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#PostPulpit Mailbag: Do the Patriots have an identity on offense?

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By: Brian M. Hines

Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Patriots vs. Vikings preview: Get to know New England’s Week 12 opponent

The New England Patriots are back on Thanksgiving for the first time in 10 years to take on the Minnesota Vikings. After a sluggish victory that ended with a bang against the Jets last week, the Patriots will look for a better offensive performance in Minneapolis.

Let’s break down how they can do so and more in this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag.

@Jduham When are the Patriots going to fire Matt Patricia?

Let’s get something out of the way first. Matt Patricia was put in an impossible spot by Bill Belichick. He’s a defensive mind that was tasked with calling offensive plays and coaching an offensive line. Belichick basically acknowledged it by telling us in the summer to blame him if things went south.

So, based on the relationship between the two, firing Patricia is likely out of the picture — especially midseason here which would likely just make things worse. They are going to ride this out and hope it starts to just slightly improve.

How can they do that? Stick to what works. As we’ve gone over before, the Patriots offense seems to be just calling plays to call plays (much like training camp). They are not sequencing things or setting things up enough.

The sequence below from Sunday proves that. The Patriots start under center play-action with a seven man protection, a staple in the Bailey Zappe games. DeVante Parker clears out for Jakobi Meyers who Mac finds for a 20-yard gain.

They then stay under-center and motion Hunter Henry to appear like they are running their crack-toss play, but Jones fakes the pitch and boots to the right. Henry then runs a shallow drag and is wide open for a 20-yard gain.

Two explosive plays to start the drive. Positive stuff. Then, disaster strikes. For whatever reason, New England goes right back to shotgun with trips to Jones’ left. They toss it to Stevenson — not even building off the fake crack-toss — for a 2-yard gain. They then stay in shotgun and run again where Stevenson gets blown up for a 2-yard loss. Now on third-and-long, Jones gets sacked.

This wasn’t just this drive, either. There were several times throughout the game where they started strong doing one thing (mostly under-center work) and immediately pivoted to something else which stalled the drive.

As we admitted during the bye we want them to spread it out and attack defenses horizontally out of shotgun, but it’s just not working right now. The under-center, play-action offense that worked with Zappe and has flashed with Jones when run lately is what they are doing best at the moment.

They need to find their identity. Their core set of plays that work — which appears to be that under-center stuff with heavy doses of play-action — and build off that.

@ForbesSumner Depth at O-line is an issue now. Do you see them promoting depth from within or trying to bring in a veteran to plug a hole?

@Skywal1Thaddeus With the injuries to Wynn and Andrews, what are the backup options outside of the ones on the 53 man roster ? Hope you have an awesome thanksgiving

The offensive line continues to be the biggest issue plaguing the Patriots right now. Nothing they dial up or scheme will work unless it’s blocked up front. As Hunter Henry said after the Jets’ game, Mac is “one of the best” when they can just protect him.

The good news on this front is that David Andrews could be back sooner than expected, especially after being a limited participant for the Patriots’ practice on Wednesday.

From there, there isn’t much personnel wise they can do. Marcus Cannon and Chasen Hines will be eligible to return off of injured reserve after this week, while Kody Russey is a reserve interior option on the 53-man roster. Hayden Howerton and Bill Murray are the two offensive lineman on the practice squad.

As they needed to add another body to the mix, they went out and added Conor McDermott, who the team drafted in the sixth-round of 2017, off of the Jets’ practice squad.

In reality, the personnel is the personnel at this point. They need to pick a five man front and roll with it for continuity reasons. They also need to realize the front is an issue and scheme around it.

(Hope you have a good Thanksgiving as well.)

@kjkells72 Can the Pats schematically get Mac some time to throw if the line just can’t do it?

So, how do they scheme around it? The easy answer is quicker passes, more play-action, RPOs, and seven-man protections — which they did for Bailey Zappe and a few times against the Jets for Jones (play above).

But something else they did on Sunday against the Jets could be an option more moving forward. The clip from above when Jones fakes the pitch and boots to the right before hitting Henry for a 20-yard gain. Moving the pocket like they did in that play is something that can help make things easier for the offensive line. I’d like to see more of that as well.

@patrickridney All off-season the talk was that the Patriots needed to get faster on defense…did they get faster or is the success due to something else?

The Patriots did get faster during the offseason, but I’d contribute a lot of their success to their defensive front currently. Which when you look at it, is basically the same unit as last year but they’re healthier and getting better play from guys like Josh Uche and Deatrich Wise Jr.

While Matthew Judon is pacing the unit and allows them to mix-and-match things as he can beat anyone 1-on-1, the rest of the guys around him are playing extremely well. Judon is a beast coming off of stunts with guys such as Daniel Ekuale and Lawerence Guy, while the improvement from Uche and Wise have given them quality play on the opposite side.

The five-man pass rush, which you can watch below, has been nothing short of awesome this season and is a big reason for their second-ranked 29.8 percent pressure rate.

And let’s remember, they’re doing this without their second best pass rusher in Christian Barmore.

Against Minnesota on Sunday, pressure will again be key. On the season, Kirk Cousins is completing just 42.3 percent of his passes under pressure compared to 73.6 percent when kept clean. Getting the pass-rush going — which Dallas did against Minnesota last week — will be key, and the Patriots should have the upper hand as the Vikings are without their stud left tackle Christian Darrisaw.

