Patriots Mailbag: Tom Brady Gets Another Crack at a Rob Ryan Defense, Looking at Kevin Faulk’s Future

Patriots Mailbag: Tom Brady Gets Another Crack at a Rob Ryan Defense, Looking at Kevin Faulk's FutureFOXBORO, Mass. — It's a loaded mailbag this week, and deservedly so. The Patriots are coming off a significant victory against the Jets, and they're working toward a fun one with the Cowboys.

There's plenty to discuss, so let's get to it.

Hey Jeff, I'm pumped for another action-packed matchup in New England this Sunday against a highly talented Dallas team. Particularly, what intrigues me is how Tom Brady and the offensive line will handle this defense. If, if, Brady stays clean, I believe the Patriots will run away with this one. Do you think our line will maintain enough protection? Will Rob Ryan be able to confuse Brady as he did last year in Cleveland? Something tells me Tom Terrific is excited to prove he can carve up this defense.
–Justin

It's going to be a great game, Justin, and I think it's going to be a high-scoring affair, too. I'm taking the Patriots by a 38-31 count, so I guess that means I think Brady will be able to handle Ryan's defense, which is different now than it was last year in Cleveland, at least by most accounts in the New England locker room.

I'll say this, though. Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware has proven it's nearly impossible to keep him away from the quarterback, evidenced by 85 sacks in 100 career games, which is the second most through 100 games to Reggie White's 105 quarterback takedowns. So you can pretty much set your watch to Ware sacking Brady. I'll break down Ware's performance more Saturday, so keep an eye out for that.

Jeff, we're getting close to decision time for the players on the PUP list. I'm specifically interested in your thoughts on the likelihood of either Kevin Faulk or Brandon Deaderick being healthy enough to return this season. If the answer for Faulk is no, do you see him retiring and being offered a position with the team?
–Wayne DeHart

Don't forget about Ron Brace, too. I think all three will be healthy enough to contribute at some point this season. First off, they can be cleared to practice at any point between Weeks 7-9. From there, the team has three weeks to decide whether to activate them to the 53-man roster or place them on injured reserve, which would end their season.

I think the chances of any of them playing this season will rest on the health of the players in front of them on the depth chart. Right now, the Patriots can't even get second-rounder Shane Vereen into the running back mix because they're jammed up at the position (though that could change if Danny Woodhead doesn't play Sunday). Obviously, Bill Belichick would be far more comfortable using Faulk over Vereen, but would the head coach really want five running backs on this roster?

The Patriots have had injury issues for the last season-plus on the defensive line, so that will make Brace and Deaderick even more valuable. Rather than scrambling to sign guys off the streets in the event of a further rash of injuries, they've got two guys who know the system. That will be key if, say, Albert Haynesworth's back doesn't heal up, or Mike Wright can't fully make his way back or anyone else happens to go down.

I think the most logical way to use the players would be to hold off until Week 9 (unless the injury issue gets worse at running back or on the defensive line), which would give the Patriots until Week 12 to make a decision on their fate. It's a really good problem to have.

To your last question, they wouldn't need to release Faulk. If he's not ready to go, he can remain with the team like he did in 2010 after suffering the injury. Faulk has never said definitively if he'd like to go into coaching, but I definitely see some coaching characteristics in his personality.

Jeff, do you think they would be satisfied with Brace and Deaderick coming off the PUP list or do you think they would look elsewhere to replace the spot? And if they did look elsewhere, do you think they would look back at Eric Moore? He really came on strong last year when he signed here late and looked good in camp. I just don't understand why they cut him, it's not like the guys they kept over him are tearing it up.
–Ted Rogers

To start off, I think they're going to roll with Brace and Deaderick to see where those guys can get them. If health or performance becomes an issue, the Patriots might opt to look elsewhere, and Moore is a good name, though he plays a different position than Brace and Deaderick.

You do bring up a good point, though. I was surprised that Moore was released after training camp. Andre Carter has done a good job, and Shaun Ellis has had mixed success, though he's been working back from offseason surgery and I wonder if he needs a little more time to play himself back to where he needs to be. Mark Anderson has been a situational pass rusher who basically took Moore's spot. I think Moore and Anderson are comparable players, and if the Patriots needed depth on the outside of the line, Moore could be the next guy in line.

Just wondering if Taylor Price is ever going to get a chance to play anytime soon?
–Marco

That's a very, very good question. Price showed so much promise this preseason but was hampered by the hamstring injury at the start of the regular season. Even with it, Price hasn't missed a practice since the first session of the regular season, though he's been listed as limited during every session. Going further, Price would only get a limited amount of snaps on game days due to the players above him on the depth chart, which makes me believe at least part of the reason he's been inactive three times is due to the depth chart.

It's been an interesting storyline to follow, and it's got to be frustrating for Price.

What are the chances that the Patriots sign Terrell Owens and drop Chad Ochocinco?
–Michael

First, I'd be shocked if Ochocinco got released during the season. To my knowledge, he hasn't been a distraction in the locker room, so the Patriots wouldn't be in a hurry to usher him out the door. At some point, it has to work for him, and the Patriots just need him to be in form for the playoffs. Of course that's not an ideal timetable, and they didn't acquire him to be a bottom-of-the-depth-chart player for three months, but it's what they've got to hope for now. Plus, the free-agent market isn't exactly littered with big-time receiving talent.

Now, I know you brought up Owens. And yes, he's still got talent, which he showcased last season before injuring his knee. But I don't think Owens would work in New England. He's way too me-first, and I don't think he would buy into the Patriots' system in the same sense that Ochocinco has, even if it hasn't translated on the field. I don't see any need for the Patriots to rattle the locker room with a presence like Owens.

I know the pair had their own joint reality show last year, but I still see them as different people. Ochocinco can be as mature as he wants to be, and he has been so far, as I mentioned before. I don't see Owens in the same light.

Why are we not getting to the quarterbacks for the last three years? We brought in Haynesworth, Andre Carter, Shaun Ellis, Mark Anderson and our second-year edge rusher Jermaine Cunningham.
–Thomas Hopper

This year is definitely different than the last few because of the personnel and a change in scheme. But still, the Patriots are trying to collapse the pocket with a four-man rush, either with a four-man line or three down linemen and an outside linebacker in a two-point stance outside of a tackle. They rarely bring a fifth guy, and they have hardly ever attacked with a six-man rush.

I don't have a problem with that philosophy if the pocket is collapsing on the quarterback or if seven guys in coverage are doing their job, but that hasn't been the case, particularly in the last two games. I think this defense has more potential than the units from the past two or three seasons, so I'm willing to wait it out — also because the offense is going to be good enough to get this team into the playoffs, if not clinch a bye.

The problem I had with the lack of pressure against the Bills and Raiders is the Patriots didn't change it up enough. If that four-man rush isn't working and the seven guys in coverage aren't clogging up the pass catchers, then it should be worth bringing the heat with more rushers. One problem going forward, though, is Jerod Mayo is the Patriots' best blitzing linebacker, and he's probably going to miss Sunday's game against the Cowboys. He might be back in time for Pittsburgh after the bye, though.

Why did the Pats drop Dan Gronkowski and then add him back?
–Don

Gronkowski had a hamstring injury that would have kept him out of the Buffalo game, so they released him to make room for safety Ross Ventrone, who needed to provide depth due to Patrick Chung's thumb injury. Gronkowski never left the Foxboro area and just rehabbed the hamstring to get back to full strength. Now that he's good to go, he's back with the team.

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