Good afternoon and welcome to today's chat. We'll get started in a moment.
Hi Mike. I'm getting seriously anxious about the Houston game--it seems like Brady may be able to exploit matchups in the secondary, but only if the o-line can keep him upright. They've done an outstanding job this year, but with all the injuries, they could have a tough time against Watt & Co. I know the game plan will include a little of each, but what's the best bet against Houston? Heavy dose of run, with play-action? Quick, short screen and middle-of-the-field passes? Extra blocking backs and blocking tight ends? What do you think?
AM, you lead us off this week. I see it similarly from an offensive line perspective. If they can protect -- a significant "if" against this powerful defensive front -- I see opportunities for the Patriots to move the ball and score points (even if CB Johnathan Joseph plays, which appears to be trending in that direction). I'm pulling this thought straight out of our weekly podcast on ESPNBoston.com this week -- Tedy Bruschi talked about how this is the type of game where the Patriots could speed things up. Hurry-up, push the tempo. You want to establish some balance, but the Texans are tough to run against (No. 2 in NFL in fewest rushing yards allowed per game). The tempo could help create some traction in that area as we've seen the "hurry-up running game" work wonders for the team this year.
Can we expect to see Gronkowski on Monday night ?
Michael, I think Gronkowski wants to play, but it wouldn't be the smartest move for the long-term. I obviously haven't seen the X-rays but this would be one of those situations where I think the team almost needs to protect the player from himself, if that makes sense.
Hi Mike. How much do you think Stallworth gets involved in the offense on Monday? And who do you think will take over punt returns now?
Michael, I think it's Welker/Hernandez on punt returns. As for Stallworth, I think he's the No. 3 receiver in a specific package. Thin on numbers there, he at least gives them the ability to keep the package alive in their game-planning.
How do you see Brandon Bolden being worked back into the mix now that he's back? With Ridley, Vereen, and Woodhead all performing well, will Bolden get the snaps he did before his injury/suspension?
I'd start with special teams with Bolden. He's one of their core guys there, so his presence could push a player like Derrick Martin for a spot on the game-day roster. As for running back, a series in each half sounds about right. I don't think you want to start messing with the Ridley Express.
Hey mike at what point does health take priority over seeding? I would love a first round bye and even home field but all that isn't gonna mean anything our key guys aren't healthy enough to make an impact. Bmore has a pretty tough schedule left and we own the tie breaker against Denver. I think we can rest players and still pull off a bye
Dana, I think health is always most important. It's striking that balance between health and building momentum leading into the playoffs. Remember when the Colts sat players at the end of the year a few years ago (which contributed to the Jets getting a "gifted" playoff berth)? I don't think that's always the best approach. It certainly didn't help the Colts that year.
Hi Mike - Some thoughts on Edelman. At the beginning of the year, the thought was they were "phasing out Welker" in favor of Edelman. That proved to be wrong. I had a different thought, that because he's in a contract year, they really needed to see what they had with him, before offering a contract. It had nothing to do with Welker. Now that he's injured (again) do you think that his free agent asking price will lower, thus keeping him in New England?
I think Edelman will be back. I think he wants to be here and I think the Patriots want him back. The injury makes it tougher for Edelman to gain leverage on the open market from this view.
Heh Mike-Was @ the game on Sunday and was lucky enough to have met and talk to Wes Welker afterwards in the parking lot. With the injury to Julian and no real WR depth, do you see the team signing him to the deal he's looking for or simply throwing the franchise tag on him once again?
Chad, I think they'll try again on a 2-to-3-year deal with Welker. If not, it's another franchise tag from this view.
Has Donte Stallworth lost that elite speed he had in 2007? Will he be a decent option as a deep threat since Lloyd has found value in other ways?
Phil, I thought he showed he still had good speed in training camp. I think he can help in the deep part of the field.
Mike,All wound up about the next two games (but i am taking them one at a time). However, I have mixed feelings. It's is so hard in this league to beat a team twice and especially when matched up at the end of the year (Giants 2007 season) would it be all that awful if we get beat one of these weeks? Which would be a worse defeat?
