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.
While the play of the secondary has been disappointing, the play of the inside linebackers has been equally, if not more, disappointing. Monty Beisel just can't seem to find the ball, and when he does, he can't make the tackle. Do you think the poor play of the insider linebackers has hastened Bruschi's return? I'm surprised the Patriots organization is letting Bruschi on the field at all.
Sean, Brooklyn, NY
A: I dont think the subpar play of the inside linebackers has hastened Bruschis return. Here is Bruschis take when asked that question this week: I couldn't let how the team was doing affect my mindset on my rehabilitation, because I sort of believe I had to take it upon myself that my rehabilitation and getting myself 100 percent healthy has to be first and foremost, before the team in my mind.
I'm sure you are getting bombarded with questions about our secondary, but I still have to ask. I understand that this is a team game, and personally, I think the secondary could certainly use some help from the defensive line to put pressure on the QB, which seems almost non-existent in the last couple weeks. But why is Duane Starks still around? It's obvious this guy is easily burned, and is really hurting us. Is there any hope that we can get this guy replaced?
Scott Bolton, Ayer
A: It wouldnt be a surprise to see Starks replaced in the starting lineup by either Randall Gay or Tyrone Poole when the team returns from the bye. Starks hasnt played well. At the same time, the coaches havent always put him in the best position to make plays. Yes, he was a step behind on Rod Smiths 72-yard catch. And yes, he was the closest defensive back on Ashley Lelies 55-yard catch. But after watching both plays over and over, it looks like the defensive call on Smiths catch was poor not putting him in the best position to succeed. And I think Starks should have had safety help on Lelies catch. To simply blame Starks is letting others off the hook.
Can the Patriots survive Duane Starks at cornerback. He plays so off the receiver, its awful.
Ron Freeman, Buellton, Ca.
A: Several questions about Starks came into the mailbag this week. Starks said after the game that hes never felt so good and played so awful. Its easy to make him the scapegoat and he hasnt played well -- but hes far from alone.
I think that Tom Brady may be injured if this no-running back formation continues to be used especially against a good blitzing team. Some strong safety could cause a lot of damage. I would try a 2 back I-formation to help the run. Also, the 3-4 is not being successful and there should be some change to a 4-3 when it is apparent that the nose tackle cannot handle the run and the linebackers are being handled by the opponents guards. I think also that the running game lacks imagination and that a new offensive coordinator should be located ASAP.
A: Agreed on two of the three points. They had to throw to get back into the game against the Broncos, which did put Brady in some compromising positions. If this becomes the norm, Brady will be subjected to more physical pounding, which isnt good. And the 4-3, assuming Richard Seymour comes back, seems like the right defense. Thats what they played against the Steelers, which was their best defensive performance of the season. As for the offensive coordinator, who? Imaginative, unpredictable play-callers are hard to find and Im willing to give the current regime more time to develop its identity. Few were calling Charlie Weis a genius in 2002.
Mike, it seems to me that one of the highlights (but less reported) features of the Patriots defense in the last few years (especially in the Ted Washington days) has been the ability of the front three to keep the offensive line off the linebackers and free them up to move laterally. That seems to have disappeared this year. So while Beisel and Brown are a clear step down from Bruschi and company, they seem to be getting little help from the D-Line. What's up with that? Also, despite the fact that you pegged Beisel in your "down" list following Sunday's game against the Broncos, I think Chad Brown's performance Sunday was atrocious, getting beaten and overpowered on nearly every opportunity.
Don Ferguson, Hopkinton
A: The defensive line hit a high point against the Steelers and hasnt been the same since. Since that time, the team has primarily played a 3-4 and youre right, the unit isnt keeping the offensive line off the linebackers. Good observation. As for Chad Brown, I think hes miscast in the middle linebacker role of the 3-4. Tedy Bruschis potential return to game action could mean Brown sees less time at inside linebacker and could then be utilized the way I believe the Patriots initially envisioned: as a 15-20 play situational linebacker/pass rusher, not an inside run-stuffer.
