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December 24, 12:30 PM ET
Chat with Mike Reiss

Mike Reiss
  (12:31 PM)

Good afternoon from Gillette Stadium.

Mike Reiss
  (12:32 PM)

Thank you for taking the time to join today's chat. I just returned from practice and here is the latest: The Patriots are working inside Gillette Stadium for the second day in a row. Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren were at practice for the second day in a row, and I think that's a positive sign they could play Sunday. I envision both will be game-time decisions.

Mike Reiss
  (12:33 PM)

This week is about being "all-in" for the Patriots. They have a chance to accomplish one of their first goals -- to win the division. They are putting everything they have into this one. The urgency here at Gillette has been noticeable. My plan is to chat until around 1:15.

Bill L. (Fort Collins, CO)

Hey Mike! I enjoyed your 'two-for-one' article this morning, but based on the VAST difference on our home vs. road records, if we win this week and SD loses, and there's a chance for the #2 seed, do you think Belichick would ease up on the gas in week 17? Also, with Fred, Sammy, Laurence, and Bennie all getting healthier, is it time to put Brady under center more to control the clock as much as possible? Thanks Mike, happy holidays!!!

Mike Reiss
  (12:35 PM)

Great point, Bill, and something I tried to cover myself with in that article. I mentioned the Week 17 "bye" only if the chance for a first-round bye is off the board. If the Chargers lose Friday in Tennessee, you might have to reconsider the thinking of how to approach Week 17. I don't think the Chargers, who host the Redskins the final week of the regular season, will lose.

Mike Reiss
  (12:36 PM)

As for putting Brady under center more and pounding that ball, I think we've seen more of the last few weeks. It wouldn't surprise me to see more of it in the coming weeks as well.

MarkJ (Japan)

Have you seen a wedge rule penalty in kick off this season? I believe Pats have overprepared for this rule and cannot get a good running route for returner so far.

Mike Reiss
  (12:36 PM)

I have not seen one, MarkJ. At the end of the chat, I'm going to go through my officiating file and see if I can find out if any have been called.

Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)

Which Football Player who is currently playing in College do you think will be a perfect fit for the New England Patriots? Merry Christmas to you!!!!

Mike Reiss
  (12:38 PM)

Chris, this answer probably won't get you too excited, because I don't have a specific name in mind. But from a general sense, the player who is the best fit is the one who can put heat on the passer, has had consistent production, and who has football near the top of his priorities list. I know that's weak, but it's the best I can do right now. Don't want to just throw out a name for the sake of throwing one out.

Har Journalist (North Vanocouver, BC, Canada)

Hi Mike, which of the 7-7 Teams do you think the Patriots most want to avoid in the Playoffs?? I say the Steelers, I hate them.

Mike Reiss
  (12:39 PM)

If we're looking just at 7-7 clubs, I'd go with Pittsburgh. I like the Patriots' chances better, at home, against the other 7-7 clubs.

Rick (Hartford)

Hey Mike -- how many carries do you see Fred Taylor getting this weekend?

Mike Reiss
  (12:39 PM)

Assuming he's active, I'd put it in the 5-8 range.

Butter (Chelmsford)

Hi Mike. Not much has been said about Brian Hoyer the last few months. How has his progress been? Has he developed at a better pace than Kevin O'Connell, who was cut in training camp?

Mike Reiss
  (12:40 PM)

Hoyer has gotten some very good practice reps over the last few weeks with Brady out. I hear good things Butter. But, in the end, it will come down to game performance and that's still an unknown.

Stevie (Providence)

Mike, are you concerned about Sam Aiken's drops? he is defintely athletic and has a great build, but he can't seem to hold onto the ball.

Mike Reiss
  (12:41 PM)

Those are some tough catches Stevie. My feeling on Aiken is that he is really a No. 4 or 5 receiver and is miscast in the 3 spot. So his production is about what I'd expect.

Stu (Middleborough)

Your post on Big Plays was interesting. Wondering if you knew if and how the numbers shift when including big play penalties (mostly pass interference).

Mike Reiss
  (12:43 PM)

I thought the big-play tracker was interesting, too. You can find a lot of great info like that on Mike Sando's ESPN.com NFC West blog on a daily basis. I'm not sure how penalties affect the equation. I could check and maybe we'll revisit next week.

G-Slice (Needham)

Hi Mike. In your opinion, how can the Pats mix things up on offense to be less predictable? I was particularly perturbed by some of their second half playcalling the last few weeks.

