Secondary depth chart of primary concern
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.
With the injury problems in the secondary, who do you see filling the void? Is it possible the team will ask Troy Brown to fill in again in nickel situations? Is there anyone from the practice squad that might be signed? Or is it possible they'll sign a free agent out of nowhere, like they did last year with Hank Poteat (among others)? With the way things are going, perhaps Ronnie Lippett and Raymond Clayborn should be sitting by their phones.
Doug Brooks, Boston
A: Here's how I'd break down the defensive backfield right now:
Randall Gay (probably out a few more weeks)
Tyrone Poole (probably out a few more weeks)
James Sanders (probably out a few more weeks)
Rodney Harrison (out for year)
The main problem is safety depth. Linebacker Don Davis can play there. Chad Scott can, too. Safety Ray Ventrone is on the practice squad, but he's an undrafted free agent who probably isn't ready to contribute in the regular defense. There are also free-agent options, although the crop of available safeties is thin. Each scenario you mentioned is a possibility (Hank Poteat, Troy Brown) although I'm not sure Lippett and Clayborn are looking for work.
Mike, how deep are the Pats at safety now that Harrison is out? I know they have Guss Scott but they cut Dexter Reid and this kid Sanders has been hurt. Is there anyone out there who could help?
Chris, Portland, Maine
A: The free-agent pool is considered thin with Rogers Beckett, Brock Marion, Damien Robinson, Cory Bird and Reggie Tongue some of the top "names" available. The Patriots could also add a free-agent cornerback, like veteran Bobby Taylor, and move Chad Scott to safety if necessary. The second option is what I would choose if the team decides it's not staying in-house to address the depth concerns. I've always liked Taylor.
In the media reports on Sunday's win over the Steelers were Adam Vinatieri's strong kickoffs -- two to the back of the end zone. Has he worked on leg strength in the offseason or did the adrenaline just kick in?
Dana Baggett, Bailey Island, Maine
A: Here is Adam's answer to your question: "We've been working on some things, trying to get a little more depth on the kickoffs. It was a nice night, with very minimal wind. It was pretty warm. So it was good (for kickers). As the season goes on, and it gets colder, the ball doesn't fly as well. But it was flying good. ... It was the closed end of the stadium on those two (touchbacks) but it was flying pretty good both ways. Pittsburgh is notorious for having a tough place to kick, but it was pretty friendly."
On the game-winning drive, Patrick Pass literally ran around a Steelers defender after catching Brady's next-to-last pass. He seemed to show impressive speed, and that yardage was critical to getting into field goal range. Could you see him more often in the backfield as an offensive weapon?
Bevan Manson, Santa Monica, Calif.
A: Patrick Pass will most definitely be seeing more time after his performance against the Steelers. Pass has the versatility the Patriots like in non-starting players -- he can return kicks, play on special teams coverage units, and provide depth at running back and fullback. One of his best plays Sunday was as a lead blocker on Corey Dillon's fourth-quarter touchdown run. The Patriots didn't use Pass much in the first two games, but based on his production, he's earned more time.
One guy who really impressed me against the Steelers, even before his key fourth quarter reception, was Patrick Pass. He did some key blocking that really helped the offense chug along. What does Belichick say about Pass and how he may develop and be used as a versatile player this season? Also, Christian Fauria was in for a number of downs but his number's not getting called. Is he too far down the depth chart at this point to make a big impact this season?
Jason Rubin, Melrose
A: A double dose of Patrick Pass in this week's mailbag. I was impressed, too, and Bill Belichick previously talked about the versatility of Pass and how he is an excellent route runner for a running back. As for Fauria, he's the No. 3 tight end, and while his number hasn't been called much in the passing game, he can still make an impact this season.
I have a regular question for you instead of asking a complaint question about the team. Of the players who drives the nicest car and what car is it? And do any players drive any exotics/sports cars?
