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#PostPulpit Mailbag: Did the Patriots offense find something it can build off of Monday night?

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New England Patriots v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

It was another week featuring a conservative passing attack for the New England Patriots Monday night against the Arizona Cardinals, as Mac Jones threw a career-high 12 screen passes and averaged just 5.3 yards per attempt.

While it was painful to watch at times, the Patriots may have just found something with the approach.

Against Arizona, New England relied on screens, RPOs, and the quick passing attack Monday night to try and stay ahead of the chains, then taking select shots downfield. The best way they did this is with the emergence of swiss-army knife Marcus Jones.

Once Jones entered the game Monday night, New England started moving the football. You’ll see just how in the three clips below.

To start, New England sends the speedster on an orbit motion on his first play from scrimmage and hit him out of the backfield for 12 yards. It was his only touch of the game, but that did not stop him from making a major impact.

Every other play Jones was on the field, New England put him in motion to occupy the defense. In the second clip, you can see Jones pull the flat defender down to him which opens room for Tyquan Thornton. Easy pitch and catch for 12 yards.

Later in the game, New England continues to get speed on the field with a formation that maybe no defense in the league can keep up with (Thornton, Jones, Pierre Strong Jr., Nelson Agholor, Jonnu Smith). Jones again serves as a decoy and attracts the attention of nearly Arizona’s entire defensive front, leaving Pierre Strong and his 4.37-sped all along on a screen. Mac makes a nice play to get him the football and Strong picks up 16 yards and a first down.

It was more than just those three plays, as New England also used Jones in the same motion to create an RPO for Mac Jones. With the threat of the screen, the Patriots have the advantage and Kevin Harris picks up a solid 9-yard gain on the ground.

As much as we’d like New England to air out the football, it’s just not what they do. They don't have the offensive line to block for it and Mac was turning over the football at an alarming rate playing that style early in the season.

Moving forward, they’ll need to be better and more explosive to keep up with every offense left on their schedule. But, the success on early downs (+0.07 EPA on first and second down) is a building block. As Mac Jones, Bill Belichick, and every one else has hit home on, better execution will hopefully lead to even more early down success, allowing them to stay ahead of the chains and avoid all the negative plays.

And in that process, keep using your full arsenal of weapons. Something else we’ve been clamoring for for months. Mixing and matching your receivers based off skillsets instead of just using DeVante Parker and Jakobi Meyers every snap. Not running Rhamondre Stevenson into the ground at a 90 percent usage rate.

We won't give them credit for getting here — as they clearly were forced into using some of these rookies and YAC receivers and made basically no desire to get them on the field in the first 12 games. But, Monday night showed you how it can work. Keep integrating everyone together. It makes you less predictable and more explosive.

From there, the hope is they will continue to build off this package and pick more shots to take downfield — like they did twice Monday night hitting Hunter Henry up the seams. Repeat performances from Monday night won't earn this team a playoff spot, but building off what they did may be their best chance to get there.

With that, let’s empty out the rest of this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag.

@Collin_Demo Overall thoughts on the O-Line to this point? Tackle the biggest need in the off season? I think if Mac has any chance of being successful we need to protect him.

Collin, you hit the nail on the head here in multiple ways. No scheme will look good in the NFL if you can't get it blocked and the Patriots are showing you that this season. While complaints about said scheme are certainly valid, offensive line play has been the biggest issue on the team this season.

The rotating chairs at right tackle has been a disaster and is a big reason we have seen these conservative passing attacks the last two weeks. Just look how they were able to throw the ball all over the yard when the offensive line held up against Minnesota. It’s hard to blame Mac, but he’s also been one of the worst statical passers in the league under pressure this season. So, as a result they are playing things safe.

Entering the offseason, offensive tackle will absolutely be a need. I wouldn't be surprised if they added two starting quality tackles as well. Pairing a guy like Mike McGlinchey in free agency with a top 100 draft pick — as well as Trent Brown who remains under contract — could be a nice start.

