D-line not meeting expectations
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.
Mike, is the defensive line overrated? People were saying this line with Seymour, Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork could possibly be the NFL's best unit. So far, I don't see it. Not even close. Individually, Seymour is one of the best lineman. I think the rating talk was premature. Wilfork and Warren are not Henderson/Stroud (Jacksonville). The Jets D-line is more dominating last year and this year. The Pats D-line has played well, but they're not dominating anyone. We've given up the most points in the AFC as a total defensive unit. Teams are running on the Pats and we're not getting pressure on the QB either. I know the DBs and LBs are a big factor, but the DL is far from the NFL's best. Also, Jarvis Green makes more plays than Warren. Thoughts?
Jim Kelleher, Northford, Conn.
A: The defensive line was touted as a unit that potentially could be the best in the NFL, and that probably had to do with Seymour , Warren  and Wilfork  all being drafted in the first round. I'd rate the unit, which has played without Seymour the last two games, as average right now. In the debate of Green vs. Warren, here are the numbers: Green has 28 tackles, 1½ sacks and 1 forced fumble, while Warren has 31 tackles, no sacks and one pass defensed. A lot of times it isn't as much about making plays for the linemen, but holding their gaps. I couldn't give you an accurate assessment of which player is faring better at that, but I'd guess Warren. I assume that's why the coaching staff has had him as a starter in the team's last 22 regular-season games, dating to 2004.
I know Adam Vinatieri has made a lot of clutch kicks, but most of them seem to be when the Patriots are tied. How many has he missed with the Patriots behind (so the Patriots would lose the game, as opposed to having a chance to win it in overtime)?
Max Work, Los Angeles
A: One. You have to go back to the 1999 season and a 16-14 loss at Kansas City on Oct. 10. Vinatieri had a 32-yarder to win the game and missed it. Lee Johnson was the holder and Mike Bartrum the snapper. Up to that point, Vinatieri had six game-winning field goal attempts and had hit them all. Although it doesn't fit the criteria of the question, later that year on Dec. 26, Vinatieri missed three field goals in Buffalo in a 13-10 overtime loss. One miss came as time expired, forcing the game into overtime, where the Bills won. Overall, Vinatieri has converted 19 game-winning field goals [playoffs included] since entering the league in 1996.
Were Ted Johnson and Roman Phifer OK with their old numbers being issued so quickly after their departure? I question the wisdom, public relations-wise of Monty Beisel taking Johnson's number so soon after Ted's retirement. I know Ted Johnson probably is not a future Hall of Famer, but he was a three-time Super Bowl champion, and a 10-year Patriot. Roman Phifer was also a three-time Super Bowl champion. I know the Patriots could have withheld these numbers, if they wished to. I also understand the limited numbers to choose from for each position. I guess, as a fan, I would have liked to see these numbers withheld for a year at least.
Stan Newton, Belmont, NH
A: Here is Ted Johnson's take: "When it happens, there's an initial moment when you say to yourself 'Wow, this is life, things move on.' But really, it's just a number. I've found people around me have made a bigger deal of it than me. I actually didn't pick No. 52 and probably wouldn't have picked it. But that was the only number available to me at the time."
I'm sure you've been getting bombarded with Duane Starks questions. My question is this, how is it that everyone doesn't know about his injury? Or, why doesn't the typical fan assume that there is a problem. It's been pointed out on more than one occasion that Starks has an injury that has him playing virtually on one leg for the entire season. The reason that he hasn't gotten slammed by the coaching staff or replaced to this point is that 1) There's nobody to replace him; and 2) The coaching staff respects his willingness to play injured.
Dan DeLuca, Lowell
A: Starks has been questionable throughout the season with a thigh injury. While any player should be commended for playing through an injury, players shouldn't be spared total accountability for their performance because they're playing hurt. While Starks should be cut some slack for playing through his injury, the bottom line is that he hasn't made enough plays. He's said so himself.
Why is Duane Starks playing over Ellis Hobbs? For that matter why is Starks still on this team? It used to be those who produced played. Has coach Belichick become blind?
John Avitabile, Loganville, Ga.
A: Hobbs is a rookie who was the 17th cornerback selected in the draft. He's still learning the ropes. Starks, while admittedly not playing his best, probably brings a better grasp of the defense. Starks has been a target for fans in this forum, but he hasn't always been put in the best position to make plays. For example, Rod Smith's 72-yard catch in Denver was as much about Starks' coverage as it was about being in the wrong defense.
After reading a preview of David Halberstam's book on Bill Belichick, I was wondering about the Patriots' preparation against the Rams' speedy receivers (for Super Bowl XXXVI) by having the scout team receivers line up 3 yards "offsides" beyond the line of scrimmage. Since Ty Law and Otis Smith were in so much press coverage that game, I was wondering how Belichick lined his guys up on the "offsides" scout wide receivers in the practice drills? Did he have them pressed up on them or did he have them play in an "off" alignment for the purpose of the drill?
