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#PostPulpit Mailbag: What has changed for the Patriots offense?

Related: Film room: Looking at the Patriots offense against Baltimore

Baltimore Ravens Vs. New England Patriots At Gillette Stadium Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Following the New England Patriots’ 23-17 victory over the Baltimore Ravens Sunday night, the Patriots have their first win streak of the 2020 season. The win brings New England’s record to 4-5 on the year, putting them in sole position of 10th place in the AFC.

With the added Wild Card team this year, there is still hope for the Patriots to sneak into the playoffs. They have their work cut out for them, as there are currently five teams (Las Vegas, Miami, Baltimore, Tennessee, and Cleveland) ahead of them in the standings, all with 6-3 records. While there is an extra playoff spot to be had now, just 28 of the 168 teams (16.7%) that started the year 4-5 have made the playoffs since 1990 — the average finish for these teams has been 7-9.

So, while keeping the faith has been a struggle through the 2020 Patriots season, or just the entire year itself, maybe don’t give up just yet. If they can continue to play like they have the last two weeks, a late season run could be in the cards. In fact, New England holds the 26th easiest schedule in terms of opponent’s win percentage from here on out, and already hold victories over Las Vegas, Miami, and Baltimore.

As Cam Newton said Monday, “Let’s keep this steam moving forward.”

@fspanjaa Cam seemed a lot more accurate and tougher vs the Ravens. Is it likely that he was still weakened by corona, and that we will likely see a stronger Cam as the weeks go by?

After a couple of horrible post-Covid games for Newton, he has been much better the last few weeks for New England. One of the biggest differences we’ve seen from Cam of late is the improvement of his fundamentals. We discussed this in last week’s mailbag, but Newton consistently fell back into his poor habits with his footwork and throwing mechanics after missing time due to Covid-19 (most likely due to the lack of practice). Now that he is back, Newton has looked much more efficient throwing the ball. Over the last two weeks, Newton has completed 40-of-52 passes, which ranks him first in NFL in completion percentage over expected. Newton also ranks fifth in EPA per play over that time span.

@patshighlights What has been improving behind the scenes that has made the offense so much better the past few weeks?

Besides from Newton’s individual improvement, one of the biggest differences in the Patriots offense the past few weeks has been their ability to not turn the football over. They have now played two straight games without a turnover, which has lead to two straight wins... Coincidence? Looking at their two losses to Denver and San Francisco, the Patriots turned the ball over a combined seven times. In their loss to Buffalo, they played 59 minutes of turnover-free football and were in position to win, until a last-minute fumble by Newton.

@pjhdsn Do you think that bashing BB as a terrible drafter is just a lazy narrative?

Extremely. Certainly there are misses, but every team has misses as the NFL Draft is the last thing of a guarantee. Don’t let the misses distract you from the hits, like Michael Onwenu in the sixth round this year, or second round picks from this year’s draft Kyle Dugger and Josh Uche — who have both impressed in their roles this season. Besides them, Belichick took both Chase Winovich and Damien Harris in the third round of last year’s draft, two players who look like key parts of the team’s future.

Also, while they don't count as draft picks, the ability by Belichick and Co. to constantly find difference makers from the undrafted free agent list is worth noting. Players like Malcolm Butler, David Andrews, Jonathan Jones, Adam Butler, J.C. Jackson, Jakobi Meyers, etc. have all been key players for the team that all were picked up after the draft.

@sportsaccountx Is N’Keal Harry doing anything?

On the topic of the draft, N’Keal Harry has been one the most questioned picks by Belichick of late. The 2019 first-round pick has started just 13 career games so far, catching just one touchdown while failing to eclipse the 100-yard mark in a game. Returning from his concussion last week, Harry was not targeted, perhaps due to the horrid weather conditions. He did make his mark in other ways, though, showcasing several nice blocks on two of the Patriots’ touchdowns.

While I get it, looking at a first-round wide receivers blocking highlights is not what we expected to see. So, we’ll reiterate what we said last week that the coaching staff needs to do a better job going forward of maximizing Harry’s strengths as a receiver. he succeeded in college for his size and jump ball ability, so why not throw him some jump balls and give him a chance to make some contested catches. He has talent and it’s time to try and release it.

@NicholasKatsik2 With the Dolphins and Bills having a solid lead in the division what is the goal of this team this season?

As we mentioned in the intro, the playoffs are still a possibility for this Patriots team. While it looks like their run of winning the AFC East is certainly over, sneaking into a wild card spot, and potentially winning a playoff game, would be a huge victory for how the season started.

