Fun matchup, Dave. But I'm starting to wonder if the Raiders are as well-constructed as their 2-0 record would indicate. (They're not.)
Before we get there, let's get into the one key to this game. To me, it's stopping tight end Darren Waller. He's big. He's athletic. He's a receiver playing tight end. Really, though.
It's his second year playing tight end after transitioning from wideout. But he's more than that at almost 260 pounds.
How do they do it, then? I'd double him. Maybe use corner Joejuan Williams or safety Kyle Dugger and bracket Waller with a second underneath defender throughout the game.
Remember the Chad Johnson NFL Films clip when he's talking to Bill Belichick pregame? "One, double 85," Belichick tells Johnson. That's the coverage that day. Cover 1. Double Johnson (No. 85). This week it could be, "One, double 83."
It'd be a huge responsibility for Williams, but his length makes him a good match. And in this scenario, he'd have some help. The Patriots could also go with Dugger or Adrian Phillips as matchup options, but Phillips is essentially looking like a linebacker for the Patriots. Could see him matched up with Josh Jacobs in the passing game.
Dugger might not be a bad choice if he's feeling good (he just popped up on the injury report with an ankle issue) because when the Texans held Waller to just two catches and 11 yards on eight targets last year, they used a young and physical safety in Justin Reid as a key part of their plan. (The Texans used linebacker Zach Cunningham and long-limbed corner Lonnie Johnson at times, as well.)
The reason why I say this Raiders team doesn't look all that hot coming into Foxboro? Waller and Jacobs are both dealing with injuries. As are three of their offensive linemen, including Trent Brown. And they just placed Richie Incognito on injured reserve.
Jacobs averages just 3.5 yards per carry at the moment, and what was supposed to be a great strength of their team -- their running game -- hasn't yet materialized. Plus, quarterback Derek Carr still looks reluctant to push the ball down the field despite having two explosive young receivers added to the offensive huddle in Bryan Edwards and Henry Ruggs.
Defensively, the Raiders are currently the worst third-down defense in the NFL. They're among the worst at stopping the run (4.9 yards allowed per carry) and among the worst at stopping the pass (8.1 yards per attempt allowed). Cam Newton and the Patriots offense should have themselves a day. Take away Waller, and I'm not sure Carr can keep up.
Great question, Jacob. As Next Pats Podcast listeners know, it's never a bad time to look at how the Patriots can improve their roster. Like where your head's at.
Let's narrow down the options by sticking to a formula. Let's look for players in the last year of their contracts who have good physical skills and were maybe taken in the first or second round. Those types might only require a pick-swap sort of trade since the term on their respective deals would be so short-lived.
Here are a few names at positions I think the Patriots could address: wide receivers Corey Davis, John Ross and Curtis Samuel, linebacker Haason Reddick and defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson.
All three of those receivers would give the Patriots a little more athleticism to fill out their wideout room. The Titans will likely be contenders, making them probably pretty reluctant to deal with New England. But Ross or Samuel, who'd have built-in familiarity with Newton, would be intriguing fits.
Reddick is a little undersized, but like Kyle Van Noy he's a high pick who hasn't fit in with the team that drafted him. He started just five games last year, despite playing in 16, and he hasn't started in either of the two games he's played this year. But he's a good athlete who could beef up the second level of the Patriots defense.
Tomlinson is a pie-in-the-sky thought on this end. He's been an every-week starter since landing in New Jersey three years ago. The Patriots could use a behemoth up front to help against the run. Would the Giants, who are building, be willing to trade him away in exchange for an improved draft pick?
Mark, don't tell anyone this. But I think you should go get Damien Harris in your fantasy league and stash him until he's back. He's eligible to return Week 4. Whenever he hits the field, it'd make sense for the Patriots to see what they have.
Sony Michel hasn't given them anything a replacement back couldn't. There's a replacement on the roster who looked like more than that this summer. Harris caught the ball smoothly and hit holes decisively.
Do we have any idea how he'll look in a live game situation? Nope. But with relatively lackluster options ahead of him, why not give him a shot?
If it happens, I think it could be a while. There's no real motivation on New England's end to make that happen, unless Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio think they can lock in Newton at a hometown discount by getting something done early. They have the franchise tag at their disposal if they want to use it next season.
Plus, rushing into a long-term pact might not be the most prudent option when we're talking about a quarterback on the wrong side of 30 with a significant injury history.
Don't get me wrong, Newton has been tremendous. Not only through two regular-season games, but through three months of work. He's made nothing but a positive impression on those in the building.
