Thanks to everyone who submitted questions for this week's mailbag. I couldn't get to everyone's questions, as some were quite similar, but I tried to address everyone's topics to some extent. Lets get straight to it!
Hugh, I wouldn't say that the Patriots are "planning on" bringing back Branch - but a return definitely isn't out of the realm of possibility. Branch has reportedly said he wants to return, and if the Patriots feel that they need an extra body at the position for whatever reason, I think he'd be on the team's short list of options, along with fellow recently departed vets Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney. Something else to note: now that we're past week one, if the Patriots were to re-sign Branch, his salary wouldn't have to be guaranteed for the rest of the year. That could open up a scenario where the team could bring back Branch as a short-term solution in the event of an injury.
Was the offensive line as good as they seemed?
The follow up question here would be: exactly how good did they "seem" to you? In my personal opinion, the offensive line seemed to perform a lot better than they did in the preseason. Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon split snaps at the right tackle spot, while Logan Mankins held down the left guard spot for the entirety of the game. I thought the run-blocking was terrific - especially on the second level. They were still things to be worked on - Nate Solder struggled a bit in pass. But overall, compared to what we saw in training camp and the preseason, there were definitely positives to take from the unit.
Any idea what will happen to Hoyer?
Nick, I've said it a bunch of times on this blog, and I will stick to my cards: I think Brian Hoyer will be a solid NFL quarterback - whether it's as a career #2 or as a starter. He doesn't have the strongest arm, but he was a lot of the intangibles you like in a quarterback, such as poise in the pocket. I think he was cut by the Patriots because of his high base salary ($1.9 million) and because the Patriots felt comfortable with the development of Ryan Mallett. Hoyer worked out for the Giants recently. Not sure if he'll land there, but I don't think he'll have too much trouble finding a new team.
When will the Patriots make a trade to improve their secondary? I think moving Welker for a stud S or CB would make sense at this point - Wes isn't going to re-sign in the offseason and his role in this offense is minimal, at best. Julian Edelman does what Welker does and the new acquisition in Salas can be trained into the role but with 4" more in height. Trade Wes now while his value is still high. Your thoughts?
I don't think trading Welker makes the team any better. Welker has produced consistently for years, and is without a doubt the best slot receiver in the game today. In the history of football, no one has consistently produced the numbers that Wes Welker has. Sure, I think he's been helped by the Patriots' system to some extent, but don't be fooled - there's not another receiver on the Patriots, and likely in the NFL, that has the ability to produce in this offense like Wes Welker. If Julian Edelman could do what Welker does - he would be the starter.
That being said, Wes Welker's reduced snaps in week one against the Titans was a bit eye opening. Did it just happen to be a week-to-week game plan adjustment? Or are the Patriots actually phasing him out of the offense a bit? At this point, it's tough to make any conclusions, and we'll need to see more Patriots football to see what the meaning of Welker's reduced snaps actually was. If the Patriots were to be offered a first round pick for Welker, I think they'd pull the trigger on the deal. But barring any blockbuster offers, my gut tells me Welker will be in a Patriots uniform for the rest of the year.
Well, before the Jets destroyed the Bills on Sunday, I said that I believed they were still the division's #2 team. But I don't think any of us realized exactly how big that gap was. I think the Jets and Patriots are a couple of steps ahead of the Bills and Dolphins at this point, although we should get a better idea of exactly how big that difference is over the next few weeks.
What do you think Ridley and the defense will rank in their respective categories? I have been saying NE will have a top 5 defense this year and have been laughed at many times, but even Simms and Lofton seem to think we could have the best run defense in the entire league and overall the front seven are close to unbeatable. I also am going out on a limb and project Stevan Ridleyas an easy candidate for a top ten RB in the league.
Those are some pretty bold predictions, and I usually try not to extrapolate results from one game across the entire season. That being said, it's hard not to be encouraged by what we saw from the defense and running game against the Titans. I'm going to be patient on Ridley - he has the talent but can he put it together consistently? As for the defense, I'm confident the run defense can be top ten or five in the league, but I think it could be awhile before the secondary catches up. Remember - this is one of the league's youngest units, and I think that lack of experience will show up at some point this year.
Very limited talk about Cunningham's play Sunday. Just want to know what you think about his small snaps and his sack, blowing up the O line. Then the following play drawing a hold negating a big run from Locker. Do you think we might be seeing more of him and less of Ninkovich on the left side?
The Pats defense gave us a splendid performance last week against the Titans. But what game coming up in the season do you think could be a bigger test for this defense?
Briefly looking at the Patriots' schedule, there actually aren't too many top flight offenses. If Baltimore looks anything like they did against the Bengals, the week three Sunday night match-up on the road should be a good test for the defense. After that, I'd circle week five against the Broncos. Later down the line, the December 10th game against Houston should prove to be a challenge. At this point, however, no matter who the opponent is, for this defense, I think it's all about getting the little things right, building that confidence and gaining experience. This group is young, and they're going to have growing pains, whether that's tomorrow against the Cardinals or week 14 against the Texans.
"I know ""Brian Waters is coming back"" and all but what are the chances/legalities of trading him for an OL from the Texans or 'Boys? Seems even if he can be made to come up north here he's not going to be into it."
