Jeff Fisher

Friday Bag: Is Patriots defense just playing it safe?

Friday Bag: Is Patriots defense just playing it safe?

Every Friday, Tom E. Curran, Phil Perry and Mike Giardi answer your Patriots’ Twitter questions in the #FridayBag.  Got a question? Tweet the trio. 

Here’s this week’s edition, featuring Giardi and Perry. (They gave Curran a breather from the Bag this week)

MG: Chuck, I’ve heard this theory many times and I just can’t buy it. Do they leave something in their back pocket offensively? Absolutely. We’ve seen it before. But on the defensive side of the ball, how exotic can you get? It’s a personnel issue, and it’s one none of us anticipated coming into this season. So much for a top-five defense. (And, yes, I know they’re still top-five in points against.)

MG: Strip sack, Dion has surprised me so far. I was a little leery of calling him the team’s secret weapon because for a player who depends on his quicks and lateral cuts and top end speed, no one could predict how that knee would operate following a pair of surgeries. But if you look at that Giants game, there were at least 3 runs/runs after catch where Lewis looked a hell of a lot like the meteorite that shot across the NFL sky last September and October. His knack for making people miss is uncanny. I say he gets into the end zone TWICE this weekend. How’s that for a prediction?

MG: Mike, if it was up to me, Jimmy would play all the time…I kid, I kid. (Or do I?) Yes, I think that would be wise. No sense in risking the franchise QB to an angry Rams team that is coming off a thrashing at New Orleans. Free Jimmy!

MG: Pete, an excellent job of diving into the past, which is apparently where Rams head coach Jeff Fisher lives. Fisher, as you’ve probably seen by now, referred to the Pats running backs as Brandon and Danny. Bolden has 2 carries this year. Danny Woodhead has been in San Diego for a dog’s age, and Danny Amendola isn’t Mr. Jet Sweep. The lesson here is as always simple: Fisher is an idiot.

MG: Love the question, socks, and it’s one Tom Curran and I have discussed many times over the years especially on the offensive side of the ball. It seems offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels wants to try a little of this, and a bit of that, and before you know it, a couple series have passed and you’ve forged no identity. Of course, it usually doesn’t last. I mean, Josh finally remembers that Brady throws the short to intermediate routes like a boss and boom, they’re off and scoring points by the dozens. But I’d like a little less experimentation at this time of year.

MG: Kenny, the only way Hightower doesn’t stay is if the Pats decide they don’t want him anymore. Remember, the team has the right to slap the franchise tag on the man in the middle of that defense if they so choose. That’s a lot of cash for a player who isn’t incredibly durable, but I’d liken that move as a potential stop gap until they can hammer something out long term. I’ve been telling anyone who’d listen since the spring that this group of free agents is different than some you’re used to. They want money. And I don’t blame ‘em one bit. As for draft priority numero uno, I think they need a defensive lineman, either on the inside to play next to Mal Brown, or an edge guy to supplant Rob Ninkovich or Jabaal Sheard should he depart via free agency.

PP: Thanks for checking in, Jeffrey. I'll take the second question first: It's Curran in a landslide. I've got the size advantage on him, but he's a bottomless pit. Never seen anyone with such a passion for cheese. As for the addition of another tight end, I think they'll have a look around, but there's not much out there. Owen Daniels is available, as is Garrett Graham, who spent some time under Bill O'Brien in Houston. Neither of those players has played this season, and I'm not sure either fits the profile the Patriots would be looking for. What I think will happen is that they'll go with Bennett, Matt Lengel, James Develin and Cam Fleming to help take over whatever tight end duties have been left behind by Gronkowski.

PP: In no particular order: Backman's been cut in order to free-up a spot on the practice squad for Glenn Gronkowski; Lengel is a hard-working guy, with a willingness to do whatever is asked, but he's admitted he's more of a blocking tight end, and he has just six snaps of NFL game experience; refer to the above for a quick look at the free agents available; using more three-receiver sets -- or more "pony" looks with two backs -- seems like the most logical way to try to make the best of a bad situation.

PP: I'm not sure we'll necessarily see the Patriots turn into a run-first team on a weekly basis with Gronkowski out. They'll always be slaves to the smartest game plan so there may very well be weeks where they go heavy, feature LeGarrette Blount, then try to hit Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell in the deep middle part of the field with the help of play-action fakes. I think they can be effective that way, but I think they'll still be most effective by consistently keeping the football in Brady's hands. They'll go with 11-personnel. They'll go four and five-wide. Even without Gronkowski, Brady will be at his best when he can spot the best matchup, diagnose quickly, and deliver. 

PP: They clearly found something in there.

PP: Good question, RB. We hit on this a bit in last week's Bag. The Patriots are scheduled to have all kinds of cap space in the offseason and so they should be contenders for the services of whatever big names they choose. The only problem? There aren't a ton of attractive big names who'll be available. My answers, to your question though: Le'Veon Bell and Dontari Poe. I enjoy watching Bell as much as any other running back in the league, and I think given the age and injury history of the other backs on the Patriots roster, he'd be a tremendous (though expensive) fit. The Patriots know they've been able to find serviceable backs in free agency and the draft, but I wonder if even Bill Belichick would ditch what's worked for his team in the past because he's so in awe of the Steelers runner. With Poe, who's having somewhat of a down year in Kansas City, the Patriots would have a chance to finely-tune one of the strongest defensive tackles in the league to fit their two-gapping system. Feels like a match. I'm not sure the Patriots will be in the market for a starting corner, but Trumaine Johnson of the Rams will be worth a close look this weekend. He's slated to become a free agent after the season.

PP: I can think of hundreds of reasons why we shouldn't do this, Jordan, but that doesn't mean we won't. Content is the name of the game, after all, and there would never be a shortage if we incorporated these ideas of yours. Consider them brought up at the next Quick Slants the Podcast meeting, which will occur about 90 seconds before we start recording the next episode. (If you haven't listened to this week's, you're missing out on Tom's take on the Brady/Bledsoe AFC title game and what Bill Belichick told Tom on the night before Super Bowl XXXVI. Entertaining trip down memory lane.)