More questions on the quarterback
E-mailers focus on the future as the Patriots get back to business this weekend
With the Patriots coming off their "bye" weekend, and with the sour aftertaste of the team's 38-13 loss to the Dolphins still present, e-mailers continued to fill the mailbag with questions about the team's forecast.
Many of the questions continue to focus on the quarterback spot.
Meanwhile, others took the time to look back and salute one of the all-time Patriots greats, Troy Brown, who officially announced his retirement last Thursday.
In Bill Belichick's tenure in New England, the Patriots are 6-2 following their bye, with five straight wins. The team looks to make it six in a row at San Francisco on Sunday.
Let's get right to the questions.
Mike, in all four preseason games the Patriots couldn't stop the pass or the run, and they couldn't score, without Brady of course. They managed to win their first two regular season games, against teams not regarded as great teams. Then they get annihilated by last year's worst team. Only one team in professional football has scored fewer points this year than the Patriots and that team has lost all four games. The Patriots have given up more points than they have scored this year. We have established a pattern, they can't stop the run, the pass, and they can't score. How can they possibly expect to even win half their remaining games?
Joe J., Worcester
A: Joe, the first thing I'd say is that it is still early. Through three games last season, the Super Bowl champion Giants were 1-2 and it took a remarkable second-half comeback in their third game, against the Redskins, to post the victory. So my feeling is that this is the time of year in which teams must stick around and stay in the race. Those who do give themselves a chance to turn it on when it really counts, in late November and throughout December. Who knows what the picture will look like at that time? On the flip side, I think the points scored are a major issue. If the Patriots don't start scoring in the 20s, it's going to be a challenge to be .500 or better.
Mike, I'm wondering why Tom Brady's not on the sidelines. There's a lot of nasty talk in the chat rooms, but what's the real deal? Is it too dangerous; is he off his feet per doctor's orders? I haven't seen shots of him in Kraft's box. What's the norm for other superstars? Do you think there would be anything to gain by having him with a clipboard on the sidelines? I remember Junior Seau on the sidelines with his arm in a sling. Any reasons to keep him away? Whose call is it?
Mike B., Elkton, Md.
A: Mike, I think the main issue with Brady is that his top priority at this time is to rehabilitate his injured left knee. Standing on the sidelines for three hours is counterproductive to that goal. I don't think being in Kraft's box is the answer either, because why should Brady sit in there and not, say, injured receiver Kelley Washington? Where do you draw the line?
I go way back as a Pats fan. Season ticket holder when they played at Harvard. So I have seen a lot. My question is about Brady. Do you think he has lost some of his drive for football? He has done it all. One last thing, where is he, in New York with his girlfriend. Why is he not on the sidelines? From the outside looking in, it seems to me that he has lost that drive we saw earlier on -- i.e. for the first time not taking part in the offseason voluntary training program. It all does not add up to me.
GJ, Port Charlotte, Fla.
A: I've asked the same question, GJ, although I don't have the answer. When I see those gossip-based web videos - like the recent one on TMZ - I wonder why Brady is spending time in New York. It just doesn't look right. I don't think he should be on the sidelines, however, as I feel that is counterproductive to getting his knee back to full health. I also believe that after years of touting the importance of the offseason program, it was surprising that Brady didn't take part in it this year.
It appears Tom has not had his knee surgery yet. In order to be ready for next season, shouldn't this have already taken place?
A. Rossi, New York, N.Y.
A: There is still time, A. Rossi. I don't know this for sure, but it seems to me that the doctors are waiting for his MCL to heal before repairing the ACL. That would be standard operating procedure.
When are the Patriots flying out, and are you going with them?
A: Gino, the Patriots are headed to the West Coast Friday. I do not travel with the team. Most media members travel independently of the team. The Patriots will be staying on the West Coast for the week.
Mike, I want to know your opinion on Matt Gutierrez. Based on what I've seen from him, he's much more "Brady-like" in his approach to the game than either O'Connell or Cassel. He seems to have the poise in the pocket, and the ability to make a quick read and get rid of the ball. I think he floats the ball a little too much, which would set him up for a pick or two, but he's less apt to make a judgment mistake. I was dismayed when they cut him, and had slight hopes for this team when they brought him back. Is he still in the mix to start?
Bill R., Coatesville, Pa.
A: Bill, I thought Gutierrez had outplayed Cassel in the preseason and was going to enter this season as the No. 2. Shows what I know. Gutierrez was cut, and perhaps most telling was that no other team claimed him or signed him. So that tells me that my analysis of Gutierrez was not shared by those who are paid to professionally analyze talent. At this time, Gutierrez is the No. 3 quarterback, behind both Cassel and O'Connell. I don't think that means he's in the mix to start. If the Patriots make a move, I think O'Connell is next in line.
Hi Mike, do you think that if Matt Cassel puts up a stinker against the Niners we could start hearing the "bring in O'Connell" chants? I'm watching Monday Night Football and I can't help but think to myself Cassel could not do half the things that Joe Flacco is doing against a great defense. I think having dropbacks in college really helps. I know the Pats offense wasn't the sole cause of the loss, but you need to throw the ball longer than 5 yards.
