FOXBOROUGH - The Patriots got all they could handle from the Eagles on Sunday night, and e-mailers are focusing on the game-plan this week.
There are questions as to the Patriots' approach on offense and defense. On offense, it was mostly an aerial attack. On defense, the Patriots looked out of synch as the front seven and secondary were never truly on the same page.
There are also questions about the Eagles' game-plan and what made them successful. Some say the Eagles' pressure-based defense threw a wrench into the Patriots' high-flying attack. Others note that the Patriots still racked up 380 passing yards and 24 points on offense (31 overall).
Meanwhile, some feel as if it was the Eagles' offense that was the true story of this game, perhaps exploiting the New England defense.
We'll dive right into the questions
What happened Sunday night? Was that the worst game plan of the year, especially on defense where we got 'no' pressure on Feeley? I think if we had rattled him early it would have been a different ballgame. That left our secondary exposed. So, basically we played right into their hands, didn't we? By the way, I think the 'blueprint' thing is a myth. BB game plans for each particular team and game, so I don't see this abomination happening again.
Phil Soloman, Tiverton, R.I.
A: I would agree it was a curious one-dimensional approach on offense. Going to the four-wide spread offense might have created desirable one-on-one matchups at times, but I felt it was extreme and played into the Eagles' defensive approach to generate pressure. Some point out that the Patriots still managed 380 passing yards. My response to that would be "when you throw 54 times, that's about right." The Patriots averaged 7.03 yards per pass attempt in the game; their season average is 8.77. To me, that is reflective of the Eagles slowing them down a bit. Defensively, it was going to be hard to get to A.J. Feeley because the Eagles were often getting the ball out quickly with three-step drops while operating their west coast system. And the Eagles' offensive line was terrific. When the Patriots brought pressure, the Eagles had the answer (e.g. on Greg Lewis' 18-yard touchdown, the Patriots blitzed with seven/eight rushers). When the Patriots dropped more players back into coverage, they were picked apart. Credit to the Eagles for being a step ahead for much of the day. The Patriots' communication was off - the secondary wasn't in synch with the front seven and it showed as players in coverage often weren't playing with the proper leverage. Overall, I don't think there is any question of the excellence of Bill Belichick and his staff. On Sunday night, though, I thought the Eagles had the upper hand in the game-plan/adjustment department.
While there was much to be disappointed about during the Eagles game we still won and need to keep the perspective. Still, I thought that much of the blame for the relatively poor performance should fall on the coaches. The Pats are known for adjustments during the game and especially at halftime. The defensive schemes changed some but were really minor adjustments to the game-plan. Little pressure on Feeley. Poor pass coverage with Feeley just dumping the ball mid-level between backs and linebackers. The Eagles picked on Harrison, Gay and Hobbs. But I didn't see a significant change in our defensive play calling. As for offense, why not try to establish the run? What do you think?
Dave McGregor, Berlin, N.H.
A: I'm the first to say that Bill Belichick and his staff are among the best in the NFL, but I thought that Andy Reid and his staff had the upper hand Sunday night. I'd include special teams in your equation as well. No newsflash here, but there are other good coaches in the NFL, too. When Bill Belichick talks about the offensive approach Sunday night, he mentions that it's the unit's job to move the ball and score points. I don't disagree with that, but I feel as if he is leaving out a very important part of the equation - how you move the ball and score points dictates the flow of the game, and can help keep defenses off balance. Also, we hear Patriots defenders talk all the time about making offenses one-dimensional, and I think the Patriots did the Eagles a favor by making themselves one-dimensional Sunday night. Overall, I view the Patriots' approach as a plan specific to the Eagles and would expect more of the running game Monday night in Baltimore. Defensively, the Patriots did mix their approaches, but the Eagles were just better. Some of that was a result of breakdowns in communication between the secondary and front seven, and some of it was simply not winning the one-on-one matchups.
