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#PostPulpit Mailbag: Devin Asiasi needs targets in the Patriots’ passing game

Related: #PostPulpit Mailbag: Is it Le’Veon Bell time in New England?

NFL: SEP 27 Raiders at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It was a brutal loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 6 for the New England Patriots. After the 18-12 defeat, New England sits a 2-3 on the year and is under .500 after five weeks for the first time since 2002. But as Cam Newton said on Monday, there is no need to hit the panic button.

Turning the page to Week 7, New England welcomes the (depleted) defending NFC Champions to town. So far, the Patriots have avoided any Covid-19 issues this week, holding a normal Wednesday practice which featured the return of Shaq Mason, Byron Cowart, and Derek Rivers off the Reserve/Covid-19 list. New England also looks to be getting more reinforcement as David Andrews, Josh Uche, and Beau Allen (who all sit on injured reserve) were all present as well.

With what hopes to be a full week of practice, the Patriots will hope to correct their mistakes from Sunday and get back on track against the San Francisco 49ers. As we wait to see what they look like, let’s hope into this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag:

@RaineriJason The coaches do nothing but give Asiasi praise. Say he catches everything. Runs his routes well & does everything he is asked to do(in practice). Why then, come game time does he do nothing but block? He blocks on passing downs & runs routes when they run the ball. Makes no sense?

We’ll start this week with the rookie tight end Devin Asiasi. We know how hard Belichick has said this offseason is on rookies and we know how hard the position is to learn in New England’s offense. However, it is ridiculous the tight end hasn't seen a single target through six weeks. And it’s not his fault, as when looking back at games there are chances to get him the ball. Just this last week, he had a few opportunities on easy check down plays (like the play below), but Newton never looked his way. Whether that is lack of practice time or Newton not trusting the rookies — who know? Getting the rookies involved in the passing game would make a tremendous difference going forward.

@rodblanchard99 What’s the most critical need to help Cam, WR or TE? #postpulpit

Looking back at Cam’s Carolina days, he was extremely successful throwing the ball to tight end Greg Olsen. Olsen’s three best seasons (2014-16) all came when Newton was playing at an MVP and Pro Bowl level. Now when looking at who the Patriots should bring in to help Cam on offense, it should truly just be the best player they can get. If they find a new No. 1 wide receiver, great. Try to get more production from your rookie tight ends and let the new wideout lessen the pressure and open things up more for players like N’Keal Harry and Damiere Byrd. Now, if the best option available is a tight end, say a Zach Ertz or David Njoku, I’m all for adding one of them and sticking with the current receiver group. The position doesn’t really matter in my eyes, just get the best player and fit for the offense.

@BigLarryBabyArm Our lack of weapons is apparent… people complain about the o-line and injuries but I thought they played well all thing considering some of those were coverage sacks from no one getting open

The Patriots’ makeshift offensive did originally appear to have quite the tough day versus the Broncos, but when reviewing the game again it did not look as bad as originally thought. Newton was sacked four times on Sunday, although one or two could be credited to Cam for holding onto the ball too long. Bill Belichick mentioned on WEEI that “all things considered, those guys hung in there and played competitively.”

The one lineman who did play his worst game of the season, and maybe career, was Isaiah Wynn, who got his first career start at left guard. Wynn gave up a devastating sack with 1:14 remaining in the fourth quarter against linebacker Malik Reed — a matchup you’d expect Wynn to win. With right guard Shaq Mason and center David Andrews back at practice on Wednesday, Wynn will return to left tackle for good and his play should mirror that of his first four games.

@Cinjeopardy Can this loss be attributed to the fact that cam still hasn’t gotten over COVID-19 and is going through the after effects? The injuries on the O line were a problem too.

As we just mentioned, the injuries were devastating up front, but that appears to be getting fixed with Mason and Andrews out at practice. As for Newton, he said himself on WEEI that the anticipation was off and the lack of practice showed. It certainly wasn’t going to be pretty after practicing just two times in as many weeks, while also having virtual meetings throughout. But, that’s just part of this chaotic season so there won’t being any excuses about it. Hopefully with a regular schedule this week they will be able to clean some of the mistakes up.

@BostonEvan11 Is it fair to blame the lack of practice? I mean the titans looked fine after two weeks off

On the lack of practice time, this was a good point about Tennessee. After nearly two weeks outside of the facility, the Titans trounced the then undefeated Buffalo Bills 42-16. However, while the Covid-19 aftereffects were similar, the Titans were in a different situation then the Patriots. Since Ryan Tannehill took over in Week 7 of last season, Tennessee has had an identity of running the ball with Derrick Henry and Tannehill being extremely efficient throwing the ball and in the red zone.

As we’ve seen throughout this season, New England does not have one identity they can lean on. With a new quarterback under center, they are changing their game plan week-to-week, which makes practice that much more important. Still, give credit to Tennessee, but the their continuity on offense made life easier it my eyes.

