The New England Patriots offense finally showed some life Thanksgiving night. But, a troubling trend continued in the process. In the Mac Jones-era, the Patriots are now 0-8 when opponents score more than 25 points with Jones under center.
With Jones, New England has proved they can win games one way, led by shutdown defensive performances and strong special teams plays. We have yet to see Jones and Co. go toe-to-toe and win in a high scoring shootout. In a league that's all about offense, they will not hit true contender status until that changes.
The good news is they have an immediate opportunity to change that trend, as the Buffalo Bills come to Foxboro Thursday night.
It will not be easy, as New England has struggled against Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier’s defense in recent years. They will likely look to run the football as they have done with success in past matchups, but will need to make plays through the air to keep pace with Josh Allen and Co. on the other side of the ball.
Buffalo smothered New England’s key passing concepts in last year’s matchups, playing majority inside leverage to take away the middle of the field. It will help that star pass rusher Von Miller will be sidelined while cornerback Tre’Davious White is still easing his way back into things, but the Patriots must have offensive wrinkles to put up points against a top-ranked Buffalo defense.
Let’s now empty out the rest of the #PostPulpit mailbag for the rest of the Thursday night preview and other Patriots talk.
@bj_all_day80 Raekwon usage increase, especially against this bills team?
McMillan saw his third-highest defensive snap total of the season last week against Minnesota and his highest since Week 6 against Cleveland. He flashed at times too, working through the Vikings offensive line for a run stuff and showcasing his speed to blow up a screen for a loss.
With Buffalo on tap, it would be no surprise to see New England prioritize his speed after Buffalo picked on players like Ja’Whaun Bentley and Dont’a Hightower in pass coverage last year. Players like McMillan and Mack Wilson Sr. are better athletes and should hold up better in coverage.
However, besides using the faster linebackers at times, we’d like the Patriots to get creative here this week. They have built perhaps the most versatile and talented safety group in the league, and there is no better time to deploy them all then this week.
We’ve seen New England opt to use players like Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, and Jabrill Peppers as linebackers at times this season to provide more athleticism on the field. Getting a combination of those guys on the field with Devin McCourty — or even all four — could be a strong way to defend Buffalo’s high-powered offense.
To limit Buffalo’s vertical passing attack, the Patriots should play a handful of two-high safety and zone coverages. You’ve likely heard before that this will force Allen to check the ball down and take what is available underneath. If he starts to get aggressive and search for big plays downfield, that is where the Patriots will have to capitalize.
Using Devin McCourty and perhaps Kyle Dugger as the two-high safeties, New England would benefit from placing Peppers and/or Phillips at the linebacker level. This would help keep players like Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jahlani Tavai, and even Myles Bryant out of tough coverage situations, something Buffalo (and Minnesota last week) benefitted from last season.
While using these looks will sacrifice a body in the box to stop the run game, the Patriots should not be worried about that. To start, the Patriots run defense has been a strength of late and the rushing attack is one of Buffalo’s main weaknesses as an offense.
Buffalo could then call an audible and start to lean on Josh Allen in the run game. Allen is a powerful runner and the Patriots struggles against designed QB runs this season have been well-documented. But, New England would be able to quickly rally to Allen if they're in zone coverages, or a player like Mack Wilson will likely be a spy in man situations.
Short story short, Buffalo running the ball would be a win for New England’s defense.
Perhaps the most important thing for New England Thursday night, however, will be for their defensive front and pass rush to be aggressive but disciplined against Allen. They can not afford a repeat of last year’s Week 16 matchup when he had average time to throw of 3.22 seconds. Allen is too good at extending plays and creating a “second play” at times, as Ja’Whaun Bentley described it earlier this week. New England’s front has to dial up pressure, but be disciplined while doing so.
Stopping Allen and the Bills is clearly no easy task, but if played right, the Patriots might have the potential game plan to contain them just enough.
@Cinjeopardy Can the pats cover the spread on Thursday?
After opening as 5.5-point home underdogs, the Patriots now just sit as 3.5-point underdogs. The game plan defensively is there as we talked about above and the hope is the offense can build of their success last week with some new wrinkles to keep this game close. They can, but I would avoid touching the 3.5-point spread in either direction.
Thoughts on DeVante through 12 weeks? — Adam D.
DeVante Parker has impressed to start his Patriots tenure. As on display last week against Minnesota, he is a true downfield and big play threat. He also does some of the unheralded work occupying coverages on the backside of plays.
The big-bodied receiver also seems to get open a good amount. On the play below, Parker (bottom) is open as the middle linebacker drops to take away Nelson Agholor’s in-breaker. The third-down conversion is there, but a questionable cut block from Trent Brown results in a sack (execution continues to play them in/around the red-area and on third downs).
Parker has been good for them this year and is everything they really wanted from a former first-round receiver who shall not be named. He could again be a big part of their plans against Buffalo’s inconsistent cornerback group.
@Patriots444 Do you think patriots try something different next year? Actually hire an OC
They need to do something. That won't involve firing Joe Judge or Matt Patricia, but bringing in some outside help should be in the cards. Whether that is another person with familiarity, like Bill O’Brien, or someone completely new (or even both), they would benefit with some more voices and experienced minds on the offensive side of the ball.
@FJB_FOF With eleven draft picks in the 2023 draft, what do you see as their priorities?
Offensive tackle. And then an offensive tackle. And then maybe another offensive tackle.
Fixing the offensive line will be the biggest thing New England has to do this offseason. Using one or even two early draft selections to do so should be no surprise. From there, wide receiver will likely be an area of need with some turnover perhaps likely at the position (Nelson Agholor and Jakobi Meyers scheduled to hit free agency). The cornerback and safety positions are in a similar area with Jonathan Jones and Jabrill Peppers hitting free agency, while Devin McCourty could call it a career.
@StevenRosenheim1 How many of the remaining games do you think the Pats will win?
They should beat Arizona and Las Vegas. That doesn't mean they will, as nothing can be counted on with this team, but they should. From there, they have four matchups with Buffalo (2x), Miami, and Cincinnati. Tough teams, but you’d like to think they can win at least one of the three home matchups. I’d say 3-3 is a realistic finish, but 4-2 is likely what they will need to reach the postseason without outside help.
@Skywal1Thaddeus Do you think it is possible that Tom Brady returns to New England next year? He has been speaking very highly of Bill and the Pats. Plus he is a free agent next year!
@Magic8Bill Are people actually believing that Brady may come back? Like, seriously think it will happen? Or is it all just schadenfreude?
Personally, I don't think it will happen. But, I have found it interesting the amount of times Brady has showered Belichick with love and praise the past few weeks/months. As they say, ‘you don't know what you got till it's gone’. That seems to be hitting home for Brady as he watches Todd Bowles and Byron Leftwich blow game after game down in Tampa.
To add more fuel to the fire, The Athletic’s Jeff Howe mentioned the potential reunion on Wednesday.
@JourneymanFpi Who is the Pats starting QB in September of 2023?
With all of that being said, at this moment I would still have my money on Mac Jones being the Patriots starting quarterback in 2023.
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!