Patriots

Patriots Mailbag: If Patriots stand pat at deadline, that a sign they believe in N'Keal Harry?

Patriots Mailbag: If Patriots stand pat at deadline, that a sign they believe in N'Keal Harry?

A Friday mailbag for a Sunday without Patriots foot. Every week I'll be answering your questions be they Patriots-related, NFL-related or otherwise. This week, the focus for many of you was -- no surprise -- the injury situation. We'll start there...

I'd imagine the Patriots would act quickly to add a capable tight end, Harry. Ben Watson is still available. Bill Belichick didn't rule out the possibility that Watson would be back, and maybe the latest injury to Matt LaCosse will push them to act. Whether it's Watson or someone else. Ryan Izzo had his best game of the season in a reduced role, blocking on the move, being used as a safety-valve receiver. If they can get him back into that niche, that might be the best thing for them. 

N'Keal Harry has been working behind the scenes with fellow rookie wideouts Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski as though he's returning, Karen. I'd think he's a safe choice to be back given the overall health of the receiving group. Isaiah Wynn also is a logical returnee. Both, if healthy enough to contribute, would carry greater value than bringing back either fullback. Harry can begin practicing this week. The Patriots will have a chance to evaluate him in practice first before having to activate him to the 53-man roster. The earliest he could play is Week 9. 

Pixie, I think the positive sign is the fact that Olszewski and Meyers played as much as they did without any obvious mental errors or negative plays. They caught almost everything thrown their way (six of seven combined targets were reeled in), and they weren't flagged for anything. It looked as though they aligned out of the huddle without issue. And both were in good enough shape -- even without getting many practice snaps -- to handle every play in the second half. Their preparation should be lauded. More performances like that one should allow Brady to trust them a little more, particularly Meyers, who showed promise in training camp but has seen his practice reps diminished with Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon -- both of whom missed most of the summer -- back in the mix.

As far as a tight end who'd make sense in New England via trade? What's difficult for the Patriots is that teams around the league are embracing 12-personnel packages more and more, it seems, and so they want two starting-caliber players at that position in order to take advantage of the mismatches inherent to those formations. But someone like Austin Hooper, of the fading Falcons, would make plenty of sense. He'd be more of a pass-catching option as opposed to a Dwayne Allen type. Dwayne Allen himself -- who was released by the Dolphins this summer with an injury settlement -- would make some sense if Bill Belichick wanted someone who's going to make an impact in the running game. 

It could be, T. They'll have two weeks to work with Harry out on the practice fields before the Oct. 29 trade deadline. If they love what they see, they might be less willing to part with a high-end draft choice in a trade. But I think there's a chance that even if Harry looks great, they'd be in on a pass-catcher -- whether it's a wideout or tight end. Between backs, tight ends and receivers, the Patriots would ideally have five guys they can count on as receiving options in crunch time. Right now they have one healthy crunch-time passing back (James White) and no one at tight end. They have a banged-up Julian Edelman, a banged-up Josh Gordon and a banged-up Phillip Dorsett. Even if Harry works his way into that top-five, you could make the argument that they still have room for one more given all the injuries.

Good question, Steve. Teams are required to notify the league office that a player they're planning to have at practice has been "Designated for Return." They're allowed to do that with two players on IR (or on NFI, like Yodny Cajuste). Once a player begins to practice, that starts a 21-day clock for the returning player's team to either activate him or shut him down for the season.

Of course. It'd take two to tango, obviously. The Patriots would deal him if they felt it made the team better. Given his dwindling snap counts, it'd come as little surprise if they decided to trade him -- even if it was primarily to free-up cap space. Bennett is a bit of an odd scheme fit with the Patriots using more of a 3-4 scheme this year. He's really a 4-3 end who can pass-rush from the interior. But as an interior pass-rusher, he's more of a penetrator, and with the Patriots seeing mobile quarterbacks almost every week, penetrating -- slicing through the line -- isn't always as highly valued as someone who can push the pocket and maintain his rush-lane integrity. Bennett still has a load of pass-rush talent, though, and his playing time rollercoaster could end up resembling the path taken by players like Jabaal Sheard, Alan Branch and even Danny Shelton. All were healthy scratches at some point despite being among the most talented defensive linemen on Bill Belichick's roster over the years. After being scratched for non-injury related reasons, they all came back to play important roles thereafter, assumedly after they made changes asked of them by the coaching staff.