@SirGeorgeVI I know we are supposed to say how great Belichick is at drafting, and getting 2 rookie lineman on the field out of necessity is something. But when was the last time he drafted an impact player?

From this year’s draft, we’ve seen Kyle Dugger and Michael Onwenu be key contributors early. Justin Herron and Anfernee Jennings have also had small roles while we still wait for the debut’s of Josh Uche and Dalton Keene.

Now, let’s talk impact player, focusing on the last two year’s. Obviously N’Keal Harry has struggled to truly dominate games as a 2019-first round selection, but their first 2018-first round pick Isaiah Wynn has been great for them. Also from 2018, you can make your own decision on Sony Michel, but linebacker and captain Ja’Whaun Bentley was selected in the fifth round. In last year’s draft, Chase Winovich, who has been impactful early in his career, was taken in the third round. Joejuan Williams and Byron Cowart have also seen increased playing time this season, and we can easily say fifth-round selection Jake Bailey was an impactful pick. It’s not a perfect track record, and nobodies is, but Belichick and Co. do find their fair share of players to make a difference.

@ChefdDds89 Why isn’t gunner getting any snaps on offense?

The definition of “insanity” has been described as “doing the same thing, over and over, and expecting a different result.” That is what the Patriots have been doing with their wide receivers this season. Every game, it has been the same format — Damiere Byrd leads the group in snaps, Harry and Julian Edelman follow (playing roughly 60-80 percent), then comes a whole bunch of nothing. Jakobi Meyers played roughly 10 percent of snaps throughout the first three weeks before moving to the bench, as rookie Isaiah Zuber has filled that usage recently.

Either way, something has to change as the results are not. Since returning from injured reserve, Gunner Olszewski played six snaps in the Kansas City game and zero last week against the Broncos. We spent all summer listening to how good Gunner looked in training camp, so unless those were lies, or he’s still hurt, or took a step back, or something else happened, they should have nothing to lose playing him more. It would be hard for him to produce any less than who is out there now.

@Vikram33985406 if we dont beat san fran how do our playoff chances look?

If the Patriots lose to the 49ers on Sunday they will fall to 2-4. It would not be an ideal spot, but it might also not be the end of the world. With the Bills losing two straight games and with one of the hardest schedules remaining, it would not be surprising to see the division stay within grasp, especially with two games against Buffalo still on the schedule.

According to FiveThirtyEight, New England is currently projected to go 8-8 on the season, meaning they would go 6-4 the rest of the way if they lost to the Niners. This would give them a 42 percent chance to make the playoffs, behind the Browns, Raiders, and Colts for the Wild Card. With three Wild Card spots, the odds improve, but a win this week would help them avoid a tough hole to climb out of.

Now, let’s go rapid fire:

@TheGeographyBac How do you think the Patriots-Ravens game goes?

I haven’t been overly impressed by the Ravens this year so far. That game is a month away, so baring any Covid-19 delays we should have a much better feel for where each team is as a whole. If the Patriots offense looks more like it did in Weeks 1 and 2, they should have a shot to win.

@RandTtocs99 Why aren’t they throwing to the rookie TEs, or in Keene’s case, why aren’t suiting him up ?

We touched on Asiasi and have touched on Keene in the past, but it should be time just to see what he can do. Keene is extremely versatile and they could get creative with how they use him. He would be a dynamic piece to add going forward.

@PatriotGator It’s obvious the offense isn’t good enough. What moves should they make to improve?

I’ll have a piece up this week about the top trade targets for the Patriots in more detail, but just quickly: Will Fuller, Golden Tate, and Zach Ertz are some names that come to mind.

@kersatethan Did we just witness the end of the season?


@SuperDave4189 Would Randy Moss, in a wheelchair, be our 2nd best WR?

If he can move at least half the speed he use to be able to run in a wheelchair, yes. Although I’m not sure how great a wheelchair would move on turf.

@defendthewall12 Why is N’keal Harry invisible?

This is the million-dollar question that all Patriot fans would like know. They need to scheme him more touches going forward and he needs to make plays with them.

@MaralagoFL Why is James White so quiet?

White led the team in both targets (nine) and receptions (eight) so I did not think he was quiet. Besides the 22-yard reception, he only mustered 43 yards on the other seven catches, but he was very active in the passing game.

@Joseph77019686 Go into a bubble and get serious or just accept total humiliation

Joseph, you must be new here. I hate to break it to you, but the NFL has accepted total humiliation so many times they just don’t care anymore.

@WuTangSwords Hey Bill why’d you lose faith in your Off by not challenging that White 1st down?

We’ll end here, on a situation that did seem puzzling during the game. Belichick did eventually explain the decision not to challenge had to do with a balance between limited challenges and preserving timeouts. To me, it still looked like a clear first down that should have been reviewed.

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 @iambrianhinesand @PatsPulpit as well!