But anything beyond giving him a raise for 2020 -- his one-year deal has him in the Colt McCoy, Jeff Driskel, Matt Schaub, Matt Barkley range of guaranteed salary -- feels premature at the moment.
Massive. Teammates have raved about the importance of his return. Unprompted at times. He's the nerve center of the offensive line.
He can help Newton with calls if needed as Newton gets adjusted to the offense. He's also just a very good athlete in the middle of the line, who can climb to the second level quickly, mirror quick interior rushers and get out to lead a screen from one play to the next.
If he can't play Sunday due to a hand injury that has held him out of two practices, that's a big deal. Hjalte Froholdt, a second-year player who missed his entire rookie season on IR, could be the replacement.
Against a defense that loves to disguise blitzing off-the-ball linebackers, it'll be a challenge for the Patriots no matter what. If Andrews is out? That gets significantly tougher.
Their best defensive player through two games, maybe. I'll admit it: I wasn't sure he'd be able to handle running-game work on early downs. He's proved me wrong relatively quickly.
He's clearly the primary beneficiary of freed-up reps from Kyle Van Noy's departure. He's made splash plays against both the pass and the run. And though he hasn't been perfect at setting an edge, he's made impact plays for two consecutive weeks.
I've heard folks suggest he should move to an off-the-ball linebacker role. Don't see it. He was an edge guy in college. He was an edge guy last year. And he's good. Move him and then you leave yourself weakened at a more important defensive position.
Really getting some good bang for your Twitter character buck here, Dave, aren't ya? A four-fer?
1) Uche was listed on the injury report (foot) on Thursday. Dugger looks like he's clearly got the skill set to contribute early on. But let's hold off on saying the strong safety spot is just fine based on two games.
2) I'd go WR, front seven, RB, K in that order.
3) Again, this is tough. But I'll go with Joejuan Williams for now. Waller is too big for a normal corner. He might be too strong for Williams, making a safety like Dugger a better play.
But Williams is a second-round pick. Gotta see at some point what he can do against top-end competition. If they didn't draft him where they did to defend guys like Waller, then why did they?
Yes. Brad, call me.
I understand the outcry for athletes at the second level. I do! Really! Especially after they drafted Uche in the second round. He was a next-level physical talent at the position who might've worked his way into the first round had he been healthy enough to work out at the combine. His numbers in Indy were expected to be that good.
But the reality of the situation is... the second level of the Patriots defense is kind of athletic right now. I think most people want a better athlete there because they saw world-class athlete Russell Wilson undress Ja'Whaun Bentley in the open field last weekend not knowing that that'd happen to about 95 percent of linebackers in the NFL. Ted Johnson said on Monday Night Patriots that Ray Lewis would've had no shot in that scenario.
But look at the others spending time next to Bentley through two weeks. Oftentimes they're safeties. They could actually use a little bit of a boost in the size department, in my opinion, because in close games it looks like they can be run on.
Getting Uche back, getting Jennings up to speed and getting Brandon Copeland back to a full-time special-teams role would be a boon for this group because the drop-off in athleticism wouldn't be overwhelming and they have the size to hold up against the run game.
Always going to be growing pains when playing young players (something the Patriots, relative to the rest of the NFL, have largely avoided in recent years). But it's not as though they're out there just to be out there.
Dugger plays in a deep position group and yet has earned time. Anfernee Jennings plays a position that could use some depth, and yet he played only two snaps last weekend. They aren't going to play players they feel aren't ready, even if there is a bit of a youth movement underway.
I believe I predicted somewhere along the lines of 50 catches, but I'll have to go back and check the archives. That'd work out to less than four per game. He's on pace to obliterate that. With 13 through two games he's on pace for 104.
Will he keep pace there? That'd surprise me but he seems to have the trust of his quarterback. If he gets to 60 catches I think many would say that's a successful season. Obviously there's more that goes into whether or not he was successful. Is he attracting coverage? Is he a matchup problem? Is he making plays with the ball in his hands? Can he align in multiple spots, including out of the backfield. (I think he could.)
One more nuanced number to keep an eye on is his average yards per target. Right now it's at 6.2 which is 118th in the NFL among pass-catchers. He's a receiver who isn't all about speed or down-the-field explosiveness. But he is someone who feels like he has the potential to be a bigger-play threat than what's been put on tape.
