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#PostPulpit Mailbag: Is Bill Belichick holding the Patriots back?

Related: Bill Belichick’s conservative decision-making is killing the Patriots right now

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

It was another winnable game that slipped out of the New England Patriots’ hands, as they fell 35-29 to the Dallas Cowboys in overtime in Week 7. As the Patriots will turn their attention to a rematch with the New York Jets as they look to get back in the win column, let’s jump straight into this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag.

@jwskinn Bill Belichick I think has always been a relatively conservative coach and old school when it comes to analytics. Do you feel like that is why we are dropping a lot of close games? It’s feels like we are playing not to lose rather playing to win.

The Patriots are absolutely playing not to lose and Bill Belichick deserves a fair share of the blame. The coach that famously went for it on 4th-and-2 from their own 28-yard line against Peyton Manning and made the double-up at the end of the first half and start of the second half prominent has now gone conservative.

Belichick has been known for zigging while everyone else across the league zags, which is why he was once one of the most aggressive coaches in the league. But as NFL coaches have started to become more aggressive the last few years, Belichick has zagged once again, becoming one of the most conservative coaches in the league (and it started to happen before Tom Brady left).

The conservative approach this year almost directly correlates to rookie quarterback Mac Jones. It certainly looks like they just do not trust the rookie and offense to convert a key fourth-down conversion or avoid a devastating turnover. The coaching staff is straight up wasting opportunities to score points, such as kneeling out the half with 1:30 remaining on the clock, and are giving up trying to win games by doing so. And also, by not giving Mac Jones these opportunities, how do they expect him to grow and develop?

Whether you are one for analytics and numbers, Belichick and the coaching staff’s conservatism has directly correlated to the Patriots losing games. They are still a competitive football team due to their influx of talent and Belichick’s core system and scheme, but there several one-score losses have common, conservative themes. New England’s players are playing well enough to win, and it’s time for the coaches to start helping them out.

@TrulyMarkieP How would you grade the performances of the Patriots off-season acquisitions thus far?

The offseason additions have been a mixed bag for the Patriots to start this season. Matthew Judon has been the biggest home run pick to date. The EDGE defender has perhaps been New England’s best player this season and leads their entire defense with a 71.4 PFF pass rushing grade (minimum 20 snaps).

Besides Judon, Jalen Mills has been as advertised to start the season—- inconsistent in coverage at times. While the Stephon Gilmore trade means Mills will likely continue to see the majority of his snaps at outside corner, he still seems like he would fit better in more of a Patrick Chung-esque mold.

Offensively, Kendrick Bourne and Hunter Henry have been the best offseason additions and the two have made their case for even more offensive touches. Henry (74.2) and Bourne (72.0) lead the Patriots receivers and tight ends in PFF’s pass receiving grades. Both seem to be growing a strong connection with Mac Jones.

The offseason addition who has struggled the most thus far is tight end Jonnu Smith. The Patriots are just not using Smith to the best of his skill set, as he has seen just four targets in his last nine quarters. Overall, Smith has played 84 snaps running passing routes compared to 118 snaps run blocking (Henry: 161 to 78).

New England has almost used Smith as a version of Dwayne Allen, which is just wasting his talent and money they paid him this offseason. He is at best when being put in motion and getting the ball in space, allowing him to use his elite yards after catch skillset. Smith was often used this way throughout training camp, so the change in usage has been a complete 180. If the Patriots start using Smith like they did with an old tight end who wore No. 81, it could help propel their offense moving forward.

@derekthom Do you think we can expect to see more Rhamondre Stevenson moving forward, maybe take over the White/Bolden role?

Stevenson should absolutely operate as New England’s No. 2 ball carrier going forward. He provides a quality backup to Damien Harris and is definitely an upgrade over Brandon Bolden. Stevenson also led New England’s backfield in terms of routes run and targets in the passing game and seemed to have the make-em-miss part of his game like James White does. He looks like the new pass catcher out of the backfield and should certainly see every carry on the ground not going to Harris.

@thechris104 How would you rank the following problems? Playcalling, secondary, o-line.

While we discussed the play calling issues, the offensive line inconsistency is still a major problem for the Patriots offense. Against Dallas, New England’s five man front played musical chairs all night, rotating new bodies in and out as Randy Gregory and the Cowboys’ front took over the game at times.

The struggles up front has held back the offense through six games. The Patriots seemed to get even more conservative after the strip sack that almost decapitated Mac Jones and their struggles on third-downs seem to correlate between their short yardage blocking struggles.

Going forward, New England has to find the right combination up front to provide more consistent play. Perhaps that means sticking with Michael Onwenu at right tackle and remodeling the left side with Ted Karras at guard. If Isaiah Wynn also continues to struggle at left tackle, maybe a move to left guard when Trent Brown returns could improve his play.

@Ljulje Can you look at 4thQ # for Pats O as opposed to first 3Q through 6wk. Also for D. Seems to me that even D is a better part of a team, O is more clutch, because they have + drives at the end of games - not always result in tds, but they make plays in last 5 min/game.

Looking at the Patriots offense, here is how their run/pass success rates line up through six weeks, according to Sharp Football Stats:

Run Success Rate (Quarters 1-3): 52 percent - 12th in the league

Pass Success Rate (Quarters 1-3): 42 percent - 27th in the league

Total Success Rate (Quarters 1-3): 46 percent - 25th in the league

Run Success Rate (Quarter 4): 25 percent - 32nd in the league

Pass Success Rate (Quarter 4): 53 percent - 10th in the league

Total Success Rate (Quarter 4): 49 percent - 21st in the league

Based off these success rates, New England’s passing offense is much more successful in the fourth quarter while the run game sputters. As you mentioned clutch, the offense is statistically better in fact at third-and-manageables (seven yards or less) in the fourth quarter, even though their play-calling tendencies do not feature a dramatic discrepancy.

@DLPatsThoughts How much longer before Belichick skips the formalities and starts punting on 3rd and long

Feels like this is the next Belichick zag move. Might as well get ahead of the curve.

@vaidyeah33 odds of seeing throwback jerseys or a new variation of the throwback jersey this season/next season?

It doesn't look like they will this year, but New England can bring back the red throwback jerseys with the Pat the Patriot helmet starting in 2022. The league announced in June that they were doing away with an old policy that prohibited teams from wearing different helmets in the name of player safety.

After the new policy was announced, Kraft Sports and Entertainment CMO Jen Ferron said the red throwbacks will likely make an appearance for the Patriots again.

“We recognize that fans also have an affinity for the red ‘throwback’ uniform,” Ferron said, “and we hope to incorporate that into our uniform rotation in the future.”

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!