Injuries in perspective
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.
How does the Patriots' injury-riddled season compare with NFL history? Is this shaping up to be the most injured team ever, or even close? What's the record for the most players placed on injured reserve by a team in a single season? Just wondering if our walking wounded status is getting close to unprecedented yet, because it sure feels that way.
J.P. Amburtis, Irville, Maine
A: Quite a few injury questions coming into the mailbag this week. Injury stats are compiled on a team-by-team basis and there is no central location to compare one team's injuries from one season to another team's injuries from another season. For some perspective, though, the Patriots have placed nine players on injured reserve, which actually doesn't even lead the AFC East this year. When the Jets placed offensive tackle Jason Fabini on IR last week, it was their 10th player placed on IR this year. In the NFC, the Packers have placed eight players on injured reserve. These numbers are extremely high for this point in the season.
Is there a complete breakdown to show just how decimated the Patriots are
-- and have been through this year? How many starters from opening day have
missed time and how many total games missed is that equal to? Any historic
numbers like that for other teams to compare to and see what was the most
"injured" team to ever go the distance and win a Super Bowl?
David J. Young, Easton, Pa.
A: Injuries, and games missed, are a tough stat to measure. Take Sunday's game as an example. Tight end Daniel Graham played in the game, but for only two plays. Technically, he is credited with a game played, although it's really a missed game. Same with Corey Dillon in Miami the week before. To come up with a number, I started by counting players on injured reserve, added Tedy Bruschi (physically unable to perform for six games), then looked at each week's injury report and matched it to who played in each game (even for just one play). I came up with 97-man games missed due to injury. Of that number, 36-man games have been lost by opening-day starters. As for where this ranks historically, the NFL and Elias Sports Bureau doesn't keep track of such stats. My guess is that it's close to the top.
What is the current status on Matt Light and Kevin Faulk? Light
and Faulk have been out for quite a while now and have not been moved to
the IR, so can we assume that they will be back sometime this year and
Travis Stucki, Las Vegas
A: Both players were upgraded from out to doubtful on the team's injury report last week. Bill Belichick on Light and Faulk last week: "They had trouble walking a few weeks ago. Now, they're past that point. So it's definitely improved." Look for them both to return in December, when teams are gearing up for the playoff push.
I have been wondering whether the disproportional number of
injuries suffered by the Patriots this year (and last couple of years) are
simply bad luck or reflect some deficiencies in training and/or technique.
Has the club been asked about this? Your thoughts?
Bill Myslinski, Alexandria, Va.
A: Last week, Bill Belichick was asked if he had any explanation for the large number of injuries. He said each year has been different and couldn't pinpoint one reason. I'm sure there's more to it than this, and something the team will look closely at in the offseason -- putting a microscope on their training methods to see if any of that might be leading to injuries.
Much of the coverage of the Patriots has revolved around the injury
situation, the poor secondary and the return of Tedy Bruschi. There is one
story everyone seems to be missing. Mike Vrabel, who has seemingly been the
one constant on the defense this year, is having a Pro-Bowl caliber season.
He is on pace for around 120 tackles. Why hasn't there been more mentioned
about Mike's season?
Jared Hartzell, Bowling Green, Ohio
A: Excellent point. Vrabel has led, or tied for the team lead in tackles in each of the last five games. He's made a transition from outside linebacker to inside linebacker, which is in many ways similar to Troy Brown going from receiver to defensive back. At outside linebacker, Vrabel rushed the passer and dictated contact. At inside linebacker, Vrabel is a run-stuffer who doesn't dictate contact as much as he sheds tackles. They are two different worlds and this is an impressive transition that speaks to Vrabel's athleticism. According to team statistics, Vrabel leads the team with 82 tackles, 20 more than the second leading tackler, Vince Wilfork (62). Vrabel's 82 tackles already establishes a career single-season high.
Mike, with the death of his father do we know how long Bill Belichick will be out and who will replace him?
Bill Baron, Boxborough
A: The funeral for Steve Belichick is scheduled for Wednesday morning. Until Bill Belichick returns, assistant head coach/offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia takes over. With Scarnecchia spending more time overseeing team operations, assistant offensive line coach Matt Patricia will probably pick up more of the work Scarnecchia usually does during the week.
