Commentary

Mailbag: Benching spurs questions

Based on expectations, no doubt Adalius Thomas has been a disappointment

Updated: October 20, 2009, 1:56 PM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

The focus of e-mailers to the Patriots mailbag has shifted. The questions about offensive execution and quarterback Tom Brady's struggles are gone. The topic de jour is now: What happened to Adalius Thomas?

Thomas, the team's marquee free-agent signing in 2007, was a healthy scratch from Sunday's 59-0 win over the Titans. With the Patriots acing everything on the field, the surprise decision with Thomas seemed to generate more attention.

That's where this week's mailbag starts, while other topics include:

Oct. 20 marks the NFL's trading deadline and Bill Belichick said on his weekly radio appearance that he would be surprised if the team made a deal. Also on the personnel front, the team might have to consider looking at running backs in free agency if Sammy Morris' knee injury is serious.

Now on to the questions:

Thomas
Stew Milne/US PresswireWere the Patriots sending a message to Adalius Thomas by leaving him inactive for Sunday's game?

Q: Mike, can we consider Adalius Thomas a bust? -- Mike (Medway, Mass.)

A: That was a shocker this week, Mike, as Thomas was a healthy scratch for the win over the Titans. I don't think it can be sugarcoated: Thomas is a disappointment based on the expectations that followed him here. But overall, I don't think he's played that poorly this season given the schemes the defense has employed, as he has been playing as much down the field in coverage as he has been rushing up the field. In terms of why he was inactive, I think it was based on performance and the coaching staff hoping to get more out of him. He struggled a bit against tight end Daniel Graham in that Broncos game.

Q: Obviously the sample sizes are different, but which free-agent linebacker was a better deal for the Patriots: Rosevelt Colvin or Adalius Thomas? -- Jarrod (Rhode Island)

A: Jarrod, I think I'd have to pick Colvin at this point, based on his comeback from the hip injury and the fact the team didn't miss the playoffs during his tenure with them (not including his four-game comeback in 2008). It also helped that expectations for Colvin were probably lowered after his injury.

Q: Mike, I'm among those who think Adalius Thomas has underperformed since he's been here. What I don't understand is how Derrick Burgess gets the nod at OLB in the 3-4 over Thomas. Burgess has done absolutely nothing. He couldn't beat a tackle to save his life on Sunday. What am I missing? -- Gooby (Cambridge)

A: I don't think you're missing much, Gooby, as Burgess hasn't done much to catch the eye. He had his most extensive playing time Sunday, as we saw him standing up at outside linebacker in the 3-4 for the first time on a consistent basis. I've seen Burgess hold up in the running game better than I anticipated, but his pass rush moves don't seem as diversified as others, such as Tully Banta-Cain. It seems he often relies on a power move but he's not consistently winning and getting pressure.

Q: I heard Belichick say that the extended playing time for Darius Butler and Jonathan Wilhite was a result of them getting in there and the coaches liking what they saw. Do you think they will be the top two going forward? Leigh Bodden has looked solid to me in games past and seems to present a different, more physical look than the younger guys. -- Dean (Taunton, Mass.)

A: Dean, I like Butler quite a bit, so I'd keep him on the field as much as possible while understanding that certain games will present matchups that might make it better to go with Springs. In terms of why Butler and Wilhite were the choice Sunday, I think it was more than simply getting in there, as I believe it was a calculated shakeup to help breathe some life into a defense that was often knocked back on its heels the week before. I thought Bodden and Springs had struggled a bit in Denver. Prior to that game, I think Bodden has been solid.

Q: I know it was only one game, but with how Sebastian Vollmer looked at left tackle, do you think if he continues to play well, the Patriots could look to trade Matt Light in the offseason either for picks or for other needed pieces? -- Andrew (Brighton)

A: Andrew, I don't see Light, who will enter the final year of his contract in 2010 and who is scheduled to earn $4.5 million, commanding much on the trade market after the season. Age is also a factor, as Light will be 32 by the time next season starts, and entering his 10th season.

