IRVING, Texas – With New England on the docket for the Cowboys we open up The Other Side with a visit from ESPNBoston’s Mike Reiss.
Archer - Is there anything that rattles Tom Brady? Will he ever lose a home regular-season game again?
Reiss - In reporting on Brady’s career since his arrival in 2000, I’m not sure I’ve seen him play better. You’d think at 34 years old, maybe he’s hitting the point of his career where things start to spiral downward, but it’s been the opposite. Still, there are things that rattle any quarterback and Brady is no different in that regard – a solid pass rush that delivers some early shots in games has knocked him off rhythm. We saw it in the preseason game against the Lions, when the ability to get to Brady with the standard four rushers paralyzed the passing offense. We saw it last year when Rob Ryan’s Cleveland Browns defense had Brady enduring a long day. So it’s not like he’s Superman, but he’s clearly still one of the NFL’s best. You’ll have to be at your best to beat him. His last regular-season home loss was back in 2006 to Eric Mangini’s Jets, and Rob Ryan is one of Mangini’s closest friends. They obviously shared notes while coaching together with the Browns, and that should help this week.
Archer - How is Wes Welker doing this? I didn't like his yard-per-catch last year, but is he a different guy a year off the ACL?
Reiss - Maybe the biggest misconception in the NFL is that Welker is a great slot receiver. He’s simply a great receiver. The latest evidence came Sunday with his 73-yard reception in which his presence, route-running and sure hands contributed to Darrelle Revis and Eric Smith miscommunicating in a key play in the game. They don’t come any better than Revis, but there aren’t many receivers playing better than Welker. As for how he’s doing this, let’s start with the quarterback throwing him the football. There is a special chemistry between Tom Brady and Welker. Combine that with an offensive system that brings out the best in Welker, and it’s an explosive match. Welker had a great offseason training in Florida and said he feels like he’s in the best shape of his career. He’s absolutely a different player this year; in 2010, he was among the league leaders in dropped passes and didn’t have the same quickness. Welker is in the last year of his contract and, while he’s 30 years old, he’s positioning himself for a big pay day, or at the least, a lucrative franchise tag.
Archer - The defense was much better vs. the Jets, but is there a worry about the unit holding up its end of the bargain?
Reiss - Yes, this is the area that you look at and say, “Can the Patriots reach their ultimate goal with this unit?” They have given up a lot of yards this year, but strong red-zone play has limited the damage. They are playing without one of their elite talents in linebacker Jerod Mayo, who is expected to miss extended time with a knee injury sustained Oct. 2 in Oakland. As for the Jets game, it was a step in the right direction, but I think context is important. The Jets hardly tested the pass defense and I felt their ground-and-pound plan with played into the Patriots’ hands. The Patriots can play physical when in their base defense, but to me, they’ve yet to prove they can consistently stop the opposition in sub packages. The pass rush is spotty and the secondary has been shaky at times. If I’m an offensive coordinator preparing to face this unit, I like my chances of moving the ball, and know that the key is going to be avoiding turnovers and dialing up some creative stuff out of spread packages in the red-zone.
Archer - How hands on his Bill Belichick with this team? Does he trust his assistants, like he did Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel?
Reiss - This is one of the things that stands out about Belichick – he has his fingerprints on every part of the roster. You talk to veteran players and that’s one of the things they say, “He knows a lot about every position, and he’ll get right in there with us in meetings and on the field.” Belichick’s reach extends beyond coaching; he also handles personnel and the salary cap. I have no doubt that Belichick trusts his assistants, although one of the areas I think could help the team going forward is being more open to different concepts/ideas and I think we’ve seen some small steps in that direction this year in terms of some of the personnel they’ve brought in (e.g. 4-3 defensive ends Andre Carter and Mark Anderson probably aren’t in the plans at this time last year). I think they’ve been a little slow defensively to adjust to the changing NFL game.
Archer - Cowboys fans remember strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik from the 1990s, but the lockout kept the players from working with him last offseason in his return to Dallas. How much did he benefit the Patriots from his years with the team?
Reiss - I think Woicik did a great job with the Patriots, and that opinion is formed from speaking with players over the years who felt their performance was elevated by working in Woicik’s program. You go back to Bill Belichick being hired as head coach in 2000 and one of his first decisions was to bring Woicik aboard. That speaks volumes.