Good afternoon and welcome to today's chat.
Been a busy couple of days around Gillette Stadium. Lot of excitement surrounding the AFC Championship Game. We've had 10 news conferences over the last 2 days and an open locker room access period. From a media perspective, if you can't generate/find stories on a week like this, it probably will never happen. Lots to talk about. I focused on Aqib Talib in a story today. Feel like his impact has been big.
Just a quick programming note. If there is a long delay in the chat, just know I've been knocked off our system here at ESPN which allows me to access the chat. It's been happening a little bit lately. Will make up any lost time at the end of the chat. The plan will be to go until 1 p.m.
What is on your mind?
Hi MikeI expect this to be a quite physical game testing positioning and execution, durability and toughness Will the Patriots be able to match and sustain a Raven like physicality especially with their receivers? Containing and wearing the Ravens down is essential to game control and winning.
Good question, Jake, because I do think physicality will be on display Sunday. I like the matchup of the Patriots' pass-catchers against the Ravens' coverage players, but that doesn't mean it will be easy. It's just that if the Patriots' group plays up to its potential, I feel like they should be able to move the ball and score points.
Hi Mike, Suggs, Lewis, Reed, Nagata are all terrific defenders for the Ravens but the one guy that makes me nervous is Bernard Pollard. How can the Patriots make him ineffective? I'm worried he may get an interception or worse injury another Patriot. Do you see Pollard having a big impact on the Ravens D on Sunday night? Thanks Mike
Har, he always seems to show up -- one way or another -- in these games against the Patriots. I don't think he's a top-tier safety and I think his aggressiveness can be exploited. As for the injury stuff, I think it's more a coincidence than anything, but bad things do seem to happen for the Patriots when Pollard is on the field.
Mike, when KC and Pioli hired Brian Daboll, you mentioned that coach BB might have known the move beforehand. Now that Daboll is with the Patriots, what is going on here? Do we get Pioli as well :)?
Mark, I think the point I was making when Daboll was hired as OC by the Chiefs this year was that Pioli wouldn't have done that if he thought Daboll had hurt the Patriots back in 2006 when he left the organization, or had anything to do with the videotaping stuff that the Jets brought up. And if Pioli thought there was anything close to that, my feeling is that he would have addressed it with Bill Belichick out of respect for him. As for Pioli coming back, it's always possible, depending on how the organization wants to structure things. I think Nick Caserio is excellent on the personnel side. Tremendous work ethic and knowledge of personnel from my viewpoint. So I don't think you bump him out unless he wanted to return to coach (he's good there, too).
Love the blog. It must be great being so close to the Patriots, but do you ever wish you could drink a beer and watch a game as a fan instead of recording snap counts, writing observations, and so on?
Brian, it's interesting you say that because for the first time in about 7 years, I visited a tailgating lot before Sunday's game. It reminded me how much I miss that aspect of things. I do watch other games as a fan, so I get my fix that way. If it's not the Patriots, I'm not charting snaps etc.
P.S. -- Some good heckling in the tailgate lot. And always a given to be mistaken for Chris Gasper at least once.
Gm mike its a beautiful morning to be a patriot I live for these times of the year.I wanted you're thoughts on the offense having a advantage without gronk due to it opening other options that ppl haven't seen and I believe Will not be ready to defend.
Hi Angel. I don't see it that way. Without Gronkowski, it makes life easier for Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees. All that attention he could focus on Gronkowski can now go to Welker. That's a point that Tedy Bruschi made on our weekly podcast.
I've been studying game tape and Patriot scouting reports, and would like your thoughts on Patriot draft picks this year? I know they will trade thier 1st pick and move back into the second round, Dallas ? Bears? Tampa? to get a 2nd,4th,and a 4th next year, most likely.
Russell, you're a little bit ahead of me right now on the draft. I am not up to speed at this point because I am fully invested in the games still being played. But I do envision a scenario where the Patriots are moving back and accumulating picks. They enter with few picks and early indications is that perhaps this draft might be a little light overall on talent. A few areas I could see them addressing: interior DL, WR, DB, OT.
