* Every Friday during Patriots season, Phil Perry tackles all your questions in his Patriots mailbag. Among the topics this week: Should Jarrett Stidham get a real chance to prove himself? Can the Patriots continue their dominance over the Chargers? And who's a potential unsung hero for New England if its to make a playoff push?
You might be right, HC. Hard to know what exactly Jarrett Stidham would do if given more practice reps and full week of prep as The Guy. But the flip side to that argument would be this: What has he done with the opportunities he's been given to show that he's earned the chance to start?
If the Patriots are mathematically eliminated from the postseason, it wouldn't surprise me if we saw some Stidham. But until then, even with a quarterback who gives you very little as a passer in Cam Newton, I'd anticipate they stick with what they've done. At least with Newton, the Patriots have an effective running game. You'd lose part of that effectiveness with a less-imposing runner like Stidham. And here isn't much evidence Stidham would do much more for Josh McDaniels in the passing game.
Wouldn't say zero, Wally. If we get to the end of the season, and there's little for the Patriots to play for, I could envision them wanting to get a little more information on their young quarterback before figuring out how they want to construct their quarterback room in 2021.
Here's the formula for the Patriots to win, in my opinion, Stephen: Gamble defensively and blitz Justin Herbert in the hopes he turns it over; run the football because that's how the Patriots move it, even when the other team is expecting it; don't turn it over.
If they keep it close -- which they have for the last several weeks going back to Week 8 -- they'll have a chance against a coaching staff that has botched its fair share of critical situations this season. It won't be a "dominant" win, I don't think. But it would keep talk of "the path" alive for another week.
The Patriots could use all the help they can get at receiver, and Stills would be familiar with Patriots concepts after playing under Chad O'Shea in Miami and Bill O'Brien in Houston. That he remains unsigned is curious. Would indicate to me that he hasn't yet found a situation that suits him. He passed through waivers and remains a free agent able to sign wherever he likes.
Good question, Jenks. To me, if the Patriots are going to make a push, they have to do it with defense. An unsung guy there? Let's go John Simon. He'll have important work to do on the edges. Keeping guys like Justin Herbert, Josh Allen and either Ryan Fitzpatrick or Tua Tagovailoa will be crucial. And against the Rams and their missile-motion runs, the work of Patriots outside linebackers will come under the spotlight.
If you notice John Simon three or four times a game, the Patriots will have a chance. He's been one of their most important and underrated defenders this season.
Hey, Nick. Definitely. This week is a good week to point out that we pegged Justin Herbert as the best fit for the Patriots among last year's "Prototypes" at quarterback. Tall. Strong arm. Experienced. Strong numbers. Smart. The quarterback who profiles most similarly to Herbert this year won't be available to Bill Belichick. That's Trevor Lawrence.
After him, though? It's either Ohio State's Justin Fields or BYU's Zach Wilson. At 6-foot-3, they're both tall enough. Both have started for three years. Both have put up video-game numbers. Unfortunately for the Patriots, those three guys could be the top three quarterbacks taken -- and all within the top-five. North Dakota's Trey Lance, Alabama's Mac Jones and Florida's Kyle Trask might not be perfect "Prototypes" for different reasons, but they'll all be worth considering.
The guy who's getting the most buzz after Lawrence and Fields? It's Wilson. His arm strength and ability to throw on the move with accuracy make him look like the kind of athlete who could thrive in today's NFL. Comparing him to Patrick Mahomes is a little aggressive, if you ask me. But it's hard not to like what he's done this season. Before the draft arrives, I think there's a chance people buy in so fully on his tape that he surpasses even Fields for some evaluators.
While I think Wilson is probably the better prospect right now -- in large part because of Lance's lack of experience -- Lance might transition to the Patriots offense as we know it more quickly. At North Dakota State, he worked extensively under center. They used 21 personnel. They used play action, asking Lance to turn his back to the defense, whip around and make a good decision. All of those things might help Lance gain traction quickly if coached by McDaniels. Plus, in his one year as a starter, he took care of the football to an unbelievable degree: 28 touchdowns, no picks.
