The New England Patriots are riding a three-game win streak into Sunday's game vs. the Cleveland Browns. Before Week 10 kicks off, it's time to answer your hard-hitting mailbag questions.
Let's get into it.
It's pretty simple: Don't give Garrett the time to get home. The Patriots have long frustrated pass rushers by getting rid of the football before a sack can occur. Of course they had one of the best processors in the history of the sport at the quarterback position for 20 years. Getting the ball out quickly was an easy go-to option in weeks like this one. But Mac Jones has done well in that regard this season. He averages the sixth-quickest time to throw in the NFL (2.54 seconds), per Pro Football Focus.
And while the trade-off through the early portion of the season was that the Patriots didn't push the ball down the field all that frequently, they've improved in that regard as the season has gone on. For the year, Jones is 23rd in the league in average depth of target (7.8). That puts him just behind Ryan Tannehill (7.9) and just ahead of Justin Herbert (7.7). Over the last month, though, his ADOT sits at 8.0, which places him 13th in football, just behind Patrick Mahomes (8.1) and just ahead of Tom Brady (7.7).
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In that four-game span, Jones is fourth in the NFL in deep passing yards. On throws that have traveled at least 20 yards in the air, Jones has 262 yards on 14 attempts and two touchdowns. His 18.7 yards per deep attempt between Weeks 6 and 9 are third in the league.
If Jones can marry-up his ability to throw quickly with an ability to still be efficient down the field, the Patriots offense will have a chance to negate what Garrett brings off the edge. Still, expect screens and sprint-out passes -- sprints steered away from the NFL sack leader -- to help the Patriots keep the chains moving through the air while limiting Jones' exposure to hits.
Really put that one on a tee for you, D Fresh. You're welcome.
I wouldn't count on a receiver going to the Patriots early in the next draft, John. I think corner is probably where I'd put my money. Or tackle. Both Trent Brown and JC Jackson are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in 2022.
As for Jonnu Smith, I think the Patriots will do everything they can to get him more involved. It's not like they haven't tried. He's a screen option for them. They'll hand it off to him occasionally. He just seems a little lost in the downfield passing game. There was a moment in Carolina where it looked like he and Mac Jones weren't on the same page as to the kind of route he should run. Deep in Carolina territory, he turned inside on a stop route. Jones seemed to think Smith would turn outside. The pass misfired. Jones wasn't happy.
Smith has looked a little awkward at times tracking the football and reeling it in. This weekend, because the Browns have been somewhat permissive against 21-personnel looks, it wouldn't surprise me if we saw Smith in the backfield. If the Patriots can deploy 12 personnel but make it look like 21 personnel, that could pay dividends. The Patriots could be without Rhamondre Stevenson and they’ll definitely be without Damien Harris. If the Patriots want a player who can spell Brandon Bolden, JJ Taylor (and maybe Stevenson), Smith could be an option for them.
Hasn't been great, Jarred. They're successful on 44 percent of their "Detroit" snaps. (We get into the definition of the "Detroit" package in this week's preview.) The league average success rate with those packages is 47 percent. They rush for 4.7 yards per carry in that grouping, and Mac Jones carries an 85.7 quarterback rating out of those sets.
The Patriots will likely need Smith to do more at some point. Only one-third (31) of his total offensive snaps (94) over the last three weeks have been spent as a pass-catcher.
We've seen him take hand-offs from split-back shotgun alignments, Jacob. He could also handle jet-sweep plays. And he has the ability to be effective on toss plays as well. The Patriots have options with him.
It would surprise me if JJ Taylor and Brandon Bolden "split" the work. That implies it might be even. Don't see that for Taylor, whose career-high for touches is 10. This could prove to be a dire situation. But I'd expect Bolden to be leaned upon as a three-down player with Taylor spelling him to try to keep him fresh. There remains the possibility that Stevenson is active so this could be irrelevant. But if he’s out, Bolden should be busy.
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"He has a big role – pass protection, route running, some of the carries that he’s taken – he’s done a good job and he’s still continued to keep his role in the kicking game which has been good as well," Bill Belichick said of Bolden after the Patriots beat the Panthers. "We’ve had good depth in the backfield. Some years we’ve had to use it, some years we haven’t, but when we’ve had it, generally those guys have stepped up and done a good job for us... But yeah, Brandon has stepped up every week."
Taylor should be up as a return option with Olszewski out. Jakobi Meyers is another punt-return option. He entered when Olszewski left last weekend.
Other than a couple false starts early in the year when the entire team jumped except for center David Andrews -- indicating that maybe Andrews was the one who off on the snap count -- I'm not sure what to put it on other than... focus? Why one player would jump when 10 others don't is beyond me. Focus. Let's go with focus.
Some! We'll touch on a few in an upcoming Next Pats. Corners and tackles. Corners and tackles. Corners and tackles.
He's back at practice, Mark. But I'd be surprised if he was dressed Sunday. He hasn't practiced in two months. Would be asking a lot for him to step on the field against an elite pass-rush and perform after just three days of workouts this week. The Patriots have a 21-day window to activate him to the 53-man roster that began once he started practicing on Wednesday.
I'd consider it, Justin. But they'll have to wait and see where Brown is health-wise and conditioning-wise. My feeling is with Brown back in the mix, they'd try to go back to what they worked on all throughout camp: Isaiah Wynn at left tackle, Mike Onwenu at left guard, David Andrews at center, Shaq Mason at right guard and Brown at right tackle. Sitting Wynn in favor of Brown might be worth a thought, but the team has committed to Wynn for next season by picking up his fifth-year option for more than $10 million. Benching him probably isn't in the cards.
Never say never, Alex, but Dante Scarnecchia was pretty blunt when we'd ask him about Wynn: The Patriots view him as a tackle. He did play 25 snaps at left guard in Week 6 of last year so the Patriots aren't beyond trying him there. It'll be interesting to see how they view their best group of five when Brown once eligible to play.
Let's do some quick-hitters...
Can't rule it out! Not with Jakob Johnson around and handing out Germany-themed Patriots t-shirts to his buddies in the locker room.
Just re-rack Rebels. That's what our little man does. I've developed into a big Zeb guy.
I think he's actually performed better in the last month than he did from mid-September through mid-October. He has multiple hurries now in three consecutive games.
I'd go with JJ Taylor. Harry's not the same kind of sudden or explosive athlete I anticipated he would be coming out of Arizona State. On a play like a punt return, where things move at warp speed, Harry's skill set might not play the same way it did in the Pac-12.