With the Patriots' Week 2 game against the Jets coming up on Sunday afternoon, let's tackle your questions in another mailbag...
Little redundant there, Roy. But I'll bite.
The answer is no. To both. I understand the wisdom of the masses would suggest this is a must-win game for the Patriots. I understand the percentage of playoff teams in NFL history that have started 0-2 is very low. Still. This ain't a must-win game. Or a can't-lose game. Or a make-or-breaker. Or a do-or-dier. It's not.
First of all, the 17-game season changes the math. We don't know if starting 0-2 kills a team's chances anymore. Second, you can survive losing two consecutive games. That's been proven. Each of the last three Super Bowl champs lost two straight at some point in the season. The Patriots lost to the dreadful Jaguars and Lions in back-to-back weeks early in 2018, and they ended up just fine.
I'd argue the best time to lose two in a row would be to start the season just because your team has so much room to grow over the course of the year. Does it remove some margin for error over the next 15 if you lose the first two? Of course. Especially since this would be two divisional losses for the Patriots. But it's not an outright killer.
Plus, most of those 0-2 teams over the years have been truly bad teams. Even if the Patriots somehow lose to the Jets this weekend, I won't be ready to pin that label on them. They have a rookie quarterback and almost an entirely new roster. It's going to take some time for them to get to where they want to be. Barring a rash of injuries, they'll be better in November than they are now. They should be, at least. So if you're feeling like Chicken Little headed into this weekend, take a breath. They're probably going to win this weekend. Even if they don't -- while that's less than ideal! -- it won't be a season-ender. There are oodles of winnable games on the Patriots schedule from Week 3 on. Go ahead. Take a look.
Both players automatically reverted to the practice squad after the Dolphins game. It made sense that the Patriots might try to keep both off the active roster for their Week 1 game, because that's a cost-saving measure many teams look to exercise. By NFL rule, if a veteran isn't on the active roster for his team's first game of the season, the team doesn't have to guarantee his salary for the year. Then why not sign both Folk and Hoyer to the active roster immediately after the game last weekend? Roster flexibility. They likely would've had to make a move with another player to clear a spot.
If the Patriots instead waited it out over two weeks -- both players can be elevated from the p-squad twice for games -- then maybe a spot would pop open for one or both. For instance, kicker Quinn Nordin is reportedly headed for IR, which will open a spot for Folk to jump up to the 53. (Nordin showed up on the injury report this week.) Perhaps there's another injury, or perhaps against the Jets a player plays his way off the active roster, to get Hoyer on the 53 soon. Long answer. Short question. Apologies. Guess that's en vogue this week.
KO! I'll go with the defensive front. The Jets are a mess along the offensive line. Their left tackle is out. Their right tackle is shifting to the left side. They have a rookie left guard. They have a new right tackle. Even if the individual blockers -- first-round guard Alijah Vera-Tucker and veteran backup tackle Morgan Moses -- are capable, the communication probably isn't amazing between that unit right now. They allowed Zach Wilson to be pressured on almost half his dropbacks last week. He was sacked six times.
And Wilson's a scrambler, which can actually make it harder on linemen since they're blocking for a moving target. Wilson will also be more willing to hold onto the football than Tua Tagovailoa was last weekend. Wilson was 24th in the league in average time to throw in Week 1. Add it all up, and the Patriots should have opportunities to get after the quarterback this week.
Chris Stapleton. He'll accompany me for a long portion of my ride down to New Jersey this weekend. I like to sing along. It's sort of like watching Michael Jordan dunk from the free-throw line and then trying to do it myself only safer.
You're not wrong, Richard. He'll train in season. But I think he might need a full offseason before he's able to make any significant changes to his body. Maybe not. He's a grinder. Just hard to make those kinds of gains if a good portion of your week is spent recovering from getting walloped the weekend prior.
I think the best way to answer this is that we're working with only a one-game sample right now. The offensive line will be better if they have their right tackle. The defense is short on corners, which is something we've been talking about since Stephon Gilmore landed on the physically unable to perform list to begin training camp.
It's an issue. The running game stalled when the Dolphins went to their base defense last week. That's kind of to be expected. What the Patriots have to do when teams treat them that way is kill them through the air. They didn't. Hence the overall lack of offensive production. But it's just one week. Give it some time.
Quarterbacks have a lot on their plates. Punters don't. There's so much time spent on refining the timing and chemistry with that snapper-holder-kicker operation, it would be hard to put in the requisite hours with a quarterback who is really (really) busy over the course of a practice. Even a backup quarterback, who has to be ready to keep the team afloat in case of emergency, isn't ideal for that role. Punters can do it. Let 'em do it.