[+] EnlargeLaurence Maroney
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireOne of the big questions moving forward is whether Laurence Maroney can build on the success he had against the Titans.

Q: I know Maroney had a good day in the win over the Titans, but I'm inclined to take it with a big pinch of salt. Defenders on a snowy, slippery field tend to be slower and at a slight disadvantage, which makes Maroney's usual hesitation less of a liability. Sure, he played well, but so did Kevin Faulk and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Not saying he didn't play well, but I wouldn't put all my Super Bowl dreams on his shoulders yet. -- HH (Cambridge, Mass.)

A: One thought I've had on Maroney has been that he needed a new starting point, one that could perhaps provide a spark to his confidence. I thought he had one against the Titans. I don't think anyone is saying he will suddenly become the back that leads them to the Super Bowl, but this was perhaps the hitting of the reset button that he needed.

Q: Hey Mike, it seems like Maroney has become a pretty polarizing figure, with a lot of fans and even some people in the media quick to write him off. I feel like one of the things that gets lost in the shuffle is how much time he has missed. It seems like the issue of reading the play and hitting the hole with the right timing is a skill that you can hone with reps, and he hasn't had a lot lately. Do you think maybe the expectations of him at the start of the season might have been a little high, just like they were for Brady? -- Gus (Los Angeles)

A: Gus, this question came in before Maroney's solid performance against the Titans, but I sense that he remains a polarizing figure. My personal feeling is that the missed time is not an excuse for some of the inconsistencies, although I do subscribe to the theory that some running backs get in the flow and get stronger the more they are fed the ball. Fred Taylor's effort against the Falcons in Week 3 stands out to me in that regard, and there are times I'd like to see Maroney get more of a chance in the flow of the game.

Q: So what was wrong with the Titans? -- MarkJ (Japan)

A: MarkJ, I'd say the three main things that I see with the Titans are: 1) Poor quarterback play from Kerry Collins; 2) A decimated secondary without its top three players which left not-ready-for-primetime rookies in a tough spot; 3) Missing Albert Haynesworth at defensive tackle.

Q: Hello Mike, I always see Brandon Meriweather and Brandon McGowan very close to the line of scrimmage and both in coverage sometimes. Which one is playing free safety and who is playing strong safety? Are they alternating positions? And who left the game when Pat Chung came in? -- Gustavo (Brazil)

A: Gustavo, I'd say McGowan plays closer to the line of scrimmage in more of the traditional strong safety type role, while Meriweather tends to be more of the center-field type free safety. They do have some flexibility to switch things up. When Chung came in the base defense, it was Meriweather who came out of the game.

Q: How is Pat Chung doing this season so far? I haven't heard much in terms of him on the field. -- Nick (Santa Cruz, Calif.)

A: Nick, Chung saw his most extensive playing time on defense Sunday, and I think he shows positive signs. Because of the emergence of Brandon McGowan, he hasn't been called upon much. Chung has made his presence felt on special teams, which has solidified his spot on the 45-man, game-day roster.

Q: Mike, 59-0 suggests a pretty perfect game plan and execution. However, I challenge you: Can you look at Sunday's game and find one area that the Patriots need to improve on? -- Erich (New Hampshire)

A: I'd say tackling in the run game, Erich. It didn't hurt them but as defensive coordinator Dean Pees pointed out, the Patriots surrendered 86 yards after initial contact in the run game.

Q: How soon before they release Joey Galloway? Can not be soon enough to suit me. What a waste keeping him, when they could have kept Greg Lewis. Galloway must have the "shortest" arms around when he went over the middle. -- Mike (Fort Knox, Kentucky)

A: Mike, it's now been three games in a row that Galloway has been inactive. It obviously hasn't gone as planned. If there isn't a move before Tuesday's trade deadline, I think Galloway will get another shot, and like Maroney, my view is that he needs a new starting point. I thought it would be this week against the Titans. Fair point about Greg Lewis, but I don't think too many people thought Lewis would be the better option over Galloway back in early September. I know I didn't.

