Friday Bag: How will Patriots deploy Martellus Bennett vs. Dolphins?

Friday Bag: How will Patriots deploy Martellus Bennett vs. Dolphins?

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

Got questions? Tweet the guys using the hashtag #FridayBag. But for now, have at the latest edition of the Bag.

TC: Helllloooo, Q! So much depends on opponent and game situation. Look at last week with 33/31 pass/run. Some of that is a by-product of having the lead. Some of it is the fact Arizona is blitz-happy and that creates seams they can run through with some success. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it get pass-heavy on Sunday given the talent of the Dolphins front. I know this, if they could run their way to wins and have 18 pass attempts a game, they’d do it every time.

TC: Good question, James. I would presume so, although like I said to Q up there, this could be a game in which it’s three-steps and gone, three-steps and gone for a majority of the offensive possessions. It’s always interesting to try and project what they’ll do with their offensive game plan then see if it matches up when the game begins and what they adjust to.

TC: I imagine they’re trying, Bruce. You maybe saw where I spoke to him on Thursday. Struck me as a guy who just wants to get on the field and do something to help as opposed to a player who’s nursing something until it’s 100 percent as I initially suggested.

TC: Thanks, Corin. They had six takeaways in the final five weeks of last year but you’re right, the picks are down. None in the past three games dating back to last year in the loss to the Jets when Ryan Fitzpatrick had three touchdowns and no picks. And the Omar talk was great. Thanks, Corin!   TC: Ya know, Chris, that’s a hard one. And people have puzzled over that for quite a long time. I’ll defer to my BagMates for the answer.    MG: Mike, Bill Belichick has an unhealthy obsession with Ryan Tannehill. From Wednesday, the Patriots coach said, and I quote, “Since he killed us last year? I mean that was pretty good. He’s a good quarterback. He’s smart, he handles the offense well, he certainly takes control of things at the line of scrimmage, as we’ve seen quarterbacks do in Coach Gase’s offense. It obviously runs through the quarterbacks. It tracks adjustments, but he’s a good decision maker, he’s athletic, throws the ball well. He can certainly make plays out of the pocket.” Belichick has a reason to be scared. Tannehill has played some of his better games against the Pats, including last year’s regular season finale and in week 1 of the Super Bowl winning season in 2014-15. The latter game, the obsession reached such heights that Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia had Dont’a Hightower turn his back to the sidelines and line up with his shoulders square to the opposite sidelines. Why? Because the coaching staff was convinced that the Fins would run a bunch of read option stuff. It never, ever happened. But that tells you how far Tannehill has crawled into Belichick’s head.   MG: Karen, we get three more looks at Garoppolo. The Pats already are fairly certain what they have with him, but now he gets to cement or alter their opinions over the next few weeks. So just for the hell of it, let’s say Garoppolo does nothing to change their belief that he’s a starting NFL QB. I’ve heard people say trade him, either right after Brady comes back or in the offseason, especially if you can get a 1st rounder for him. That may be difficult for Belichick to say no to however, the Pats don’t actually have to make a decision about Garoppolo’s future until a year and a half from now. Maybe by then they see some slippage in Brady’s game? Or they decide Brady’s on borrowed time and betting on the 20 something versus the 40 something makes sense? I also wonder how involved ownership will become when/if the subject of moving on from Brady is ever broached. He’s the greatest player in franchise history and it’s not even close. They’ve walked away from other stars prior, but no one is in Brady’s class now, maybe ever.

MG: Elliot, when I’m on my game, I usually bring peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to the actual game. Not a massive fan of press box food, although the Pats do have some solid clam chowder that I will get when the weather begins to turn. If my skinny ass is sitting on the couch at home, I’m probably eschewing food for a cold beverage.

MG: T.J….no (kidding. Man are you so damn sensitive). Sure I’d be concerned. Heck, I still am because young, unproven QBs do have a tendency to be a bit of a roller coaster. Matt Cassel was. Tom Brady was (see his start in Miam in 2001) Will Jimmy avoid that? I doubt it. This is a fierce defensive line he faces this week. Thursday, it could be Watt and Clowney coming off the edges. The following week it’s a Jets defensive front 7 that may have had some issues last night but tortured Andy Dalton for the better part of the season opener. Plus, the more tape teams have on Garoppolo, the more wrinkles he’ll see and obviously, he doesn’t have the same experience as Brady has to see and immediately diagnose said wrinkles.

MG: Pete, there’s nothing deplorable about you, and thank you for your service. You’re a hell of an American. As for the tackles, they were fine in Arizona, although I’m not sure I’m allowed to say that when you consider gave up a pair of sacks. But whatever. I saw what I saw and I continue to think he’s going to be much better this year. That theory will get put to the test Sunday though. Cameron Wake is back and he looked explosive in the opener. On the plus side, Olivier Vernon isn’t there on the opposite side to cause havoc, and Mario Williams - who I can’t stand - suffered a concussion in week 1 and may not be able to go this week.

MG: Sharks and Grant, thanks for checking in. I combine your two questions because I still look at tackle as a place the Pats could try and upgrade, or at least find another body. That said, right now, unless there’s someone available that I don’t know about, it appears the biggest name that could be on the block is former BC lineman Gosder Cherilus, now in Tampa. That shouldn’t excite you. Plenty of weeks ahead for maybe another body or two to find his way onto the market, but for now, hold on tight.