https://twitter.com/How9876543210/status/1182623534515929088?s=20  

The Patriots knew all along that Bailey would have the ability to kick if needed. That upped his value in their eyes. I think the punting alone -- his ability to flip the field has been on display multiple times already this season -- would've been enough to win him the punter's job though. He simply has a bigger leg than Allen, which has paid early dividends for the Patriots.

https://twitter.com/strangebrew17/status/1182624309212303362?s=20 

He's been around, Matthew. And he's been meeting with the team. In my story from Thursday night on the "virtual room" being used by young Pats wideouts, I pointed out that Harry has been in there working with his fellow rookie receivers.

https://twitter.com/Phil_Me_Up_/status/1182626079267344390?s=20 

Think you can chalk that up to the matchups, Phil. The Patriots did just play on Thursday night, though. They had the late Steelers game for the opener. They play Monday night in Jersey in a week. Then you've got an 8:20 p.m. game in Baltimore Week 9 and another Week 13 in Houston. Also in the mix are a whole mess of 4:25 p.m. games: Week 8, Week 11, Week 12 and Week 14. 

I think Jamie Collins would make a mean tight end. Maybe JC Jackson, if they need a wideout? Devin McCourty told me last year that Jackson is the best tracker of the football they've had in the secondary since McCourty's been here.

https://twitter.com/PeterBruschi357/status/1182667402359783424?s=20 

Get Isaiah Wynn back in a few weeks. His cap is still on the books while he's on IR. That's the easiest solution, and it'd represent a significant upgrade. 

Changing offensive line. Inconsistent performance at tight end relative to the last few years. Running back quickness. I think they're all part of the issue. Hard to blame Sony Michel for not getting much when there isn't much space for him to work with. The flip-side to that argument is this: If Michel can't get yards without help from his blockers, doesn't that make him like just about any replacement-level back in the league? It's kind of the how-much-do-running-backs-really-matter argument in a nutshell. The special talents at that position are the ones who can create yards on their own anywhere on the field and contribute in the passing game. Everyone else? Their success at that position is largely dependent on the situation around them.

You can understand why the Patriots like Rex Burkhead as much as they do. Though he's dealt with injury throughout the course of his Patriots tenure, he's quick enough to make defenders miss when the offensive line doesn't give him a lane, and he's a more-than-capable receiver. Through four games before Burkhead's injury, he was averaging 4.7 yards per carry behind the same offensive line that blocked for Michel, who was averaging 2.8 yards per carry through that same span.

Indications are that Develin's injury will keep him out for the season, Kyle.

Joel, if they find one they think will be able to learn the offense, I think they'd be happy to have that element as part of their attack. If they don't, I think you could see the Patriots use a tight end in the fullback's place. We saw it a bit on Thursday. Ryan Allen motioned from his spot at tight end and into the backfield on multiple occasions to lead the way for a runner. 

The Patriots brought in Austin Collie as veteran receiver help in October of 2013. They claimed Michael Floyd in December of 2016. They obviously brought Deion Branch back for a second go-round in October of 2010. It's been done before. The Collie and Floyd signings clearly weren't game-changers, but there are some bigger names who could be had this year -- Emmanuel Sanders is the one that makes the most sense to me -- who I'd think would make a quick impact. 

Meyers has impressed since the day he arrived, but I think they understand that they'd be putting themselves in a better spot if they have someone with a little more experience to complement what they already have on the roster. Meyers could be on a path to have a Malcolm Mitchell-type role by the end of the season -- that wouldn't shock me in the least. But, remember, Mitchell was behind Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, James White, Martellus Bennett and Chris Hogan as pass-catchers on the roster that year. You might even be able to include Dion Lewis on that list. They didn't ask the rookie to be a No. 3 or 4 option. I think they'd like to not have to do the same with Meyers. 

I'm thinking 2003? Led by the defense. Questions offensively. Can't go with 2001 because they had a rookie quarterback and this version of that guy is still one of the best in the league. And I can't go with 2004, even that's the team everyone is comparing this current group to because of the great defenses. In 2004, they had Corey Dillon and a dominant run game. Not the case this year. Great question, though, Damian. Curious as to what you all think about that one. 

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Perry's Mailbag: If not Foxboro, where's Brady going?

Perry's Mailbag: If not Foxboro, where's Brady going?

