Friday Bag

Friday Bag: Malcolm's in the middle of a confidence crisis


Friday Bag: Malcolm's in the middle of a confidence crisis

FOXBORO -- Every Friday we take your Patriots questions on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or a Friday Bag, as they call it. 

Got questions? Tweet the guys using the hashtag #FridayBag. But for now, have at the Patriots vs. Patriots South edition of the Bag . . .

Pete! What I see is a player who’s playing equal to -- if not better -- than the guy on the other side, Stephon Gilmore. I see the same passion I’ve always seen. I’ve seen the same willingness to stick his nose up in there on running plays. I see the same quickness. What’s missing may just be confidence. I think Malcolm lost it somewhere during the course of training camp -- I think it was that week in West Virginia with the Texans -- and he’s still struggling to get it back. He said all the right things yesterday. He’ll get plenty of snaps Sunday. Let’s see what it looks like.

Hey, Chris. Thanks for chipping in. My thoughts on Wise are well-documented, so in response to your question? What do I think that teams are game-planning around him? Smart. It's a small sample, but he already has seven total quarterback pressures (two sacks, four more quarterback hits, one hurry), which is one more than Clay Matthews, the same number as Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, and one fewer than Oakland's Khalil Mack. He's not at the level of those players yet, but if you're a coach and you're ignoring that kind of production through a couple of games . . . that's on you. I think his length, the leverage he uses as a pass-rusher and his relentlessness should only continue to lead to more results. It looks to me that the Patriots have found a solid No. 2 to pair with Trey Flowers. Somewhere, Arkansas coach Brett Bielema is smiling.

Dave. Davey. David. Little premature, no? Solder missed all of the preseason, so the way I look at his play now is just that: It’s the preseason. He’s going to have to adjust to the speed and he’s going to have to make modifications to his technique. If this is still going on in a couple weeks, then the Pats may have a problem. It’s just too soon for me to go there now. 

Unless the Seahawks fall out of contention, I'd find it really hard to believe that they'd deal Graham during the season -- especially to another contender. Never say never with the Patriots, but the base salary ($7.9 million) and the cap hit ($10 million) also seem like non-starters to me. Then there's the scheme fit. Graham's talented, no doubt. But he might have to be used in more of a receiver role here in New England. He's improved as a blocker, but he still seems to fit the profile of a big wideout than a true tight end.

Vincent, the kid wants to play. I’d like to see him play. 

I'm still going wide receiver, John. I think Rob Gronkowski will lead the team in touchdown receptions by season's end, but I'm not sure he gets much help adding to that number from his fellow tight ends. Between Cooks, Dorsett, Chris Hogan, Amendola (who has been used extensively in the red zone the last few years) and Malcolm Mitchell if/when he returns, that group should still lead the pack.

Jacob, they should. It’s a no-brainer. We talked about it all summer, even after the Edelman injury. But then what did they do Week 1? The only sense it made was that Amendola was the one player creating real separation that night, but too bad. Come up with a better plan. Create more opportunities for the backs. That’s what they did in New Orleans. Hopefully they’ve learned their listen. Save that guy for January.

It's still very early in Dorsett's Patriots career, obviously, so I think it's hard to try to extrapolate what he's done in two weeks and say, "THIS is who he is." However, in my time talking to him since he's arrived, I'll say that he's struck me as someone who has worked diligently off the field to make sure he's up on everything he needs to be up on. Living at a hotel. Nose in the playbook. His best fit in this offense would seem to be in a Cooksian role, at the "X." He and Brandin Cooks are very similar in terms of their body types and athletic skill sets. I was interested to hear Tony Romo's take during the Saints game, when he said he thinks Dorsett might have a little more "wiggle" than Cooks. Maybe that leads to more work in the slot, where short-area quickness is paramount, but right now he looks like an outside-the-numbers guy with the ability to be a little bit of a gadget player -- jet-sweeps, some work out of the backfield -- due to his speed.

Yes, I do. It would appear as if that troublesome knee, one that gave him trouble back in college, is going to remain an issue for Mitchell as a professional. They could use him going forward. He works the boundary better than any player on the roster.

