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#PostPulpit Mailbag: Will the Patriots’ offense improve off the bye week?

Related: Patriots expect Jets quarterback Zach Wilson ‘to be a different player’ this week

New England Patriots v New York Jets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The New England Patriots are back in Week 11 for another matchup against AFC East foe New York Jets. In an unusual schedule twist, the teams meet for the second time in three games and both are coming off a Week 10 bye.

New England squeaked out a 22-17 victory over the Jets back in Week 8, a large part due to forcing three interceptions off Zach Wilson. As both teams feature top-ranked defenses, it feels like another low scoring game could be on the horizon. The key again could be which quarterback takes best care of the football, as Wilson and Mac Jones are the two worst statical passers under pressure this season.

Before we (finally) get back on the field, let’s empty out this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag.

@Davidkn70019674 do you believe the offense will be a lot better after the bye? Because they said they were working on spacing and the things that we all were saying were wrong with the offense.

Well, it can't get much worse than it has been the past few weeks.

We’d like to think things will take a step forward with the return of David Andrews. If Andrews’ play can help get Cole Strange back on track and either Yodney Cajuste or Isaiah Wynn can turn in just average play at right tackle at this point, the group should improve. That’s where things need to start as they cannot operate with a 38.5 percent pressure rate that the Jets forced three weeks ago with mainly four man rushes.

From there, the spacing and timing of the passing attack - that has been under the microscope over the bye - does need to improve.

Mac Jones was asked about the differences in these categories from last year to this year on Wednesday.

“I wouldn’t make comparisons. Just two different offenses and different coaches, different players,” he said. “We’re doing some similar things, which is really good, and every offense is different, right? You watch another team, their quarterbacks’ feet might be a little different than where it matches up with us.

“It’s just specific to us and I think we’re really doing a good job there for the most part and practice is where it starts, like I said, the only way you can tell is through full speed reps. We’ve gotten a lot of those, obviously in training camp and in the spring too, so just going back on those reps that we’ve had and making sure that everything times up.”

There are many plays like the one below where receivers may be open but are too close together. Here, Jonnu Smith is open but has Jakobi Meyers crossing him. Smith then slowly shades away from the coverage, but once Mac gets to him he throws to his original spot. It’s almost intercepted and falls incomplete.

Then, as ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky explained, the route concepts often don't match up with Mac Jones’ eyes and drop sequences.

The Patriots’ offense has to be more efficient going forward and cut down on their negative plays. That’s hard to do with the lack of a true difference maker on offense and the poor offensive line play, so they need to improve on the little details such as timing and spacing.

We’ll see how it looks post-bye, but they have a tough first test against a Jets defense that limited Buffalo to 17 points in their last matchup.

@Skywal1Thaddeus Will Tyquan get more snaps, or will they keep him in the same kind of role? We really haven’t seen him do much since the game against the Browns

Tyquan Thornton has been getting plenty of snaps. In the past three games, he has played 85, 78, and 67 percent of New England’s offensive snaps, respectively. Now, it’s time to get him the ball while he’s on the field.

Looking at past trends of Patriots rookies, it’s right around this time of the year that they see a major tick upwards in usage and production. Rhamondre Stevenson took a big jump usage-wise in Week 10 last year, while Jakobi Meyers followed a similar trajectory his rookie season. Even on the defensive side of the ball, Kyle Dugger’s snap count elevated significantly in Week 10 in 2019 (looking at you, Marcus Jones).

So, the Patriots already have Thornton on the field at a solid clip, so getting him more touches in the next step in the process.

After easing into things against Detroit in Week 5, Thornton made his mark against Cleveland the following week. The rookie caught four of five targets for 37 yards and a score, while also receiving a handful of designed runs — taking one for his second score of the day.

Since, Thornton has tallied just 11 targets in the next three games. One of the biggest issues is Thornton has largely faced press man coverage on the outside. Due to his frame, that’s not where he wins. The team needs to do a better job of scheming ways to get him open and use his 4.28-speed.

The most known way to avoid press coverage is by lining Thornton up in the slot more. But, another option is using more motion. You saw the affect his motion had in the Browns game as he took a jet sweep for a score. Later in the game they used the same action which shifted the Browns second level out of respect and created a hole for a Rhamondre Stevenson touchdown.

While that was in the run game, using Thornton in motion before a pass play is how other teams around the league use their speedsters. Just look at how Miami uses Tyreek Hill against New England in the clip below, which allows Hill to use his speed to his advantage.

For a team that is desperate for secondary offensive help outside of Jakobi Meyers and Rhamondre Stevenson, adjusting the game plan for their rookie over the bye week would make sense. Time will tell if they do so, but again, it’s a tough first test against the Jets with Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed Jr. along the outside.

@BostonEvan11 Is Wynn really going back to the left

This was a talking point this week as Wynn was spotted taking early reps at left tackle in a sled-drill during Wednesday’s media viewing of practice. However, he was doing so with Yodny Cajuste on the right side and Trent Brown not participating as he appeared to be having his helmet looked at by an equipment staff member.

Based on that, I'd predict they open with Brown on the left and Cajuste on the right side. Strange, Andrews, and Onwenu will then man the middle from left-to-right.

We’ll see how it looks against a challenging Jets’ front, but the Patriots need to do their best to find a five-man front they can roll with for continuity reasons.

@Ofc_Dibble Name 1 very specific thing (besides win) you want to see Patriots do on Sunday.

Block, for both Mac Jones and in the run game.

They really haven't had a good game up on the ground up front in several weeks, and it’s hard to truly evaluate a lot of Mac and the passing attack with them being under contest duress. If they can finally shore things up up front, we’ll start to get a much better read on the rest of the offense (while also likely giving them more opportunities to move the ball and score points).

@Complexcave Will Mills still be on the team next year u think?

Jalen Mills does have a potential out in his contract where the Patriots could walk away with limited dead money owed. With that being said, I’d be surprised if he wasn't here as he’s again been a key part of the cornerback rotation in the eight games he’s played this season. Unless they're absolutely desperate for cap space, a player of Mills’ caliber is probably worth it in exchange for the $5-6 million in space.

Also, with the emerging rookie corners, perhaps Mills could transition back to safety if Devin McCourty hangs them up after the year. Or, they may just prefer him to stay at corner — or need him to stay at corner if free agent Jonathan Jones signs elsewhere.

@P1gully Right now how would you grade the last two drafts

Grading drafts is always tough this early, but I'll do it just for you.

Every member of last year’s class besides sixth-round pick William Sherman is still with the team in some capacity. They found some serious players in Rhamondre Stevenson and Christian Barmore, but Mac Jones will severely weigh the grade here. Based off his strong rookie season, it’s still slightly more of a plus than a minus at this point.

This year’s class, who all still remain with the team, seems like early winners. Cole Strange has struggled late but has been a Day 1 starter. Tyquan Thornton obviously has talent and the rookie Joneses have been exceptional early on in their careers. From there, Bailey Zappe has won them two big games and could be a long-term backup option. The rest of the class is currently depth in some way with their eyes mainly on next year, besides UDFA Brenden Schooler who has been awesome on special teams.

My way-too-early grade: B.

@DomBoomsDom What are you getting me for Christmas?

Well, Dom, you didn't provide me with a list so how should I know? You’ve got to work with me here.

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!