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.
The Patriots have not beaten a team with a winning record in many weeks (Oct. 9, Atlanta). I realize they have had several injuries on defense but in the past two years they have been able to plug guys in and be successful. The schemes and the system they play have carried them through the injuries. What is different this year? Also, they don't appear to be as creative on defense?
Jim Curley, Seminole, Fla.
A: The Patriots definitely aren't as creative on defense. The team has been multiple in the past, switching from the 3-4 to the 4-3 from snap to snap, game to game. But since Week 4, it's been mostly 3-4 with few blitzes sprinkled in. As for what's different, and how the Patriots' haven't been able to duplicate last year's performance, I'd start with confidence. Last year, you got a feeling that no matter who was out there, the Patriots would find a way. This year, that confidence doesn't seem to be there, whether it's player-to-player or coach-to-player or player-to-coach.
The Patriots have outscored opponents 62-41 in the first quarter and 73-51 in the third. Opponents have outscored them 79-78 in the fourth quarter. In the second quarter, opponents have outscored them 108-30. Why is this?
A: The second-quarter scoring discrepancy highlights the team's inconsistency this year. Last season, the Patriots outscored opponents 159-94 in the second quarter. Bill Belichick was asked about this in his Monday press conference: "I wish I could sit here and tell you if we just did one thing all of our problems would be solved, but I don't really have that answer. If I did, I would have done it five, six weeks ago."
It seems to me that the Pats' front seven was intact in this one and Tedy Bruschi now in his fifth game back, yet I saw Larry Johnson running up the middle quite often and effectively (until K.C. went into a shell). And, while it's certain the season-ending injury to Rodney Harrison was the pivotal point in the fortunes of this defense, I am struck by the failure of the three first-round picks on the D-line to produce better results vs. up-the-gut running plays. Is it possible they are overrated?
Bryan Kelly, Portland, Ore.
A: Didn't think the D-line was the root of the team's problems. The Chiefs were held to 3 yards per carry (37 rushes, 112 yards), which isn't bad considering they are averaging 4.3 yards per carry on the season. The Chiefs most definitely got some push up front at key times, though. Still, if making a list of the team's defensive problems, the D-line wouldn't be at the top right now. Pass defense, and specifically the link between a pass rush and coverage, would be No. 1.
I read recently that when Mike Vrabel moved to inside linebacker, he is playing the position that Tedy Bruschi used to play and that Bruschi is playing the position that Ted Johnson used to play. Without getting too technical, can you explain the differences in the two inside linebacker positions in the 3-4 defense?
Speros Zakas, Salem
A: Tedy Bruschi was asked about this in the locker room on Monday: "Basically, I'm playing the 'mike' linebacker right now. That's usually to the strong side of the running offensive formation. You get different looks there, different reads. The 'will' position is the weak side of the offensive formation. I've played both positions before."
David Givens has been out the last three games. Is his knee injury serious? Do you have any updated info about his injury and timeframe for his return?
John Saia, Andover
A: Givens was present in the locker room on Monday and wasn't available for comment. But looking at him, I'll play a hunch and say he'll be back this week. I don't believe his injury was anything that required surgery and I wouldn't classify it as serious.
Mike, Once again the Pats' offense lacks creativity and the element of surprise. I am convinced more than ever that they have become much too predictable and opposing teams are feasting. More and more, I am thinking the greatest loss has been the two coordinators (Charlie Weis on offense; Romeo Crennel on defense). Charlie always kept the opposition guessing.
Marty Cormier, Chatham, Ontario
A: Yes, there appears to be some growing pains, which is to be expected when you lose experienced coordinators and promote younger coaches into new roles. In retrospect, I probably underestimated the impact of Weis and Crennel -- Weis for his play-calling and feel for the game, and Crennel for his schemes and ability to create a positive chemistry and confidence in both the player-player and player-coach relationships. I think Josh McDaniels (offense) and Eric Mangini (defense) are excellent coaches, but their situations aren't unlike rookies who are pressed into the starting lineup. They, too, are learning on the job.
Week after week, Asante Samuel seems to blow his coverage. Why isn't he benched?
Jonathan Hodgdon, Elmhurst, NY
A: The Patriots have Artrell Hawkins and Hank Poteat -- two players who weren't with the team at the start of the season -- behind Samuel at cornerback. The coaching staff probably feels neither player would be an upgrade.