Perhaps as he gets more confident in Year 2, we'll see more broken tackles. And perhaps Josh McDaniels will figure out a way to scheme up more down-the-field targets to get him some chunk-gain opportunities.
There's a bunch they could do out of that look, JT. They could run power, as they did just before the two-minute warning and at the end of the Seattle game. They could run counter, which they did earlier in the Seattle game, running behind Jakob Johnson in the opposite direction from which he aligned pre-snap. They could run play-action. There are options.
I think if there's an issue to be had with the final play last week, it wasn't that Newton carried. It wasn't the personnel package. Seattle...just...guessed...right.
Had the Patriots gone to a counter play to the offensive right there, they might've walked into the end zone because the Seahawks were all attacking to the offensive left.
But part of the reason Seattle guessed right, I think, was because they'd just seen the Patriots run the exact same play to the exact same side a few minutes earlier.
Andrews wore a wrap on his right hand throughout the Seahawks game. It was low around the bottom of his palm/thumb area. My assumption is it was something he came to the game with and was exacerbated Sunday. The cast he wore to Thursday's practice was much more cumbersome, to the point where he snapped a couple of footballs with his left hand at the start of practice.
We'll see about his availability Friday, but if he can't play that matters. No. 1, It might be Hjalte Froholdt who steps in for his first regular-season game action. No. 2, the Raiders do a good job of pressuring centers.
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's scheme (also Mike Zimmer's scheme) is predicated on confusion at the middle of the line of scrimmage on third downs. They mug "A" gaps with linebackers and then make you guess who's rushing and who's dropping.
They also have some good interior rushers on the line of scrimmage, including the pride of Canton, Mass. and Xaverian Brothers High School, Mo Hurst. Drew Brees took a shot from Hurst on Monday night that led to an interception.
They like him. Not an ideal matchup to run him a bunch last week. Seahawks wanted to take away the run and avoid a repeat of Week 1. Running the 5-foot-6 Taylor into crowded boxes probably isn't the best plan for him.
Those fronts may lighten up this week after Newton threw for almost 400 yards in Seattle. Hard to continue stacking up against a ground-and-pound attack when Newton proved he can throw the way he did.
I've noticed this, too. They should have a special teams advantage many weeks given the investments they've made there and how experienced they are with guys like Matthew Slater, Cody Davis, Brandon Copeland and Justin Bethel playing key roles.
But I like the more aggressive approach because it tests opponents in a phase of the game A) where young players are often relied upon to contribute and B) that wasn't able to be practiced at all in live situations prior to the season.
Lack of reps... shortened offseason that might've stunted the growth of younger guys... makes sense just to see where teams are in the kicking game -- at least early in the season. All it takes is one screw-up to completely change a game.
I'm not sure who wants the ball at the ends of games anymore for this team. They have a bunch of good players. Not sure any of them feel they have the clout to be "the guy." The only one who has no conscience is the guy, in my opinion, who should consistently defer: Marcus Smart.
I haven't broken a sweat or stretched since March. Not sure I'm the guy you want out there.
Seems as though they have a hard time playing baseball. I'd start there.
You're right. That wasn't strong enough. Seems as though the Red Sox have a hard time performing athletic tasks.
I think Brady was (and is) a totally capable deep-ball thrower. I think Newton is probably a little more willing to take risks. Brady valued possession so much, he admitted at times that he had to be more open to uncorking it.
I've wondered this, too. Not the prom thing, but you know what I mean. Beau Allen will be available to come off injured reserve soon. My assumption is they're hoping that happens sooner rather than later and they don't want two big ol' nose tackles taking up spots on the roster.
Not necessarily. The Patriots have shown they're willing to LOAD UP on versatile safeties. Before Chung opted out they signed Phillips, held onto Brooks, drafted Dugger and started getting Williams reps at safety.
The number of pass-catching backs and tight ends they face every week, the emphasis they place on the kicking game -- you can never have enough of those guys. If Chung is healthy and has fresh legs, he'd have value in 2021.
He's playing. Just not very much. Ten snaps last week. I'd imagine we'll see more from him as the season goes on. Tough position to play as a rookie. Patience, my friend.
Can't tell you where Metcalf ranked on their board -- though obviously behind Harry -- but I can tell you there were some makeup concerns other teams had with Metcalf. His three-cone time, which the Patriots have valued in the past, couldn't have helped.
Appreciate all the great questions, friends. Mailbag time is one of my favorite parts of the week because you bring it -- with good football questions and some weird ones mixed in -- each and every time. Talk to you next Friday.