Chris Clough, Medway
A: Since we don't see the players in their cars that often, tight end Christian Fauria was asked the question: "There are a lot of nice cars out there. Who drives the nicest car? That's kind of a loaded question so you can take what you want out of it. A lot of guys have cars in another state, so you really don't see them. Like Willie (McGinest); he was on "Rides" on MTV and he had a couple cars where I was like 'Damn, those are sweet cars.' Old-school cars. High-end cars like Lamborghinis. So you really don't know. But as for cars I've seen here in the parking lot, (Doug) Flutie is a guy who every time he drives up I see him in a different car -- from an old-school Trans Am to a Dodge Viper. As far as high dollar (cars), you have to go to the high-dollar guys. Tom (Brady), Rosie (Colvin), they have Bentleys."
Big Pats fan out here in St. Louis. As I was watching the game yesterday, I happened to notice that with 13:59 remaining in the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh was called for a false start, and while the referee was announcing the penalty, the clock on CBS went from 13:59 to 14:51, and was never adjusted. I went back with my Tivo, and sure enough, the clock switched at that point. Did anybody talk about that after the game, and does the CBS clock match with the game clock? If so, sure seems like that extra 52 seconds helped us in this game.
Jeremy Zangara, St. Louis, Mo.
A: Kudos to you, Jeremy, for picking up on this. Here is the statement released by NFL director of officiating Mike Perreira on Monday: "In (Sunday's) Pittsburgh-New England game, the game clock was improperly reset early in the fourth quarter, resulting in 52 seconds being added to the game's official time. With 14:51 remaining in the fourth quarter, a Pittsburgh run from the Steelers' 30-yard line resulted in the ball carrier being tackled for no gain. The game clock properly continued to run. However, before the ball was snapped for the next play, a false start penalty against the Steelers stopped the clock with 13:59 remaining. Following the enforcement of the penalty and before the ball was snapped for the next play, the game clock was improperly reset to 14:51 again, instead of remaining at 13:59. The on-field officiating crew, which oversees the official game clock operated in the press box, failed to recognize that the clock was improperly reset."
Did you think the end of the game scenario was a little risky? We all know that Vinatieri is clutch, but why not spike the ball and stop the clock with 2 or 3 seconds left rather than have Vinatieri run out, and kick while the clock was still running? It was only third down. And as it played out he had just enough time to get set and kick. Had there been anything wrong; footing, missing player on the field, anything, the clock runs out while the Pats are just standing there and we go to overtime. Even if they wanted to save the fourth down for another try, they may not have had time. Even though it worked out, it seemed very risky to me.
Stephen Roughan, Mashpee
A: The risk is there on both sides. If the Patriots leave too much time on the clock, there is risk that the Steelers could take back the ensuing kickoff and quickly get into field goal range. Patriots coach Bill Belichick explained it this way: "It was kind of like basketball. We were playing for the last shot there. If we make it, we make it. If we don't, time expired and we're in overtime." In this case, Vinatieri is the NFL's version of the slam dunk.
I know this will probably not be the only question like this but what is up with special teams? The return game itself is looking much better but why are we getting so many "stupid" penalties? Also, do you think that the Steelers are "dirty"? In the last three meetings there have been many injuries to our guys. The reason I ask this is that on the replay of Harrison it looks like a Steeler came in very low and was not going to have any impact on the play what-so-ever. What are your thoughts?
Kyle Mcfarland, South Glens Falls, NY
A: The kickoff return and punt return units have made positive contributions so far this season. As for the coverage units and penalties, part of it is a lack of discipline by the players being flagged for those infractions. The other part is due to the speed of the game; one special teams player explained this week that sometimes a player might think he has the angle to make a block, but that angle changes so quickly it can easily become a block in the back. As for the Steelers playing dirty, I don't think that's the case. On the play Harrison was injured, it looked like Pittsburgh wide receiver Cedrick Wilson made contact with Patriots safety Eugene Wilson, and then he inadvertently rolled into Harrison. I think the Patriots might have more of a beef with the playing surface in Pittsburgh (it's soft) than the Steelers' style of play.
Why did the Pats have a string of five successful running plays at one point Sunday, but only intermittent running success at other points in the game?
