Passing grade for tight ends
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.
1. It appeared in the Falcons game that the Patriots were having success running the ball behind a lead blocker, on one drive I think they used Graham, Watson, and Pass at that position. Is this the solution to the problems with the running game?
2. During the preseason there was some talk of moving Mike Vrabel to middle linebacker to help compensate for the loss of Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson. With how poorly Brown and Beisel are adapting to the system, why aren't the Patriots looking at doing that now?
Todd Hester, Cambridge
A: The tight ends were used more coming out of the backfield than we've seen in past games, so that was a change for the Patriots. But as for this being the solution to the running game, it's too early to tell. No doubt, the running game was better, but it helped that the Falcons' run defense is ranked in the lower third of the league. On the middle linebackers, a lot of it depends on the matchup each week. The Patriots have primarily played 3-4 in the last two games and the team apparently feels Vrabel is more valuable setting the edge on the line of scrimmage than playing in space in the middle.
I want to know why they have not used the tight ends more in the passing game. I don't want to hear about how they are helping with the run blocking. Them running down the field will help the running game by dropping some linebackers into coverage. Watson is just as talented as Antonio Gates and Alge Crumpler and should be used the same way.
Wayne Simmons, Fredericksburg, Va.
A: Are you sure you didn't send this question to Bill Belichick's in-box before the Falcons game? Good point, Wayne, and the readers should know this question was sent in before Sunday's win. The Patriots clearly made it a priority to get their tight ends more involved in the passing game on Sunday, perhaps realizing they weren't fully utilizing their unique talents.
With Bethel Johnson's incredible speed, do you see him getting more snaps? Also, do you think the tight ends will continue to get the ball passed in their direction? I know Belichick's answer would be if they are open they will get the ball.
Josh Blais, South Burlington, Vt.
A: Johnson's role is really as a fourth or fifth receiver and that's unlikely to change as long as everyone remains healthy. Johnson isn't as sharp a route-runner as the other four receivers on the roster -- Deion Branch, David Givens, Troy Brown and Tim Dwight -- and route-running is equally as important as speed. Johnson's main value is as a kickoff returner (24.8 avg.; 14th in NFL), where it's more about speed and game-breaking ability. As for the tight ends seeing more balls in the passing game, that's a strong likelihood. The Patriots have a rare combination of talent there and I'm sure they plan to find more ways to utilize it.
Without the aid of a game tape that I can review more closely, it seems to me that the Pats D played better when Scott was injured and Sanders went in. Do you think there's any chance we'll be seeing more of Sanders?
Finn Maguire, Cape Cod
A: Gut feeling that Sanders will be starting sooner rather than later. He did miss a tackle on Warrick Dunn in the second quarter that helped prolong the Falcons' long drive, but he was making some positive strides in the preseason before suffering an ankle injury.
Two questions. First, why didn't Belichick challenge the "tying" TD at the end of the game? That ball got swatted out very fast and he was going to call a timeout anyway (as he did) just prior to the two-point attempt. Why not throw the flag and see what happens? Second, the "heavy" package with Dan Klecko as FB isn't working anymore. They run the exact same play every time. Klecko leads around the right side. It's been getting closer and closer to getting stuffed all season and on Sunday it did. When will they come out of that set with a play action pass or hit Klecko in the flat as they did a couple times last year before he got hurt?
Gus Anderson, Burlington, Vt.
A: Belichick said he didn't have enough information to challenge, and didn't want to risk losing a timeout. The one part of the sequence that is important to note is that the Patriots weren't planning on calling timeout during the two-point conversion. Belichick was asked about this yesterday: "We had to use a timeout on the two-point play just because we didn't have the play defended properly. In looking at [the touchdown], I think it was about the way I saw it. His feet were down. Which, in the end zone, that's all it takes. Both feet were down. If and's and but's were candy and nuts every day would be Christmas. In retrospect, right, we could have thrown the flag and used the timeout that way or not used it." As for the Klecko play at fullback, "I'm sure it's in the game plan, we just haven't seen it yet."
The NFL trading deadline is listed as Oct. 18. Do you think the Patriots will explore a trade for a safety?
Rob Jones, San Diego
A: The Patriots have about $1.3 million in salary cap space, and they probably need that cushion for moves later in the season. Considering trades across the NFL are so rare, it's unlikely. A few years back at the trading deadline, Belichick was asked about why trades are so rare and this is what he said: "There's so much training that goes into it, it's hard to picture somebody coming in here without knowing the system at all. And then you have to consider how long it would take for them to fully understand it. Almost half of our practices for the year are over, so it's hard to picture somebody coming in without the background in our system, then being able to go out there and play it."
