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#PostPulpit Mailbag: Can the Patriots win any of their remaining games?

Related: Patriots film review: Mac Jones had a rough day against the Raiders

New England Patriots Practice Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

A strong 58-minute performance from the New England Patriots defense was rightfully overshadowed by what transpired in the final two minutes last Sunday. But, for the majority of the game, Steve Belichick and Jerod Mayo’s crew made things difficult for Josh McDaniels’ offense.

New England opened the game in similar ways to how many teams match up against Las Vegas this season. That is plenty of two-high safety shells to account for DeVante Adams and an assortment of pass-catching weapons.

The downside was seen, as Josh Jacobs did what he’s done all year en route to racking up 34 rushing yards on an opening drive that ended with a field goal. After allowing Jacobs to run for 71 yards in the first half, New England adjusted well and held the Pro Bowler to just 22 yards on seven second-half carries.

From there, Derek Carr was left to make plays for Vegas and the Patriots pass rush made their presence felt. The go-to call from Belichick and Mayo was their replacement blitzes, which can cause similar confusion along the offensive line as blitzes due but can lead to pressure with only four rushers.

As Matthew Judon dropped into coverage a handful of times off the edge throughout the game, New England “replaced” him Ja’Whaun Bentley up the middle as the fourth rusher. As the tackle looks to block Judon, it leaves an open path Bentley.

New England did this a number of times throughout the game - even pairing it with a stunt on the play below - with a handful of different coverages mixed in behind them.

With New England’s offense struggling to score, the defense then did what they have done all year and gave them life. On the Raiders’ first drive of the second-half, Kyle Dugger’s film-study throughout the week payed off. The safety took note of DeVante Adams’ movement and jumped the route for a pick-six.

Unfortunately for the Patriots’ defense, after forcing five second half punts and putting points on the board they still needed one final stop to end the game. They weren't able to do so (with help from a questionable game-tying touchdown) as they went basic with their coverage and pass rush package in the final minutes.

Now, the Patriots’ defense will have one of their toughest challenges yet trying to slow down Joe Burrow and a red-hot Bengals offense while trying to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. However, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had some success of their own using similar replacement rushes against Cincinnati last weekend.

Let’s explore that matchup and more as we empty out this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag:

@Redleg1_101 Ok, your predictions for the next 3 games, my guess is 1-2 but I’m not certain enough of the 1 (Miami) to put any money on it

It’s certainly tough seeing the Patriots’ offense being able to keep pace/outscore any of their last three opponents. With that being said, there are certainly paths to them being competitive in each game.

Starting with Cincinnati this Saturday, New England’s corners will have their hands full with the Bengals physical and gifted wide receiver core. The hope is they lean on zone coverage while the pass rush is able to capitalize on a weaker Bengals offensive line.

Offensively, the Bengals defense is what it is. They play lots of two-high safety shells to take away deep passes and force things underneath. New England could turn back to the quick game to put the ball in their hands of the playmakers, where Cincinnati’s defense ranks 17th in DVOA against short passes.

New England could then take a page from Tom Brady and the Buccaneers’ book, who gashed Cincinnati on play-action passing last week (10-14, 145 yards). Increased play-action usage has been something we’ve been clamoring for all year, so we’ll see if it magically appears now.

From there, Miami and Buffalo remain on the schedule. Miami at home could be a winnable game as the team hasn't been playing as well as they were in the beginning of the year. Perhaps some inclement weather could help in either of those last two games. I’ll say they pull one win out of finish the season 8-9.

@J_bird7620 Why do the pats suck so bad asking for real answer’s

There’s a slot of slices of the blame pie to pass around. So let’s break it down:

Coaching staff: You know the deal here.

Mac Jones: Mac Jones has been dealt a bad hand, but he hasn't been good himself, either. He has been one of the worst statistical passers under pressure this season and turned the ball over at an alarming rate to start the season. His mechanics also seemed to falter against Vegas last week, a dangerous path to go down at this point.