There is something that is very perplexing to me today concerning the Patriots seemingly endless rash of injuries. It just seems to me that week in and week out (including last year) we seem to be the most injured team in the NFL. Is this just coincidental? Or is it more related to our coaching's staff decision to "keep guys out." For example. For the past 3 weeks all we have heard from Tyrone Poole is that hes ready to play" yet every week he sits. How bad could that injury be that it's taken four weeks to heal? Corey Dillon not playing Sunday is another example. Why, if he is suited up and makes the trip, was he not allowed to play? Is it that our staff is just ultra-conservative when it comes to guys being hurt? I realize major injuries are one thing but if you wait for guys to be 100 percent in the NFL, they'll be no players on the field. Trying not to be critical but again it just confuses me as to why our injury list seems to be the longest in the league on a consistent basis.
Ron Bell, Cranbury NJ
A: I dont think the Patriots approach to keeping guys out contributes to injuries. It is my belief that Bill Belichick has complete faith in the teams training staff, since he picked those people himself. That situation came into focus when Terry Glenn was here, and I believe Belichick wasnt totally convinced on what trainers were telling him at the time. Not sure how to explain the Poole situation, but the Dillon situation is one where the team was clearly thinking about the 16-game schedule and how it will need Dillon in the long-term. Sometimes you have to sacrifice one game, for the final 10.
1) When is the NFL Competition Committee going to look at the scheduling of season games, with the Patriots waiting all the way to Oct 30th before they play their first divisional game? This seems rather unfair. I am not complaining about the difficulty of the opponents to be played, but this year's Pats schedule is really out of whack six divisional games in the last 10?
2) Why do reporters even bother going to Belichick press conferences? I see the highlights of them that you post on boston.com and there is nothing meaningful there. Is it because the Patriots have won so much since he came on, that Belichick gets away with no-substantive answers to any question posed and just a rehash of the same factoids over and over. (I will consider this a rhetorical question, as a truthful answer from you might put you in the "dog house").
Mark Hanslin, Ridgewood, NJ
A: My feeling is that playing six of their final 10 regular-season games against AFC East foes might end up helping the Patriots in the end, because the division is down this year. I also think all the talk about this years schedule is overblown, and that last years was even tougher because it included more short weeks and Monday night games on holiday weeks (i.e. Thanksgiving, Christmas). The coaching staff was really taxed last year in sometimes trying to prepare for two opponents at once. One week, they were preparing for Kansas City and Baltimore at the same time. As for reporters attending Belichick press conferences, it depends on what you expect. Youre right, there are a lot of non-answers. And good luck finding out about injuries. Those can both be frustrating at times. But I do find substantial value in the times Belichick talks Xs and Os, and particularly enjoy when he breaks down the opposition as if they are the 85 Bears.
How has Ty Law been playing with the Jets? Does he seem to be back to his old, capable self? Or is he just a shell of that former player?
Neal Smookler, Boston
A: Law has three interceptions on the season, but has also committed seven penalties. Have only seen bits and pieces of Jets games this year, so Im probably not the best person to answer this question. But Id say it sounds like he still has some of that playmaking flair the Patriots lack.
This question pertains to not only the Patriots, but all of professional football. Any coach will tell you that all three phases of the game -- offense, defense and special teams are important. What alarms me is the number of penalties one sees in the special teams phase, namely punt and kickoff returns. I watch a fair amount of college football and don't see nearly the number of penalties that I do in the pros. Why is that?
Steve Warner, Locust Grove, VA
A: My feeling is that you combine the speed of the game and the large amount of space to be covered, and the margin for penalties on special teams is widened. Bill Belichick was asked about this last week and called special teams coverage organized chaos. Here is the rest of his explanation: Because everybody that is covering, once they get behind the blocker, then they lose leverage on the guys that theyre trying to block. The penalties arent when theyre in front of them. The penalties are when they're behind them or theyre on the side of them. As the blocker tries to go to make the block, if he is in a disadvantageous position, if the coverage man has gotten between him and the returner, then the blocker is trying to get in front. Sometimes he does. Sometimes he doesn't. Sometimes it depends on what the runner does. If the runner cuts back, then the blocker can get that angle. If he doesn't, then he loses it. Again, it comes down to judgment by the guy making the play. I'm not saying that the penalties are excusable. Theyre trying to make the block. The returner is trying to make yards. Sometimes they come in a little bit of conflict.
