Chat with Mike Reiss
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, ESPN NFL Nation New England Patriots reporter Mike Reiss drops by to chat and answer all of your Patriots questions.
Reiss joined ESPNBoston.com in September 2009 and is a native New Englander. He first started covering the Patriots in 1997 with the team's official newspaper, Patriots Football Weekly, before moving on to the MetroWest Daily News in his hometown of Framingham. From 2005 to 2009, he covered the Patriots for The Boston Globe, while also writing on the NFL. He started his popular Patriots blog in 2004.
Send your questions now and join Reiss Thursday at noon ET!
Mike (12:05 PM)
We'll get started here in a few. Apologies on the delay.
Mike (12:05 PM)
Got tied up on the way into the stadium.
Mike (12:07 PM)
How is everyone doing today? Been a good week here at the stadium. I've had a chance to watch the Falcons' 27-23 loss to the Dolphins this past Sunday. Have to respect their passing offense. Thought they ran it well too. Defense looks suspect.
Mike (12:08 PM)
As I project this matchup, I'm accounting for some hiccups from the Patriots young players in this primetime setting. Going to be tough sledding. Here are a few stats to consider:
Mike (12:09 PM)
Falcons 22-3 after a loss since 2008 under coach Mike Smith ... Falcons 34-7 at home since 2008, best home mark in NFC over that span ... Falcons outscoring foes 31-0 in first quarter this year.
Mike (12:10 PM)
Now, the Falcons have had trouble sustaining and protecting those leads. There is a reason they are 1-2. But this is a tough spot for the Patriots. I had them losing this game before the season. Now I'm not so certain. But in the end, I went with my initial instinct: Falcons 30, Patriots 27. Let's see how it turns out.
Mike (12:10 PM)
One last thought: Both teams' depth will be tested. Falcons really banged up. Patriots too. No excuses.
Is Gronk def starting?? I really need to know by game time tonight!
Mike (12:10 PM)
Chuck, there are no definites when it comes to Gronkowski. If you need an answer by tonight, I'd play it safe and back away.
Matt G. (not Gutierrez) (Portland, ME)
Say, Mike... Can you please tell me that someone else (Washington? Boyce?) will be on KR duty this week? And now that I'm on this topic...what about Josh Boyce? Any more WR snaps for him coming? Thanks.
Mike (12:12 PM)
Matt, I agree that it doesn't look great with Blount as the kickoff returner. Here is my theory as to why they continue to do it for now: 1) Perhaps worried about Boyce's ball security as a rookie in that role; 2) Washington's thigh injury a factor; 3) Don't want to subject Edelman to the car crashes on both kickoff return and punt return.
Mike (12:12 PM)
Have no idea if they really feel that way, but those are the only things I can think of for now.
Dan (Leominster, MA)
Mike, in looking at the information you just provided, do you think the Pats take the ball if they win the toss? Perhaps try to get on the board first, or do you think we defer and Bill challenges the defense with that fact?Thanks
Mike (12:13 PM)
Dan, I think they still defer. Patriots have gone punt, touchdown, punt on opening-of-game drives this year (they've lost the toss each game and the opponent has elected to defer each time). Nothing there that makes me feel overly great about taking the ball first.
Tom (Seattle, WA)
Mike, I think our defense will show up big this weekend and shut down the Falcons high powered offense. My concern is who will show up for offense. What is the best sense for who will be catching balls from TB this weekend. I'm afraid if Edelman is again the #1 target, we are in for a long game. Your thoughts?
Mike (12:14 PM)
I think it will be the same we've seen (Amendola more likely for next week in Cincinnati), with the possibility of Gronkowski in limited snaps. Just guessing here.
Mike (12:15 PM)
As for the defense, I'm thinking a dime package could be the package of choice against "11 personnel" (1 back, 1 tight end, 3 WRs). Rely on those big guys up front in the dime (keep Wilfork and Kelly on the field) to be stout enough against the run and a weaker Falcons OL, and give the coverage a chance with some extra bodies back there. Dont'a Hightower jamming Tony Gonzalez whenever possible.