Am I imagining this or does Asante Samuel routinely misread down and distance situations? For example, many times this season it's been, say, third-and-5, and Samuel will give a cushion of 10 or 11 yards. Even on "regular" first or second downs he will creep up to the line of scrimmage but then before the snap he'll drift back so far he's out of the TV picture. Do you agree that his technique and game-situation recognition skills need serious improvement?
Matthew Stone, Dorchester
A: Interesting observations. My first thought is that this speaks to a larger problem. If Samuel is playing that far off, it's not like he's making that decision by himself. That's the defensive call. It seems like the Patriots might sometimes be overcompensating as a result of all the big scoring plays they've allowed in the passing game. By giving so much of a cushion, and employing what coaches refer to as a cover-4 scheme, they keep the play in front of them. But in doing so, they concede large amounts of yardage in front of them.
I saw the game at Arrowhead and it's amazing how wide open the Chiefs' receivers were most of the time, regardless of route or pattern. In addition, Rosevelt Colvin still makes the best plays rushing off the edge. Daniel Graham has looked like a force to contend with a few times this year with run-after-the-catch plays. Why are these players not used more often? Richard Seymour was brilliant most of the times and if our D-line is back to usual personnel why can't we pressure any quarterback this season to help our secondary?
Nayab Zafar, Columbia, Mo.
A: Colvin has seen his role expand considerably since the return of Tedy Bruschi on Oct. 30. Graham has had a nagging shoulder injury in recent weeks and is as valuable as a blocker as he is as a pass-catcher. As for the pressure on the quarterback, the Patriots rank 31st in sacks per pass play (16 in 368 attempts), so this is an area that is lagging. My feeling is that in a 3-4 defense, that pressure primarily comes from the linebacker and secondary, not as much the D-line. Look at the Steelers, who play a 3-4, as an example. Of their 30 sacks entering Monday night's game, only six have come from D-linemen.
Some experts attribute the numerous injuries to the Patriots as a result of less down time in the offseason over the last few years. If that is true, shouldn't we want to miss the playoffs this year so the team can heal and be competitive in 2006? We aren't competitive enough to win it all this year, so why not think strategically toward next year?
Bill Vuori, Lithia, Fla.
A: If the Patriots do anything in this regard, it might be to start looking at some younger players -- such as rookie safety James Sanders -- and see where they fit into their future. But I'd imagine the Patriots' approach is that they hope to make the playoffs and play a perfect game each time out. If they took any other approach in 2001, they would have packed up the moving vans when they were 5-5 and called it a season. Instead, they went on to win the Super Bowl.
It's getting obvious that not only the secondary the worst in the NFL but there has to be increasing doubts about the three defensive linemen and four linebackers. They can't consistently stop the rush, and there is very little penetration on their pass rush. Is age a problem at linebacker. Are the lineman overrated? These seven are the same 7 that played last year. What gives? Any thoughts?
Dennis Cullen, Temecula, Calif.
A: My thoughts are that the last three games the Pats have been average to above-average against the run. Pressure is a more pressing issue and that puts the linebackers, specifically the outside guys (Willie McGinest, Rosevelt Colvin), in focus. While these are the same players in the front seven as last year, it's important to consider they are in different situations. Vince Wilfork is now a full-time starter at nose tackle; Rosevelt Colvin is now a full-time starter at outside linebacker; Mike Vrabel has moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker; and Tedy Bruschi is in his fifth game back. So while they are the same players, they aren't in exactly the same situation as 2004.
Are the Patriots looking to use Chad Brown on the outside, obviously things did not work out using him as an inside backer? This would also give us some versatility at both positions. But he is more accustomed at rushing the passer.
Jim Curry, Chatsworth, Calif.
A: This has been one of the more mysterious coaching decisions in the last four games or so. The Patriots have 16 sacks and Brown has 78 over his career. It seems like he could help, but he's mostly being used as a middle linebacker on third downs. When the team was thin at middle linebacker, Brown was used there on early downs out of necessity. But with Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Monty Beisel all playing in the middle, Brown can now be used in other areas more suited to his playing strengths.
It was nice to see Christian Fauria actually involved in a red zone offensive play. History has proven that this guy has a nose for the end zone. I realize Graham and Watson will get their playing time, but how about getting Fauria back into the offensive game-plan?
Chris Salvato, Scotia, NY
A: Fauria has three catches for 24 yards and one touchdown on the season. He's averaged 23.6 catches per season from 2002-2004. This year, he's primarily been the third tight end behind Daniel Graham and Benjamin Watson.
