Patriots

Patriots Mailbag: Try to enjoy it while it lasts with Tom Brady

Patriots Mailbag: Try to enjoy it while it lasts with Tom Brady

The Friday Bag is back, friends. Every week, I'll be answering your questions be they Patriots-related, about the league at large or otherwise.  Tweet them using the #FridayBag hashtag. This week, the focus for many of you was -- no surprise -- how the offense can improve. We'll start there.

On the Best Buddies change, in a vacuum, I wouldn't take it as a sign Tom Brady is leaving. Julian Edelman has been in a little more prominent role with Best Buddies over the last few years, and the transition was coming. Edelman and Jayson Tatum are now going to jointly take on the role Brady occupied for years. I understand why you'd ask, though.

Everyone is looking for breadcrumbs that might indicate where Brady's path leads next. I would say, if you're someone who has lived and died with every Brady snap for the last two decades, I think it makes sense to try to enjoy it while it lasts...even if the offense doesn't look the way you're used to it looking. No one knows for sure where he'll end up in 2020, but obviously the possibility exists that in the next month-and-a-half or so, these will be the last games in which he takes the field in a Patriots uniform.

On Damien Harris, he would be playing by now if the Patriots felt like he'd give them a chance of producing more in the running game. That he's not, in my opinion, has to do with a couple of key factors.

1) The Patriots understand that running game success is a product of the situation a running back is in. That means if the play-calls aren't right, or if the offensive line is struggling (this season's issue in New England), there's only so much a running back can do on his own. One thing a running back can do on his own is make people miss at the line of scrimmage with quickness, which is why James White and Rex Burkhead have been more productive runners than Sony Michel this year. That's not really Michel's game. It's not really Harris' game either.

2) Pass protection. Even if Michel isn't on the field as a passing-game target all that often, he does typically understand where he's supposed to be as a blocker. That's part of the game that is famously difficult for rookies to pick up, and it's one that the team can't overlook. Those negative plays -- if a back were to give up a sack -- are simply too costly. If the Patriots believe that Michel's issue as a runner is that he's not attacking the line of scrimmage aggressively enough, something running backs coach Ivan Fears pointed out earlier this year, then maybe we'll see Harris. But I wouldn't hold my breath. 

He's just missed so much time that he's constantly in catch-up mode, Ernie. We've seen him break the huddle and double back to Brady for specific instructions. We've seen him hesitate at the line, as he did last weekend before going in motion on the play that led to his should've-been touchdown.

We should see him more, though. Josh McDaniels said this week that it's on him to get him the ball more often since he's clearly a physically gifted player. That kind of talent is nothing the Patriots can turn their noses up at right now. They need to exhaust all options when it comes to offensive efficiency. Screens, deep shots that punish defenses for doubling Julian Edelman, back-shoulder throws . . . they could all be part of the formula for integrating Harry into the offense further. 

Well, the approach changed in the spring when they took Harry in the first round, Anthony. They'd never done that before. And I wouldn't give up on him just yet. But in terms of the players they like, I don't think after two decades you're going to see that deviate much.

They're going to want physically talented players. They're going to want intelligent players who can work within their offensive system. They're going to want hard-working players, players who are willing to block and play special teams. There's obviously a sliding scale with all of those elements.

They may be willing to dial back their expectations when it comes to blocking if the player's IQ is through the roof. They may be willing to take a lesser vertical leap if the guy is a special-teams maven. Despite their hit rate (one that includes guys such as Deion Branch and Julian Edelman), I'm not sure you're going to see a complete and utter overhaul of how that position gets evaluated.

They need to get healthy on the offensive line. They need Ted Karras back. They need Isaiah Wynn in the lineup consistently. They need to be able to have some consistency up there. That'd give Brady more time -- allowing receivers more time to uncover -- and it'd help the run game build some momentum. In Wynn's first two games back, against the Cowboys and Texans, the team ran the ball better.

Without Karras in the lineup last weekend, that phase of their offense took another step back. They also need to incorporate a third (and fourth) trusted option in the passing game. That might be Mohamed Sanu. It might be N'Keal Harry. But they need someone.