Different players. I think what we saw from Michel last week (one snap) will kind of be his role so long as Damien Harris is healthy. It's how Harris remained on the bench last year only the reverse. Michel was healthy. They played the same role. One guy played. Harris is obviously the stronger runner right now and unless he gets banged up I'd have a hard time envisioning a serious role for Michel.
Burkhead's absence probably will mean more work for James White moving forward. Think it already happened to a certain extent. Rex Burkhead was often a low red-zone option for McDaniels. Last week that was White, and he capitalized with two scores.
Wouldn't shock me if we saw more Donte Moncrief this week, Dave. Harry's performance against the Cardinals was inconsistent enough that I think they'd be warranted in getting a closer look at another big-bodied wideout on the outside who'd be plenty aggressive in carrying out some of the blocking assignments Harry is asked to perform on a weekly basis.
Combination of things, Duff. The play that's been this team's bread and butter in 2020 has been crack toss. You've seen it dozens of times. You see it on multiple occasions every week. Receivers block down. Tackle pulls out into open space in the flat to lead the way. The Cardinals were all over it last weekend, which might be what you're referencing. To defeat it as a defense, your defensive backs have to be a) aware it's coming and b) willing to come up in run support and unafraid of contact. Arizona did a good job of that. When their defensive backs were forced to tackle, not a bad goal for any offense, they did. At times, the receivers didn't hold up as blockers.
It's also worth noting that Isaiah Wynn was the perfect tackle for this kind of play because he's so athletic. Looked to me like Jermaine Eluemunor labored a bit at times trying to get to the outside. Will be interesting to see if the Patriots roll with those "crack" plays again this weekend. Running to defensive end Joey Bosa's side and stressing the edge there might not be the best idea.
Uphill climb for Yodny Cajuste, for sure. Hard to miss as much time as he has and bounce back to win a real role. That the Patriots appear to have hit on a couple of pros on Day 3 of this year's draft isn't helping him.
Another question about the 2019 draft class. Like these. Critical part of the roster. The Patriots need players from that group to help accelerate their rebuild. Williams is an interesting case. On the one hand, it'd be hard for any young player to work his way up the depth chart for a position group that includes Stephon Gilmore, JC Jackson, Jonathan Jones and Jason McCourty. On the other hand, the Patriots had Williams in the role of tight-end eraser early this season. He saw work against Mike Gesicki, Darren Waller and Travis Kelce. Penalties hurt him in Week 3 against the Raiders, and the next week in Kansas City he was on the scene for an explosive 45-yard catch-and-run to Kelce.
I don't think he's buried by any means, but with rookie safety Kyle Dugger seemingly taking on a bigger role, it could be hard for Williams (six defensive snaps in the last three weeks, all against Houston) to see more of those high-profile matchups on third down. This week would be a good indication of how the Patriots plan to attack "big receivers" at tight end moving forward. Hunter Henry falls squarely into that category.
Hard to know. Especially with Jimmy Garoppolo's situation in San Francisco seemingly up in the air. Would they be willing to spend a significant percentage of next year's cap space on bringing back their old backup? To me, the wisest thing might be drafting a quarterback in what appears to be a loaded quarterback draft class. Keep costs low at that position and spend elsewhere. There are talented receivers aplenty in this year's free-agent class who would be worth lucrative contracts if the Patriots wanted to quickly upgrade that spot on their roster.
Not sure the play-calling has been poor, Michael. I wouldn't characterize it that way. They're limited in what they can do because of the quarterback's ability to throw the football right now and the overall talent level of the personnel around the quarterback.
I'd look at Sam Darnold first and foremost. The physical skill set is there. A change in scenery. A change in coaching staff. Change, period. It'd help him out. Don't think we can rule him a "bust" just yet.
Don't think so, Brett. Can't see him putting on enough weight to be able to adequately control the edge of a defense as a blocker. He's used in "crack" situations to block quite a bit, but oftentimes those are surprise blocks for the defense. He'd be expected to win one-on-one when locking horns with defensive ends at tight end. They typically don't want the "big receiver" types that dot the NFL these days. They want real hybrid players at tight end who can win in the middle of the field as a receiver...and block.