Each week, Tom E. Curran, Phil Perry and Mike Giardi answer your Patriots questions in a joint mailbag, or FridayBag as they call it. Got a question for the trio? Tweet at them using the hashtag #FridayBag. Now, on to this week's submissions:
TC: Hey Bryan,
No, I haven’t asked directly but there are a few reasons Kraft wouldn’t fall in line with Jones. First, by “on this” I’m not sure if you mean the compensation package or the Elliott investigation/suspension mess. Jones, of course, has been using the compensation package as a front to attack Goodell’s competency in general which he now bemoans because A) Elliott got suspended and B) Jones assured everyone Elliott wouldn’t be suspended. Kraft wouldn’t support Jones on Elliott because the accusations against him revolve around violence against women. Even if some accusations seem conflated, unsubstantiated or have a whiff of retribution, Kraft isn’t going to rally for Elliott on this. No upside to it. And if it’s an over-the-top penalty levied by the league in an effort to “make up” for past domestic violence investigations the league’s butchered, well, Kraft knows a thing or two about being on the receiving end of an agenda-laden punishment handed down by 345 Park Avenue. Kraft didn’t exactly suck it up and take the punishment. In fact, his reaction in August of 2015 and the organization’s continued effort to chastise the NFL with the Wells Report in Context website are in stark contrast to Kraft’s May 2015 pledge to stand down on Deflategate for the good of the league. Kraft gave plenty of pushback. But he stopped short of putting Goodell on the spit because he believes it hurts the overall brand and he’s more conciliator than divider. The feeling in Foxboro has been – and I’m sure continues to be – that the problem isn’t Goodell but his minions. The league needs an enema.
@PhilAPerry @MikeGiardi @tomecurran Larry Fitgerald has a no-trade clause in his extension. How will the Pats aquire him now? Injury-release, outright release, Texas hold ‘em, re-naming themselves the Arizona Cardinals? #FridayBag https://t.co/oCy9j24dbU— Rich Powell (@cultmojo) November 17, 2017
TC: Rich, they are running out of options. He is their White Whale. How hysterical would it be if – at the end of it all – he signs a one-day contract to retire as a Patriot? Gotta make this happen.
#FridayBag Do we see a heavy dose of Burkehead in an Edelamesque role over the middle going forward?— Mr.Quindazzi (@MrQuindazzi) November 16, 2017
TC: Great question, Q. Of all the guys running the option routes, Burkhead seems to be the most sudden in his cuts while also being able to gain quick and wide separation out of them. It’s lateral quickness and explosiveness that makes Edelman a unique cover for any defense. All the wideouts are quick, but being able to disguise the route, set up the move and then – when making the cut – cover a lot of ground with the first steps is what sets Edelman apart as evidenced by his short-shuttle time. I agree with you.
@PhilAPerry Per the Slants podcast, the pats focused on the Broncos communication and substitution challenges. What are the Oakland weaknesses that the Pats focus on? What round do you draft Mayo in your Southie YMCA league? #FridayBag— Jeff Harrelson (@jharrelson11) November 17, 2017
PP: Jeff is a CHRONIC Quick Slants the Podcast listener, and we thank him for that. He's right in that the Patriots took advantage of Denver on a couple of occasions when they tried to substitute last weekend, and that's something they'll pounce on every week if they could. We highlighted just how good they've gotten at that whole operation here. When it comes to the Raiders, I think you'll see the Patriots exploit their linebackers in coverage as often as possible. (You'll remember, they did that against the Broncos, too.) Oakland is one of the worst teams in the league at defending tight ends and running backs in the passing game, and the Patriots will have no problem recycling their offensive game plan from Mile High for Mexico City.
Amazon was no help, defaulting to you here: has there been a book written about BB’s leadership style and how it evolved into what it is today? A “BB Method” is you will.— MTN (@Lighthouse7MTN) November 17, 2017
PP: Mike, I'll mention the classics here even if you've already thumbed through them more than once: David Halberstam's The Education of a Coach and Michael Holley's Patriot Reign are both very good looks at Belichick and how he came to run his operation the way he does. But you already knew that. When it comes to one book specific to Belichick, specific to his leadership style? May have to wait on that one. For now, though, watch this. Good interview with CNBC's Suzy Welch from last offseason. Belichick discusses the tenants of his leadership style, the value of surrounding yourself with dependable people, and why he doesn't like social media (it's not just because he's 65). I'd also suggest this podcast that Belichick recorded with lacrosse buddy Paul Rabil. Interesting back-and-forth on why Belichick likes to keep the numbers on his coaching staff small, team culture, short-term focus and frequency of organizational meetings.
