Print and Go Back ESPN: SportsNation

January 9, 11:00 AM ET
Chat with Mike Reiss

ESPNBoston.com
  (10:42 AM)

Welcome everyone! Want to give you a heads up that we'll be starting a little after 11 a.m. Apologies for the delay.

Mike
  (11:02 AM)

Good morning from Gillette Stadium. Just getting settled and will get started in a few...

Mike
  (11:12 AM)

We got off to a little bit of a later start today, so the plan will be to chat until about 12:15. Thanks for the patience. Had a few things to square away here at the stadium.

Mike
  (11:13 AM)

The Patriots are currently practicing on the game field. No Aaron Dobson once again, so not expecting him to play in this game. This looks like a situation where the Patriots are holding out hope he could be ready if they advance further into the playoffs.

Mike
  (11:13 AM)

What's on your mind today?

Mike (Williamsport, Pa) [via mobile]

What do you see new england trying now that they lost Spikes as well?

Mike
  (11:15 AM)

Mike, specifically to the Colts' game, I think the loss of Spikes will be felt more from an emotional/spark standpoint than actually on the field. He probably wouldn't play as much in this game anyway, as the game figures to mostly be played in sub defense. Time for top draft pick Jamie Collins and 4-year veteran Dane Fletcher to do a bit more. They are capable, but have a signifiantly different skill-set than Spikes. They run better but don't play as physical from a downhill perspective.

Matthew (Toronto)

I think the Pats lucked out with Colts matchup this week. Playing a strong running offense would be tough this week with minimal time to prepare without Spikes, as well as Vince, Mayo, Kelly obviously are out. Though, I think we can beat the Colts because their D stinks, playing SD or DEN will be tough because of their running and intermediate routes. Not to mention CAR/SEA/SF all have great running games. Already a weakness for Pats D, before Spikes was placed on IR. What do you think?

Mike
  (11:16 AM)

Fair analysis to me, Matthew, although I wouldn't sleep on the Colts. With QB Andrew Luck and DE Robert Mathis they have two players who can control a game/disrupt a game. Have to view them with respect and consider the possibility they could come in here and win the game. Very little has come easy to the Patriots this season and this probably won't be any different.

Dave (Charlotte)

Why do you think the Colts signed Branch? He hasn't played in such a long time and do you really think he gets on the field?

Mike
  (11:18 AM)

Dave, they had an injury situation with Darrius Heyward-Bey and needed a fifth receiver. Why not sign one who could also give you a good practice look at the type of routes the Patriots run? I wouldn't expect a big on-field impact from Branch.

Scott (Monroe, CT)

Mike, do you see the Pats using Talib as a shutdown corner against TY Hilton all game like they did earlier this year vs V. Jackson, J. Graham, etc, it seems they have not done that since his hip injury?

Mike
  (11:21 AM)

Scott, I'd be mildly surprised if it's exclusively Talib on Hilton. The reason why is that it's not like the Colts' offense doesn't function well when Hilton is taken out of it. The other guys make plays too and the Colts have what Tedy Bruschi described as "total pass-route distribution" -- which really showed up to me when I watched their Dec. 8 game against the Bengals. Hilton was hardly a factor and you still see guys making plays because Luck not only has shown the willingness to get them the ball, he can physically and mentally make it happen.

Mike
  (11:21 AM)

So while I could see specific matchup situations with Hilton, who moves all over the formation, I'm not sure it will be the same thing as we saw from Weeks 3-6 vs. VJax, Jimmy Graham etc.

Mikey (Gainsville)

This might have been asked but why do you think the Patriots went with Collie over Branch?? Brady has good chemistry with Branch...

Mike
  (11:23 AM)

Mikey, Collie offers more from a skills perspective at this time. Runs better and gains more separation (e.g. Oct. 13 game vs. Saints).

Scott (Monroe, CT)

Mike, weather forecast looks identical to the Bills game, 100% chance of heavy rain and 38-40 degrees, which was miserable to sit through, do you see that favoring the Pats with the running game led by Blount, Ridley, etc?

Mike
  (11:26 AM)

Scott, after the way we saw Blount run the ball in that rain, it's hard to say the edge would go to the Colts. If this is indeed the forecast, it highlights the importance of ball security. Both of these teams were among the league leaders in turnover differential (Colts 3rd in the NFL at plus-13 and the Patriots 8th in the NFL at plus-9) and the elements could challenge them in that area. They are also the two least penalized teams in the NFL. So two teams that generally don't lose games -- and force you to beat them. Add in the potential wet weather and we'll see who comes up aces in this crucial area.

