All about Indy
Fans want to know what tricks Bill Belichick has up his sleeve for Peyton Manning and the Colts
Last week was like one of my patented golf shots back in the days when I used to tee it up. I was so far off the fairway, it was a joke. I bought into the Vikings as being a legitimate NFL contender, sucked in by how tough they played the Bears at home in Week 3. I figured the Patriots would have a tougher time on Monday night.
The most significant development in Minnesota was the emergence of the Patriots' passing game. That was a terrific performance. Although Bill Belichick didn't say it after the game, I don't think the Patriots could have run that spread offense earlier in the season because of the receivers' lack of familiarity with the scheme. That effort answered one of the lone remaining questions I had about the team.
Perhaps the last question is what happens when a clutch field goal is needed. The player who made those clutch kicks from 1996-2005, Adam Vinatieri, comes to town on Sunday as a member of the Colts.
This week's mailbag is a mix, looking back on the Vikings game while looking ahead to the Colts contest.
We had some technical problems on our end over the last week with the submission form, so some questions didn't make it in. We're back in business, so thanks for sticking with us.
On to the questions ...
Great win for the Pats, but a truly impressive game-plan, especially on offense. With your experience and knowledge of the team, who do you think came up with the idea of using the spread offense for the majority of the game? Josh McDaniels or is this something Belichick may have had a hand in?
Glenn Williams, Brighton
A: Belichick has a hand in everything, so I believe he was certainly a big part of the decision. Each week, he meets individually with quarterback Tom Brady to go over the Patriots' plans. But once the decision is made, there is a lot of coaching that has to take place to make that plan come to life. I'd put McDaniels and receivers coach Brian Daboll at the top of the coaching list as I believe they are most responsible for the passing game. And let's make sure to give the players the credit, too. Any staff can draw up a good plan, but it's the players that make it happen on the field.
Check the chat transcript from last week, I posted a couple questions (under McMonkey) asking why you thought the Pats would bang their head on the wall trying to establish a running game against a good run defense. I asked why they couldn't come out and spread the field with a possession passing game and create room for the run that way. Seems like me, BB and company are on the same page. For this week, are the Colts poor enough against the run that the Pats can just come out and start pounding away (what everyone expects them to do) or do you think they'll try to keep the Colts guessing by mixing it up with a balanced attack: run, possession passing and a few deep attempts?
Chris Cenotti, Concord, Calif.
A: You might be line for a coaching gig on Belichick's staff if you keep this up, Chris. I think the Patriots can run the ball on the Colts, but also think they can move it with the pass. I don't think it needs to be one or the other. They've had success in the passing game against the Colts' defense in past years and there's no reason to think that won't happen again.
I, like everyone else in New England, cannot wait for next weekend's matchup against Peyton Manning and Colts. That being said, I can't help but wonder if Belichick will not throw everything he can at them. I'd love to see him come out with something crazy to burn the Colts on Sunday, but I am curious as to whether or not he may hold back a little. What do you think?
Jon Fox, Assonet
A: I don't think holding back is an option. While he won't say it, I think Belichick realizes that this game could have significant long-term implications, very similar to the 2004 game between the teams in Indianapolis in which the Patriots won with a late goal-line stand. By the end of the season, that win helped the Patriots earn home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Now that you have seen that the passing game has been resurrected, are you willing to rethink that 11-5 record? Game plan for the Colts should be run, run, run and keep Peyton off the field, correct?
Cynthia Pleach, Canton
A: I try not to get too caught up in week-by-week results, but it was hard not to be impressed by the Patriots' effort on Monday night. I was previously sticking with the 11-5 to be consistent with my preseason prediction. Looks like I'll be off on that one (put that one next to the Vikings pick), assuming the team maintains some semblance of health. I would agree that the plan for the Colts would seemingly include a heavy emphasis on running the football, but at the same time, here is an interesting stat to consider: Brady is 6-1 against the Colts as a starter, with an eye-popping 67-percent completion rate with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. What this tells me is that the Patriots have had success passing against the Colts and that should also be the case on Sunday.
I'm asking this question in the mailbag instead of the Friday chat since I will be traveling up to New England on Friday. First, and I have to rub this in ... that was some prediction for Monday night's game. Minnesota didn't give us any real problems. So, do you still see five losses or are you now willing to readjust those? And finally, how do you see this game Sunday night playing out in terms of matchups and both team's game plans?
A: Let's just say I should get out of the prediction business. It looks like the Patriots, assuming they stay relatively healthy, won't lose five games this season. As for the matchups, one part of the field that figures to be crucial is the Colts' receivers against the Patriots' cornerbacks. Chad Scott has been doing a nice job as a starter in place of Ellis Hobbs at cornerback. You'd think that getting solid jams at the line of scrimmage will be crucial against Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Co., so that would be one specific matchup to watch for. I wouldn't expect the Colts' plans to vary much -- they run their 3-receiver set and make you stop it, and play a 4-3, attacking style defense. As for the Patriots, they are a game-plan type of team, varying their approach each week. So it's all guesswork. I'd think offensively the Patriots will look to mix more of the run into their plan this week, while defensively the word of the week should be physical. They will attempt to pound this team into submission.
