Will Rodney be ready?
Pats fans are wondering how quickly Rodney Harrison can make an impact
CINCINNATI -- E-mailers to the Patriots mailbag are ready to welcome safety Rodney Harrison back to the club this week, and with that comes some questions.
Does Harrison step right in and start? Does he split time with James Sanders? Does he play a backup role? How will he be accepted upon his return?
In the locker room after Monday night's win, several players spoke with excitement about Harrison's return. One agreed that it was much like a baseball team that makes an in-season trade to bolster the club, and in the Patriots' case, it only makes a strong team (4-0) that much stronger.
Meanwhile, e-mailers had to stay up late, or wake up early, to chime in on Monday's victory over the Bengals. One team appeared to be on the brink of pulling apart at the seams (Bengals), while the other talked about putting another win in the books but still working to get better (Patriots).
Both during and after the game, these looked like teams heading in opposite directions.
On to the questions
Is Rodney Harrison set to come back this week? Will he replace James Sanders, or will the Pats work him in slowly like Asante Samuel? How is Richard Seymour coming along? Will we expect to see him right after Week 6?
Jim Curley, Seminole Fla.
A: In regards to Harrison, this exact question was asked to defensive coordinator Dean Pees last Friday and he was evasive in his answer. "Do I want to have Rodney back? Absolutely, but I think it has also helped us get some other guys some playing experience so that maybe we'll have some depth, however we decide to go forward," Pees said. "It's premature to say what we will do." In my opinion, Harrison will be eased back into the mix and will split time with Sanders initially. As for Seymour, unfortunately I don't have any news to report.
Rodney Harrison is back this week. Will the Pats now begin to use more of their more different defenses, such as the 2-3-6 and the 4-2-5?
Michael Sheehan, Jenners, Pa.
A: The Patriots' scheme will be heavily dependent on the opponent. For example, thinking ahead to the team's Nov. 4 game against the Colts, I would expect the Patriots to go away from their base 3-4 defense and elect to put more speed on the field. After seeing the Colts shred Denver on Sunday, I'd endorse a nickel look with three linemen, three linebackers (Tedy Bruschi comes off), and five defensive backs. But assuming Harrison plays at the level he was in the preseason, this would no doubt give the team more flexibility.
Rodney will be back. Who will be cut to make room for him on the roster? I hope I can ask the same question about Richard Seymour and Troy in a few weeks.
Richard Powers, Plymouth
A: I'd look at the players who have been inactive in recent weeks. Linebacker Chad Brown would be a likely candidate, or perhaps defensive lineman Santonio Thomas.
What do you foresee happening to Meriweather when Harrison returns? It was nice to see him get some action on special teams and defense and I would like to see him continue to gain experience.
Glenn Williams, Brighton
A: I think Meriweather will continue to be part of multiple defensive back packages, mainly the dime, and could emerge as a more frequent contributor in the base defense in specific game-plans. I say that with the Colts in mind. After watching the Colts on Sunday, it was clear to me how tight end Dallas Clark is a key cog in their attack, and they move him around to create matchup problems. One wrinkle the Colts tried was using Clark as the "X" receiver at times -- and the Broncos had to decide how to combat that (with a safety, corner, or linebacker). So I was thinking to myself: "How would the Patriots defend this?" A player like Meriweather came to mind as someone who could be utilized as a shadow to Clark, to neutralize all the things the Colts do with him. The more I think about the Patriots-Colts game Nov. 4, the more I believe the Patriots will not be able to play their base defense, and must come up with something that adds more speed on the field but somehow keeps them stout. Meriweather is the type of player who could see an expanded role in that type of game.
Maroney seems a bit soft. Much has been written about his straight-up style lending itself to him getting tenderized. He does not seem to be one that can absorb the punishment. He might eventually replace Faulk but a 25-carry back he is not. Am I being too hasty? Last year, I asked you whether you would rather have Maroney or Addai and you said Maroney. Same question, new year. Oh, why didn't we draft Addai?
Chris W., Swanzey, N.H.