I've heard the pros and cons regarding the Pats play against the Eagles. The cons being the Eagles found a way to put pressure on Brady, cover Moss and find holes in the Patriots defense. But I like the positive side. If the Patriots can play so poorly and still make the crucial plays when they need them and more importantly WIN the game it's the sign of not just a good team but a great team. What do you think?
A: I would subscribe to this line of thinking, Ray. As safety Rodney Harrison said after the game: "You're going to have bad days. Do you ever wake up and have a bad day? That's just what it was but we managed to fight through it and we will become better from it."
While the defense looked solid against the Eagles running game, they seemed unable to get any consistent pressure on Feeley. He seemed to have a lot of time back there on many plays. Is the offensive line of the Eagles that good or was something missing with the Patriots rushing effort? In particular, I'm wondering if they're age and lack of top speed in much of the linebacking corps was a factor in your view?
Tom Mangin, Medford, Ore.
A: I broke down the Patriots' pass rush tendencies and had them blitzing (more than four rushers) slightly less than 50 percent of the time. So like the Eagles, they were mixing their pass-rush approach, but I think credit does need to go to the Philadelphia offensive line which won the battle at the line of scrimmage. Also, it's tough to get to quarterbacks in the west coast system, because the idea is to get the ball out quickly. Furthermore, the Eagles' pass catchers made more plays in one-on-one situations down the field - so they deserve credit, too. The Patriots did record two sacks and five quarterback hits (defined as when the quarterback is brought to the ground), so it wasn't as if there wasn't any pressure, but I look at it more as the Eagles making plays more than the Patriots' linebackers being old or slow. The Patriots had some communication breakdowns as well, which contributed to the performance.
Do you believe the "Philly has given the NFL the blueprint" hype? I think that any team that has Philly's cornerbacks, defensive coordinator, a back as good as Westbrook (he may not have been much of a factor, but I think the Eagles took advantage of the fact that the Pats were keying on him), and a better quarterback than Feeley may have a good shot at the Pats. I don't see many teams who fit the description.
A: Here is the way I view the blueprint talk: The Eagles gave the Patriots all they could handle, playing them tougher and bolder than any opponent this season, and it's a natural question to ask "How did they do it?" That is how things work in the NFL -- teams study other teams to see what gives them problems, and then attempts to exploit those. On the flip side, the Patriots are identifying where the Eagles gave them problems and know they must fix them - in all three phases, offense, defense and special teams. Anyone that doesn't buy "blueprint" talk need only to go back to the 2002 season and look at the Chiefs game (41-38 OT win in Week 3) and how that performance created ammo for the rest of the NFL. The Chiefs did some things to exploit the Patriots - attacking the edges of the defense in the running game -- and future opponents took a Chiefs-like approach the rest of the season and New England never truly fixed them. So I do think the Eagles gave the rest of the league some ammo for the rest of the season, but it's far from lethal ammo. The Patriots will fix their problems and won't run into the same problems as 2002.
I would like to get your take on the offensive pass interference calls on Randy Moss that took points off the board this year. It is totally bogus to me because from my view both players had their hands on each other and neither player "pushed off" to gain an advantage. It was just hand-checking to gauge positioning more than anything else and both players were doing it. This generally happens whenever the ball is in the air and the players are waiting for the ball to arrive. It is never called as long as you are going for the ball. In fairness, I think Randy got away with a slight push against the Redskins for a TD but it wasn't blatant. Are the phantom calls above "makeup calls" or just bad officiating (anticipating the call)?
Zak, West Warwick, R.I.
A: I didn't see the play live Sunday night - my head down as I was punching the keyboard of my computer trying to meet deadline - but a few media members next to me felt it was the correct call while watching it in real speed. Watching it on TV, I'd say otherwise. I thought the defender slipped and it happened as Moss's hands came up to catch the ball. I thought the official anticipated the penalty, instead of seeing the penalty.
From the perspective of an Eagles fan, it hurt when the officials did not decide to review Jabar Gaffney's 19-yard touchdown at the end of the first half. The review clearly showed Gaffney's knee was down and out of bounds. Your thoughts?