The Patriots could try to go heavy and run the ball. If Cameron Fleming is out there at right tackle, that would make sense as he looks to me like a superior run-blocker than pass-blocker. However, I think the plan is going to be similar to the one they used in last year's divisional round. I anticipate the Texans will load up the short-to-intermediate range of the field with defenders and force the Patriots to go outside and deep. It won't look pretty, but the Patriots will take what they're given. Expect a bunch of targets for Cooks, Dorsett, and possibly Gronkowski outside the numbers. Brady had a rough day against Houston in January, but was able to pick up yards with chunk plays and I think he'll have to do the same again this weekend.

See the above, Steven! And if you're interested in a little more detail about why this Texans defense is such a difficult matchup for the Patriots, both Tom E. and I have you covered. Curran wrote about why the Texans have the "blueprint" to make life tough on the Patriots. I took an in-depth look at one of Houston's toughest defensive packages, which we should see plenty on third down. 

I’d rather freeze my nuts off, Gary.

Patriots' defensive plan this week: Keep everyone on point


Patriots' defensive plan this week: Keep everyone on point

FOXBORO -- Every Friday Tom E. Curran, Mike Giardi and Phil Perry will take your Patriots questions on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or a Friday Bag, as they call it. 

Got questions? Tweet the guys using the hashtag #FridayBag. But for now, have at the first Bag of the 2017 season . . .

Excellent question, Swirls. Thought about this one quite a bit. The bad ones always jump out. The good ones? There are plenty, but what sticks out? This is an old school one. Goes back to me covering Boston College basketball when they were relevant. Uka Agbai. Great kid and he started making fun of the amount of gel I had in my hair. That was funny. Sebastian Vollmer was another. He’s a massive human. Started the interview off by noting that I hadn’t grown between that season and the one prior. Devin McCourty was another when he started making fun of Tom Curran’s wardrobe. Fish in a barrel, I know, but amusing nonetheless. As for more serious content, I’ve found Matt Patricia to be outstanding at each of the last two Super Bowls. Gone in there thinking I’ll ask a couple questions and the next thing you know, 10 minutes have passed. Ditto with Dante Scarnecchia. The amount of football he knows . . . 

Hello Q! 

We had a great talk with Jerod Mayo about this on the pod this week. First part, the Patriots defense will never be anything but complicated. They don't run one scheme, they change to suit the opponent. Last week, with speed everywhere -- including tight end -- the Patriots were in five- and six-DB sets most of the night to avoid mismatches on slower linebackers like Elandon Roberts and David Harris. A rocked-up safety like Richards is the antidote. And he didn't play terribly. But the newness of players in a complex system caused the breakdowns you saw. Everyone's not yet seeing the same thing after the snap and -- with a team like KC or the Saints -- they have the coach/quarterback combo to put the Pats in a position to need to talk and process things and hope for a breakdown. The Tyreek Hill TD was a plain example of that. Mayo said that D.C. Matt Patricia will have to figure a way to trim the fat from the game plan this week so everybody's on point. 

Hey, Chris. Kyle Van Noy was actually the linebacker with the play-calling responsibilities in Week 1. I'd expect him to continue to take on that role if Hightower misses time. Where the Patriots would miss Hightower would be as a sounding board for Van Noy. The former Lions linebacker is still relatively new to the Patriots defense, and he's been very open about how he still leans on Hightower for help whenever he has a question. The defensive communication looked like it had wrinkles to iron out last week against the Chiefs, but I'd expect those to get better with time. If the Patriots believe they need someone else to relay the signals from Matt Patricia, Devin McCourty is someone who's handled that job in the past. David Harris did it for years with the Jets, but he wasn't on the field nearly enough in Week 1 (two snaps) to make much of an impact as a communicator. Perhaps against a different offensive scheme, Harris will play more and be given more responsibilities as the defense's traffic cop.  

I’d prefer him in the middle, too. And I was one of those people who was saying that before the Rob Ninkovich retirement and Kony Ealy flameout. I know Bill Belichick loves his versatility and it certainly makes it more difficult to read the defense when Hightower is moving around as opposed to being static in the middle, but I think that versatility might weaken the Pats defense early, not help it. Kyle Van Noy was so reliant on Hightower during the course of the Chiefs game that when Hightower went down, it’s no wonder things got hectic on that side of the ball. This also leads back to the decision they made to sign David Harris. He is a duplicate for Elandon Roberts. He’s also not a three-down linebacker. Feel like the Pats are chewing up a roster spot there. Be surprised if that remains the case.

