Thanks as always for the questions, and let's get to it.
Is something really wrong with Darren Sharper? I mean, he would be ideal for some veteran leadership, especially with our rash of injuries in the defensive backfield, and you would think with his experience he could pick up the plays relatively easily. Also, do you believe Terrell Owens would be a good playoff pickup? I mean, he doesn't have a problem going over the middle. He plays big in big games and is remarkable at coming back from injuries. I'm not a huge fan, but with Chad Ochocinco struggling and now missing games, Owens might be a great pickup. Last question, will we rest Tom Brady if we have the first or second seed locked up, or will he stay in to make a run at Dan Marino's passing yards record? I don't think it's worth a possible injury, just saying.
–Steve, Myrtle Beach, S.C.
I don't have any inside information on Darren Sharper, but when a player with his credentials goes on a string of workouts and doesn't sign with anyone, it's a huge red flag. That's not one team saying he doesn't fit in their system — it's a number of teams saying they don't believe he can play at a high enough level. The Patriots worked him out over the summer, but they let him walk away. While I haven't agreed with every decision Bill Belichick has made with the defensive backs this season, I'd still tend to believe the Patriots would have signed him if he could play.
Terrell Owens isn't their type of guy. I broke down the difference between Owens and Chad Ochocinco in an October mailbag, and I just don't think it's a fit. Owens' personality has gotten him run out of several cities, and that's not something you'd want to add to a locker room at this point in the season. Sure, Owens can still play, and he might even be better than Ochocinco right now. But Owens' personality can't be ignored.
And lastly, if the Patriots have one of the top-two seeds sewn up in Week 17 — and I believe it's inevitable — remember they'd be on a bye in the first round of the playoffs. Therefore, like last season, there's no way Belichick would give Brady and the stars the week off because it would essentially mean they'd go three weeks between meaningful football. That's not a risk Belichick has been keen on taking.
One final thing to keep in mind: While Brady is on pace to eclipse Dan Marino's record, Saints quarterback Drew Brees still has the slight edge on Brady. What's more, the Saints play four of their last five games in a dome, and the Saints are in a tighter playoff race than the Patriots, which increases the likelihood of Brees having some bigger games down the stretch. Obviously, the record can only belong to one player.
Who gets carries behind BenJarvus Green-Ellis in a big game — Stevan Ridley or Shane Vereen?
–@tomwatsonpats, via Twitter
Actually, neither. For the time being, it's still Kevin Faulk and Danny Woodhead because Belichick will always roll with the players he can rely upon. But if it had to be one or the other with Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, I think Ridley still has the slight edge.
Seeing as how Julian Edelman is helping out on defense, why not put Chad Ochocinco to work returning punts and kickoffs?
–Bob, Lexington, Ky.
They don't really go hand in hand, and I still think Edelman is one of the better punt returners in the NFL right now. Of course, the Patriots need a boost with their kick return unit, which hasn't been overly effective since the fifth game of the 2010 regular season, when Brandon Tate's slide started. But Ochocinco doesn't have the speed or experience to start returning kicks at this point. Pretty crazy, but he's never returned a kick or punt in his NFL career, which is surprising because a lot of receivers get that opportunity early in their careers.
I have heard a lot of mixed opinions about this topic, but how do you feel about the Patriots' defense? I understand they gave up a lot of yards to the Eagles, and that's what we expect now, but it always seems like they hold the opponents to field goals. I just was curious about your take on this. Thank you.
–David, Duxbury, Mass.
I've broken down the Patriots' defense at length throughout the season, but I'll run through some of my thoughts quickly here. I think the defensive line has played very well, and I think the linebackers and defensive backs have covered well when put in man situations, rather than the zone. That's not universal, but it's been my feeling throughout the season for the most part. And I like it when they're aggressive, unlike the passive zones they played in Buffalo and Pittsburgh. Lastly, I think the defense has improved, and it should get better once cornerback Devin McCourty, safety Patrick Chung and linebacker Brandon Spikes get back on the field.
Yards can tell some of the story, but they don't mean anything from that Philly game. Consider this: After the Patriots took a 31-13 lead in the third quarter and basically sealed up the victory, the Eagles had four more possessions. They amassed 14 of their 23 first downs in those possessions, while registering 224 of their 466 yards. That's a whole lot of production when the game doesn't mean anything anymore.
