1) Does Matt Cassel have what it takes to lead the New England Patriots to the playoffs?
LoVell Parkman: The Patriots have a number of issues that need to be corrected however if they are relying on Matt Cassel to make it to the playoffs my answer is no. At this point Cassel has done nothing to show me that he has what it takes to be an effective NFL quarterback. He has not shown himself to be a leader. He has a deer in the headlights look about him. He has not shown that he can make the quick yet correct decisions when he is pressured and he has not shown he can read defenses. Patriot opponents will show him a blitz and he still has not proven he can read what he is seeing and adjust.
Shane Leketa: I think that Matt Cassel still needs time to gel with some of these receivers in real time, hard-hitting action. I think that he can lead the ship the right direction if he can keep his head on his shoulders and not make mistakes and keep the game in control where they don't find themselves having to come back from major deficits.
Kevin Saleeba: If he can cut out the stupid mistakes he made in the Miami game, the Patriots have a shot to win 10-12 games. They can make the playoffs, but as far as winning a championship? Forget it! I have zero confidence in him leading the team to any comebacks. So if the Patriots are trailing in a game, don't expect any Brady-like miracles.
Jim Poore: In a word, no. He is a lousy quarterback. I don't want to be harsh but it is the truth. Bill Belichick's ego is so big that he refused to go get a veteran quarterback. He thinks he can coach this team to the Super Bowl with a fifth string quarterback. It isn't going to happen. The Patriots might make the playoffs, but it won't be because of Cassel. I don't think he is going to last much longer.
Jon Scott: I'm not concerned about Cassel as much as many others may be. After all Tom Brady was a 6th round pick and struggled at points in his rookie season. What concerns me is the playcalling and Cassel's inability to find anyone deep. Even when Cassel has time, the patterns downfield aren't opening up. Why Ben Watson isn't a bigger part of the offense downfield concerns me also. The playcalling has Max-protect because Cassel is getting killed when he drops back. That limits his ability find the open man.
2) What is the biggest problem the New England Patriots have on defense?
Parkman: The Patriots cannot stop anyone from running the ball. They rank 24th in the NFL giving up 140.7 rushing yards per game. No wonder the Patriots cannot get off of the field on third down. The Patriot opponents have made 18 out of 37 third down (48.6%) opportunities.
Leketa: I think that this defense is great in some areas and poor in others. Let's face it in the fact that the linebackers are getting old and this is a definite area of concern. The defensive line is better than most in the NFL and the secondary is a little better in the pickup of O'Neal but, if they continue to play like they did on Sunday against the lowly Dolphins, it could be a rocky road to the playoffs.
Saleeba: They seem to look old and slow at times, while the younger players don't seem to have a grasp on how to play in the NFL yet. I still think the defense is still good enough to get them into the playoffs. They just can't seem to get any turnovers or stop anyone on third down.
Poore: I think their defensive line is overrated. Everybody talks about them having the best front three in football, but I don't see it. Richard Seymour was out for a lot of plays last week. The linebackers have clearly lost a step, and for the last couple of seasons the defensive backs have been second rate. I think their defense is still good, but not very good. With the weaknesses on the offense, the defense will need to step it up this year, and I am not so sure they will or can.
Scott: On defense it's the linebackers who cannot make a quick adjustment between covering the pass and stopping the run. If you think that New England has one of the best front seven units, then you might want to look at the film of the Miami game. Not only did Jerod Mayo have issues, but also Adalius Thomas was burned repeatedly when he had to cover players coming off the line. It's a problem only until they fix it. Maybe they should call John Lynch out of retirement.
3) Is Josh McDaniel's performance as offensive coordinator for the Patriots a cause for concern or optimism?
Parkman: Major concern. I wonder why McDaniels still has the job of offensive coordinator for the Patriots because McDaniel's game plans are truly OFFENSIVE. Renaldo Hill a safety for the Miami Dolphins said after last week's game that the Dolphins knew what the Patriots were going to run offensively. McDaniels game plans lack imagination and aggressiveness. His games plans are simple and too predicable. I've said many times that McDaniels doesn't even know how to adjust his belt never mind a game plan. Defensive coordinators make adjustments and McDaniels have proven thus far that he cannot adjust his game plan to combat what the defense is doing.
Leketa: I think it is a definite area of concern because he does not have Tom Brady to rely on to sling the ball and read defenses. Now he is going to actually have to do his job and help to run the offense with a very inexperienced quarterback at the helm. The Patriots need to continue to "dink and dunk" like Patriots days of old but every once in a while they are going to have to go deep to keep the opposing defenses honest. I think this is going to either make or break McDaniels and time will tell.
Saleeba: Apparently Josh McDaniels is as good as the quarterback that is at the helm leading the team. Unfortunately right now he is as good as Matt Cassel. Anyone can look good with Brady running the offense.
