A season's worth of worries


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.


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.

Not a lot of talk about Cannon this season, and that's a good thing for Patriots


Not a lot of talk about Cannon this season, and that's a good thing for Patriots

Marcus Cannon has had his run as a piñata. The Patriots offensive lineman is a frequent target when things go wrong up front and, usually, he’s deserved it.

A bit of anecdotal evidence? 

Sunday, I tweeted that every time I watched Cannon, he was making another good play.

On cue, about 10 tweets came back at me with variations of “Keep watching him!”

I asked Bill Belichick if he agreed with the layman’s assessment that Cannon’s playing well.

“I think Marcus [Cannon] has done a good job for us for quite a while,” Belichick began. “I mean he’s stepped in for Sebastian [Vollmer] and then last year when Nate [Solder] was out [and he substituted] for Nate. He has played a lot of good football for us.

“We extended our agreement with him off of his rookie contract which I think speaks to the fact that we want him on the team and we like what he’s doing and so forth and he’s continued to I’d say show with his performance [that he has] validated the confidence that we have in him.”

Cannon’s ending to 2015 – a poor performance (along with the rest of the line) against the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game was followed by a performance against the Cardinals that was marred by late-game holding calls.

But with Sebastian Vollmer injured (and still injured) it was sink or swim with Cannon which had plenty of people rolling their eyes.

But – as I said – every time I see Cannon, he’s either holding off a defensive end in pass protection, steamrolling downfield in the running game or making really athletic second-level or cut blocks in the screen game.

“Like every player, as they gain more experience they do get better,” said Belichick. “I think our offensive line’s certainly improved over the course of the year and playing with more consistency than we did last year. But there’s always room for improvement and the continuity that we’ve had there since (right guard) Shaq [Mason] has gotten in the last few weeks – we had Shaq over on the right side a little bit at the end of the season last year and then this year most all of the year except when Shaq was out for a few weeks there at the end of training camp and the start of the season – but our overall consistency and communication on the offensive line has been better because we’ve had more continuity there so that helps everybody.”

It can’t hurt that the lineman whisperer, Dante Scranecchia, has returned to coach the group. Cannon’s conditioning and physique looks better. He just appears more athletic and explosive. And he’s seemed more relaxed in the limited time the media’s in the locker room.

All off that added up equals nobody really talking about Marcus Cannon.
“Like any lineman, the less you call his name probably the better he’s doing,” said Belichick. “It’s probably a good thing when you guys don’t talk about him. Then that probably means they’re not doing something too noticeably wrong, right?”