Field not so dreamy
FOXBOROUGH - Heading into the their bye week, the Patriots are 4-1 and in command of the AFC East division. After the break, the Patriots have back to back road games, at Buffalo and Minnesota.
Questions to this week's mailbag are varied. Quite a few emailers were curious about the condition of the Gillette Stadium field. Others were wondering why running back Corey Dillon wasn't in the game in the fourth quarter. There is plenty of receiver talk.
We'll get right to the questions this week
What is up with the field at Gillette Stadium? For all the money they spend on salaries you'd think they'd invest in a good field just to prevent injuries. I know October isn't "peak growing season," as Bill Belichick explained, but you'd think they could do better than that. Could there be some kind of strategy?
Tobey Horn, Winston-Salem, NC
I don't think there is any strategy to it, and I also don't think it's a lack of an investment by the Patriots franchise. The easy, low-cost decision would have been to throw down artificial turf when Gillette Stadium opened in 2002, but instead, the Kraft family went the natural grass route. Their feeling is that football is meant to be played on natural grass, and because of that, an extensive heating and draining system was installed at Gillette. The results, however, have been disappointing. Part of that could probably be attributed to the Northeast, where it's difficult to have a natural grass field, especially at a multi-purpose facility. Bill Belichick said the team is considering all its options at this time with the field. I wouldn't be surprised if there is a synthetic grass field in place by next season.
I see we just signed Jabar Gaffney. That makes three Florida wideouts acquired this season (Reche Caldwell and Chad Jackson). Is that just a coincidence or is there more to it?
Rod Edge, Redondo Beach, Calif.
Here was Bill Belichick's answer to that question: "It's just kind of coincidental that the roster and the schools are lined up the way they are at that position. We're just trying to evaluate players on their strengths and weaknesses and what our opportunities are here. It just worked out that way. I don't think it's anything more than a coincidence."
As evidenced by the Gaffney signing, the Pats need some help at wide receiver. I think they'll ultimately get it together, but I'm surprised they're turning to the outside instead of giving Bam Childress a try. He looked solid in preseason, and in the one game I saw he played well against the other team's first team defense. He reminded me of Troy Brown in the old days. Do we know why they're not giving him a shot?
Greg Blatt, New York
Childress is probably best suited for playing in the slot, and the Patriots have Troy Brown for that role. I think what the team needs most right now is another option at an outside receiver spot, and Gaffney has more experience in that role than Childress.
I neither saw nor heard this game, due to other things at higher priority. However, I'm curious as to whether Chad Jackson did anything. I see that you listed him as a starter, but I've read nothing about anything thrown to him. Should we begin to just forget about him having any potential?
Jack Kennealy, Cape Elizabeth, Maine
Jackson didn't have a catch in the game, and as I remember, really only had one ball thrown his way (a drop). Jackson showed flashes of what he could in the team's second game of the season, but hasn't done much since. I'd be hesitant to write him off after just five games. That's too early in my book for a player with his talent.
In the Miami game, it was clear that Maroney couldn't get anything going, but Dillon was actually running quite effectively. How come the coaches kept calling Maroney's number instead of Dillon's? Also, Brady is playing like an average QB so far. Are the coaches putting a leash on him? It seems to me he is playing with less fire in him this year than before.
Yang Wang, Atlanta
Dillon played the first three quarters and was out for the fourth. Watching the game over again, it looked like he might have aggravated an arm injury on a late third-quarter run (you can see him clutch his right fist and wince a bit), and thus might have been held back. Dillon walked through the locker room on Monday, and looking at him, I don't think it's anything serious. As for Brady, I think the biggest factor is him getting used to playing with so many new receivers. Building that trust and chemistry takes time. He has also missed some open throws that, more often than not, we've seen him complete. Overall, I don't think his performance is a result of coaches restraining him with certain play calls, or poor mechanics.
I was a little concerned with the offensive line. Not only could we not run, but also the amount of tipped passes. Any reason to be concerned?
