Can the Patriots stop the Colts?
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.
Yes, a win is a win and that's always good. But how are the Pats going to stop the Colts with their defense? They can't stop the run and their secondary is in dire straits.
Rob Gorden, Astoria, NY
A: Be careful of falling into the trap that many did last year (me included) in the playoffs. This game isn't just about the Patriots' defense vs. the Colts' offense. The team that plays the most complementary game -- offense, defense and special teams -- will win. That's how the Patriots have beaten the Colts in the past, and that formula hasn't changed this year. As for that matchup within the matchup -- Colts offense vs. Patriots defense -- it favors the Colts right now. But with a top-notch offensive performance and airtight special teams play, the Patriots can give themselves a chance to overcome their disadvantage on defense.
Aside from miscommunication between the safeties on the Eric Moulds touchdown, the Patriots showed signs of their "bend don't break defense." Do you think they can afford to play this way against the Colts -- i.e., allow Edgerrin James to run the ball while trying to protect against the big play downfield? What sort of defensive game plan are you expecting for the Colts? Lastly, do you think the Colts have been hiding their passing attack all year, saving it for this coming week?
Sean, Brooklyn, NY
A: A bend-but-don't-break philosophy seems to be the way to go; it's worked in the past. The Colts can score so quickly, and the Patriots have given up their share of quick scores this year, so I think the Patriots make the Colts try to work it down the field. As for the defensive game-plan, look for what Romeo Crennel's Browns did in Week 3 in a 13-6 loss. Rush three players, drop eight, and make the Colts be patient in gaining each yard. I don't think the Colts have been hiding their passing attack at all.
Given the potential for Richard Seymour and Randall Gay to be back in the lineup against Indy on Monday night, do you feel the Pats have a sporting chance? Also, with Indy's schedule to this point, do you feel their defense is that good? The Pats offensive line concerns me in this game more than the defense.
Alex Schimmel, Shawnee, Kansas
A: Yes, the Patriots have a chance to win this game. My feeling is that all the pressure is on the Colts (7-0) in this one. As for the Colts' defense, I'm not a believer yet. It's been seven games and Indianapolis hasn't exactly played high-flying offenses in facing Baltimore, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Tennessee, San Francisco, St. Louis and Houston. Let's see how that unit fares against the Patriots. Look for pass protection -- and specifically the Nick Kaczur vs. Dwight Freeney matchup -- to be a popular storyline leading up to the game.
What happened to Christian Fauria? I know that with Daniel Graham and Ben Watson at tight end he will see less action, but he played a key role in the Pats championship seasons.
Nick Scarpa, Tewksbury
A: The Patriots have run some three tight-end sets, mainly to establish the running game, but the classy Fauria (0 catches on the season) explained his overall playing time has been reduced from years past: "The first couple games I didn't play [much], then I played a lot against Pittsburgh. I had a good amount of time against Atlanta. I'm just trying to stay positive. We have  games left, so maybe I can make an impact somewhere. It might be one play, but if it gets you into the playoffs, it's a big play."
Do you think that Patrick Pass would be in the lineup this Sunday? Did Bill Belichick seem like Pass was fine or was he hesitant about his injury?
Christy DiBenedetto, NY
A: I don't think we'll be seeing Pass for the near future. Belichick said he saw Pass "walking around" after the game but said the team will know more Wednesday when it gets back to practice. I think he already knows. It appears the team's actions -- agreeing to terms with fullback Heath Evans on a contract on Monday -- is a sign that Pass isn't close to returning.
Watching on network TV it is hard to evaluate whether Duane Starks is underachieving or if going one-on-one against the opposing team's best receiver is realistic. Is it perhaps the fact that the D-line and the linebackers have needed the extra help from the safety position to stop the run/short pass, thus leaving the deep routes exposed?
Paul Casperson, San Antonio, Texas
A: My read on Starks is that he hasn't played up to expectations. At the same time, his performance looks even worse than it has been because of a so-so pass rush, overall miscommunication in the secondary, and a few missed coaching calls (i.e., Rod Smith's 72-yard catch in Denver).
The Pats nearly lost to the Bills because (as replays showed) Patrick Pass deliberately fumbled when his left leg cramped up. Why isn't anyone writing about this? Boston fans and sportswriters should be outraged and Pass should be benched by Belichick. He could have easily transferred the ball to his right hand before grabbing his thigh with his left.
Jonathan Hodgdon, Elmhurst, NY
A: That was one of those rare plays you don't often see and Pass was clearly in agonizing pain. Belichick has talked in the past about how ball security is stressed -- "hold it like a baby" -- and Pass didn't get the job done. There are no excuses and Bill Belichick will never condone fumbling, but he probably realizes that was a freak play.