Defensive backs, defensive backs, defensive backs ... three times
fast. Why is the focus always on the Pats' defensive backs when the D-line
in not able to put any significant pressure on the QB?
Mark Penti, Bonita, Calif.
A: Thought the pressure was much better Sunday than what we've seen in the first nine games. But the point is a good one -- not even a Pro Bowl cornerback can cover without the help of a pass rush. The Patriots have just 14 sacks in 342 pass attempts this season, which ranks them last in the NFL in sacks per pass attempt.
Tedy Bruschi has played four games; what grade would you give him? Is he
back at 'Bruschi' level yet?
A: As one would expect, Bruschi is still working out some kinks that he normally would have addressed in training camp. His pass deflection in Miami, which saved what probably would have been a touchdown, was one of his best plays. There have been other plays where he's been swallowed up by linemen or a step behind in pass coverage. I'd say a solid "B".
If the Patriots' defense continues to gel and improve weekly and also get
healthier in the process, do you think Coach Belichick will have this
defense peaking by January, and do you think perhaps they might be the
scariest 10-6 team any first- or second-round opponent wants to face?
Samuel A. Thomas, Massachusetts
A: As you mentioned, the Patriots' defense has improved in recent weeks. We're seeing more of the bend-but-don't-break style -- coupled with strong play against the run -- that has been a big part of the team's success in recent years. But even if the unit peaks in January, you're still looking at the same personnel in the secondary, and I think the big question is: Can you win a Super Bowl with a starting secondary of Asante Samuel, Ellis Hobbs, Michael Stone and Eugene Wilson? My instincts say no. As for the Patriots being a "scary" 10-6 team, I think that could definitely be the case. They have big-game experience, a big-game QB in Tom Brady, and are well-coached. That's not a combination many teams would want to face in a one-and-done game.
Late in the New Orleans game, I saw Billy Yates in for Logan Mankins. Was Mankins hurt?
Vince Chase, Winchester, NH
A: If Mankins was hurt, I'd be surprised if it was anything that would keep him out of action. He walked out of the locker room on Sunday under his own power and appeared to be OK.
Do you think the increase of injuries this year was at least
partially caused by the tough early-season schedule? The Patriots had to
play not only some of the best teams but the toughest teams mostly on the
road over the first six games. While not being the only cause, I think
facing so many tough, physical, games early on in a season helped increase
the amount of injuries.
Marc Willwerth, Melbourne, Fla.
A: Maybe that has a small part to do with it, because the Panthers and Steelers, specifically, are two of the league's more physical teams. But after weeks of pondering the team's injury situation, I believe the injuries are a result of two factors: 1) Bad luck in game situations (i.e. Rodney Harrison getting rolled into; Dan Koppen being fallen on from behind; Randall Gay rolling his ankle etc ); 2) Playing more football than any team over the last 31/2 seasons.
I have read that Belichick gave the late Dick Rehbein the assignment to scout Tom Brady at Michigan. My questions are: 1) How did Belichick come to know about the intelligence and skills of Tom; 2) How many other teams expressed interest in Tom at the time; 3) Why the majority of professional scouts were so out to lunch on him; 4) Would Tom had ever gotten a shot at No. 1 with the Patriots or any other organization without
injury or misfortune?
Robert Lee, Regina, Saskatchewan; Canada
A: When Brady's career is over, his rise from sixth-round pick (199th overall) to Hall of Famer will be a great story to recollect. Scouts had questions about Brady's physical make-up coming out of Michigan, which is one of the reasons he wasn't drafted higher. And while the Patriots deserve credit for selecting him, they also said that if they knew he would turn out like this, they would have taken him in the first round. So the Patriots had some questions, too. Looking back -- and it's easy to say now -- but I do believe Brady would have ultimately unseated Drew Bledsoe, regardless of injury.
Why is safety such a difficult position for the Patriots? I know
they have had injuries, but a long list of players in the Belichick years
haven't made the team when healthy: Tebucky Jones, Matt Stevens, Victor
Green, Lawyer Milloy, Je'Rod Cherry and Dexter Reid. Is the Belichick
system so demanding that few can master it?
