Behind Enemy Lines: Pats - Steelers 2

A half-dozen questions from Steelers fans about the Patriots. Patriots Insider Jon Scott gives us the inside scoop.

1. Why did Belichick plant Zoltan Mesko and give the Steelers a 2-5 start? Shouldn't Belichick have been more worried about a division rival?

Jon Scott:  LOL.  Sure, that was one of Belichick's most under-the-radar moves yet this year.  It was nice of you to give Belichick credit for that move.   Actually, when watching Mesko fend off Ryan Allen in camp this summer, we continued to observe how Allen's punts were consistently going higher and further than Mesko's.   Each year we see a specialist or two come into camp, not really believing they could unseat the incumbent.  In this case, right from the start Allen seemed to be in the mix.  It turned out that Mesko wasn't having his best camp, but he was still solid.

2. How much do the Pats miss Wes Welker?

JS: With Welker, the Patriots had one of the top offenses in the league passing.  This year, they rank among the league's worst.   More importantly, this year's group can't convert third downs.  Welker is / was a, first-down-making making machine on third for New England the past few years. The Patriots converted third down 39.9% of the time last season (4th best overall) This year, the Patriots are converting on just 30.2% of their third downs by passing (28th in the league). Welker converted 72 of the Patriots 256 first downs in 2012 (35 for Denver this season).   Comparatively speaking, Julian Edelman, the next version of Welker, has converted just 21 first downs this season. Danny Amendola, who was supposed to replace Welker, has appeared in just 4 of the team's 8 games, managing just 19 total receptions.

3. Does Bill coach/have-his-hands-heavily-involved in both the offense and defense?

JS: Belichick has always been involved in game planning leading up to the Sunday matchups.  He and Brady regularly meet to review how the team intends to attack the opponent.  Though McDaniels is the guy in Brady's ear, Belichick is thoroughly involved.   On defense, there's never been a question he's hands-on.  Belichick will regularly go over to the defense when they're on the bench, and go over things he want them to focus on.  You've probably seen some of this on NFL Films, or the Sound FX snippets.  This is normal for Belichick, he's been doing it every year.

4. Are the Pats a legit 6-2 team or are they a whited sepulchre ready to crumble in the 2d half of the season?  Or with Gronk back and the young WRs maturing, are they about to take off offensively? (edit note: I'm not sure what some of this means)

JS:  It appears that regardless of how they play, Belichick and company will be forever known as "the evil empire" much like the Yankees in baseball.  Looking at the team from an unbiased football perspective, you have to give them credit for doing so much with so little.  No team in the NFL has lost top five receivers for the majority of the first half of the season and still lead the division. Then you have to factor in the absence of Amendola (injury), and the changes at tight end (No Daniel Fells, no Jake Ballard, no Aaron Hernandez.  Add in the absence of third down backs Shane Vereen and last year's fan favorite Danny Woodhead to the mix.    Brady has had to rely on the rookies to help get the job done. They've been average at best, a major disappointment from what was expected at worst. Can they turn it around?  Absolutely.  You're starting to see Aaron Dobson (2nd round) hold onto the ball, make the right reads, run the right routes.  Factor in Kenbrell Thompkins' (undrafted) impressive ability to catch difficult passes, and you can see the potential.

5. Which of the young WRs has a real future and which are just a stop gap keeping a position warm for a future pick or signee?

JS: Both Dobson and Thompkins can grow into starting WRs much like David Givens was for New England during their early Super Bowl wins.  Joyce Boyce (4th round) is supposed to be the speedster the team hasn't had since Terry Glenn days.  Dobson, if he can figure out how to hold onto the ball, avoid some of the many rookie mistakes he's making, will probably be the best of the bunch.  Boyce will be lucky to remain on the roster.  Thompkins is the wild card.  He'll either be a great possession receiver like Givens, Welker and crew, or he'll just continue on for a few years before they land another talented vet who will take his reps.   It seems like he's headed for the former rather than the latter fate.

6. What's the weakness of this Pats team on both sides of the ball?

JS: On Offense, the Patriots have had no weapons without Gronk.  With his return, Brady can't help but try to force the bal linto tight coverage on him. Until they receivers find a way to win on man-to-man coverage, the Patriots' passing game will continue to struggle.

On Defense, name the position, there's been an injury.  Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Jerod Mayo, Aqib Talib are all hurt or gone.  That's four of the team's best players not in the lineup.  They're using undrafted guys to try to plug the middle, or slower, lumbering backers to try to fill and cover.  The middle of the defense is in shambles.  It's the rest of the unit that is picking up the slack.  

7. (bonus) Is Brady finally slipping with age or can his subpar season statistically solely attributable to the lack of an first tier WR?

JS: Age isn't the issue for Brady, he's pretty banged up (hand, shoulder, knee). They wouldn't be winning games without him.  His biggest issue is that he's dealing with a completely revamped offensive personnel group.  The Patriots are using two new running backs (Blount, Bolden), four new wideouts (Amendola, Thompkins, Dobson, Boyce) and two new tight ends (Mulligan, Develin).  That's a lot of turnover on one side of the ball.  If they go deep into the playoffs, this will be by far Belichick and Brady's best performance since they've been together.  They could really use Randy Moss right now.

Don't Miss Part 1: Pats - Steelers BEL

Jon Scott has covered the Patriots since 1999 for the network. You can find his material on or follow him via twitter @JScottNFL.

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