Chris Barr, Wayland
A: Credit the Steelers a bit. They have been one of the toughest teams to run against in recent seasons. The Patriots mixed and matched well, using Corey Dillon (power), Kevin Faulk (elusive) and Patrick Pass (steady) to give the Steelers different looks. Here is Bill Belichick's take on the performance of the running backs: "I thought the backs played very well. I thought Corey (Dillon) ran hard. I thought he made good run reads. I thought Kevin (Faulk) ran hard and made some good cuts. I thought that they had a real good day running the ball for what their opportunities were."
Is it just me or the offensive holding call on Pittsburgh's equalizing drive seemed rather harsh? None of the commentators mentioned anything while the replays showed more of a shove by the Pittsburgh receiver. Keep up the good work with the column.
Nayab Zafar, Columbia, Mo.
A: I think you're referring to Chad Scott's pass interference call and my opinion is that the official has to make that call because there was contact before the ball arrived. Looked like Scott's timing was just a bit off.
I think the "Unsung Hero" award needs to go to Corey Dillon for his blocking during the final drive of the game. It sounded like he was delivering a number of just punishing blocks -- I could hear Phil Simms oohing about how hard he was hitting. I was wondering if you could confirm this, because so much of the action was off camera. I also think that Dillon ran an excellent game. He still appears to me at least to be a punishing runner -- that 8 yard run for the touchdown in the second half being an excellent example of his patience and great body control as he dived for the cone. Don't you agree that the reason he hasn't been running as well this season is more due to the change in the O-line (which was beginning to gel before Matt Light went out). Thoughts?
Matt G., Somerville
A: Dillon delivered at least one crunching block I saw in the passing game. As for Dillon still being a punishing runner, I think he looked that way against the Steelers despite averaging only 2.8 yards per carry (22 rushes, 61 yards). I didn't see that same explosion against the Raiders or Panthers. As for the running game's production being pinned on the offensive line, I don't think that's fair. It's been a combination of the line and the running backs. There was improvement against the Steelers.
Any idea if Tedy Bruschi was at the Pittsburgh game? Even though he has said he won't, I still have this feeling we will see him on the field sometime this season.
Gary, Portsmouth, NH
A: Tedy was present for the team's home opener against the Raiders, watching from the sideline. I don't believe he attended the team's game in Pittsburgh. As for him playing again this season, it's certainly a possibility based on his status on the physically unable to perform list. Tedy is a regular in the locker room during media access periods and often arrives after his regular workouts. He appears to be in fine physical condition.
Mike, after watching the Steelers game I am still concerned about the running game remaining consistent. Corey is still breaking the first tackle, but it looks like the counters or traps seem to be the problem. The pulling blocks are not timed correctly and the runs are taking too long to open. What are your thoughts on this?
Lee Conrad, San Antonio, Texas
A: Right now, we have three games to judge the team's running game, which isn't enough to make any conclusive determination. But I thought it was better against the Steelers. I didn't notice the counters and traps being consistent problems, although I thought Corey Dillon's second touchdown -- in which right guard Stephen Neal and fullback Patrick Pass were out in front -- was particularly well executed. To repeat the theme from last week, I think more time is needed to effectively judge the running game. It seemed to improve a bit this week.
In the Pittsburgh newspapers, Steelers players were saying their poor execution was the factor in the loss to the Patriots. What do you think?
A: Steelers lack of execution was a factor in the game, as was the Patriots' stellar execution in the fourth quarter. Usually, newspaper writers will focus their articles on the team they are covering, which is why some of the Pittsburgh articles might have been geared towards the Steelers' struggles and not the Patriots' execution. It was probably that way here after the Patriots lost to the Panthers -- it was sloppy play by the Patriots (six false starts etc ...) that cost them the game, not necessarily the Panthers' execution (stellar defense etc ...). But look at the Carolina newspapers that day, and it was probably about the Panthers coming to play and delivering in the clutch against the defending Super Bowl champions.