Mike, Happy Championship week! I was wondering how you think we will approach Torrey Smith. Do we put Talib on him with Safety help? Also do you think Dennard is big and/or physical enough to play Boldin?
T.J., Dennard vs. Boldin is a little bit of a concern to me from that size perspective. Dennard will have to make up for it with technique. If I had to guess, I think they'll keep Talib on the defensive left side. That's where Flacco generally likes to throw the deep ball -- he favors shots to his right (credit: Tedy Bruschi and his relentless film study).
Hi Mike,It's funny, I wish I was more upset about Gronk getting hurt. I think early injuries to this team have made them find different ways to score. Instead of forcing the ball to Gronk and Wes, the Pats now have a myriad of weapons to choose from. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to have a healthy Gronk on the field but in a way, this makes the team a little more unpredictable. Your thoughts?
Ranger, I'm an optimistic type. I usually see the glass as half full. But on this one, I can't go to that level. Losing Gronkowski hurts. I think they can overcome it (4-1 in regular season), but I can't spin it in any direction that turns it into a positive.
with the majority of the sports media going gaga over the "new", young, run and gun style quarterbacks, it seems to me that they either ignore or take probably the greatest qb ever for granted or just ignore him altogether.
I'll tell you what I think it is, farmer. I do think the media respects Brady and his greatness, but it's the same story they remember from 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2011 etc... We like the fresh story, the new thing. Then we move on to the next thing. And the next thing. To me, what makes Brady great is the consistency of high-level performance. I do believe it is appreciated, but it's just not as fresh as some of these new stars.
President Reiss, A lot of people are talking about how bad Brady played in this game. i know it was with help but we still won. I can't help but think there is no way Brady has an off day like that again, and I am not sure the Ravens can score 30 to beat us. What do you think?
I like that I've been elected president. Thank you. Maybe I've been listening to too much Bill Belichick, but I really don't believe last year's AFC title game has anything to do with this one in terms of Brady's performance. Does that cost me the presidency?
Mike, any initial reaction to this Te'o story? Seems very strange. This has gotta hurt his draft status, right?
Alex, I was more interested in it from a media perspective given the field I work in -- the idea that Deadspin reported it, how other mainstream outlets reacted, and what I could learn from it from a reporting standpoint. I have great respect for Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated, who I believe wrote a story on him previously. In terms of the story, and Notre Dame's response, I don't really understand the whole thing, to be honest. I'm pretty stretched thin right now -- fully invested on Patriots and with two young kids at home, any extra time I have is with them. Sort of a lame answer, but I know it's a big story and that's basically my viewpoint right now.
Am I ok Mike? Will we see a full dose of CJ on the end?
I have my doubts, Chandler. Hope you have a speedy recovery. I expect you to be listed as limited throughout the week.
Torrey Smith and Boldin are making me nervous. For the Houston game, I was confident if they took away Andre Johnson, Schaub wouldn't have many other options. I've really liked the stability Talib has brought to the secondary so would it make sense to put him on Boldin and double Torrey with a high safety to make sure he doesn't make huge plays like last week?
Seminole, they were also hurt by Jacoby Jones on Sept. 23, so we can't overlook him either. Earlier in the chat, I mentioned the idea that Talib might stay on one side based on tendencies of Flacco and the deep ball. I'm just taking a guess. Your scenario is plausible as well. That's what I like about these chats -- we look at it from all angles and discuss it at a high level.
Do you think the Patriots may consider drafting a TE in the early rounds this year? Both Hernandez and Gronk have been banged up the last few years, and although Hoo-man has played well, there's an obvious drop off. Drafting a TE (like Ertz from Stanford or Eifert from Notre Dame) might cover them a bit better if/when they get hurt in the future. Or do you see Jake Ballard as filling that 3rd TE spot?
One thing you can say about Bill Belichick, Clay, is that he loves that TE position. So I would never rule it out, but they do have a lot of depth there -- Hoomanawanui is a restricted free agent, Ballard is back, Fells is under contract (could be released due to a higher salary). I don't view it as a top need, but we know the draft isn't always about need.