Charlie (Greenville, SC)

Mike, love your work.. Keep it up! I am hoping to see them play the same type of physical game they did against the Ravens the rest of the way. Pound the ball with Blount, Ridley, and throw Vereen in and they can pull this one off. They will need to keep that kind of mentality if they play Den, Sea, SF, or Car.

Mike
  (11:27 AM)

Thanks Charlie. We had a "hot button" on this topic and I reflected your point of view. Check it out: http://espn.go.com/boston/hot/?id=10262089

Mike
  (11:28 AM)

It looks like 73 percent of those polled agree with us.

nathan (northampton)

This upcoming game makes me nervous. Andrew Luck has no quit in his game and has the tools to make something special happen at any time on the field. Spikes intensity and big play potential will be missed but I am encouraged by the development of Collins. I may be reading into this too much but part of me thinks the IR designation for Spikes is writing on the wall. He had a rather quiet season for someone who supposedly trained so hard on his own last summer. With the development of other linebackers on this team I could easily see them simply letting Brandon Spikes go with a weak offer or none at all based on his uneven history here. Do you sense this being the end of the Spikes era?

Mike
  (11:30 AM)

I'd lean in that direction, Nathan. I could see the Patriots offering him a contract that reflects their view that he is a two-down player. If a team ups the offer to reflect their view he is a three-down player, I could see Spikes in a different uniform in 2014.

corky (Npr Florida )

Hi mike worry about the loss of spikes and stopping the run. Would like to see Fletcher get more snaps, but is the best choice in the middle???

Mike
  (11:31 AM)

I think Fletcher is the best option in the middle. He's been the top backup to Spikes and now this is his time to step up.

Will (Maryland)

Mike, any chance the Pats sign Marvin Harrison before Saturday!?

Mike
  (11:31 AM)

LOL, Will. He knows a thing or two about finding the end zone at Gillette Stadium.

Chris (NYC)

Is there any way we see the resurgence of the passing attack? Kind of like Flacco and his gang of fools last year, do the Pats and Brady suddenly explode during the next three weeks? To me, it feels like Thompkins, Amendola, and Collie are all due for some big games. I also feel like Hooman could show his soft hands in a few crucial moments. We're going to need a little explosion if we make it to Goodell's final tea ceremony and play against one of those NFC defenses! I still remember how Brady and the gang cut the Eagles apart in the first preseason game this year. It's possible...

Mike
  (11:33 AM)

Chris, the part that is a bit concerning from a Patriots perspective is that they lack a little bit of presence on the outside and vertically without Aaron Dobson. I don't think that means they can't explode in the passing game, but they'll have to get a bit more creative to do it.

CB Utah (Murray UT)

Hi Mike. Dennard has been strong when healthy. Do you expect him to be a factor on Saturday, or should we be looking at Logan Ryan taking a bulk of the snaps?

Mike
  (11:33 AM)

He isn't fully healthy, but I expect him to play in some type of role in the sub defense.They'll need all four top CBs -- Aqib Talib, Dennard, Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan -- in this one.

kais1man (NYC)

Hey Mike...I'm having trouble understanding why everyone is up in arms over the loss of spikes...Indy didn't win that game last saturday by running the ball...they won by passing which is the area Spikes is average at best...it would almost seem that him not playing and seeing more of Colins and Fletcher would work more in the Patriots favor in this matchup no?

Mike
  (11:36 AM)

Specific to the X's and O's, yes, I agree with that in this game. But as Dont'a Hightower said, when you lose Spikes, you lose "intimidation, fire, that spark to the defense that a lot of people don't."

Mike
  (11:36 AM)

So it's as much those intangible things in this matchup.

Ryan (Concord)

Without Dobson lol...Mike, Dobson has done very little to open the field...Stop with the kool aid please...He has 37 catches... Nothing that really sticks out...STOP...

Mike
  (11:36 AM)

6-3, 200. Think physical measurables, Ryan. Don't have another one like him.

Bradley B (Boston Harbor)

Mike this game will be all about how the middle of our defense can play without Kelly, Wilfork, Mayo, and Spikes....especially with the rain/run game, thoughts?

Mike
  (11:38 AM)

Who would have thought that Sealver Siliga would be such a key presence for the Patriots in this situation? It highlights the importance of the practice squad and continuing to build as much depth as possible.

Eric (MA)

If Dobson is out, Thompkins is our lone big/deep threat. How is he looking in practice? Does he have the outside speed to be a deep threat?