Mike, I think there is a lot of over-reacting going on concerning the Patriots play. We knew at the start of the season that the first six weeks would be brutal. Taking into consideration all of the injuries, a 3-3 record is not all that bad. With the bye week upcoming and many of the injured players due back soon, am I nuts to believe that the Pats will regain their form and win the AFC East?
Chris Salvato, Scotia, NY
A: You thinking is sound, Chris, but at the same time the teams play should draw some critical reaction from passionate followers of the team. As strong as the early season schedule was - and I wouldnt include the season-opener against the Raiders - these are some alarming defensive statistics: 24th against the pass; 25th against the rush; 32nd in red zone defense; and 28th in points allowed. The Patriots can still win the AFC East, because the division is weak, but the question is if this team is built to win another Super Bowl. Right now, youd have to be the ultimate optimist to say yes.
Mike, love the blog. It seems as if Coach Belichick is asleep at the switch on many key replay challenges. The most talked about was the non-challenge on the bogus touchdown run by Steven Davis in the Carolina game, but there have been several other puzzling non-challenges. Most recently, it seemed as if Deion Branch caught the ball on a key fourth quarter third-and-20 play, and then the ground caused a fumble as he landed on the turf. Belichick didn't challenge the ruling, the Patriots punted the ball away, and the game was over. Why not throw the flag there? Who is upstairs in the booth, relaying this information to the coaches on the sidelines?
Sorbman, Maynard, MA
A: Thought about this one, reviewed the play a couple of times, and dont think the evidence was conclusive enough to call that a catch. Belichick had already burned a timeout reviewing one call and obviously felt he couldnt risk losing another TO. There was just less than four minutes left at the time. So he figured punt, hope the defense holds, and use the two timeouts and get the ball back. I would have done the same thing.
I have spent the day reading the articles on yesterday's tough loss to the Broncos. One thing remains consistent, as it usually does. The biggest play of the waning moments of the game appears misplaced. The biggest play of the game was David Given's dropped ball (the way the ball was delivered it could be considered a hand off) for a first down. Branch, if he held on to that pass on third-and-20 still would have been short so that really is a non-issue. If givens makes the catch...neither the intentional grounding nor the Branch pounding would even be talked about today. How could so much focus be distracted from the most obvious offensive disaster of the day?
Chris C, Hingham
A: Bad drop by Givens. Thought Tom Brady put it best in the post-game press conference: because the Patriots had dug themselves such a big hole, they had to play error-free to win. Their margin for error was razor thin. So while the Givens drop looks big, how can we dismiss all the things that happened before that? Sure, it hurt because it came at a critical time. But there were plenty of other plays in the game that could be placed in the same category.
Can you talk a little about the Pats inconsistent play at tight end? One week they are dominating, the next week non-existent. What gives?
A: Daniel Graham had 5 catches for 119 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons, while Benjamin Watson had a 33-yard touchdown in that game. But against the Broncos, each player had one catch. My feeling is that Brady was under such heavy pressure against the Broncos, he didnt have enough time to find his tight ends down the field. Id also say the tight ends were held in more in this game due to Denvers heavy pressure.
So, do we know the real reason why Corey Dillon didn't play on Sunday? I know the injured reserve list was completely booked but Dillon didn't look like a man who was hurt, he looked like a man who was benched. Do you think his behavior with the media lately had anything to do with his not playing on Sunday?
Sean, Medfield, MA
A: Dillon hurt his ankle in the second half against the Falcons and didnt finish the game. He was receiving treatment throughout the week, which explains why he wasnt at practice at the early portion open to the media. I dont think his behavior with the media had anything to do with him not playing. The Patriots realize theyll need Dillon if they are to have a successful season and they sacrificed one game for the final 10. Expect him back out on the field Oct. 30 when the Bills come to town.
What needs to happen for Larry Izzo to get a look at inside linebacker. At least he's been around for a while and is never out of position. Seems to me he can't be much worse than Monty Beisel and Chad Brown.
Jason Starr, Salida, Colorado
A: I think the coaching staff views Izzo solely as a special teams player. If they thought he could help the team at inside linebacker, they would have already made the move. Izzo has played in 143 career games and has never started.