Hi Mike - Thought I'd start with an obvious one. What's the rationale for not putting Gronk on IR yet? They can't *really* think he'll be back, right?
Brian, I think he'll end up there. The main reason not to put him on IR now is if the team has decided it: 1) Doesn't need the roster spot; 2) Has a practice squad promotion in mind but doesn't want to let the Ravens who it is from a preparation standpoint, so they will wait until the last moment to announce it. I wouldn't read too much into this. Gronk won't play again this postseason.
Hi mike, thanks for another great season of patriots insight and you have the best job in the world, so envy. Have you seen Brian daboll in practice this week? If so, what has he been doing?
Danny, I haven't seen him, but if I know Daboll, he'd be bringing a high-energy approach to whatever he is working on. I think he is just another set of eyes for Josh McDaniels. Similar to how McDaniels worked with Bill O'Brien last year, I think Daboll would be working with McDaniels this year.
Mike, couple questions on the linebackers. At the beginning of the season I thought a Spikes-Mayo-Hightower combo would one of the better linebacker corps in the league. All 3 have shown flashes, with Mayo being most consistent, but also have struggled, mainly in coverage. Have they lived up to your expectations so far and do you see one of them that can take their game to a higher level?
Mr. Lucky, I give Hightower a little bit of a pass for some ups and downs because it's his rookie season and what rookie really sustains at a high level from game to 17? Overall, I see potential with him as a three-down player and that upside is promising. Spikes, to me, took another step forward in coverage this season but it's still not at a top level. Mayo -- another level of play this year. Seems like it really came together for him IMO.
Mike,From watching the Texans game again, I noticed the Pats played Talib and Dennard in man coverage quite a bit. Torrey Smith is a different kind of receiver than Andre Johnson and can get downfield in a hurry. After what the Flacco did against Champ Bailey and the Broncos D, wouldn't it make more sense to see more 2-deep zone coverage, with Mccourty playing on Talib's side?
Sam, real good thoughts here, and the trickle-down effect is that you need those players in the front seven to hold up without safety help in the box. Ravens have a big, physical OL. We're really getting into the chess match here. Respect.
Given Flacco's reputation for having a "big arm" and his success with long downfield passes, is it safe to assume that Pats back-up QB Ryan Mallett, who is said to possess similar arm strength, has been inordinately busy this week prepping the Pats D-Backs?
Don, I think I saw Mallett getting his right arm iced down yesterday after practice. Of all the QBs in the NFL, I'd say Flacco is probably the easiest for him to play as a scout-team QB. They are similar, both in terms of physical measureables and arm strength.
Hi Mike: At the conclusion of the last few seasons, most of us have said that they need a running game, a WR to extend the field, better pass coverage and a pass rush. Will our non-existent pass rush doom us?
Paul, can we agree that the running game has been better? Think they will look at WR again this offseason. Pass coverage has improved but inconsietent. I'd put the pass rush in the same category. I'm going to pass along a link from National Football Post on a good example of how the Patriots do get pressure, and I'd be curious your thoughts. One minute here...
Mike, where is the tweet up in Denver on Saturday?
LOL, Jesse. That's why we go "one game at a time." I'm not complaining on this one. An extra weekend at home, at this time of year, is a gift.
I thought you were harsh and unPat like to say that Manning was at fault for Denver's loss. Bill wouldn't say that about him. Why did you?
Craig, I didn't think I was too harsh there. I did think his INT was the type of mistake you can't make. But if not for safety Rahim Moore's major miscue -- the most critical mistake -- none of this Manning talk would be percolating. If I had to make a list of those to target for the reasons the Broncos lost, it would start with Moore, then cover Manning and coach John Fox's conservative approach.
Why doesn't former Patriots coach Chuck Fairbanks get any recognition as an innovator in the NFL?
I think he does. Going to pass along another link from National Football Post on this. One minute.
Check this out -- how Fairbanks' personnel system still lives in the NFL, with a Bill Belichick twist. http://www.nationalfootballpost.com/NFP-Sunday-Blitz-2131.html
How much of an effect do you think playing such a long overtime game last week against Bronco have on the Ravens. They have the oldest defense in the leagues, if I'm the Pats I run hurry up offense at the start.
