Mailbag: A defining win?

MIAMI GARDENS -- The New England Patriots answered some significant questions with their 41-14 victory over the Miami Dolphins.

Aside from the result, one area that that has caught the attention of fans is the way in which the Patriots recorded the win. It had a return-to-roots feel to it.

That's where this mailbag starts, while other topics include the spark provided by BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead in the running game and what the victory means for the Patriots as a team. Bigger-picture topics such as Nick Kaczur, Logan Mankins and the team's defense are also part of the mix.

Q: Mike, it feels like 2001/2002 all over again. Everyone is doubting the Pats and we are winning games on special teams, with a more conservative offense, and the team is energized. Do you see any similarities? -- Jay (Methuen, Mass.)

A: Jay, I do see similarities. One of the significant aspects of the Monday night win, to me, was that Randy Moss went without a catch. That tells me that the team isn't forcing him the ball and is taking what is there. Moss was cool with it afterwards, and his leadership on the sideline was evident to those watching him. He really rallied the team before the game. Overall, it's one game, and I think it's important to resist the urge to look too closely at it, but at the same time you had to be impressed with the complete team effort Monday night.

Q: This game reminded me of that OT victory against these very Dolphins in 2003. It had that excitement and sense of accomplishment to it. Easily the best game in two seasons for New England. What does this win mean for the Patriots going forward? -- Jarrod (Mansfield, Mass.)

A: Jarrod, we are on the same wavelength as I mentioned that overtime game -- which was decided on Troy Brown's 82-yard touchdown catch -- in my story. I think, most of all, this win gives the Patriots confidence coming into a difficult stretch -- home vs. Baltimore, at San Diego and then home vs. Minnesota.

Q: Mike, four games in and I have no answer to the following question, maybe you do. Are the Pats good? -- Jess (San Francisco)

A: Jess, I know what you are saying. Bottom line, though, is that they are 3-1. That's plenty good based on what is happening around the NFL.

Q: Mike, we all need to recognize the contributions of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead. They are both decisive runners that are able to read their blocks and gain positive yardage. With the potential of a power running game, teams will be forced to at least be leery of this capability thus allowing our passing game to continue to thrive with Welker, Moss, Hernandez and Tate. Do you know what happened to Edelman? -- John (Orange County, Calif.)

A: John, I agree on Green-Ellis and Woodhead. I was impressed with both of them on Monday night -- Green-Ellis finishing with 76 yards on 16 carries and Woodhead contributing with 36 yards on 8 carries, with the 11-yard touchdown catch. Woodhead was on the field for seven snaps last week, but we saw his playing time increase significantly in his second full week in the system. As for Edelman, I think it was more a case of a tight end heavy attack. He wasn't injured, because he was on the field for the two-point conversion. So my read is that the choice was to have Tate on the field over him in three-receiver sets.

Q: Mike, it seems like every time Law Firm (Green-Ellis) gets a shot to carry the load, he responds. Can he turn into "the guy" for us? What's the plan for him once Fred Taylor comes back? Will we see more of a rotation? -- Adam (St. Louis)

A: Adam, I think you ride the hot hand and right now Green-Ellis is that guy. Right now, we don't even know how severe Taylor's injury is, but based on the way Green-Ellis is performing, I'd say it lessens the urgency to rush Taylor back.

How was Danny Woodhead acquired? Is he just signed for the year? Now we have 4 Welker/Faulk-like players! I would like to see one of your football journey stories on how a 5-foot-6 guy makes it even into the NFL. -- Nick (Santa Cruz, Calif.)

A: Nick, Woodhead was signed to a one-year contract (through the 2010 season) on Sept. 18. He had been waived by the Jets earlier that week. Hopefully we can drum up a "football journey" on Woodhead.

Q: Mike, I did not notice Ron Brace in the Miami game. Did he play? I also did not notice Darius Butler much. Any idea what the deal was? -- Ashley (Worcester, Mass.)

A: Ashley, Brace was the sixth lineman in the rotation and he played sparingly. Rookie Brandon Deaderick saw more time than him and I think it was mostly situational, as the Patriots had moved Vince Wilfork to left end and that's where Brace fits best. So it opened the door for more of a penetrator on the right side, with Gerard Warren and Deaderick, and then you had Mike Wright a better option on the nose. As for Butler, he played late in the game, replacing Kyle Arrington.

