With the Patriots' game against the Bills coming up on Monday night, let's tackle your questions in our Week 13 mailbag...
I think that could be attractive to Bill O'Brien, Peter. Would get him back into the mix in the NFL. Would give him an opportunity to work with a promising young quarterback at the center of a pretty talented roster. And he's obviously not only familiar with the area from the time he's spent here, but he's a New England guy and still maintains ties here.
Who knows if the perfect opportunity arises for Josh McDaniels, but I agree that he'll be pursued. If the Patriots don't end up with O'Brien in the event of a McDaniels departure, Patriots receivers coach Mick Lombardi would be one to keep tabs on as an in-house option. He's been in the NFL since 2011 and has served in a variety of roles for several clubs, including scouting assistant (Patriots, 2011-2012), defensive assistant (Niners, 2014-2015) and assistant quarterbacks coach (Jets, 2017; Patriots, 2019). McDaniels, who also functions as the team's quarterbacks coach, said recently that Lombardi handles red-zone game-planning duties for the Patriots these days.
Tight ends coach Nick Caley would make sense as an in-house candidate to take on play-calling duties, too. Aside from Ivan Fears, who hinted that time on the staff is winding down, Caley is the longest-tenured offensive assistant in the building (joined in 2015), and has been a key piece to the third-down game-planning operation.
Wonder if we'll see that again on Monday night, Clare. "Brick Wall" is certainly apt! Maybe "Sledgehammer?" How about "Total Eclipse," which a friend suggested? I love that one. There's over 700 pounds of offensive lineman between Trent Brown and Mike Onwenu. Get 'em together and they block out the sun. Gillette Stadium could play a little Bonnie Tyler (or, better yet, The Dan Band) at the first break after that grouping takes the field. Get the people going. Love everything about it.
Or is it too late?
Karen! I think because of the way in which Buffalo has defended good running teams this year (poorly), because of the weather that's expected (nasty), and because the Bills are accustomed to using nickel personnel -- even against heavier offensive packages -- the Patriots are going to try to make it a run-heavy night. Favorite Christmas song... Going to go with "O Holy Night." Really hard to pin down, though.
The easy answer after last week would be to improve their run defense. But they are better there than their performance against the Titans would indicate. I think it's their red-zone offense. They've been very good on third down this year. They've proven they can make hay through the air as well as on the ground. But they're still a bottom-half-of-the-NFL team inside the 20 (55.6 percent, 24th). Those four-point plays will be critical against top-end competition.
Think it's right to look at those situations in a couple of different ways, Lee. They're being efficient enough to get the ball into scoring range. They're 10th in EPA per play this season. But it's a different game inside the red zone. It's why they spend so much time on it through training camp and into the season on the practice fields. Good on 'em for getting it close, and good on 'em for making their kicks, but to miss out on four points -- against great teams -- is the kind of thing that could come back to haunt them if they don't improve.
Where are we, Buckets? Foxboro? Baltimore? Los Angeles?!?!? That matters. Folk is 5-for-8 (63 percent) on attempts of 50 yards or longer. In good weather, I'd give him the nod. But otherwise, go for it. In a much larger sample size than Folk's eight 50-yard boots, the Patriots have been pretty good when they need around five yards to stay on the field. On third down, when they need between five and eight yards, the Patriots have a 51 percent success rate (20 for 39, 51 percent). That's behind only the Chiefs (53 percent).
Plenty of interest in this development for the Patriots. Zach Ertz is one player who "tested out" earlier this year when he was in Philly. But it's more likely than not, I'd say, that Dugger won't be available. If he's not, it's a significant blow. He plays over 80 percent of the snaps. He'd have been key against Bills tight end Dawson Knox. And because the Bills use so many sub packages offensively, the Patriots are going to need as many defensive backs available to them as possible. There is no one-for-one sub for Dugger as a linebacker-safety hybrid, but my guess is Joejuan Williams gets a little more time than he otherwise would. Getting Jamie Collins back might also give the Patriots some athleticism at the second level on early downs; he's eligible to come off injured reserve this week.
Sure does. Since he got into the lineup (Week 5), the Patriots have been one of the best offenses in football by many metrics. Most importantly, Mac Jones is no longer on pace to set a record for quarterback hits in a season. It's not all Karras, of course. But his intelligence and toughness is a big part of it.
I asked Bill Belichick recently about how important Karras has been to the overall operation. From a football IQ standpoint, it's like having two centers on the field, Belichick said. "No doubt about that" it helps, he added.
"In an ideal world," Belichick continued, "both your guards can play center, and then that would really give you the communication because there’s a lot of pressure on the center to handle the communication on the line of scrimmage. Kind of like the quarterback, you want to handle it from the middle of the formation from the inside out. Somebody’s got to make the decision, but when the guards see it the same way as the center, when they have that kind of experience, when they can recognize it in sync with the center, and then that moves the communication to the tackle and the tight end much more quickly and smoothly. And, again, if the line stems or something happens late, a lot of times those guys are the ones who really have to make adjustments if the center can’t see it, or it’s too late for him to do anything about it, they have to do it.
"Having Ted as a second center in there, that helps in a lot of areas with both recognition and communication. That’s been good for us. We feel good about all the players; Shaq [Mason] and Mike [Onwenu] aren’t centers, but they’re good players, and that’s good too. It’s good to have Trent [Brown] back out there, [Isaiah] Wynn. We’ll see how it goes. Ted’s done a good job inside with the communication, toughness, and just playing the way Ted plays. He plays with good edge, and he’s done a good job for us."
Depends on how the game goes, Bob. Let's cross that bridge if/when we get to it.
I'd expect he improves everywhere, Miguel. There won't be an aspect to his game that won't be addressed. I think near the top of the list will be for him to focus on having a full offseason in the strength and conditioning program. I'm a firm believer in the fact that his arm can get stronger. It's a matter of making it happen. And it may not happen noticeably in one offseason, but you've gotta start somewhere. Will be interesting to see how his arm plays in the conditions over the next couple of months. Should be a windy day in Buffalo.
On McGrone, you never know, Murph. If there are injuries at that position, and if he's healthy enough to participate, that could lead to some action for the rookie out of Michigan. Think they'd need one of their regular inside linebackers (or more) to suddenly become unavailable, though. Ronnie Perkins is around, and unlike McGrone he's on the active roster. If a couple of outside linebackers go down, that might be all it takes for him to get on the field.
Giardi will be getting my ticket stub from the Justified and Stripped Tour show at the Garden back in 2003. He’ll appreciate it more than I ever could.
Gut feeling is he ends up getting the franchise tag. He's so close to free agency, it wouldn't make much sense for him to agree to an extension right now. Especially since he's going to be the best corner on the market (if he gets there).