Jon Scott: Welker is affected by the knee injury, as anyone would be. He's talked about it not quite being back to normal and that he didn't know how long until it was 100 percent, but it feels good to him. I spoke with a couple of medical experts, including a Physical Therapist for athletes who have worked to get back into top form after this type of injury, and the typical recovery period is at least a year, more like 18 months. I talked to Jack Trudeau (former Colts QB) who had two ACL injuries, and he said, you can use it before then, but you're really not yourself for a year and a half.
Welker still poses a matchup problem for opposing defenders because he knows where to go to find the soft spot in the defense. He may not be as quick as before the injury, but he's still quick enough to get open, and make a move to gain extra yards. The first game of the year showed he had the speed to squirt past defenders from 8 yards out to get into the end zone.
Q: Randy Moss has made big news with his desire for a new contract; has that affected his play at all?
Scott: Moss is still the Moss of old – or Moss of recent years. I think the highlight catch ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUeWoDHtNTE ) he made over Darrelle Revis in Week 2 showed that he can be dangerous when left open. The problem is how defenses cover Moss. He's usually doubled, or has a safety covering him over the top – specifically so he doesn't do to other teams what he managed to do to Revis.
If you watch Randy when he isn't the primary target, you occasionally see him relax a bit, especially when the play is to the other side of the field. That hasn't changed. Even when he was setting records, he did that. But the thing to remember is every once in awhile he'll fake doing than and take off, lulling the defender into believing it's another run, then Moss streaks downfield wide open. It's a tactic that has worked for him, so it's hard to tell when he does (slack a bit) if he's just setting up the defender for a play later in the game, or he's actually taking it easy. It's even more difficult to determine if it's contract-related. Moss is in a contract year, so it won't pay for him to dog it anywhere; coaches and personnel people who might want to sign him next season are going to look at the film and Moss is too smart to let that hurt him.
Q: Have the Patriots missed Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins at all up front?
Scott: New England had one of the best offensive guards in the league at left guard when Mankins was playing. His contract dispute hasn't created the gaping hole it could have made without him in the lineup primarily because Dan Connolly has played better than expected. The Patriots drafted a pair of offensive linemen this year, but were unable to sneak them onto the practice squad. They also jettisoned a lineman they picked last year, yet they still have enough healthy bodies to fill in even without Mankins. That the Patriots are still able to gain 200 yards on the ground even without Mankins in the lineup speaks volumes, even if it did come against the Buffalo Bills. The team's success without him isn't helping Mankins' bargaining power.
Q: Are the Patriots' problems on defense solely related to a lack of experience, or is there more at play here?
Scott: The team has had a sub-par defense for a while, though the stats don't completely back that theory up. The Patriots were worse than average last year (22nd overall) in total yards and had issues stopping teams on third down. This year, it's looking like more of the same, with the problem spilling over into other areas. New England ranks third-worst in third-down defense giving up a new set of downs to opposing offenses 50 percent of the time.
One area to be concerned with is the team's inability to slow down opposing running attacks when they play nickel defense. The Jets, Bills and Benglas all found ways to gain big chunks of yards on the ground when the Patriots moved into nickel. Lack of pressure from the front is another area of concern.
Q: Do the Patriots have any pass rusher the Dolphins need to be concerned about?
Scott: The biggest threat is what Vince Wilfork can do to the center of the Miami offensive line. Wilfork can create havoc when he's unleashed. As teams double down on him to he inside, that opens things up for Tully Banta-Cain, who netted 10 sacks last season. Banta-Cain's aggressive nature takes him out of plays that are designed to push edge rushers to the outside, so his liability in the run defense earned him a role on the bench last week. When Banta-Cain is in there and it's an obvious passing down, the Dolphins will need to find a way to slow him down.
Q: Do you see the Patriots as a legitimate Super Bowl contender or is the defense simply too shaky for that?
Scott: I felt that this team had improved overall speed, but lost a great deal of experience and that could affect how they communicate or adjust during a game. While the players can get to the ball more quickly, more often they're not in the right spot to make a play. Those issues have created even more doubt about how far the team can go if they do make the playoffs. I predicted that after a few bumps in the road, they'd win about 10 games and earn a playoff spot, but I did not predict them to get to the Super Bowl ( http://nwe.scout.com/2/1000624.html ). I had them falling at the AFC Championship Game again. Right now, they don't look like they'll even get that far.
Q: Finally, what is your prediction for Monday night's game, and why?
Scott: I think the Patriots have enough offensive firepower to outscore most, if not all, opponents. If they don't have a second-half meltdown like they did in New York, the team should be able to secure another win this week against a very tough team from Miami. The Bills showed that they could hang with the Patriots, so I have no doubt the Dolphins can as well. Still, I believe it comes down to a final offensive drive by Tom Brady and company and that will be enough to get it done. Pats by 4 — Patriots 31, Dolphins 27.