Dan, I think the worse defeat would be Houston because it's in the AFC and could have a greater impact on playoff seeding.
Would the Pats rather have Greg Salas at this point over Stallworth?
Yes, Frank, I believe they would. That looks like a regrettable decision, but one can also understand the thinking when going back to the factors that led to waiving Salas. They had a shortage on the OL, had concerns about Sebastian Vollmer's injuries, and decided to activate rookie OT Markus Zusevics and let Salas go. If they didn't activate Zusevics, they would have lost his services for the rest of the year. In retrospect, if they knew Edelman would be injured, maybe they would have trimmed elsewhere (Derrick Martin, perhaps?). Sometimes those are the breaks when you're trying to balance the short- and long-term needs of a team.
Hello Mike, Been following the blog and Tedy's chat and blog and realizing how talented and balanced Houston is. My question is what's the "one" thing you try to stop defensively-Foster or Schaub/Johnson. Thanks
Patrick, thanks for following Tedy's chat and our Patriots blog here on ESPNBoston.com. If you have a chance, take a listen to this week's Patriots podcast with Tedy Bruschi. He lays it all out there like only Tedy can. This is a deceptive offense that takes shots off play-action. It's cliche, but I'd start with the running game and try to make them one-dimensional by taking that play-action element away from them.
I'm starting to get a little worried about the receiving core. How long until Gronk comes back. Will he at least get a game in before the playoffs?
Mike, my belief was six weeks for Gronkowski, but a lot of that depends on the player. Mike Vrabel came back in 2 weeks, if I recall. I personally wouldn't rush Gronkowski. It's just not worth it at this point. As for the receiving corps, let's not forget the Patriots have 5 TEs. Those guys catch passes to. I agree it's not ideal, but this offense still has a lot of firepower.
Mike, I view this game as a bit of a perfect storm. The offensive line is hurting and Brady has depleted offensive weapons. If there is one tried and true method to beating the Patriots it's getting Brady off his spot, disrupting passing lanes and forcing him to throw before he can get to his third and fourth reads. With no Gronk, Edelman and now Loyed disappearing, it?s going to be easy to clog the middle and shut down Welker and Hernandez. I think Miami proved last week that this is still possible and Houston with JJ Watt is a much better team than Miami. Could be a long day for Brady and the offense. The running game is the biggest variable.
Very tough defense to go against, Matt. I see some of the same challenges. At the same time, I'm not sure the Texans have seen an offense as potent as this one. Going to be a heavyweight battle. I'm buying Tedy Bruschi's belief that the hurry-up is a big part of the plan. In the end, this is what it's all about -- two excellent teams going at it.
With Cunningham and Jones out, why isn't Jake Bequette getting a shot? Is there anything you have seen in practice that would cause him to be inactive every week?
We saw Bequette last week in the Jermaine Cunningham interior sub rush role. He played 12 snaps and was part of that 12-men-on-the-field penalty. Still growing as a player.
Hey Mike, When I look at the Texans I see a potential opening for Owen Daniels to have a huge day. If Arian Foster swings out of the backfield I assume Mayo or Hightower would have to shadow him leaving the other LB to cover Daniels down the field. He is athletic enough and Hightower has not shown a great ability to cover TE's. Do you see this as a big concern?
Yes, Matt, this is one of the concerns. When you look at the Texans' offense, you have diverse weapons. Like the Patriots, they have a number of players who can beat you. Try to take away one, and it's not like they are stuck in neutral. Daniels isn't running as well as I remember him, but he's stil a factor. When you have 50 catches and 6 touchdowns, it's no fluke.
Hey Mike, I'm currently on my way to Boston, coming all the way from Europe to the Patriots game on Monday. What should I do/ see while I'm here? Are there enough Patriots-related activites to keep me occupied for a couple of days? Keep up the good work!
Adrien, safe travels. I'd certainly recommend a visit to the Patriots Hall of Fame, at Gillette Stadium, if you have time. And if you like to eat, and have some cash to burn, there are no shortage of good restaurants. I'd recommend the North End for some authetic Italian food. My favorite spot is Al Dente.
