Patriots Mailbag: Pass Rush Living Up To Expectations Despite Injuries

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December 11, 2015

There’s one big question on New England Patriots fans’ minds going into Week 14: Will Rob Gronkowski play?

It’s a good one, and the Patriots haven’t made answering it very easy with how they’ve handled the tight end this week. He was limited in his return to practice Thursday, which is an odd day to be back on the field. Typically, injured players come back on Wednesdays or Fridays.

If Gronkowski came back Wednesday, it would increase his chances of playing this Sunday. If Gronkowski returned Friday, it would likely mean the Patriots were prepping him for Week 15. Returning Thursday leaves projections in a weird middle ground.

There likely won’t be much clarification until Saturday, when it’s announced whether Gronkowski made the trip to play the Houston Texans.

Let’s get into other questions Patriots fans had in this week’s mailbag:

@DougKyed Crazy to think that LaFell and Amendola have flip-flopped chances of being on the 2016 roster?
— @ArjunaRamgopal
I don’t think that’s a crazy thought, but Danny Amendola likely will again have to redo his contract this offseason, regardless.

LaFell’s cap hit next season is $3.8 million, while Amendola’s is $6.86 million. LaFell’s cap hit this season is $3.5 million, while Amendola’s is $3.1 million, which shows how they valued both players coming into the year.

There’s definitely still a chance both Amendola and LaFell come back next season, but it’s also pretty amazing to think the Patriots could be going into another offseason looking for receiver help.

Amendola has proven to be a dependable option this season with 56 receptions on 73 targets for 582 yards with three touchdowns and just two drops in 11 games. LaFell has 25 catches on 56 targets for 369 yards without a touchdown and eight drops in seven games.

LaFell had a great season last year, which obviously affords him some leeway this season, but he has to regain some trust after a shaky start to the season, coming off the PUP list.

ESPN analyst and former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi had some interesting comments when asked about LaFell in a chat this week.

“I will say this, when a conclusion is made about a player within that coaching staff, and it’s bad, that’s a place you don’t want to be,” Bruschi said. “For example, for any type of player, ‘He isn’t good versus the run. … He can’t play special teams. … He’s not physical enough. … He just can’t catch the ball.’ Once this conclusion is made, there is no turning back. They’re done with you. I’ve got to think LaFell is running out of chances. How many running backs have you seen sitting on the bench when they don’t have ball security? The same is true with WRs. I’ve heard Bill Belichick say this in meetings: ‘Hey, receivers! You have two jobs: One is to get open, the second is to catch the ball.’ That’s all I’m going to say about that.”

@DougKyed Why do so many people think it’s 2001 and that NE should sign Terrell Owens? The dude is 42 and hasn’t played in 5 years!
— @DarrylJohnston

@DougKyed can we sign T.O
— @Dub_Step_Jones
Isn’t Twitter great?

To answer Darryl, I have no idea. Terrell Owens is obviously doing this as some sort of publicity stunt, but it’s just coming across as kind of sad. The guy’s about to be in the Hall of Fame (or at least, he absolutely should be a first-ballot guy). He should move on.

@DougKyed If you had to pick one Patriots’ player to tackle you, who would be?
— @jpac_96
I’m going with Tom Brady, Stephen Gostkowski or Ryan Allen.

I thought about picking Damaris Johnson, because he’s the lightest player on the team at 175 pounds, but then I remembered force equals mass plus acceleration, and Johnson is way, way, way faster than Brady, Gostkowski or Allen.

@DougKyed is Tom Brady currently the best WR on the roster (w/out edelman)?
— @Vanoss20Wong
That honor goes to Amendola, but Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan said a couple weeks ago he wouldn’t be surprised if Brady has the best hands on the team, because he handles the football so frequently and takes so many shotgun snaps. I think Brady might have proved that Sunday against the Eagles.

@DougKyed do you think the lack of experience at the O-line is finally catching up to the patriots
— @AlecBoucher
Yes and no.

I think the offensive line looks worse than it is because Brady is being forced to hold the ball longer with Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski out. Then again, the offensive line definitely looked better than it actually was early in the season when Brady was firing bullets quickly.

Without Nate Solder at left tackle, I think this is probably a below-average offensive line.

@DougKyed what’s your go to meal in Boston. And on the road?
— @NickDygs9
My favorite places in and around Boston are the original Regina Pizzeria, Bon Chon and El Pelon, but eating in the city is a pain because of parking. I like Town Spa Pizza in Stoughton, Good Food Store in Walpole and Kreme ‘n Kone in Dennis.

I usually try to eat the local specialty on the road, and I’ll typically just search Yelp for a place with tons of reviews and 3 1/2 stars or more. My favorites so far are Harry & Izzy’s in Indianapolis and Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque in Kansas City. Oh, and I had to try Sombrero in San Diego, because I’ve wanted to eat there since hearing “Josie” by Blink-182 in 1997.