Will the reunited Bennett/Gronkowski duo help cure the red zone issues?— Riz (@riz_6) November 17, 2017
PP: It could, Riz. Precision is paramount in the red zone. Space is at a premium. Accuracy is critical. And having big targets who don't need all that much room to create room for themselves -- like Gronkowski, Bennett or Dwayne Allen, who scored while well-covered in Denver -- makes life that much easier.
Hey Phil. Great article on special teams. Seems that unit has become our most consistent group. In addition, the o-line and secondary have started to play solid ball. Where do you see our biggest weakness? (Marty took care of TE depth).— Rich Powell (@cultmojo) November 17, 2017
PP: Thanks, Rich. For anyone who hasn't seen that one, which lays out how Patriots players feel like they have an All-Star special-teams unit, here's the link. I'd say the biggest weakness is still what I thought it was back before the trade deadline: pass-rush. They'll try to scheme up what they can by disguising who's coming and who's dropping into coverage, but at some point, they'll need pass-rushers to win one-on-one battles and disrupt good quarterbacks. I think Trey Flowers can do that. I think Kyle Van Noy can do that from time to time. I think Deatrich Wise has shown he has the potential to do that. After that, I think the Patriots are lacking in that area. They'll need their secondary to be lock-down to help cover-up for any deficiencies they have up front.
PP: Bilingual Shimon checking in! I believe that says something about bombs to Cooks? Yep. That's in play. The Patriots really should be able to do what they want against this Raiders defense. Their secondary is in shambles as NBC Bay Area's Scott Blair told me on one of our podcasts this week. I still think the Patriots will turn to their backs in the passing game because I'm not sure they'll want to turn Khalil Mack loose on many Tom Brady seven-step drops. But there will be opportunities on all areas of the field -- short, intermediate and deep.
Is Gillislee a healthy scratch again or does he finally break a long run against the raiders?— Trevor Williams (@Clevertrevv) November 17, 2017
PP: Interesting question on Gillislee. Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis did nothing the other night that would suggest they'll see their roles diminished in any way, but the injury to Matthew Slater could open up a game-day roster spot for the Patriots to activate five backs in Mexico. Even if Gillislee is active, though, I wouldn't expect a huge role for him so long as Lewis and Burkhead are healthy. Right now he looks like valuable insurance and a potential cold-weather hammer against teams that won't want to tackle a 219-pound back who runs hard.
R u seeing justice league this weekend ?— Shy Sullivan (@CheyenneSulli14) November 17, 2017
PP: Big two-year-old birthday party for my nephew on Saturday, Shy, so it's going to be more of a Mickey Mouse weekend for me. Then on Sunday, of course, we'll be working. You're going to want to watch Pregame Live, coming at you at 2:30 p.m. Then right after the game you'll have an epic Postgame Live and an equally-enjoyable Sports Sunday. See you then.
Why has James White's playing time been down the past few games? Are the coaches that high on Lewis or is this simply a game to game thing?— Jacob Moore (@jabo1331) November 16, 2017
MG: The Patriots have been more committed to running the football of late -- 32 rushes versus the Chargers and 26 against the Broncos in a game in which they lost a possession because of excellent special-teams work and had a short field on another. That commitment has revolved heavily around the two players that are running the ball the best right now: Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead. James White is still a valuable piece and will have plenty of big moments from here until the end of the season, though I will tell you, he’s still kicking himself for that missed blitz pickup of Justin Simmons down in the red zone Sunday night.
Who can return frim IR?— OFORILLYDAGOD (@Badseedz187) November 16, 2017
MG: They blew one of their two eligible to return spots on Shea McClellin, who appeared to be ready to return from those concussion symptoms but then had a setback in his final week of practice before he needed to be put on the active roster. That leaves two players for one spot (assuming both are healthy): DT Vincent Valentine or WR Malcolm Mitchell. The Pats' interior defensive line hasn’t been as good as it needs to be, which leads me to think Valentine might be the play; however, depth has really been challenged at wide receiver, and by the end of Sunday’s game in Denver, the Pats had just three healthy wideouts (Cooks, Amendola and Dorsett). Mitchell just began running a few weeks back, though, as he recovered from training camp knee surgery, so who knows how that’s responded to date
Do you think they are priming Phillip Dorsett for a breakout moment game, or is just a sleeper?— mplspatsfan (@mplspatsfan1) November 16, 2017
MG: Negative, though don’t take that as a bad thing. I think Dorsett has tremendous speed but is still learning the playbook and earning Tom Brady’s trust. He may never have a breakout game this season but when he’s on the field, opposing teams have to respect his ability to go vertical. That can open up stuff underneath or if they flood a zone. He still has a purpose and can be a useful player.