In this week's Patriots mailbag, Phil Perry revisits some of the 2019 draft, talks potential Brady locations for 2020 (including Foxboro), previews what to expect from old nemesis Steve Spagnuolo, and gives insight to why it's been such a down year for kickers.

Perry: Cherubin getting down to business. I like it. 1) It's been answered for you. Ready for another go-round with appendix-less Nick Folk? 2) I would've drafted Dawson Knox instead of Damien Harris. I like Damien Harris as a player. But the Patriots are deep at running back, and that's a position where the individuals who are game-changers on their own are few and far between. The bigger need? A tight end who can block -- Knox is the fifth-ranked blocking tight end in football this year, per Pro Football Focus -- and catch (25 grabs), who checked every box athletically, who walked onto an SEC power after playing quarterback in high school. Knox would've made a lot of sense here, and now the tight end unit in New England is still trying to figure things out. 3) The best fit, in my opinion, is Miami. He knows the coaching staff there and his offensive system would be in place. The market is ideal for someone in the fitness industry looking to grow a business. The team isn't very good . . . but that could change quickly. The Dolphins have $100 million in cap space. They could totally revamp the offensive line. They could add a veteran receiver (or two . . . both AJ Green and Emmanuel Sanders will be available) to rising talent Devante Parker. Suddenly, they'd be in the mix. They'll also have three first-rounders -- including their own, which could be in the top-five -- to spend however they see fit. Did we mention the owner there is a Michigan man?

CURRAN: Are we watching Tom Brady's final days with the Patriots?

Perry: You make fair points about Jared Cook and the draft. They wanted Cook. Indications at the time were that Cook didn't want them because Rob Gronkowski was still in the picture. And, yes, Isaiah Wynn, Sony Michel and N'Keal Harry were high-end offensive investments. But you could also say that maybe they should've been in on Adam Humphries earlier. Or that they should've tried a different route to replacing Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola following 2017. The summer of 2018 was when they tried to pair Kenny Britt, Eric Decker, Jordan Matthews, Cordarrelle Patterson and a banged-up Malcolm Mitchell with Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett. Out of desperation they signed Josh Gordon and then, a year later, Antonio Brown. Outside of Ryan Izzo (2018), AJ Derby (2015) and Lee Smith (2011), they haven't drafted a tight end since Aaron Hernandez. They've invested offensively. Two of the patchwork moves made this year (Brown, Mohamed Sanu) required significant financial commitment and draft capital, respectively. But I think it's also fair to take a long hard look at how aggressive they were to fill certain spots at critical times.

Perry: Good question, Karen. Steve Spagnuolo is the new defensive coordinator for the Chiefs, and he likes to play pattern-matching zone coverages. This is a style of zone defense, but it often ends up looking like man-to-man because it requires defenders to identify routes and route combinations, and then stick closely to the route that ends up in their zone. Some zone defenses like to "spot-drop," back-pedaling into a zone and reading the quarterback's eyes to make a play on the ball in a given area. That's not Kansas City. The Patriots are encouraging defenses to play more man because they have a hard time beating man right now when Julian Edelman is doubled and James White is checked by a defensive back. So Spagnuolo might say let's just forget the pattern-matching stuff and play man across the board so that no assignments are confused. But either way I'd expect coverage to be tight. This secondary is better than it was last year. The Chiefs run defense, though, is a mess. The Patriots should be able to run the ball against the league's 30th-ranked run-stopping unit. They've been more effective running the football over the last two weeks with Isaiah Wynn back.

Is Belichick sending a message to refs with his comment about RPOs?

Perry: Never say never, Gigi, but I doubt it. Not only is Stephon Gilmore's job important enough that the Patriots would in all likelihood like him to focus there. But Bill Belichick has said before that -- as talented as many defenders are -- there's a reason defensive players play defense. From 2016: “I mean look, a lot of defensive players get moved [from] offense because they’re not good enough on offense, right? High school coaches, college coaches, if they have somebody better and you have another good player at that position, instead of stacking them up, you just move them somewhere where he can get on the field quicker. If you’re a high school or college coach you’re not going to take your best running back and put him at – I mean it’d be rare to put him somewhere else. You’re going to give him the ball and let him be a productive scorer for you . . . That’s a general statement. It’s not meant towards any specific player. Although I think most of the defensive players need to understand that the reason they don’t play offense is because they’re not good enough to play offense." We've seen defensive players for the Patriots play offense before: Elandon Roberts is a recent example; Mike Vrabel. But we haven't seen a corner get receiver reps that I can remember. The Patriots, for instance, could've used a receiver in 2006 but Ellis Hobbs and Asante Samuel never got that chance.