Mike Reiss
  (12:44 PM)

I'm going to trump Tedy Bruschi, who I thought made an excellent point in "Bruschi's Breakdown", which will be posted later today on the site. I think the best chance the Patriots have to mix things up is to turn to the running game and build off that with play-action. Otherwise, I don't see a consistent solution based on the personnel on the roster.

Mike (Chicopee)

How does Brace's rookie season compare to Wilfork's? I can recall big Vince playing sparingly as a rookie as well.

Mike Reiss
  (12:46 PM)

Brace is probably a little slower on the developmental curve. He's played 39 snaps at this point -- 9 in the first 14 weeks of the season and 30 last week. Wilfork started six games his rookie season and I remember him coming on toward the end of that year.

Andrew (Milford)

Mike. Howdy from Metrowest. The Pats plan this year regarding their TE's has been confounding. They pay big for Alex Smith then release him. They release a good hands man in Dave Thomas and then hardly use redzone weapons Baker and Watson. I'm very confused as to their usage this year.

Mike Reiss
  (12:46 PM)

Me too, Andrew. I am at a loss to explain it, especially when considering that I remember Bill Belichick calling that TE competition the best he's had here in New England.

Steve (Atlanta)

You've posted stats for positional grouping which are much appreciated. Is there any way to post how many recievers go out on a pass route each play? I'm curious as to how often TE's block or go for a pass. I assume and WR out there is running a route.

Mike Reiss
  (12:48 PM)

That's a great suggestion, Steve. Every year, I am trying to build on the breakdown information and I like that idea for 2010, or even for the rest of 2009. I'd have to go back and watch every play this year to put that together, which would take more time than is available at this point.

Gerry (Worcester)

Mike, I read that you think the Pats players would really be up for playing Indy again this year in the playoffs. But depending on how the seedings end up, aren't they more likely to platy SD? That prospect scares me on many levels. I see SD as the AFC super bowl favorite right now.

Mike Reiss
  (12:50 PM)

I get the sense from being in that locker room that those players want another crack at Indy. If they get there, I think they'd enter that week with confidence. Indy is the No. 1 right now, and I think San Diego will be the No. 2. So it will likely come down to the Bengals or Patriots at 3-4. The Bengals have Kansas City at home this weekend and then visit the Jets. I'd pick them to win out and get the 3.

Fran (New Bedford)

Mike, everyone says that the Pats have lost all their veteran leaders this year. Of the young guns, who do you see emerging as future leaders?

Mike Reiss
  (12:51 PM)

In time, Fran, I think Jerod Mayo will be one of them. The NFL locker room is a very interesting place. You really have to have been around for a while to earn respect in there, so I think a guy like Mayo -- in his second year -- it's just too early right now for him to step up. But you see the signs that in time he'll be one of them.

George Patakis (Marlborough)

Mike, do you envision the Pats using Edelman or Stanbeck behind center to mix things up at all? Their offense is unbearingly predictable.

Mike Reiss
  (12:53 PM)

I think it's a real possibility George, and I'd start with Edelman. The Patriots tried it Nov. 22 against the Jets and it was a disaster, with a fumble that fortunately for them was recovered. I could see them going back to it as a change-up.

Tank (Astoria)

Mr. Reiss- What was your most memorable moment during your playing days with the Eagles?

Mike Reiss
  (12:53 PM)

Classic question Tank. I believe you are referring to my cousin Ike Reese.

Alex (Miami, FL)

This season seems like it has been extremely taxing on the Coach Belichick, significantly more so than last year. What are your thoughts on this?

Mike Reiss
  (12:55 PM)

I don't know if I'd go that far, Alex. Last year, losing Brady, that was pretty tough. Two years ago, the undefeated season with Spygate, that was pretty tough too. This year has had its challenges -- specifically the drain of bringing some lesser experienced coaches along -- but I sense Belichick is in a good place.

Sterling (Providence)

Mike, how does the future of the Pats look? I like some of the young pieces we have on D, but my worry is that by the time we rebuild our defense, our offense will be too old. Obviously, their are a lot of other factors in-between, but what do you think? How much of a window does this team have left?

Mike Reiss
  (12:56 PM)

Sterling, I see the window staying open as long as Brady is back there at quarterback. It hasn't been his best year, but I think he'll be back. My feeling is that if you have him, you have a chance.

Harvey (Erving, MA)

Love your work Mike! It seemed that the Pats used Moss a lot more underneath last week. This appears to be a good strategy to get him involved in the offense, and much better than just heaving it to him on long balls. How come we don't see more of this?

Mike Reiss
  (12:58 PM)

I think we have seen it, Harvey, but just not consistently enough. I remember earlier in the year writing that Moss had become three receivers in one -- short, intermediate and deep. He was filling the void from Welker's absence in Weeks 2 and 3 and also some of the struggles the team had in finding a No. 3 receiver.

