The Friday Bag is back, friends. Every week I'll be answering your questions be they Patriots-related, NFL-related or otherwise. This week, the focus for many of you was -- no surprise -- the overall effectiveness of the Patriots offense. We'll start with a running back question...
When will we see Damien Harris involved in the offense?— Janks (@JacobFrank4) September 26, 2019
Good question, Jacob. It might require an injury for Harris to see real playing time at this point. The Patriots running game could obviously use a spark so I see where your head is at. And Harris was impressive at times during the preseason. But the run game's issues aren't 100 percent on the backs at this point, and so I'm not sure he would give you much more than, say, Sony Michel would. Michel's issue right now, if you want to call it that, is he's not going to make someone miss in a phone booth. Is that an "issue?" Not typically, especially when you're a powerful back who can create yards on your own in space. But when the offensive line, tight ends and receivers are having trouble giving backs a lane to start, then someone with Michel's skill set is going to have trouble getting going. That's how Bill Belichick explained it this week, and after watching the last three games closely, I'd agree with him. The reason why Rex Burkhead's yards per carry average (4.7) is so much better than Michel's (2.4) is because Burkhead has the quickness to make a defender miss at (or behind) the line of scrimmage and plow forward. Harris' running style is closer to Michel's than Burkhead's and so I'm not sure they're going to turn to the rookie for a boost right now. Barring an injury, if the Patriots feel like Michel simply isn't seeing holes quickly enough, then that could be when you start to see Harris. But I don't think we're there yet.
Seems like we dodged a bullet with Edelman’s injury. What vulnerabilities do you see in the Bills’ defense? When does the running game finally get on track?— Tom Greenwald (@GreenwaldTom) September 26, 2019
Hey, Tom. The reason I could see this being a low-scoring game is because the Bills have strengths defensively that match up with what the Patriots do well. Where they're weak, the Patriots aren't currently equipped to exploit them. Edelman's health will be key. In two games against Sean McDermott's scheme in Buffalo, he had 15 catches for 174 yards and a touchdown. No one understands better how to find the soft spot in zones. No one understands better how to read coverage after the snap and adjust to what Tom Brady wants. If he's at all limited, this passing attack will stagnate. It may be tough sledding even with Edelman on the field. The Patriots have relied on big plays to Josh Gordon and Phillip Dorsett through three weeks this season -- several of those were coverage busts or play-action gaffes -- and the Bills simply don't give up big plays. They're second in the league (one spot ahead of the Patriots defense) in explosive pass play percentage allowed this season. How should the Patriots attack, then? Run it. As bad as they've been, that's their best chance to move the football consistently. Buffalo is 19th in the league in yards per carry allowed (4.4) and they're 21st in run defense DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. If ever there was a time to get this offensive line some confidence, if ever there was a time to get Sony Michel going, this would be it. (That's why I'm buying Michel as a daily league fantasy play this weekend.)
What cap room do we have left if Gronk decided to come back.— Michael Braga (@MikeBee4424) September 26, 2019
Cap room isn't all that plentiful at the moment, Michael, but it still shouldn't preclude the Patriots from making any of the moves they'd like to make. Let's put a potential Rob Gronkowski move aside at the moment -- though the logic still applies no matter how the Patriots add salary mid-season. Will having about $2 million in cap space make it complicated for the Patriots to pull off a big-money acquisition? Sure. But it's still doable. Cap money is "funny money" to a certain extent. You can always move it around to get done what it is you'd like to get done. For instance, the Patriots could extend a couple of defensive stalwarts -- Devin McCourty and Kyle Van Noy -- and immediately create space. Those would be two easy ones, in my opinion. And it wouldn't shock me to see that happen because the Patriots could use an infusion of talent at a few different spots. Tom Brady's comments to WEEI this week were striking in that he indicated the team would need to get some veteran help at receiver. Who's out there that they could add? Emmanuel Sanders is an obvious name to throw out. He's in the last year of his deal. He's on a bad team. He's a player the Patriots have tried to acquire in the past. His salary cap would consist of the pro-rated portion of his base salary over the remainder of the season. If he's acquired at the deadline, that'd give him a cap hit of about $5 million. Doable. AJ Green, who's currently dealing with an injury, would have a cap hit at the deadline of about $6 million. Last year of his deal. Bad team. For teams that'll be looking at recouping only a 2021 third-round pick for those receivers if and when they hit free agency this offseason, they might be had relatively cheaply. Both are in their early 30s. Both are coming off sub-1,000 yard seasons in 2018. Golden Tate was dealt last year at 30 years old for a third-round pick after posting 1,003 yards in 2017.
What are the odds of Jakob Johnson getting playing time as the fullback this week?— Jacob Moore (@jabo1331) September 26, 2019
Big week for Jacobs in this week's Bag. Appreciate all the Jacobs out there. Even the ones who prefer "K" over "C." As far as Jakob Johnson is concerned, I think there is a chance we see him play a bit offensively. (He saw two snaps on kneeldowns last week at the end of the game.) As I mentioned above, this would be a good time to try to get the running game going, and unless they want to abandon those heavier 21-personnel groupings totally while James Develin is out, then Johnson will get on the field eventually. When I wrote about the effectiveness of "21" earlier this week, I pointed out that the Patriots were actually more efficient throwing the ball out of that package in the postseason than any other package they have. There's an element of deception involved when getting the fullback on the field that could be useful to Josh McDaniels. Johnson likely won't be a true receiving threat, but if the Patriots can get extra linebackers onto the field by having Johnson out there, then that might create some favorable passing matchups elsewhere.
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