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, everyone's focus was obviously on the Patriots-Titans Wild Card matchup. We'll start there with a question on the running game.
Which back would you like to see featured out of the Sony, Rex, White trio and who scares you the most on the Titans offense.— _Jake•Palums_ (@jakepalums) January 3, 2020
I think the Patriots will try to get Sony Michel going because they always try to get Michel going. The Titans run defense has been pretty effective this year, though. They allow just 4.0 yards per carry. Against 21 personnel -- so if the Patriots want to run Michel behind Elandon Roberts -- the Titans allow just 3.5 yards per carry.
I'd roll with both Rex Burkhead and James White on the field and chuck it. The Titans are 26th in the league in success rate allowed to backs, according to Sharp Football Stats. If the Patriots hand it off, hand it to Burkhead. Over the last three weeks, he's third in the league in yards after contact per attempt.
Are the benefits of the Patriots offensive system now outweighed by its deficiencies? If yes, could Brady benefit from a fresh, or at least highly modified system?— Mr.Quindazzi (@MrQuindazzi) January 3, 2020
The benefits of the Patriots offense are that, with a smart team and an accurate quarterback, there's almost always an answer for what the defense poses. What makes it difficult is when there are several new pieces trying to pick it up on the fly. If it doesn't go well, you'll see a season like this one.
I'm not sure Tom Brady would benefit from a new start because in his mind, there's a reason it's as complex as it is. You could certainly make the argument that a modified system might help younger players. Maybe that's what we see if Brady and McDaniels end up moving on.
Am I doing draft prep come Monday morning?— Mark Schofield (@MarkSchofield) January 4, 2020
Afraid so, Mark. Afraid so. There is no doubt a path to Patriots victory. It involves sacking Ryan Tannehill, who's taken 31 of those since Week 6. It involves turning the football over, which the Patriots have done more often than any team this season outside of the Steelers. It involves big plays in the kicking game, which this group is certainly capable of.
But the Patriots have lost three of four games against offenses that rank inside the top-15 in DVOA this year. (The one they won came against the Cowboys.) The Titans are in the top-10. It's just hard for the Patriots to keep up with top offenses these days.
If the Titans stop the run -- which they've done well this year -- and double Julian Edelman, where does Brady go? Maybe N'Keal Harry or Mohamed Sanu ends up having a breakout game. Maybe there are a few trick plays that go for chunk gains. Maybe they score defensively or on special teams. I don't rule it out. But I'm not banking on those things happening, either.
Is impending inclement weather a plus or minus for the Pats ?— Murph (@TMurph207) January 4, 2020
Thoughts on Slater going into the PFHOF ?
What did you do for NYE ?
1) I think it helps the Patriots it it's nasty out. The Titans have the league's leading rusher, but they're also an explosive passing offense. They average 9.6 yards per attempt with Tannehill behind center. They're No. 2 in the NFL in explosive play rate. If that passing attack gets bogged down because of the weather, if it becomes a low-scoring game, that's advantage Patriots.
2) Five first-team All-Pros for Matthew Slater should be Hall of Fame worthy. Anyone with five at any position should be in, probably. Seems like a good rule.
do you know why Thomas Curran blocked me on Twitter— Megan Kelly (@mmegankelly) January 4, 2020
I don't know? Same reason he dials me up and has no idea? I blame Bo.
Big plans tonight, Phil?— DocFlynn (@jessdeede) January 4, 2020
You're probably reading this on Saturday. Soooo nope. Nothin'.
So much talk about if this is Brady’s last game in NE. Aside from 12, which potential departure this offseason will be most impactful?— Dave Green (@DavidMGreen) January 4, 2020
Devin McCourty. I consider him the co-quarterback of the defense alongside Dont'a Hightower. It's a defense loaded with big brains, but those are probably the two biggest. One in the secondary. The other in the front-seven. McCourty could be back as a free agent, but losing him would complicate things on the back end.
Joe Thuney is a close second for me. Whoever is playing quarterback next year is going to need to be protected. He's been their best offensive linemen.
Why did they keep Harris on the 53 man roster all year but didn’t play him? Just injury insurance or what?— Wags (@TheGerman21) January 4, 2020
Depth. Had Sony Michel missed any time, we would've seen Harris. Ivan Fears recently told us that the fact that entire group has been healthy for the majority of the season is the reason why Harris didn't play.
How many points do the pats have to score to win tomorrow?— Dave Sullivan (@THEREAL_DaveSul) January 4, 2020
I'll say 25. I'd expect the defense to play much better than it did last week, but the Titans have been good enough for long enough that I think they have the ability to get to 24 points. Tannehill may panic in his first postseason start. He may panic at the sight of Gillette Stadium, where he's never won. But I think we've all been waiting for this offense to come back to Earth and . . . it . . . just . . . hasn't.
