Chat with Mike Reiss
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, ESPN NFL Nation New England Patriots reporter Mike Reiss drops by to chat and answer all of your Patriots questions.
Reiss joined ESPNBoston.com in September 2009 and is a native New Englander. He first started covering the Patriots in 1997 with the team's official newspaper, Patriots Football Weekly, before moving on to the MetroWest Daily News in his hometown of Framingham. From 2005 to 2009, he covered the Patriots for The Boston Globe, while also writing on the NFL. He started his popular Patriots blog in 2004.
Send your questions now and join Reiss Thursday at 11 a.m. ET!
Mike (10:58 AM)
Good morning and welcome to today's chat. Will lead off with a few thoughts and then we'll roll.
Mike (11:04 AM)
No sugar-coating it. That was about as bad as it gets on Monday night. So my answer to most of the questions I think will be coming today is, "You're right." You can really start anywhere you want and it's all fair game. When something like this happens, I think you go back to the basics. On offense, simplify by trying to get a power run game going and build from there. Need to try to give that OL -- one of the primary issues that I believe has sparked this slide offensively -- something to hang its hat on. On defense, simplify and get off blocks and tackle better. It's not overly complicated. And most of all, play with more energy and emotion. You just can't go into that environment at Arrowhead Stadium and expect that to be good enough. Football 101-type stuff.
Chicken Little (Foxboro)
I'm amused by the fan and media reaction to Monday's game (you included Mike). Why do we not have more perspective? It's clear they aren't playing well right now, but the over-reaction to the game in KC is silly. The team is relatively healthy; the hallmark of the BB era has been steady improvement over the course of the season; there is a lot of talent on the defense; and other high-profile teams are struggling at this point in the season too. All we hear, however, is that the team is mismanaged; Brady has lost it; and BB suddenly is a pedestrian coach. I think it's small-minded.
Mike (11:07 AM)
My approach is to be as straight-forward as possible while also attempting to keep things in big-picture context. I'll be the first to say that I don't always hit the mark, but I'm going to put the work in to try to best understand it as much as I can. The team has obvious issues. I also think those issues are correctable. After a performance like Monday night, I think it's fair to criticize and my criticism comes more from a game-specific standpoint than a broader standpoint (e.g. mismanagement, Brady's career etc.).
andy (minot nd)
What's with Dobson's attitude problem? Do you have any insight in this?
Mike (11:09 AM)
Andy, I'm aware of the report, citing an anonymous source, that Dobson might have "mouthed off" to Josh McDaniels. I don't know if that is true, but two people I trust who I believe are very close to that situation told me to be careful with that information. My understanding is that Dobson's lack of action is more football-based. Struggling to get open in practice. Don't do well in practice, hard to have confidence to put the player in a game. Take that for what it's worth, but that's the intel I have.
Mike, with McDaniels failing to put the team in a game with a successful game plan, and the recent report of him benching Dobson over an argument.....how long does Bill allow him to hinder the teams progress?
Mike (11:13 AM)
Jimo, I was critical of the offense after the game, calling it an "identity crisis." My point is that this offense has long prided itself on being a game-plan attack where it morphs its plan each week to attack an opponent's weakness. I'm not sure they can do that right now because they don't have the pieces. So it's time to get back to basics, try to get the power run game going, and find that "sweet spot" to mix in other things that Bill Belichick talked about Wednesday. The bottom line is this: I think there are times the coaches can do a better job putting the players in a better position to maximize their skills. At the same time, I think the players share some of the accountability because they can also execute better. It's not just about one thing. Remove McDaniels and I don't think you're all of a sudden a better offense.
Daniel (FPU, Rindge, NH)
Mike, I really don't think people are over-reacting. We saw very little in the first game, nothing in the third game and nothing in the fourth game to indicate we can be competitive this year. Period!
Mike (11:18 AM)
Daniel, the reaction has been strong from this view. And I think just like Bill Belichick talks about the "sweet spot" in terms of trying to do too much vs. simplifying things, it's the same thing when analyzing the team. You have to be honest about some of the struggles. But if you also can't acknowledge there's a long way to go, and so much changes over this long season, we're probably not going to have a productive discussion. Teams evolve over time. This story isn't over yet.
There's little denying that this team isn't firing on all cylinders right now. Despite the fact that Cincinnati is a tough draw, especially coming off a bye. I see this as a great test to see if they can bounce back, how do you view this upcoming game?
Mike (11:21 AM)
I liked what I saw and heard from the Patriots on Wednesday. Here's the main thing I took away from it: They stepped into the boxing ring and forgot to bring their gloves. I think they were disgusted with themselves and learned a hard lesson: When you go into that environment, you absolutely have to match the energy and passion of the opposition -- especially early -- or you're going to get steamrolled. Also, let's give credit to the Chiefs. I'm not sure anyone was going to go in there and win the way they played. That was an A-to-A-minus type effort -- extremely impressive. Sometimes, there are days like that in football -- you bury that football and move on. I expect a much more energetic, passionate Patriots football team on Sunday night. And if it isn't, maybe then I would have more concern about the longer-range prospects for this club.