A: I would put this into the same category as the offensive pass interference call on Randy Moss as one of the tougher/closer calls in the game. This is a good example of how the calls affect both teams and my hunch is that Patriots fans would agree; if that call was the other way around, New England fans would be questioning it. As for the process that was followed, the NFL did review the play after it happened and determined that it was a catch, and thus no stoppage was necessary. That review took place before Stephen Gostkowski's extra point. From an Eagles' perspective, I think I would have felt better if I knew the review took place during a stoppage in action, creating the perception that more time was taken to make the correct call. But in the end, I still think the officials got it right.
Is there an official statistic for dropped passes during a game? What is the definition of it? How many were made against the Eagles?
Joe Curtin, Waltham
A: Stats, Inc. keeps a record of dropped passes, although I am not sure how the statistic is defined. Saints running back Reggie Bush, Colts tight end Dallas Clark, Browns receiver Braylon Edwards and Saints receiver Devery Henderson lead the league in dropped passes, according to Stats Inc., with eight apiece. I personally define a dropped pass as when a catchable throw - this is arbitrary judgment -- is not corralled. So I wouldn't count the long bomb that Randy Moss didn't catch in double coverage in the third quarter, but would count Laurence Maroney's failed third-quarter screen play. I recall Moss and Welker with other drops, so while I don't have the exact number from Sunday night's game, I think 3-4 is a safe estimate.
Is it me or does Maroney have problems catching short passes? Watching Westbrook as a check-down option and screen target had me wondering why Maroney can't do any of these, successfully. What drove it home for me is when we used Welker to run a screen-type play. Every flanking toss to Maroney seems to get dropped. Do you see it the same? I mean, with the safeties pulled back, shouldn't Maroney be having a field day?
A: Maroney had a drop in the third quarter against the Eagles, which highlighted this aspect of his game. Maroney wasn't a big pass-catcher in college at Minnesota so it's a part of his skill set that is still developing. Because of this, Maroney was considered more of a two-down back coming out of college. From a scouting perspective, some feel that if a running back is going to be taken in the first round, he should be a three-down type of guy, but I think in Maroney's case that his explosiveness on early downs made him more than worthy of the first-round selection.
I don't understand Belichick at all. Love him to death but I feel dumb when I listen to him (e.g. the Maroney question). Did I miss something or does everyone come away scratching their head?
A: I'm not sure what Maroney question this is in reference to, but my feeling it is related to the fact Maroney did not play much in Sunday night's win. Belichick did not provide details as to the reason why, but to me, the answer is simple: The Patriots ran 22 of their 29 first-half plays out of the four-receiver package and Maroney isn't in that grouping - and thus, didn't see the field until the second half. When you are in a four-receiver package, that means you have a maximum of six players to pass protect - the five linemen and one running back. Because of that, the running back better be good in pass protection - especially against a pressure-based team like the Eagles. When it comes to the Patriots' running backs, Kevin Faulk (53 snaps) is the best pass protector, and that's why he was playing over Maroney (15 snaps). I think some folks want to find the hidden meaning behind all this, and are wondering if Maroney is hurt or in the doghouse, but this was strictly about the specific one-dimensional approach the Patriots utilized to attack the Eagles.
I know this question has come up and will keep coming up, but for the sake of being redundant, I'll ask it anyway. Is Maroney in one of BB's dog houses? I have seen this question come up, but at the time you had little info. Has there been any more info on this lately?
Steve, Keene, N.H.
A: I think the Patriots would like to see Maroney stay on the field more - injuries are a part of the game - but I don't think he's in any doghouse. If he was, I don't think he would have been on the field at the end of Sunday night's game as the Patriots were trying to run out the clock in a critical situation. I felt Maroney ran quite well in limited opportunities in the game.
Was it me or were Brady's cadences at the line of scrimmage a lot more audible than usual? This brought back thoughts of the Miami game from a few years ago when the Dolphins supposedly knew the Pats audibles from having watched the game films. I'm sure the Pats change their audibles frequently but it would seem that they'd have to change an awful lot of audibles to make sure the defenses don't pick up on the calls. Your thoughts?