I have a statement to make and then a question. First, I feel that the Patriots as a team and coaching staff are not as motivated this year. My buddy and I watch them every week and the thing we both have noticed is that the emotional status of this team is missing. Quite frankly, I am not complaining because of our success, but we have come to see out of "Patriot Football" that the emotional aspect is really missing as a team. My question is this: the past two games it seems that Brady's throws are high and off the mark, do you think the shoulder is more of an issue than they want us to know? They will not admit it, but something is not true to form. Also, I have to say the play-calling, whoever it is, is quite poor. So is the execution. We need to run more screens to be successful.
Doug Bisson, Rowlett, Texas
A: No, don't think Brady's shoulder is the problem. What I noticed on Sunday was that the synergy and timing between quarterback and receiver wasn't there, which caused slight moments of hesitation and affected Brady's accuracy.
I am just curious as to why the Patriots do not switch to a 4-3 defense? Their linebackers are average (excluding Vrabel) at best and are just not making plays. To me a frontline of Seymour and Wilfork in the middle with Jarvis Green and Ty Warren on the ends makes one dominating line. The outside 'backers would be Vrabel and Colvin with Bruschi manning the middle. Then place McGinest as a backup for both the defensive end and outside linebacker position. I have been a Patriot fan for many years out here in the Desert Southwest and I have to admit I am very disappointed with our defense this year. I know Coach Belichick says there is not much difference between a 4-3 defense or a 3-4, but there is. When your team has more younger talented defensive linemen than it has linebackers it makes more sense to have more of them on the field than linebackers.
Daniel Sanchez, Albuquerque, NM
A: I would agree they need to try something different to shake things up, and -- despite the revolving door in the secondary -- am a bit surprised it's taken this long for it to happen. Whether the change is a 4-3, or a more aggressive 3-4 with more blitzes, it's hard to imagine the team sticking with its current approach.
Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil was quoted after the game saying "Seymour is, I think, the best defensive end we play against." I have heard similar comments about Seymour for years. Watching the games on TV it is hard to see what he is doing for coaches and players to say such things. Can you please share with us what Seymour does that makes him one of the best DEs in the NFL.
David Stone, Gordonsville, Va.
A: At 6-foot-6, 310 pounds, Seymour combines size, power and athleticism. He is considered by scouts to be a player with game-changing ability and a player opposing coaches must always account for. He often occupies two blockers and has the power to shed their blocks and make tackles. He also controls the gaps to the right and left of him, helping shut down opposing running games.
How early can the Patriots clinch the AFC East?
Scott Sandler, Foxborough
A: If the Patriots win their next two games -- at home against the Jets and on the road at Buffalo -- and Miami loses its next two (vs. Buffalo, San Diego), the Patriots would have a share of the AFC East and the playoff berth as division champion.
Is there anything about Adam Vinatieri getting a new contact done soon?
Will Baron, Acton
A: With five regular-season games left, it's likely that any contract talks won't take place until after the season. It would be a surprise if Vinatieri and the team don't agree on a deal. The team can also use the franchise tag to retain him, as it did this season.
Cornerback Lenny Walls was placed on the injured reserve with a groin injury and subsequently released by the Broncos. Was wondering when Walls would then become a free agent and, given his ties to BC, would the Patriots be interested in his services once he was healthy again?
Michael Searles, Grafton
A: Walls was officially waived on Monday and now teams can make a claim on him. If multiple teams claim him on waivers, Walls would be awarded to the team with the worst record. A few weeks back, I don't believe the Patriots were that interested. Given their current situation, perhaps they've changed their mind.
When a player is brought in for a tryout, what do they do with him. Does he just run dashes and drills or do they put him in live action. For instance, if they tryout Terrell Buckley do they have Brady throw to Branch and watch him defend? Does Flutie throw? How do they do it?
Steve Kepnes, Syracuse , NY
A: It's my understanding that each tryout varies based on position; players are seldom, if ever, put in live action. It's mostly dashes and drills. In the case of a corner like Terrell Buckley, they would probably line him up against a scout team type of receiver, with someone like Matt Cassel throwing the ball.
Why does the Patriots' defense seem to have so much trouble stopping other teams on third down? Third-and-1 or third-and-30, it doesn't seem to matter.
Gordon Smith, Auburn, Ala.
A: The Patriots have allowed a 43.4 percent success rate on third down, which ranks them 31st out of 32 teams. Only Buffalo (45.7 percent) is worse. Third down is more often than not a passing situation and the team's lack of pass rush (only 16 sacks in 368 attempts), coupled with inconsistent secondary play, is probably the main reason for the poor production.