Brian Burke, Ashland
A: Former Patriot Otis Smith, who started at one cornerback spot in that game, explained the drill in an interview from his Maryland home on Monday: "The purpose of lining the receivers offsides was for us to play off. If you remember, we played the Rams earlier that year and they closed ground on us as defenders very quickly, even on grass, at our field. So that drill leading up to the Super Bowl was designed to remind us how fast a guy can get to you, especially with the Rams. The cushion closes fast. That really helped us in that game. I remember thinking 'Hey, they're not that fast.' We also had Drew Bledsoe as a scout team quarterback and it doesn't get much better than that."
It is a well known fact that Tedy Bruschi is undersized, which makes his great play all the more impressive. Could his effectiveness despite his size also be attributed to the large and physical Ted Johnson, whom Bruschi always played beside? Now that he will most likely be playing alongside Monty Beisel, who is also undersized for an inside linebacker, do you think that opposing teams will take advantage of two small inside linebackers? Bruschi has always played bigger than he is, but could the missing presence of a big run-stopper compromise his effectiveness? Love to hear your opinion.
Lindsay Hammer, Hingham
A: Don't think that will be much of a factor, Lindsay. Bruschi is listed at 6-foot-1, 247 pounds in the team's media guide, so he isn't as undersized as some might think [Beisel is listed at 6-3, 238]. Johnson was 6-4, 253. I'd sort of put Bruschi in the Zach Thomas category -- by now, the fact he's "undersized" is overshadowed by the fact he's proven he can be a consistent, productive player in the NFL.
As a lifelong fan of the Patriots, I'm curious why Bethel Johnson doesn't play more. I hear that he is always in the Belichick dog house. He has shown signs of brilliance.
Frank Herring, Horn Lake, Miss.
A: The re-signing of Andre' Davis last week appears to be another sign that the Patriots don't believe Johnson is ready to be a full-time receiver. Johnson has two catches for 58 yards and one touchdown this season, and 32 catches for 511 yards since joining the team as a second-round pick in 2003. Wouldn't say that Johnson is in Belichick's dog house, but my assessment is that he just hasn't convinced the coaching staff he can be a consistent option at receiver. What he has shown is a big-play ability that shows up in specific situations.
How did the Patriots stop the Broncos after they got their fourth TD? They were being manhandled and it seemed Denver would easily hit 42 or more like San Diego.
J. White, Lowell
A: Bill Belichick's postgame explanation probably sums it up best: "We didn't give up any 70-yard plays." The Broncos burned the Patriots for three big plays -- a 72-yard pass to Rod Smith, a 55-yard pass to Ashley Lelie and a 68-yard run by Tatum Bell -- all of which led to touchdowns. When the Patriots avoided the big play, they were more successful.
Can you ask the players how much of an effect there is playing in Denver? You always hear that it's much more difficult on the opposing team, but is that really accurate. Thank you.
Shane Behrle, Burlington, NJ
A: Here is the opinion of three players:
Rosevelt Colvin -- "I was curious about it myself. I called a friend of mine who plays for Washington [Warrick Holdman], who was there the week before and asked 'Is it that big of a deal?' He said it wasn't because you're not there long enough for it to affect you. You do feel it somewhat. When you breathe in, you feel something in the back of your throat, but it's not like you're gasping for air. On a scale of 1-10, it's a 1."
Tom Ashworth [a native of Centennial, Colo.] -- "Growing up, you heard about how it affected other teams. Quite frankly, I don't think it affected me at all. I think it might be more myth. When you go into the mountains, a little higher, you can definitely feel it."
Stephen Neal -- "It just felt like a normal place. They get loud like a lot of places, but it didn't feel any different to me."
Do you think that several injured players will return after the off week (i.e. Seymour)?
Adam Wolf, Portland, Maine
A: There were 15 players listed as questionable on the team's latest injury report, submitted Friday, Oct. 14. Of those 15, defensive lineman Richard Seymour, safety Guss Scott [since placed on injured reserve], cornerback Tyrone Poole, defensive lineman Marquise Hill, running back Corey Dillon and receiver Troy Brown didn't play against the Broncos. Expect Seymour and Dillon back for Sunday's game vs. Buffalo. Poole was seen on crutches last week and, based on appearances, it would be surprising if he's back. Hill is a bit of a mystery. Not sure on Brown, either.
Many fans are concerned about the Pats' glory diminishing this year, as well as with all the injuries. To me it looks like the Pats will be contenders for a title for the next 3-5 years with the current talent present. What is your take on this?