Dan (Raleigh, NC)
Perhaps maybe it was best for the team going forward that Gronk and Amendola have been out a few games? It gave the young WRs a good chance to have some success and grow and now they'll have some confidence once Gronk/Amendola come back.
Mike (12:16 PM)
Dan, this echoes the "Tedy Bruschi Theory." Tedy's thoughts are that any time a team can have learning experiences, and get young players valuable reps and still win, it's a win-win situation.
Nick (Miami, FL )
Mike, What is Ridleys Situation, is he being sat for more pass friendly options? Not seeing the commitment to the running game we expected after last year. Thanks
Mike (12:19 PM)
Nick, I expect to see a lot of Ridley on Sunday night. I don't read anything into his limited snaps and feel strongly about it. Obviously, we all saw his benching in the season opener. He has to hold on to the ball. Then the Patriots had trouble running it against the Jets (credit the Jets there, that's a good run D) but Ridley was the main guy that game. And this past week against the Buccaneers, when you come out in a 4-wide/1-RB package, that's generally the Faulk/Woodhead/Vereen "passing back" type of game. And that's why we saw more of Bolden, who is as close to a "passing back" as they currently have healthy on the roster. I actually thought when Ridley was in there he was good -- as a rusher, pass protector and pass catcher. Good game from him last Sunday vs. the Buccaneers in limited snaps.
Mike (12:20 PM)
I think the Patriots can run over the Falcons in this game if they commit to it. When they went to the run against the Buccaneers, and inserted Ridley in the game, I thought that was the turning point that helped them settle things down.
Why is Leon Washington on this team?
Mike (12:21 PM)
I would have thought it was to return kickoffs. Not so sure, Dan, since we haven't seen him to do it. The only thing to consider is that his injury might be the reason we haven't seen as much of him.
Mike, Atlanta is in trouble. They are relying on too many back-ups and too depleted on defense... I expect the Pats to run the ball on Atl. A steady dose of RIdley, Bolden and Blount would keep the Atl offense off the field and really keep the pressure off the rookie WRs and Brady.
Roddy White is playing with a high ankle sprain, Steven Jackson is out, they lost their best DLineman, 2 LBs and 2 starting OLinemen... Atlanta will be a tough desparate team but in the end, the only reason I hesitate to pick Atl is because they are the home team. Otherwise I think NE guts out a win with a ground-heavy attack
Mike (12:22 PM)
Eric, I agree with everything you said. And I'd add that I think running the ball is imperative because it will help settle things down in a frenzied environment, especially with young players experiencing it for the first time. ... Now, a few thoughts on the injuries.
Mike (12:24 PM)
Both teams are dealing with them, and there are no excuses. Part of building a team is factoring in depth. For example, I can now say, with the benefit of hindsight, that I loved the Julio Jones trade for the Falcons in 2011 when they gave up 5 draft picks for the 1 pick to select Julio Jones. Jones is an absolute stud. But that said, when you make deals like that, it can affect a team's depth. So we can't have it both ways here. There's always a push and pull. And should the Patriots pull off the victory, I will throw a penalty flag on anyone who says, "Yeah, but they did it against a banged-up Falcons team."
Mike (12:24 PM)
Speaking of penalty flags, Walt Coleman is our referee this weekend.
Nick (Miami, FL )
Seems like everyone is committing to the ground game for Atlanta. I know its a good thing when you dont hear about Olinemen but it concerns me that Mankins seems to not have his nasty side coming out in the rungame. Hes typically a guy playing to the whistle everytime and getting after it.
Mike (12:26 PM)
Nick, I'm going to disagree a bit here. I love what I've seen from Mankins this year. I'd single out two plays -- the first was the first touchdown pass in the season-opener (I think it was the first). If you have a chance, go back and watch it, and Marcus Cannon is in at left tackle and is beaten at the snap. Watch Mankins slide over and absolutely clean things up. Nasty, nasty stuff. Then go back to Stephen Gostkowski's 53-yard field goal against the Buccaneers last Sunday. Check out the block that Mankins delivers. I mean, he is absolutely tossing people around at times. Can't win them all, but I've been really impressed.