Dan Dickman, Melrose
A: Wouldn't say the position is any more demanding than others in the Patriots' scheme. In the case of the players mentioned, Jones wasn't a solid enough tackler to excel here, while Stevens, Green, Cherry and Reid were second-tier players not expected to fill starting roles. Milloy's release was dictated mostly by salary. So while each situation is different, I'd say the biggest factor is the talent level of the players in question, not the demands of the position.
Two questions: 1) Six out of Tom Brady's 14 incompletions in the
Saints game were intended passes to Andre' Davis. Of the passes to Davis,
only one was completed -- the 60-yard TD. Is this a sign of weak
preparation/performance of Davis? 2) The offense has been plagued by key
injuries lately (o-line depleted, starting receivers and running backs out,
etc.) How serious do you see this? Is it now the turn of the defense to
carry the team?
Nissim Jabiles, Lima, Peru
A: Those were low-percentage throws to Davis, with him running "go" routes down the field. So I don't think the success rate (1-of-6) was an indication of Davis not being prepared or having a weak performance. On the second question, I don't think the defense is built to carry the Patriots. Ultimately, I think the offense needs to hold on to the ball longer to protect the defense -- the Patriots have lost the time-of-possession battle in six of their 10 games. If the offense can possess the ball more, the defense stays with its bend-but-don't-break ways, and the special teams turns in its best effort, that would be my winning formula for the Patriots.
It's easy to point to the sack/fumble on the third series as
something that took away the momentum of the Pats' offense. But I'd suggest
that over-aggressive play calling on the last series of the first half and
the first series of the second half was more responsible. Both those drives
showed early promise, but throwing the deep ball (which, even if the
coaching staff saw a vulnerability, is still comparatively a low-percentage
shot) took them off course. Why do you think they were so intent on going
deep, especially when the Saints had a pretty good pass rush going?
A: I'd say both were factors -- the strip-sack and the over-aggressive play-calling. My feeling is that the Patriots saw the Saints bringing a safety into the box, thus setting up one-on-one coverage for one receiver (mostly Davis). So they attacked the matchup. I like aggressive play-calling, but thought they went a bit overboard on Sunday.
The Pats attempted a reported six long throws to Andre' Davis,
but I don't remember any long plays going to Deion Branch. I thought Branch has
the speed, moves and hands as well as the timing with Brady to make a few
of those catches. Davis may have speed but perhaps hasn't had enough
practice with Brady to make those throws work. Any thoughts as to why
Branch was not used long?
A: The answer is probably all related to the Saints' defensive coverage. Knowing that Branch is the Patriots' top receiver (team-high 55 catches), the Saints were smart to roll their coverage in his direction. So when Brady looked down the field, he probably saw a safety ready to help on Branch, and a one-on-one matchup with Davis on the other side of the field. More often than not, Brady is going to the one-on-one matchup and I believe that's why we saw more long balls being thrown to Davis.
In light of the late game failure to run out the clock yesterday
(when they repeatedly went down the field rather then running or passing to
back or tight ends): Do you think that the Patriots offense goes for the
deep pass too often this year? It seemed to me that in prior years the Pats
offense was more closely aligned to the "West Coast Offense" (i.e. use the
short pass to set up the run and the long pass).
John Polgren, Bedford, NH
A: The Patriots are more of a vertical offense than they've been in the past. Quarterback Tom Brady is averaging 8.02 yards per pass attempt, which would be the highest mark of his career. In 2001, he averaged 6.88 yards per pass attempt, followed by 6.26, 6.87 and 7.79. The numbers show how the Patriots have evolved from a shorter passing team to one that takes more shots down the field. Overall, I like an offense to take shots down the field, although I felt the Patriots called that number a few too many times against the Saints.
I was wondering what the speed comparison was between our running
backs. With Heath Evans having two runs for 20 yards or more (Dillon only
had one this year), I was wondering what his time in the 40-yard dash is?
Do you have the 40 times for all 3 of our backs?
A.J. Jain, Bronx, NY
A: Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli was on sports radio WEEI's "Big Show" on Monday and said Evans ran a high-4.5, low-4.6 40-yard dash coming out of college. Now that Evans is heavier (250 pounds), he's probably a bit slower than that. As for 40 times for Dillon and Patrick Pass, my guess is that they haven't officially run one since coming out of college.