What, in your opinion, is going on with the Pats red zone defense. This year, everybody is scoring on the Pats in the red zone. No big sacks, no takeaways. Also, do you think we will see more of Ellis Hobbs at corner this year? The Patriots have won three Super Bowls largely due to their ball hawking skills in the secondary. I am not seeing those skills through five week this year.
George, Cape Elizabeth, Maine
A: Here are the Patriots' defensive red zone stats: 15 trips, 11 touchdowns allowed, four field goals allowed. The 73.3 touchdown percentage is ranked last in the NFL. Without reviewing each red zone play, it's hard to give an accurate answer as to why the team is struggling. As for Ellis Hobbs playing more cornerback, with Randall Gay and Tyrone Poole close to returning, increased time for Hobbs would be unlikely.
Tom Brady took a lot of hits this week from the Falcons. Obviously the Falcons were picking on the left side of the Patriots o-line. My questions are what is the latest word on when (if) Matt Light will come back? Will Nick Kaczur be placed in another spot when Light comes back such as Ashworth's spot? Are you concerned at all about the pounding Brady might take the rest of the year? It was nice to see the tight ends make catches but obviously Brady took more hits because of it.
Chris, Portland, Maine
A: Bill Belichick commented on the team's offensive line this week, and he seems OK with it: "I think they've played pretty consistently all year. There were plenty of good plays. There were other plays that could have been better. A couple of other plays, [there were] passes that we got off and there was pressure -- we were just barely able to get rid of the ball. There were other times that the protection was clean. I think we've seen elements of that in all of the games that we've played, some more than others." The Patriots are ranked an impressive third in sacks allowed per pass attempt (7 allowed in 186 attempts), although that doesn't account for how many times Brady has been hurried and hit after throwing. Any time you have two rookies on the left side, there's reason for concern, although I wouldn't be overly concerned. No word on when Light would be back, or what the team would do with Nick Kaczur at that time. My guess is Kaczur would go back to the third tackle spot.
Love the mailbag. Would you agree that Patrick Pass has emerged this year? The way he is hitting the holes, blocking and catching makes me wonder why Dillon is struggling to do the same with the same front 5 blocking. Should Pass be getting a much larger dose of Dillon's carries?
Elliot Kramer, Montreal, Quebec
A: Agree that Pass has emerged this year as one of the most pleasant surprises on the roster. Disagree that Pass should be getting more of Dillon's carries. Pass has eight carries on the season for 45 yards (impressive 5.6 average), five of which came in the fourth quarter after the Falcons' defense had been pounded a bit. He also had a 13-yard gain on third-and-23, when the Atlanta defense was playing soft, which inflated his stats a bit.
According to Michael Holley's book Patriot Reign, Patrick Pass had neither the talent nor the attitude to survive in the Belichick Era. Yet here we are years later and he's not only survived, but he's playing better than ever, and is now more important to the team than ever. How did he do it in such a zero tolerance atmosphere?
Dan Riley, Vista, Calif.
A: Part of it, as described by Bill Belichick, was the Patriots finding the right role for Pass. The other part was Pass embracing that role. Once the two factors merged, things moved in the right direction. Pass also deserves credit for staying mentally strong when he was cut by the Patriots prior to the 2003 season, and wasn't re-signed until three weeks later. That can shake a player's confidence, but Pass has never looked back.
I know this will sound like second-guessing but why have the Patriots not drafted a linebacker in the first, second, or third rounds in recent years. They knew they were going into the 2005 season with a bunch of "worn" bodies such as McGinest, Johnson, Phifer, Bruschi (already had the stroke) and Vrabel.
Mark Zinan, Sunderland, Mass.
A: Two questions came into the mailbag this week on the subject. Bill Belichick had some interesting comments on the linebacker position in general prior to this year's draft. His feeling is that there haven't been a lot of them to come out of college in recent years with the standards in which the Patriots hold for the position. He said the team questioned whether it was raising the bar too high for linebackers, but decided in the end that wasn't the case. So I'd say part of it is that the team hasn't been enamored with enough linebackers in the draft and the other part is that they've addressed the area through free agency (Monty Beisel, Chad Brown) instead. Interestingly, the team has drafted just four linebackers in Belichick's six years here -- three in the seventh round and one in the fifth round.
Could you please explain the penalty "illegal contact"? On Sunday, the Falcons' Alge Crumpler ran right into Eugene Wilson about 10 yards down the field. Wilson was then flagged for the infraction of "illegal contact" despite the fact that Crumpler was the one to initiate the contact. Why is that a penalty on the defense, if the offensive player initiates it?