Lastly, get an actual offensive line coach. It can be Matt Patricia as long as he then isn't calling plays. You are currently asking way too much of Patricia to do both.

@TimDwight5 How would you grade McMillan and Wilson so far and do you see the Pats brining either back next season?

Both have had their flashes and their poor moments. The athleticism at the level is definitely a plus and both provide value on special teams. They are certainly best fit for niche roles within the defense, which could make them expandable with someone like Cameron McGrone sitting on the practice squad.

As for the offseason, adding an every-down linebacker who can play the run and is not a liability in coverage would be the ideal addition. But, it would not be a surprise to see either, or both, of McMillan and Wilson back for depth on another short-term deal.

@BostonEvan11 Barmore and Bailey back?

The Patriots officially started the 21-day clock on Christian Barmore on Wednesday, so we’ll see where he is at come Sunday. Adding Barmore back into the mix will make a scary pass rush even scarier for New England, and they need that unit to be buzzing down the stretch as they take on some top offenses in the league.

Daniel Ekuale piling up a season-high four pressures, along with his first sack of the season, up the middle Monday night is a prime example of what a third dangerous pass rusher can add to this defense.

As for Bailey, the punter made the trip out west with New England but has not yet practiced. Despite his struggles early in the season, they could use him back. Replacement punter Michael Palardy has averaged just 0.8 more yards per attempt and 0.02 seconds of average hang time. Not a huge improvement.

New England has also missed Bailey badly on kickoff duty. Nick Folk has averaged just 3.64 seconds of hang time and recorded one touchback in 17 attempts (94.1 return percent) since taking over those responsibilities. Bailey’s numbers were 4.11 seconds of hang time while forcing 28 touchbacks on 46 attempts (39.1 return percentage).

The effect was seen drastically Thanksgiving night as Minnesota took a kick return to the house for a game-altering score. New England then called up practice squad kicker Tristan Vizcaino to handle those duties against Buffalo, but will not always have the freedom to do so. Once Bailey is healthy, I’d expect him back.

@calum_tully94 Who do you think has had the most impact on the team this season? Personally I think it’s reductive to say @man_dammn but that man is straight savage!

If we’re talking about total impact, positive or negative, the right tackle position has had the biggest total impact of this team. As we discussed above, that position has truly hampered the offense and how they want to play.

On a positive note, going with Judon and counterpart Josh Uche is where I’d look. New England’s secondary has had some rough coverage games of later, starting even before this stretch of facing prolific wide receivers. The pass rush up front has been their motor on that side of the ball all season long.

@JTRocheleau How do you think the team addresses CB this offseason given Jon Jones’ expiring contract and the 2 rookies’ play

It will be interesting to see how they approach this position in the offseason. I’d imagine the team would like to keep Jonathan Jones around and the two-year, $16 million projection by Pro Football Focus seems more than reasonable.

The two rookies will be the biggest pieces of the puzzle. If New England is comfortable with both Joneses taking on increased roles, that will certainly help the depth and talent at the position. If that’s the case, Jalen Mills could become expandable or moved to safety. New England could save $5-6 million depending when/if they release him.

Whatever route they take, I would imagine they look to add to the position in some way.

@masonstumpfmus1 Any shot at a deeper playoff run with the way this defense is playing?

Well, they have to make the playoffs first and the odds are stacked against them. Despite currently sitting in the third Wild Card position, FiveThirtyEight gives them just a 39 percent chance of making the playoffs. The upcoming schedule of Las Vegas, Cincinnati, Miami, and Buffalo certainly has a lot to do with that.

Now, if you want to look at the bright side of things, New England could be playing for the chance to jump Miami in the standings in the Week 17 matchup. A win this week against Las Vegas and a Miami loss to Buffalo would likely set that situation up.

