 by Logan Mankins) by offensive linemen hurt, however. Also, Light and Mankins couldn't knock Mike Rucker far enough off the play on Tom Brady's fumble.
While it is obvious the Patriots would love to have a great running game to balance their attack and are undoubtedly working hard at fixing it, it's just not looking very promising at the moment. Regardless of the reason for the funk, is it possible that at some point Belichick will concede the running game is a no-go and revert to a similar offense used in 2002 when short passes practically replaced the running game? Exactly how long can the Patriots keep trying to get their running game going before it's too late? If they keep running at 2.6 yards per carry much longer, they might not even make it to the postseason.
Antti, Helsinki, Finland
A: Way too early to give up on the running game, and I don't think Belichick would ever concede that part of the game. But look for Kevin Faulk to possibly get some more touches if things continue the way they have over two games. Dillon's burst isn't there.
Where has Patrick Pass been? Is he hurt?
KC, New Jersey
A: Pass isn't hurt and his primary role has been on special teams through two games. After Dan Klecko picked up a costly holding penalty at fullback, Pass could see more time there in the coming weeks. Pass isn't a traditional fullback in the sense of delivering bone-jarring hits, but he might warrant more time there.
Mike, with the recent special teams woes, I couldn't help but notice that Je'Rod Cherry is no longer listed on the roster. Are there any other players no longer with the team that helped to contribute to a strong special teams unit?
Chris, Scotia, NY
A: I think the Patriots have strong enough personnel on special teams, they just need to play better. The return of Tully Banta-Cain and James Sanders, two younger players on the roster who have been hurt through the first two games, might help the unit as well. Cherry was a nice player, but the team still had its struggles on special teams at times when he was here.
I am worried about the Patriots' lack of depth at running back. Most teams are 3-4 deep. We are two deep. If Corey Dillon goes down we are in big trouble.
John, San Jose
A: In today's game with the salary cap, it's hard to have adequate depth at every position. The 1-2-3 combination of Corey Dillon, Kevin Faulk and Patrick Pass is a nice mix because each brings a little something different to the field -- Dillon's a mauler, Faulk a change-of-pacer and Pass a reliable, versatile option. Yes, if Dillon goes down the Patriots would be in trouble. But you could pick a player on almost any other team in the NFL and say the same thing.
How can a team like the Colts afford to pay Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James huge salaries and still have enough left at the last minute to sign Corey Simon? Am I missing something here?
A: It's all a function of the salary cap and the way all those contracts are structured. Look at the Patriots as a similar example from this offseason. The team extended Tom Brady to a big-money deal, and also gave new lucrative extensions to linebacker Mike Vrabel and defensive lineman Jarvis Green. Running back Corey Dillon, safety Rodney Harrison and defensive tackle Richard Seymour also had adjustments to their contracts. While it might seem difficult for the Patriots to pay other players, the key is to look at how deals for players like Brady, Vrabel and Green are structured.
Just wondering why everyone is making such a big deal about the Pats not hiring a new offensive coordinator to replace Charlie Weis. It seems to me that if they had hired a new coordinator that person would have brought in their own scheme, which the Pats would then have to adjust to. The scheme Weis designed helped the Pats to win three Super Bowls and all the personnel on the offense are there because they fit Weis's scheme. By bringing in a new coordinator it seems like that chemistry could be disrupted and the offense altered. I think Belichick just said if it ain't broke don't fix it and decided not to mess with a good thing. Plus why do people think Belichick doesn't know offense? To be that good at designing defense you have to know a thing or two about offense.
John, Boulder, Colo.
A: You nailed it, John. I believe Belichick previously said the Patriots were going to run their system, and it didn't make sense to go out and find a coordinator who didn't know the system. That's why I believed he reached out to some coaches he worked with in the past -- Chargers assistant Steve Crosby comes to mind -- to gauge their interest in coming to New England. In the end, he felt it best to stay in-house. As for why people think Belichick doesn't know offense, it's just a perception that he's a "defensive guy" based on his past work experience. He's been mostly a defensive coach. But talk to some of his players and they'll tell you he's a football coach. Here is a quote from Chad Brown on the subject: "No matter what the play, no matter what the situation, he knows what every player on the field is doing. I can't say every NFL coach can do that."
This Daniel Graham/Ben Watson combination at tight end has the potential to be devastating. How do you see it unfolding? Will Graham see fewer passes and be used primarily against the run or do you see both TEs seeing their fair share of passes? I think Watson could be another Ben Coates. What do you think about Watson?