Bill Brown, Providence, RI
A: So much changes from week to week, let alone year to year. But if the majority of the team's core of players and coaches remains intact -- with quarterback Tom Brady No. 1 on the list -- I'm in agreement.
Am I just not noticing the pre-snap shifting that the Pats D used to show during the past few seasons or did they cut back on it? They used to look like angry bees at the line and now it seems back to basics. Is this due to all the new faces, the lack of Romeo Crennel or just a new plan?
Steve Miner, Hubbardston
A: This is a sharp observation and it appears that personnel is the big factor. Speaking on "The Drive" with Mike Felger on ESPN Radio 890 Boston last week, Belichick was asked about the team not being as "multiple" as it has been in the past. His response: "You go back and look at us defensively through the last few years, there were a number of games where sometimes it's one front [four-man] and sometimes it's the other [three-man]. That has to do with a number of factors. One is how we match up with the opponents. Two, is what schemes they're running and how we feel we can best defend those schemes. And to some degree, at times, it's a reflection of the personnel situation. The bottom line is that, all things being equal, we'd be comfortable playing either 4-3 or 3-4. Some games it's combinations, some games it's more one than the other, for whatever the reasons are."
My question is with Corey Dillon. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe he got a new 5 year deal after last season. Is the money guaranteed? Suppose apocalypse for a minute and Dillon remains ineffective this season because his age and carries has finally caught up with him. What are his salary cap implications? If Rodney Harrison cannot make it back what are his cap implications for next year? I am concerned about the Patriots financial flexibility going forward where they have signed some aged players to big contracts (Harrison, Dillon), just signed Brady to a big deal and have to sign Vinatieri. Also, injecting youth into the roster with draft picks is more problematic when you trade a 3rd and 5th round pick for Duane Starks and Andre Davis respectively.
Chris, Portland, Maine
A: Dillon's deal was for five years, but no NFL contracts are guaranteed. If Dillon plays out the entire contract, it could be worth $25 million over five years. As it stands now, Dillon's salary cap hits are scheduled to be $4.3 million , and then $3.85 million in each of the 2007, 2008 and 2009 seasons. Chances are that the deal will be renegotiated or terminated before 2009. As for Harrison, his current deal extends to 2008 and his salary cap charges are scheduled to be $2.8 million in 2006, then $3.4 million  and $3.7 million . While it's a legitimate concern, the Patriots shouldn't be too handcuffed with these deals. As for injecting youth into the roster, it's important to remember the Patriots are well stocked for the 2006 draft: with two third-rounders, two fourth-rounders and one fifth-rounder.
Is it fair to expect Randall Gay, Asante Samuel, Guss Scott, Eugene Wilson, Ellis Hobbs or James Sanders to play as well as Ty Law or Rodney Harrison? How long did it take them to become the "playmakers" they are today. Didn't Tedy Bruschi start on special teams? I think Gay, Samuel and Wilson are going to be great players given some time. I also think Samuel is our Harrison of the future.
Nancy Beal, Cornelius, NC
A: Harrison didn't have one start over his first two years in the league, although in his second season, he led the Chargers with five interceptions. Law was an immediate starter [6 games in 1995, 12 in 1996] who had 6 interceptions in his first two seasons. Bruschi started one game over his first two seasons. So your point is a good one -- sometimes it takes Pro Bowl caliber players time to develop [i.e. Bruschi], while other times their playmaking ability comes to the forefront right away [i.e. Law].
I think David Givens is a terrific receiver who has worked hard to improve his game. I hope he stays with the Patriots for a long time. What is David's contract status; is he an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season?
Edward Hayes, Sandy Hook, Va.
A: Givens is playing under a one-year, $1.43 million contract. He will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. With what appears to be a thin crop of free-agent receivers, if Givens hits the open market, he could be a sought-after pass-catcher. He has 31 catches for 355 yards and 1 touchdown on the season. The 31 catches rank him 10th in the AFC and tied for 23rd in the NFL.
An observation about injuries: I'm surprised no one has mentioned one reason for the large number of injuries is the total games the Pats have played over the last 4 years compared with teams that don't make playoffs or get past first round. When you add up the total number of plays these guys have been on the field for, it's just a matter of time before the numbers add up. Additionally, a lot of guys that pats bring in as band-aids are up there in age and have a history of injury [Light and Seymour obviously don't fit into that category].
Barry Greenfield, Washington DC
A: Ran this thought by offensive guard Stephen Neal and his feeling is that the extra games aren't related to the team's current injury woes. "You have a whole offseason, and I don't think it's an issue," he said. Belichick did appear to tailor his training camp around the idea that the team has played more games than other clubs. There was light contact. Veterans were rested at times. While some injuries might be classified in this wear-and-tear categories, I don't think it would be a majority.
