Are issues in Patriots secondary popping up again?


FOXBORO -- Every Friday, Phil Perry and Mike Giardi will take your Patriots questions on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or Friday Bag, as they call it.

Got questions? Tweet the guys using the hashtag #FridayBag. But for now, give the latest edition of the Bag a read.

TC: I thought the Steelers and Todd Haley did an excellent job of game-planning and stressing the Patriots secondary. Jerod Mayo explained on Quick Slants and our Quick Slants pod how the Steelers were able to get Jesse James so open on the goal line for the TD that wasn’t. It had to do with understanding what the Patriots defensive rules were, based on formation, then exploiting it. To sum it up, the Steelers put Darrius Heyward-Bey in the backfield knowing Malcolm Butler had been sticking with him. Then they ran DHB to the right where there were already had three receivers covered by three Patriots. Pittsburgh knew Butler would have to pass off DHB during the play and stay home in the middle but he didn’t. Hence, James was open. So there are fails that come as a result of the other team scheming. There are also fails -- like 5-foot-6 Jakeem Grant of the Dolphins -- going up and beating Butler on a great catch-and-throw. Hard as it is to acknowledge, a lot of that play was Miami’s guys beating the Patriots guys. Same -- to a degree -- with Juju Smith-Schuster’s 69-yard catch-and-run. Good play design, but should have been a 20-yard gain if better angles were taken by Devin McCourty and Butler. When it comes to Gilmore, though, he doesn’t seem to play with the urgency and physicality that players who come up with the Patriots seem to. The intensity of Butler, Jonathan Jones -- or even former Patriot Logan Ryan -- compared to Gilmore both in the running game and finishing contested catches doesn’t look the same. When Butler gets beat, he’s fighting. These plays bugged me . . . 

But I don’t think the level of confusion and disarray is anything like what we were seeing at the start of the year.

TC: Worst in the AFC? Has to be Pittsburgh. They can put up numbers. Their sheer offensive talent is better than the Patriots. It’s better than everyone’s, really, but the mismatches they can get at the second level when they get into the Patriots linebacker crew or safety depth playing in the box is daunting. After that, the Chiefs would be a bother. The mobility of Alex Smith, their prior success this year, the fact they’ve played the Patriots as often as they have and have a grasp on what the Patriots want to do on both sides of the ball is a concern. Blake Bortles isn’t winning a playoff game in Foxboro. So despite the Jags very good year defensively, one cannot get worked up about that being a threat.

TC: I haven’t delved too deeply into each guy yet. What attributes does he HAVE to have beyond being of standard height, weight and arm strength? Outstanding leader. Really smart. Works. Works. Works. After that, it’s accuracy, big-game performances against very good competition and the ability to take tough coaching where every completion and correct read isn’t cause to break out the sheet cake and have an office party.

TC: Absolutely. And if the Jets are going to be getting Christian Hackenberg reps -- and he took some this week -- that’s an excellent invitation for the Patriots to take advantage of the Jets turning this into an audition Sunday. Which they should. But don’t give the Jets the inkling that this can be a season-saving, face-saving game. It will be minus-31 or so and it’s New Year’s Eve. Get the Jets on their jet with no drama.

TC: Good question Dave. Twenty-nine touches for Dion Lewis -- despite his great production last week -- was not ideal. Bolden definitely should expect to get some run in this one -- again -- after the Patriots have gotten separation. The 2015 mistake of trying to prove a point and establish a running game in Miami that led to a costly loss should still be fresh enough that the Patriots make sure this thing is locked down before going to the reserves.

MG: It was very nice to meet you a handful of weeks back. I’m still mad you stole my sign! There are a lot of folks who seem to be fearing the Baltimore Ravens, but I’ve got no faith or love for Jump Ball Joe Flacco so despite their history of playing the Pats tough, I’m not buying. The Chiefs would be interesting because they throttled you on opening night (this have some confidence) and seem to have rediscovered their game of late. With guys like Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt, they have players who can take it to the house in one play. We know the Steelers and what they’re all about. Supreme talent on the offensive side of the ball but that scheme defensively still can’t solve Brady and Gronk. Lastly, the Jags. I know, I know, Blake Bortles is their quarterback and he’s proven nothing, But that defense is beastly. Reminds me of the Houston Texans last year and they gave the Pats all they could handle but eventually were undone by an incompetent quarterback. I think we have a chance to see that all over again. As for the NFC, sign me up for the New Orleans Saints. They’re built to travel, they have an elite QB and two playmaking running backs and a defense that isn’t even remotely what we saw in week 2. Pats vs Saints. It’s happening.