A: I do think you're being a bit too hasty, Chris. It's the fourth game of Maroney's second season, and while he was held out for the contest and has battled injuries through the early stretch of his NFL career, there is still a lot of football to be played. To answer the question, I saw Addai up close on Sunday while attending the Broncos-Colts game and thought he was terrific, of Pro Bowl-caliber. He looks like a great fit for the Colts' system. But knowing what I know now, I'd still take Maroney because I believe his future potential is even greater than Addai's. Will that potential be realized? It's a projection and no one has that answer right now, but I think it's way too early to make a definitive call on this one. Based on the scouts I spoke with last year, I'd have to file this in the "Monday Morning Quarterback" file because none of them had Addai over Maroney last year. I also seem to remember Broncos coach Mike Shanahan noting that the Patriots got the steal of the first round with Maroney as well.
Although the play was inconsequential, can you explain how our offensive lineman (Logan Mankins) was flagged for "illegal touching of a FORWARD pass" when he was clearly standing behind Brady when he caught the pass?
Ryan Williams, Boston
A: To steal a line from Bill Belichick, I'd have to go back and look at the tape, because I seem to remember Mankins being in front of Brady. But I won't have access to that until later today so maybe I can follow up with an update later on this one, Ryan. But in terms of the rule itself, offensive linemen aren't eligible receivers and the way the play unfolded, Brady was hit by defensive end Justin Smith as he was throwing, I thought the ball went forward in front of Brady, popping into the air. Mankins caught it and took a knee, while placing the ball on the ground with his hands over it. It was a nice catch but sort of an awkward moment and I'm sure Mankins will get some friendly grief from teammates reminding him why he's an offensive lineman paid to block.
[Update on Thursday. After reviewing the play, it is a very close call. Brady drops back to pass and his arm is hit at the New England 45-yard line. The ball pops up into the air and Mankins -- while standing at the New England 44 yard-line -- reached forward to the 45-yard line to snare the ball. Is it a fumble? Is it a forward pass? If this was reviewed I think the play would have stood as called, as a forward pass, because Mankins reached forward to make the catch. It looks to me like the spot where Mankins reached forward and caught the ball was slightly ahead of where Brady was hit. One thing I would change from my initial answer is the part about it being an awkward moment. After watching it again, it was actually a very nice play by Mankins, one he should be commended for making.]
Do you have a clue as to what Chad Johnson said to coach Bill Belichick on the sidelines after his great catch in the 2nd quarter?
Arvin Iracheta, Quincy
A: I noticed that as well. It was on our post-game checklist to ask, Arvin, but Chad Johnson did not make himself available for questions and thus we didn't get the answer. The Bengals locker room was a fairly volatile scene after the game and Johnson had also hurt his ankle.
When Adalius Thomas was signed we heard about all the interesting things Belichick would do with him on defense. Have you seen Thomas being used in any creative ways in the first four games?
DG Christensen, Seattle
A: It's been pretty straight up with Thomas, who has lined up at the strongside inside linebacker spot on early downs (a.k.a. "mike" linebacker), and then stays on the field in passing situations as more of a rusher. His presence has allowed Mike Vrabel to play more on the outside and those results have been impressive. So I think what we've seen is that Thomas's presence has made the Patriots stronger in two areas. It's been less about exotic use, and more about playing straight up. Perhaps we'll see more exotic stuff as Thomas continues to become more comfortable with the "mike" linebacker spot, which is new to him. Ted Johnson, the former Patriots "mike" inside linebacker, was raving about Thomas last week.
Like everybody else, I'm on the bandwagon. However, they clearly are not the '72 Dolphins, Steel Curtain, or '85 Bears. Upon viewing the games a second time (gotta love TiVo), it's apparent to me that they've got problems: trouble stopping people on third down (I'm sure you'd know the numbers); they give up tons of pass completions (but for a handful of instances, the vast majority of incompletions are the opposing team's fault); and, as noted by everyone, they've been horrific in the red zone. Is it me or have they just kind of gotten real lucky starting this season?
Richard, Washington, D.C.
A: Was a little surprised at this one, Richard, as I believe it's the Patriots and Colts atop the NFL heap, and then everyone else. I think you'd have to look hard to find any teams better. Their stats in the areas mentioned are actually quite good, except for the red zone. But that is such a small sample, it's hard to truly gauge if it's a problem. I thought it got better Monday night in Cincinnati. I wouldn't say the team's early success is a result of luck. I think it's a result of outperforming the opposition once the ball is kicked off, and having a lot of talent on the roster.
The schedule seems slightly unfair. The Colts play against teams that had a .516 winning percentage in '05 while the Pats play against that had a .535 winning percentage. Colts play against only 5 '06 playoff teams, while the Pats play 8. The Colts are reigning champs. Shouldn't it be the other way? Is the league office really this blind?