Mike...which is harder to fix, a bad offense line or a poor receiving corp? Also, can they both be fixed in-season or should we look to the draft?
Mike (11:23 AM)
Bad offensive line would be my choice, Dave. Hard to do anything when there isn't a sturdy foundation on which to build. They can be fixed in-season and I think they have four of the five pieces -- Solder, Connolly, Stork and Vollmer. Figuring out the fifth is the current question to answer IMO.
Mike - I am a Belichick supporter, but doesn't the media have the right to expect some professional answers when the team is in a current downturn? The press conference was insulting in some ways. Can you comment if someone was to interrupt him and clearly state "you are not answering the question" - what would happen? Does the reporter get blacklisted? Does Belichick never call on that person again? Please offer your experience or judgment on this topic?
Mike (11:27 AM)
It's not about being blacklisted. I just think Belichick would say, "I don't know how else to answer it -- the most important thing right now in Cincinnati, and that's our focus." It's pretty simple to me. You have big-picture issues that the media wants to talk about. And you have the short-term issue of the next game that is all that matters to the team because if they're focusing on anything else, it's wasted energy. So we have two forces colliding with different goals. If I was Belichick, I would take the similar approach in terms of only allowing the short-term to be part of the discussion, but I might advise to try to do so with a different tack (e.g. "I respect the question, and there might be a time to talk about those things, but right now isn't that time.")
Guy Smith (America)
What's worse PR... Bringing in Richie Incognito or the Pats slipping to 2-3?
Mike (11:28 AM)
I don't understand the Incognito love, Guy. I just don't think he's very good.
Mike,Everyone is critical of the offensive line (rightfully so) and the Mankins trade. At that point of the season, O-Line was one of the deepest spots on our roster and had very few issues in pre-season. Do you think they will figure it out and get back to what Bill and the coaching staff thought they had when they decided to let Mankins go?
Mike (11:29 AM)
Kasey, I'm not sure how deep the offensive line truly was at that time. I know BB said he felt it was deep at the time, but it might have been a missed evaluation. I don't think it's a lost cause. Just a race against time, in a sense, because these guys need more time to play with each other.
Mike (11:30 AM)
Find the right five -- which might be this group we saw against KC (Solder, Connolly, Stork, Fleming, Vollmer) -- and give them a chance to grow together.
Harrington (Rhode Island)
Mike, what is your take on what this team can improve upon in the upcoming games against quality opponents? Brady always says, "We have to find out what we are good at, and do that consitently." Right now it's tough to find something this team is good at, maybe running the ball more and play action on offense, and man defense...? Thoughts
Mike (11:34 AM)
Harrington, the things I see that could help is trying to get the power run game going, first and foremost. Can build off that with play-action. It's basically going back to basics and trying to build from there. I think a two-TE set with Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright is also something that could lead to more production in the passing game. They looked like they were trending there on Monday night. So those are two things to keep an eye on.
Chris (NYC) [via mobile]
Have reporters not realized that there not going to get answers from Bill? As funny and frustrating as it is to see him stonewall reporters with "we're preparing for Cincinnati," it also reflects poorly on the reporter. it seems like they should know by now that they're my going to get anywhere with those types of questions.
Mike (11:35 AM)
Chris, it's a two-way street. I don't think it's the right approach for a reporter to go in and not ask the question because of what you expect to be the answer. It's like going into a game and deciding you won't run because you assume you will be stopped. You still try, and it's all done in a professional realm. These situations aren't always supposed to be comfortable. My issue would be when it becomes personal and filled with venom.
Mike, I heard Pat Kirwan and Jim Miller talking about Darrelle Revis on Sirius XM yesterday, and they mentioned that he hasn't been asked to be in press-man coverage at all this season, and he didn't do it last season in Tampa. That was the type of scheme that made him a superstar. Do you think that Revis' days as an all pro are over, and more than the Mankins trade, or even the Welker/Amendola swap, that the Talib/Revis change had the most effect on the team?
Mike (11:36 AM)
No, I think Revis is still an elite corner. Let's revisit this after Sunday's game and see how he does against A.J. Green. I expect him to be matched up with Green, playing press man.
Tron (Waltham, MA)
Hey Mike, All the talking heads are saying "no one was ever critical of Mankin's play until he was traded." Obviously they are pushing an agenda but I remember quite a few many chatters ripping Mankins play after the AFCCG. I also think you pointed out his weak play as well. Do you have any anecdotal evidence to prove my point?