PP: If Hightower misses time -- and it appears as though he will -- expect to see a good amount of Jonathan Freeny. The team trusts him as one of their off-the-ball linebackers and just signed him to an extension. He saw a lot of action last season when Hightower and Collins were out with their respective health issues. Shea McClellin, rookie Elandon Roberts, and perhaps Barkevious Mingo could all be in line to see more time on the defensive side of things as well. Mingo was used primarily as a special-teamer in Week 1 and Roberts was inactive.

PP: Always hard to say, and Hightower's injury could throw a bit of a wrench into things on his end. The team did recently clear some cap space, however, and there are plenty of deals to be worked out. Collins, Jabaal Sheard and Malcolm Butler all could be in play for extensions. It wouldn't shock me if Sheard was the next domino to fall. He's the team's top player at a vital position, and they may want to get him locked up long-term before he has a career year. Collins may be willing to play out his rookie deal because he could end up with a top-of-the-market contract, and Butler is a restricted free agent after this season so there's nothing forcing the Patriots to come up with a new deal for him in the short-term.

Don't pigeonhole me: How will Adrian Clayborn fit into the Patriots defense?

AP Photo

Don't pigeonhole me: How will Adrian Clayborn fit into the Patriots defense?

Looking for a two-word answer from Bill Belichick during a press conference? Ask him how a new addition to the roster might fit into the Patriots scheme. 

"We'll see," is Belichick's typical reply in those situations. 


We point that out here because it's hard to know exactly what any new player's role will be with the Patriots, particularly for an edge player like Adrian Clayborn. That spot in Belichick's defense can take on a variety of roles, from pass-rusher, to edge-setter, to coverage player. 

But we can take an educated guess as to how Clayborn will fit in the Patriots defense, based on what we know. That's what the Patriots did when they signed him. They saw certain skills. They saw Clayborn perform in certain situations. They made their projection. 

There's always the chance Clayborn asserts himself in a way that wasn't expected. Or maybe the way he fits with his new teammates will open his coaches' eyes in ways they weren't anticipating. But at this point, as is the case with every new addition, they're hypothesizing. So we will too. 

AGAINST THE PASS: Clayborn was, for the vast majority of his snaps, a pass-rusher for the Falcons last year. He played 631 snaps for the Falcons, which was 53.4 of their defensive snaps. Of those 631 plays, Clayborn rushed the quarterback 477 times, per Pro Football Focus (76 percent of his workload). And of those pass-rush snaps, only one came from the left side. (Clayborn was born with Erb's palsy, which means his right arm has some limitations compared to his left, which impacts the side of the field he aligns on. He played 91 percent of his snaps from the right side in 2016.)  Clayborn played over 80 percent of the snaps during each of his first three seasons in the league as a member of the Bucs so he's been a three-down player before. But recent history would suggest the 6-foot-2, 280-pounder is now more of a sub option.

Here's how Clayborn responded during a conference call on Wednesday when asked if he could chip in on first and second down for the Patriots. "I believe that’s what people have pigeon-holed me in as a third-down player, but I know I can play first, second, third down if need be," he said. "That was my role in Atlanta because that’s what they asked me to do, but I mean, I can play all three downs if you ask me."

AGAINST THE RUN: According to Pro Football Focus, Clayborn has been a negatively-graded player against the run during each of his seven seasons in the NFL. Last year he checked in as PFF's 78th-ranked run defender among edge players, which was far below the ranking Trey Flowers received (19th) but ahead of Deatrich Wise (85th) and Eric Lee (96th). During each of his last three seasons with the Falcons, he has seen his snap-counts break down similarly: about 75 percent of his work came against the pass, about 25 percent came against the run. He can defend the run. He's capable of it. He just hasn't been asked to consistently hold up on the edge on a down-in-down-out basis during the most recent phase of his career. 

THE FIT: Based on his history in Atlanta, it would make sense if the Patriots asked Clayborn to come off of the right edge in passing situations in 2018. That's where his recent experience has been. Keeping him away from the left side not only makes the most of where he's strongest, but it also keeps him from finding himself in coverage. As Belichick has explained in the past, the left end spot (Rob Ninkovich's old spot), going against right-handed quarterbacks, is typically asked to do more in coverage. The right edge has been Flowers' area in the recent past -- he played almost 65 percent of his passing-rush snaps last season off the right, per PFF -- but if the Patriots are fully-healthy up front, Flowers could kick inside to do his rushing. An ideal sub package for the Patriots, it could be argued, would have Clayborn on the right edge, Flowers and either Wise or Adam Butler on the interior, and Derek Rivers or Dont'a Hightower on the left edge. Rivers saw some work off the left side before suffering an injury in last year's training camp. Early last season, Hightower saw time on the left edge. 


Clayborn will have an opportunity to show he can do more than rush off the right side. He said on Wednesday that the Patriots have discussed multiple roles for him. (Perhaps he could rush from the interior, though he's not as long as Flowers or Wise, whose arms make them good matchups for stouter guards and tackles.) Wherever those opportunities come, Clayborn knows he'll have to make the most of them if he doesn't want to be pigeonholed. The deal for two years and $10 million he just signed in New England doesn't guarantee him myriad responsibilities.

"Whatever I can prove I can do,” he said. "I know I can rush the passer. I know I can set edge in the run. I mean, there’s a couple of different positions that they believe I can play, so it’s up to me to prove I can play them."


Ex-Patriot Ricky Jean-Francois signing with Lions

File Photo

Ex-Patriot Ricky Jean-Francois signing with Lions

Former Patriots defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois is signing with the Lions, according to Jordan Schultz of Yahoo Sports.

The 31-year-old had six tackles in six games for the Patriots in 2017. He'll reunite with ex-Patriots defensive coordinator and now Lions head coach Matt Patricia in Detroit.