If the Patriots were to trade Waters, it would likely only be for a draft pick. And at this point, I'd expect that to be a very late draft pick. Therefore, if they're getting very little for him, I don't think the team would see the benefit in trading him to a team they could see in the playoffs. I think the Patriots would still welcome a Waters return. But if he doesn't suit up for the Patriots in 2012, I don't see him suiting up for any other team.
While everyone has been focused on the amazing new passrush (Cunningham, Chandler, Hightower, Scott), how did you think the cornerbacks performed? Dowling, McCourty, and Arrington? How about the safeties?
Thanks for the secondary question! I thought all three cornerbacks performed well against the Titans. McCourty in particular, stood out by making plays on the ball and sticking to his man well, although he lucked out a bit on the pass interference non-call in the end zone in the first half. It's early, but it was definitely a positive first step for him. I thought Arrington and Dowling also had solid games - really liked what I saw from Arrington on the deep pass break-up that turned into a Tavon Wilson interception. It's early, but a nice start from the group overall. I think the Patriots have to be happy with the play of those three.
As for the safeties, Pat Chung seemed to be all over the field, laying big hits. Tavon Wilson not only made the big first half interception, but also came up to make some big open field tackles, and also jarred the ball loose from Nate Washington with a clean open field hit. Steve Gregory didn't impress as much - getting caught out of position on a Jake Locker to Washington touchdown, but it was one week and I'm looking forward to seeing him tomorrow against the Cardinals. He was really solid in training camp and the preseason.
In your opinion, what will be the best way to try and eliminate Calais Campbell from having a big impact on the game?
Good question, Russ. Campbell is arguably the most talented player on a strong Cardinals' defensive line, and Bill Belichick will certainly look to gameplan to take him out of the game as much as possible. Nate Solder has struggled in pass protection, and it will be interesting to see how he fares against a bigger, taller, more powerful defensive lineman like Campbell. If he struggles, I think the Patriots could use a lot of Rob Gronkowski on Campbell's side.
NE Habs Fan
"Fill in the blank - The officiating in the Pats/Titans game was better than ____% of the other week 1 games.
From what I saw, most of the errors were in the Pats favor, which doesn't make it right, but does make it easier on the blood pressure. Based on what I read about the other games, this one wasn't so bad. Agree?"
Can't really fill in that blank, since I didn't see every week one game, but I'll tell you this: the officiating in the Pats-Titans game was pretty solid, and from what I saw, on par with what we saw around the league. That being said, it does seem that at times, the replacement officials aren't entirely sure of how to apply the rules of the game. That is simply unacceptable. Bad calls happen in football - it's the nature of the game. But when officiating mistakes occur such as the timeout management issue in the Seahawks-Cardinals game, then you've got an issue. The replacement officials will work for now, but I'd like to see improvement in that area.
It was both unpleasant and strangely satisfying (considering his current contract limbo) to see Welker not being a huge part of the game Sunday. Do you think that Brandon Lloyd, along with the constant presence of Hernandez and Gronk, will be able to take the place of Welker's prolific season last year? Will we see Edelman take Welker's place, or will Welker be a larger presence in games later on in the season?
As I said earlier in this post, we're going to need to see more Patriots football before rushing to any conclusion's on Welker's role in the offense. That being said, I do think that the presence of Lloyd, Gronkowski, and Hernandez will take away from Welker's catch totals - at least to some extent. There are only so many throws that can go around. And if the Patriots really intend to be more balanced on offense as they were in week one, it only makes sense that Welker's numbers will go down. I think the Patriots might be interested to see whether or not Edelman could be the long-term solution to replace Welker, but I still think Wes has a larger presence down the stretch. For now, we'll just have to wait and see.
Where would you say Tom is right now with regard to his peak? I'd say that he was at his best in 2004-5 (some might argue 2007 because of the stats but they'd be wrong). Since those halcyon days, he's let fear creep in just a touch. Which results in back shoulder throws away from defenders (ahem, right, wes?) and has also dramitcally altered what I always felt was his greatest attribute - an unrivaled pocket presence - he tends to take sacks and throw the ball away just a fraction sooner than he once did. So if he was at 9.9 (out of 10) in 2004-5, then where is he today?
Not sure if I'm seeing what you are Mike. Brady's pocket presence is still unrivaled and if he takes the occasional sack or throws the ball away to protect himself, I think that's the mark of a quarterback who knows how to protect himself from the punishment and abuse of the game. I think Tom Brady's best has been the last two years - in 2010 and '11. And if the Patriots' season opener against the Titans was any indication, he really hasn't lost a step. Eventually, there will be some regression. But at this point, I have yet to see it.
I just want to know what you guys think about the addition of Hightower allowing Mayo to float more. With Hightower in the middle with Spikes, do you think that this allows Hightower and Spikes to hold the middle incase of draws and allows Mayo to float and help cover the flat more and maybe frees him up to blitz more?
Great football question. I do think the presence of Hightower and Spikes frees up Mayo to make more plays. Throughout his career, we've seen Mayo be a more effective football player when playing on the weak side and "cleaning up." Mayo is the most fluid and naturally athletic of the Patriots linebackers, and seems to make the most plays when asked to read and react rather than take lineman head on. I think the Patriots' new system frees Mayo up to do exactly what you're suggesting, and really takes advantage of his skillset as well as those of the other Patriots' linebackers.