Should I start Brandon Llyod in Fantasy this week?
Bean, I think I'd avoid it if possible. I'm not sure who your other options are, but it looks like Johnathan Joseph is going to play and after watching Sean Smith have success against Lloyd on Sunday, I'd be gun-shy on that one.
Do we see Talib on Andre Johnson man to man or more zone?
Just a hunch, David, but I think Bill Belichick is going to be most concerned about the running game coupled with the deep shots off play-action. Thus, I'm thinking a lot will depend on how well that front seven can play the run in terms of what the Patriots dial up and how often. If I had to guess, a safety often rolled over the top to Andre Johnson's side will be something we see often. So whether it's Talib or Dennard on Johnson, they should know they have help.
Chandler Jones or JJ Watt?
Al, I think you have to go Watt. We're talking about the slam-dunk Defensive Player of the Year right now.
Mike, what can we read into the walk-through participation yestersday by Messr. Mankins, Connolly and Jones? Will they all be suiting up on Monday?
I would be careful reading too much into anything from a walkthrough, Mike. But I liked Jones' chances of playing in this one, regardless of what we saw at the walkthrough.
One thing I have noticed with Shaub (fantasy quarterback) is that if you get him rattled, he tends to have a hard time coming back from it. We need to stop the run game and make him throw the ball. I think we can handle Johnson.
I'd echo that thought, Kiel. I've always liked Schaub and this goes back to when he was coming out of Virginia as a third-round draft choice of the Falcons. I remember his big breakout game against the Patriots in 2005 when the Falcons manipulated the injury report with Michael Vick (wait, you're telling me other teams mess with the injury report too?) and had Schaub as a last-minute starter. He was impressive that day. Smart. Accurate. But admittedly, I haven't seen too much of him and I sensed Tedy Bruschi didn't exactly agree with me when I called him a Top 10 quarterback (on the back half of the top 10).
As great as he is, is Watt really a "slam-dunk Defensive Player of the Year" over Von Miller?
Maybe a little strong, Brian, but I'd say he's the choice right now.
Hey Mike, Been disappointed with Chung this year. That said, I would like to see him more in the base defense paired next to McCourty. I feel they complement each other well. Could the dropoff in run defense have anything to do with McCourtys move to safety and Chung's inability to get on the field?
Tron, on Chung, just 8 snaps last Sunday in Miami. He's really slipping out of the picture and you can feel the strain. The only reason I wouldn't rule him out from taking on a larger role is seeing safety Steve Gregory bite on play-action at times. I'm not saying Chung wouldn't do the same, but it's not as if the position is entirely solidified without Chung. I agree he'd be a better complement to McCourty, but that's if it's the version of Chung we've seen at times prior to this year, not the one from earlier this season. So it's a mixed bag. I don't think Chung's absence is the reason for the somewhat inconsistent run defense -- more front-7 issues from this view.
What's wrong with Gostowski? He's been missing field goals that most kickers would make.
Not his best year. Some of it is the snap-hold-kick operation. I thought he rebounded well on Sunday in Miami after badly missing from 49. That's one of the questions that lingers a bit with this team: How much do you trust Gostkowski with the game on the line?
Hi MikeGreat podcast this week! One can tell, as a former player, Teddy isn't the biggest fan of Kubiaks zone blocking schemes. No Patriots defenders ankles and or knees are going to be safe. Should we keep Chandler Jones safe on the sidelines for one more game?
Clark, I don't think you preserve a player with that in mind, but I will admit, hearing Tedy talk about that blocking scheme and player health did make me think about those d-linemen being in harm's way Monday night. I just think you have to play and let the chips fall where they may in this case.
Hey Mike! Has anyone asked Ridley for an explaination on his TD celebration? He outlines a box and kicks it. I'm just curious to hear what he is doing and how he come up with it. Thanks and keep up the great Patriot coverage!
Will have to ask him, Behn. That's a good one. A lot of Ridley questions today. Credit to the Patriots for selecting him in the third round last year. He's been a solid player for them, breaking through this year.
