INDIANAPOLIS TO FOXBOROUGH - What a week. So many topics to cover. So many emails flowing into the Patriots' mailbag.
Some initial thoughts before getting started:
That's a long lead-in this week, but there was a lot to cover.
Now on to some questions ...
What do you think of the quality of the officiating in the Colts game? I thought it was clearly substandard, especially with the pass interference calls and non-calls going against the Patriots. Do you think that's what Brady was yelling at the referee about during the final kneels?
Peter Clark, New York, NY
A: Of all the emails received into the 'bag this week, no topic dominated more than the officials. I shared my thoughts in the intro to the 'bag and three calls stand out as particularly poor: 1) Ellis Hobbs' pass interference penalty in the second quarter; 2) A missed defensive holding penalty in which running back Kevin Faulk was hooked by linebacker Gary Brackett in the third quarter; 3) Randy Moss' offensive pass interference call in the end zone in the fourth quarter. Those were some big misses in a game of this magnitude. As for what Brady was saying to the umpire at the end of the game, he explained on WEEI that a defensive lineman (presumably Ed Johnson) was simulating the snap count in that kneel-down situation - which is what Brady felt the umpire should have been listening for - and he felt it was poor for the umpire to not be on top of that. I think Brady's emotions were reflective of what he thought of the overall officiating performance.
Mike - What was your take on 3 horrible pass interference, or lack of pass interference, calls that all went against the Pats (Hobbs, offensive on Moss and the non call on 3rd down pass to Faulk)? That, combined with the NFL jumping to Indy's aid in the noise complaint, sure seem to be the start of some conspiracy theories. Is the NFL unhappy that the Patriots are dominating and sticking it to everybody?
NC Pats Fan, Holly Springs, N.C.
A: Thought the Samuel call was 50-50. You'll get it in some games, you won't get it in others. The others were poor calls in my opinion. Don't think the NFL is trying to stick it to the Patriots, or jumping to the aid of Indianapolis.
The Colts game was an excellent game with big plays from both sides but what stood out to me was the horrible job done by the officials. I am a former high school referee and was appalled by the bad calls (offensive pass interference?) and the lack of a call (for defensive holding on Faulk). Does the NFL have a formal review procedure for the officiating crews? Are there ever any repercussions to the officials when they do such a substandard job?
Arliss Wilson, Saint John, New Brunswick
A: The NFL scrutinizes not just every call made by officials, but every play in the game. No stone is left unturned. It is one of the most thorough processes one could imagine. Every official, not just the lead referee, is graded on each play. So yes, there is a formal review. I agree there were some bad calls. At the same time, let us not forget there were some bad plays in the game too, which reminds us that there is an element of human error in play here.
If Jonathan Kraft approached an NFL security official after Sunday's game regarding his thoughts that the Colts were piping crowd noise into the RCA Dome, then how did he hear it in the stadium? CBS said it was heard by TV viewers but Kraft was at the game and heard it? If this was turned around then the Colts would being crying to every media person in the world.
Bob, Southington, Conn.
A: This is difficult because we are talking hypothetical situations here. The question assumes that Kraft was talking with the NFL security official about the play at the start of the fourth quarter in which there was an unusual sound on the CBS broadcast. But it's also possible that Kraft had no knowledge of the sound on the broadcast, yet still felt crowd noise was being piped in. It's also possible he received a telephone call about the noise on the broadcast. So putting on my analytical hat, I just don't think you can draw any conclusions based on the question.
I thought Adalius Thomas would be one of the answers against the Colts (vs. Dallas Clark) but his role - or lack thereof - in Sunday's game is something of a mystery to me. The guy didn't even play in the first quarter! Basically the Pats had the same front 7 like during the last year AFC Championship defeat. How would you define A.D's role in the Pats D? Along the same line I thought Brandon Merriweather would be one of the off-season answer to the Colts passing attack. Did he even play? Greetings from France.
Jean-Philippe Andreu, Paris
A: Great to get the email from France, Jean-Philippe. Check out these two articles from Monday's Boston Globe (Surprise package delivered big time, Role player Thomas wasn't a prominent actor) which might help answer some of the questions on Thomas. The first is on the different defensive package the Patriots utilized and the second is on Thomas himself. It was surprising to me not to see more of Thomas, and I break it down to three possibilities: 1) His ankle is bothering him; 2) It was simply scheme related and the coaching staff leaning heavier on linebackers who have been in the system longer to pull off a unique change in tactics; 3) It was potentially discipline related. I had Thomas in the game for three of 10 series. Hard to believe the Patriots marquee free-agent signing wasn't on the field more, but you can't argue with the results. As for Meriweather, he played on special teams but not on defense.