Mike Whittemore, Holmdel, N.J.
A: Brady's verbiage at the line of scrimmage was crystal clear. At one point in the second quarter, you could hear him call out "Hey, Jab!" to Jabar Gaffney, and then after the ball was snapped he threw a quick pass in his direction. The main thing to keep in mind is that when Brady is in the shotgun, he is looking at the defense and setting the pass protection for the offensive line based on what he views. So when you hear something like "59 is the mike!" that basically means Brady is telling his linemen who he views as the middle linebacker, so they can split the protection to each side of that mike. If I was an opponent, I would study Brady's line calls and snap cadence, although I don't think it's any big secret what he's doing.
Mike, the 2007 Pats are looking to me more and more like the Colts team that went 13-0 before losing to the Pats in the playoffs. In other words, I think the Pats are an offensive juggernaut that appears to be nearly invincible, but nonetheless had weaknesses in their run game and on the defensive side. Therefore, they can be beaten by a team which plays them aggressively, especially in the playoffs under possibly adverse weather conditions. Do you agree or have some info which contrasts the two teams more?
Chris, Sicily, Italy
A: I don't agree with this comparison, because I feel as if the Patriots have more seasoned veterans on their roster who know what it takes to win in the playoffs. While I see similarities in the offensive approaches, I don't view the Patriots' current running game as a weakness. I also think the Patriots' defense - which undeniably had an off night against the Eagles -- is better than the Colts had that year.
What's up with our recent draft picks? The past two drafts seem to have produced zero impact players. Even our high picks (Maroney, Meriweather, Jackson etc.) now appear to be borderline/mediocre picks. I am worried that Pats will be in serious trouble once the current core retires. We don't have any young, upcoming playmakers.
Jaime, Redmond, Wash.
A: I don't disagree that Maroney (2006 first round), Meriweather (2007 first round) and Jackson (2006 second round) have had limited production, but would caution anyone from writing them off at this time. In 2003, a lot of the same chatter was being heard regarding Ty Warren and he's turned out to be a stud. Rookies develop at different rates and injuries are a factor, specifically with Maroney and Jackson. While it is perplexing to me that Eddie Jackson and Rashad Baker were playing over Meriweather Sunday night, I still project Meriweather to be vying for a starting job next year.
I would like to know about the onside kick Sunday night. I always thought the ball had to touch a player on the receiving team in addition to going 10 yards. Did they change the rule, because that kick didn't come close to a Patriot.
A: As long as the kick carries 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, it's a live ball. That was well executed by the Eagles as upback Kyle Eckel was racing down the field slightly before the ball was kicked, creating the opening.
John Madden said on the telecast a couple of times that it looked like Randy Moss was getting frustrated. Did you find that to be true and if so was it the "old Randy" kind of frustration where he wasn't getting anything thrown to him or was it just general frustration?
Rick Martin, Louisville, Ky.
A: If anything, it was general frustration. But even after the pass interference call against him, Moss hardly showed any emotion. So I wouldn't read too much into this frustration.
Based on what I've seen in games and on the stat sheet it certainly looks like Asante Samuel is worth the $7-plus million he's getting as last years franchise player. Seeing as he won't be franchised next year and he can't be traded my question is: What do you think the Pats will do? Will they pony up the bucks, look to the draft with SF's top 5 pick, look to the practice squad, trade (other players) for another corner, just deal with it when the time comes, other?
A: My stance on Samuel's situation has not changed. I think he's determined to see what he is worth on the open market, and I think he's looking for the richest offer. Here is how I see the scenario unfolding: the Patriots will realize that Samuel has all the leverage and they will attempt to put the ball back in his court. They will ask him what he wants, and his response will be that he waited all this time to get to the open market and what he wants is to see what other teams believe he is worth. At that point, I think a team will submit an offer to Samuel that the Patriots won't match because the price will be too high for their liking. When I think back to how this all unfolded, the leverage between the Patriots and Samuel has shifted a few times over the course of negotiations, and now Samuel is in the driver's seat. Knowing what they know now, the Patriots probably wish they locked him up to a long-term extension when he was asking for a $10 million signing bonus last October. The price could triple in free agency this year.