It seems like when the Patriots pull out a big, emotional win like Atlanta, everyone is on the superlative bandwagon. When they lose as they did in Denver, the world is coming to an end. On a play-by-play basis, every good team is going to get some big plays (as Denver did). However, I think you could pick about 4 plays out of the entire Denver game that, if they went the other way, the Patriots would have won: 1) Any one of the deep passes in the 2nd quarter; 2) Vinatieri's missed field goal; 3) Patriots dropped touchdown pass in the end zone; 4) Dropped pass in the 4th quarter for a 1st down in the final drive. It truly is a game of inches where a handful of critical plays make the difference. Amazing.
Charles A. Samuelson, Cohasset, MA
A: I think Bill Belichick believes that each game comes down to a few critical plays, and youre right, the Patriots didnt get them against Denver. That said, the team got hammered for about 16 minutes and thats more than a few plays. The team should be accountable for this lack of production over such a long stretch.
Why is it no one has commented on the poor offseason the Pats had? They gave up a fifth rounder for Andre Davis, and he didn't even make it on the field. They gave up a third rounder for Duane Starks [and swapped fifth rounders], and he can't cover anyone. Chad Brown and Monty Beisel have played "OK" at best, and some of the players like David Terrell didn't even make the team. I'm not trying to run anyone out of town because of this, but the lack of media scrutiny is ridiculous.
Max Varvak, Canton/MA
A: The Patriots have earned some reprieve from media scrutiny regarding personnel over the last four years. Since theyve won three of four Super Bowls, its not always easy to criticize. On the Davis trade, Im not declaring that a bust until Davis officially signs with another team. Something tells me he could be back. Starks has been a disappointment. Brown ($485,000 signing bonus, $110,000 roster bonus) and Beisel ($425,000 signing bonus) were modest signings thrust into greater roles than anticipated due to the unexpected retirement of Ted Johnson. All told, the personnel additions havent been as solid as years past.
The AFC East is now the Pats to win or lose. I know it's still very early, but which teams do you see winning the other AFC divisions and qualifying via wild card? Can you give us your thoughts on how you see those races playing out? How many of the remaining 10 games must the Pats win to have a shot a first round bye?
Pete Dumas, Plano, TX
A: The Patriots are still the team to beat in the AFC East. I like the Bengals (5-1) to hold off the Steelers (3-2) in the AFC North; the Colts (6-0) to win the AFC South and secure home-field advantage; and Denver (5-1) to hold off a charge in the AFC West. Ill pick Jacksonville (4-2) and San Diego (3-3) as wild cards, with a mild upset of Pittsburgh (3-2) not getting in. Sundays Pittsburgh-Cincinnati game should tell us more.
Do you agree with Belichick's strategy of a no running back set against such an effective Denver blitz? I thought Tom was going to get carted off. Also, do you think staying in a 3-4 makes sense when it is obvious that teams are handling Vince Wilfork with a center and their guards are doing as well against the Pats' linebackers, resulting in those huge running gains?
A: We touched on the Brady situation before, noting that the team had to release more players into pass patterns in an attempt to get back into the game. The strategy almost resulted in an improbable comeback. At the same time, if it becomes the norm, Brady will be subjected to more physical pounding. As for the other side of the ball, the Patriots best defensive performance of the season came in the 4-3, against the Steelers. So it makes sense to switch and see how the team fares in that alignment. Not sure why the Patriots are reluctant to do so.
I know I have emailed you before about this but I think after this game this really needs to be addressed. Beisel is surely the weakest link in the defense. If he could have tackled the tight end in the fourth quarter that could have saved the game. Also, Duane Starks has to go. He is awful. And one last thing, I think what we are seeing is not due to injuries just due to weak players and bad play calling. Thoughts?
Kyle Mcfarland, South Glens Falls
A: In defense of Beisel, he revealed Monday that he spent much of last week in the hospital with a hand infection. Speaking on the Sportsbeat show on WSKO-AM in Providence, RI, he said he got out of the hospital just in time to catch the teams flight. That was a killer missed tackle, but Id put it in the same category as David Givenss dropped pass in the fourth. If the Patriots hadnt dug themselves such a large hole, they wouldnt have been playing with such a razor-thin margin for error. On the whole, Beisel has overrun some tackles in recent weeks and the Patriots need more consistent production from him. Welcome to the Duane Starks Club; he seems to be drawing the harshest wrath from the fans. And as for the final part of the question, there are some personnel and coaching issues, but pinpointing just those two areas overlooks simple execution [i.e. dropped passes], which has been a problem, too.