Q: Hi Mike, it looks like Nick Kaczur is coming back. Where do you put him? Sebastian Vollmer looks great at right tackle. Matt Light looks great at left tackle. Do you see Kaczur playing left guard? -- Paul in Canada (Fredericton, N.B.)

A: Paul, my first thought is that the picture changes so much from a week to week basis, one injury could occur and lead to a more definitive answer to this question. But if everyone is healthy, I wouldn't change a thing right now and I'd have Kaczur as one of my top backups. Dan Connolly has played too well at left guard to replace him now.

Q: Mike, the 2009 Saints had the 21st ranked defense and allowed an average of almost 21 points per game. Their point differential/offensive firepower catapulted them to a Super Bowl victory. Is that the focus we are seeing with the 2010 Patriots, the idea of scoring more points to win games and mask defensive deficiencies? -- PJ (Phoenix)

A: PJ, I think the defense will get better as the season progresses, but my feeling is that this team will still be defined by its offense. I heard ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski make the point that Bill Belichick has an idea of what he wants his defense to look like in the fourth quarter of the season and he's positioning the unit for that at this early stage. I agree with the thought by Jaworski.

Q: Hey Mike, you keep writing Logan Mankins is going to sign by game 10, but why are you so positive? The offensive line is doing fine without him. Does he have to be under contract before the Pats can trade him? Also, I am tired of the criticism of Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick for their management philosophy of not overpaying players. I will take their management style and spending philosophy over the clown shows we saw with the Vikings and Brett Favre, the Jets with Rex Ryan and Darrelle Revis, and Cincinnati with Chad Ochocinco and T O. None of these theatrical signings look great now. -- Ben D (Grass Lake/ MI)

A: Ben, when I write that about Mankins I am expressing my opinion, not stating it as fact. I believe Mankins will come back by the 10th game to ensure that he gets credit for this season, making him a six-year veteran and assuring him unrestricted free-agent status in the offseason. Mankins would have to be under contract to trade him. As for the Patriots' management philosophy, I'd say the results speak for themselves. While they don't always make the right choice, their batting average stacks up favorably to their competitors in the NFL.

Q: If Logan Mankins plays the last six games and presumably qualifies as an unrestricted free agent following the season (optimistically with a new/similar CBA), then signs with another team, what do the Patriots receive as draft compensation? -- Grant (Ames, Iowa)

A: Grant, the compensation would be part of the NFL's formula for awarding compensatory draft choices, which factors in the monetary value of the contract Mankins would sign, plus the net gain/loss of compensatory free agents the Patriots had. My guess is that the Patriots would receive a third-rounder, similar to what they received when Asante Samuel signed with the Eagles (they drafted LB Tyrone McKenzie with that pick).

Q: Mike, if the roster and the practice squad are both full, how would the team deal with Logan Mankins reporting in Week 10? Are we committed to accepting him? -- Art Select (Lyme, N.H.)

A: Art, the Patriots don't have to accept him, but I think they would because it would fall in line with Bill Belichick's bottom-line philosophy that every decision is made with the best interests of the team in mind. I think by accepting Mankins, it makes you a better team in the short- and long-term. So in this scenario, the Patriots would have to clear a roster spot, as Mankins is not eligible for the practice squad.

Q: Hi Mike, I liked your 10 quick hits around the NFL on Sunday, especially the statistic where the Patriots are 42-1 when one running back has 20-plus carries since 2001. The Patriots have a reputation for having a running back by committee approach when compared to other teams. Do you know where the 43 games of one running back with 20 carries since 2001 ranks with other NFL teams? -- Tom (Brookfield, VT)

A: Tom, that statistic came from ESPN's Stats & Information department. Here are the top records of teams with one running back with 20 or more since 2001:

Buccaneers -- 36-6
Colts -- 63-11
Eagles -- 24-6
Falcons -- 42-11-1

Q: Hi Mike, although many fans seem down on Darius Butler I keep thinking about how long it took Asante Samuel to emerge as a top cornerback ... and even now one can question Asante's tackling and his "getting burned to making a key play" ratio. Would you agree that Darius' athletic skills and good attitude give him a far better than average chance of success in NE? -- Mike (Greenwich, Conn.)