Dave (NC)

Mike, ESPN's Draft Rewind was not too kind to the Pats. What are your thoughts about the 2009 draft class? Best player? Worst player? Sleeper?

Mike Reiss
  (1:00 PM)

I think that '09 class is solid, although I think one season is a bit too early to judge it definitively. At this point, my best player would be Sebastian Vollmer. At the opposite end of the spectrum, based on where he was selected, I'd probably put Ron Brace (40th overall). Sleeper: Julian Edelman and Myron Pryor. The big thing on this, though, is how they improve from Year 1 to Year 2.

Adam (Portland)

Hi Mike,Obviously, the pass rush has been a major disappointment this season. Looking forward to the off season, there seem to be a number of big names out there. Elvis Dumervil, Julius Peppers, Merriman are all guys that could be had, albeit for a steep price. Do you think the Pats could potentially go after a big name like one of the guys mentioned? Given how the big Adalius Thomas signing has turned out and historically Bill not choosing to be a big shopper in free agency, it may seem unlikely .But we can't sit back and continue to wait for someone to just pop up and solve the pass rush issues. What do you think?

Mike Reiss
  (1:01 PM)

I don't see them going for a big name, Adam, especially with the uncertain labor forecast and the way the Adalius Thomas situation has unfolded. The only way I can see that changing is if there was a significant discount.

ej (NJ)

the patriots have a vision of the OLB as a certain height and weight. recently the pass rush has really struggled, do you think theyll finally abandon this vision and be willing to draft a smaller, rush LB like Orakpo last year or Dumervil for the Broncos?

Mike Reiss
  (1:03 PM)

I really like this topic, ej, as it was part of our weekly Patriots mailbag this week. Here is the link:http://sports.espn.go.com/boston/nfl/columns/story?columnist=reiss_mike&id=4764587

TruePat92 (travelling)

Do you think our suggestions about using the TEs more in the offense ever gets thru to Belichich and Tom or do they just disregard this obvious wisdom? The stubborn constant use of only two WRs is not going to take us anywhere, and we all know it.

Mike Reiss
  (1:05 PM)

Absolutely, they are aware of it. Looking at the playtime numbers the last few weeks, the Patriots are using double-TE sets more frequently, but it's still not producing TE results in the passing game. It's puzzling to me, and I would guess, to the TEs themselves.

Cajunpatsfan (New Orleans, LA)

Earlier in the season (such as against the Jets), Julian Edelman seemed to show some real potential as a WR. Other than the injury that kept him out for a while, what has happened to him? From watching tape, does it look to you like he isn't getting open, or is it something else? I know he's not at the level of Welker or Moss, but he showed enough early on that I thought we'd see more balls going his way this season.

Mike Reiss
  (1:07 PM)

I think it's mostly injury related, which has cut into his play time. He only played 12 snaps last week. That's not a lot of opportunity to make plays.

Joe P. (North Providence)

Hi, Mike, Just as an overall thought, I think the Pats have had a good season, when considering this is a 'comeback' year for TB and the transition from departing veterans to new young players. It looks like the Pats will win the division and I never count them out to go further but, if not, I think we can be happy with this seasons results. Do you agree?

Mike Reiss
  (1:08 PM)

I'd say it would be disappointing if they don't win a game in the playoffs. That's just me, based on the expectations I had for this team entering the year.

fowler (upton, ma)

ive been looking forward to the 2010 draft for a while now. what do you think will be the patriots strategy in this years draft, will they do what they did last year and stock pile on second rounders, will they trade up and go for the knockout blow on defense... there is just sooo much defensive talent this year. what, if any, are your draft thoughts at this point.

Mike Reiss
  (1:09 PM)

I see them targeting 1 or 2 players in a certain range and then using those second-round chips to get in position to strike. Defense, front seven, pressure on the QB, would be the profile of player I see them hoping to land.

Richie (Los Angeles)

Mike, I feel watching the Pats this year has not been nearly as exciting or interesting as in years past due to a lack of personality on this team. It seems to be harder to connect with this team from a fan perspective as there are not many exciting personalities as in past years (Rodney, Tedy, etc,). I know things change but I hope some more guys step up in the future and show more personality, grit, work ethic, and heart to make it more fun to cheer these guys on. What's your take?

Mike Reiss
  (1:09 PM)

That's an interesting observation, Richie. I hadn't looked at it like that. I sort of appreciate every year for different reasons.