Mike Burns, Turnersville, NJ
A: Bill Belichick was asked how he would coach Wilson on that play and here is his response: "It would be hard for me to tell Eugene what he did wrong. Hey look, there were a lot of penalties in that game. Don't ask me to explain them. Both ways. There were a lot of calls in that game that I would have a hard time explaining."
Without Tedy Bruschi or Rodney Harrison, who do you think will be the
new leader of the Patriots defense?
Kyle Sherman, Rochester, Mass.
A: Richard Seymour seems like the natural choice, but his knee injury puts his status into question. If not Seymour, Willie McGinest and Mike Vrabel would be the choices.
Why are experts so jacked up about the Colts defense when they have such a soft schedule? The truth will be told when the Colts play the Pats on Nov. 7. This is just my humble opinion.
Eruk Draheim, Charlotte, NC
A: And it's an opinion echoed by others, too. The Colts have played Baltimore, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Tennessee, and San Francisco, not exactly top-of-the-line offenses. On Monday, the Colts face the Rams (fourth in the NFL in points scored), so that'll be a good test. But my feeling is that we'll know more about the Colts' defense when teams try to play power football. The Patriots' have the ability to do that.
As an ex-Bostonian, I follow the Pats, Red Sox and Celtics as closely as possible from a time difference of seven hours. After watching the Patriots' gutsy victory over Atlanta, it is increasingly clear that the defensive secondary is in need of help. How soon do you expect some of the injured players will be able to contribute? How serious are the injuries to Seymour and Dillon?
Jerry Perlmutter, Raanana, Israel
A: Randall Gay and Tyrone Poole could be back as soon as Sunday. Both returned to practice last week, a sign they are as close as ever. Poole said on Monday he told the coaches he was ready to play, but that the decision was made to sit him. As for the severity of Seymour's injury, I don't know the answer. Dillon looked fine walking through the locker room on Monday.
Considering how easily the Redskins moved the ball on the Broncos on Sunday, it looks like the Pats offense will have even more success next week at Mile High. Second game in a row now where we saw the opposing team move the ball effectively against the Pats in the second half. What do you think it is that is allowing teams to attack the Pats D more effectively in the second half of games this year? Is it that once they figure out the scheme in the first half they can determine the weaker personnel in which to attack in the second half? What are your thoughts?
Michael Bogert, Aliso Viejo, Calif.
A: The Patriots have actually surrendered 71 points in the first half and 65 in the second half. Their worst quarter is the second, where they've allowed 44 points and scored only 17. That said, the last two games have had breakdowns in the second half -- the Chargers scored 24 points and the Falcons 15. My thought is to wait another week to see if this is a trend, or maybe just a two-week blip.
Where is Nick Cafardo's mailbag? I like his analysis better than yours.
Mark Ferguson, Lincoln, RI
A: Nick willingly handed off the mailbag this year, and we talk often about the Patriots and NFL issues. I can understand why you'd like his analysis -- he brought a lot of insider knowledge and has great contacts around the NFL.
Your column is a lifeline for us New Englanders separated from the New England area. I write this question in regard to the Patriots injury situation. Particularly what is going on with Tyrone Poole? I am losing faith in his desire to be with this team. Some of his previous actions and comments enhance this feeling. What are some of the reasons he is taking so long to come back? Does he still have the desire to play football? Also, have you heard anything about Robert Edwards? I really admired his courage.
Ray Gerrity, Osceola, Ark.
A: Poole is listed on the injury report as having an ankle injury, which was sustained in the first week of the season. I don't have a good read on why it's taking so long for him to come back, because I don't know how severe his injury was. My feeling is that he still has a desire to play football. As for Robert Edwards, he's having a fine season with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.
TV announcers on Sunday said that Tedy Bruschi was thinking of coming back this year. What is the story behind this?
Ray Wlodyka, Cape Coral, Fla.
A: The story is that Tedy Bruschi is currently on the physically unable to perform list, which technically makes him eligible to return after the sixth week of the season (post-Denver game). Bruschi was asked yesterday about returning this season and he said "no comment." Some might take that as a sign he's considering a return. Others might look at it as him not wanting to answer the question, because what does that have to do with beating this week's opponent. Whatever the answer is, my gut feeling is that he's not coming back this season.
Do you think the Pats will trade for a good middle linebacker or strong safety. The Andre Davis trade was a bust and I am not sure why they did it. Also, it seems that the Pats who have played more games than any other team in the past 3 years finally have burnt out. Agree?