Why do the Patriots struggle defending TEs? I remember them shutting down Graham and Gates once upon a time, but outside of that, it’s always been a weak spot (Owen Daniels). Hopefully not foreshadowing with this tweet.— Rich Powell (@cultmojo) January 4, 2020
Good tight ends are, by their nature, difficult matchups. They're often the best athletes on the field when you factor in height, weight and speed. They're big. They're athletic. They're pretty rare specimens. There are very few body types defensively who can do what they do.
The Patriots have always had bigger linebackers whose strengths don't necessarily lay in their ability to cover. Tight end duties, therefore, often fall to Patriots safeties.
Patrick Chung has been the guy for years and done a solid job. But he's been banged up this season, and even when he's tight on his matchup -- I can think of two long Dawson Knox catches when that's been the case -- he's simply not as long as some of the players he's covering, making it difficult to win in contested situations.
Jonnu Smith will be a challenge this week. We went in-depth on how the Titans use their tight ends here.
Will we see more Pony tomorrow night? Looked like they went away from it against Miami.— Brett Bosse (@brett8055) January 4, 2020
Think so, Brett. See above. "Pony," for those of you wondering why Brett is talking ponies, is the Patriots package that features two pass-catching backs on the field simultaneously. It's often a two-back, no-tight end set.
Okay, Phil. Give us the percentage of Tom Brady actually walking away from the Pats, after this season? Granted, I don’t want to see it. I’d generally like to hear your insight, Sir.— Shawn Cox (@ShawnCox1977) January 4, 2020
Don't know if I could put a number on it, Shawn. For weeks, I was of the mind that he would be playing somewhere else in 2020. But the more I consider the potential options -- particularly after the Dolphins committed to the Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chan Gailey combination for next year -- the more I start to think there might not be a great fit out there for him.
I think coming back is in play, if there's enough interest on both sides. I think retirement is less likely, though I wouldn't rule that out. How he plays this postseason could end up impacting things. If he lights it up, maybe there end up being more suitors than we think.
TONS of questions this offseason (Brady, coaching staff departures, FA’s/uncertainty at S, LB, OL, upgrade at TE). What is one area the Patriots do NOT need to address going into 2020?— Jordan Boss (@JBoss_) January 4, 2020
Corner is pretty well stocked. Stephon Gilmore, JC Jackson and Jonathan Jones are all back. Joejuan Williams is a second-round pick in his second year. You can never have too many corners. But that doesn't look like a pressing need for them. Also, punter. They got a good one.
Sure Senator. What are the odds we see the true sign of “we got nothin” a Matthew slater go route on the first drive. Feels like we are in range...— Nyquil Jornan (@burniacs) January 4, 2020
I'd be shocked . . . SHOCKED.
I will say this: The Titans defense looks like it might be susceptible to deep throws. They play a lot of single-high safety coverages -- coverages the Patriots see all the time and cut up in last year's Divisional Round game against the Chargers -- and deep routes to stress the deep safety might be a good idea. Post-dig combinations. Seam routes. Even post-wheel combinations to put deep-third corners in a bind.
All might end up being good ideas. All are longer-developing plays. Still, I don't see Matthew Slater out there as a true wideout. A mini-tight end in motion at the goal line? Maybe. We've seen that this year. But not as a receiver.
Treehouse or Trillium at the Gillette Ale House?— bob m (@uriram82) January 4, 2020
If you could have an in his prime Rob Grownkowski or a prime Randy Moss for this coming playoff run who would you choose and why?— Self Proclaimed Goat (@ChristianH87) January 4, 2020
Gronkowski. Not the vertical threat Moss would be, obviously, but a vertical threat nonetheless. And a game-changer for a running game that could use one.
Did you ever get jugged?— Bernie Brother Jon (@TheRealCiulla) January 4, 2020
Yes. Hat on inside on multiple occasions. I know. I know. Degenerate. (JUG stands for "justice under God." Any good JUG-worthy infractions committed by our Jesuit-educated readers? By all means, leave 'em in the comments.)
Pizza 🍕 or chicken wings 🍗? Or, 🍕 and 🍗 for the game?— David Craig (@gospeedy012) January 4, 2020
Wings. Haven't had a carb since 2004. Whatever you're eating Saturday, enjoy.
Thanks for all the submissions this week. Whether the Patriots win or lose, we'll be back here with another Bag next week.