Mike (12:27 PM)
I know those aren't necessarily run plays, but man, Mankins is bringing it from what I've seen.
More on the OL... going to the game this Sunday and I am psyched, to say the least. No Vollmer concerns me. How is Svitek looking? I think the OL is key to this game... a necessary constant when Brady and the WRs are struggling a bit. Plus, the added storyline that Svitek used to be a Falcon. Cannon looking good to you too? Thanks, Mike. GO PATS!!!
Mike (12:29 PM)
Jamie, Svitek, as we know, has been inactive the first three games with a knee injury. He's still limited in practice. Not sure if he's ready. I think Cannon is holding his ground. On the down side, has two false starts this season.
James (Derry, NH)
Hi Mike, Atlanta offers the unusual threat of a base 3 receiver set (4 if you count Gonzalez) but the ability and commitment to run the football. I would think the Patriots would want to be in nickel most of the day against this set up, but may also want Spikes on the field to guard against the run. How do you think the Pats will try and defend the Atlanta offense? Thanks and keep up the great work.
Mike (12:31 PM)
James, as mentioned earlier, was thinking dime. But wouldn't be surprised if it's nickel. In either package, I think they need to go a bit heavier on the defensive line to account for the run game. Need the lighter box to be competitive against the run. Think it can be against a Falcons offensive line that looks like it could be a weak link. Thought the Falcons' o-line played well against the Dolphins, but unsure if that sustains for them. They are down to offensive tackles No. 3 and 4 if Sam Baker doesn't play Sunday (and looks like a longshot).
alan (new hartford, ct)
how legit do you think the dolphins are? especially if we were to lose to atl on sunday, thatd be pretty scary that the phins could beat em and we couldnt.
Mike (12:33 PM)
Alan, one of the residuals of watching the Falcons game this past Sunday was to get a little bit of a look at the Dolphins. Looks to me like Ryan Tannehill has made some strides. Still would want to see more, but that's the key. I think you have to respect them at this point. Win two games on the road to open the season (Browns, Colts), and then beat the Falcons at home, that's solid stuff.
Reese (Taunton, MA)
Hi Mike, which backfield threat are you more concerned about going into this game, Snelling or Jacquizz?
Mike (12:34 PM)
Reese (good name), more Rodgers for me. Quicker. More explosive. Snelling a grinder. Usually feel like the Patriots do well against the grinders (although that's just a "feel" thought, not sure if my feel is backed by stats).
Matt (Elon NC)
Short q: What's with Sudfeld?
Mike (12:35 PM)
Short answer from a short dude. 17 snaps vs. Buffalo, DNP vs. Jets, 19 snaps vs. Buccaneers. Looks like a rookie who needs more time. A good example of how preseason doesn't always translate to regular season.
Mike - If Vollmer can't go, and Svitek is still out, who plays on the OL in the event of a single in game injury, or any event where an OL player has to sit for 1 or more plays?
Mike (12:36 PM)
Chris Barker, the rookie interior C/G from Nevada, becomes the 6th blocker in this scenario. Then it's a question of whether they feel the need to call up a practice squad player. There are no other options on the active roster.
Jon W (Lions Bay, BC)
In watching the television replay on Talib's interception this past Sunday, it seemed it was a conscious decision/gamble to cut inside. The other piece is that there was another defender just down the field in position to make a tackle should it have been a reception. This is all speculative, but do you think it reflects a recklessness in Talib or trust in his secondary? I'm leaning towards the latter and that they're a solid group, overall.
Mike (12:38 PM)
Jon, I think it reflected less of a gambler and more of a cornerback trusting his instincts. Sort of Asante Samuel-like. Talib later explained that he had watched a lot of film of Jackson, had a feel for what they liked to do in that situation, and that led to him making the play. I buy it.
Talib next in line for an extension?
Mike (12:39 PM)
Makes sense to me, Dave. Looks like a difference-maker. The one question I'm sure they'll ask is "Any concern the player might change with financial security?" With more time around the player, one would think they grow more comfortable with the answer being what they want it to be.