Long story short, I don't envision them excelling in any one area down the stretch the way they did in the running game last season. But they need to improve along the offensive line and they need to find another go-to guy in the passing game outside of Edelman and James White. It's not impossible. But it's a lot to get cleaned up, and they're running out of time. 

Nope. Don't think so, David. From everyone I've spoken to, I believe it was a genuine mistake on the part of the content team at One Patriots Place. But given the nature of the incident -- and given the piece of equipment at the center of the incident -- it was bound to pick up steam around the country. And so the league now has to treat this seriously.

The commissioner now has to say at the league meetings that the NFL will conduct a "thorough" investigation. And there will likely have to be a punishment. I would assume that punishment is a fine. Docking New England a draft pick -- punishing the football operations side of the organization for what was not a football ops issue -- would be overdoing it. But we've seen the NFL overdo it before. 

I'm sure he'd love them. Haven't gotten there with him just yet. He tears up the house like Tasmanian Devil after consuming whatever amount of sugar is in a sip of apple juice so holding off on the Fluff for now. 

I think they would. I think they started to handle him a little better in the second half of their first meeting. They handled the running game a little better, anyway. That's the key. If they can avoid allowing huge chunk plays on the ground, they'll be in business.

They'll have more tape on the Ravens in Meeting No. 2, they'll have more time in practice focused on that particular scheme. It should look better. Will it be good enough to hold Baltimore to the low 20s? Because that seems to be what the offense needs these days. Of that, I'm not sure. 

I think last weekend's game was a pretty good illustration of why Brady's play isn't the primary issue. I'd start with the offensive line. They didn't give Brady a chance against the Chiefs. Then I'd move onto pass-catchers being unable to a) catch the ball and b) adjust with their quarterback on the fly. And it's not all the rookies. We've seen veterans not whip their heads around on hot routes or screw up signals. There are only two guys on the right page with Brady right now: White and Edelman.

Maybe Ben Watson, but he doesn't get enough looks to say definitively one way or the other. The guys around Brady need to help him out. He's missed throws, sure. But that they're stuck in the teens on the scoreboard is more on those around him than it is him. 

Great question. Starting to get geared up for next year's draft here. The best first-round pick is a tough one to determine. You'd be choosing between Richard Seymour (Belichick's first first-rounder with the Patriots), Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, Devin McCourty and Dont'a Hightower.

I think for his on-the-field dominance you'd have to go with Seymour. But Wilfork provided plenty of that himself, had a longer run here, bridged the gap between two iterations of a dynasty, and helped establish the culture we've come to know in the Patriots locker room.

Mankins was a Patriots rock for nearly a decade and provided the team with a level of toughness few others could. McCourty has been the brains of the secondary through three Super Bowl teams and became one of the strongest defensive leaders of Belichick's tenure.

Hightower has three rings to his name as well and came up with huge stops in each Super Bowl, earning him the nickname "Mr. February" from Belichick. I'll go with Seymour for his play, what he contributed to three titles, and for helping get this two-decade run off the ground. Here are the rest of the best from each round:

Best first-rounder: Seymour (Honorable mention: Wilfork, Mankins, McCourty, Hightower)

Best second-rounder: Rob Gronkowski (Matt Light, Deion Branch

Best third-rounder: Joe Thuney (Duron Harmon, Logan Ryan)

Best fourth-rounder: James White (Stephen Gostkowski, Trey Flowers, Asante Samuel, Shaq Mason)

Best fifth-rounder: Dan Koppen (Matthew Slater, Marcus Cannon)

Best sixth-rounder: Tom Brady (Nate Ebner)

Best seventh-rounder: Julian Edelman (Matt Cassel)

Good questions, Roberta. According to Sharp Football Stats, Sony Michel has had 119 first-down runs this season. Of those 53 have been successful (45 percent) -- "success" meaning he's picked up at least four yards on first-and-10. He's averaging 3.7 yards on first down.

His first-down success rate is 58th among backs. Here's a pretty staggering graphic from JJ Zachariason of FanDuel, who looked at gains by running backs on all downs.

Notice Michel has the lowest rate of runs that went for one or more yards, meaning he's racked up a lot of no-gains and negative runs this season. Not what you're looking for.

