Let's check out what's on your mind ahead of an important game before the game ...
They've actually done a little bit more of this than I would've expected through two weeks, Dave. Of his 65 offensive snaps, 24 have been pass plays. That's not an even split, of course, but it's enough to keep a defense relatively honest. A few more targets (he's seen four in two games) might help, too. But the player who may need to see a few more snaps in the passing game in order to temper opposing defenses? Jakob Johnson. Of his 16 snaps last week, two came in the passing game. It looked like Jets defensive backs were extremely quick to play the run when they saw Johnson on the field. Something to monitor this weekend. Play-action passes out of two-back sets would make some sense -- particularly against an aggressive Saints run defense.
If I had to choose one, it'd be the offensive line. But they should be getting one of their best players back soon in Trent Brown. And Isaiah Wynn will play better. That's the expectation, at least. I wrote extensively on the line and the fact that there's not just one issue they're dealing with at the moment. You could read that in one of two ways. 1) That's scary because the problems are widespread. Or 2) Odds are they regress to the mean. I'm leaning No. 2. It's a talented group. They just have to play to that talent level. Once they do, Mac Jones will be better protected. And they won't be as reliant on running backs creating yardage after contact as they are at the moment. The only problem, in my opinion, would be if either tackle -- both of whom have missed significant time in recent seasons -- misses significant time. The fill-ins are unproven, and there are very few avenues to improve that position mid-season.
Hughie! We've been over this! Kidding. I get it. People want to see the first-round quarterback air it out like a first-round quarterback. But if he's not protected well, asking him to five-step drop and launch is a fool's errand. That's part of the reason why you saw almost a third of Jones' dropbacks result in screens last week. Protect the offensive line. Protect the quarterback. And it's part of the reason why Jones checked down when he did. There have been times when he has had to take care of himself -- and in the process take care of the football. The good news for the let-Mac-cook crew is that this week the Patriots will be facing a defense that has been a brick wall against opposing running games. For years. In order for the Patriots to move the ball, it's going to fall largely on Jones' shoulders.
I'm not sure N'Keal Harry is part of the offensive equation barring injury. The Patriots are in the bottom 10 of the NFL in terms of their usage of three-receiver packages. He's behind Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor and Kencrick Bourne on the depth chart. Just hard to envision him being activated after no practice time through three weeks and no special-teams role. Gunner Olszewski, the team's fourth receiver, has played 16 total offensive snaps in two weeks. Barely used. But because he's the team's top return man, he'll continue to be in uniform. Not sure the same will be true for Harry even once he's eligible to return.
Not really, Mayor. They're tied for second in points allowed per game. They're fifth in yards. They'd be the first to tell you they have a ways to go, but they've been fine through two weeks.
The freedom he has within the offense will only grow as time goes on. But he does have the opportunity to make adjustments at the line. You'll see him "alert" at the line of scrimmage, which can mean a play is being changed at the line. He also has hand signals available to him to be able to alter routes of his receivers. Josh McDaniels said recently that he wants Jones to have the "tools" he needs to be able to help the rest of the offense excel. Does he have as many tools as Tom Brady did after 20 years in the system? No. But he's not an automaton out there either.
There's no getting around just how bad some of those Zach Wilson throws were. The Patriots won't see a more generous quarterback all year, in all likelihood. (Even when they see Wilson later in 2021, one would think he would have a better idea of how to protect the football than he did in his second pro game.) I think it's fair to wonder where the run defense stands at the moment for the Patriots. Like along the offensive line, there's not been one glaring weak link in the chain. A defensive lineman can't get off a block... a linebacker gets swallowed up by a guard... a linebacker overruns a gap... an edge defender can't hold his ground at the point of attack. All those issues have popped up. We'll see if those are the kinds of things that can get ironed out with more regular-season reps.
Eighty percent of his snaps have come against pass plays, Shazy. He's just not viewed as an early-down run-game defender at this point in time. Once he proves to the coaching staff that he can be trusted in those situations, he'll be more of a down-to-down player. But at the moment he's a passing-game-specific guy. And that's OK. He leads the NFL in Pro Football Focus' pass-rush win rate. His teammate Matt Judon is second. When the Patriots can play with the lead, forcing opponents into obvious passing situations, those two will be hard to handle. (Uche was limited in Friday's practice and placed on the injury report with a back issue. He's questionable for the game on Sunday.)
The Jamie Collins contract ($3.8 million in base salary for 2021) could inhibit New England's ability to bring him back. They only have a shade over $3 million in cap space available to them, and they'd be on the hook for the majority of Collins' contract if they traded for him. Hard to envision that happening at the moment. But if he's released? Could certainly see the Patriots making a move to bring him back. He can play off the line and on. He understands the defense. They'd find a role for him here.
Thanks for the kind words, Mike. I'm confident Gilmore will be back when he's eligible. Might he need a week or two of practices before he actually steps on a field? Potentially. Remember, he didn't practice all throughout training camp. He may need a ramp-up period. But he's been at the facility. The expectation is he'll be healthy enough to go.
Watching the Jets game again, Onwenu was good. He got stepped on at the goal line, which led to one negative play. He had a hard time getting to the second level on a toss play, which led to a short gain. But otherwise, he was solid. Something to watch Sunday against the Saints: The Jets had some success with run stunts at the line of scrimmage, and I wonder if New Orleans defensive coordinator Dennis Allen would try something similar. Picture defensive ends looping around defensive tackles who go out of their way to "pick" the blocker aligned on the end. The Patriots do this all the time in the passing game as a way to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. But teams are doing it in the running game as well. Against mammoth offensive linemen like Onwenu or Trent Brown, it might not be a bad course of action for defenses that feel they're going to lose those one-on-one matchups if they become fights in a phone booth.
Potentially, Clare. But I know they view Onwenu as a guard who can play tackle in a pinch if needed. Not a true either-or guy. Is that the right way to approach it? Onwenu was impressive at tackle last year. But I think we'll find out the answer to that question if Brown and/or Wynn miss significant time and we see how Justin Herron, Yodny Cajuste or Yasir Durant perform over an extended period of time. If they can't hold up, then the team might make the move you're describing.
Never too early for draft chatter, Steven. I'd be looking first and foremost at the cornerback class with both Stephon Gilmore and JC Jackson scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency. Tackle would be a spot worth addressing in the first round, too, if it made sense. Wynn's contract is up after next season. Brown's contract is up after this season. I think receiver would be down the list of options since Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers are all under contract for 2022.
Let's do a few rapid-fire questions here...
I'd go 3 percent. Never say never ... but I'd think that's highly unlikely. Again, this is an offense that's going to go relatively light on receivers. And the reserves are going to need to play special teams.
My guess is they'll let someone else give him a chance to work his way back into the league.
Think people are excited about the quarterback situation here?
I think the answer you're looking for here somehow involves Tom Brady and... bread. But I guess maybe we should be on our toes for Jones coming out with something called "Calm, Cool, Collect" that ends up being advertised on Julian Edelman's social platforms.
Not sure, Steve. The penalties have been killers, though.
Have you tried asking nicely?
That's the kind of outside-the-box thinking people have come to expect from the Bag, Lee. Appreciate you!