I read all the problems with the secondary but in my opinion it's the lack of a pass rush. Even All-Pro cornerbacks can't cover when the quarterback has forever to find someone. The Patriots put zero pressure on the quarterback. I'm still waiting for Vince Wilfork to do something positive. Do you agree with me on the lack of a pass rush being the major problem?
Chuck Mantia, Saratoga, NY
A: Yes. Bill Belichick said something similar while speaking on the radio last week. He said the essence of pass defense is combining coverage and the rush -- you can't have one without the other. He said the Patriots' coordination between the two hasn't been consistent enough. From a pure statistical standpoint, the Patriots' 11 sacks rank them 21st in the NFL in sacks per pass attempt.
With Guss Scott on IR, the safety positions are even more vulnerable. Will James Sanders be able to step in, or could we be looking at Don Davis? How good is Freeman, who came from Miami?
Gilbert Mills, Waford, United Kingdom
A: Sanders had a rocky first half in Denver before leaving with an injury. It's unknown how serious the injury is sustained by Sanders. I think he's going to be a nice player in the long run. Belichick felt Freeman performed well given the circumstances [i.e. he had a week to learn the system etc.] Don Davis would be an emergency choice, but look for more of Freeman and Sanders, assuming Sanders is healthy.
Didn't the Patriots audition Terrell Buckley for the cornerback position recently? Is he still available to shore up the secondary?
Leona Belanger, Lexington
A: Buckley was in for a tryout on Tuesday, Oct. 11. He is still available but the team must feel he couldn't help as much as Hank Poteat, who was signed last week.
Ty Law is regarded by many as one of the best cover corners in the league. Is it fair to say that with the Pats' bad defensive play-calling and secondary play [Duane Starks], that the worst offseason move was not signing Law for a considerably lesser amount of money after they released him, similar to releasing and re-signing Troy Brown?
Mike Macdonald Jr., Salisbury
A: There were still some health concerns with Law [foot] and in the end, I think both sides felt it was time for a fresh start. The Patriots certainly miss him, but I wouldn't classify it as their worst offseason decision. Given the financial implications and health concerns -- which was the information the team had at the time -- I can understand the team's thinking on Law.
Since it appears that the Pats will not finish as one of the top two teams in the AFC, please tell me what was the last "wild card" team to win the Super Bowl (obviously, I do think that the Pats will make the playoffs).
Ken Koch, Morristown, NJ
A: Baltimore won Super Bowl XXXV in the 2000 season as a wild-card team. The Ravens defeated Denver [21-3] in the wild-card round, Tennessee in the divisional round [24-10] and Oakland in the AFC Championship [16-3]. They became the fourth wild card team to win the Super Bowl when they defeated the Giants, 34-7.
It's too bad the Patriots couldn't get a guy like free agent linebacker Mike Maslowski. Beisel and Brown have been a disaster. Anyway, what is the status of Roman Phifer? Recently, his number was given to somebody else. Did the Patriots try to sign him? Is he injured? Retired? Not motivated? He would have been a nice pickup as a backup.
Speros Zakas, Salem
A: Maslowski was a player the Patriots signed to an offer sheet a few years back when he was a restricted free agent. He's coming off rehab on his knee, which has given him trouble in the past. His agent, Joe Linta, said on Monday night that he's yet to arrange a visit for Maslowski to Gillette Stadium. As for Phifer, he was coming off an offseason shoulder procedure and might not be 100 percent yet.
How many tickets, on average, are sold as standing room only at each Patriots home game?
Thomas Queenan, Sagamore Beach
A: Patriots director of media relations Stacey James said there are anywhere from 1,000-to-2,000 standing-room-only tickets are sold per game.
Just saw the question from the reader in Hong Kong asking where to watch NFL games outside of the US. I remembered seeing a press release from the NFL not too long ago and dug this up:
It's a listing, by country, of the networks (cable or satellite) that carry NFL games. Hope this proves helpful.
Jen Bullen, Hull
Got a Patriots answer here for Tim Russell of Hong Kong who wants to watch his Pats from abroad. You should try SlingMedia's new product, the SlingBox. It's $250 and it allows you to remotely access whatever's on your television via an internet connection. So you can watch the Pats anywhere in the world this way. Check out their Web site: www.slingmedia.com.
Abhijay Prakash, Los Angeles
I saw the question from the Hong Kong reader concerning Pats game. I am from Boston; but, moved to Brazil 4 years ago. I subscribe to DirectTV. They have a package which shows 4 games live on Sunday and a one game replayed each day of the week. (I have watched all 6 games this year!).
David, Curitiba, Brazil