@ThomCincotta Who are the Pats gonna put on Jefferson?

The Patriots really haven’t shadowed any receivers outside of Tyreek Hill in Week 1. I’m not sure if that’s how they decide to matchup with Jefferson, but he’ll certainly be their focal point. Whether they use Jonathan Jones on him or perhaps use Jones on Thielen and game plan Jefferson in other ways, it’s hard to see them letting him go for nearly 200 yards like he did against Buffalo.

This is a team that a Bill Belichick-led defense eats up, as they take away what you do best and force them to beat you elsewhere. That focal point will obviously be Jefferson, who Belichick showered with praise of Tuesday:

“He’s been phenomenal. Of course, we haven’t seen him in the NFC, but watching him a little bit in the offseason then looking at him now, yeah he was no secret. Been hard to envision the amount of success he’s had in three years. His numbers are historic. So, he’s a great player.”

@David11tn Thoughts on Dugger’s progression in coverage this year?

Kyle Dugger has been awesome this season for the Patriots. Like with David Andrews, it was evident when he’s on and off the field. He wears a number of hats (two-high safety, in the box, etc.) and has been excellent in all of them, especially in coverage where he’s given up just 11 catches all year. He’ll likely be tasked with T.J. Hockenson again this week who he held to one catch back in Week 5.

@RobCoe24 Does Bill Belichick have a history of not starting Defensive Rookies? I don’t understand why Jack Jones isn’t starting and why Marcus Jones isn’t getting more reps at NCB.

As we touched upon last week, Week 10 is around the time where all rookies see an increase in usage. Jack Jones has played plenty this year despite a reduced role against the Jets, which was probably matchup based. But, these guys will certainly be needed moving forward against pass-heavy offenses such as Buffalo, Miami, Cincinnati, etc.

One advantage they have over last year’s team is the depth at cornerback, largely due to the two Jones’. They have options, which could allow them to turn to Marcus Jones instead of watching Buffalo and Isaiah McKenzie pick on Myles Bryant all game. Or move Jonathan Jones back inside and use Jack Jones along the boundary. They can mix-and-match a lot in the secondary and will likely use all sorts of combinations down the stretch.

@ForbesSumner Now that teams know Marcus Jones is a home run threat, do you forecast that teams will kick away from him in tight games? Should set up good FP if he strikes fear in punt coverage units.

I think teams already knew what he was capable of doing in the return game. Teams certainly were aware of his college production at the position and he entered the week as one of the top returners in terms of average in the league. I believe Brendan Mann was trying to punt the ball out of bounds, but either misfired or didn’t get the wind gusts that he was getting earlier in the game.

But, yes, Jones’ ability to flip the field in the return game will be huge for a struggling offense.

@kingbeacheye Overall grade on this years rookie class? I’m sure this is mostly recency bias, but I want to point a finger and “Nyah Nyah” at all the pundits who criticized the Pats draft class this year

They’re getting contributions from a lot of the class, so it’s a good start. Obviously, you’d like to see better production from the first two picks (Cole Strange, Tyquan Thornton), but the mid-to-late round players and undrafted free agents have been awesome. Just rewatch that punt return and look at all the rookies making key plays: Marcus Jones, Raleigh Webb (UDFA), Brenden Schooler (UDFA), Pierre Strong Jr., DaMarcus Mitchell (UDFA).

Related: Patriots film review: Marcus Jones’ game-winning touchdown against Jets was a full-team effort

@BOSsportschick You can’t say Josh. Which coach who left the team after last season is missed the most?

Bo Hardegree, who is now the QB coach for the Raiders. He was the assistant QB coach last year here and was at the hip of Mac Jones throughout the entire season. Having him here still would have been a big boost for continuity reasons.

@StephenOC6 Can we see if Matt Light, Dan Koppen, hell maybe John Hannah is available? Gotta be better than the Pat’s are running out there on the O-Line right now..

Somebody take a quick trip to Draper Farms down the street and see if Logan Mankins is available.

@itsbostoncream After now 3+ years of regression, are we willing to admit that this team misses James Develin?

I think we all admitted this when he retired.

@KinnallyKevin Looking at the remaining schedule, how do the pats get to 10 wins?

I think Steve answered this perfectly:

But seriously, start this week in Minnesota which is a winnable game. From there, beat the two teams that are under .500 in Arizona and Las Vegas. Then you just need one win between Buffalo (2x), Miami, and Cincinnati. It’s possible.

@MeekinOnMovies Can the New England sports media juggernaut *survive* if the patriots aren’t consistently excellent?

When’s the last time the Patriots have been consistently excellent? 2017?

@NewFinlandPats Are there more wheels or doors in the world?

I looked up and immediately saw three doors. But then realized I’m sitting on a chair with five wheels. Moral of the story is I still don’t have an answer.

@BigNasty6oh4 Is a hotdog a sandwich?

It’s a taco. Bet you didn’t see that answer coming.

@chrismoore24ghs Are you a white meat person or a dark meat person. If dark meat, leg or neck? If white meat, consider going back to the woods to continue your life as a primal being.

Don’t worry, Chris. I will not be retreating to the woods and prefer eating dark meat on Thanksgiving.

That’s all for this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag. If you have questions you’d liked to be answered next week, submit them on Twitter using #PostPulpit! Make sure to be following @iambrianhines and @PatsPulpit as well!

Originally posted on Pats Pulpit

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