PATS REPORTER

Perry's Mailbag: Solving Pats' roster puzzle; how can Chiefs be contained?

PATS REPORTER

JP, you're right. This Chiefs offense gives the Patriots so much to think about. Not necessarily in terms of the variety of schemes they'll throw at them. Andy Reid has concepts that he loves. He dresses them up in different ways. He has one of the most physically gifted quarterbacks we've ever seen. He has receivers who are faster than most defensive backs. It works. 

It's that dressing-up process that I'm most interested in this week, though, because for me this is the toughest test the new wave of Patriots defenders will face. You know who I'm talking about. Rookies or guys who are in significantly bigger roles than they were last season: Chase Winovich, Ja'Whaun Bentley, Kyle Dugger, Joejuan Williams.

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It's critical that the Patriots get contributions from that group. All of the motions, stacks and deception they'll see will have to be handled adeptly to avoid allowing the Chiefs huge chunks of yardage at a time. 

This is the kind of game, really, where the Patriots will miss the defensive players they lost in the offseason. Sure, the Seahawks were a challenge. But Seattle had a magician at quarterback who just made tip-your-cap plays few others can make. The Chiefs have one of those, too, but they also have an offensive coaching staff whose goal is to confuse and deceive in order to put their magician passer in a better position more consistently.

Going without Dont'a Hightower, Patrick Chung, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins to handle all the shifting and pre-snap tomfoolery Andy Reid and Eric Bienemy have designed . . . it's going to be difficult.

 

One more reason it's hard to lose those guys? That group -- plus Danny Shelton, who's also gone -- accounted for over half their pressures last year against Kansas City when the Patriots held Patrick Mahomes to just 23 points. If blitzing isn't really an option -- and it isn't against Mahomes -- having talented individual pass-rushers is key. The Patriots have fewer of those this year.

It can help. I don't want to say it can't. That style of play can limit the number of overall possessions in a game, and against an offense as efficient as the Chiefs that's never a bad idea. But it doesn't give the Patriots more possessions.

Both teams will have the same number of possessions -- barring a special-teams turnover or a team ending a half with the ball when it started that half with the ball -- because that's generally how football works. You get a chance, I get a chance. But the Chiefs have won games when beaten badly by time of possession.

It's more important to convert in the red zone and maximize points-per-drive than it is to simply hold onto the ball and melt clock. Field goals after eight-minute drives ain't gonna do it this week.

We went into detail on the time-of-possession question here.

Loaded, Sam. It looks loaded. We touched on this in some greater detail earlier this week, but it boils down to this: Don't be shocked if you're waiting one more week to see Damien Harris.

It's not what I would do. I'd be willing to swap out Sony Michel for Harris right now, even after Michel's big day last weekend. I think Harris has the potential to be a more dynamic option. 

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But roster spots matter to the Patriots. They already have so many running backs they trust on their 53-man list, and they've posted over 200 yards rushing in two of the last three weeks, so it doesn't make a ton of sense to shuffle things up if it means they have to release a player they like or place a player on injured reserve who might not need that kind of time off.

That could mean Harris stays on injured reserve while the Patriots wait another week or two to see if an injury situation makes it a little easier on them to squeeze him into the mix. 

Harris is talented. He had a great camp. But as someone who says that running backs are largely replaceable, it's hard for me to make the argument that the Patriots should open up a spot on the active roster for an added layer of depth at a position where they really don't need it.

 

They look more versatile than I anticipated they would. But I think it's OK to say the jury is still out on the Patriots' passing game. The Seahawks defense is a disaster and the Patriots actually have the fewest passing yards (397) against Pete Carroll's defense through three games this season. 

This shouldn't be an air-it-out kind of week, though. The Chiefs have the NFL's 30th-ranked run defense according to Football Outsiders' DVOA, while the Patriots rushing offense is first.

If salting away the clock is a goal and if doing what the opponent handles worst is a goal, then this could be a 40-rush attempt kind of afternoon. The Patriots just have to make sure they don't fall behind early and get forced to throw. 

How about Marcell Dareus or Damon "Snacks" Harrison? The Patriots are going to see some run-heavy teams coming up on the schedule -- San Francisco and Baltimore among them -- and some added bulk on the interior of the defensive line might help.