James (Derry, NH)
Hi Mike, I thought Steven Jackson was injured? I did not see his name on the injury report for Wednesday. It seems weird that a player would be unable to go one week, and then not listed at all the next. Any insight? Thanks.
Mike (12:39 PM)
He should have been on there. He won't play.
Last week I askd you about the nickle pkg that the patriots were playing in the 1st two games and if that had an impact on the run defense. Last week we saw 3 corners and 1 safety and a 7 man front. Do you think the Patriots will implement the same tactic against the Falcons?
Mike (12:40 PM)
I don't think so, David, in part because I think they will feel they can handle the run OK this week with a lighter box.
johnnymag (Hampstead, NH)
Hi Mike. just wondering if Ridley has any skills at receiving, much like Vereen possesses? I know he runs the ball, but haven't seen him in the receiving part of the offense much.
Mike (12:40 PM)
Caught a pass last week, Johnny. Also was solid in blitz pickup (better than Bolden actually, although that might have been Bolden's rust). I think he can do it.
Andrew (mean streets of Somerville)
Mike, have rewatched the games and focused in on big Vince a bit, he looks nowhere near as effective as the past few years-he looks real heavy, slow and I noticed a lack of effort on many plays-has he hit the wall, what gives?
Mike (12:44 PM)
Interesting, Andrew. That is a position that requires a closer look. I still see a disruptive player at times, but would agree he hasn't been the dominating player we've seen in the past. When I say disruptive, it was Wilfork who drew two blockers in the first quarter to free up Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich for their half-sack. It was also Wilfork who drew a holding penalty on center Jeremy Zuttah in the fourth quarter that stunted some Buccaneers momentum and knocked them off course. So it's not like he isn't making plays. That said, I have noticed other plays where is more easily single blocked against players you wouldn't expect that to happen (e.g. Jets G Vladimir Ducasse). I wonder how much the foot injury he's dealing with (showed up on the injury report Wednesday with full participation) is a factor.l
Mike (12:45 PM)
The Patriots' locker room is opening, so let's go for another 5 minutes here.
Chandler Jones (Foxborough, Massachusetts)
Are there any weaknesses in the Falcons' offensive line I should look to take advantage of?
Mike (12:46 PM)
With starting left tackle Sam Baker not playing last week (and apparently unlikely this week), and starting right tackle Mike Johnson landing on season-ending injured reserve in the preseason, the Falcons were lining up with Lamar Holmes at left tackle and Jeremy Trueblood (former Boston College Eagle) at right tackle. You have to think the Patriots' DEs -- you, Mr. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich -- like that matchup.
Ryan (Charles Town, WV)
Mike, how would you assess the decision to keep Ryan Allen over Mesko? Allen hasn't looked too good to me so far, but Mesko seems to be struggling in Pittsburgh as well. Do you think it's just nerves and a lack of experience for Allen, or do you think the Patriot's brass made a mistake?
Mike (12:47 PM)
Ryan, if Mesko was lighting it up, I'd feel stronger about it. But it's been about a wash at this point. Allen has obvious upside. It's why I thought they might actually keep two punters on the initial roster (with the intention of trying to get Allen to the practice squad later in the year).
Mike- neither of us are doctors but can you answer this for me? I'm concerned about Amendola willing himself onto the field before he's fully healed... but how do you know if someone is fully healed with an injury like this? Do they give you an MRI and see the abductor has healed back to the bone or is it more of a how do you feel? The last thing we need is Amendola to have a set back just trying to prove a point that he can play through injury.
Mike (12:52 PM)
Alex, here is my understanding of the Amendola situation: If the injury is what NFL Network described it to be -- torn away from the bone -- it apparently creates a dynamic where he can't do any damage to it in the short-term. It's gone. Can't get it back. So the concern, it would seem to me, is long-term viability and if that area can remain strong enough to support what it needs to support when it's torn away from the bone. Like you said, I'm not a doctor. But that's my sense of it. And if we take it one step further, I would go back to the season opener and the decision to let Amendola come back into the game. In doing so, was Amendola at more risk of a more severe tear that could potentially affect the length of his career? If that's the case, and I'm just speculating here, then that process of how Amendola was allowed to come back into the game might be scrutinized. Just thinking out loud here.