Perry: I wouldn't trade up a significant amount in the first round to get him, Zack. If he falls, and if there is optimism about his physical condition, then I might pounce. It's not very often this team has the opportunity to draft a widely-regarded top player at that position. I'm still not sure the Patriots would draft him, though, if he slides to the end of the first round. He's not their "prototype," which we study every year ahead of the draft. His size and arm strength could be issues for a team that likes players who have the ability to drive the football through the elements. When your most important games are played outdoors in the Northeast in December and January, those things matter.

CURRAN & PERRY: If the Pats just did THIS, offense would improve

Perry: I think some of it, Tom, comes down to missed opportunities to invest in veteran talent at the position. They've gotten by with veteran additions for a long time -- Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donte' Stallworth, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks -- and they've had plenty of success. The problem is that the pool of potential "fits" who have NFL experience and are available is small. The draft unloads fresh receivers on the league year after year, and plenty become good players. Would they in New England? I'm not so sure. Depending on the player, I think the system can be a barrier. Is it too complex if you need to rely on hitting on trades or in free agency instead of the draft? . . . I still don't think so. The offensive system is part of why the Patriots are who they are, why they've had the success they've had. They might've had more rookie receiver standouts if the system was simpler. Sure. But the flip side of that is players like Julian Edelman or Wes Welker or even Rob Gronkowski might not have had the careers they had without it. Each was athletically gifted and could've succeeded at a range of places, but they all benefitted from being in a system that requires a high football IQ. They all did. They thrived. Hard to eschew a malleable, though intricate, system just to get the young guys involved. The question gets more complicated when the young guys *have* to be involved because there were veteran misses along the way. At that point, you do need to adjust some things to make life a little easier. And I think they have. We haven't seen the results yet, but looking at how they've used N'Keal Harry these last few games, I think it's safe to say they've tried to simplify things for him. I'll actually have a story out tomorrow looking at Harry's usage that will hopefully shed a little more light on what's going on with the Patriots passing game at the moment.

Perry: Thanks as always for checking in, Rich. It's not too complex for all young receivers, right? Malcolm Mitchell, I know, is an outlier of sorts. But it wasn't too complex for him. I think it's just complex, period. Phillip Dorsett had issues the other night and he's been around for multiple years now. I'd also just say that they have spent a fair amount for veteran help lately. Paying Antonio Brown what they did was a huge investment. Paying a second-rounder for Mohamed Sanu was a huge investment. Paying a second-rounder for Wes Welker back in the day was a huge investment. They try to be smart with their spending. Always have been. It's part of the reason they've sustained success as long as they have. They could've used a Brandon LaFell circa 2014 or a Chris Hogan circa 2016 signing this offseason and didn't end up landing anyone of consequence. Again, the pool of available players who have enough experience to grasp the Patriots system and the ability to execute is small.

Perry: Wouldn't shock me, Dave. It's December. The Patriots running game is trending in the right direction with Isaiah Wynn back in the mix. I don't think they'll be the team we saw at the end of the last year. But they're a team who'll want to have the option to get physical when it's warranted. (This weekend, against a bad Kansas City run defense, perhaps?) Roberts could help give them that backfield look that they liked so much with James Develin -- just not as often as Develin gave it to them when healthy. He might not be thrilled to be doing the job, but Roberts could end up having a real role in key spots for the offense.

Perry: Love this idea, Jim. It's one of the things he did really well at Arizona State. The Patriots threw him a bubble screen that might've gone for more than it did (four yards) had it not been for a missed Marshall Newhouse block on the outside. It wouldn't shock me if we saw something like that drawn up for him soon.

Perry: Mentioned above here, Dave, I think Miami makes a lot of sense. The Chargers do too, but Willie McGinest said this week that not everyone in the Brady household would necessarily be thrilled going to the West Coast. Your second question raises a fair question. They're right in the middle of the pack in terms of cap space available. Giving a significant percentage of that over to Brady -- if he were to stay -- would make it hard to add a high-priced receiver, in my opinion. To your last question, I think in a perfect world they'd like to give Stidham a little more time to see how he develops. That might mean a bridge quarterback is a possibility. Marcus Mariota, maybe? I know. I know. Not ideal. But he wouldn't be breaking the bank, and he might be able to manage the game for a very good Patriots defense. He was 13th in quarterback rating in 2018, ninth in PFF's accuracy percentage, and third in accuracy percentage when under pressure. If he's dealing with chronic injuries that inhibit his ability to throw the football, that's one thing. But as far as bargain-basement one-year plans go -- someone to take the reins until the Next Guy is ready, whether that's Stidham or someone else -- they could do worse.