Hey Jeff, I know information on injuries to the Pats is highly classified, but are you getting any sense of when Dane Fletcher will be back? I know he was at practice this week. I'd like to see him get some game action soon, if for no other reason than to see a bit less of Gary Guyton on the field.
Also, I went back and rewatched the Chiefs and Eagles games, and it seems as though opponents are getting less of a push up the middle since Dan Connolly went out with his groin injury and was replaced by Ryan Wendell. I know that's a very small sample size to make a judgment, but do you think the Pats are better with Connolly or with Wendell at center? Thanks.
–All Thing Pats
Good questions. I'm not sure about Dane Fletcher. My gut tells me he probably needs another week of practice to get back into shape, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if he played Sunday against the Colts, even if it's on a limited basis.
I still think the Patriots are better with Dan Connolly at center, but I'm not sure if there's a discernible difference between the two. Connolly is definitely bigger than Wendell, that's for sure, but the performance seems to be about the same when they're each on the field. I'd still like more of a sample size.
I would disagree with the rush up the middle, though. First, the Chiefs (outside linebacker Tamba Hali) and Eagles (defensive end Trent Cole) have their two best pass rushers on the outside of their defense — not that they're unique with that, but that's where they try to attack. And before defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins went down early Sunday, he was killing the inside of the Patriots' offensive line.
Plus, the Patriots' two best offensive linemen have been guards Brian Waters and Logan Mankins. Therefore, it only makes sense for opponents to target their pressure to the outside. For the most part, that has seemed to be the opponents' game plan this season, at least from my perspective.
Would you agree with me in saying that right now the Patriots' defense is the best in the AFC East? It might sound ridiculous, but based on points allowed, we are technically No. 1. Also, who would take first Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers?
I like the optimism there, and you're actually right if you're comparing them to the Jets. The Patriots are allowing 20.3 points per game this season, which is surprisingly fewer than the Jets (21.9). The Dolphins are better than both in that category, though, allowing 18.7 points per game, which ranks sixth in the NFL.
When it comes down to it, though, if I needed one defensive unit for one game, I'd still take the Jets' unit right now. Obviously, they're not nearly as good as they were in 2009 and 2010, but I'd still trot them out there for a game. You can bring up Tim Tebow's game-winning drive to point out a flaw in my argument, but that can be countered with Eli Manning's game-winning drive against New England.
But what this tells us is the gap has definitely shrunk this season.
I'd still take Brady over Aaron Rodgers, but there's no wrong answer right now. But if you're talking about one guy to start a franchise, you'd almost have to go with Rodgers because he's six years younger than Brady.
I am tired of Ochocinco taking up reps that should go to Taylor Price.
–Jim Lavin, Spencer, Mass.
You're certainly not alone in that thought process among the Patriots' fan base, Jim. But Ochocinco's grace period ended a few weeks back, in my opinion, and if Taylor Price deserved the playing time, he'd get it. At some point, you have to wonder why Price hasn't done enough behind the scenes to get those game reps. Right now, I believe Price isn't on the field because of Price, not Ochocinco or the coaching staff. And I don't want to say Price is done, but he hasn't shown anything to make anyone believe he can be a long-term answer.
Am I the only person who would love to see Rob Gronkowski get a handoff as the I-back and just beast through the line on some linebacker? I know it would never happen, but I would pay extra to see that. One a serious note, is Taylor Price all but done here in New England? Is it mental with him as to why he is not on the field? Thanks, enjoy this every week.
–Ethan, Ashburnham, Mass.
Thank you, Ethan. I won't lie, the thought of Gronkowski taking a handoff had never crossed my mind, but you're right, it'd be seriously entertaining. I could see him being fearless taking a carry at the goal line. It probably won't ever happen, but I like where your head is at.
Has Bill Belichick invented any popular lunch items?
–@xnappax, via Twitter
Bobby V's wrap has nothing on Belichick's peanut butter and jelly sandwich — the BBPB&J. Seriously, though, watch this video! And you're welcome.