During the season opener, John Madden noted the already worn condition of the Gillette field. I recall Belichick has a supposed preference for keeping a messy field to hobble opposing teams. Can you give us a refresher course on the Pats' ability to determine the condition of the field vs. league mandates? I feel like we're only going to hear more about it. And a more obscure second question: Almost every time the TV mikes pick up Brady at the start of a play, he's calling out "Omaha." Any idea what that's code for? A person, position, play, just part of the count? I haven't noticed any common pattern to the plays that follow.
John Ruch, Boston
A: Dug up an article from the Globe on Jan. 14, 2005 that indicated the Patriots were asked to re-sod the field prior to the playoffs in the 2003 season. So my feeling is that the league keeps an eye on all playing fields and -- if the NFL deems the field isn't safe or conducive to playing football -- it requests teams to fix or upgrade them. As for Brady calling "Omaha", I believe that's a trigger word to let his linemen know what he sees from the defensive set-up. It might be a protection scheme he'd like his linemen to execute.
On Thursday the Red Sox were playing in Boston, 30 miles away the Patriots were playing. Have the reigning Super Bowl champion and the reigning World Series champion ever played at the same time in the same state?
Patrick Flynn, South Hadley
A: It took a while to get the info together, so thanks for your patience Patrick. Matched up the Super Bowl winners and World Series winners since 1966 and this is what I came up with: In 1970, the Baltimore Colts and Baltimore Orioles both won titles; in 1979, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pittsburgh Pirates both won titles; in 1986, the New York Giants and New York Mets both won titles; and in 1989, the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland A's both won titles. I didn't count the 1981 San Francisco 49ers/1981 Los Angeles Dodgers or the 1988 San Francisco 49ers/1988 Los Angeles Dodgers even though those would also qualify under your question.
Can you ask your readers for good places to watch Patriots/Red Sox games in southwest Houston? Thanks!
Tom, Houston, Texas
I have heard the Pats brought in at least one candidate to make up for the injuries at CB. Any idea if that is true and who it might be? Additionally, I believe the Texans just released their offensive coordinator. I'm not sure how much of their offensive ineptitude in Houston can be blamed on the coordinator as opposed to David Carr and that offensive line. Do you think he would be worth a look even it if was just to take some of the work load off of Belichick and the rest of the offensive coaches in terms of breaking down tape and coaching fundamentals and maybe even game-plannng as the season wears on. Writing before the Steelers game, it really looks like the offense needs a creativity injection on some level.
Rob Cutler, Sterling
A: The Patriots might consider bringing Hank Poteat back at cornerback, although they hadn't moved in that direction as of Monday night. And they also had free-agent cornerback Bobby Taylor in for a visit last week. Meanwhile, a few questions came into the mailbag this week about the possibility of adding Chris Palmer to the Patriots' coaching staff. Palmer was the Patriots wide receivers/quarterbacks coach in 1996 under Bill Parcells, and thus was on the same staff as Bill Belichick. I think Palmer is more likely to wind up with Parcells than Belichick.
Why isn't Stanley Morgan in either the Pats Hall of Fame nor the NFL Hall of Fame. I don't know where he stands on the yards per catch list, but his 19.4-yard average has to be one of the best. At one point he was over 20 and I believe was at the top of the list. His 534 receptions are three less than Stallworth in one less year. Stallworth started three years earlier (as did Swann with 198 less receptions) and finished two years earlier. Thus, the time period is roughly the same. Largent, Joiner and Lofton also were during the same period and had many more receptions. Are Stallworth and Swann strictly in the Hall because of four Super Bowls and the others just because of pure stats. Of all I mentioned, only Lofton comes close in yards per catch (18.3); the others being in the low 16s.
Todd Broseghini, Tampa, Fla.
A: One reporter who has a Pro Football Hall of Fame vote explained that receiver has become perhaps the most hotly debated position for selectors. Why? Because the stats have gotten out of control. Behind closed doors, there is a struggle for selectors to find an accurate measure as to what defines excellence at the position. Use former Bills receiver Andre Reed as an example. He had 951 career catches in 17 seasons, but is he a Hall of Famer? You could probably get a 50-50 response on him. And then there is the Cowboys' Michael Irvin. He didn't get into the Hall on the first ballot -- which is perhaps a sign of how selectors are struggling with receivers' Hall of Fame credentials. So right now, there is a lot of subjectivity as to what makes a great receiver. I don't think Morgan fits in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he does warrant consideration for the Patriots Hall of Fame.