(Editor's note: Since this writing, Galloway has been released by the team.)

Q: Mike, it is strange to see some of the Pats' mental errors this season, ones they used to never make (several delay of games, stupid penalties). In the Titans game, the delay of game the Pats had was really bad. How do you get a delay of game coming out of a timeout? -- Kyle (Boston)

A: That was uncharacteristic, Kyle, and I think it falls on Brady for the delay of game penalty. It seemed like he just lost track of the play clock. You're right, we've seen more of those this year (four) than it seems like we've seen in Brady's entire career.

Q: I'm betting Belichick was grudgingly willing to go to London, but if they were to play it as a home game, I'm sure he would have been livid. Are there any advantages in the Bucs playing a "home" game in London, or are they just taking one for the sake of the NFL? -- Jonah (Nashville, Tennessee)

A: Jonah, the only advantage I can see for the Buccaneers is that they can avoid the booing of their home fans. On a serious note, from a business perspective, they lose out on many of the revenues of a home game and are really doing it to spread their brand and the NFL's brand. My take is that it's a put-the-NFL-first type of gesture.

Q: Hi Mike, where has James Sanders been? Did he get hurt at some point that I missed? -- Rick (Lowell, Mass.)

A: Rick, Sanders has been out the past two games with a shoulder injury. He hurt it making a tackle against the Ravens. Even before then, it looked like Brandon McGowan was cutting into his playing time.

Q: Mike, with the struggles at No. 3 receiver why hasn't there been any talk of Marvin Harrison? Is it money? His legal issues? -- Andy (Brighton, Mass.)

A: Andy, it's telling to me that no team has stepped up for Harrison, especially given the need that several teams seem to have. I'm assuming it's a combination of football and off-field stuff. If I recall, Harrison didn't talk much with his teammates in Indianapolis, and was sort of a loner in the locker room. Just don't think that type of situation would work here in New England.

Q: Any chance the Pats are trolling some of the winless or one-win teams to see if the can steal a WR? Could they get someone like Carolina's Steve Smith for a couple of second-round picks? -- Rob (Austin, Texas)

A: Rob, director of player personnel Nick Caserio said that the team has been in standard trade discussions before the Oct. 20 deadline. To me, the discussions for a receiver should start with Deion Branch. He uniquely fits because of his prior knowledge of the system and strong relationship with Brady, so the learning curve wouldn't be steep. Things haven't worked out for Branch in Seattle, and ESPN's Adam Schefter had tweeted that the Seahawks would consider dealing him. For the Patriots, I assume his contract would have to be addressed for them to consummate a deal.

Q: Hey Mike, quick question about the No. 3 WR position: During preseason there was a lot of talk about Terrence Nunn as a breakout player, then he was placed on the practice squad and I haven't heard anything since. With all the struggles the Pats are having with the third WR (Galloway/Sam Aiken) do you think that they will give this kid a chance or are his skills still too raw? -- William (Charlotte, Vt.)

A: William, I talked with Nunn in the locker room over the past few weeks and told him of the support I've read from e-mailers over the past month. He smiled. Nunn had a solid preseason working against second- and third-stringers, so I think the challenge from this perspective is projecting how he would fare against first-stringers. We've seen the Patriots promote from their practice squad consistently over the years, so I wouldn't rule out that we see Nunn at some point but I'd hesitate from slotting him at No. 3. That's a big jump.

Q: Mike, my question is in regard to rookie WR Brandon Tate. Is there a possibility we are going to see him after the bye week? -- Dan (Southbridge, Mass.)

A: Dan, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said on Monday that it was a good possibility Tate would start practicing this week. Once Tate starts practicing, the Patriots will have a three-week window to make a decision on whether to place him on the active roster or season-ending injured reserve.