No excuses!! Except for that personnel thing the Chiefs were doing. Harry, your head would have popped off your shoulders if Harris was chasing Tyreek Hill or Kareem Hunt around. I do expect much more Harris this week, especially when Adrian Peterson is in the game. He's not a pass-catching threat like their other backs and the Saints -- who vowed during the offseason to be more stubborn about establishing a ground game -- figure to feature AP for a dozen or so carries. 

Miguel! The Patriots have had all kinds of back-end-of-the-roster types scooped up by other clubs since final training-camp cuts. Four players were claimed on waivers -- Kenny Moore (Colts), James O'Shaughnessy (Jaguars), Austin Carr (Saints) and Conor McDermott (Bills) -- and DJ Foster was signed off the p-squad and on to the Cardinals active roster this week. Clearly teams think pretty highly of certain players who have been discarded by the Patriots but spent some time in their system. One name I could see potentially being signed off the practice squad is a relatively new addition: offensive lineman Willie Beavers. He was a fourth-round pick a year ago, he has good size (6-foot-5, 322 pounds), and there is an absolute dearth of NFL quality linemen across the league. If someone gets desperate, they could be interested in the Beav. When it comes to p-squadders the Patriots may like, I'm looking at the teams they practiced with this summer. Houston's Riley McCarron (5-9, 185) is a slot receiver with some Patriots ties as he played at Iowa under Kirk Ferentz. Jacksonville practice squad end Hunter Dimick is someone who was incredibly productive in college at Utah (83 quarterback pressures), who had two hurries in the preseason opener at Gillette Stadium. The Jags also have former Patriots defensive tackle Darius Kilgo on their practice squad. 

Q, it wasn’t as bad as you thought it was. Twenty-seven points should win you most every game you play this year. Also, let’s not forget the two fourth-and-1 stops. They should have scored 40-plus. Should have, could have, would have . . . I know. Part of what happened fell on Tom Brady. He had checkdowns and some underneath stuff but lost his patience. If the Saints drop eight, he’ll need to utilize the short stuff more. That’s one of my biggest complaints about what transpired two Thursdays ago. Of course, the other is how they ran Danny Amendola into the ground and -- predictably -- into an injury. How many times have we talked about the need to manage his snaps? How many times did the Pats do just that? But on the opener, they exposed him and now they might have to play without him this weekend. Smooth.

Sup, A-bomb. Don't think it would be all that difficult for Cooks to pick up the concepts of another receiver spot in the Patriots offense. He's an intelligent player who has worked diligently to pick up the offense. The only barrier to him moving into more of a slot role, for instance, would be his physical skill set. He's very quick and has the ability to uncover in short spaces, but he's not much of a yards-after-contact type. His value on the outside will probably always trump whatever he would give the Patriots on the interior. 

Pete! My man! Assuming you and yours survived Irma. Nasty stuff. I think Chris Hogan will get another crack at it this week. He ended up with the most snaps out of the slot in Week 1 (29, as opposed to Amendola’s 15). It feels like they’re committed to that front. Get the sense the Pats didn’t anticipate Marcus Peters traveling with Hogan as much as he in the opener. The Saints don’t have a Marcus Peters -- at least not yet. (Rookie Marshon Lattimore may eventually be that guy.) So what I’m saying is, give Hogan another chance. As for the backs, I think the Pats have no choice but to utilize them more Sunday. They’re going in with three healthy receivers and oh, by the way, Hogan was limping after Thursday’s practice and had a compression sleeve on one of his legs (it’s been that kind of year so far). More two back sets, more unique deployments of those backs and more touches in general for all three -- White, Lewis and Burkhead -- is something offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels would be wise to call upon.

Handing this one off to Tom . . .

Not close Rusty. It's Woofah Goofah and the boys. Now I'm gonna go fire up with Rage in the Cage.

Friday Bag: Was Scarnecchia's return the biggest move of Patriots offseason?

Friday Bag: Was Scarnecchia's return the biggest move of Patriots offseason?

FOXBORO -- Every Friday Tom E. Curran, Mike Giardi and Phil Perry will take your Patriots questions on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or a Friday Bag, as they call it. 

Got questions? Tweet the guys using the hashtag #FridayBag. But for now, have at the final Bag of 2016...