Mike
  (11:39 AM)

Eric, Thompkins runs well enough and is more of a tactician than a burner. He does a nice job, in general, of getting off the line to make himself available.

Todd (Philly)

Is it possible Josh McDaniel has quietly accepted a job?

Mike
  (11:40 AM)

Todd, the job McDaniels has quietly accepted is Patriots offensive coordinator in 2014. In the event that Dante Scarnecchia retires, perhaps he could add "assistant head coach" to that title.

John (Bloomfield NJ)

Mike, with the loss of Spikes, is there any chance we see more of Tavon Wilson in run defense playing more of a linebacker role??

Mike
  (11:41 AM)

John, the most likely place we'll see Wilson is in the dime defense, playing that "money" position (LB-type role). Up until Week 16, he had played just 5 defensive snaps all season. He played 11 against the Ravens and 2 in the finale against the Bills. If they're in dime a lot, those numbers could potentially spike Saturday night.

Josh (New Hampshire)

Mike isnt there someone the Patriots could sign to replace Dobson for this one game? I know the system is hard to learn but they could be just a goal line type asset, why not?

Mike
  (11:45 AM)

Josh, I don't think the Dobson absence is as much about the red-zone (we saw them do just fine vs. Baltimore without Dobson on the field in the red zone) as it is in the regular offense in 2-WR sets. Julian Edelman (5-10, 198) is going to be out there every snap, that much we know. Dobson (6-3, 200) is a nice complement to him, whereas Danny Amendola (5-11, 195) has more of a similar skill set to Edelman. It's very much like 2011 when it was Deion Branch and Wes Welker as the top guys when Chad Ochocino bombed.

Brian (Oxford, CT)

Who's reffing this weekend, Mike? Obviously it's an all-star crew but I'm curious who'll be setting the tone.

Mike
  (11:46 AM)

Pete Morelli has been assigned as the referee, Brian. Of the six other officials, two were on his crew this year. That crew was among those throwing the fewest flags per game. But the umpire, for example, was part of Clete Blakeman's crew and played a central role in overturning the PI call against Rob Gronkowski in Carolina. So tough to tell what we're really going to get in terms of a tightly called or loosely called game.

mandeep (boston)

mike how do you see the patriots attacking the colts defense do you see more a off a running game trying to stay balance or are they going to spread them out and attack through the air and any thoughts if dobson plays this week.

Mike
  (11:48 AM)

I think they believe they can exploit matchups in both areas, so they'll mix and match, mandeep. A good running game sets up play-action opportunities and I do believe that will be part of the plan -- to establish that run game.

mike young (suffolk, va)

why haven't we heard of a signing for the defense due to spikes being placed on season ending IR as well as another WR for the offense?

Mike
  (11:49 AM)

Mike, the Patriots promoted LB Ja'Gared Davis from the practice squad to fill that roster spot.

kais1man (NYC)

Mike...lets say the Pats win this game and then lose to whoever the next opponent is (probably Denver)...do you think they pull another 2007 and go out and load up in free agency/draft, especially realizing the Brady window is closing to an extent?

Mike
  (11:50 AM)

I don't think it will be that decisive. As I project ahead, it seems to be that fortifying the line of scrimmage, on both sides of the ball, will be a high priority this offseason.

Jim (Boston)

Hi Mike, all week I have been hearing about how we will be fine with Talib on Hilton, or whoever he covers, however I though Talib's play has diminished a bit by his injuries. What is your sense on him? I can't help to shake the feeling in this game or the next he will re-aggravate something on a play and there goes any chance we have to stop any offense from throwing on us.

Mike
  (11:52 AM)

Jim, I think he's been solid, outside of a few tough plays in the second half of the season (Nov. 18 at Carolina, Dec. 8 vs. Cleveland). In Miami, they built their plan around him playing the inside part of the field, forcing Ryan Tannehill to throw to the outside (to Tannehill's credit, he made them pay for it). When I see that, it reflects to me the coaching staff's view that Talib remains a top-notch shutdown option. I wouldn't be worried about his play as long as that hip doesn't unexpectedly become an issue.

Frank (Wakefield, MA)

Mike, what about Boyce, could he be a vertical threat in that game? I know he's deeper on the depth chart, but that guy can run.

Mike
  (11:52 AM)

Frank, he isn't available, as he's been placed on season-ending injured reserve.

Brian (Oxford, CT)

With the rain pending - I don't suppose there's a way to install sprinklers inside the bubble to try to give the skill guys more exposure/reminders to the importance of ball security, right?