[+] EnlargeJunior Seau
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonWith the addition of Junior Seau and with Jerod Mayo returning from injury, the Patriots seem to be returning to the 3-4 defensive alignment.

Q: With the Pats signing Junior Seau, do you think they would want to add more veteran LBs, such as Derrick Brooks? He's younger and possibly a longer-term option, and maybe at a price similar to what they are paying Seau. -- Rob (Chelmsford, Mass.)

A: Rob, I'd think that the Patriots are out of the linebacker market after signing Seau, who played 24 snaps in his debut (including penalties) and brought a lot of energy to the defense. One of the challenges with bringing in a player like Brooks, in addition to Seau, is the special-teams aspect of things. Seau and Brooks aren't going to factor into special teams, so you can only have so many of those types of players. Also, one of the reasons Seau was a better fit is his knowledge of the system. Brooks would be starting from scratch.

Q: With Junior Seau's return, I was wondering if Tedy Bruschi would also consider coming temporarily out of retirement to help his team. Could you ask him and tell us what he says? Thanks. -- Bill S. (Mountain Home, Arizona)

A: Bill, I asked Tedy in our weekly Bruschi's Breakdown feature and this was his response: "Bill and I spoke during my retirement and he asked me about the possibility of coming back late in the year. I told him I wouldn't be answering the phone. When I retired, the cord was cut."

Q: Hi Mike, now that Junior Seau is back with the Patriots, I notice Terdell Sands was released. Didn't the Pats offer him a two-year deal when he was acquired? Did he struggle in the team's system? I was excited to see what he can do, but I was surprised about his release after the deal he was given. -- Jackson (Boston)

A: Jackson, the Patriots did sign Sands to a two-year contract. What I think happened is that the team is shifting back to the more familiar 3-4 alignment with the return of Jerod Mayo from injury and Junior Seau from the surfboard, and that lessens the need for depth on the line. Also, Sands has most of his experience in the 4-3. At first, I thought Sands might be back quickly as his locker remained intact early last week. But the locker has since been cleared out and now I would think it's only an option in the event of injury.

Q: What do you think are the Patriots' chances of winning their division? -- Victor (Henderson, Nevada)

A: Victor, it's remarkable to me how fast things change. Three weeks ago, it looked like the Jets would be a serious contender. Now they've lost three in a row, their space-eating defensive tackle Kris Jenkins is out for the year, and rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez is struggling. I think the Dolphins will be very tough, the Bills not so much. I pick the Patriots to win the AFC East.

Q: Why wouldn't the Pats put Fred Taylor on injured reserve? What's being accomplished by keeping him on the shelf? -- Adam (Boston)

A: Adam, probably the biggest thing is that Taylor, who is rehabbing his right ankle, still has a chance to return before the end of the season. If you have a chance to add Taylor to your team for the stretch run, I'm of the belief that only makes you better. The tough part for the Patriots will be if they have a run of injuries at other areas on the roster, which makes saving that spot a luxury that can't be afforded.

Q: If the Pats are going anywhere this year they need to have some sort of running game. In all past Super Bowl seasons they've had one dominant back (Antowain Smith, Corey Dillon). Without any commitment to the running game, teams are just sitting back and daring the Pats to throw into difficult coverages. Thoughts? -- Lincoln (Cleveland, Ohio)

A: I agree, Lincoln, and while I think the run game has been overall inconsistent, I've seen a renewed commitment to the run over the past four weeks. In the first two weeks of the season, the Patriots had 101 dropbacks and 43 rushing attempts. Since that time, here are the breakdowns:

Falcons: 42 passes, 39 rushes
Ravens: 32 passes, 30 rushes
Broncos: 33 passes, 27 rushes
Titans: 45 passes, 30 rushes

Q: Hi Mike, in the Pats' two losses the opposing defense adjusted at halftime, and the Pats were shut out. In short, we need better adjustment and play calling from the offensive coordinator. Your thoughts? -- Jim (Chester, NH)

A: I think that's a fair thought, Jim, as there have been a few times where the adjustments maybe could have come quicker both offensively and defensively. The one point I'd make is that we could probably say that for every NFL team, as no coaching staff is at 100 percent. This Patriots staff is excellent at making adjustments, not just at halftime but throughout the game.