Justin (San Francisco)

Hey Mike, thanks for keeping me in the loop here on the west coast. My question relates to Charlie Weis' recent availability. What're the chances the Pats bring him on as a "consultant" for the rest of the season? It seems like a win-win situation, w/ him tutoring Bill O'Brien while giving the offense a fresh, non-vanilla look. For Weis, it would let him show the NFL he's still got plenty to offer, either as a coordinator or potential head coach. And let's not forget BB has never won a Super Bowl w/out Weis and Crennel on the sidelines.

Mike Reiss
  (1:10 PM)

I guess I wouldn't rule it out, Justin, but it seems to me that might be more of a distraction that anything else. It's hard to undercut one coach, and then have players hearing a different voice than the one they've heard all season. I would have trouble endorsing that move unless it was mapped out pretty carefully.

Nick (Montreal)

Hi Mike, at the start of your mailbag you mentioned if the Pats win this weekend you would treat week 17 as a bye week to get players healthy for the playoffs. If the Pats still have a shot at the # 2 seed in the AFC after this weekend would you still treat week 17 as a 'bye' week?

Mike Reiss
  (1:12 PM)

The one thing I should be careful about in terms of calling Week 17 a possible 'bye' is that you only have 53 players on your roster so you really can't rest them all. I should be more specific and say players like Brady, Warren and Wilfork would be managed carefully in a Week 17 situation. I don't think the possibility of a No. 2 seed would change that approach dramatically.

David (North Attleboro,Ma)

The Patriots pass rush got stimulated last week by the stand up 5-6 dime defense and that they were playing the Bills banged up offensive line. How can the Patriots continue that momentum against Jacksonville?

Mike Reiss
  (1:13 PM)

I'd start by focusing on Jones-Drew and that running game. Part of the success of the pass rush was getting the Bills in long-yardage situations. David Garrard has been sacked 37 times this season, which ranks the Jaguars 26th in sacks allowed per pass play. Opportunities should be there based on those statistics.

Joe (Boston)

Hi Mike...I always wonder if Belichick has a season-long strategy...for instance, the offensive play calling has been fairly conservative this year - is there any chance that they hold plays or formations or tactics in reserve so they won't be too predictable come playoff time? Same with the defense...the fact that they pulled out a totally new defensive tactic this late in the season against Buffalo means they must have had that in their pocket for some time.

Mike Reiss
  (1:14 PM)

I don't think too much, Joe. At this point, they need to find something that works, that they can hang their hat on, so it's less about holding things back and more about letting it rip.

David (North Attleboro,Ma)

I thought Brandon Meriweather was one of the best defensive players the first half of the season. I have really been disappointed in his inconsistent play in the second half of the second of the season . The missed tackle of Josh Reed probably has bothered me the most. How do you think he has performed on the season as a whole?

Mike Reiss
  (1:14 PM)

Up and down. I think you are right on it, David.

Mike Reiss
  (1:14 PM)

I'd like to extend this out for a few more minutes. Some great questions.

Aki (Connecticut)

Besides MJD, I am worried about Pats D against TE Marcedes Lewis, who is huge (6' 6"", 275 lb). Every time he catches the ball, the ball is too high for any defenders. How do you think Patriots are going to defend him?

Mike Reiss
  (1:16 PM)

One of the things I've learned from covering the NFL over the last 13 years is that size isn't everything in coverage. Technique and leverage are equally as important. Lewis has 32 catches for 518 yards (16.2 average) and two touchdowns. This could be the week we see the re-emergence of Brandon McGowan to help with Lewis.

Eric (Asheville, NC)

Mike,Can you quantify the number of snaps the rookies have gotten this year? It seems like Vollmer has been the leading contributor as I'm pretty sure that the Pats' record when he plays at all significantly is impressive. Thanks!

Mike Reiss
  (1:17 PM)

Eric, I keep the skill-position snaps but not the linemen. I'd have to dig that up. I'm putting it on my list and hope to get to it next week.

Pete (Melbourne, Australia)

Merry Christmas from expat in Australia, Mike. Awesome analysis on the Bills, nailed that interview, and don't tell me you didn't fist pump after you saw it because it was spot on. My main question is, do you think this new sub package is a makeshift plan that will fade away, or an accidental revelation that may be implemented even with a full defensive line?

Mike Reiss
  (1:19 PM)

You make me laugh Pete. Wishing you and yours the best this holiday season as well. I was a big fist pump guy back in the day. There was a Bruins player named Randy Burridge who used to do a nice triple pump after he scored a goal and I think I perfected that one in the driveway while playing street hockey. On the sub package, I think we'll see it again.