Outside of work on special teams, when are we going to see more playing time for Andrews, Meriweather, Alexander and Woods? And how would you fix the problem of getting gashed routinely by 10-20 yard completions over the middle and against Hobbs?
Paul Lynn, Missoula, Mt.
A: On the playing time, the time could be now for Woods after Rosevelt Colvin left Sunday night's game due to a foot injury. When Colvin departed, the Patriots moved Adalius Thomas to outside linebacker and had Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau paired on the inside. Colvin has been placed on season-ending injured reserve and while 36-year-old Chad Brown was signed, Woods - a pure outside linebacker - is still a top candidate to get bumped up the depth chart as the fifth player in the linebacker rotation. That should lead to more playing time because at this stage of their careers, I don't think Bruschi and Seau are going wire to wire in the middle and thus a rotation is needed. Alexander is another top candidate to get the nod as the fifth linebacker. As for Andrews and Meriweather, they are behind Rashad Baker and Eddie Jackson on the defensive back depth chart, and it doesn't look like that is changing right now. In terms of the defense, I view Sunday night's game was a case of a breakdown communication - the secondary wasn't in synch with the front seven and thus some bad defense was played. I think you'll see the Patriots correct the problem.
Mike, what was your take on the fan noise, or lack of it, Sunday night? Seemed to me most fans there were sitting on their hands. I could understand if it were a blowout but the Pats were losing most of the night and they should have gotten much more fan support. I would love to see the Pats play at Fenway with Red Sox fans!
A: Of all the stadiums I've been to, I'd put Gillette Stadium in the lower third in terms of giving the home team a true home-field advantage in terms of crowd noise. It was pretty quiet there Sunday night.
With all of Brady's success, there have been a couple of stats that I am trying to figure out. One that I have heard before is that he has only lost two games playing on turf. The other one I heard recently is that he is 77-1 in games where he has had the lead going into the 4th quarter. What were the 2 games that he lost a fourth-quarter lead?
Jim Delfino, Sarasota, Fla.
A: Brady has compiled a career record of 33-2 as a starter in games played on artificial surfaces. That includes regular season and playoff games. One of the losses was the 2006 AFC championship game in Indianapolis. The other game was the 2003 season opener at Buffalo. Brady is 75-2 as a starter when the team has a lead entering the fourth quarter. The losses are the 2006 AFC championship game against the Colts, and a setback at Miami in 2004.
It seems to me that Bill Belichick's assistant coaches are speaking to the media more now than they have in the past. Is Belichick trying to ease his load?
A: The NFL is requiring that assistant coaches be available to the media upon request this year. The Patriots have rotated with defensive coordinator Dean Pees one week, and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels the next week. I don't think it has anything to do with easing Belichick's load. If he had his druthers, I don't think he'd want the coordinators speaking.
Will a local television station be picking up game 16 against the Giants - which is scheduled to be broadcast on NFL Network -- or are we all doomed to going to a pub to see the Pats post a perfect season.
Bob Burnham, Merrimack, N.H.
A: This question has come into the mailbag in successive weeks and I would imagine it will keep coming. WCVB in Boston (Channel 5) will broadcast the game, but those who don't get that channel will have to make alternative arrangements. This has also been an issue this week in Dallas, with the Cowboys-Packers game being played Thursday night. Here is a story from the Dallas Morning News (subscription required) on the subject.
With all the offensive records the Pats seem to be breaking, there is one I haven't heard mentioned. With the minus-4 yards "allowed" in Sunday night's game, the Patriots have given up 18 return yards on punts for the whole season. Do you know where this stands as a record?
A: The NFL record for fewest punt return yardage allowed is 22, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The 1967 Green Bay Packers accomplished the feat.