Butch, some of our astute chatters have made the connection to the 2006 Patriots team that won in San Diego and then ran out of gas against Indy. I mentioned it to Tedy Bruschi and his response was two-fold: 1) Something to keep an eye on, but he'd be surprised if it was a factor; 2) Don't ever bring up that game again!
I know pressure from outside and inside will get you the sacks but I think that the priority is that we get a good push inside so we can get Flacco on the move and that decreases his accuracy. Kind of similar to last year. Thoughts?
So smart, Jonny. Moving Flacco "off the spot" a key. Sometimes it might not result in a sack, but get his feet moving and that can be as effective.
I think for the first time against the Ravens that the Patriots will beat them easily because I feel that the Ravens defense is over rated and weak against the run which should make the passing game easier, am i alone in this thinking or will Brady continue to have trouble as he has in the past against the Ravens?
Mark, I lean toward a closer game, but I pause when looking at the betting line of 9.5 points. Usually those folks in Vegas are pretty smart. I do think getting the running game going is the initial key. Patriots did not run it well against the Ravens on Sept. 23. If they run it like they did then, it could be a longer than anticipated day.
Hey Mike, You know why I don't think it's a shoo in the Patriots win this weekend? I sometimes get the feeling the Ravens are the 'Giants Lite.' They have a defense that gives Brady fits, regardless of either teams prior success/failures. They have a QB that is average (see career passer ratings) during the regular season, but are great in the playoffs that rely to a large degree on the deep ball/hail eli/PI calls. Most importantly, they have teams that aren't the least bit scared of the Patriots and shouldn't fall victim to the Patriots Mystique (now that Billy Cundiff is gone). The only reason the Ravens are the 'diet' version of the Giants is that their receivers don't have Velcro taped to their helmets/hands (I'm looking at you Lee Evans). Sorry for the rant, I'm just sick of hearing my fellow Patriots fans calling into radio stations saying this game will be a blowout/they can't 'imagine' how the Pats can lose. It's football isnt it? Any given Sunday.
And here's our other perspective. There are few games I predict a blowout (e.g. Colts game this year) and this wouldn't be one of them.
Mike, Joe Flacco is playing with a lot of confidence. He is not afraid to test a D deep and has receivers who will fight for a jump ball. I think it is crucial to put some doubt in Flacco's head early. Look for McCourty to bait Joe into testing him deep and come down with an interception.
Mike, McCourty held a news conference today and he discussedthe mentality that the dbacks have to play with. Check it out. http://espn.go.com/blog/boston/new-england-patriots/post/_/id/4738711/mccourty-deep-thoughts-vs-ravens
I also posted this question in your mailbag, I havn't been successful getting my questions answered, so here goes. I've noticed recently, past 3 years or so, that when the patriots convert at least 1 or 2 first downs on a drive they more often then not put points on the board. It seems the majority of their punts come from 3 and outs. Thoughts? Any statistics to back that observation?
Matt, I don't have the statistics on hand right now, but I do believe it ties in to what Tom Brady spoke about Monday on sports radio WEEI. I was interested to hear him talk about how the Patriots are so much better when they can settle into a drive with a few first downs and how that opens up their up-tempo approach. They sort of spring it on opponents suddenly. It's part of its effectiveness. Here is a link to the audio if you're interested: http://www.patriots.com/media-center/audio/Brady-on-WEEI-Were-going-to-ignore-the-noise/7f348893-c3db-45b2-811f-38dac43ebd06
And a quick aside: I thought the comments of Ravens LB Brendon Ayanbadejo about it being a gimmick offense really reflected a lack of understanding, which was surprising to me given his veteran status.
I hear people say 'Why don't more teams run that type of up-tempo approach?' Here's why: It's hard to execute and have all 11 players on the same page that quickly. It takes tremendous discipline and focus, and must be practiced regularly. If it was that easy, everyone would do. That's no gimmick.
Mike - I keep hearing about Torrey Smith and how Talib needs to shut him down - My opinion is Anquan Boldin is the receiver Talib needs to cover and contain - Smith is a "run deep sideline and we'll chuck it up" receiver. I think Boldin will keep more drives alive.So my question - who would you match up on the Ravens WR and why?