MG: Will, Happy New Year. If that were to happen, the only people who will be happier will be members of the Brady and Garoppolo families. San Fran has a ways to go, and we’ll have to see how Garoppolo operates with heightened pressure and the entire franchise on his back, but there isn’t a player/staffer/coach/front office guy I’ve talked to that doesn’t think he won’t thrive. Can you imagine the buildup to that game? Brady would be 41. My goodness. Sign me up!

MG: Pete, right back at you my friend. It’s been an uneven year for Malcolm. I think he’s a better player than this but the contract and the offseason and Gilmore’s presence has screwed him up some. There have been plenty of Malcolm of old moments, but I don’t think he’s earned himself as much money as he thought. Of course, if he turns it on for the playoffs, that will all be forgotten and someone will knock his socks off. The cap is going up. Someone will invest in him, and I’m fairly certain it won’t be the Pats.

PP: Cheech! The sheer number of jobs rumored to be available, to me, makes it seem pretty likely that at least one Patriots coordinator is gone after the season. A lot will depend on which jobs actually open up, and which jobs would be paired with like-minded front offices, but the more likely option of the two would seem to be McDaniels. If Indianapolis comes calling and McDaniels feels good about Andrew Luck's arm and GM Chris Ballard, that could be a tough gig to pass on. Detroit, where former Patriots director of pro scouting Bob Quinn is in the front office, could be another attractive landing spot. If the Titans job opens up, where another former Patriots front-office man Jon Robinson resides, that could be intriguing. Plus, if there's a team that would be willing to take on Nick Caserio as general manager (or former Bill Belichick pupils Scott Pioli or Louis Riddick) then the attractive openings could be fairly widespread. Feels like the timing makes sense for McDaniels. Same goes for Patricia, who may not have to be as picky since he's still looking at his first foray into being a head coach. I'd expect at least one to go, and it wouldn't shock me if both did.

PP: Good question, K. We've taken a deep dive into Rob Gronkowski's incentive-laden contract for 2017 on multiple occasions. He can earn an additional $2.5 million with 11 catches or 116 receiving yards (or six touchdowns, which seems . . . unlikely). He can also get there if he's named First Team All-Pro. But he's not the only one with reported incentives that will be impacted by what happens on New Year's Eve. Our buddy Miguel Benzan did a great job laying out all the incentives up for grabs here for Boston Sports Journal. Lawrence Guy can earn $500,000 if he ends up playing 55 percent of the defensive snaps for the season. He's currently at 55.4 percent, per Pro Football Focus. Matthew Slater would make $50,000 if the Patriots hit 13 wins for the season. A win would earn Patrick Chung $300,000. He reportedly needs 13 wins and 80 percent playing time to hit his incentive, and he's already sitting at 88.3 percent of the snaps. If he ends with 85 percent playing time, he'll make a cool $500,000. James Develin could be in line for a pay day as well. He'll need to play enough to push him to the 30 percent playing-time threshold, and he's sitting at 29.8 percent at the moment.

PP: First, it's important to ask her if she's doing OK. If she says she's "fine," you're good. Continue about your day as if everything is on the up-and-up because she said it was and you have a relationship rooted in honesty. Really not that hard.

PP: Occasionally electric.

PP: I give you Bill Belichick, last week: "I don’t believe . . . in living in the past. So, we can go back and look at a million things that have happened in every game. That’s not really important."

PP: They're still well above average in terms of points, Mr. Q, checking in at seventh in the NFL with 19.3 allowed per game. They're also still well below average in terms of yards, checking in at 29th with 373.9 allowed per game. If it's the yards you're talking about -- or DVOA (Patriots are 22nd) -- Kyle Van Noy and James Harrison probably won't be enough to bring them back to the middle of the pack. But they should certainly make the Patriots better. Depth in the front-seven, particularly on the edge, has been an issue for months. And against potential playoff opponents like Pittsburgh or Kansas City -- which can run the ball effectively to the outside -- any help there would be welcomed.

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