A season's worth of worries

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A season's worth of worries

By Michael Felger

Some of the biggest worries facing the Patriots this season to brighten your day (ranked in order):

Pass rush

Really had to dig deep for this one. Analysis like this is why they pay me the big bucks.

But it turns out that in this case, the glaringly obvious is also brutally true. If Bill Belichick can get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks with this group, it's time to dust off the genius label.

In my mind, if you have a good defense, Tully Banta-Cain is your first pass rusher off the sideline. He isn't your top outside linebacker on all three downs. But that's case for the 2010 Patriots. And it only gets worse from there. The next group of names is even scarier. Marques Murrell. Rob Ninkovich. Jermaine Cunningham. One of those guys is going to start opposite Banta-Cain. Yikes.

Defensive end is just as barren, where Mike Wright, like Banta-Cain, is more suited to sub duty and Gerard Warren (32 sacks in nine years) won't give you much burst. Ron Brace? Myron Pryor? Something tells me Michael Strahan isn't walking through that door.

Again, if Belichick can scheme it up and get quarterbacks off the spot through deception, then God bless. For now, it remains, by far, the biggest worry on this team.

Coverage

Another no-brainer. I've maintained for a while now that if this young secondary was playing behind a good pass rush, it might be good enough. That's "might." But with opposing quarterbacks figuring to have a good amount of time to throw, these guys could be toast. Darius Butler better have thick skin. Devin McCourty better have a short memory. And both better stay healthy, because Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite are next up. Double Yikes.

Yes, the safeties look promising. I just wish Brandon Meriweather was as good as he thought he was.

The Pats have allowed 52 touchdown passes the last two years. Only three teams have allowed more. That, suffice it to say, it not what you're looking for.

Setting the edge

You think the Pats' potential problems are only in the passing game? Au contraire.

Wright has been run on in the past. So has Banta-Cain. What Murrell, Cunningham or Ninkovich do on the other side is anyone's guess. The strength of the Pats' defense nose tackle Vince Wilfork playing in front of inside linebackers Jerod Mayo and, presumably, Brandon Spikes is confined and easy to identify. Why would any opponent run up the gut on the Pats? They're going to try and exploit the perimeter.

Pass protection

It looks like Tom Brady will have plenty of options in the passing game, with Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate and two promising rookie tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, joining Wes Welker and Randy Moss. It seems the only thing that can get in the way is Brady spending too much time on his back.

The line looked fine in the preseason with Dan Connolly taking over at Logan Mankins' left guard spot. That's the good news. The bad news is that the real games are about to begin, and opponents surely won't treat Connolly as just another player going forward. They're going to go after him.

But whether it's Connolly or Mankins, fans should have a fair amount of confidence in Brady's ability to get rid of the ball. It's typically one of his strengths. He was sacked just 16 times last year, by far the fewest of his career.

A Randy Moss pity party

Moss' contract-year act has already begun. He's claimed the Pats don't pay. He's disrespected his owner at his most important charity event of the year. Now he's saying he feels "not wanted." Was this not the most predictable development in the league this year?

Historically, Moss has not been one to fight through adversity. It just gets worse. Never better. That's his track record, anyway. Maybe it will be different here. If not, Brady and the rest of the team have to be sure they don't get taken down with him. Hopefully, they realize the fact of the matter: They don't need him.

A few programming notes: Starting next week we'll be filing three stories a week, with a game column posting Sunday night, the award-winning report card coming your way Tuesdays and the mailbag remaining on Thursdays.

Also, in case you missed it last weekend, Sports Sunday has moved to 7:30 p.m., with a replay at 11. Set the DVR if you can't make one of those times.

E-mail Felger HERE. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Felger: 'The Oakland Raiders are garbage, and they always have been'

Felger: 'The Oakland Raiders are garbage, and they always have been'

Want a classic Felger rant? Or forget Felger; a classic rant, period?

Watch the video above as Michael Felger eviscerates the Oakland Raiders.

"You know what the Oakland Raiders are? And their fans, and their city? A bunch of dirtbags," Felger said Tuesday on Felger & Mazz. "If that's not the most overrated team and organization in the history of sports, I don't know what is . . . That is a garbage organization and it has always has been.

"And the way people are treating them now, like . . . the Green Bay Packers or the Boston Celtics or the Montreal Canadiens or the New York Yankees are moving, is laughable. Laughable! The Oakland Raiders are garbage. And they always have been."

There's more . . . ,much more. Watch the video to hear the full treatment.

Rules changes are in: Field-goal leap, crackback blocks banned

Rules changes are in: Field-goal leap, crackback blocks banned

PHOENIX -- The NFL has announced which rules, bylaw and resolution proposals passed following Tuesday's vote at the Arizona Biltmore. The full list is below, but here are a couple of the noteworthy changes from a Patriots perspective . . . 

* That leap-the-line play that Jamie Collins and Shea McClellin have executed for the Patriots over the course of the last two seasons? That's been prohibited, as expected. The league did not want coaches to be responsible for putting a player in a position where he may suffer a head or neck injury. (Which is different from a player putting himself in that position with a split-second decision to leave his feet mid-play.)

MORE PATRIOTS

* Receivers running pass routes can now be considered "defenseless." That means that even within the five-yard "chuck" area beyond the line of scrimmage, receivers will have some measure of protection. The Patriots, like many teams, have called for linebackers to disrupt the routes of shallow crossers, which can lead to monster hits on unexpecting players. Those types of collisions may now be fewer and farther between.

* Crackback blocks are now prohibited by a player who is in motion, even if the player is not more than two yards outside the tackle box at the snap. What's the Patriots connection here? It seems as though the overtime play that won Super Bowl LI -- during which Julian Edelman came in motion and "cracked" down on corner Brian Poole -- is now illegal. We'll look for clarification on this when the league holds its press conference describing the rules changes later on Tuesday.

Approved 2017 Playing Rules Proposals

2a. By Philadelphia; Prohibits the “leaper” block attempt on field goal and extra point plays. (Final language will be available on NFLCommunications.com)  

8.   By Competition Committee; Makes permanent the rule that disqualifies a player who is penalized twice in one game for certain types of unsportsmanlike conduct fouls. 

9.   By Competition Committee; Changes the spot of the next snap after a touchback resulting from a free kick to the 25-yard line for one year only. 

11. By Competition Committee; Gives a receiver running a pass route defenseless player protection. 

12. By Competition Committee; Makes crackback blocks prohibited by a backfield player who is in motion, even if he is not more than two yards outside the tackle when the ball is snapped. 

13. By Competition Committee; Replaces the sideline replay monitor with a hand-held device and authorizes designated members of the Officiating department to make the final decision on replay reviews. 

14. By Competition Committee; Makes it Unsportsmanlike Conduct to commit multiple fouls during the same down designed to manipulate the game clock. 

15. By Competition Committee; Makes actions to conserve time illegal after the two-minute warning of either half.

Approved 2017 Bylaw Proposals

4.     By Competition Committee; Liberalizes rules for timing, testing, and administering physical examinations to draft-eligible players at a club’s facility for one year only. 

5.     By Competition Committee; Changes the procedures for returning a player on Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform or Reserve/Non-Football Injury or Illness to the Active List to be similar to those for returning a player that was Designated for Return.  

6.     By Competition Committee; The League office will transmit a Personnel Notice to clubs on Sundays during training camp and preseason.

Approved 2017 Resolution Proposal

G-4.     By Competition Committee: Permits a contract or non-contract non-football employee to interview with and be hired by another club during the playing season, provided the employer club has consented.