Henry Homers, Rosemont, Pa.
A: A trade for a middle linebacker or strong safety, during the season, is unlikely. As for the Davis trade being a bust, I'm not willing to go there until Davis actually signs with another team. Something tells me he could be back; the Patriots simply wouldn't throw away a fifth-round draft choice like that. As for the team experiencing burnout, I'm not so sure. They certainly aren't as healthy as some other teams but they have played with spunk at times -- specifically against the Steelers and Falcons.
With the injury to Kevin Faulk, do you envision any scenario in which Tim Dwight would become a third-down running back to utilize his catching ability out of the backfield?
Eric Martin, Dong Guan City, Guang Dong Province, China
A: Seems unlikely the Patriots would use Dwight there, although it's an interesting thought. The depth chart at running back has Corey Dillon, then Patrick Pass, then Amos Zereoue. If an emergency ever arose, rookie cornerback Ellis Hobbs might be the more logical choice to pinch-hit. He was a running back in high school, before switching to cornerback early in his college career at Iowa State.
1.) Desperate times call for desperate measures. Has the clock run out on Roman Phifer or might he be a temporary "band aid" at ILB/MLB until the Patriots shore things up on the inside? I know the Phifer we had in 2004 is a lot better player than what either Beisel and Chad Brown have shown.
2.) I'm assuming the appearance of Matt Cassel in Chargers game had more to do with protecting a valuable backup QB (Flutie) in a lost cause than it has to do with Cassel moving ahead of Flutie on the depth chart?
Brian Burke, Ashland
A: Phifer had an offseason procedure on his shoulder and might not be ready to play. His production had dipped in 2004 and with the Patriots having about $1.3 million in salary cap space, they might feel it's better to stick with what they have than bring in Phifer. On the quarterbacks, Flutie remains the No. 2. Your analysis sounds right on why Cassel came into the Chargers game.
Hi Mike, I wanted your opinion on what seems to be the prevalent mode of thinking: Why are we so ready to write off New England? Their rushing game has been bad, but who else has had their schedule this early? They got hammered by San Diego, but didn't the previous contest at Pittsburgh take away some of their energy, not to mention their top defensive player? I just feel as though they're not being given time to adjust to a new roster and a brutal schedule, and that we'll get a much better picture of what they can do after the bye. Thanks for letting me vent.
Chris Warner, Bronx, NY
A: Good vent, Chris. With the AFC East division not looking as strong as some projected at the start of the season, I'm thinking my preseason prediction of 11-5 is still a strong possibility for the Patriots. The defense concerns me a bit, but this team has some fight.
It's not a question but rather an observation. Tom Brady has forgotten where he came from and turned Hollywood
Brady is now on every other commercial on TV
His comments about the Chargers coach were offensive and laughable.
What he did was put a target on himself for every defensive player in the league.
A: In watching him around the stadium and in dealing with the media, Brady seems like the same guy we've seen for the last handful of years. I don't see the change in his personality that you're referencing. His comments on Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer could have been viewed as a bit whiny, but I think they were intended as more of a circle-the-wagons, us-against-the-world move.
Any fans know of a Pats gathering place to watch the games in the West Coast Portland ... in Oregon?
Ron Ruggiero, Portland, Ore.
Mike, the only thing I can draw out of the down, up, down nature of the Carolina, Pitt, and SD games, is that we seemed to not be able to play at a consistently high emotion level so far this year. Carolina played at a higher level. For Pittsburgh, we outplayed them almost start to finish. Then we don't show up against San Diego. All that said, you can talk Bruschi, Johnson, and Harrison and Phifer, etc., but I'm wondering how much those two coordinators meant in terms of keeping the team consistently stoked up. I'm just hoping it's early and the team just has not found a new rhythm under the new coordinators. Thoughts?
Jim Kelleher, Northford, Conn.
A: The coordinators' greatest contributions were in game-planning and game-day adjustments. I don't think the team's inconsistent ways have much to do with their departure.
Do you think Belichick will reconsider his practice of using defensive linemen at fullback after losing Klecko for the season last year and now that Seymour appears to have been injured at that position?
Rich Minassian, Londonderry, NH
A: Yes. I think we might have seen a shift -- albeit minor -- from that philosophy against the Falcons. The Patriots used their tight ends and Patrick Pass for the majority of the blocking assignments. With depth thin on the offensive line, the team probably didn't want to risk losing Hochstein in that role. Same with Klecko, with depth thin on the defensive line.