Why have the Patriots not re-signed Vinatieri to a long-term deal? I know they gave him the franchise tag, but there was a lot of talk that people thought he would work out a deal with the team even before the franchise tag deadline, but he hasn't. Do you know if they are working on a deal? And if not, do you think it is because Adam is thinking about retiring? He doesn't seem to be getting any worse, so why are the Pats not making sure they secure him for the future?
Melissa Cain, Rochester, NY
A: The Patriots are looking at a situation where they will be setting the financial market for kickers, and that is likely what is holding up the deal. Vinatieri will be the highest paid kicker in the league or at least deserves to be so there is no ceiling for negotiations. I still think it will get done.
Mike, I'm trying to figure out how Indy got such a creampuff schedule this season? I thought the NFL gave playoff teams tough schedules for the next season! Its kind of ridiculous that they may land up with the best AFC schedule for the playoffs with such a light schedule.
A: I dont see the NFL purposely favoring Indianapolis with its schedule. Every NFL team has its opponents pre-determined in advance.
What could the Patriots organization possibly have been thinking when they cut off access to the web-based Patriot Video News to all but Comcast cable subscribers? Have they ever thought about us poor Pats fans out of reach of Comcast, out of New England, way down here in Texas?
Steve Basile, Austin, TX
A: A few questions came into the mailbag about this. Word is that the Patriots will fill the gap with some new type of content on their Web site. My feeling is that they realize theyve gained more of an audience in New England by putting the show on Comcast cable, but have lost others out of the region.
It's not a question so much as an observation. I think we are going to see Patrick Pass emerge as a real strong running back, somewhat in the mold of Marshall Faulk. He can catch passes, his blocking is better than Faulk's, and I believe if given the chance, he could be a productive runner. Your thoughts?
Steve Reed, Fuquay, NC
A: Good timing on the question, which was sent in before the Patriots-Broncos game. Pass was one of the most productive players on the field. Hes earned more time. To compare him to Marshall Faulk is probably going too far, but Pass has become a key piece to the offense, someone who consistently makes positive plays with the ball in his hands.
Hi Mike, This is a follow-up question to one I sent you previously and to the one asked in last week's bag from Israel. I'm in Hong Kong and desperately missing my Patriots games. Aside from the occasional ESPN games they show on TV here (2 games a season), there's no way for me to watch the games regularly. What do other non-US-based Patriots fans do to watch the games?
Tim Russell, Hong Kong
A: Well toss that one out to the fans.
It seems like the defense does fairly well in holding the scoring down until the late 3rd and 4th quarters. How much would you contribute this to conditioning and fatigue?
Deb Krause, Newburyport
A: Turns out the second quarter has been the killer for the Patriots. Theyve been outscored 65-17 in the second. Seems like the Patriots have thrown the first punch outscoring foes 48-27 in the first quarter but havent been able to absorb the counter-punch. As for second-half scoring, the Patriots have the slight edge, 73-72.
When the third string quarterback is listed as inactive, like Matt Cassel is almost every week, how does he get into the game like he did against San Diego?
A: The third-string quarterback can enter the game at any time, but if he enters before the fourth quarter, the first- and second-string quarterbacks cant play in the game. If the third-string quarterback enters in the fourth quarter or overtime, the first- and second-string quarterbacks can still play.
With the trading deadline being 4 p.m. today, do you see the Pats trying to work any deals to improve the secondary? I understand trades don't happen in NFL, but I would think the Pats are one team that could pull something off. Two players that interest me are A. Winfield & C. Chavous from the Vikings. Vikings are a mess and may want to clean house. Thoughts?
M. Kelleher, Boston
A: I dont think it will happen. Also, Belichick said yesterday that a trade is unlikely. His response: Regular season trades are few and far between. I'm not saying it can't happen. But historically, I don't think it will be a whole lot different this year. Again, it's hard to make those trades now. It's one thing to do it in training camp. It's another thing to do it now because you're talking about taking people off of a roster that there's some reason why they're on there. Probably a good reason. Every team has injuries. Every team has to deal with depth issues and so to trade a healthy player who is on your roster for whatever reasons you elected to put him on there and keep him on there. It's hard to just cast that depth off with 10 games to go in the regular season. There's still a lot of football left.