@DougKyed if Gronk is Tiny Tim…who is Brady and isn’t BB automatically Scrooge?
— @JS_GA0813
Brady is Bob Cratchit, Julian Edelman is Scrooge’s nephew Fred, Chandler Jones is Fezziwig, Troy Brown is Ghost of Christmas Past, Rob Ninkovich is Ghost of Christmas Present and Ernie Adams is Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

@DougKyed what do u think of the patriots pass rush so far? Lived up to expectations? Can be better?
— @JabezClarke
I’d say they’ve lived up to expectations so far. The record number of sacks for a Bill Belichick head-coached defense is 48 by the 1992 and 1993 Cleveland Browns.

The Patriots currently have 36 sacks on the season, so they’re on pace for 48. The Patriots could have Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, Dominique Easley, Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower all healthy for Week 14, so their pass rush should soon be as good as it was early in the season.

The Patriots currently are on pace for 333 total pressures. They had 270 in 2014, 286 in 2013, 246 in 2012, 262 in 2011 and 252 in 2010. That shows how much better and more consistent the Patriots’ pass rush has been compared to recent seasons, and how far they’ve come since the beginning of the decade.

The biggest differences this year are Hightower and Collins are being allowed to rush more, Easley is healthy, and the Patriots added a third effective edge rusher in Sheard.

@DougKyed Still think Nathan for You is the best thing on television.
— @randy_kimball
Yes. Absolutely. I don’t watch a lot of TV during the season, but “Nathan For You” is a must-watch. Nathan Fielder is a fearless genius.

Watch it on Comedy Central on Thursdays at 10 p.m.

@DougKyed How do we stop JJ Watt?
— @zg313
You run away from him, get the ball out quickly, double team him and hope he breaks his hand in practice.

One down, three to go for the Patriots.

Watt spends most of his time at left defensive end, so it mostly will be up to Marcus Cannon, Tre’ Jackson and possibly Josh Kline to stop him. Tight ends Michael Williams, Scott Chandler, Asante Cleveland and potentially Rob Gronkowski also could chip in.

The Patriots held Watt to just two pressures in the 2012 divisional round of the playoffs, so if anyone could stop him, it’s a Belichick-coached and Brady-led team.

@DougKyed -Which was the better/worse receiving corps, The group available to Pats last week or the ’06 group, Which did Brady get most from
— @LukeTansley2
Oof, great question. The 2006 team featured Reche Caldwell as it’s No. 1 receiver, a 35-year-old Troy Brown manning the slot, Ben Watson and Daniel Graham at tight end and Kevin Faulk as its third-down back. Corey Dillon, Laurence Maroney, Doug Gabriel and David Thomas also were involved.

Last week’s receiving corps had Brandon LaFell, Keshawn Martin and Danny Amendola at receiver, Scott Chandler, Asante Cleveland and Michael Williams at tight end, and James White and Brandon Bolden as the receiving backs.

I think I’ll go with the 2006 receiving corps. Brady would have taken Faulk, Watson, Graham and Brown last week.

@DougKyed will the patriots ever get another real deep threat wr while Brady is still here or is he stuck with slot guys and gronk?
— @alexriffel88
I maintain that throwing deep doesn’t fit Brady’s current skill set. He started off the season with improved production on the deep ball, but it’s declined as he increased his attempts over 20 yards.

Certainly it would help if he had a big receiver who can run a 4.4 40, but the Patriots have had a helluva time trying to find that receiver since Randy Moss left.

I can’t help but wonder what the Patriots would have done with their 2014 second-round draft pick if Allen Robinson wasn’t drafted No. 61 overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Patriots took Jimmy Garoppolo one pick later.

Robinson has been the NFL’s most productive deep threat this season, and he was coming from Bill O’Brien’s system at Penn State.

Seeing how well DeAndre Hopkins is producing under O’Brien in what is essentially the Patriots’ offense shows New England could develop a big receiving threat. It just hasn’t been done.

@DougKyed sheamus is beating reigns this weekend but what’s your take on the daniel bryan situation?
— @HiggieSmalls95
I think it’s a bad idea for Daniel Bryan to get back in the ring if WWE is advising against it. And I would be hesitant to let him wrestle if I were Ring of Honor or NJPW.

I understand Bryan doesn’t want to hang up the boots, but his long-term health is more important. Perhaps he could come back if willing to adjust his style, but I’d wait to be cleared by WWE rather than moving on to a new company.

Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images

Thumbnail photo via Oct 29, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich (50) and defensive end Chandler Jones (95) on the sideline during the fourth quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports
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