A: Mike, I'm a believer in Butler because I've seen him do it in flashes and his athleticism is clearly there. I think he will overcome this obstacle, which he called the greatest he's faced in his athletic career, and become a productive starting cornerback in the NFL.

Q: Mike, I realize this is crying over spilled milk but can you go over the trade where the Pats gave up the 26th pick to Green Bay, which turned out to be Clay Matthews? Do you know what the team thought of Matthews at the time and why a 3-4 team like Green Bay thought he was worth trading up for and the Pats didn't think he was a fit? -- Seth (Tampa)

A: Seth, that trade was a 2009 first-rounder (26th) and 2009 fifth-rounder (162nd) in exchange for one 2009 second-round pick (41st) and two 2009 third-round picks (73rd & 83rd). The Patriots wheeled and dealed with a few of those picks and ultimately ended up with cornerback Darius Butler, receiver Brandon Tate, receiver Julian Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski. As for why Matthews wasn't a fit for them, my assumption is that the issue would be with setting the edge in the run game. The Packers' 3-4 scheme is significantly different than the Patriots, so it could be a case where Matthews' grade with the Packers wasn't affected as much by those edge-setting questions.

Q: Mike, with Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel both becoming available this past offseason, did the Patriots make a move to hire either of them? Or was it a matter of wanting to provide more opportunities for their coaches to develop from within? Also I am wondering if their decision to not designate offensive and defensive coordinators has anything to do with most their previous coordinators in the Belichick era leaving after a couple years to go to new teams as head coaches? -- Jeff (Los Angeles)

A: Jeff, I don't think the Patriots aggressively pursued either option, and even if they did, I'm not sure it would have made much of a difference. It is my opinion that Weis and Crennel were more interested in a fresh start and branching out from New England, because that would be a better springboard to another career jump. The reason I say that is that any success in New England could be attributed more to Bill Belichick's excellence than their impact.

Q: Hi Mike, I'm a longtime BenJarvus Green Ellis-believer. He finally got the real playing time he deserved. Aside from his quickness and directness, persistence and stamina, what has impressed me most was his vision to see the play develop and the smarts, patience and confidence to wait for and follow his blocks, and then accelerate. This will set him above and apart in the future. Lucky Belichick kept him. Your thoughts? -- Jake Malone (Vancouver)

A: Jake, I remember making some roster projections in training camp and Green-Ellis was one of those players on the bubble when considering if the team would keep five backs. I'm not sure if the Patriots ever viewed him that way, but that was my initial view. He's come a long way since joining the team on the practice squad. I like his style and I think the offensive linemen appreciate blocking for him.

Q: Hi Mike, clearly the Pats' depth at RB is being tested. If Fred Taylor's injury is more long-term, do you think the Patriots would contact the Bills about Marshawn Lynch? He's a big back, a hard runner, he's had success at this level, and he seems to be on the block in Buffalo. Would Buffalo trade him within the division? What kind of pick compensation do you think it would it take? -- Stephen (Denver, Colo.)

A: Stephen, I think it would take a third- or fourth-rounder to nab Lynch -- that's close to the market value set by the Patriots with the trade of Laurence Maroney, and Lynch is a cut above. I don't see the Patriots paying that price. My understanding with Lynch is that teams have to be comfortable with the off-field package, which goes back to when he was entering the NFL and teams had questions then.

Q: Hey Mike, with news that Aaron Schobel is not going to the Texans after his workout, don't you think the Pats should be all over him? I mean our pass rush is really poor and outside of Jermaine Cunningham turning into Reggie White by Thanksgiving, I don't see it getting that much better. -- KB (Toronto)

A: KB, I was hot on the idea of signing Schobel when the Bills released him, but I think it's a case where Schobel is going to play for the Texans or no one. I believe the Patriots looked into it and came to that realization.