The Pats have made such a big deal about the dual tight end offense, why don't we see more of it? It's been an empty promise.
Richard Pederzani, Springfield
A: We've actually seen a lot of it, just not in the passing game. The Patriots have run a lot of multiple tight end sets, with Daniel Graham and Benjamin Watson. Against the Steelers, there were quite a few sets with three tight ends, adding Christian Fauria.
This year the Pats had two running backs on their practice squad signed by other teams, Kyle Eckel and Kory Chapman. Is there any compensation coming to the Pats for those players and do the teams that signed them have to keep them on their 53-man roster for the entire season? I do not remember this happening in previous years and am curious of the rules regarding signing practice squad players from another team.
Jimmy Purich, Eugene, Ore.
A: The Patriots probably would have liked to have Eckel on the practice squad, but they actually cut him and the Dolphins signed him. Chapman, though, was signed off the practice squad and the Patriots get no compensation for him. A team can sign a player off any club's practice squad as long as they place that player on their own 53-man active roster. Chapman, by the way, played in the Colts' 13-6 victory over the Browns on Sunday. He didn't have a carry and was used mostly on special teams.
Why on earth would we not sign Chapman and let him go? Seems Bill Belichick was asleep at the wheel on that one.
A: I believe the Patriots would have put Chapman on their roster -- simply to block the Colts' move -- if they weren't restricted by so many injuries. There are only so many roster spots and if they put Chapman on the 53-man roster, who do you cut? Can't fault the Patriots for this one.
Why did the Pats go back to Pittsburgh, when they last played there in the regular season?
Bob Hingston, Windsor, Vt.
A: The NFL has a set scheduling formula that is predetermined years in advance -- and in 2005, it was predetermined that the first-place team in the AFC East (2004) would visit the first-place team in the AFC North (2004). Looking at the formula, if the Patriots win the AFC East this year, they are predetermined to visit the first-place team in the AFC North again next season, so another trip to Pittsburgh could be on the schedule.
Last year, the Patriots ran more out of a 2-back set than 1. I believe, to get the running game going, they should go back to the North-South approach with a fullback. Your take?
Andrez Brooking, Cheltenham, Pa.
A: The Patriots generally like to use a second tight end over a fullback, although we did see some fullback in the Steelers' game with Patrick Pass, and then Richard Seymour in short-yardage situations. The Patriots probably feel a tight end offers them more versatility on offense than a fullback. I'll sit on the fence with this one and say I like a mix of both.
Can you tell me if there is someone in the Patriots organization that is formally in charge of advanced scouting of upcoming opponents, or does this responsibility largely lie with Coach Belichick? I'm curious about this because it amazes me how familiar Belichick seems with the personnel of each week's opponent. For example, at his first press conference -- just the day after last year's AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh, Belichick rattled off virtually every name and position of the entire Philadelphia Eagles defense. He was even familiar with those Eagle players that were out with injury, and probably wouldn't see action in the Super Bowl.
Mike, New Jersey
A: Bill Belichick mentioned last week that he has an advance scout at all games. Like you, I've been impressed with his recall of players. Funny story came a few years back when I told him about a player named Joe Fleming in the Canadian Football League who I had written a story on for Fleming's local newspaper. He then said something like "Joe Fleming, the guy who played at New Hampshire in the early 1990s?" That's when I knew Belichick was on a different football planet.
Mike. I can't stand Bill Polian of the Colts. Do you think he has that much pull to be able to get the schedule pushed through that the Patriots have compared to the lowly schedule the Colts have. Thanks
Frank Metz, Newport, RI
A: As far as I know, Colts president Bill Polian doesn't have anything to do with the Patriots schedule. The schedule, which follows a set formula for every squad, is put together by NFL workers not associated with teams. For what it's worth, Polian has great respect for the Patriots organization and I believe some of the moves he's made this year are a direct reflection of his admiration for the Patriots' approach.