Carl Reiner, Longmeadow
A: My personal feeling is that strength of schedule is one of the most overrated stats in the NFL because so much changes from year to year. Take, for example, the Saints. They were in the NFC Championship game last year but they are currently 0-3 and have a lot of problems. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers, who finished with four wins last season, are 3-1 and playing like one of the best teams in the NFC. Ditto for 4-0 Green Bay, which finished 8-8 last year. Also, strength of schedule doesn't factor in the idea that games are often about how specific teams match up. Sometimes a team will match up better with a playoff team than a non-playoff team. Finally, I'm a big believer in that whom you play is as important as when you play them. So personally, I wouldn't mind if the strength-of-schedule statistic is officially retired. Another point to consider with this is that the NFL has a set scheduling formula in which all but most of the opponents are set regardless of how teams fare during the season. So it's not as if the league is consciously making one team's schedule harder than another team's.
Were you able to have access to a good tape of the hit Vince Wilfork put on JP Losman? How does Wilfork's claim that he was hit and lost balance hold up? Marv Levy said the tape was inconclusive. Can you identify which player may have/have not hit him? I'd like to see that player asked directly, "Did you make contact with Vince Wilfork on that play? Was it in the leg?" Perhaps VW is just making up a story, in which case a denial by the Bill in question should have been immediate. If VW is being truthful, then the silence and letting this fester is pretty damning on the integrity of the player on the Bills. The only upright thing to do is for both the Bills player and Wilfork to say the truth.
Jon Averback, Arlington, Va.
A: I only saw the TV copy of the tape and it was difficult to tell. The center, Melvin Fowler, definitely made contact with Wilfork, but it was hard to tell how that contact affected Wilfork's rush. Fowler did not elaborate when asked by a Buffalo reporter about the play, and part of it might have been based on the feeling he got beat in the first place and there was some embarrassment there. Meanwhile, it was too difficult to tell if the right guard, Brad Butler, made contact. Butler was the nearest player in the vicinity based on the position he plays, but I couldn't tell if he made contact. According to a Buffalo reporter, Butler was not asked about the play.
Do you think Matt Cassel is going to be too expensive for the Patriots to re-sign? Is this why they're holding on to Matt Gutierrez and David Greene?
Jim Woolf, Lancaster, Pa.
A: Cassel's contract expires after the 2008 season, and at this point, I don't think he will be too expensive to re-sign. But things can change between now and then -- for example, if he has a great 2008 preseason to boost his stock -- and the Patriots are preparing for all possibilities. This is part of what makes them so good, and why vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli, who works in concert with coach Bill Belichick, is considered excellent at his job. As for why the Patriots are holding on to Gutierrez, most anyone who watched him in the preseason would acknowledge he showed significant poise and promise. One scout told me he believes Gutierrez can be a solid No. 2 quarterback in this league. And Greene is a low risk signing because he's on the practice squad; the odds are that it won't pan out, but why not try it? As I said last week, I'm a big advocate of developing quarterbacks. I think it is good business.
Chris Mortensen reported this morning on ESPN Countdown that Ricky Williams is currently at a rehab treatment center in Boston and has applied for reinstatement. If the Dolphins release him as expected, might the Patriots have interest? Have you heard anything from Foxboro regarding this?
City, Surprise, Ariz.
A: I did not see that report on ESPN, and I would never say never on the possibility. But if I had to predict the likelihood of Williams winding up in a Patriots uniform, assuming he is available and there is not a major need based on an unforeseen injury, I would say it would be extremely remote even if Nick Saban recommended him.
When the Sox failed to land A-Rod a couple years back, I seem to recall MLB, or perhaps the players' union, raising the issue that the deal amounted to a "pay cut,'' and was therefore disallowed. So, I keep hearing that Randy Moss took a $5 million pay cut to play for the Pats this year (or something along these lines), and evidently, this was not an issue. The question is: Under what circumstances can an NFL player take a pay cut to switch teams? Do they have to clear waivers?
Harry Millman, Ontario, Canada
A: Because NFL contracts are not guaranteed, it creates an entirely different scenario than Major League Baseball. The union had no problem with Moss taking that cut, because it knew that if Moss didn't, he might be out of a job because the Raiders could have cut him -- and probably would have. So to answer the first question -- under what circumstances can an NFL player take a pay cut to switch teams? -- this could happen at any time as long as a team is willing to trade the player. As for a player clearing waivers, any player who has not reached the status of vested veteran (three credited seasons, according to the NFL Players Association) must go through the waiver process where the other 31 teams can put in a claim on the player.