I was surprised to see Bruschi start at ILB instead of Thomas. As fond as we are of him, he didn't look up to the task of corralling Addai, overrunning him on the stretch play several times and leaving the middle open. Why do you think Bruschi got the start, and how do you think Belichick would play this if he had the chance to do it over?
Michael Siliski, San Francisco
A: I thought Bruschi played very well considering that the Patriots significantly altered their scheme. In going away from the base 3-4, the Patriots primarily played a nickel scheme (5 defensive backs) that had two unique wrinkles:
That meant Bruschi/Junior Seau and Mike Vrabel were primary "pure" linebackers, and perhaps the fact they have the most experience in the defense had something to do with the decision to have them on the field more - because when you're switching things up as much as the Patriots did, being mentally on top of things and having a great depth of knowledge of the entire defense takes on even greater importance. It was fascinating stuff for those who like Xs and Os and I think the Patriots would do the same thing again based on the results. Another factor was that because of the Colts' ability to go no-huddle and limit substitutions, that might have contributed to the rotation-type system. The Colts scored 20 points, their lowest total of the season.
I noticed you gave Seymour a block on the FG ATT last week. I don't see it credited, can you explain?
A: Seymour was credited with a tip, not a block. That is a judgment call by the official scorer, and the fact the ball made it toward the goal-posts probably contributed to the decision. Seymour got great push off the defensive left side, with linebackers Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Adalius Thomas helping him surge forward.
What is the deal with visiting teams and headset malfunctions? I heard how the Pats sets didn't work at Indy and they had to use hand signals, and I've heard that many other teams have problems with their headsets when on the road at many different venues including Gillette stadium. Does the home team control the headsets and frequencies? You'd think the visiting teams would just bring their own equipment with them and there would be no problems. I mean, jeez, this stuff isn't rocket science anymore.
Tom Mangin, Medford, Ore.
A: To my understanding, that is controlled by the NFL, not the home team. But it is a big issue. Quarterbacks have spoken in the past that frequencies in the helmet have been scrambled at times, and sometimes instead of hearing the play-call, they are instead hearing that the concession stand in Section 310 is out of hot dogs. Expect to hear more about this moving forward. It is a significant issue in the league.
I am looking ahead to a potential playoff matchup with the Colts. Do you think that given the small size of the Colts D, that by week 18 or 19 the season they will wear down more than a bigger more physical D?
Ben Fischer, Castle Rock, Colo.
A: I don't think along these lines. That Colts defense is really, really good. So fast. They rally to the ball. I don't see wearing down as an issue. I was intrigued by the contrast in defensive styles Sunday, and I think it was a reminder that there is more than one way to be successful. Credit to the Colts for their defense. I think it's one of the best in the NFL.
Did the Colts provide the rest of the league with a coverage scheme against the Pats? Specifically, taking away the underneath routes with man to man coverage, all the while pressuring Tom Brady in an attempt to take away the long ball?
Al Struthers, Peterborough, N.H.
A: In speaking with a former NFL scout after the game, he mentioned the same thing. The problem some teams are going to have, though, is that the Colts have the personnel to pull it off. Other teams might try it, but we'll see if they can execute it.
Mike, how do you see the Pats after the Colts game? Are they a team that can be beat by pressuring the QB by rushing only 4 as the Colts did, or do you see the glass half full and say, well clearly the Pats didn't play their best game and still managed to win?
Nick Marotta, Montreal, Quebec
A: I see two different issues here, Nick. I think you hit at a key point in the NFL. When a team can pressure with just four players, they are generally going to be successful. And this is part of what makes the Colts so good. They really get after it, better than any defense I've seen. So I do think the Patriots are a team that can be beat by a team pressuring with just four players, but I'd qualify it by saying this: I would put the other 31 teams in that category as well. On the second part of the question, I would look at the glass as half full because the Patriots didn't play their best game and still managed to win.
It's great how the Patriots' special teams kept this game alive. It seems like the Patriots got into a groove on their run defense and their special teams got them so many great chances with field position on returns and not giving up big returns from the Colts. Was there a common player on both return and coverage units that made consistent plays for them?
Russ, Olympia, Wash.