How is rookie Ryan Claridge progressing? Is he healthy enough to be
practicing at all? Do you foresee him being a part of the LB rotation next
year or mostly a special teamer?
Steve Brown, Hoboken, NJ
A: Claridge is on injured reserve, so per NFL rules, he can't practice with the Patriots. His primary focus now is working with the team's strength and conditioning staff. At 6-foot-2, 254 pounds, Claridge has the type of middle linebacker build that would seemingly be a fit in Ted Johnson's old spot. A fifth-round pick this year, he should vie for time in the rotation in 2006 training camp.
With all of these injuries to starting players, the Patriots have
been filling a lot of those spots with rookies. For the most part the rooks
have been doing a good job, and have validated themselves as potential
permanent starters. Do you think it could positively impact next year's
rosters with those rookies increasing their market value due to them
getting significant playing time? They could be used to replace older
players, or traded to teams for draft picks/veterans.
Paul Smith, Florence, SC
A: One bright spot for the Patriots with their injury situation is that the rookies are getting valuable on-the-job experience. We saw it in 2003 when Dan Koppen was a rookie, and he became a mainstay before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. While Logan Mankins (started all 10 games at left guard) would have been a first-stringer regardless, third-rounders Ellis Hobbs and Nick Kaczur have been bumped up the depth chart and have generally accounted well for themselves.
Randall Gay made the team as a free agent shortly after the 2004 draft. He
was reportedly given a 2-year deal at that time. Is this the end of Gay as
a Patriot or, do they think they can further develop him?
Matthew MacKinnon, Norfolk, Mass.
A: Gay becomes an exclusive rights free agent after the season, which is sort of an oxymoron. The Patriots still hold his rights and I would fully expect for him to be in 2006 training camp. In a perfect world, I think the Patriots see him as a No. 3 or 4 cornerback, with flexibility to play safety.
When a team has a player hurt in the final two minutes, it gets
charged a timeout. What happens when the team doesn't have any more
timeouts? Is it a penalty? I know there was a controversy when Willie
McGinest got hurt in the Indy game on the remarkable goal line stand a few
Peter Wilson, Jupiter, Fla.
A: According to the NFL rulebook on NFL.com, "a fourth timeout is allowed without penalty for an injured player who must be removed immediately. A fifth time out or more is allowed for an injury and a five-yard penalty is assessed if the clock was running."
If the Patriots can get a few key players healthy by January (Corey
Dillon, most prominently), it might prove a challenge for the Colts to beat
Belichick's men twice in the same season. Has any team beaten the Patriots
twice in a season during Belichick's tenure?
R. Kennedy, Needham
A: You have to go back to 2000, Belichick's first year as coach, for the answer. The Jets and Dolphins both beat the Patriots twice that season. The Patriots play their division foes twice a season every year. The other non-division teams the Patriots have played twice in a season under Belichick are Indianapolis (twice) and Pittsburgh, Tennessee.
Why is Tom Brady always listed as probable with a shoulder injury
over the last two years?
Steven Forsberg, Brewster
A: This question seems to pop into the mailbag every couple of weeks. My feeling is that the Patriots view Brady as the one player they can least afford to lose, and by putting him on the report each week, they protect themselves for the time when he might not be able to play. Consider the scenario: Brady can't play, but the Patriots don't want to tip it off to the opposition. So they list him as probable that week. The opposition looks at it and says Brady will play -- because he played the last two years when probable -- and it spends all week preparing for Brady. Just a thought.
Hi Mike, In reading some of the questions last week, there were a
couple regarding Marquise Hill and his playing time/development. The
standard coaching response is that they need more time to develop. Ellis
Hobbs wasn't "ready" but he's done OK. How does anyone get better at
anything without being out there? Your thoughts.
A: This is the fine line coaches walk with each player: how do you integrate them into the system at the right pace? Clearly, the answer isn't just to throw them out there and let them learn on the job. If that was the case, there wouldn't be a need for practice. But the example of Hobbs is a good one -- perhaps the Patriots took a game or two too long to pull the trigger and give him a shot. Overall, though, I think the Patriots' work in this area should be lauded. In my opinion, the coaches develop young players as well as any staff in the league.