MG: Pete, my friend, yes the Pats have changed some personnel up front, but Dante Scarnecchia’s addition was the move of the offseason. It was bigger than the trade for Bennett, the drafting of Thuney and Mitchell, or free agent signing of Chris Hogan. Scar’s as demanding as they come, but he’s always teaching. All those offensive linemen have taken a verbal beating from him over the course of the spring/summer/fall/winter, but all would tell you the words have a purpose, and there’s wisdom in all of it. Start with Marcus Cannon. He wasn’t in shape in either of the last two years. His technique was sloppy. He lacked confidence. In comes Scar, a Cannon fan from day one. He cleaned up the mess, but also made sure Cannon was accountable both to himself and his teammates. The result is undeniable. As for Solder, he’ll never tell you he didn’t like some of the techniques Dave DeGuilelmo employed so I will. That, plus health, has equaled a pretty damn good season for the left side, all with a tip of the chapeau to Dante.

MG: Yes. Hell yes. But believing in him is probably not enough to keep Jimmy around. Tom Brady’s high level of play has pushed the timetable for his eventual departure via retirement or slippage. The Pats saw some of that a few years ago, which is why they spent the second-round pick on Garoppolo. His growth in this offense was on display those six quarters to start the season, but the Pats are also fond of Jacoby Brissett and if they can get a couple of high picks for the kid out of Eastern Illinois, he gone (as the kids say, I think).

MG: Shy…the educated guesses of people from the four-letter network have people buzzing about a first and a fourth. As much as I think a franchise quarterback is worth that and then some, I’m here to tell you the Pats will be lucky to get a couple two’s for him. Why? Because GMs and coaches in this league lack the required intestinal fortitude to bet their future on a kid who’s got less than six real quarters of action under his belt. Easier to draft a kid in the third-round and say it will take a couple years to develop him. Buys them more time to craft their team/save their asses. For Garoppolo, I’m just hopeful he gets in a situation that is stable because I truly believe he has the ability to be a top-10 quarterback, maybe top-five.

MG: Miguel, doubling down on this question, which also appeared on Monday Night Patriots this past week. I don’t think Thuney moves outside. Kopek doesn’t think he has the length for it. I just think when you get a damn good left guard, you keep him right there. I am fairly certain the Pats will look to build depth/potentially find a left tackle of the future in this draft, but why can’t Solder continue to be a starting LT for this team in 2018? He’ll be 31 I believe, and remains a gifted and well-conditioned athlete. If he can maintain health and a good level of play, I think he’ll be protecting Brady’s blindside two years from now.

MG: Oh Jimmy, how we miss you at the shop…I think. Ummm, I believe I have made my cases for both Dak Prescott, who has saved a Cowboys season that could have hinged on Mark Sanchez, he of the butt fumble and 50-something completion percentage and Matt Ryan, who’s QB rating is like a million points higher than it’s ever been. Do I believe either one of those players is having a better 11 games than Tom Brady has had? Nope. But there’s the key element…11 games. Prescott and Ryan have been there for better or worse all season. Brady will be penalized by voters for his 4-game suspension, even if you believe it to be a witch hunt. Me personally, I’d vote for Prescott. He is incredibly poised, is playing in a football crazed market in Dallas and rebounded from his two weakest performances of the y ear by lighting up both Tampa and Detroit with a national TV audience dialed in. Done and done in my book.

PP: Believe he performed some kind of turkey call right before Thanksgiving. Came from out of nowhere and was surprisingly good.

PP: It's going to come down to whether or not everything Floyd's doing in the facility -- he's been doing some extra work with Jacoby Brissett to better understand the offense -- and on the practice field can translate in a game situation. Brady said on Friday that Floyd has been working hard, and Belichick seems encouraged by the effort Floyd's put in as well. But let's face it: The majority of the 17 snaps Floyd saw against the Jets came when the game was already out of hand. Against the Dolphins he'll be facing a team with something to play for and they'll make him earn whatever production he comes away with. I'm not sure I see him scoring twice, Doney, but if you're a daily fantasy player, he might not be a bad option. He'll have his share of opportunities with Malcolm Mitchell likely out and Julian Edelman likely managed to a certain extent.

PP: "Sneaky jacked" since June of 2015.

PP: It's not losing homefield advantage. It's not losing momentum. Both of those take a backseat to health, in my opinion. My biggest concern, if I'm the Patriots, would be leaving this weekend's game with an injury to a key player. Edelman taking a shot up high over the middle? Concerning. Hightower absorbing his second chop block in less than a month? That's a concern. Brady getting driven into the ground, stepped on, etc.? Concern on concern on concern. That last one is the big one, obviously. The Patriots have to make sure they keep Brady away from Ndamukong Suh at all costs.