A: As you would expect, that's a team effort on special teams. If you're looking for one player, start with Wes Welker. On those punt returns, you usually have to at least make one guy miss on your own, and he certainly did. As mentioned before, Kyle Eckel also had a big open-field tackle on a fourth-quarter kickoff return, and Stephen Gostkowski boomed two fourth-quarter kickoffs, one for a touchback.
Mike, I've heard several times on WEEI that the Patriots should do something to resign Moss before he reaches free agency. Isn't that impossible because his contract was restructured in the last year?
Paul L., Foxboro
A: It is not impossible, but unlikely. The reason is that a player can not restructure his contract twice in the same calendar year if the restructuring increases the base salary/cap number in the current year. Based on Moss's performance and the fact he is playing at a low base salary/cap number, it makes a restructure nearly impossible. Nothing is happening on that front at this time. The sides will visit at a later date. The reason this was a topic of discussion on ESPN Monday night is that Monday was the "deadline" for teams to reach contract extensions with players and still be able to use excess salary cap space for 2007 in the form of a lump-sum type of payment to a player's base salary.
With the Pats vs. Bills game getting moved to prime time the Patriots now have the maximum six prime time appearances. Is it safe to assume that the Pats vs. Steelers game will not be moved to the night game then?
Bob Varnum, South Boston
A: [UPDATE: The Patriots-Steelers game cannot be moved. It will now be played at 4:15 p.m. as CBS has protected the game and moved it from a 1 p.m. to a 4:15 kickoff]. There are a lot of wrinkles to the flexible scheduling format. The Patriots could have another game moved if NBC elects to bump the Patriots-Eagles out of prime-time, with the idea of catching up with the Patriots later in the year. If NBC bumps the Patriots-Eagles out of prime-time, there is still one more game on the schedule that could be moved back into prime-time.
The Pats vs. Bills game was moved to Sunday Night Football. Do you think that will help Bills? Last time Buffalo played at night, they picked off Tony Romo, oh, I'd say at least four times.
Todd Patrick, Omaha, Neb.
A: The Bills had five interceptions of Romo in that Monday night game and Ralph Wilson Stadium was hopping. I do think the change helps the Bills. Playing a mid-November game in Buffalo at 1 p.m. is tough as it is. Now moving that to the night makes it that much tougher. But I still think the Patriots win.
I noticed during the game that immediately following Stallworth's 33-yard fourth-quarter reception that Belichick had an unpleasant exchange with McDaniels. Did you happen to catch that? If so, think that had anything to do with the play call to advance the ball so quickly and not use the field and eat up more clock?
A: I saw it and my feeling is that it wasn't about eating up the clock and more about communication with Brady. It's dangerous to make judgments based on reading lips, but I thought I saw McDaniels mouth something to the extent of "he can't hear me."
I'm trying to understand why Hobbs was covering Reggie Wayne throughout the game and the team didn't have Asante Samuel in that role? Did it have anything to do with Samuel preparing to cover Marvin Harrison during the week? From a matchup perspective I would have thought you'd want your big money corner covering their best receiver. With the Colts' injuries, Samuel ended up covering their #4 WR all day.
Spencer Bolln, Charlotte, N.C.
A: Good question, Spencer. The Patriots generally don't flip their corners based on matchups. Instead, they have them stay on their side of the field. Samuel is always on the defensive left, which is where Harrison would line up. Hobbs is always on the defensive right, which is where Wayne lines up. I wondered if the Patriots would switch their plan based on Harrison being out, but I think they felt that it wasn't worth scrapping a week's worth of practice to take that risk.
The New England hurry up offense is almost always very successful at the end of a first half or at the end of a game as with this one. Wondered if they would consider using it more. Your thoughts?
Bevan Manson, Santa Monica, Calif.
A: This question has surfaced each of the last three years in the mailbag. I have compared the hurry-up offense to a change-up pitch in baseball. It is effective to keep defenses off balance, but if you go to it too much, it can come back to haunt you. It's most effective when used as a pace-setter and I think it would be unrealistic to use it over the course of an entire game.
What is the story with receiver Chad Jackson and cornerback Eddie Jackson, the two players on the physically unable to perform list?
A: Both have until Wednesday before a decision must be made on whether they land on the 53-man roster or season-ending injured reserve. I think we'll see Chad Jackson get activated. Eddie Jackson, I'm not so sure, because as of Sunday he wasn't healthy enough to play in a game where they could have used him.