Hi Mike! Now that the Patriots are on the home stretch, do you think we’ll see more of the running game, or will it be a matter of whatever the opponents defense gives them? Breath easy, bud.— Pete🇺🇸🇺🇸 (@usafss74) November 16, 2017
MG: Pete! I worked out and was so wobbled at the knees I thought I was having the big one (Elizabeth), but a gallon of water cured what ailed me at this high altitude. Anyway, I think you’re already seeing a greater commitment to the run game. The offensive line is blocking it up better, they’re controlling down and distance, and it’s allowed the play-action pass game to thrive (see the 26-yarder to Gronk versus Denver). Belichick said Tuesday they’ll do whatever they have to do to win, but right now, the steady balance is keeping Brady upright and putting opposing defenses in a quandary.
Not a lot of Gillislee chatter this week, what was the “healthy scratch” reasoning last week? And is there something internal going on with him that nobody knows about? #Imback— Todd Landry (@tjland99) November 16, 2017
MG: Landry, I knew you couldn’t quit me . . . Look, I don’t have any Gilislee theories right now, nor have I heard anything on the rumor mill. What I think is that Lewis and Burkhead are just running it better, so why waste a roster spot on Gillislee if he’s just going to get a handful of plays or touches? I wouldn’t say he’s going to be married to the pine the rest of the way. Hell, we know about Lewis and Burkhead’s injury histories, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he is in street clothes again Sunday.
John Lynch says there's no rush to play your boy Jimmy. So why the heck did he trade for him?— Dave Green (@DavidMGreen) November 16, 2017
MG: John Lynch is saying stupid things. Jimmy is the big dog and Lynch knows it. And if he keeps up with this nonsense, I may have to make a pit stop in San Fran and set him straight. #FreeJimmyG
The Patriots offensive game plan in Denver last weekend was clear: Find mismatches with Broncos linebackers and safeties in coverage and exploit them.
The result was a big night for Patriots running backs and tight ends -- those groups accounted for 16 catches, 177 yards and three touchdowns receiving -- en route to a dominating 41-16 win.
- Patriots' investment in special teams paying off
- Out of thin air, differences emerge between Patriots and Raiders
- Does Gronk have a shot at maximizing 2017 contract incentives?
Will they be able to take a similar approach in Mexico City against the Raiders? It would make sense if they tried.
Jack Del Rio's defense is having a down season, checking in at 23rd in the league in points allowed per game (23.8). And despite having one of the game's best edge defenders in Khalil Mack, as well as talented complementary rushers in Mario Edwards Jr. and Bruce Irvin, Oakland is last in the NFL in sacks (13.0).
When it comes to Oakland's ability to cover, their weaknesses are similar to those the Broncos showed last weekend. The Raiders, according to Football Outsiders, are 28th in the league when it comes to defending running backs and 30th in the league when it comes to defending tight ends. Against backs they allow an average of 53.6 yards receiving on 7.5 targets, and against tight ends they're allowing 55.2 yards on 6.6 targets.
Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett and Dwayne Allen should be licking their chops for this type of matchup. Back in Week 9, Dolphins tight end Julius Thomas went off for 84 yards and a score on eight targets.
The same could be said for New England's receiving backs. That should mean more work for Rex Burkhead, who has emerged as a true dual running and receiving threat, who has continued to see his workload increase every week since returning from a rib injury he suffered back in Week 2.
Burkhead played 36 snaps against the Broncos, up from the 27 he saw against the Chargers and the 13 he played against the Falcons. He took a season-high 10 carries against Denver (he'd had 10 in his previous two games combined), and caught three passes on three targets, giving him a season-high 13 touches total. He's played only three games in his five-year career (all last season) when he's seen the football that often.
Add those snaps to his special teams duties -- he blocked a punt and made two tackles on kickoffs last weekend -- and he's been busy. His usage is at the point where he's done a little extra, he explained this week, in order to make sure his conditioning is on point.
"You know, I have, actually, just doing some things on the side just to make sure I'm in good shape and staying on top of the conditioning," he said, "just because you never know what your work load could be or how the game goes or whatnot . . . I'm just staying on top of that. [Head strength and conditioning coach] Moses [Cabrera] does a great job with us in the strength and conditioning department here, so just making sure I'm on top of that, like I said, because you never know how many snaps you may play, so you've just got to be ready."
Based on how the Raiders defense has looked this season, and where their weaknesses are, Burkhead may have to be ready for another steady workload south of the border.