Chris, Portland, Maine
A: Graham and Watson could end up being the best 1-2 tight end punch in the NFL. Both were drafted in the first round (Graham in 2002, Watson in 2004), and the Patriots are the only team since 2000 to draft two tight ends in the first round. Furthermore, only 10 tight ends have been selected in the first round from 2000-2005. Both have all-around skills, although I believe Watson is a better pass-catcher than Graham, while Graham is a better blocker than Watson. I think they'll both see their fair share of passes, but would expect Watson to have more.
Why have the Patriots not tried Matt Chatham at inside linebacker? He has been around for some time now and should know the defense. He also seems to have the size for the position.
Michael, Bristow, Va.
A: Chatham's regular position is outside linebacker, although he worked at inside linebacker in some spring camps with the team and is probably an emergency type option should the team be struck with injuries at that spot. It's not an easy transition from outside linebacker to inside linebacker, because the spots require different skills. Inside linebackers are generally relied more upon for run-stopping, while outside linebackers set the edge in the 3-4 defense and are called on to rush the passer more.
Is Coach Bill thumbing his nose at the NFL each week he lists Tom Brady as "probable" on the injury report? Does he disagree with the disclosure rules this much? Does Bill punch him in the shoulder every Tuesday so there's some insignificant injury?
Nathan, Levittown, Pa.
A: No idea why Brady is always on the injury report, but my guess is that it's to set the team up for a potential situation in the future should Brady really not be able to play. In that type of situation, the opponent might figure Brady would definitely play and thus not spend the appropriate time preparing for Brady's backup.
It seems pretty clear that Josh McDaniels has assumed the de facto position of offensive coordinator. He appeared to be calling the plays from the sidelines with little or no input from Coach Belichick. I understand that the non-game duties may very well be divided among Dante Scarnecchia, Josh McDaniels, and Bill Belichick but play calling would seem to be the most important part of the offensive coordinator's job and McDaniels seems to have inherited that role. Were the Patriots reluctant to name him as such given his young age and the scrutiny that would have come with it?
Nate, Levittown, Pa.
A: Don't forget about tight ends coach Pete Mangurian as a part of the offensive staff, too. But as for McDaniels, who does appear to be calling the plays, I think you're right about why he's not the "official" offensive coordinator -- they are protecting him from scrutiny.
What is the status of Rohan Davey, anybody picking him up?
Gary, San Francisco, Calif.
A: No one has picked Davey up as of yet. He had some interest from the Texans, Broncos and Bears, but he's yet to sign with anyone.
Seems the Patriots have not given up on Kyle Eckel even though the Dolphins have him on the NFL military/reserve list. Apparently Eckel's agent is still trying to get him with Patriots because he can be posted in New England easier than in Florida. Anything you can fill us in on? He would be great later in the season on goal-line offense!
Bradley, Birdsboro, Pa.
A: I think the Patriots would like Eckel for their practice squad, but when the Dolphins signed him to their active roster, they lost his rights. Unless the teams were to work out some form of compensation, I can't imagine the Dolphins just letting Eckel go so he could play for the Patriots.
I am desperate for the Pats to move up in next year's draft and get one of the stud offensive tackles or linebackers. If the Browns are tanking at 0-5 or such do you think Romeo Crennel would give up their first rounder for Hill, Bethel and Gay. Or maybe even include Colvin in the mix. Romeo is not going to get five years to turn the Browns around so he needs players now. And the Pats could really use a Chad Greenway or Marcus McNeil or such. Would you make the move?
B. King, Quechee, Vt.
A: I don't think Romeo, or Browns general manager Phil Savage, would trade a first-round pick for any of the players mentioned, even as a package.
I noticed last year on several occasions that Troy Brown was more of a punt catcher, or even worse, punt spectator, than a punt returner. I remember at least two occasions when he cost the team big field position yards by not fielding the punt, and having it bounce well beyond him. I noticed in the opener that he's in a punt returner role once again. What gives? Is this a reflection of a really conservative special teams philosophy or aren't any of the younger faster guys good enough to unseat him? Thanks
Bill, Torrance, Calif.
A: Troy Brown and Tim Dwight are the Patriots' two primary punt returners -- and it looks like Brown is the "hands" guy and Dwight is the "return" guy. So when the Patriots are in a situation where they are fielding a punt inside the 15 yard line or so, look for Brown. Those are tough catches to make. When there is the chance for a big return, look for Dwight.
I have been wondering why after Ted Johnson retired the Pats didn't put Klecko in that spot. He has played some linebacker before, admittedly with mixed results because of the new position, but he has quick feet and the power build that would seem to fill the middle like Ted did against the run. Comments?
A: I think before the year began, the Patriots committed to moving Klecko back to the defensive line. My guess is that they felt Klecko at linebacker was an experiment that wasn't producing the results the team hoped.