Mike
  (11:53 AM)

Brian, this is the type of situation where you fall back on the experience you had all year practicing in the rain. That's why, more often than not, they are outside.

Derrin (Plano, TX)

People continually harp on the loss of Gronk and lack of weapons on the offensive side of the ball for Brady. But isn't the real difference between the past two Super Bowl squads and other teams the absence of playmakers and leadership on defense(Bruschi, Vrabel, McGinnest)? And until NE finds those guys, and keeps them healthy, they will continue to fall short in the postseason. Your thoughts?

Mike
  (11:55 AM)

I don't really view it as a one-or-the-other type thing, Derrin. It's a mix of both. The offense hasn't exactly come through on the big stage in recent years. There have been times where the defense has faltered too. But that shouldn't overshadow that they're in the mix and if they just make 1 or 2 more plays, maybe the narrative changes.

Peggy (Melrose)

Mike, I see you saying that we'll be fortifying the D-line, but with Wilfork, Kelley, Sopoaga, Armstead, Jones, Vellano, Siliga, Forston, and Grissom all in camp next year, new guys mean more cuts. Is anyone a lock to be back next year from the group?

Mike
  (11:57 AM)

Peggy, I'd be surprised if Sopoaga is back at the $3.75m salary he is due. He's been a bit of a disappointment. Vellano and Jones, in the perfect world, are best cast as backups. Wilfork is coming off a serious injury and we don't know how that is going to turn out. Armstead is also a wild-card of sorts. Kelly will be 33. Forston and Grissom are longshots. Siliga looks like a developmental keeper, but overall, I just see the need to add a blue-chipper there if the opportunity presents itself.

Colin (Bedford, MA)

Obviously the passing game is the Colts strength and they're going to have to execute there to win the game, but I think the Pats have to watch out for Donald Brown. He's very underrated and a sneaky/shifty back, and he can catch the ball out of the backfield. Normally the Pats struggle with this kind of running back. Do you think the Pats use the strategy they used against the Broncos by letting them run wild or try to stay a little more balanced defensively?

Mike
  (11:59 AM)

Colin, I do think this will primarily be a game where the Patriots stay in their sub defense. That invites the offense to run. Denver was willing to stick with it. I will be curious to see what Indianapolis does if that's the way it unfolds.

Matt (Cambridge)

Mike, I know Spikes didn't figure to be a huge part of the game-plan but what about goal-line defense? He made a huge play against Baltimore on 4th down a couple weeks ago. Do we have any chance of holding the Colts to field goals without that run stuffing presence in the middle?

Mike
  (11:59 AM)

Matt, Spikes is always part of the goal-line defense and that is absolutely a hit without him. As they say, "next man up."

Gene (Boston)

Mike:Sadly, this season will end because of the WR group...It is not good enough and nor will it unless they make changes. I know you will say Dobson blah blah blah...He's not the answer. Not tough enough... Not a good enough athlete.... Not competive enough....Are they really going into next season with the same group? Manning threw 30 td(?) more than Brady....He's 30 TD's better? lol... No.... I know you will do the kool aid thing as you always do, but it's not good enough....When I look back at Brady;s time it will be 01-07 and 08-to the end. Bill has failed to put the skilled WR around him...It's a passing league and you need weapons...With all due respect to Edelman, he should never be your first option at WR...Sorry he's a 3rd ot 4th.... I know you will bring up reg wins or whatever, but they will never win a sb again bc of Bill's picks.... They will go 13 or 15 years with no SB's with the best qb of all time...It's on GM Bill... I know it's a sin for a reporter to call him out but it is that simple...It is the weapons....

Mike
  (12:03 PM)

Gene, I have a feeling this is going to be a big offseason theme and I'm going to pass along a player I want you to study this week and we can revisit it next week: Marvin Jones. The second-year Bengals receiver was sensational this season (10 TDs) and when I was doing my tape study, he jumped out to me. I think he's the example I am going to point to this offseason as what the Patriots hope will happen, developmental-wise, with Dobson, Boyce and Thompkins. Jones was a fifth-round draft choice out of Cal and he made a huge leap from his rookie to second season. I think we have a tendency to want the quick fix on these areas and don't factor in player development. Randall Cobb is another good example in Green Bay -- check his jump from rookie to year 2. Whether it is good enough this year, we'll find out. They need to win three games. Anything is possible. I look at the Colts and I don't think their WRs are any better.