Phil (Edgewater, NJ)
The running game looked great at times in the preseason. Any chance they put more emphasis on the running game to open things up? Or does it vary week to week according to the matchups?
Mike (12:53 PM)
Phil, it varies week to week depending on the matchup, and I think they'll like this week's matchup when it comes to establishing the run to: 1) Help settle things down; 2) Set up play-action.
Are the Pats so comfortable with their committment to the young receivers that they woudn't seriously consider trying to pry J. Gordon from Cleveland? Or is this a non consideration given Cleveland would want draft picks - and Gordon has been a behavioral issue? Based on only talent consideration - he is exactly what would add to the arsenal...your thoughts?
Mike (12:54 PM)
Todd, I don't think they'll be in on Gordon. If I'm not mistaken, isn't he one more suspension from being banned for a year?
Why do u need to always defend bellichick? Any coach having brady will have the same number of wins. what was his record without brady?
Mike (12:55 PM)
I don't feel like I always defend Belichick. What I try to do is be fair. I'll be the first to admit, I'm not perfect. You aren't either. I personally think you are underselling him as a coach, but that's what makes sports fun. We can have differences of opinion and debate them, hopefully from an informed perspective.
How big of a factor will crowd noise be this week?
Mike (12:56 PM)
They've been working with the music at practice to prepare. It gets noisy in there. Patriots have 17 penalties this season and 5 are false starts, their most frequent penalty. It's a factor, for sure. But ultimately, how well the teams play will be the biggest factor.
Patterson (Collegeville, PA)
Will Jaimie Collins be shadowing Tony Gonzalez all game?
Mike (12:57 PM)
I'd guess more Hightower.
Tron (Waltham, MA)
Hi Mike,In your honest opinion, what are your feelings on Belichick's responses to injury questions? As a fan it's a little frustrating that we don't get the up to the minute status on key players such as Gronk and Amendola but at the same time, what more can we really expect from Belichick that hasn't been leaked through sources. More often than not, when coaches/ teams give timelines for recovery, they are wrong (Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge come to mind, as does the whole Clay Buchholz situation). Could it also protect the player in this regard to avoid situations that happened with Buchholz and Ellsbury in which they were perceived as soft for not meeting the timetable given by their teams? Sorry I threw a lot at you in a disjointed manner but I think this is a topic that is hotly debated and is certainly a sore point for many media members.
Mike (1:00 PM)
Tron, Belichick feels strongly about protecting competitive advantage, so I understand why he doesn't want to give detailed information on injuries. I also understand that those following the team want to know, including myself, so it's our job to respectfully and sometimes firmly ask the questions. We can't control Belichick's answers. We can only control how we ask it, and how often we ask it. I'll be honest, if I was in Belichick's position, I'd handle it the same way. Of course, I don't like it as a media member, but reverse the roles and what would you do?
RAIN (FT LAUDERDALE)
Do you think Brady not seeing open receivers and forcing the ball for that pick in the end zone is due to lack of trust, seems he thinks a little longer rather than reacting annd throwing.
Mike (1:01 PM)
I think that reflects a general lack of comfort from Brady because things are still evolving with his targets. It's like Tedy Bruschi said in this week's "Bruschi's Breakdown", you can tell he's still holding on to the ball for an extra half-second at times.
Mike (1:01 PM)
Here is Bruschi's Breakdown: http://espn.go.com/boston/nfl/story/_/page/bruschibreakdown-0926/tedy-bruschi-breakdown-falcons-dangerous-yet-vulnerable
Was last weeks success by the WR a one week smokescreen or a sign of things to come?
Mike (1:03 PM)
Jon, if we watch the end-zone angles of last week's game, you actually get a nice feel for how often the two rookie WRs were getting open. Nice work. Hard to know if that's a sign of things to come, but nicely done by them.
Mike (1:03 PM)
Let's end it there. I'm going to head into the locker room now. Thanks for a nice chat. We'll do it again next week.