Mike (11:39 AM)
It's right there in black and white, Tron. http://espn.go.com/blog/boston/new-england-patriots/post/_/id/4758090/a-few-leftover-patriots-thoughts
Mike (11:40 AM)
But at the same time, I think the Mankins' analysis can get twisted a bit. To be clear, this is where I stand/have stood: 1) I wouldn't have made the trade; 2) He was not the same player he once was, but was still very good, as evidenced by their attempt to keep him at a lower salary; 3) He was a locker-room pillar and removing those players is always risky.
Mike...for years now we have heard how hard it is for receivers to grasp the Patriots offense and that is why free agents (Chad Johnson) and draft picks (a list of many) can't succeed. After years of hard evidence, why wouldn't the Patriots create a simpler offense instead of putting sub-par receivers on the field year after year?
Mike (11:43 AM)
This might be the biggest issue, Bob, and I'm reminded of something that current Patriots assistant to the coaching staff Michael Lombardi once said during his time working in the media: The Patriots have to be careful of not having a similar situation to what unfolded with Miami with Dan Marino in his latter years. The playbook had become so thick, and once veteran receivers Mark Duper/Mark Clayton weren't around, Marino didn't have anyone else to rely upon because it was so hard for the young guys to pick up. I wonder if that's exactly what we're seeing.
Mike - do you agree that the weak point of both the offense and the defense is their respective lines. The old adage the game is won in the trenches is rearing it's ugly head.
Mike (11:45 AM)
Yes, Mike, and that's why I think you hear more people bringing up the Mankins trade and Tommy Kelly release as significant contributing factors to some of the struggles we have seen. If you're going to move on from those players, it's done so with the assumption that you have players in house who can come close to filling that void. It looks like the Patriots did not necessarily have that.
Dan (lunch room)
Does Brandon Browner start Sunday?...play some of the game...not play at all?
Mike (11:45 AM)
Would think he plays and is a part-timer as he gets into game shape.
Mike, can people stop blaming the Logan Mankins trade as the reason this team stinks? Last I checked, Logan Mankins didn't cause Nate Solder and Sebastian Volmer to get soft. Logan Mankins didn't cause our WR to run better routs and Logan Mankins didn't cause Tom Brady to lose the zip on his fast/deep ball. This team is riddled with problems, and it seems that blaming the Mankins trade is the lazy way out.
Mike (11:48 AM)
Alex, so many parts are inter-dependent on each other. Is Mankins is the only reason for the struggles. Absolutely not. Is it a contributing factor? I believe it is. From a Football 101 standpoint, an offensive line is only as good as its weakest link. Every player needs to see the same picture and play off each other. You take one piece out of that unit, and it's like a domino that hits the other pieces and it's a trickle-down effect. Look, that can happen at any time with an injury, so to say that's the only thing, it's short-sighted. There is nuance to the analysis. Contributing factor? Yes. The main reason for all the struggles? No.
Hey Mike, I'm struggling with coming up with a reason for the offense's struggles this year. We literally have every player we had last year, except for Logan Mankins, and are performing far worse. How does one player make that difference?
Mike (11:50 AM)
Building off the last answer: instability and poor play on OL, lack of development from year-2 receivers, still-recovering TE Rob Gronkowski, and a QB whose decision-making has been affected by things crumbling around him at times is a bad formula. You have to prove yourself every year in this league. Just because you left off at one point in 2013 doesn't mean you pick up there in 2014.
Hey Mike, It seems that the Pats are over complicating things. Look at Seattle. They play things simple. Man to man and cover 3. They play with more aggression, it's all about fundamentals, and dictating the offensive play. On their offense its ground and pound with play action pass. For the Pats we have an over complicated offense getting too cute with things, and a defense that plays all this fancy off zone coverage. Why don't the Pats keep it simple stupid? Is there too much pride in the organization?
Mike (11:51 AM)
Mark, I can't match X's and O's with Bill Belichick, but if he ever came to me and asked my opinion, I'd relay what you said. Sometimes less can be more, and allow players to just play ball.
When do the pats need to make the roster moves so that Browner can play this weekend?
Mike (11:51 AM)
John, they have an exemption until Monday if they don't activate the players for the game. If they activate the players for the game, then they have to make those moves by Saturday.
Sean T (Brighton)
Mike,Did Dante Scarnecchia announce his retirement prior to/during the 2013 season? If not, at a minimum, there had to be internal discussions between Bill and Dante. Either way, I'm just surprised that for a Coach who likes to plan for all possibilities, that Bill did not bring in new O-Line coach a year early to work in the program. Seems odd to me - given the fact that he drafted TB12's replacement 3 years too early LOL!
Mike (11:53 AM)
Sean, that was talked about for 2-3 years before Scarnecchia retired. They probably got one more year out of Scarnecchia than they expected, actually. Belichick had it all planned out, with the integration of Brian Daboll helping transition between Scarnecchia and Dave DeGuglielmo. Time will tell if DeGuglielmo is the right guy.