That'd make sense to me, Bob. I suggested Edelman rest earlier this season when he was dealing with a rib issue -- the Patriots, you'll remember faced an unbelievably easy schedule at the time -- and was promptly laughed at by the former pro football players on our Pregame Live set.

Their contention was: "Football players play football." Which I get. But my contention would be: "The Patriots aren't going anywhere if Julian Edelman is too hurt to play in January." The only problem is that he's been SUCH an integral part of the offense that if the Patriots benched him, they might have trouble moving the football against one of the worst passing defenses in the league.

That's just where their offense is at the moment. You can't bank on a defensive or special-teams score every other week. So I think he'll suit up Sunday. Then maybe we'll see him sit down if/when the game is in hand. That could be the opportunity you're talking about for younger wideouts. 

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Rob Gronkowski: Joe Judge was 'out of control' with Patriots (in a good way)

Rob Gronkowski: Joe Judge was 'out of control' with Patriots (in a good way)

Patriots fans didn't see or hear much from Joe Judge during his tenure in New England.

Apparently they missed out.

Former Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski dropped an eyebrow-raising quote Tuesday about Judge, who recently became the New York Giants' head coach after eight years in New England.

"Joe Judge is a great guy,” Gronkowski said on an "NFL on FOX" media panel in Miami, via NJ.com. "He’s out of control and I love it."

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If the guy who once used the Lombardi Trophy as a baseball bat says you're out of control, you must be really out of control.

Gronkowski didn't get into specifics, but suggested Judge brought quite the sense of humor to Patriots team meetings.

“He’s out of control in all ways,” Gronk said. "He’s fun to be around, he has a lot of great jokes and they’re funny ... He had me laughing many times in meetings."

Judge rarely gave interviews as a Patriots special teams coordinator and wide receivers coach, so only his players saw this side of the 38-year-old Philadelphia native.

But Gronk also saw the side of Judge that he believes will make him a great head coach in New York.

"He knew where every single player needed to be on every single play," Gronkowski said. "It was unbelievable. ... He knew it in a split second, so it wasn’t like he had to think of where this player needed to be, he knew it in a split second. You just knew he’s made for the game of football."

Judge may have to tone down his inner jokester now that he's a head coach in a major media market. He clearly has a kindred spirit in Gronk, though.

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Revisiting the 'enlightening' lesson Kobe Bryant taught Bill Belichick, Patriots

Revisiting the 'enlightening' lesson Kobe Bryant taught Bill Belichick, Patriots

In a statement Tuesday, Bill Belichick said he had "never witnessed a group as captivated" as the New England Patriots when Kobe Bryant spoke to the team in May 2018.

Belichick wasn't just paying lip service.

On Tuesday, NFL Films resurfaced a clip from HBO's "The Art of Coaching" documentary about Belichick and Alabama head coach Nick Saban in which both coaching legends reflected on their interactions with Bryant.

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These comments came in March 2019, more than 10 months before Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others were tragically killed Sunday in a helicopter crash.

Here's what Belichick had to say at the time about Bryant's message to the Patriots:

Another thing he said to us, which was an awesome message, was, "When I was 25 (years old), I could go out and score 30 (points). When I was 35, 38, I could score 30, but it wasn't the same way. I had to learn how to play without the ball. I had to learn how to play in less space. I had to learn how to use picks differently. I couldn't just drive to the basket like I could in my younger days. I could still score, but I had to change my game."

That was so enlightening for all our players that heard that. Because you're sitting there looking at his career and then we're all thinking about ours. It's changed for me just like it's changed for the players.

Belichick is a student of football. He has won six Super Bowl titles over 20 years in New England by constantly adapting, changing his approach as a head coach and general manager to stay ahead of the game's shifting trends.

Belichick clearly saw the same trait in Bryant, who averaged 22.3 points per game at age 36 (after tearing his Achilles tendon) by altering his style of play after hours of study and practice. The 42-year-old Tom Brady obviously took Bryant's message to heart, as well.

Bryant is gone much too soon at age 41, but the impact he had on players and coaches of all sports will live on.