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
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
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
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 Scout.com
network. You can find his material on Scout.com or follow him via
Behind Enemy Lines: Pats - Steelers 2
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