Poore: I don't think McDaniel's status is an issue....right now. Nobody was saying anything last year ( except after the Super Bowl ) when the team set numerous offensive records. McDaniels is the coordinator, but ultimately Belichick makes the decisions as the head coach. McDaniel will need to solve the offensive problems though, and quick. He does have the bye week to work on it, but he does have to figure something out, as do all of the coaches.
Scott: I'm one of those people who think the offensive coordinator should bear as much blame for the lack of production as the players. The formations can cause confusion for a defense, but the Patriots system isn't fooling anyone. When a friend at SIRIUS NFL Radio pointed out Miami Dolphins safety Renaldo Hill's comments this week, I knew that defenses have the Patriots figured out. It shouldn't be that easy to guess what the offense will do, but Hill claimed it was that's on the OC, not the team. When you have a good idea of what's coming, you have a much better chance of stopping it.
4) Bill Belichick's admitted to being "outcoached" by Dolphins first year coach Tony Sparano. Have teams figured out how to defeat Belichick's system, or was the Dolphins game an anomaly?
Parkman: In any system in order for it to work you need the players for that system. Some of the players that have won Super bowls playing in the system can no longer make the plays they use to make in the same system. Either find other players who can make the plays or change the system to suit your personnel. Belichick is being outcoached because he has not adjusted to what some of his players no longer can do. Maybe he should try running a 4-3 at times instead of the 3-4. On another note Belichick certainly has to see what McDaniels cannot do as offensive coordinator and should step in have a bigger input in the game plans or in game adjustments or better yet replace McDaniels all together.
Leketa: This is a copycat NFL that we are witnessing. Once they see a method or scheme that works against a team then everyone else will jump on board. The game against Miami was a bit of an anomaly because of the trick plays and the "off the board" play calling. I think that most teams will not play this way against this team but you never know. Again, only time will tell.
Saleeba: One rare loss does not mean teams have figured out how to beat "the system." That is just ridiculous media fodder. The media just has nothing to talk about when it comes to the Patriots and every time the Pats lose a game, they say other coaches have "figured Belichick out." Two losses in two years. Sure, the NFL has the Patriots figured out all right!
Poore: Belichick says he was outcoached. It is a big deal as far as I am concerned. Everybody has a bad game, and he is no exception. I do think though that may be coaches are starting to figure him out after all of these years. If Belichick is the genius everybody says he is, it won't happen too many times. It isn't going to happen this Sunday anyway.
Scott: I've long considered the 3-4 defense susceptible to a strong running game a good play-action QB. That was before the Patriots players aged visibly in front of our eyes. I can't say that Belichick's system is outdated or if the players in it aren't executing what's called. Watching the defense leave players wide open when they know it's their guy is not a scheme issue, it's execution.
5) Should the Patriots be concerned about the play of the offensive line?
Parkman: Yes, very much so. Right the offensive line is getting beaten like drum. The Patriots also do not have a blocking tight end to help. Benjamin Watson for the games where he is not injured doesn't bring anything to the blocking part of the game and neither does Dave Thomas. Daniel Grahams blocking is sorely missed. The unit is getting beaten worse hen the defense has been able to isolate the offensive lineman individually. Now teams are starting to try and isolate the lineman because they know they can be man handled physically by the defense. They are not consistent in opening holes for the runners and are continually getting pushed back into the quarterback on pass defense. The Patriots need to upgrade the right tackle and right guard spot as well as left tackle.
Leketa: I don't think so. I think as Bill Belichick said this week, sometimes they have played well and sometimes they have played poorly. I think with the injuries and age, this crew needs to re-identify itself and begin to gel and play together. A great offensive line is one that works in union with each other, they are clicking on all cylinders and know where everyone is supposed to be at all times. Give this line time and I think they will come around and become more consistent.
Saleeba: I thought the O-line played decent against Miami. It just seemed Cassel took sacks from indecision. He doesn't seem to recognize where the blitz is coming from or where to throw the ball under pressure. Although the line was not winning the battle in the trenches during the Miami game, but it could still just be an aberration. The line seemed to play well in the first two games against the Chiefs and Jets.
Poore: They should absolutely be concerned about the offensive line. Ever since the Super Bowl they have looked borderline terrible. Cassel is a bad quarterback, but the offensive line isn't helping. They do have some injuries, so may be things will improve after the health is better. But giving up three or four sacks a game and lots of pressure isn't going to help anything.
Scott: Yes and no. Logan Mankins was abused last week, and he's supposed to be the best blocker on the line. Sorry, but Philip Merling caused Mankins all sort of issues. Nick Kaczur has had trouble with speed rushers on the outside, and when he played left tackle, he almose got the quarterbacks decapitated because he whiffed on blocks. Matt Light is an improvement, but the team has not done enough to shore up the line
Scott Pioli had the chance to draft a lot of talented players, but he's missed on every offensive lineman the team has drafted since 2005 when Mankins and Kaczur were added..
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