Vinny, this has been a great discussion on the coverage aspects of this game. I'm going to stick with my original thought of playing sides, and not matching personnel in this game.
Any chance at all that Gronk's roster spot goes to Gaffney?
Frank, if it was going to happen, I think it would have happened already.
Mike so much talk about Boldin, Smith, and Jones... are we sleeping on Ray Rice?
Had the same thought, T. Here's one for you on Rice. The Ravens have one of the biggest offensive lines in the game, and Rice is 5-foot-8. This is similar to a Maurice Jones-Drew type game. Identifying/finding Rice beyond those big bodies is a big key for defenders this week.
What do you think John Harbaugh saw in Dean Pees to make him defensive coordinator after leaving New England?
Marty, Pees had coached Harbaugh at Miami of Ohio in 1983. Pees was the defensive coordinator, and Harbaugh was a defensive back. So it started with that connection. A lot of coaching is connections/history. Pees started as LBs coach and eventually was elevated to coordinator there. Glad you brought it up because Pees' history and knowledge of the Patriots' defense is a worthy storyline IMO.
Hey Mike, if the Patriots win this one and advance on to the Super Bowl, which team do you think they match up better with? We've already seen them play the 49'ers, but how would they match up on D against Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez?
I'd say the Falcons, Nathaniel. That said, it would help the Patriots to have already faced the 49ers. They are the type of team that is tough to face if you haven't experienced their style of play before.
Mike if Rob Gronkowski wasn't 100% Percent Healthy after Breaking his Forearm on November 18th then why was he on the Field this past weekend and do you think the Rob Gronkowski Era in New England is Over?
Anthony, that's a fair question. Some say it was just a bad break. Others say he never should have been out there. I don't have enough information to feel comfortable saying one or the other. I don't think team doctors would willingly pur Gronkowski at risk, but as we know, mistakes do happen. The thing that stands out to me is how Gronkowski never looked comfortable.
Its time to hit the pause button and salute the Patriots achievements. Three years ago, the Ravens thoroughly dismantled the Patriots and during the "rebuilding phase", the Pats went 14-2, 13-3, 12-4 with most key players signed and under the cap. Remarkable
Fair, Lisa. At the same time, the bar has been raised so high here it's almost as if there is no ring, it isn't a success. But how can anyone look at that and not tip the cap?
How much of an impact will the Chandler Jones injury have on the Pats Defense?
Would move Ninkovich to RDE against McKinnie and open up the LDE spot to either Cunningham/Francis/Scott. Significant.
Is this going to be Wes Welker's last game in Foxboro as as a member of the ?Patriots
No, Tom, I don't think it will be.
Let's go for another 5...
Hi Mike,With all due respect to all sports media, but could people stop saying that Lee Evans dropped the touchdown! It was a heads up play from Moore and people forget the pass break up he had the next snap (I believe it was 3rd and 1, and it was a TE). I think people are not giving credit to the team for that win and that is unfair!
Matt, good story here from SI on the play. Check it out. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/nfl/news/20130116/nfl-playoffs-ravens-patriots-sterling-moore/
Is Mrs. Reiss cheering for the Ravens so you'll no longer be on the road and go back to man coverage with the little ones?
Samantha, she was cheering for the Ravens last week. But she's pulling for the Patriots this week. In this job, I'd go to the Super Bowl regardless.
If the patriots win the SB do you think they let Welker walk?
Are you really flying on Delta with WiFi? It's one of the reasons I like flying them too. I wouldn't count them out, but I do see Welker back next year.
Mike, why do you think that the line on the game is -9.5 pts?
Steve, I don't understand that stuff, but I am often amazed at how accurate those often are. It probably reflects the public perception that the Patriots are at home and have some matchup advantages.
Can we give Dante Scarnecchia some love for the work he does with the offense line and tight ends and keeping Brady upright? Its easy to point everything else out, but the offense line has excelled in the hurry up offense as well as establishing a top notch running game.