Besides reaching the playoffs, New England’s goal should be to get their younger players as much experience as possible. Continue playing rookies Josh Uche, Kyle Dugger, and Anfernee Jennings while developing Chase Winovich on he defensive side of the ball. On offense, do the same thing with players like N’Keal Harry, Damien Harris, and Jakobi Meyers.

Perhaps the biggest goal of this year’s team should be to find out if their 2021 quarterback is already on the roster. Will Cam Newton play well enough down the stretch to be the quarterback for next year? If not, do they really have anything in Jarrett Stidham? While I believe Newton will be the guy, entering the offseason with clarity at the position would be a strong start.

@davidlinder00 Do you see Sony Michel have a role on this team when coming back? Burkhead and Harris has been excellent and White is the receiving back

It’s honestly tough to see Sony Michel’s role when he returns from IR. Harris has played extremely well this season and was the fourth-ranked running back in the NFL by PFF grades. On the year, he has now ran for 100-plus yards in three of his six games, while rushing for 5.65 yards per carry over his last three games. Besides from Harris, Rex Burkhead has also been running as well as he’s ever had with the Patriots. Burkhead has also been used as the Patriots’ goal-line back, totaling six touchdowns (three rushing, three receiving) in nine games this season.

When looking at Michel, it’s hard to see him having a role if he returns. He brings no threat in the passing game like Burkhead or White, and has not ran the ball as well as Harris has. It would not surprise me to see him activated for just insurance purposes.

@BrianCo84 What’s your outlook on Isaiah Ford as a receiving option going forward?

It’s tough to see Isaiah Ford having a large role in the offense going forward. The Patriots have their clear top-two receivers with the emergence of Jakobi Meyers and the steady play of Damiere Byrd all season long. Pair that with the return of N’Keal Harry and eventually Julian Edelman, and the wide receiver depth chart looks quite crowded for New England. As for Ford, who failed to see a snap against Baltimore, he does provide some intriguing versatility in the slot. If Edelman is not activated for Week 11 against the Houston Texans, perhaps the ex-Dolphin could work his way onto the field.

@ReadNFLtweets WR or LB with our first round pick?

It all depends who is available, but I would go with the defensive side of the ball. New England could really use some more talent within the front seven, especially on the defensive line. With their history of drafting the wide receiver position, I would rather them spend there in the offseason and use their draft capital to shore up their defense.

@Max53573729 See estimates for our cap space next year around $100 million. BB never had that much to play with. Could you do a projection of some of the signings pats will make?

According to our good friend Miguel (a most follow for all Patriot fans), the Patriots are expected to have $53.5 million this offseason:

With that, it should take roughly $9.5 million for the Patriots to sign their 2021 draft class, according to OverTheCap, so New England should have around $44.5 million to spend in free agency. They can free up even more money by moving or renegotiating with players such as Stephon Gilmore, Dont’a Hightower, and Marcus Cannon.

When looking at their roster, they will need to decide whether or not to pay Cam Newton for another deal. Based on the current quarterback market, he could demand around $20 million on a new deal. The Patriots should also prioritize center David Andrews, who is set to hit the open market. I would project him to get a similar deal to what he has now around $3 million per year. New England will also have decisions to make on players like J.C. Jackson, James White, Joe Thuney, and a handful of defensive lineman. I would expect Jackson to receive a first-round tender and eventually be extended, while Joe Thuney resets the guard market somewhere else. As for free agents to explore, we highlighted two receivers (Allen Robinson, Curtis Samuel) in last week’s mailbag that would be great fits for the Patriots.

@thesharksterbos If the pats slide into the playoff as the 7 seed, who would you want them to play?

As the seventh seed, the Patriots would play the No. 2 seed in the AFC. Looking at the current top three seeds (Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Buffalo), Buffalo stands out as the best matchup for New England. The Patriots played the Bills tough in the Week 7 loss and were in a position to win if not for the Newton fumble. Despite the Bills, New England also played well against Kansas City earlier this year. If they had Cam Newton and not Brian Hoyer under center, the Patriots very well could have won that game. Playing Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense is always a scary thought however. As for Pittsburgh, their defense could make things extremely difficult for the Patriots run game. If the Patriots wanted to knock off the Steelers, they would need Newton and the offense to be able to move the ball consistently through the air.

@KingOfPrussia16 How enjoyable would it be to get to the playoffs as the 7 and bounce the Steelers? (I’d say 10/10)

Knocking off the Steelers would easily be a 10/10 on the enjoyable scale. In fact, knocking off any of those top seeds in the AFC would be a thrill for the Patriots. Let’s hope they get the chance.

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!