The Friday Bag is back, friends. Every week I'll be answering your questions be they Patriots-related, NFL-related or otherwise. This week, the focus for many of you was -- no surprise -- N'Keal Harry. We'll start there...
I think he'll play, Jamie, but I don't think he'll see a full complement of snaps. If the Patriots choose to go up-tempo, as they did in Baltimore, he could have a hard time having a regular role. But in the Patriots locker room on Thursday it sounded like Harry would play. And they could use him. They could use him in the red zone (they're 21st, getting into the end zone at a 50 percent clip), and they could use him on the outside. This Eagles defense has been incredibly generous to outside-the-numbers wideouts in 2019.
Philly's defense is also built in such a way — running a lot of Cover 3 and Cover 1, with a single-high safety — that seam routes to big slot receivers would work. Harry played in the slot a bit in college and could be used as a contested-catch player down the middle of the field since the Patriots are without a vertical threat at the tight end position. I've said many times that I think this Patriots receiver group still needs an injection of talent. Harry has talent. And his skill set would help them exactly where they need it.
If he can't handle the communication or the mental side of things, that's obviously an issue. But Bill Belichick has told us that mentally he was on top of things even while on IR. I think we'll have an opportunity to see what Harry can do — if not exactly on a full-time basis — this weekend. Here are the debut snap-counts for rookie Patriots wideouts over the last decade: Malcolm Mitchell (Week 1, 39); Chris Harper (Week 1, 12); Kenbrell Thompkins (Week 1, 91!); Aaron Dobson (Week 2, 34); Josh Boyce (Week 1, 15); Taylor Price (Week 17, 26); Brandon Tate (Week 7, 20). Mohamed Sanu said Thursday he thinks Harry will play more in his debut than Sanu did in his. Sanu saw five snaps in Week 1 of his rookie season. Let's set the over/under for Harry snaps at 14.5. I'll take the over.
Hey, Don. They have short-area passing plays, but I don't think they're "saving" anything. We've seen these plays in the past. A lot of them deal with creating some traffic right near the goal line in order to create space in what's a pretty tight area. You'll see receiver tunnel screens in there. You'll see slant-flat route combinations in there to create a natural "rub" or "pick." They'll occasionally throw fades to the back corner, though we haven't seen much of that post-Gronk.
Perhaps that's something we'll see again whenever Harry becomes a part of the red-zone attack. The Patriots have been throwing down deep in opponent territory a little more lately, I think, because their personnel isn't really built to bulldoze at the goal line anymore. Their fullbacks are hurt. Their tight ends have been unavailable, though that may change this week if Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo can go. If they had plays that worked down there, they wouldn't hold them back. They're 28th in the league in goal-to-go passing success rate this season.
The tight end position is one that's traditionally very difficult for young players to pick up because there are so many responsibilities between the the run game and pass game. It's really only secondary to the quarterback. (That might be part of why the Patriots haven't invested at the position in the draft and have preferred to try veteran free agents there behind Rob Gronkowski.) So the fact that T.J. Hockenson isn't lighting it up doesn't shock me. Noah Fant — the other first-round tight end — was always going to have a ways to go in the running game. I think both will be much better next year with a little more experience.
And yes, getting Wynn and Andrews back would go a long way toward solidifying the line. One issue that'll be interesting to track this offseason is what happens with Joe Thuney. He's scheduled to become a free agent and will get paid — whether he's in New England or somewhere else. If Thuney departs, that could allow the Patriots the freedom to draft a top tackle or guard next spring. If the best player available is a tackle, they could bump Wynn to left guard. If it's a guard, they could keep Wynn at tackle.
I don't think so, Brett. What Joe Thuney has done at left guard, situated between Karras and Marshall Newhouse, has been invaluable. If you were to swap Karras and Thuney, you'd be weakening that left side. The counter to that? Pressure up the middle is what has the ability to undo the Patriots offense much more than pressure off the edge.
Brady is great at stepping up and away from edge pressure when he has room. Thuney is the team's best pass protector right now, so why not put him right in the middle. If that's what you're saying, I get it. But Karras has been fine in pass protection this year. According to Pro Football Focus, he's 11th among centers in pass-blocking efficiency. The Patriots just need to get Isaiah Wynn back, and that'll help them up front in both the run and pass games.
Beautiful instrument. Bring it back. Thanks for the question, Steve, and thanks to everyone else who chipped in this week. Enjoy the games this weekend, friends.
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