At the moment, it's asking a lot of players like Lawrence Guy and Byron Cowart to hold up as nose tackles. Typically that gig goes to larger humans. The Patriots are currently allowing 4.6 yards per carry, which is 21st in the NFL. Not a disaster. But certainly some room for improvement.

I think if the Patriots are able to activate one of either Gunner Olszewski or Harris, it should be Olszewski. He'd give the Patriots their best punt-return option. He'd also be a more dynamic athlete as the No. 4 receiver behind N'Keal Harry, Julian Edelman and Damiere Byrd.

Plus, the more receivers the better against the Chiefs. Not only might you need more bodies at that position if you're in a chase position on the scoreboard, but the Chiefs also do poorly against three-receiver sets. They allow 6.0 yards per carry against that personnel grouping in 2020 and 7.7 yards per pass attempt.

Could see special-teamer Cody Davis end up on IR. He's missed each of the last two practices with a rib injury. That'd open up one roster spot.

The Patriots could open another by trying to get undrafted corner Myles Bryant on the practice squad, though that'd require releasing him first and exposing him to waivers.

That was a sneaky-interesting move the Patriots made early in the season when they added Bryant to the active roster. Under new NFL roster rules, they have the ability to "protect" p-squad players from being signed to other teams on a weekly basis. Why sign Bryant to the 53-man roster as opposed to simply "protecting" him and keeping him on the practice squad? Particularly when cornerback is one of the team's deepest position groups?

Perhaps there was another club that had interest in signing Bryant, and rather than preventing him from pursuing that opportunity by taking advantage of a new NFL rule, the Patriots gave Bryant an opportunity on their roster.

 

I'd start with Joe Thuney. Stephon Gilmore, despite some early-season penalty issues, has to be in the conversation. Don't leave Chase Winovich out of the discussion, either. He's been immensely productive through three weeks. According to Pro Football Focus' pass-rush win rate, he is second in the NFL (27.5 percent) behind only Pittsburgh's T.J. Watt (29.3). 

Isaiah Zuber won't be in action unless he's promoted from the practice squad again, as he was last week. If Olszewski is activated, I'd anticipate him returning punts and being used as a reserve wideout behind Edelman, Harry and Byrd.

I think it'd require a pick-swap kind of deal. That's what the Patriots have done in the past when trading for depreciated assets elsewhere. Would a fourth-round pick for Ross and a fifth be enough? I'm not sure it'd even cost that much given how far Ross' reputation has fallen.

I wouldn't have it high on my list. The Patriots are obviously comfortable using safeties at the linebacker level. They have a couple in Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger who are particularly well-suited for that kind of role.

Most weeks defending the pass is what's most important anyway, and those players are better there than a traditional linebacker would be.

I do think they'd be in a real bind if Ju'Whaun Bentley went down. A veteran depth piece beyond Brandon Copeland, Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings might have some value.

People seem to love the idea of trading Michel. I'm not sure you'd get anything of significant value in return for him.

Burlap.

Devin Asiasi saw more time last week, which flew a little under the radar. What was encouraging to me was that he was out there as the lone tight end in 11-personnel sets at times. He was still No. 2 on the depth chart behind Ryan Izzo, but he seems to be making progress slowly.

On Friday morning Bill Belichick pointed out just how hard it is for rookies to catch on this year. At that position, in particular, it can be a challenge. So long as he doesn't start to trend in the opposite direction, I think we'll see Asiasi get more involved in the next few weeks. He's talented enough to warrant more opportunity.

I think they got torched by a wizard at quarterback in Week 2. Not a communication issue. I think they had some bad penalties in Week 3 that led to points. Not a communication issue. I think they're OK on that front in the secondary.

Where it might pop up, as I mentioned earlier, is at the linebacker level this week. Reid will do some funky things with his backs, receivers and tight ends in motion. He forces defenses to adjust quickly.

Will they be as on top of things as they would be if Hightower and Chung were out there? That's one of the biggest questions for me this week. 

 

I know. We're already at about 2,000 words. Good time to cut bait. Thanks to everyone for all the questions. Love you. Mean it. Enjoy the games Sunday.