Stringer Bell (Inner Harbor)
Brady has thrown 2 INTs through 4 games, despite having no deep threat, no line, and no commitment to the run to keep the defense honest. Do you think Tyms gets a shot? Has he been allowed to practice or no?
Mike (11:53 AM)
Why not give him a shot, right? If it's not Sunday, maybe next week.
Bob (Apollo Beach, FL)
I realize that the Patriots' offensive problems begin (and possibly end) with the line. But I also think that the play calling is, to be kind, uninspired. With that said, Charlie Weis, who was known for getting the most out of his players while here, is newly unemployed. Do you think it would help to bring him back in some sort of consultant role? And do you think Bill Belichick would ever do it?
Mike (11:56 AM)
Bob, I don't think that's the answer. I remember similar complaints about the offense when Weis was here. We all know what they were trying to do in Kansas City -- heavy shotgun with four RBs active and running a lot of screens, draws and shovel passes to try to use the Chiefs' aggressiveness against them. The plan didn't come to life. From my view, I wouldn't have been so quick to concede the power running game, but they obviously have more data and intel to make those calls. I still question it and wonder if they're out-thinking themselves in times like this.
Jacob (Washington, DC)
Hi Mike, I'm struggling to figure out the Patriots' personnel management thus far, particularly at receiver. Amendola has had very limited production but has been active for every game; are Dobson and Thompkins really performing so poorly that they aren't pressing him? I feel that it's worth a shot to put them in considering Amendola isn't much of a factor but maybe I'm overlooking some aspect of his play.
Mike (11:57 AM)
I could be way off on this, but I sense we might be coming close to a breaking point with Amendola. No inside information there. Just a feeling.
Victor, Mass [via mobile]
From a scale of 1-10 how confident are that the issues are the coaches and not the players ? I'm sure Cincinnati's D-line must licking their chops right now. Solder is the biggest disappointment thus far though IMO.
Mike (11:59 AM)
I don't think this is a one-or-the-other type of thing, Victor. I do think it's been a rocky transition to the new O-line coach, Dave DeGuglielmo. Solder has been a disappointment; that's more than fair. This is the time when good coaching can shine through.
Gregory (Silver Spring)
If the Patriots activate either Tyms or Browner who can you see being released to make room for them? (with that being said I can't imagine Tyms getting the nod)
Mike (12:01 PM)
Malcolm Butler, Deontae Skinner, Jordan Devey and Josh Kline -- all with practice squad eligibility -- come to mind as strong possibilities.
Mike (12:01 PM)
Let's take a few more.
Mike, when will we start to see the team actually involving Wright into the mix. It seems like he has a lot of capabilities but they don't put him in the receiving game.
Mike (12:02 PM)
Steve, I think we'll start to see more Wright. I noticed against the Chiefs you saw Rob Gronkowski starting to do more in the blocking game (not always very well), and that tells me he's just about all the way back from a health/integration standpoint. When they can rely on Gronkowski for more in the blocking area, I think that opens things up for a pass-catching TE like Wright to be on the field more.
Mike, In watching the film after the games, have you noticed how many players are actually open that Brady pays no attention to, nor glances in their direction? It seems that Brady locks in on a player, regardless of anyone else.
Mike (12:03 PM)
It's an issue, Darby. They don't have enough pass-catchers who consistently get open against man coverage.
Carlos (Waterville Valley, NH)
Mike, thoughts on Dominique Easley through the first 4 games? To me he seems to get very little push or penetration. Save for his fluke INT I haven?t seen him do anything. I am sure he will continue to improve but I feel like with that first rd pick we needed an impact player for 2014 (especially given that our 2nd rd pick was used on someone who hopefully doesn't see the field for 4 years).
Mike (12:04 PM)
Minimal impact. Looked OK at DE in the second half, but the game was basically over at that point. Expected to see more explosion, but in fairness to him, he basically just finished his preseason after not playing in August. Let's give it a little more time before going there.
Frankie (Outer Banks NC)
No one is really picking the Patriots to win against Cincinnati, what would be your game plan to win this game?
Mike (12:07 PM)
Let's end on this one, Frankie. I'm going to start with the thought that led off this chat -- the first part of the game-plan is to simply focus on energy, emotion and passion. It sounds ridiculous to even mention it, but I will repeat it again: It was like they went into the boxing ring without gloves against Kansas City in that environment. I feel confident that won't happen again and this team will show more fight. Will that be good enough? Not sure, because they obviously have other issues. But to me, that's where the game-plan starts. From a pure X's and O's standpoint, the power running game would be the focus, and on defense, the ball is out so quickly with Dalton that I'm matching my big, physical corners (Revis and Browner) and playing man.
Mike (12:08 PM)
Thanks for all the questions. Look forward to doing it again next week.