Everyone seems to be criticizing the defense for their effort against the Bills. Allowing  yards stands out in the stats but what can you expect when the offense turns the ball over so quickly after three-and-outs, or the two turnovers. Take away Starks' obligatory screw-ups and I think the defense played great. What was their yards per play, anyway? How does this compare with last year's average yards per play?
Dennis Ludwig, Winnipeg, Canada
A: Great might be going too far, but the bottom line is points allowed (16) and the Patriots turned in their best effort of the season in that category. I think the Bills' inability to close the deal had something to do with that, but also credit to the Patriots for bending yet not breaking. The Bills totaled 410 yards on 72 plays, for an average of 5.69 yards per play. Last year, the Patriots surrendered 5,283 yards on 943 plays, for an average of 5.60 yards per play.
Why does there seem to be so many penalty calls this year? And I'm not just talking Patriot games. Seems all games are longer and it is getting very frustrating to watch. Also, I know the NFL played a game in Mexico City for a regular season game. The NFL has mentioned doing more of these regular season games in other cities. Being a Patriot fan I see no reason why I would want a Patriots home game to be played any place besides Foxborough. Plus they mentioned a Super Bowl outside of United States. Explain why a fan would want that. I see the benefit to the NFL but as a fan I do not see a benefit.
Bill Fennell, Acton
A: I can only speak to the Patriots' games and let's take a look at those penalty numbers: Through seven games this year, the Patriots have 59 accepted penalties and opponents have 65 accepted penalties for a total of 124 accepted penalties. Through seven games last year, the team had 55 accepted penalties and opponents had 53 accepted penalties for a total of 108. So you're right, there have been more penalties this year in Patriots games. As for the games played out of the US, the NFL is always hoping to expand its popularity and that can be profitable for individual teams in merchandise sales and overall marketing. If the Patriots had the chance to play in China, for example, my guess is that owner Robert Kraft would think that could be a great boost to the franchise. He'd probably ask fans for understanding if that opportunity became available.
These are indeed times that try a Patriot fan's soul. A lot of fans are wondering why the team is so lethargic (even with Tedy Bruschi back). It seems like they were doing a walk through practice during the first half of the Bills' game. I am still hopeful that playing the Colts will wake them up. What is your take on this?
Bradley Fuller, Birdsboro, Pa.
A: I'd echo the following comment from Bill Belichick from earlier this season: "It's a very competitive league and it's hard to win. Even when you don't do things perfect, and do them all right, you still have to come away from it and say 'We got one.'" The Patriots' performance against the Bills was barely good enough. If the team plays like that consistently, it won't be successful. But no team plays at a high level for all 16 games. You take the Ws when you can get them.
Are the Patriots the only NFL team to carry just three running backs/fullbacks? Did they carry three RBs last season? It just seems that they are a bit thin in running backs particularly with Kevin Faulk out.
Ed Hayes, Sandy Hook, Va.
A: Using NFL.com as a reference, it looks like only the Redskins and Patriots carry just three players in the offensive backfield. Many teams carry three running backs and one or two fullbacks. There are a couple of things to keep in mind here. The Patriots had Kory Chapman on their practice squad but he was signed to the Colts' roster before the Patriots got into their current injury flux, so in a sense they had four running backs coming out of training camp. Also, the Patriots use their tight ends in a fullback-type role. Those reasons aside, the Patriots are thinner in this area than most teams, and their roster gamble has cost them in the form of injuries.
Will Drew Bledsoe's No. 11 be retired by the Patriots? The Patriots' brass has not given No. 11 to anyone else. Is this the reason? I know Kraft held Drew in high regard. Also, does the fact that they have given Ty Law's No. 24 out mean anything? Bledsoe, while important to the organization didn't contribute to all 3 Super Bowls like Law.
Paul Miller, Brockton
A: If Bledsoe's number is to be retired, my feeling is that it would be after his playing career ends. But I'm not so sure it's a definite. Since Law's number is being worn by Michael Stone at this time, I'd say No. 24 isn't under strong consideration to be retired.
Obviously, it was great to see the Patriots finally start playing what we've all come to know as "Patriot football," especially making some -- and I stress some -- key plays when they had to be made. That said, I'm sure you and a lot of other people have got to be worried by (at least) three problematic aspects of the Bills game: 1) The generally lackadaisical attitude throughout the first half, capped off by the WAY too casual attitude at the end that resulted in the missed field goal. What do you think was going on there? It was very disturbing. 2) Although Tedy's return was obviously inspirational AND created more cohesion than there has been on the defense, you've GOT to be concerned about the large number of pass, but especially run, plays the Bills got off going through the middle. Until the middle of the fourth quarter, the Pats seemed unable to stop them on crucial "third and longs". What's your analysis of that? 3) Finally, what are we going to do about the left side of the O-line? Corey Dillon is obviously starting to recover, and was UN-believably clutch when Pass went down. But it was obvious the right side of the Bills' defense was going right at them, and, for a long time, were having it their way. I like both Logan Mankins and Nick Kaczur, but, geez ... is Belichick figuring that they'll take their lumps this year, and come back next year as seasoned veterans? That does make sense, but I'm wondering if that indeed IS the thinking.
