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#PostPulpit Mailbag: How can Mac Jones attack Buffalo’s top-ranked defense?

Related: Patriots vs. Bills preview: 53 thoughts on New England’s wild card opponent

NFL: New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Round three.

After splitting the season series, the New England Patriots travel back to Buffalo for a Wild Card matchup against their AFC East foe Bills. And much like their matchup back in Week 13, temperatures are expected to be frigid in Highmark Stadium.

Let’s waste no time and get right into this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag.

@CABsYTchannel With the weather looking to be cold for Saturdays game, do you see tue Pats having a running type of game again? Or will they let Mac throw knowing wind isn’t going to factor?

The Patriots will most likely come out and try to run their way to a victory again on Saturday. But, if things start to go south, they will have to throw the ball to pull out an upset.

When asked about throwing in the frigid conditions on Tuesday, Patriots’ offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said the expected single-digit temperatures won't deter them from throwing the ball — mentioning wind and precipitation are more important factors. So, looking ahead to Saturday, the Patriots are going to need Mac Jones to throw the ball, and attack while doing so.

Jones had one of his worst games of the year against the Bills back in Week 16, completing just under 44 percent of his passes and tossing two interceptions. With Nelson Agholor missing from that matchup, the Bills defense showed little respect towards the other Patriot receivers, playing inside-leverage and taking away the middle of the field and Mac’s check downs.

The Patriots will need to attack Buffalo down the field on Saturday, and showcased their ability to do so against Miami on Sunday.

This play highlighted below showcases why we’ve constantly highlighted the importance of Nelson Agholor within this offense. The speedster’s deep post route draws the attention of two defenders and clears out space for Hunter Henry’s deep over route. Without Agholor in Week 16, New England wasn't able to stretch the field like this.

If the Bills carry over their same defensive game plan from Week 16, plays like this 28-yard reception by Jakobi Meyers are ways for Mac and the offense to attack. Jones recognizes the one-on-one matchup outside and Meyers wins at the line of scrimmage.

It won't be an easy task, especially against Buffalo’s No. 1 ranked DVOA defense. But, attacking Buffalo down the field with a vertical passing attack will help open up the Patriots offense, allowing Mac an easier time with his shorter, underneath throws. It will also give the Patriots a fighters chance to upset the Bills Saturday.


@Mx_Lampshade Is Jalen Mills out for Saturday now? since he was put on the COVID list and all

@Brian_Neumann is Jalen Mills vaccinated...?

Jalen Mills was placed on the Covid-19/reserve list Tuesday evening, leaving his status for Saturday in serious jeopardy. If Mills is unvaccinated, he would have a slim chance of suiting up Saturday, depending when he tested positive. If the test results were submitted Monday, his five-day isolation period would end before Saturday, meaning he could be activated if he has no fever for 24 hours, improved symptoms, and cleared by Team Physician.

If Mills is vaccinated however, he can test out of the league’s protocols sooner than the five-day isolation period, assuming he is asymptomatic for at least 24 hours and passes one of three testing options. As of now, his vaccination status is not known.


@macen0804 Jalen Mills sucks or na

Speaking of Mills, his loss would be significant for New England. While many, including myself ,had doubts about entering the year with Mills as the starting outside cornerback, the offseason addition has been exceptional for the Patriots. In the last nine games, Mills has given up just seven receptions on 21 targets for 72 yards and two scores, while breaking up four passes.

On the year, only safety Devin McCourty and fellow cornerback J.C. Jackson have played more defensive snaps than Mills, making him a difficult man to replace, especially against the Bills offense. New England would likely be forced to turning to third-year back Joejuan Williams, who was inactive for the three of the team’s final four games.

If not Williams, the Patriots could try Myles Bryant or rookie Shaun Wade (who is currently on the Covid-19 list) outside. After them New England rosters core special teamer Justin Bethel along with practice-squad corners D’Angelo Ross, De’Vante Bausby, and newly-signed Cre’Von LeBlanc.


@patriotsfeeder Given how many of our close losses have started and ended Why don’t the patriots coaches start the game in no huddle hurry up offense. We’ve looked our best doing that If the issue right now is this squad can’t cultivate that sense of urgency Q1 why not just gameplan it in

The slow starts are absolutely a problem — both offensively and defensively — for the Patriots, and one that is costing them games. Getting behind in another serious hole to Buffalo in Orchard Park this Saturday would be a near death sentence.

As you can see above, the slow starts aren't as bad for the offensive unit, but it will be interesting to see if any new wrinkles are added for the playoffs. We talked about Josh McDaniels’ comments about ‘holding things back’ offensively in last week’s mailbag, and maybe more tempo could be one of those things.


@owavy26 Can Mac Jones be the next great one up ?

Whatever happens Saturday, Mac Jones had a successful rookie season and the Patriots should be thrilled from his progress. He did falter down the stretch, perhaps a result of his first 17-game season, but played as a legitimate top-10 quarterback at times this year. And he did that in an offense that was overly conservative at times.

I won't make any Tom Brady-like career comparisons for Mac, but it’s clear he has a chance to be a very good quarterback in the NFL. Now, just get him his Ja’Marr Chase (like the Bengals did with Joe Burrow), open up that offense, and let him cook.


@arents_nick Realistic prediction for Saturday?

As we discussed above, New England has to be able to pair a vertical passing attack with their running game to have a fighting chance. On defense, we’ll see how they adjust their coverage strategy — while containing Josh Allen — as Buffalo killed New England’s defensive backs with crossers in their last matchup.

With all that being said, it'll certainly be an uphill battle for New England, but one they’re capable of handling. My guess is Josh Allen won't have another god-like performance like he did in Week 16, so let’s get wild: Patriots 24, Bills 20.


@Xerczar Who would you draft?

I would simply draft good players. Not sure why more NFL GM’s don't think of that.

But honestly, any defensive player that was on the field in the National Championship game Monday night wouldn't be a bad pick. And if the Patriots want to get that stud receiver in the draft, Ohio State’s Chris Olave could be a dream-like fit in the Patriots’ offense.


@Sisco_ Should we eliminate the forward pass?

Eliminating the forward pass for Saturday would give the Patriots a clear-cut advantage, so yes.


@ReadNFLtweets Which official will lead the league in air time this weekend?

I'm feeling a huge performance from Jerome Boger in that Vegas-Cincinnati game.


@McBpj If Mac Jones struggles early Saturday night in the frigid Buffalo conditions, should the Patriots let Brian Hoyer play a series or two?

What an all-time question. I still don't know what’s worse, that it was actually typed out, reviewed, and still tweeted, or the fact that over 20 percent of the people voted yes. Bonkers.

For those not aware:

That’s all for this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag, hope everyone has a safe and happy New Years! 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!