Richard (Ireland)

Mike, it seems like the best way to get ahead in the NFL at the moment is with an offensive mindset. League rules are becoming more favourable for offenses all the time. This is something you've touched on in the recent past. With this in mind what are the chances that the Patriots use of one their top picks in the upcoming draft on a WR or pass catching tight end?

Mike Reiss
  (1:20 PM)

I don't see them going to the pass-catching TE route, only because they generally favor the combination type TEs up high in the draft. The TEs who can block and catch are rare. So unless there is a philosophical shift, I don't see them going that route high. WR, if the right one is there -- like a Percy Harvin -- I wouldn't be shocked. I initially thought the team would shy away from that, but I'm starting to come around on that one.

Tim (Washington, DC)

Mike - Happy Holidays!Ive been thinking about this question for a few weeks, but this last weeks game really made me wonder. Tully Banta Cain is currently on a one year contract. It was reported that Banta-Cain and the Pats agreed to a new contract but that it was not submitted to the league and therefore not official. Do Pats fans have to worry that our best past rusher from this season may not be in a Patriots uniform next season? Whats the hold up to make this new deal official?

Mike Reiss
  (1:21 PM)

I'm not sure the hold-up Tim. Until it's done and finalized, I think it would be fair to have concern that Banta-Cain might not be back. But if I was asked to predict how it will unfold, I'd say he will be back. The fit is too good.

Santa (North Pole)

Long time Pats fan up here, I'll be brief busy night ahead. Is there any reason why Watson could not line up as a third wide reciever on some occassions, not as a tight end? Ho Ho Ho

Mike Reiss
  (1:23 PM)

Be safe tonight, Santa. Watson has lined up as a third TE at times, something that I noticed a few times Sunday in Buffalo. He'll be split wide, but the ball isn't coming his way. Sometimes that is a pre-snap indicator as to what type of coverage is being played. If a safety comes over, it might be man-to-man. If it's a corner, it's zone.

TruePat92 (lost)

Mike, please tell us what that hat is that Brady has been wearing lately. It has a "B" and a "L" on it and no one talks about it. Thanks. By the way, any pictures of his new house available?

Mike Reiss
  (1:24 PM)

That's the TB12 hat. Check his website and you will find the logo. Not sure on the house. Thankfully, they don't ask me to do that stuff here at ESPNBoston.com. I get to focus on the football.

Nick (Hull)

Something seems/feels different about this years Pats team...is it the new coaches, lack of true Pats vets, no complex offensive or defensive plays? Do you get this feeling?

Mike Reiss
  (1:25 PM)

The biggest difference I've seen, Nick, is the change in the locker room. I don't want to say it's not as unified, but it's just a little different than I've seen in past years. I can't put my finger on it -- maybe it's a little younger, with fewer "policemen" to show the way.

Cape Mike (Forestdale)

Merry Christmas Mike to you and your family! If the pats win the next two games, I think something can be said of a Matt Cassel led 11-5 and a Tom Brady led Pats at 11-5. Given that they have two different teams - how many times did Matt Cassel protected the lead vs Brady this year? Also how many comebacks did Cassel have this year compared to Brady. I guess my underlying question is how Brady is managing the game this year compared to Matt Cassel last year. I could be wrong but I didnt recall that many three and outs or stalled drive last year vs this year. Your thoughts Please.

Mike Reiss
  (1:27 PM)

I'd have to go through the stats a little closer, Cape Mike, as I don't have that info here. My overall thoughts on Brady is that he is hurting more than I think most realize. It's my belief that has affected his performance significantly.

Jeff (Augusta)

Merry Christmas Mike!Any chance Brady unwraps a third passing target under the tree tomorrow? Maybe we could reintroduce him to Kevin Faulk or Ben Watson.

Mike Reiss
  (1:28 PM)

Let's end on this one, Jeff, because it's seasonal and made me laugh. I think the Patriots' offense rediscovers something that has been missing Sunday. I like this matchup for them. After scoring 17, 21, 20 and 17 points in each of the last four weeks, I'm projecting them into the 30s this week. I like the Patriots winning, 31-13.

Mike Reiss
  (1:30 PM)

I'm going to dig up that officiating file shortly and see if I can find how many wedge penalties have been called. I will post that shortly. Until then, thanks to everyone for visiting ESPNBoston.com. It is very exciting to be part of the site, which hopefully will only grow to be better. I wish you and your families a happy and healthy holiday season.

Mike Reiss
  (1:36 PM)

On the wedge penalties, I have the list but I want to make sure I am referring to the right infractions (e.g. are they calling those illegal formatoins?). So I will check with the league and put it on the to-do list for next week.

Mike Reiss
  (1:36 PM)

Until then ... have a great weekend.