The New England Patriots are fresh off the bye week and preparing for a big Week 15 matchup with the 7-6 Indianapolis Colts. Before Saturday night's showdown at Lucas Oil Stadium, it's time to answer your questions.
Let's get to the mailbag...
Joejuan Williams has been an outside-the-numbers corner for really the entirety of this year. He was being cross-trained at safety for a couple of seasons before being pushed outside more often. But he couldn't win the No. 2 job from Jalen Mills in training camp, and thus he's been a backup boundary defender from the jump this season.
Myles Bryant (the player to whom I believe you are referring) plays a much different role. He's a "star" in the Patriots defense, which is what they call their slot corner. He can play some safety, too, and he has. I'd say he's worked himself into becoming much more than a "replacement level" player. With Jonathan Jones out, he's been critical to their success.
"Myles played a number of different positions at Washington," Bill Belichick said this week. "He did a number of different things and he kind of did that when he came here, so he’s played corner, safety, and the nickel spot. He’s really a smart, instinctive player. He communicates well. He anticipates well and works well with his teammates. For a young player, he really has picked things up quickly. He plays with a lot of confidence on the field, makes a lot of good decisions, makes a lot quickly too."
Bryant was playing more than Williams by the end of last season, when he was an undrafted rookie and Williams was in his second season as a second-round pick -- even getting snaps on the outside that could've been available to Williams. The surprising part of Bryant's steady rise is that he was released at the end of training camp and available to be scooped up by any team. He wasn't, landed on the practice squad, and he's been vital to their operation ever since he was promoted.
"I mean, he's a DB," corners coach Mike Pellegrino said. "That's the best way to describe Myles... He really just embraced the ability to use the flexibility within the defense (as a rookie), the older guys saw it, earned trust quickly, and then from there has progressed into a really good player around here."
The Patriots may need Bryant to play a critical role in slowing down the Colts Saturday in that they run a variety of players through the slot, including wideouts TY Hilton (20.7 percent of snaps in the slot), Michael Pittman (19.2 percent), Zach Pascal (76.8 percent, tight end Jack Doyle (39.5) and running back Nyheim Hines (20.7). Byrant could end up on any of them, depending on the situation.
As for Williams, he continues to have a special teams role with the Patriots, but he played just three snaps as a boundary corner against the Bills. One of those snaps was when he found himself in coverage on Stefon Diggs with JC Jackson out of the game and nearly gave up a 40-yard touchdown pass down the sidelines that bounced off Diggs' hands.
That's Brandon Bolden's gig indefinitely. He offers them too much in terms of his understanding of pass-protections and route-running for them to move on.
The Total Eclipse formation, you mean? Whatever you call it, Onwenu will continue to get work alongside Trent Brown, I'd think. In short yardage, he'll also be very useful. But they love Ted Karras and the toughness he brings to the starting group so I don't see that changing any time soon. Karras also has a high-level football IQ that would be hard to replace.
I'm not sure, Alex. Still hard to envision Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft being willing to give Tom Brady the contract he was looking for to keep him around. Maybe with a significantly better offense -- and I think they would've been a significantly better offense with Brown in the mix -- they'd be in a different place with their negotiations. But I think Brady needed a break. I think the Patriots were looking for a break. I think they would've made a longer run with Brown, but I don't think they were beating the Chiefs that year.
I think expecting him to be a "significant" part of the offense might be expecting too much. He is "significant" in terms of the number of snaps he plays. But his target share isn't about to go through the roof, in my opinion. They simply need him to play with confidence in the passing game.
I think slowly but surely that is being built up. Their best bet to get significant contributions from him would be to continue to hit him in the short area, and then let his athleticism take over. If he can break a few tackles and get into the end zone on a screen or end-around, that would be significant enough. But, to me, this offense is still going to lean more heavily on its running backs, Jakobi Meyers, Hunter Henry and Kendrick Bourne.
Steve Belichick is the one calling the plays. Bill Belichick is heavily involved, as is Jerod Mayo. But it's the younger Belichick who is on the headset and making the calls you see play out on the field.
I don't think they're about to be shredded, if that's what you're wondering. I do wonder how they'll handle in the Bills passing game in different conditions. I wonder how they'll handle a very good passing game if and when they see one in the postseason.