Like the Sox FA signings so far?
Hoss, wish I could speak with a more educated slant on the Red Sox. I will say I am rooting for Ben Cherington after spending some time with him last month at UMass-Amherst. Really smart guy. Was very nice to talk with as well.
Hi Mike, you mentioned that Stallworth can help and still has speed. That begs the question though, why couldn't he have helped any of the 31 other teams all year. Why was he still out there?
Stallworth had worked out for the Dolphins and Bills. The Bills told him to bring extra clothes because they intended to sign him, but then they ran into injuries that were unexpected and needed the roster spot elsewhere. So many factors go into player signings, but I see your point. I don't want to overstate what Stallworth could bring, but based on the emergency situation, I think it could have been much worse for the Patriots.
Hey Mike,What is your view on the Patriots vertical passing attack? It seems to be non-existent this year, absent a couple plays to Edelman. I'm worried that no defenses need to respect the deep part of the field anymore. And when Welker gets covered well, we are in deep trouble, especially with the loss of Edelman. Thoughts?
Not as good as it could/should be, Richie Rich (one of my favorites back in the day). Maybe Stallworth helps.
Mike whats up with your settings in the Reiss's PAT, looks like the back of a lockeroom hallway, is that all you can find??? Man-up find a new spot
We're pretty limited there, Mr. Concerned Fan. Because I'm a shorter guy, I'd hate to be standing next to some of these big guys and have people not concentrating on what we're talking about and instead looking at a very aawkward picture. So I need seats and that's really the only place we can set them up. Remember, we're in the players' office and we're visitors. Have to respect their space.
Mike,If it was upto you .. would you Play Vollmer Monday night ..??
Hey Mike, to most fans Lloyd is a disappointment. I'm wondering if you get the feeling the coaching staff thinks the same way or if this is more in line with their expectations going into the season where he wouldn't be targeted a whole lot but a solid blocker and able to work outside the numbers. As fans, we seem to overhype new additions to the team and fail to recognize what looks like a failure to us may acceptable and meeting expectations of the coaches and team. Just wondering if you had any insight into how the team feels about Lloyds play this year. Thank!
No, Eric, I don't sense any internal disappointment with Lloyd. I think the coaches see him as an important piece because he's helped balance out the passing attack a bit as an outside presence.
Mike....rewatching the Miami game, I concluded that Brady was off his game because of his concerns with the makeshift O line. He didn't trust his protection forcing him to throw early disrupting the timing element of the routes. Both his rhythm and mechanics seemed off. What did you see?
Right on the money, Irish Sean. And I still thought he played tough. But that game reminded me of a few from recent years where they don't have the running game going, it all falls on Brady, and he defaults a bit to his security blanket (Welker) and the passing game doesn't flow like it usually does. The o-line and protection was a part of that, no doubt.
With all the great work he has done, especially this year, do you see Dante Scarnecchia moving up the ranks and maybe to a bigger job somewhere else or is the o-line just his thing?
Scarnecchia has said he's happy with his job and feels fortunate to have done it in New England for as long as he has. That's rare for a coach.
I think people are a little too tough on Lloyd and his production. 50 catches for 561 yards and 3 TDs are not bad numbers for his role on the team. The Pats have so many weapons and a revived rushing attack. He is no Randy Moss and cant be expected to put up 100 catches for over 1,000 yards on an offense as stacked as the Patriots. I think he has been good for us as a weapon for Brady outside the numbers. He has a role and does it well most of the time in my opinion. Your thoughts?
Concur. Looks like a case where expectations were initially set a little high. Could finish with 65 catches. That's a good season in this offense, with these weapons.
Hi Mike. Firstly I'm gutted for Julian Edelman. He was really starting to make his mark and it's a shame he is on IR. Moving forward, with Donte Stallworth already back in the ranks, what are the chances (injuries allowing) that Deion Branch and/or Jabbar Gaffney could join the reunion in the next few weeks. Even with the plethora of tight ends, the roster still looks a bit bare at the wide receiver position. If they don't come back, could you see a situation where Shane Vereen or Danny Woodhead could be split out wide as receivers more often?