It looked like Tully Banta-Cain was having his way against Bryant McKinnie. I'd be interested to know if you think McKinnie might be overrated based on Monday night's game. Also, did Steve Hutchinson do anything to justify his contract? How did those two guys grade out in your opinion?
Peter Martin, Atlanta
A: Talk about false advertising. McKinnie was brutal in my opinion. Good advance scouting by the Patriots to put Banta-Cain on his side and force McKinnie to block a faster player. Hutchinson seemed to fare better.
A few questions about the practice squad, especially given the play of Billy Yates: 1) Can a player be signed off the practice squad to a 53-man roster by any team at any time? 2) If a player like Yates gets cut, does he have to clear waivers to go back to the practice squad? 3) What happens if the player is signed to another team's 53-man roster and then released after a game or two by that new team? 4) Do you expect Yates to remain on the 53? 5) Do you think the Pats will activate Patrick Pass this season, keep him by placing him on the IR, or simply release him?
A: One thing to remember about Yates is that he was being paid a full salary ($425,000) even though he was on the practice squad. So even if another team expressed interest in signing him, Yates probably wouldn't go (he has the final call on that). He said he's happy in New England, whether he's on the roster or practice squad. As for the answers: 1) A player can be signed off the practice squad to a 53-man roster at any time, assuming the player wants to go; 2) If Yates gets cut, he would have to clear waivers; 3) If a player is signed to another team's roster, there is a certain amount of time that team must keep him on the 53-man roster. Once that period is over, the player must clear waivers again; 4) Until Russ Hochstein returns to health, I expect Yates to remain on the 53; 5) I wouldn't be surprised if Pass starts practicing this week.
I'd have been OK with you listing Dave Thomas in the "down" category for his special teams play.
Don R, Norwalk, Conn.
A: Thomas had a holding penalty on the first play of the game on kickoff return work, and also was out in front on Laurence Maroney's 77-yard return and might have restricted Maroney's progress. The reason I didn't put him in the "down" category was because I wasn't sure if what he was doing on the Maroney runback was wrong. I needed more information. So I erred on the side of caution.
What happened after Benjamin Watson's TD? It looked like a fan threw something on the field and Brady went over and said something about it. Do you have any info on that?
A: A fan threw what looked like a plastic bottle at Watson, which ended up being the front-page picture in one of the Minnesota papers on Tuesday morning. Brady had this to say after the game: "That is ridiculous when stuff like that happens. There were some drunk fans that were upset. They should take it out on each other."
Why didn't the Patriots let Stephen Gostkowski attempt the long field goal Monday night late in the second half. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to let him try a long field goal for practice? Are they that down on his ability or do they not want to show the other teams what he has got?
A: The situation came in the fourth quarter, with the Patriots facing a fourth-and-5 from the Minnesota 32 with 8:38 left in the game. The Patriots led 31-7 at the time. I agree that it seemed like it would have been a good spot to get Gostkowski onto the field to attempt a 49-yarder. Not sure why the team didn't do this.
The Vikings game aside, it seems that most teams, and the media, don't get what the Patriots defense is about, and always seems to be about under Coach Belichick. Within a game, the defense seems to learn and get more intelligent. And the yards that opposing offenses gain only lead to a false sense of accomplishment. Much like Ali used the rope-a-dope. Do you agree? And why still this confusion that there's only one defensive stat that matters? And that's point allowed. Everything else is meaningless.
Hiram Pines, Toronto, Canada
A: I do agree. In fact, I'd add one other word when describing this defense: physical. Sitting in the Metrodome on Monday night, we were pretty close to the action, and I was stunned at the impact of some of the pad-crunching hits that I heard. Those boys hit hard, from the front line, to the linebackers, to the secondary. My thought is that defenses that usually get the most hype are those attacking, sack-happy types that are more likely to wind up on a quick highlight. The Patriots rank third in the NFL in fewest points allowed (12.4) and when you consider that the defense didn't allow two touchdowns scored against the Patriots, that number drops to 10.4. Impressive.
On Monday Night Football they discussed how many big name players are no longer on the Patriots from the past few years. How are those players doing? How many have missed significant time due to injury? Thanks for keeping us up to date.
J. Beaber, Oakland, Calif.
A: One of those big-name players, Adam Vinatieri, comes to town Sunday night with the Colts. He hasn't missed a field goal in 14 attempts this year and is perfect on extra points (11-of-11). Outside linebacker Willie McGinest has played in six games for the Browns, with 14 tackles and two sacks. Deion Branch has played in four games for Seattle and has 17 catches for 271 yards and two touchdowns, with his stats probably affected by the Seahawks losing Matt Hasselbeck due to injury in recent weeks. David Givens has battled some health problems with the Titans, playing in four games and totaling eight catches for 104 yards. Cornerback Ty Law has two picks in Kansas City.