Q: Randy Moss seems like he is always out of practice with a non-injury-related issue. Could this be a part of the reason Brady and the offense could not find its groove prior to the Titans game? Seems to me that Moss needs to clock in to work a little more often than he has been. -- Patrick (Scottsdale, Ariz.)

A: There might have been some validity to that, Patrick, but I keep thinking back to 2007 training camp, when Moss was held out with the hamstring and still tore it up in the season opener. So I don't put as much stock into the practice aspect of it with Moss, who I assume has been granted veteran-type days off by Bill Belichick. Moss has been the Patriots' most consistent receiver this season, so they are well deserved in my view.

Q: Josh McDaniels' Broncos have certainly hit the ground much better than Matt Cassel's Chiefs. Are you up on the Chiefs situation? Is Cassel taking much heat or is the whole team just that bad? Is there much talk yet of regretting giving him the big contract? -- Johnny (Rutland, Vermont)

A: I don't think the Chiefs regret giving Cassel the big contract, Johnny. They realize this is the first step in what they hope is a long-range building process. As for the Broncos, I think what we're seeing is that McDaniels is a superior coach who has executed an impressive plan -- both in personnel acquisition and day-to-day coaching.

Q: Mike, do you think the Patriots rely on their "value" system too much when it comes to drafting and free agency? Let's face it, at some point you are going to need to draft first-round talent instead of settling for second- and third-round talent because it's cheaper. -- Brian (Natick, Mass.)

A: Brian, I can understand where there is a perception about the Patriots trading down, or into the next year, but I don't think it should be overlooked how they've also traded up at times. This year, I was initially critical of the Patriots' double trade-down, thinking they would have been better off trading up for Malcolm Jenkins or Robert Ayers. But in retrospect, I think the approach was spot-on, as Darius Butler is a first-round caliber talent and we saw the promise of Sebastian Vollmer already. The Patriots aren't perfect in their drafting, but they stack up favorably against other NFL clubs.

Q: Mike, are you at all concerned that Nick Caserio is involved heavily in the day-to-day on the field football operations instead of scouting and focusing on his player personnel job description? -- Ron (Burlington, Mass.)

A: Caserio's role is unique, Ron, but part of the reason it works is that there are capable people like Jon Robinson, the team's director of college scouting. I actually see Caserio's role as a benefit, not a hindrance, because of the crucial linkage he provides between scouting and coaching.

Q: Mike, as a former rugby player who kicked for field position a lot, I'm wondering why I don't see more punters aim for the opposite corner when the end zone is in play, instead of kicking toward the middle of the field. If you kick toward a corner, when the ball bounces it goes out instead of in the end zone. -- Rich (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

A: Rich, I see the coffin corner as a lost art and like you I've wondered why we don't see more of it. Belichick has previously explained that part of the reason it's gone away is how the officials mark the ball -- it is often not precise because it is difficult to judge where the ball went out of bounds.

Q: Mike, just reviewing the fines from the Pats-Broncos game, I guess I'm shaking my head a little. $7,500 on Meriweather for what most have acknowledged wasn't taunting, and nothing on Brian Dawkins for the blatant spear in Welker's back? -- Scott (Canton, Mass.)

A: Scott, Dawkins did not get fined, or penalized, for the hit on Welker. As for Meriweather, I thought the taunting call was poor, and the fine even worse. I don't understand how an official that far away -- under the goal posts -- can judge taunting because it wasn't like Meriweather stood over Eddie Royal. Unless Meriweather stepped on him, which I might have missed.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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