Damian, this is a good thought. We've seen the Patriots run some 2 RB packages this season.
Will Chandler Jones being out a prolonged period do you think this affects his chances of defensive ROY?
I do, Virgil. I now see him on the outside looking in. That's basically three games he's missed.
Mike, I understand 3rd string QB talk is usually saved for the preseason. Early in the year I assumed part of the reason Bill felt comfortable going with 2 QB's on the entire roster, including the PS, was Hoyer was a free agent and would seemingly have been the first option had something happened to Brady or Mallet while Edelman was the de facto 3rd stringer on the roster. With both options not available (for different reasons) wouldn't it make sense to at least sign a guy to the PS to start learning the system, if not a veteran to the 53. Seems as though we are leaving ourselves a bit vulnerable.
Steve, that would be ideal if you could find the guy. That position, in particular, is a challenge to find. But the point is a good one, as the Texans are a good example -- they have Matt Schaub and TJ Yates on the 53-man roster and then Case Keenum on the practice squad.
Hey Mike...about Lloyd, other writers seem to be questioning his guts to play against physical secondaries...have you seen any hint of that?
No. Tough player. Yes, he falls down to avoid contact after the catch, but there is an element to preserving one's body and being smart. I don't see it as an issue. I'd file that one in the same category as some of the disappointing attacks on CBs coach Josh Boyer earlier this year (where have those gone, by the way?). Sometimes I guess we just need something to complain about.
My concern is that they bracket cover Welker, double Hernandez and all of a sudden we need to rely on Stallworth, Woodhead, and Lloyd. That's not good. Our running game isn't great vs. good run defenses... took us all the way until the 4th quarter to get going vs. Miami. If we only have 10 yards rushing at half vs. Houston, we may already be down like 21-10
Fair concern, Keith. Reminds me of 2009 and the NFL Films/Bill Belichick piece when Belichick was talking to his coaching staff about the same stuff with Moss/Welker. The weapons are thinned. I think the hurry-up could be the X-factor. Sets pace and tempo.
Mike, Will Tom play on Monday night if his child is being born at the same time?
Dave, I don't know this for sure, but my guess would be yes.
why dont my questions ever get answered?
Apologies to you, Stuart, and to everyone else. There are more than 300 questions and it's impossible to get to them all. I try to pick a variety and there is also an element of keeping the pace up so the chat moves along. Thanks for the understanding.
The Pats need to get some props for Dennard. What a steal in the 7th round! Do you think his future is as bright as it appears?
Jeff, that looks like a good pick for them. The arrow is pointing up there, but in the words of one former Patriots coach, "let's not put him in Canton just yet."
Good day Mike. I was a bit surprised with the receiving group that the Patriots had on their opening day roster. My question is a simple one...Do you see anything in Stallworth that you don't see in Edelman?
Little more length would be the main thing. But Edelman an overall more complete and more explosive player.
It was a tough break for for the Pats to lose Greg Salas to the Eagles but I think it was a worse break for Salas. He has to be thinking what could have been if he were sliding into Edelman's role right now instead of down in that zoo
Greg Salas, we love you here at ESPNBoston.com (someone even predicted you for 61 catches this season -- LOL). Seriously, though, I would concur it's a tough break for Salas.
Thanks Mike. I am happy you look past my 30th ranked pass D year in and year out. You'll get your Christmas card shortly.
Josh, let's not miss the point. You coach cornerbacks. You don't oversee the entire defense. You're not perfect, but it was always more about the talent than any coaching. Unfortunately, that's part of the way things are these days -- everyone needs a scapegoat, and then when the issue is no longer an issue, we move on to the next one without any regard for the bomb that was dropped. So it goes.
Mike, earlier you said that welker/hernandez would return punts? why risk these 2 when the receiving corps are thin as is? Has Stallworth returned punts in the past?
Mark, I think the first thought on the punts is the importance of actually fielding them. It gets tougher at this time of year, and I'd want some of my most experienced players doing it.