I'm curious about your take on a fumble/incomplete pass by Doug Gabriel. It appeared that Belichick got the referee to switch his call on the field without having to issue a coach's challenge. Then I think Childress saw that and issued a challenge properly that resulted the Vikings losing a timeout. Am I missing something or did Belichick pull a slick move?
A: The way I saw that unfold is that the referee crew initially called an incomplete pass in front of the Patriots' sideline. The officials in the area then went to discuss it and that's when Belichick inserted himself into the discussion, as if to say 'The call was incomplete, how can you be talking about changing that?' I didn't see it as anything slick.
Did the Pats use 6 DBs at all Monday night? Was wondering who was the 6th DB with Rodney Harrison, Artrell Hawkins, Chad Scott, Asante Samuel, & Ellis Hobbs? These TV games and the tight camera shots are killing my study of substitutions. If they didn't use the 6th, they will most definitely need 6 DBs vs. Indy. If Wilson is still out, who do you think will be the 6th? Brown? Andrews? Spann?
A: Great question here. You must be a football coach, Burkie. The night games are tough for us on deadline, so I had a tough time watching some of the substitution patterns. I didn't see any need for the six defensive backs, because the Vikings seldom went to the spread type of package the Patriots used. I went back and watched some third-and-long plays to see if I missed anything and again didn't see any six-DB packages. They went with an extra linebacker instead to key on the check-down routes. The Patriots have one roster spot open, so the answer to the sixth DB could be someone from the outside. Otherwise, I would think Troy Brown would be the first choice.
Do you think that Belichick let Vinatieri go to the Colts so that he could kick the game-winner against Denver this past weekend, thereby giving New England a shot at a bye week during the playoffs? The guy is a genius.
S. Gostkowski, Foxborough
A: Always good to get a little humor in the mailbag. Of all the Patriots' free-agent moves in recent years, I'm most curious to see if the situation with Vinatieri comes back to haunt them. I said at the time that the loss was a crusher, but the team is 6-1 and in the hunt. It hasn't been a factor to this point.
Do you feel that the Brady-Chad Jackson team is ready to take off, or are they still a distance away from being on the same page?
Doc, Warwick, RI
A: Of all the Patriots' receivers, I think Jackson offers the greatest big-play potential. I see the two becoming more and more on the same page with each passing week, and the key is probably that Jackson's hamstring is no longer bothering him. I felt his health was holding him back earlier in the year, especially in training camp, which is a key time for quarterbacks and receivers to get on the same page. All that said, the fact that the Patriots opened Monday night's game in a four-wide, one-tight end set -- and Jackson wasn't on the field -- tells me that he still hasn't earned the complete trust of the coaching staff.
The Patriots have one of the best defensive lines in football, so why don't they play more 4-3 instead of 3-4? It seems to me that their depth at linebacker is weaker than their depth at D-line?
Joe M, Haverhill
A: The Patriots have played some 4-3 this year, but the 3-4 remains the team's base defense. I think the key for the defense is to maintain its multiple nature, meaning that they don't lock into one defense -- 3-4, 4-3 or 4-2-5 etc ... -- as that causes opponents to have to prepare for them all. Then, based on the matchup that week, the Patriots can decided how they want to defend their opponent. No matter what alignment the defense has played this year, it's been productive in my opinion.
Mike Holmgren announced this Monday that Stephen Alexander would not play their next game, which is next Monday. Can you imagine Bill Belichick ever announce a player is out 7 days ahead of time?
Patrick Flynn, Hadley
A: No doubt, that isn't Belichick's style. He likes to create some doubt there, so the opposition has to prepare for all possibilities. But it is worth noting that there have been times, such as with offensive tackle Matt Light throughout much of the 2005 season, that players have been listed out on the team's injury report.
Mike, has there been any ruling on the Pats fumble recovery at the end of the 1st half of the Bills game by the NFL or AFC? I noticed the stats on NFL.com have not been updated.
A: The Patriots were credited with a forced fumble (Mike Wright) and fumble recovery (Ellis Hobbs) by the Elias Sports Bureau, the official stat keepers for the NFL. I know one reader was looking for confirmation because his fantasy team would win with the scoring change.
It is clear Drew Bledsoe will not be with Dallas next season, the team are not going to pay him that much to be a backup. John Madden said Sunday night he though Drew would retire, but I disagree. There are teams out there he could help as a starter -- Minnesota, Oakland, Detroit, Washington and maybe even Miami. Where do see him next season?
Brad Waters, Boston
A: I see him as a second-stringer at this point, not a starter. As for possible teams, how about Cleveland? Just tossing it out there, but he'd be a nice insurance policy behind Charlie Frye and has some background with Romeo Crennel.