Patriots Mailbag: Who Starts at Safety, Sterling Moore or Steve Gregory?
Plenty about the New England Patriots secondary remains unknown. The unit ranked 31st in yards allowed in 2011 and will undoubtedly be the recipient of much attention this offseason.
The secondary was the biggest topic of concern for the majority of my questioners this week.
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Now let's get to the good stuff...
Safety in Sterling Moore?
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Pat Maillet Asks: What are your thoughts on moving Sterling Moore to safety?
Pat, Moore was signed by the Patriots as a safety. In fact when he made his debut against the Jets he played every snap there.
Apparently New England's coaching staff had seen enough though.
Moore was heavily de-emphasized in the safety rotation from there, eventually making it back onto the field at corner. That's where we first got a glimpse at his ball skills and timing. Moore made two timely interceptions during the regular season and defended six passes in the playoffs, all at cornerback.
It's hard to say whether the team had him at safety out of need or because they actually liked him there.
Judging by the fact that he never once played safety again in 2011, I doubt he'll be looked to as a possible piece. Steve Gregory is a name to get used to, as he's likely to see some starts and snaps.
Who Is This Steve Gregory Character Anyway?
Pat Maillet Asks: I'm unfamiliar with Steve Gregory, who would you compare him to?
Most importantly he's versatile, which fits the Patriots bill. Gregory can line up at strong or free safety depending on the scenario or blitz package.
San Diego valued him enough to allow him to start 22 games over the last two seasons. He's a wily veteran at 29 who had to claw his way into more play time. He seems like a hard worker, and someone who can be depended on.
Gregory won't be given anything and would likely have to beat someone else out for the starting gig, but he's definitely going to be involved in the competition.
What Ever Happened to Brandon McGowan?
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Pat Maillet Asks: Considering the need at safety this offseason makes me wonder why the Patriots got rid of Brandon McGowan all those years ago. I saw real potential in him.
You know Pat, that one wasn't ever fully explained.
At the time of his release it looked like the team was set in terms of depth, but that obviously turned out a bit differently than expected.
McGowan was undrafted out of college, but he had decent cover skills. They lined him up against tight ends and he actually did well—he certainly never had any issues wrapping up ball carriers.
Heck, when I think about it he forced fumbles, defended passes, played special teams and Belichick spoke highly of him to boot.
McGowan sat on the injured reserve for the entire length of the 2010 season with a "chest injury". He hasn't even received a workout from another team since his release the following year in 2011.
I think he actually might be done playing as result of that injury, but it hasn't been confirmed anywhere.
Meeting Coach Belichick
Alex is of course referring to the picture I've included in the slide. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to meet New England's head coach back in 2009, prior to the start of the season.
The Patriots organization graciously welcomed me and about 100 or so fans into the team's club box at Gillette Stadium. Each table dined with a specific Patriots' staff member, and Belichick performed a mock press conference for all in attendance.
99% of the attendees cashed in their VISA rewards points to get a ticket to the event. I on the other hand, won a raffle for buying a fridge magnet from the Patriots Pro Shop. For a 17-year-old kid it was a dream come true just to be in the same room as one of my football idols.
Belichick and Patriots' Hall of Famer Andre Tippett shook hands, took pictures and signed tons of autographs after the event as well. It was truly an experience I will never forget.
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Pat Maillet Asks: What is the best scheme offensively to use against this New York Giants defense? Besides getting Rob Gronkowski healthy, what would you like to see the Patriots do differently on offense?
The New England offense seems most vulnerable when opposing defenses are able to put a cap on the top of their secondary. When you can focus solely on shutting down the Patriots receivers around the middle of the field, the dink and dunk option is largely taken away.
With no outside vertical presence the Patriots are forced to try and get open with creative mismatches for the entire length of the game. That's just not easy to accomplish.
So the issue appears to be versatility. Yes the dink and dunk option can get to you to the Super Bowl, but it's proven weak against stout defenses. Add a receiver who can take the top off the defense (Brandon Lloyd) and you have instantly assisted the rest of your receivers in the middle.
Add a power running game into the mix (Stevan Ridley and Spencer Larsen) and you're looking like a pretty damn formidable offense.
Meaning of the Screen
Alex Merrill Asks: Back in the day (early 2000's) the Patriots, with players like Patrick Pass in particular, were great in the screen game. Why have they strayed from their copious amount of screen plays? Is it a combination of faster/smarter linebackers? The screen game always seemed like a great pass rush buster...
Great question, Alex. There are probably a number of factors involved in fazing out of the screen. I think personnel can be cited as the main reason though.
But Randy made it nearly impossible to run effectively or safely. He generally would half-heartedly engage his defender and barely block. At some point you're putting your player's health at risk when their own teammates aren't looking out for them.
The team also had a great cast of athletic offensive lineman who could get down field in a hurry to do some damage. The majority of those lineman have come and gone now.
I'd like to see more screens run and I think there are a number of younger, athletic lineman on the roster again to help.
You don't want to rely on that type of gimmicky pass though, which might have played a role in the team turning away from it. Josh McDaniels' four-year vacancy could have played a part too.
Lots of factors with regards to the evolution of the playbook for sure.
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