Peter Fleming, Richmond
I counted four tipped passes - one in the first quarter and three in the third quarter. The first came when Jason Taylor rushed in from the defensive right side and was unblocked. The second came on a six-man blitz in which safety Yeremiah Bell bull-rushed Benjamin Watson into Brady's throwing lane. The third came on a six-man blitz in which Brady stepped up and lineman Dan Wilkinson got his hands into the lane. And the final tipped pass came on a five-man blitz in which lineman David Bowens batted down the pass. It looked to me like Miami blitzed up the middle, with the hope of not allowing Brady to step up. I credit good execution by the Dolphins and, from a Patriots perspective, the concern is that receivers weren't open by the time Brady had to throw.
There are rumors about Randy Moss to the Pats. I can't help but think with all the off-field problems, Scott Pioli and Bill Belichick wouldn't take a shot with him, but would there be a Dillon-esque turnaround if they did? Just looking for your opinion.
I'd say Moss would be a longshot to land in New England, if the Raiders would trade him at all. But at least one player would be open to the idea - Patriots receiver Doug Gabriel. He was talking the other day about how Moss is misunderstood and is a great teammate. They are close friends. I wouldn't make the move, because of its potential negative impact in the locker room.
In the Cincinnati game, Maroney ran behind lead blocker in most instances, with great results. Against Miami, it looked like the Denver game all over again, with the rookie forced to find his own seams against another quick defense. Why did the Patriots abandon what appeared to work well against the Bengals?
Pete Clark, England
I think the results were more about the opponent and the specific matchup than the fact Maroney was, or wasn't, running behind a lead blocker. The Dolphins did a real nice job against the run, with their corners coming off the line quickly to support the front seven. I don't think a lead blocker would have changed the results much.
Rosevelt Colvin is having a dud year. He gets blocked almost all the time. Is he injured, is it his hip that is bothering him and, if he gets blocked, why not give Tully Banta-Cain the opportunity to play? He certainly can do no worse then Colvin.
Michael Sullivan, Tampa, Fla.
I think this is a little harsh on Colvin, who while not having a standout year, has a high percentage of playing time on a defense that is allowing an average of 14.8 points per game. Colvin had a down game against the Broncos on Sept. 24, when he lost containment on a few Tatum Bell outside runs. Otherwise, I think he's played OK. Sometimes, he might be doing his job by simply forcing the play back to the inside, as he sets the edge. There is no statistic for that, but I've seen him do better in that area since the Denver game.
As a longtime fan I'm very happy with the success Belichick has brought, and it doesn't bother me that the Pats don't always dominate -- they just seem to find a way to do what they need to win games. However, I agree with Belichick's constant assessment that the team has plenty of room for improvement. The thing that has concerned me, even before I heard John Madden mention it during the Pats-Broncos game a couple of weeks ago, is the predictability of the Patriots offense. Like many other teams, they invariably run on first and 10, which, if they don't gain much, sets up a pass on second down, and if that goes incomplete they're looking at a third and long situation. I have nothing bad to say about either Dillon or Maroney -- I feel most teams would be lucky to have one of that tandem -- but why not mix things up a bit instead of always running on first down? It seems much of the resistance they met against Miami was because the Dolphins were expecting a run on first down and were not disappointed. Can't they make opposing defenses more honest with less predictability, or do we have to wait until Brady is more comfortable with his receiving corps?
Alex Werth, Hampden-Sydney VA
Not including a kneel-down at the end of the second quarter and the team's final drive in which it was running out the clock, the Patriots had 20 first-down snaps against the Dolphins, and had an even 10-10 distribution. So I don't think it's as if they are handing the ball off on every first down. That said, the offense is a bit predictable at this point, and I think that's because defenses don't have to respect the outside-the-numbers passing game as much. In theory, there should be improvement as Brady becomes more comfortable with his receivers, as the Patriots' offense includes a lot of sight adjustments and check-with-me type plays, thus making that chemistry even more important.
I thought Matt Light played quite well against the Dolphins. This is the first time in recent memory that he's been able to handle Jason Taylor, and "handling him" is an understatement. In fact, he's been doing surprisingly well all season, and may turn out the best performance of his career this season.
Mark Zarellam, Syracuse, NY
On one first-quarter play, Taylor rushed in on Tom Brady unblocked and it looked like Light missed his assignment. But otherwise, he was solid. Taylor did have a strip sack on Brady, but that came over right tackle Ryan O'Callaghan. I'd agree that Light played a solid game in pass protection.