David Caploe, San Francisco
A: The first half was a mess for the Patriots and letting the play clock wind down was inexcusable. Bill Belichick said he was accountable for that, but I think he might be covering a bit for Josh Miller (holder). As for the Bills' success on plays up the middle, Belichick said he felt simple tackling was one of the main areas that hurt the Patriots. Finally, what are the other options for the left side of the O-line? While I feel the team thinks highly of Kaczur and Mankins, if there was a way to better ease them into action instead of playing them side by side on the left side, it would have been done.
With the signing of Andre Davis recently, can we expect Troy Brown to see some time at defense again with all the injuries they have?
Jon Singer, Randolph
A: Davis' signing was probably connected to Brown in a different way. When Brown hurt his foot, the team was without a No. 3 receiver and felt Davis was a better No. 3 option than others on the roster -- which to me, is another reminder that Bethel Johnson is viewed by coaches as more of a returner than a receiver. I think it would take two more injuries at cornerback for Brown to see time there.
With the ineffectiveness of Antowain Smith, I expected the Patriots to draft Steven Jackson last year. The trade was made for Corey Dillon and tight end Benjamin Watson was drafted instead. Corey Dillon has been great for the franchise but considering the long-term benefit to the team, was this the best decision?
Anton Streeter, Dumfries, Va.
A: The Patriots would have had to select Jackson at No. 21, where they selected Vince Wilfork. Jackson went No. 24 to the Rams. The Patriots had an additional first-round pick, No. 32, and that's where they picked Watson. Meanwhile, the trade for Dillon cost the Patriots a second-round pick and, ultimately, more salary cap space. While Jackson shows signs of being a solid player for the long term, I still think the Patriots made the right moves in this scenario.
I know you've answered many a question concerning the NFL's apparent desire to "push through" the Colts while giving the Patriots an incredibly tough schedule and you've answered with the same answer given on any sports site: "The schedules are pre-determined and opponents are known way in advance." However, although the opponents are known in advance, the order in which they are played and at what time each weekend seems to be something that isn't determined until the previous season's end. This makes you look at the Pats' schedule again and notice the heavy road schedule early on and the inconsistent start times week after week. Also interesting to note is the Colts' bye week coming into Foxborough, how convenient. Just looking for your comments.
Phil Piazza, Branford, Conn.
A: I'm sensing you might think the NFL is giving the Colts a break and sticking it to the Patriots. While I think the NFL would like to see a new champion, I find it hard to believe this is a deliberate attempt to help the Colts. For what it's worth, Indianapolis is 2-1 after the bye under Tony Dungy, beating the Bengals (2002) and the Texans (2003) before losing to the Jaguars last season.
I admire Tedy Bruschi's grit and determination to play. However, we know that he had cardiac surgery. In many such patients, the breastbone (sternum) is split to gain access to the heart, then the bone is wired back to heal. Do you know if Bruschi had his sternum split? If so, wouldn't this place him in great jeopardy, especially considering the position that he plays? I know that doctors have cleared him to play but then, they've been wrong before with Boston athletes.
Ted Santiago, Princeton, NJ
A: I'm not aware of the exact nature of Bruschi's surgery, but would echo what Bruschi said upon announcing his return. "[Robert Kraft] says measure nine times and cut once. He's told me this throughout this process. We've measured a lot of times. I believe we've done that. We've made sure. We checked and checked and checked and OK let's check another time because we want to be sure."
Everybody is talking about how Charlie Weis isn't with the Patriots anymore, and if that is affecting them, but how come no one has asked about Romeo Crennel? It seems that the Patriots defense is lacking something ever since he left, even with the injuries to Rodney Harrison and Bruschi.
Alex Daley, Hudson
A: This could turn out to be correct, but let's give it more than seven games. Eric Mangini, the Patriots' first-year coordinator, was coveted by Crennel (Browns) and Nick Saban (Dolphins) for the same position. The Patriots have been ravaged by injuries on defense and my feeling is that Mangini deserves some more time.
It appears that every year the pundits talk about how the Patriots have overcome numerous injuries. This year, they find themselves again ravaged by major injuries. While it is nice they overcome them, has the coaching staff looked at the possibility of making certain changes? For example, why didn't we hear this kind of injury problems to the Colts or the Steelers? Is it a result of Patriots' conditioning program being different from other teams?
Yang Wang, Atlanta, Ga.