Any chance of Ty Law returning to the Pats next year? If I'm
correct, the Jets have him signed to basically a one-year deal. Given their
situation, I can't imagine them spending a lot of money on a veteran DB
like Ty. How badly did he burn his bridges, and do you think he will
reconsider his previous contract demands? One intriguing thought is to move
him to safety and continue to develop Gay and Samuel on the corners. I'm
killing time playing fantasy GM. Pass this along to Scott Pioli if you get
a chance. Thanks.
A: I could envision Law returning. As for burning bridges, Law said he left on good terms. Should Law not be retained by the Jets and the Patriots are the highest bidder, I think Law would return. As for what position he'd play, I think he's better suited at corner than safety. For what it's worth, Law has five interceptions on the year, but has also been flagged for nine penalties.
Can you confirm how many lineman who had speaking roles in the Tom
Brady Visa commercial are hurt? Is it all of them?
Big Pats Fan, Boston
A: Dan Koppen, Tom Ashworth, Russ Hochstein, Matt Light and Brandon Gorin were in the Visa commercials. Currently, Koppen, Ashworth and Light are injured and out of action. Gorin missed some time earlier in the year. Hochstein has been healthy all year.
Why do the Patriots have a propensity for drafting or signing small
defensive backs? There always seems to be a matchup problem against the
opposition's wide receives when it comes to corner end zone jump balls.
A: There seems to be two distinct groups at cornerback. Bigger, less fleet corners like former Raiders first-round pick Nnamdi Asomugha (6-2, 210) get turned inside out by slippery quick receivers like Deion Branch -- as we saw in the season opener. Meanwhile, while Asomugha is tough to throw against in the red zone, smaller, quicker cornerbacks are more vulnerable to the fade route. That's why the ideal player is someone like Ty Law (5-11, 200), who can excel in both areas. The bottom line is that players like Law don't come around that often.
As a devout secularist, I was surprised at how moved and impressed
I was by Ron Borges's profile of Richard Seymour's faith. Frankly I wince
every time some DB nearly decapitates a receiver in a crossing pattern and
then points skyward to give thanks. But Seymour comes off as someone who
has totally internalized his religious beliefs to make himself a better
person rather than a showy righteous person. I'm wondering how much of a
religious component there is in the Patriot's evaluation of a player's
Dan Riley, Vista, Calif.
A: I'm not sure the Patriots look at a religious component as much as how important football is to each player. They want to bring in talented players who care about what they do and work hard.
Since Rodney Harrison has not had his surgery yet, do the Patriots
really expect to have him back in 2006? I understand it takes 12-18 months
to recover from this type of severe injury. It is very apparent that they
need him in the defensive backfield.
Jim Curley, Seminole, Fla.
A: I'm not sure what the Patriots' expectation is for Harrison in 2006. But if I had a crystal ball, my guess would be that Harrison starts the 2006 season on the physically unable to perform list and they see where they are after six games, similar to Tedy Bruschi's situation this year.
Mike, earlier this year the experts predicted that New England
would have one of the best defensive lines in football. We all know that
Seymour has been out this year and that hasn't helped. I think the d-line
is key for the Pats to improve their overall team defense; the opposition
quarterbacks seem to have all day to pass the ball. Aside from the fact
that Seymour has been hurt, why are the Pats not able to hurry or sack the
quarterback as they have in most recent years? How much of a factor is the
loss of Keith Traylor? What do they need to do to improve this part of the
Marty Cormier, Chatham, Ontario
A: Since Seymour has returned to action, I notice a major difference in the team's front-seven play. Pressure, especially in a 3-4 defense, comes as much from the linebackers as it does the linemen. Although the sack stats show otherwise, I saw them improving in this area over the last two weeks. As for Keith Traylor, he usually played on only early downs and was more effective against the run than pass. So I don't think his absence has hurt the pass rush. In terms of what they can do to improve, I'd like to see them let Chad Brown rush the passer on third downs. I think Brown can help the team in that role; the team ranks 31st out of 32 teams on third downs (61-of-140, 43.6 percent) and a lack of pressure is one reason why the stats are so lopsided in favor of the opposition.