During their winning streak, they've destroyed some bad passing offenses. And they beat the one very good passing offense they've seen (Chargers). But they haven't exactly gone through a gauntlet of explosive opponents. The Colts will be a good test. The Bills will probably be a better test. Then, if they see them, the Chiefs in the postseason would be an appropriate final boss for them to run into in the playoffs.
Because the Patriots have a quarterback on a rookie contract, they'll be able to manipulate their cap fairly easily for the next few seasons. So... could they sign J.C. Jackson to a long-term extension? Sure. Will they? That's a different question. He'll be in line to be making close to $20 million per season on the open market. Not sure the Patriots are going to be willing to go there.
I'd anticipate they use the franchise tag on Jackson this offseason and then go from there. If they don't, they'll need to invest at corner in the draft. There isn't much projected to be available on the free-agent market in the offseason. The Patriots are currently scheduled to have the 19th-most available cap space in 2022, per Over the Cap, at $27.1 million.
Helps that they have starting-caliber tackles on the field. No coincidence that once they thrust Mike Onwenu out to right tackle, kicking Ted Karras off the bench and onto the field at guard, they've been winning. That happened for the first time in Week 7. They haven't lost since. And now with Trent Brown back on the field, they have the ability to run out a very good offensive lineman as their sixth man.
That's like asking me to pick my favorite mock draft, Chris. There are just so many... Some of my postgame questions have been regrettable. Lots going on. Hard to process some of what we've just seen, at times. So I'd say it wouldn't take long to find one I didn't like from that setting. Nothing immediately comes to mind though. Probably because you just get used to the fact that those rarely come out perfectly, and you just live with it and move on.
If he's eligible for Executive of the Year, he should be the favorite. In my opinion.
Looks good! And feels like a statement -- between the look and the $225 million investment -- that the Patriots plan on being the biggest show in town for a long time. Have to be honest though, my first thought went to how the wind will be impacted. Asked Cam Achord about that this week.
"I saw the plans and everything," he said, smiling. "I said, ‘Well, that's gonna adjust the stadium.' The first thing I thought is it's gonna affect how the wind is playing in the stadium and we have to revamp our tools and get a whole true knowledge so that year will be interesting.
"Obviously it's going to be a great addition. The fans are going to love it. It's going to be awesome, so for us specialists, we’re going to have to figure it out because that's definitely gonna affect us a little bit for sure."
Think they're going to need to invest at corner, even though they've been excellent at finding diamonds in the rough there. So I'd probably go Sauce. (That's Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner from Cincinnati for anyone thinking the Patriots could be choosing between one of the best wideouts in the SEC and a condiment in the first round.)
I think the next most dangerous player might actually be T.Y. Hilton. Michael Pittman is their best receiver, but he's not the most explosive player. He's more of a big-bodied option who likes to get physical at the tops of his routes. He'll have size on JC Jackson, but I think the Patriots are fairly well-equipped to handle a receiver of that ilk. If Hilton can get vertical from the slot, he could make a game-changing play on just a couple of targets in this one.
Still plenty of time for Uche to make an impact. I'm with you in that I thought he'd be a critical piece to their pass-rush plan this year. Because of injury, hasn't played out that way. But there's plenty of football left, and he's eligible to come off IR at any time now. (He landed on IR on Nov. 17, and players must spend a minimum of three weeks there.)
If the Patriots could deploy Christian Barmore and Matt Judon in such a way where there are one-on-ones available to Uche on the outside -- perhaps with some help from mugged-up linebackers at the line of scrimmage -- that's where I think he'd still be able to make an impact. Just has to get back on the field first.
Definitely. The Colts are 12th in the NFL in fourth-down attempts this season. They're fourth in the league in fourth-down conversion percentage (63.2). They aren't afraid to push it.
Bill Belichick always likes to have capable depth at the game's most important position. He drafted Day 2 quarterbacks in 2008, 2011, 2014 and 2016 with Tom Brady still playing at a high level. Hoyer is a nice option for now because of his understanding of the offense and his inexpensive price tag. But it would come as little surprise if in a year or two there was another player added to that spot.