Q: Mike, I'm curious as to what numbers if any that the Patriots will retire from their Super Bowl years? I saw that Rob Ninkovich wears Mike Vrabel's old number 50, and I did see someone sporting McGinest's old number 55. Do the Patriots have a set of standards like the Red Sox do in order to retire a number? I would think that it would be frowned upon for players to wear the numbers of former players who played an instrumental part in putting the Patriots franchise on the map? -- Justin (Phoeniz)

A: Good question, Justin, and one that figures to be an issue that the team will have to deal with in future years. I think the idea is to get away from retiring most numbers and instead honor those players in the Hall of Fame. Because there are so many players on a football team -- 61 during the season (53-man roster plus 8-man practice squad) -- there are only so many numbers that can be retired. I think someone like Tom Brady would be in the exception category, but I'm not anticipating any other retired numbers. In fact, I could envision a scenario where some current retired numbers are un-retired.

Q: Hey Mike, I was wondering if you could touch upon Patrick Cobbs and his impact with the Dolphins. If I remember correctly, the Pats signed him as a rookie free agent and then let him go. It seems like he hooked on with the Dolphins and has made the most of his career. -- Matt Duffley (Boston)

A: Matt, I think you nailed it with Cobbs. The Patriots did some good scouting on Cobbs and he had a good preseason and training camp with them in 2006. But the Patriots didn't have a roster spot for him, so they traded him to the Steelers for a conditional draft choice. Cobbs didn't make the Steelers, the Patriots never got a draft choice, and Cobbs ended up signing with Miami. The Patriots tried to sign him back to the practice squad that year, but Cobbs decided Miami was a better fit for him.

Q: Much has been made of the inconsistent and, in some cases poor, play by the young secondary. On the other hand, I see positive signs from some of the young LBs. Mayo seems to be back on track and Spikes, Guyton and Cunningham have all shown some good flashes. Is this an underplayed storyline or too soon to tell? -- Dean (Taunton, Mass.)

A: Dean, I think Mayo in particular looks like he's returned to 2008 form. That's a big plus for the defense. On the others, I think it's a bit early to make a determination, although the arrow seems to be pointing up.

Q: Hey Mike what is up with the linebacker situation? They have Mayo, Spikes, Guyton, and Banta Cain yet they have seemed to remove Guyton out of the picture instead of placing him at an outside linebacker position. By doing so they took out one of their most productive defensive players from last year. -- Geoff (Pennsylvania)

A: Geoff, the biggest thing with Guyton is that he is playing more in sub packages than in the base 3-4 (replaced by Brandon Spikes). He's not a fit at outside linebacker, so he's the top backup on the inside and then his speed is utilized when an extra defensive back comes onto the field.

Q: Q: Mike, what's with Belichick and Crable? Why is he still around? He's been hurt since he's been with the club, and I don't see why they've kept him even this long. Can you enlighten me, please? -- Steve (Copenhagen, N.Y.)

A: Steve, Crable has all the physical tools (6-foot-5, 250) at a hard-to-find position, so in that sense he remains an enticing option. Also, he was given two years to develop, which is about the standard, so I don't see this as a situation where the team was holding on to him any longer than the norm. That's about the standard. The question now is whether he can stay healthy and put it all together on the field as his career has been given new life.

Q: I thought the coaches liked what they saw in Marques Murrell (and I certainly did) and thought they'd definitely pick him back up after trading Laurence Maroney, but here we are and he's still a free agent. What do you think that's about? Have you heard anything? -- Pascal (NY, NY)

A: Pascal, my view of Murrell is that the Patriots felt his ceiling was lower than a player like Shawn Crable, and that's why they promoted Crable over him at that position. As Bill Belichick pointed out, they were comfortable enough with him to dress him in the season-opener, but I think they were looking for more future upside and that's why we haven't seen him back at this point.

Q: I for one am always interested in the "Practice Players of the Week." Any reason you don't publish that weekly? -- Earl (Waltham, Mass.)

A: Earl, the practice players of the week are awarded only after wins, and that's why you might notice some gaps in the reporting. Here is the latest on that.

Q: How about considering a "technical" football feature once in a while? What is a "mike" linebacker and what is his impact. What exactly is "cover 2" and what are the pluses and minuses. What does Tom Brady have written on that 2 pound forearm band? What does it mean to two-gap? -- Hub (Mattapoisett, Mass.)

A: Thanks for the suggestion, Hub. I will pass it on and perhaps Tedy Bruschi could do something with this, as he has a great way of taking the technical aspects of the game and simplifying them.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.