So much of it has to do with the situations surrounding these quarterbacks, Bob. To me, it's easier to predict Mac Jones to have success than it is for Trevor Lawrence, for instance, because their situations are so drastically different. In terms of Year 1 success, I'd put Mac Jones at the top of the list. I had him as winning Offensive Rookie of the Year before the season began.
Then I'll go with Justin Fields because I think he'll get in soon, and his situation -- while not great -- is a little better than Zach Wilson's or Lawrence's. At No. 3, I'll go with Lawrence. Then Wilson. Then Lance, since I don't think he'll see much action behind Garoppolo.
You might not love this answer. But I think it's special teams. He can return kicks, but he's not their top option there. And he's not a kick-coverage player. Rhamondre Stevenson is. DeMarco Murray told me Stevenson was one of Oklahoma's best kick coverage players a couple of years ago, and they only dialed back his kicking-game responsibilities when they saw how talented he was running the football. White's not getting knocked out of the lineup any time soon.
And I don't think Brandon Bolden is, either, because Bill Belichick wants experienced core special teamers out there every week. Stevenson's ability to play on multiple kicking-game units, combined with Stevenson's ability to run and catch out of the backfield, I think earned him the nod over Taylor last week. Since then, of course, Stevenson fumbled. That enough to force a swap? We'll see.
Doesn't help! But right tackle wasn't the only issue last weekend. Isaiah Wynn allowed four pressures and was called for a hold in the red zone. Shaq Mason allowed three pressures and was flagged for a block in the back penalty. That entire group needs to up its level to live up to the billing they'd been given before the start of the season.
Winovich may get his chance on third downs with Kyle Van Noy out, HC. He's not a first-and-second-down guy, really. Deatrich Wise is. Simply a stouter body at the point of attack. As for Hightower, give him some time to bounce back from a year off. So long as he's healthy, I think he'll be just fine.
Get back to me in a month!
Yasir Durant didn't allow a pressure in 13 opportunities against the Dolphins. Can he keep that up if Brown can't go? I'm not sure. But the Patriots seem willing to give him a shot. He was the one spotted with the top offensive line group with Brown missing two practices this week.
I think when the game dictates more passing situations for the Patriots defense, you'll see him out there a lot. He may get more time on early downs in neutral (close-game) situations with Van Noy out, but his strength is as a pass-rusher off the edge. Think you'll see a lot more of Uche if the Patriots get out to a healthy lead Sunday.
They've got to prove they can throw against base defense with their two tight ends on the field, Joe. They didn't last week. That should improve. If it doesn't, then it's going to be a long season. One of the major benefits of running two versatile tight ends onto the field is that no matter what the defense chooses to do -- play nickel or base -- you have an answer for it. Run on smaller, faster nickel looks. Throw on bigger, slower base looks. They simply did not answer Miami's base defense effectively last week.
It's a good idea in theory! That they weren't more effective through the air against heavier personnel last week was a surprise to me. Especially since former Patriots linebacker Elandon Roberts was part of those heavier Dolphins looks. He's not known for his ability in coverage.
...they protect Mac Jones. Can't watch him have to pick himself up off the turf once out of every four dropbacks again this week.
I think the issue with Stevenson wasn't just that he fumbled. He also got discarded fairly easily in a pass-protection opportunity and subjected Mac Jones to a potentially dangerous hit. Stevenson only played a handful of snaps. To have two blow up on him in that fashion probably led the coaching staff to say to themselves it was time to go in a different direction for the rest of the day. I don't think Stevenson will be in the doghouse forever, but he has to prove himself worthy of further opportunity. In practice. In games. It all matters. If he doesn't, they have JJ Taylor as an option. It's still a deep group.
- No one can sustain double-digit hits every week.
- It wasn't awful last week. They allowed 3.2 yards per carry. They'll take that number. They just need to be better prepared to see pace from opponents, I think.
- Should be.
- I think the floor is about a .500 team.
- Not sure. Injuries often lead to openings.
Don't think we overrated it. With their corner depth, there are going to be some adventure-filled weeks.
Jerod Mayo may get a head-coaching gig before he has a defensive coordinator title. Interviewed with the Eagles last offseason and is highly regarded. Steve Belichick has been on the headset and so would make sense if he's eventually elevated to that role.
I'm partial to the Ankylosaurus. Big into dinosaurs at our house these days. Ankylo is my guy. That tail is terrifying.
Feels like a good place to say goodbye. Thanks as always for the questions this week, friends. Love you. Mean it. Enjoy the game. Will talk to you through your televisions on Pregame Live at noon.