A: If Cassel struggles against the 49ers, I do think we could start hearing the calls for a quarterback change, David. In its simplest form, the quarterback's job is to move the offense and score points. The Patriots have scored 17, 19 and 13 under Cassel, and I don't think that's good enough. Yet while I personally have my doubts about Cassel's longterm status at the position, I do think he deserves a little more time to grow into the starting role. My feelings are that Cassel has the next three games to get things going a bit more.
Hey Mike, I'm not ready to pull the plug on the season or on Cassel, but changes are needed, which I am sure Bill Belichick is working on. Your opinion on 3 questions: Isn't it time to go vertical with the passing game? Giving Jordan a chance at starting or at least expanding his role earlier in the game? Going to O'Connell inside the red zone at QB or a hybrid position?
A: Chris, I agree that the Patriots need to generate more of a vertical element to their passing game. Cassel is averaging 6.2 yards per pass attempt, which puts him in the lower third of NFL passers. Tom Brady averaged 8.3 yards per pass attempt last year. Not that it would be realistic to expect Cassel to be putting up 8.3 yards per pass attempt, but the current low output reflects that the deep areas of the field aren't being threatened enough. The challenge is how to get that going when safeties are consistently playing over the top on Moss. As for the second question, I do think Jordan deserves a crack at some playing time earlier in games. And if the offense continues to struggle to score points, I would also endorse the idea of a shakeup at quarterback with O'Connell as an in-game strategy. I don't know if I'd bring him off the bench in red-zone situations - I think his value might come more in the middle of the field - but I might consider giving him the second series of each half.
Mike, I know it may sound like I am waving the white flag on Matt Cassel kind of soon but do you think the Patriots would have any interest in Joey Harrington or Daunte Culpepper? Otherwise any chance at a trade with an NFC team for a guy like Marc Bulger who wants out of St. Louis or Jeff Garcia who is unhappy in Tampa? I am just looking at all the options out there should Cassel continue to struggle.
Riaz M., Berea, Ohio
A: Riaz, I don't see Harrington or Culpepper as options for the Patriots. I don't think they'd be upgrades anyway. I also don't think Bulger would be traded from St. Louis, and I don't see the Patriots having an interest in Garcia. If the Patriots make a move, I think a veteran like Vinny Testaverde would be the choice.
Always good to see a dedicated team player, especially with all the options open to such a skilled player as Troy Brown. Goes to prove, there are still some true New England and Boston pros that live for the team, not just their own personal recognition. Best of luck Troy, in all you do, and THANK YOU.
A: Fred, I would agree that Troy Brown is a rare breed in professional sports today. I thought he received a first-class sendoff into retirement, the way it should be.
Hi Mike, what happened to that great defensive mind of Dom Capers?
A: Capers is an excellent football coach, Bill. I can assure you that he hasn't lost his great defensive mind. I'd also point out that a coach alone can't get it done. It's about the players, too. Those two elements - the coaches and players - work in concert.
Can you tell what kind of role Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite will have this season? And is it a good or bad thing if either of these guys were to crack the starting lineup?
A: At this time, I think Wheatley is the fourth corner. I see Deltha O'Neal as the No. 1 option at left corner, and Ellis Hobbs as the No. 1 option at right corner. Lewis Sanders plays both sides, and he's the top backup right now. Wheatley would be next in line, and it seems as if he's been locked in at left corner. Wilhite would then be the fifth corner. Depending on how the 45-man game-day roster shapes up at other positions, Wilhite could leapfrog Wheatley because he's a more valuable special teams player right now. I don't see it as a bad thing that Wheatley or Wilhite are not starting right now.
Mike - Is this year Maroney's last chance to prove he can be an effective NFL back? He's more fragile than glass, and all the "talent" in the world won't help if you can't stay on the field. For three years now we've watched him "dance" to the line rather than running with a purpose (see Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan). Surely his development has to be regarded as extremely disappointing and a wasted first round draft choice opportunity.
Steven L., Reston Va.
A: Steven, I see Maroney as having multiple years left with the Patriots. He is signed through the 2010 season, and given that he is not one of the higher-paid players on the club, I think that would help him stick around. I still see him as having the potential to be explosive, and while I'd agree that it's taken longer than I would have expected, I don't see the end of the road for him in New England coming any time soon.
Are the Lions trying to hire Scott Pioli?
A: On the FOX pre-game show Sunday, former Cowboys and Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson said that he believes the Lions should go after Pioli. I don't believe that the Lions are actively searching for a GM at this time. If they are, Pioli makes sense as someone who should get serious consideration.
Mike, why doesn't the NFL have "disabled lists" like other sports? If you have player who gets hurt in pre-season, your only choices are season ending IR or taking up a roster spot for half the season until he is healthy. It doesn't make sense to me.
A: Joe, I think the feeling is that you'd have teams stashing players on those lists with fake injuries.