Back to .500 following a nice road victory over the Los Angeles Chargers, the New England Patriots can head home with a winning record for the first time since Week 3 of 2020 should they beat the Carolina Panthers Sunday.
Before that, it's time for some questions to be answered. On to this week's mailbag.
It’s not just the waiver wire priority order (which will change after this weekend’s games). It’s the dough. The Patriots don’t have enough cap space to absorb the $7.25 million that would come along with claiming Odell Beckham Jr.
Could they move some money around and clear space? Potentially. But the easiest way for Beckham to land in Foxboro wouldn’t be by claiming him. It would be by letting him clear waivers and then signing him to a low-money deal if he wants to be in New England. My understanding of the situation is that he wants to be with a great quarterback. Mac Jones probably doesn’t qualify at this point. But would Beckham’s affinity for Bill Belichick force him to consider the Patriots if and when he becomes a free agent?
It doesn’t seem like a good fit -- for a variety of reasons I lay out here -- but if we’ve learned anything over the years it’s that you can never definitively count out the Patriots on any player acquisition.
JBoss, you’re right. Beckham is really not a slot guy. Could he play inside and be OK? Sure. Not his primary gig, though. Here are his slot-alignment percentages over the last five seasons: 14 percent in 2021, 10 percent in 2020, 20 percent in 2019, 26 percent in 2018 and 15 percent in 2017.
He can get open with quickness, but what I’ve been told is that in Cleveland he’s become known as a route-runner who’s not exactly a stickler for detail. That matters in New England -- especially in the slot. They like Jakobi Meyers in there, even though he’s not the sudden athlete that other Patriots slots have been in the past. Kendrick Bourne is actually the player who has run some of the separate-quickly routes near the line of scrimmage, though the returns in those situations have been mixed.
I think there are a couple of different scenarios that would be in play for when Trent Brown re-joins the game-day roster. The first? Go back to the original plan: Brown at right tackle, Mike Onwenu at left guard and Isaiah Wynn at left tackle.
That’s how they prepared for the season. That was the group of five Belichick and Josh McDaniels wanted. The thinking there would be that once that group is available to the Patriots in totality, go back to it.
The second scenario, to me, would be to keep the five that have been on the field the last few weeks: Wynn at left tackle, Ted Karras at left guard, David Andrews at center, Shaq Mason at right guard and Onwenu at right tackle. They’ve performed well. They’ve come together as a group. If continuity matters up front, and for years we’ve been led to believe that it does, then stick with what’s worked lately and let Brown fill in when needed as the swing tackle.
I’d picture the first scenario as the first option, but I wouldn’t rule out the second. I have a hard time seeing Wynn at guard; he played there in college, but he hasn’t played there since joining the Patriots as a first-round pick in 2018. They view him as a tackle, even if there is a section of Patriots fans who don’t.
It’s a good question, HC. He’s active every week. They find ways to get him on the field. But he hasn’t been a regular in their red-zone passing game...and they could use the help -- the Patriots are 29th in the NFL in red-zone conversion rate (53.6 percent).
The one area of Harry's game that has looked NFL-caliber is that when given an opportunity, he can win a jump ball. The Patriots have turned to Hunter Henry quite a bit inside the 20 this year, given he’s a savvy route-runner with a strong frame and good hands. Makes sense.
One would assume Harry brings some of the same qualities to the table without the same route-running nuance. Perhaps he starts to get more opportunities after last week, when he filled in for Kendrick Bourne after Bourne fumbled in Los Angeles and held his own.
Will that happen this week? Maybe not. He’s on the injury report with a knee issue that popped up Friday, and he’s questionable for Sunday’s matchup with Carolina. The team called up practice squad wideout Kristian Wilkerson on Saturday, perhaps in advance of Harry ultimately being ruled out. Something to keep an eye on.
Hey, Joe. Personally, I think the conversation around productive front-seven pieces on this Patriots defense has to begin with Matt Judon. But Barmore has been very good. He’s led the team’s defensive linemen in snaps each of the last two weeks, and he was within shouting distance of the team’s leader at that position group (Deatrich Wise) in Weeks 5 and 6. They’re leaning on him.
I’d say the reason you may not see him even more is that he’s a rookie… but he’s also a defensive tackle. The Patriots like to rotate there to keep those big bodies fresh. But the way Barmore has played, he may force his way onto the field even more in the near future. Fun watching some all-22 video and talking pass-rushers -- including Barmore -- on this week’s Next Pats Podcast with Rob Ninkovich. Check it out if you haven’t already.
This coming Wednesday is the deadline to make a call on both Jarrett Stidham and Byron Cowart. Both began practicing Week 7, and Wednesday marks the end of their 21-day window to be activated. Injuries could help dictate what the team decides to do with both, but I’m not sure there is going to be a place for Stidham unless he’s been out-performing Brian Hoyer on a regular basis during Patriots practices these last couple of weeks.
Hoyer has been the No. 2 all season. He’s been available. He’s been taking whatever practice reps Mac Jones has not. He knows the system.
To me, the question on Stidham wouldn’t be Hoyer or Stidham. It would be Stidham or… the 53rd man on the roster the Patriots feel could perhaps get through waivers and onto their practice squad. Again, injuries could play a role in determining what happens. If someone ends up dealing with a short-term injury as a result of Sunday’s game, the Patriots could designate that player for injured reserve, which could open up a roster spot for three weeks for either Stidham or Cowart. But at the moment, if the Patriots go with two quarterbacks, my guess is they’d roll with the two they’ve had all year.
On some of those plays -- the throw off Henry’s leg, for instance -- Jones has been under pressure and getting it out so that he doesn’t take a big lick. To me, he’s been less willing to absorb those kinds of shots ever since he was de-cleated in the Cowboys game by Randy Gregory. I’d say that’s actually a positive development. He wasn’t going to survive the season taking hits at the rate he was taking them through the first month.
He wants to show teammates he’s tough, so his inclination is always going to be to stand in and take a hit, but he has to be smart about when he takes those. He took one when hitting Meyers for a big gain on the clock-killing Patriots drive at the end of the Chargers game last weekend. Open receiver, near the sticks, in a gotta-have-it, end-of-game spot? OK. Breathe deep. Make the throw. Take the blow.
But he’s not a big-time improviser and that’s OK with the Patriots. When the progression is dead, he doesn’t have the athletic ability to consistently scramble around, avoid hits, and buy time for his receivers deep down the field. The Patriots would take a throwaway in most situations if it means running the risk of turning over the football.
So, to answer your question, I don’t think there’s a lot of time spent on improvisational quarterbacking in New England. Not their style. And it doesn’t fit the rookie quarterback’s skill set. Plus, if given the choice between improvising and eventually getting drilled or throwing it away and living to see another set of downs -- depending on the situation -- I think the Patriots would generally choose the latter. Especially with a rookie quarterback running the show.
I’m certainly interested. I think “concern” is too strong. But given his background, how could you not want to know how he handles the cold or the snow in Foxboro? I will say, I’ve been impressed with how he’s dealt with the rain. Whether it’s been in OTAs or against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 4, I think he’s been able to throw accurately even when the football gets wet. Cold will be a different animal, but we’ll see.
Jones’ hands are definitely big enough to handle the elements. They measured 9.75 inches before the draft. Tom Brady’s measured 9.38 back in 2000 -- three eighths of an inch smaller. Brady turned out to be a pretty good bad-weather quarterback, you might remember.