If Terrell Owens becomes available would Belichick consider recruiting him? Remember, a certain running back from Cincinnati was considered a malcontent before joining the Patriots.
J.R. Kennedy, Maitland, Fla.
A: Don't see it happening. In 2003 and 2004, the Patriots had a tremendous chemistry in their locker room. I remember Ted Johnson once saying there was a feeling that everyone felt they couldn't let the next guy down. They are still searching for that this year, and that will likely carry into next season. Owens has fractured two locker rooms already. Comparing his actions to Corey Dillon's is like comparing the 49ers to the Colts.
Is Nick Kaczur going to move to right tackle when Matt Light returns? How has Kaczur and Mankins looked in terms of the future? Are they likely starters next year?
Jim Kelleher, Northford, Conn.
A: They will probably ease Light back in by adopting the same rotation they had early in the season -- with Light, Kaczur and either Ashworth or Gorin splitting time. I would project that Light plays the majority of time at left tackle, with Kaczur the third tackle, having the ability to play both sides.
Each year we expect a breakout year from Tully Banta-Cain. Why hasn't it happened yet especially in light of the thin linebacking corps this year?
Lance Mulleneaux, Brookline
A: Banta-Cain (6-2, 250) missed the first two games due to injury and has played the last nine, with his sole contributions on special teams (7 tackles). The Patriots haven't tapped into the depth chart at outside linebacker, going solely with Willie McGinest, Rosevelt Colvin and Mike Vrabel (when he's not inside). Since outside linebacker is the team's primary pass-rushing spot, and the team's rush has produced just 16 sacks, I'm deducing that the coaching staff doesn't think Banta-Cain is ready to contribute.
Can the Colts really go undefeated? I'd love for it to happen just so the Pats could beat them in the playoffs. But in all reality I'm starting to believe. Your thoughts?
Seth Beecher, Unionville, Conn.
A: The Colts' remaining schedule: vs. Tennessee; at Jacksonville; vs. San Diego; at Seattle; vs. Arizona. The middle three games look like the biggest challenge and I'll predict a loss at Jacksonville. I watched Monday night's game against the Steelers and the Colts were impressive against a power team. I'd put them as the Super Bowl favorite right now. One side note: Computing some injury info earlier this week, the Colts have had just one game lost to injury by an offensive starter (Dallas Clark, season opener). And if Joseph Jefferson is counted as a starter at safety, Colts defensive starters have missed just six games due to injury (all by Jefferson). The team is having a remarkable season and their ability stay healthy has helped the cause.
Is there any "tracking" since the NFL enforced the injury reporting requirements a couple of years ago -- such as do "doubtful" players ever play? Do "probable" players ever not play? My feeling is there's Out and Maybe Out and that's really all there is.
Marc Stringer, Connersville, Ind.
A: I believe the league charts that information. As for the Patriots, going through the injury reports and then matching it up against who played, this is what I found: players have been listed doubtful three times and never played; players have been listed questionable 127 times and played 72 times (56.6 percent); players have been listed probable 11 times and played 11 times (100 percent). While these numbers might be slightly off, it's clear the Patriots seemingly prefer that questionable designation more than any other.
Lets say it's the Patriots' turn to pick in the draft and you had every position rated equal, what position would you think they would take?
Erik Sivertsen, Fairhaven
A: Cornerback or safety.
Have the Patriots ever named an all-time team much like the Red Sox have done?
Chris W., S. Portland, Maine
A: In 2000, the Patriots team of the century was selected by readers of the team's newspaper, Patriots Football Weekly. In 1994, a panel of local media members selected the Patriots' 35th anniversary team. In 1971, the first all-time Patriots team was voted on by Patriots fans.
In your opinion, will Dillon, Faulk, Givens and Light be back and effective in time for the playoffs (assuming they win the AFC East)? I believe if the Patriots get those guys back on the offensive side of the ball and the front 4 can start getting some pressure on the QB (which I believe they are starting to do) the Pats can play with anyone come playoff time.
Bob Ritchie, Worcester
A: I do think Dillon, Faulk, Givens and Light will be back and effective in time for the playoffs. If the Patriots are going to qualify for the playoffs, and advance, I believe Dillon is the key. The Patriots are getting crunched in the time of possession game and Dillon can help them turn that around, while also limiting the time the Patriots have to defend.