A: Each week, it seems, a similar question comes into the mailbag. The regular response is that a lot of the injuries are specific to football -- such as Richard Seymour's knee, Rodney Harrison's knee and Randall Gay's ankle. Those injuries can't really be classified as conditioning. Some of the thigh, hamstring, and foot injuries would be more conditioning-related, and I'm sure the coaching staff takes a close look at that. Strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik has been part of six Super Bowl championship teams, so his resume speaks for itself. But perhaps there is something to this and is worth further exploration.
Belichick has stated, more or less, that the main problem with the Patriots this year has been inconsistency. To me that speaks to coaching and play calling. Not putting players in position to succeed is a problem. Aren't we missing Romeo and Charlie more than anything else?
Steve Pena, Littleton
A: The absence of Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis has resulted in a time of transition, but to totally spare the players of accountability doesn't seem right. Not to sit on the fence, but I think it's a little bit of both -- the players and coaches.
Mike, a year back it looked like the Patriots' player personnel process was way ahead of the pack. Has the gap been narrowed? We went from getting guys that went right in and played/started (Eugene Wilson, Deion Branch, Dan Koppen, Matt Light, Randall Gay, Asante Samuel, Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison, etc.) to getting guys like Cedric Cobbs, Marquise Hill, Monty Beisel, Dexter Reid, Guss Scott, etc.). The last two years' worth of offseason acquisitions (draft and free agents) have not been the proverbial home run. We'll soon also have Koppen, Branch, Seymour, etc. becoming free agents. I think we've built a wonderful team considering what it was after Pete Carroll left, but it's going to be a large challenge to keep it that way for the coming years.
Jim Kelleher, Northford, Conn.
A: The gap has been narrowed. Through seven games, the Patriots' offseason acquisitions haven't been as productive as years past, although I think Chad Brown and Monty Beisel were thrust into unexpected roles and should be cut some slack. Also, some of the players the team didn't retain (e.g. Keith Traylor) are missed more than expected. Take a big-picture view and you'll see no team gets it right every year. It's sort of like baseball -- you get a hit one out of every three times and you're doing well. This is the challenge for every NFL team and that's why, in the salary cap era, the Patriots' success has been unprecedented.
This is not a criticism of the Patriots' personnel people as they do an incredible job and have a great deal to do with the three world championship banners hanging at Gillette. However, with the NFL becoming a war of attrition (injuries seem way to numerous in the last 5 years), it seems that you can't make too many "mistakes" drafting or acquiring players because many of these guys will see the field for important minutes even if it's only in their rookie or second years. As much as the 2003 draft should be credited with helping the Patriots win two titles, the 2004 draft may be costing them a shot this year. Looking at the injuries that have hit this team, it seems running back and secondary concerns are the most prominent. In the 2004 draft the Pats took Guss Scott (who didn't look that great before getting hurt) and Dexter Reid at safety. The running back taken that year was Cedric Cobbs. Defensive linemen Marquise Hill has not played up to the second round position he was selected in, and PK Sam is not playing as well. You can't hit on every draft, but do you think Wilfork and Watson aside, the Pats are paying for a midland to poor 2004 NFL draft?
Kevin Forbes, Natick
A: Yes. This is also how I would describe the situation. I wouldn't give up on Hill yet, but since players usually make the biggest jump from year one to year two, it's disappointing that he hasn't had more impact.
With Tyrone Poole, why not just release him if he is not expected back next year. Second, when it comes to Joe Andruzzi, David Patten and Adrian Klemm, will we get some kind of compensation for them?
Matthew Mackinnon, Norfolk
A: My feeling with Poole is that the Patriots got frustrated with his recovery and decided to cut ties. In doing so, they ensured he wouldn't end up with a rival. As for former Patriots now playing with other teams, the Patriots will receive compensatory draft choices that will be determined by the NFL, with the level of the choice contingent on several factors (e.g. playing time, postseason honors).
Is it possible to get a good read on why Poole was put on the injured reserve? Seems like the organization felt like he was more trouble than he was worth.
Middle Liddle, Boston
A: That might be a little harsh, but I'm not sure the Patriots and Poole were completely on the same page. That might have led to the decision to place him on injured reserve.
Do you feel that the Pats play with the pressure of winning that fourth Super Bowl? I know they say one game at a time, but really? It's okay with me if they don't. I love the Pats win or lose.
Seth Beecher, Unionville, Conn.
A: The big thing is that every opponent elevates their play against the Patriots, because they want to knock off the team that stands atop the NFL mountaintop. I think that's a bigger factor than what the Patriots face each week.
With all these injuries on defense why not "mike-up" a guy like Harrison to a rookie or in-season acquisition to talk the player through the reads? Is that not legal in the NFL? You often hear about the QBs getting calls from the coaches over headphones or is that only college?
Todd Azadian, Norwalk, Conn.
A: It's a great thought, but not legal. The quarterback is the only player allowed to have an earpiece in his helmet, in which a coach can communicate until 15 seconds remain on the play clock.