PP: Thanks for checking in, Scott. For anyone who may be unaware, future contracts can be used to sign players not on active rosters when the season ends. Those contracts will then take effect on the first day of the new league year in 2017. Typically teams use future contracts to hold onto practice-squad players they developed an affinity for during the season. I'd say offensive linemen Chris Barker, Jamil Douglas and Chase Farris, linebacker Trevor Bates, receivers Devin Lucien and DeAndrew White, running back Tyler Gaffney, fullback Glenn Gronkowski, and defensive linemen Woodrow Hamilton and Darius Kilgo all will be in the mix for future deals with the Patriots. Many of those players have been on the team's practice squad for much of the season if not the entire season. I'm not aware of any Dion Lewis types out there -- Lewis signed a future deal with the Patriots before last season -- if that's what you're wondering.

PP: Lots have improved, Mike, but I'm not sure there's been a player who has improved more than Marcus Cannon. He's lost weight, he's quicker, he's using his hands better, and he's been as consistent as any lineman the Patriots have. Dante Scarnecchia has something to do with his transformation, but you have to give credit where it's due: Cannon has been great. The extension he signed was well-deserved.

PP: I think it's Amendola simply because he already has an established level of trust with Brady that we're not sure Floyd will be able achieve. Floyd's healthier. And he's physically more imposing. I just think the Amendola faith factor will lend to him making plays on third down and in the red zone whenever he comes back healthy. I think we'll be able to get an idea of the number of opportunities Floyd will see in the postseason by judging his performance this weekend in Miami. Will Brady be doing the same?

PP: An interview? Generally, in our business, you don't accept anything from players. I imagine there are those who will say there are exceptions to the rule, but I haven't run into any.

PP: Not aware of any future plans for Scarnecchia just yet, Bob. If he decides he'd like to go back to retirement after this season, the Patriots could turn to coaching assistant Cole Popovich to take over as the offensive line coach. He's been working closely with the line since joining the team late last season. Popovich played at Fresno State under Belichick confidant Pat Hill and was a college teammate of former Patriots lineman Ryan Wendell.

PP: I think the plan may look a little different based on how players' snaps are managed, but I'm not sure how "vanilla" the Patriots can be at this point. Most of what they do is on film. There's a wide variety of what they can do, especially offensively, but it's not all that secretive. Now that doesn't mean I think they'll be breaking out any double-pass looks in Miami, but they kind of are what they are at this point. Not a whole lot to hide.

PP: I think it could end up being the Devin McCourty hit on Demaryius Thomas. Fourth quarter. Fourth down. In Denver. In some ways it signaled that the defense was good enough to win a game in a difficult environment. The play also carried with it an edge that has characterized the play of the Patriots defense lately. If they go on to win Lombardi No. 5, people will remember that play as one of several "defining moments."

PP: How about Dontari Poe? Freak athlete. Plenty of size to play defensive tackle in New England. Goal line weapon . . . kind of? He's had kind of a so-so year, meaning his price tag might be manageable. Alan Branch doesn't look like he's slowing down any time soon, but he's 32, in a contract year, and may find greener pastures elsewhere. A three-man rotation of Poe, Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine on the interior might look pretty good to Belichick and Nick Caserio.

PP: Dont'a Hightower. Malcolm Butler a close second. It's my belief that both will remain with the Patriots.

PP: Jonathan Jones. Has been one of the team's best players in the kicking game all year, and he's starting to see a little more time defensively. I think we could see him come up with one big play in the postseason that will leave people saying, "Wait, who?"

PP: This question deserves its own blog, Daniel, and maybe its own summertime slide-show series from Tom E. Curran. Consider it submitted for future consideration.

PP: The franchise tag for tight ends this year was valued at just over $9 million, Mr. Q. And that number should rise if and when the salary cap sees a bump. That kind of cake may be a bit too much for the Patriots since Rob Gronkowski's contract has a value of $9 million per year. I've been saying for months that, to me, the best comparison when looking at potential deals for Bennett is the one Greg Olsen signed with the Panthers. He signed a three-year, $22.5 million extension with $12 million guaranteed and an average annual value of $7.5 million during the 2015 offseason, just before his 30th birthday. Bennett will turn 30 in March.