Shane Vereen Will Have Huge Impact on Patriots’ Offense As Tom Brady Has Missed Third-Down Running Back (Mailbag)


Nov 8, 2013

Shane Vereen, Tom BradyThe Patriots couldn’t be entering the bye week at a better time.

Players are banged up, the team’s coming off its best victory of the season and there’s plenty of time to prepare for a Panthers team that matches up with New England extremely well.

Luckily for the Patriots, they could be getting back Aqib Talib and Shane Vereen in that game. An opposing team has no tape on a New England offense with Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson and Vereen. In Week 1, the Patriots played without Gronkowski and Dobson. Vereen’s been out since he broke his wrist in that game.

Vereen has been wearing a black wrap around his wrist during practice. That lets you know that it’s good enough to practice on, but it still may not be 100 percent. Now, Vereen has two-solid weeks to get his wrist right and his body in game shape.

Let’s get into this week’s mailbag.

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Obviously they’re much different situations, one being legal and another being more team oriented. And since the Aaron Hernandez situation was so extreme, it was necessary for the Patriots to take swift action by cutting the tight end, even if it meant the team may be out of some money.

The Dolphins could afford the luxury of gathering all the facts before making a decision on Jonathan Martin or Richie Incognito. As it currently stands, I could see this situation playing out in any possible manner. Martin could be back with the team, Incognito could be, both could be and neither could be.

The Patriots organization and its players were smart enough to put a kibosh on any supportive Hernandez talk. We saw Mike and Maurkice Pouncey wearing “Free Hernandez” hats, but no one on the Patriots did such a thing.

The Dolphins seem to have full support for Incognito over Martin, despite the organization likely advising them otherwise. It makes sense, too. Obviously Incognito was the better-liked player, or else Martin would not have been bullied.

If this had happened in New England, players would have denied to comment, no matter how right or wrong they thought either party was. That may or may not be the best way to handle things, but it avoids the kind of circus we’re seeing in South Beach.

The name Hernandez hasn’t been squeaked in the Patriots’ locker room since June. Tim Tebow only talked once a week while he was with the team. New England clamps down on circuses well. It appears Miami isn’t so great at that.

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Unless you mean Kyle Love or Lovett Purnell, I think the correct answer to this question is: “Baby don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me. No more.” (This may offend some, but I’ve never seen A Night at the Roxbury. It’s one of the only 1990s comedies and Saturday Night Live-inspired movies I have not caught.)

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With 8 1/2 sacks to his name already, Chandler Jones is currently on pace for 15 on the season. I’m not sure he gets there, though. Jones has had some big games, but Rob Ninkovich hasn’t really started piling up the sacks yet.

I think for the remainder of the season, Jones and Ninkovich keep piling up the pressures (Jones has 49, Ninkovich has 43), but Ninkovich may start closing more (he has just three sacks so far), bringing Jones’ totals down in the second half. I’d say 13 or under for Jones, but I’m ready to be wrong.

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I know it’s been speculated that Steve Gregory could return for Week 11, but I’m not sure if the Patriots risk it. I expect at least one week of Duron Harmon starting at safety. Harmon has played well in dime/as a reserve, but seeing him get a full share of snaps will be a much better barometer for how he’s progressing this season.

Outside of Gregory, the team will have its standard 7 inactive players. They will be going into Carolina with near-full health (other than the four starters who have been lost for the season, of course).

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Based on the fact that we’ve seen him more frequently around Gillette Stadium recently than Mark Harrison, I’d say Armond Armstead has a better shot at playing this year than his fellow rookie on the NFI list. But I’d say chances are better Armstead doesn’t suit up this year than he does.

Armstead definitely looks in better football shape today that he did during the preseason, when we rode in the elevator together following the Giants game. But the fact that New England did not start the clock on him after Tommy Kelly was lost for the season is not a great sign.

There’s still a chance Armstead comes back (he would likely take Marcus Forston‘s spot), but I’d only give it about a 40-percent chance based on some of the things I’ve heard and seen.

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I would probably start the line at Patriots (-3 1/2), but we’ll have to see what happens to Carolina against the 49ers this week. The Panthers are a lot better than anyone expected them to be this season. And a lot of that has to do with the strong play of Cam Newton.

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I think we see both. I don’t envision Newton chucking the ball very often, especially if Talib is back.

This will be a major test for New England’s run defense. It’s definitely a plus that Isaac Sopoaga is part of the unit now. He had a strong debut against the Steelers, but New England still allowed a few big runs.

Newton’s a very dangerous runner and the Patriots don’t have tremendous speed at the linebacker position if Jamie Collins doesn’t play big snaps. New England will miss Gregory in the run game against the Panthers. He’s been a much surer tackler this season and he’s done a great job of sneaking up to the line on run plays.

We may see a heavy dose of either Logan Ryan or Tavon Wilson to help combat Newton’s scrambling ability. The Panthers are eighth in the league with 130.1 rushing yards per game. That number could rise dramatically in Week 11 if the Patriots aren’t careful.

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This is really tough. I know The Beach Boys are No. 1. They’ve been my favorite band since I was 7 years old and that’s never changing.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are No. 2. I’ll fill out the list with The Gaslight Anthem, blink-182 and Misfits. But I have no idea what order they would go in, but that gives a pretty good sense of my musical tastes.

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I think Vereen has a major impact. Brady’s always had that dependable, versatile third-down back, whether it’s been Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead or Vereen. Brandon Bolden has done a good job with Vereen out, but he’s not the same type of player and he’s good for one drop a game.

I think everyone’s snaps decrease a little bit, but Bolden’s will probably take the biggest hit. But Julian Edelman‘s, Stevan Ridley‘s, LeGarrette Blount‘s and Michael Hoomanawanui‘s could go down too.

With Vereen back, we’ll see more screen passes, opposing defenses will be forced to cheat up for check downs and Brady’s completion percentage should go way up. Gronkowski’s the better player, but Vereen could have just as big of an impact on this offense as the tight end did in his return. Vereen was a huge loss.

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Actually, no, not really. It’s better than “Spaz,” which is what Brady called him a couple weeks back.

I just hope Julian Edelman doesn’t miss his “Chipmunks.”

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This may offend your Iowan sensibilities, James, but I get a little wacky when it comes to pancakes. I’ll get chocolate chip, cinnamon roll, blueberry, you name it. I’ve even tried a red velvet pancake with cream cheese frosting from IHOP. And I enjoyed it.

I could be wrong, but I feel like one could be shunned from Iowa for such nonsense, so I hope I did not offend you, sir.

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Unfortunately, no. They had a great shot coming into the season. And I think that’s obvious now seeing how well they have stacked up without so many great pieces.

I think the secondary will still be a top-5 unit, especially when Gregory returns. But now it’s time for the offense to step up. The defense carried this team through the first half. It’s time for Brady and the offense to keep stepping up like they did against the Steelers.

The defense went 6-2. We’ll see if the offense can put up a better record. They’re 1-0 so far.

Have a question for Doug Kyed? Send it to him via Twitter at @DougKyedNESN or send it here.

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