I know that Corey Dillon has been brought up before and every one says it won't happen but come on! Sammy Morris is out for the rest of the season. Kyle Eckel might be Bill Belichick's Navy boy but he is not a NFL RB yet. Last year Dillon had 13 touchdowns and that's because he is sick in the red zone so why not bring him back and use him the way the Steelers used the bus? Maroney is letting me down this year, after watching Joe Addai's proformence it just made it even worse knowing the Maroney should be running all over people. Sammy Morris was a better back then Maroney so please explain why BB is not 100 percent going after Corey Dillon?
A: Bill Belichick was asked about Dillon on his regular radio interview Monday on WEEI and said the team has no plans to bring in a fifth running back. The reason: special teams. Teams can only activate 45 players on game-day and the Patriots have four running backs that have been on the roster - Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, Heath Evans and Kyle Eckel. If you bring in Dillon, who is he replacing? We know it's not Maroney and Faulk. And if it's Evans and Eckel, you lose their special teams contributions and that can be vital - as we saw with Eckel's big fourth-quarter tackle that contributed to the win over the Colts. And all of this hypothetical is assuming Dillon is even fit enough to make a difference right now. So really, it comes down to special teams and Dillon doesn't provide any value there. If Maroney gets hurt, perhaps the team would consider Dillon.
What do you think are the issues that the Patriots will look to deal with during the bye week? My chief concerns would be: 1) Getting Adalius Thomas back up to speed. He seems to have disappeared recently; 2) Whether to activate Jackson or not; 3) Improving the run defense; 4) Improving the run on offense.
Peter Williment, London
A: I think these are all fair points and I'd put them on the list as well. Bill Belichick described the week as a mix of things "some of it will be rest and treatment, some of it will be self-scouting from the first nine games, some of it will be moving forward into Buffalo and â¦ just kind of understanding what types of teams we're going to be playing moving forward, in the last seven games." A big part of the self-scouting is looking at plays that work, and didn't work, and figuring out how to proceed because teams will game-plan differently against you in the second half of the year.
What will the Pats do with what's looking like a great draft pick from San Francisco? I hope they take a stud and do not trade down. What do writers keep themselves busy with during the bye week? Travel to cover other games?
A: That's a tough one on the draft pick, because a lot will depend on where it winds up and what players are there. As for writers during the bye week, I'm going away with my wife to get away from it all for a while.
Any definitive word on if the 12/29 game, which will is on the NFL network, versus the Giants will be televised locally for those of us without the NFL network?
Rich Aspden, Middleboro
A: That game will be televised on WCVB,Channel 5 in Boston.
Did we clearly see who has the better running back in this game? I mean, Joseph Addai looked awesome, while Maroney looked slow and indecisive. It almost looks like Maroney runs with cement shoes on. I guess BB and Pioli blew that draft selection, right?
Bill Reynolds, Franklin
A: Agree on one point, disagree on two others. I agree that Addai was the better running back in that game. Right now, given the choice of selecting Addai or Maroney, I think you have to take Addai. Where I would disagree is that Maroney doesn't look to have cement shoes on to me. He's really fast. I would also caution anyone from going as far as saying that's a blown draft pick. Too early to go there, in my opinion.
I was wondering if you thought the Patriots game plan was poorly constructed. I thought the Patriots offense played into the Colts hands and went away from what they had been successful doing this season, which is throwing the ball early and often. In other words, they seemed intent on running to set it up when it wasn't necessary to do so, as we found out in the 4th quarter. I mean, my dad and I were saying all they had to do was throw it to Moss and Welker to turn things around, and that is what happened in the end.
Paul Kosner, Los Angeles, Calif.
A: The Patriots were probably a little too conservative for my liking, but part of that is the Colts playing nickel, and Football 101 says if you can run it, that's a good defensive set to attack because it's based more on stopping the pass than the run. Also, the Colts' pressure is so immense that throwing it isn't easy. O n his WEEI radio interview, Bill Belichick mentioned the team maybe should have called on the no-huddle, pass-oriented attack a bit sooner. Pretty neat that you and your dad talk about the games like that. I also enjoy that part of the experience.
Does Ray Ventrone have a chance of sticking or was he just a roster filler before Mitchell gets healthy and/or one of the Jackson's or Brown is activated?
A: I see Ventrone being waived and winding back on the practice squad. Once Mel Mitchell is ready to go, which I assume will be in Buffalo Nov. 18, I think that's his spot.