 

 

Perry: Impossible to say, Jolyon. I've been a fan of Stidham's since before the draft. I think he has a lot of potential. I know the Patriots felt the same way. (Remember, he was considered a potential first-rounder after the 2017 college football season, then had a weird year in a wonky Auburn offense in 2018.) Here's what Belichick told us about Stidham earlier this season, when I asked for a quick assessment of how the rookie's first year had gone behind the scenes. "Yeah, good. Jarrett is a smart kid. He picks things up very quickly. He has a good grasp of the offense given where he is in his career. He’s handled everything we’ve thrown at him. In practice, he does a good job. He gets a lot of passes on our defense and when he has the opportunity to get the offensive snaps, he’s prepared and does a good job of those. But you know, it’s always different in the game. I think he’s doing all he can do."

 

 

Perry: You do remember correctly. I'd say Jonathan Jones with safety help, likely Devin McCourty, would make the most sense for Tyreek Hill. I'm not sure Hill is fully healthy based on how he looked against Oakland, but the Patriots won't want to bank on the fact that he isn't. For Kelce, I'd use Stephon Gilmore. Using Gilmore on Sammy Watkins would be a waster of resources, in my opinion. Watkins has had a down year, including two catches in his last two games (against below average pass defenses from the Chargers and Raiders) despite playing 95 snaps. 

Perry: Definitely. It's how they got Stephen Gostkowski. Greg Bedard of the Boston Sports Journal and the Las Vegas Review-Journal had an interesting look this week at why kickers are having a down year, and why it's tough to find capable players at that position these days.

Perry: Offensively? Run the football. Use play-action. Defensively? Double Hill. Don't blitz, even though you love to. Run games with your linemen and linebackers to confuse the offensive line protecting Patrick Mahomes. Confusing Mahomes himself will be much more difficult.

Perry: There's a lot of Joe Judge's plate as the receivers coach and special teams coach. But he has help at both spots with Troy Brown and Cam Achord, respectively.

Perry: I think so. He was a critical piece to the running game. The running game has struggled. The trickle-down effect for the rest of the offense has been real. I know my former co-host Rob Ninkovich thinks the Develin loss was even bigger than Rob Gronkowski's. I wouldn't go that far, but it was big. I'll never forget what Bill Belichick told Develin on the field after last year's Super Bowl that he was the one who gave them the toughness they needed to be the offense they were. 

Perry: He'd likely end up bringing back a third-round draft pick, RC. But the pick wouldn't be for the 2020 draft. It'd be for 2021. That's how the comp-pick formula works. It takes into account how (and how much) a player played for his new team as well as the deal he earned from his new team. The comp picks the Patriots get in the spring of 2020 will be related to their losing guys like Trey Flowers and Trent Brown. 

Perry: Sanu was still dealing with a balky ankle in Houston, Chris. Actually played fewer snaps than Harry did. If and when he gets healthy, he'll make a big difference. Brady likes him. Not in danger of being berated by Brady on the sideline anytime soon. I don't think. 

Perry: If your professor will accept a 2,500-word mailbag as your final exam, I've got you covered. Thanks to everyone who chipped in this week. Great questions as always. Enjoy the game.

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Tom Brady, Chase Winovich don Ohio State gear after Michigan loss

Tom Brady, Chase Winovich don Ohio State gear after Michigan loss

With the University of Michigan's latest loss to archrival Ohio State, proud alums and Patriots stars Tom Brady and Chase Winovich lost a bet with Buckeye teammates Nate Ebner and John Simon. The four were seen in the locker room all wearing OSU's familial Scarlet and Gray for a photo op that's quickly gone viral.

Ebner and Simon were more than happy to indulge in the spoils:

It's not the first time Brady has done something like this during his time in New England. Most famously, No. 12 practiced in Mike Vrabel's OSU jersey after a Michigan loss to the Buckeyes several years ago.

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