Jason, Scranecchia is a great coach. He deserves all the credit he gets. But I've dialed it back this year in terms of going overboard on over-crediting/under-crediting coaches. The reason why was the focus on defensive backs Josh Boyer earlier in the year, which I felt was over the top and unfair. That has obviously subsided, and I think the reason why is that the secondary became more talented with the acquisition of Talib, emergence of Dennard and steadiness of McCourty at safety. Good players make coaches look smart. And there is obviously an element of coaching up players that we shouldn't overlook. But can we now agree that the focus on Boyer earlier this year was preposterous?
Do you think Belichcik has confidence in Gostowski in a big spot?
I don't think it's Vinatieri-level confidence but anything inside 40, I don't think he hesitates to put him out there.
Let's not forget that half our team had the flu in the Indy 2006 AFC Championship. More than just fatigue.
Mike, it seems the Ravens are being given respect only after beating the Broncos (nobody thought they'd have a chance) but isn't it possible that the Broncos, as many (including me) suspected, were overrated, and beating them should not raise the Ravens' stock as much as it seems to have?
Sure, Michael. It was noted that the Broncos didn't exactly play an iron-tough schedule at the end of the year when they ripped off all those wins. To me, the bottom line on the Ravens is that they are a phyiscally and mentally tough team. You have to knock them out to beat them. It's probably their most admirable trait. Similar to the Patriots. I think the Patriots will knock them out.
Hi Mike,The reason the line is at 9.5 is because the Patriots are known as a "public team" which means that people like to bet on them more than other teams (likely because of their high level of success). So while Vegas might think they're 7 point favorites, the line gets put at 9.5 to encourage people to bet on the other side as well. It's how Vegas casinos try to avoid too much risk. If the line was lower, there would be almost no bets on the Ravens.
Hi Mike, I was hoping to get your take on C Ryan Wendell and his last week against the Texans. Please excuse my football ignorance, but on the CBS broadcast, Brady and Wendell could easily be heard communicating back and forth in audibles before the snap. Is this just something that happened to be picked up on mics that is common practice for all Centers/QBs?
Yes, Pat, we hear that from others as well. But the Patriots probably have as many checks and verbiage at the line of scrimmage of any team because of how Brady reads the defense pre-snap and gets the offense in the best possible play against what he sees. Not all offenses are structured that way.
What do you think of two running backs in the backfield? With Gronk out the Patriots are going to need to mobilize EVERY INCH of talent they have in their arsenal. I'm talking Ridley two catches. Vereen 5. Woodhead 7. Ten carries each. Hernandez a few rushes. Etc. This is a daunting task Mike. Cue creativity. You in?
They've run it at times this year, John, and some teams refer to that as "pony" personnel (credit: F. Yates, ESPNBoston.com). Mixed results. But RBs in the passing game came up big last week and as we broke down the game this week on ESPNBoston.com with Tedy Bruschi that was an area he sees as big -- for both teams.
I'll admit I was one of those who blamed Josh Boyer for our secondary's ills. But can you really blame us the fans here? Look at just what happened in Denver. The secondary coach got canned. Did he coach Moore to not stay behind the receiver? When even coaches get trigger happy, the fans deserve some slack? :)
Of course, Max. I think the thing that bothered me was that it started to get personal. I turned on the television one night and a sports show was questioning his credentials based on where he had coached in the past. It just bothers me when things spiral out of control like that, and a person's reputation is sullied. Then what happens is that the problem gets fixed and we move on to the next issue without any regard for cleaning up the mess. I don't think that's right.
Hey Mike, Bart Scott was on Inside The NFL last night and with obvious biased to it mentioned that the Patriots were a soft football team. For any team to make it this far I don't think they are soft. His argument was that they got beat by really physical defenses. Seattle, San Francisco, Baltimore and Arizona. Is there any truth to this?
Let's end on this one, Jason. Last I checked, the Patriots blasted Scott's Jets in two games this season. They didn't look too soft to me in those games. I think they are a physical team. Watch that offensive line last week and it was pretty physical.
Prediction : ??????
One more. Patriots 27, Ravens 24.
Enjoy the game and thanks for chatting. Fun as always.