Bruce Allen of Patriots Daily and I exchanged questions about the Patriots and Titans as we look forward to this Sunday’s game. Patriots Daily is among the most impressive sports blogs I’ve seen. See my responses to Bruce’s questions here.
Bruce gives insight on the Patriots running game and mentions how Albert Haynesworth impacted Tom Brady’s performance this season.
TT: All but one of the Patriots contests has been decided by seven points or less. Why haven’t the Patriots been able to dominate opponents as they did in 2007?
Bruce: Mostly because it is 2009, and not 2007. The roster is completely different, Brady is still adjusting to coming back from his knee injury, the defense is young and inexperienced, and opposing defenses are better prepared for what the Patriots offense presents to them. This team is still developing and coming together, and I think they will get better as the season goes on.
TT: As of today, Fred Taylor remains New England’s leading rusher, and losing him to injury stifles the offense. What is the state of the Patriots’ running game? Why hasn’t Laurence Maroney been more effective?
Bruce: I”m not sure the loss of Taylor “stifles” the offense. Even though he led the team in yards, the team was rotating the carries pretty even among their backs. Maroney has had injury problems, and some question his toughness. However down the stretch in 2007 and in the first two playoff games that season, he was everything you want in a running back. Last year he missed most of the season after injuring his shoulder. The Patriots seem to favor the committee approach just to try and limit the wear and tear on their backs. Sammy Morris had been their best back in the first half of the last two seasons, but wore down as the season went on. I think the Patriots are trying to keep them all fresh, while at the same time allowing them to play enough to stay sharp. It’s a tough balance to achieve, especially when you’re throwing the ball so much.
TT: On a scale from one to ten, rate Tom Brady’s performance in 2009. Have his passing skills diminished as he recovers from injury?
Bruce: He is at about a 7 right now. At this point, it’s sort of a perfect storm of reasons why he’s struggled in the early going. Let’s list them out: 1) His recovery from knee surgery. He’s still getting comfortable with moving in the pocket and stepping into his throws. The results have been un-Brady-like accuracy problems. 2) Getting squashed by Albert Haynesworth in the preseason, which tweaked his shoulder. 3) Injuries and turnover among the receiving corps, Welker and Moss have both been hobbled with injuries, Joey Galloway apparently can’t grasp the offense, and Julian Edelman is a rookie. 4) Though the offense is the same, Josh McDaniels, who had been Brady”s QB coach as well as the OC is gone, and Brady has a new position coach in Bill O’Brien, who is also calling plays in the NFL for the first time.
I’d say it’s a combination of all those reasons. I don’t think his skills have “diminished” I think he just needs time to return to form, as Peyton Manning did last season.
TT: What type of player is a “Bill Belichick guy?” Does Junior Seau fit the bill? And how much does Seau have to offer at age 40?
Bruce: Belichick looks for players that are smart, hard working, can play a number of positions, and are team oriented. He often praises a player by saying that “Football is important to him.” Seau isn’t going to be asked to take over the defense, he’s there for depth behind Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton, and to provide some experience and leadership for the young linebackers.
TT: The Patriots are in a very competitive division. Which team presents the greater challenge to New England: Miami or New York?
Bruce: I actually think the Dolphins are the better all-around team. The Jets get your attention with their swagger, but they’re a team with definite flaws. As Miami showed, the all-out blitz of the Jets can be burned with the proper playcalling, and the offense of the Jets isn’t spectacular, even with the addition of Braylon Edwards. Miami has struggled early, but I expect them to be right there at the end.
TT: Why on earth did New England trade Richard Seymour to the Raiders?
Bruce: I’m not sure why this is such a mystery. Seymour was due to become a free agent at the end of the season, and as a guy who had gotten his Super Bowl titles, he was going to be looking for the big payday. It wasn’t going to be here. The Patriots got what should be a top-three draft pick, which will allow them to restock a key position. It was tremendous value for a guy they would’ve lost for nothing at the end of the year. Mike Wright and Jarvis Green have been productive in filling in for Seymour on the field.
TT: What type of game do you expect on Sunday? Will New England blow out Tennessee, or do the Titans have a realistic chance to win?
Bruce: If we’ve learned anything from watching the NFL, we know that anything can happen. That said, I expect the Patriots to be pretty fired up coming into this one. I expect Brady to try and get on track with some long passes, which has been a point of emphasis in practice this week. I think the Titans will have plenty of motivation as well, and will come out with something to prove. In the end though, I think the Patriots will pull away in the second half.