Carter (Burlington)

Mike, give me reason to be optimistic about this team's chances in the postseason and ultimately the Super Bowl other than telling me this team is resilient and the AFC is weak. I think that's overrated. In short, in what areas is this team better prepared to be successful than recent pats teams who were sent home early. Personally I'm cautiously more optimistic this year because I love their top four cornerbacks along with McCourt and consider it the best secondaryleft in the playoffs. Not as confident in the run game because they always seem to abandon it in the playoffs (think Brady in shotgun with an empty backfield, which I hate).

Mike
  (12:04 PM)

Running game and stronger personnel in the secondary, Carter. Don't think the past has much of anything to do with the present at it relates to the running game.

Dave (Lawrence)

Mike - looking at needs I actually see a greater need at DE. At least we have a lot of bodies at DT if Vince and Kelly don't make it back. Imagine if Nink or Chandler Jones went down?? There is just nothing behind them.

Mike
  (12:05 PM)

Dave, I still see upside for Michael Buchanan there. Again, comes back to that WR-type development.

Marty (Boston, MA)

Mike - I for one feel great about this Pats team. They have nothing to lose at this point and all the pressure is on Denver to advance from the AFC to Super Bowl. This team isn't the most talented but they have shown they can hang with anyone. People need to stop worrying about what might happen if the Pats meet the 49ers or Seahawks in the Super Bowl. Let's enjoy the ride and see what happens...all we know is that this team isn't going down without a fight.

Mike
  (12:07 PM)

I think it's well said, Marty. And I'd just say this: If the Patriots ever did make it to the Super Bowl, I can't think of a team that would have a greater cold-weather advantage.

Tron (Waltham, MA)

Hey Mike, Amateur scout time. What's the ceiling on Sealver Siliga and how does he compare to Kyle Love (better or worse)? We'll need him with Spikes out!

Mike
  (12:08 PM)

I think Love is a good comparison for Siliga, Tron. It starts with his size (6-2, 325), which is hard to find. You really see the difference between him and a player like Chris Jones and Joe Vellano. Siliga takes up space. He generally plays with good leverage and has shown the ability to use his hands to shed and make tackles. His effort level is high.

Jim (Boston)

Hi Mike, also in defense of Belichick not fiven Brady weapons, you have to say that after last season, they thought they would have the great TE combo coming back for the long haul, if both those guys are playing healthy, it is obviously a different story. I think Brady has had a good supporting cast most years with the exception of a few, 06 and this year come to mind.

Mike
  (12:11 PM)

Jim, true on the TEs. I understand the viewpoint of those who believe they could have done more to surround Brady with more weapons this year at receiver -- it's something others around the league, with other clubs, have mentioned to me from time to time. In the end, they were 12-4 and the No. 2 seed in the AFC. They have been hit hard by injuries and the importance of depth has been highlighted. If they paid WR Mike Wallace what Miami did, for example, they wouldn't have the same depth and would be stressed in other ways. It's always a give and take.

Mike
  (12:11 PM)

Let's take a few more here...

Joseph (Baltimore (via NH))

The power running game is coming on strong down the stretch here and I think the unsung hero has been James Develin. You are the only one who seems to be giving him the love and praising him for his growth as a player over the course of this year. Aside from Develin, who do you think are some of the players that are not often talked about but have stepped up in a big way this year? Marcus Cannon comes to mind for me. Thanks for chatting Reiss!

Mike
  (12:14 PM)

Thanks Joseph. I was impressed with Develin in the last two games of the season, specifically, in film review. Cannon is a good one, although he's one of the club's most penalized players. TE Michael Hoomanawanui comes to mind as another one for me.

Jack (cubicle)

Mike, I lived through the 70's, 80's & 90's as a Pats fan and remember they were an afterthought in New England. They are now a staple in the playoff and ANYTHING can happen ie. beating the Rams in the SB. I cannot wait for Saturday night! Go Pats!!

Mike
  (12:14 PM)

It's true, Jack. No one knows how it will unfold. Simply to have a dog in the fight is something to appreciate.

Scott (Monroe, CT)

Prediction time, 35-24 Pats, Colts will score, but won't stop the Pats, Mike your prediction, and as a bonus, will we host a game next Sunday, be on the road, or watching 2 other teams play?

Mike
  (12:16 PM)

Let's end on this one Scott. I was 3-1 in my predictions last weekend (missed on Chargers over Bengals). I'm going Patriots 34, Colts 27. I'll take Denver over San Diego in the other game. In the NFC, I'll go San Francisco over Carolina, and New Orleans over Seattle.

Mike
  (12:16 PM)

Have a great day everyone. They are opening the locker room now, so I'm going to head in there for media-access. We'll chat again next week.