Let's go for another 5 here...
Mike, who is the one team you'd have most concern about playing at this point? I'm sure the pats D line can shut down Arian Foster, and the 49ers QB inconsistency is showing. I wouldn't want Denver in the playoffs. Manning is back to normal and working with a great defense.
Tibbs, I'd go with the Broncos, but with the context that I think the Patriots can beat anyone.
Why not Vereen for returning punts ... ?
To me, I think the idea of an experienced hand back there is more important at this time.
Big Vince can always field punts.
LOL. Why didn't I think of that.
Mike, you reported that Vereen was voted the Practice Player of the week for his work simulating Reggie Bush. Is their a correlation between the time spent simulating Bush and his lack of playing time in the game itself. In other words, Belichick felt Vereen was more valuable in practice than on the field?
Hilly, I think there is an element of that. It makes sense to think the more time you spend on the scout team, the less time you're actually involved in that week's game-plan.
Sure is nice to play a quality opponent for a change. The rest of the AFC East is pitiful. Which segways nicely to my question...can the Patriots really be ready to subdue a multipronged offense like Houston having only had to combat one trick pony offenses like Miami and the Jets? And face it, if Miami executed just a little better, the Patriots were going to be in trouble.
I think so, Richard. We could make a similar case with the Texans, who play in the not-so-rough-and-tumble AFC South.
@Behn, I interpret Ridley's TD celebration as drawing a door and kicking it down.
Yes, Doug, I think the interest was in having him explain why he's doing it.
Jeff Demps... do we know his status? Coming back soon? Punt returns?
Next year, Andre. He is on injured reserve and ineligible to return in 2012.
Hey Mike what about me? I got the guys off from meetings in preseason for my punt returns...
Another good one.
Hi Mike: 1st question of the day - getting excited for the upcoming match-up - who will have more sacks Monday - JJ Watt or Chandler 'not bones' Jones?
Good matchup with Jones vs. LT Duane Brown. I'd lean toward Watt as having more sacks than Jones.
Isn't the blocking scheme by Houston what Denver always did? I remember d linemen hating them, calling them dirty and lots of injuries
Yes, Dan, and that creates an additional challenge this week.
Was the signing of Stallworth over Branch and indication of Branch's health or his production?
More health, as I understand it, Rick. Branch still has a locker set up at Gillette Stadium, right next to Tom Brady's.
Mike,I was reading through this and am shocked no one has mentioned similarities to the Texans - Packers matchup earlier this season. The Packers high powered O thrashed the Texans, couldn't you see Brady and Co. delivering a performance like that? For some reason, I am just thinking this game will be a Pats blowout...
There were some mentions, Rob, I just couldn't get to those questions. Another factor is that this is the Texans' third straight road game, which is a tough spot. I don't see a blowout. I expected a close one. Wouldn't be the first time I'm wrong.
Mike, you're the 49ers coach. Smith or Kaepernick? Who gives the best chance on the road in Gillette next week? With their great defense, their QB play could be the difference.
I think you have to stick with Kaepernick now. I think he makes them more dangerous because of his ability to beat you with his arm and legs. More upside.
How come they never use Slater as WR?
Krish, I think Slater is limited in that area. He's also so valuable on special teams that you don't want to lose him there.
Hi Mike. Would you rather re-sign Welker or use that money to try and get a couple of above average younger WR's such as Amendola and Hartline.
I'd go Welker.
Hey Mike, I'll be at Gillette Monday night, my father's had season tickets since 1977, so I'm no stranger. I've recently tried to think of the teams I haven't seen in person, the Texans are one of them (checked the Cowboys off my list last year). Looking back to my first game (1993 preseason game against Montana's Chiefs) I was wondering. When did you attend your first Patriot's game?
Tim, it was 1992, vs. the Colts. I was one of 19,429 in attendance that day because they couldn't give the tickets away. The Patriots lost 6-0. My how times have changed.
Let's end on that note. Thanks to everyone for another lively chat. We'll do it again next week.