What are your thoughts on the progression of Pierre Woods and Eric Alexander. Although the current group of linebackers are performing very well, we all know they are aging and an injury is always a possibility. Is either one of these guys ready to step in as a starter at this point?
Mark Cook, Scarborough, Maine
A: I would have liked to have seen a bit more from Woods in the preseason, and Alexander was also limited due to injury. So I didn't get a good feel for either player at a time when his actual play on defense could be best evaluated. Neither player sees regular time on defense in the regular season, so this is a difficult question to answer. My opinion would be that neither player is of starter-caliber right now, but both are capable enough backups to fill-in on a short-term basis.
Why hasn't the NFL found the mole in its own offices who betrayed league policy and released the Pats videogate videos to Fox? Why isn't the NFL as vigilant in finding the mole, and firing him, than the retaliation they swiftly delivered to the Pats?
Stephen H. Foster, Friendswood, Texas
A: I think the NFL was vigilant and took the issue very seriously. I still don't think the league has found the answer, although I suspect -- and this is based only on opinion, not any inside information -- that league officials have also considered the possibility that the tape was leaked by the Jets and not someone in the league office. My instincts lead me to believe that the way the videotape episode played out during the season opener opens the possibility that the Jets could have taken a copy of the tape in their possession and later leaked it.
Is the offensive line really this good? Also, when the games are well in hand, why not have more time for the backup QB? Even a few series. An unnecessary injury to Tom Brady this year would be devastating.
A: Through four games, the offensive line has been that good. In 123 dropbacks, quarterback Tom Brady has been sacked just three times and knocked to the ground just 12 times. And that doesn't account for some of the holes opened up in the running game. The line has also kept its penalties down, especially holding calls, although holding penalties are significantly down across the league. As for the backup quarterback getting more time in lopsided blowouts, we saw that last week against the Bills. Leading 38-7 with 8:15 left in the game, Matt Cassel took over for Tom Brady. That is one of the earliest times I remember Bill Belichick doing that. One might argue that the decision could have been made when the game was 31-7, but there was still 28 seconds left in the third quarter and the entire fourth quarter to play. I thought that would have been too early to make the move. We also saw it last night against the Bengals in the final two minutes, with Matt Cassel coming on for Brady.
How come you don't update the injury report on a regular basis on the weekend? I know it doesn't change much once Friday gets here but inquiring minds want to know.
Stephen Larue, Ogdensburg, N.Y.
A: The way the injury reports go, things change on Saturday. NFL rules require regular updates on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, with teams filing them by 4 p.m. After that, teams must only report changes and there are often none on Saturdays because that is usually a walkthrough day for most clubs. The main changes are usually with visiting teams if a player is not healthy enough to travel, and the player is usually downgraded to out. We saw that this week with the Patriots and offensive lineman Stephen Neal and receiver Kelley Washington. When any changes are reported, I make every effort to report them, but it's important to know the NFL's rules on injury change a bit after Friday.
Is the last game of the season exclusively on the NFL Network? Do you see more games being dedicated to the NFL Network over the next few years? I am very concerned they are going to subscription-based service and it is wasteful for people that just want to see the Patriots play every week. Any feedback you could give me would be much appreciated.
Eric Marquis, Lowell
A: The season finale will be on free TV -- Channel 5 in Boston -- in addition to the NFL Network. I do expect the NFL Network to become more involved with broadcasting games.
It seems that you watch a lot of film and are able to analyze it well. Do you simply tape the games weekly and analyze those or do you have access to Patriots' official game film? I would be very interested to know because I really enjoy watching film although I was wondering if there were some other, more efficient methods than simply watching taped games and using the networks' camera views.
A: I do not have access to the Patriots' coaches' game film. I watch the same TV tape you do, when time permits, and I don't forget to record the game.
I know Belichick loves to tell reporters that he'll have to look at the tape. My question: Can fans ever look at the tape? I occasionally see NFL analysts (Ron Jaworski comes to mind) that break down teams using the coaches cam. I love watching plays develop from this camera, it really shows the full extent of a defense. Is there any way to get Patriot game footage from this angle?
Ben Callaway, Norwich, Vt.
A: Not that I am aware of, Ben, but if you happen to discover the answer please let me know as I would be interested as well.