If New England does get to the dance, it most likely will be in the third Wild Card spot and seventh seeding. That would probably set up a matchup with either the Buffalo Bills or Kansas City Chiefs. Unless the wind is howling, tough to see a victory on the road in either spot.

@bbbruins63 What do you think is a realistic expectation for OC and DC for 2023

I wouldn't expect anything to change on the defensive side of the ball as Steve Belichick will remain. The only main question here is if Jerod Mayo lands elsewhere as a potential head coach or defensive coordinator.

Offensively is obviously the big question mark. If the Patriots would like to bring someone in they're familiar with, Bill O’Brien is the obvious name. Again, we’ll see if he’s even interested in such move or if he gets a head coaching gig at some level. Besides BOB, former wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea could be an option. He now holds the same title in Cleveland, who runs a “Shannon-style” offense.

Other somewhat familiar names could include Ole Miss offensive coordinator Charlie Weiss Jr. or Houston Texans’ wide receivers coach/pass-game coordinator Ben McDaniels (yes, Josh’s brother).

The second option is to bring someone in from outside the organization. While it clearly hasn't been Belichick’s main way of operating over the years, it has been done. Dom Capers in 2008 and Dean Pees in 2004 were hired from the outside, as well as Bill O’Brien when he first joined. Greg Schiano was also brought on in 2019 before stepping down a month later.

If that’s the route they go, they’re a number of intriguing options. Cincinnati’s QB coach Dan Pitcher being one after the job he has done with Joe Burrow. Or if the Patriots want to try the whole West Coast offense adaptation again, 49ers passing game coordinator Bobby Slowik or former Patriots seventh-round draft pick in 2010 — and current Rams QB coach and pass-game coordinator — Zac Robinson comes to mind.

And lastly, there is the internal option. Troy Brown and Ross Douglas are the likely two names in this situation if Nick Caley departs. Also, another year of Matt Patricia isn't ideal, but can’t be ignored (especially if they do not want a third coordinator in three years in Mac Jones’ head). If this is the option they choose, they still need to add experienced offensive coaches to assist and lighten the load.

@Skywal1Thaddeus Who would you prefer as a potential OC in the future, Frank Reich or Bill O’Brien

If these are the two options, easily Bill O’Brien.

@kingbeacheye Patriots get: DeAndre Hopkins and have to pick up all of the remaining money on his deal. Cardinals get: A 2023 First, a 2024 3rd that can become a 2nd if the Pats win the Super Bowl, extra Fourths/Fifths sprinkled in. Who says no?

The DeAndre Hopkins to New England rumors have been hot the past few days after Bill Belichick and the receiver were caught showing each other love Monday night.

On the surface, it checks out as the Patriots are in desperate need of a No. 1 wide receiver. The team also reportedly inquired about acquiring Hopkins twice (2016, 2020) when he was in Houston.

Financially, Hopkins is due just under $19.5 million in base salary in 2023. If Arizona was to move on from him, it likely would be in a post-June 1st trade. The team would then save the $19.5 million in cap space while collecting dead caps hits of $11.3 million in 2023 and 2024. The savings may cause Arizona to consider a deal, especially as they look like a team that is on the verge of being blown up.

In the trade proposed in the question, I would imagine Arizona would jump all over that. Due to Hopkins’ age (31 in June) and him not being as dominant as his old self, it could take just one early draft pick for them to bite.

After the love fest between Belichick and the receiver Monday night, it wouldn't be a surprise to see them go after Hopkins again this offseason. Especially as New England is expected to have ample salary cap space at their disposal.

@MrJimGeer How much wood could a wood chuck chuck if a wood chuck could Chuck Norris? And when is the Mac experiment over?

Well how much wood would a Chuck Norris chuck if a Chuck Norris would chuck wood?

And like it is for most young quarterbacks, Year 3 is the biggie. Let’s put him in a better all around situation next year and then see how it looks. If it’s still bad, then we can talk about cutting the cord.

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!