Is it possible Artrell Hawkins is a better safety than Eugene Wilson? It has been a couple of weeks since Wilson's last game and it seems Hawkins is never getting beat in bad situations. Also, it is interesting to note that last year's squad started playing better team defense once Hawkins became the starting safety. Is moving Wilson to corner in the preseason more than just a backup plan? Is it possible Coach Belichick is thinking along the same lines?
Fernand d'Entremont, Nova Scotia
The one difference I've seen is that the Patriots haven't given up big passing plays with Hawkins in the lineup. But I'm still of the belief that Wilson is one of the team's best four defensive backs and needs to be on the field, whether at cornerback or safety.
It seems to me that many of the high profile Patriots that went to other teams are having a hard time playing for losing organizations. McGinest, Givens, Milloy, Woody, Patten, Andruzzi, etc. What are your thoughts on this? Do players take into account that their next contract could be much lower as they leave the spotlight and go to invisible teams/careers?
Nissim Jabiles, Lima, Peru
My feeling is that it depends on the player. In some cases, it's about the highest bid or a significant money gap. In other cases, it's about opportunity. From a player's perspective, their careers are so short that they need to cash in when they can. An injury could change everything. There are other players, like Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Jarvis Green, who signed extensions instead of testing the open market and potentially earning more. So I think it depends on each individual situation.
At the Patriots-Dolphins game, I noticed the Patriots change up their punt return team. The situation was a Miami punt that originally was just inside midfield. Troy Brown was back around the 10 -- the team seems to send Troy in for tough punt catches near the goal line, not for returns with more running room. A penalty or two backed Miami up before the punt. At this point, New England changed up its punt return personnel, keeping Troy out but swapping five or six players. Why do teams do this?
Steve Haggett, Winchester
The Patriots have what defensive lineman Mike Wright called a "punt safe" team, which comes on when there is a greater possibility of a fake. I'm assuming that's what you saw on Sunday. At first, the "punt safe" was on the field, and that's a unit that includes more regular defensive personnel. After the Dolphins got backed up, and the chance of a fake decreased, the Patriots might have put in their regular punt return unit.
Do you know why the Patriots cut Poteat? He did a good job considering he was just re-signed earlier that week. The Patriots have an extra spot on the roster and with the injury bug hitting the secondary again, I thought he would a "safe" backup.
Wayne Simmons, Fredericksburg VA
In explaining the move, Bill Belichick said special teams was a factor in the decision. Right now, a player like cornerback Chidi Iwuoma, who plays on all the special teams units and is a gunner, is more valuable to the Patriots than Poteat, who only plays on a few special teams units.
Do you think the 53rd roster spot might be going to Patrick Pass? He should be coming off the physically unable to perform list after Week 6, right?
Players on the physically unable to perform list are eligible to come back after Week 6 of the season. The team doesn't have to make a move on those players right away, as there is a three-week window to make an official roster designation. Pass has been champing at the bit to return and he could help the team's kickoff return game, which is an area Belichick wants to see improvement.
What impact does the bye week have on the Pats? Does having it relatively early in the season help them more or less than if they had it later on? Are there players who are hurt that can benefit from it right now?
Ideally, the bye would come in the middle of the season, splitting the 16-game schedule into two parts. So this is a little early. I think the Patriots' banged-up defensive backfield benefits most, specifically Eugene Wilson, who has missed the last two games with a right hamstring injury. Ditto for tight end Daniel Graham, who was held out of Sunday's game due to his ankle, and offensive tackle Nick Kaczur (shoulder).
Please give us some info on NFL scouts, and why they're given credentials.
Nancy Beal, Cornelius N.C.
NFL teams often send scouts to watch teams they will play the next week. This is usually to chart formations, watch personnel, keep track of injury situations etc., which I'm sure they then report back to their teams in hopes of earning some type of competitive advantage.
Why is it every week you pick the opponent to beat the Pats?
Bob Berman, Bulffton
In the Globe, we pick against the point spread, so those picks aren't necessarily who I think will win the game. Last week, I thought 9.5 points was too much for the Patriots to be favored. Turns out I was wrong.