Offensive line: Besides the play-calling, the offensive line play has severely hampered Jones and the offense. The right tackle position has been a mess all season which has left Jones under heavy duress and often running for his life. The unit did take a strong step forward last week against Vegas, however.

Wide receivers: The skill position players haven't been great either. There are way too many times where receivers take too long to get into their routes - which aren't exactly precise either. The timing and spacing is a mess as well, as receivers often have their backs to Jones when he reaches the top of his drop (coaching staff takes some of this blame, as well).

@Skywal1Thaddeus Could Kraft step in, and force Bill to make some changes next offseason?

@NicholasKatsik2 What is the likelihood Matt Patrica will be replaced as OC if the Patriots don’t make the playoffs

@SmithIngsoc Sadly, people don’t care as much for the circus in Foxborough. When are things going to the best I can do

We’ll lump these three things together as they are similar.

The hope here is that Bill Belichick has watched how this season has gone and realized something has too change offensively. That would mean bringing in some outside coaches and bump Patricia back up stairs or perhaps solely to offensive line duties.

However, this is Belichick we’re talking about. Maybe he’s fine with running it back in hopes of improvement in Year 2. At that point, we’d hope Robert Kraft would step in and “recommend” change. That’s where things could get tricky.

@ForbesSumner Is a third OC in as many years just as damaging to Mac as keeping MP? This is not ideal treatment for a developing QB.

Perhaps the two biggest things for young quarterbacks are play-calling and protection. New England gave both of those things to Mac Jones last season and looked how it worked. This year? He’s had neither. That’s another part of the reason you can't completely rule out Belichick keeping Patricia at this position. However, it surely seems like Jones would prefer a third coordinator at this point.

@ShawnOD413 Will Belichick & Kraft have the team plane parked outside the Allstate Sugar Bowl waiting for Bill O’Brien ?

There has been a lot of Bill O’Brien talk all season, likely due to his familiarity here. But, what exactly is the attraction for O’Brien to return to New England? He likely will have plenty of offers to choose from and if his hope is to eventually return as a NFL head coach, different paths (even just staying at Alabama) are probably better.

Now, maybe the plan was for O’Brien to return this season but Belichick’s respect for Saban resulted in that not happening. Then perhaps the whole Patricia-led offense was a one-year project and O’Brien will slide into the role next season.

The point here is maybe it is O’Brien, but let’s not put all the eggs in this basket.

@OkaforBBGM Favorite/least favorite prospect in the Patriots projected range? Who’s a good fit and who could adapt to the Patriots way?

@BillDavid44 Can we talk Draft Szn already since season is effectively over? Offensive Tackles Pats might be interested in?

I truthfully do not get too into specific prospects until the season ends, but any offensive tackle will do. Peter Skoronski is the consensus top tackle, but he’ll likely be out of New England’s range. From there, Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr. and Georgia’s Broderick Jones are the next top two at the position. The Patriots’ history implies they do not draft Ohio State players, so Jones could be a name to watch.

If they don't take a tackle in the first round, they at least need to select one somewhere within the top-100.

Additionally, wide receiver Jordan Addison is a player that impresses whenever I turn on USC. He should be in New England’s range in the middle of the first round.

@zttack317 No questions, just pain

Pain indeed.

@El_Morenazo27 Can we ever get back to our glory days this decade?

Nope. Nobody will ever achieve that stretch of success again. Unprecedented.

@Bert237NE Is this what it feels like to root for the browns? Constant pain and disappointment sprinkled in with dashes of hope?

At least we win some games. I don't think the old Browns ever even had dashes of hope.

@Scottish_Rain How can they possibly top last weeks meltdown? Maybe the long snapper could block their own game winning field goal?

Joe Cardona is officially out, so perhaps a long snapper malfunction is in the cards.

@TMurph207 Skippy or Jiff, Pizza or Calzone, Frosty or Blizzard

Jiff. Pizza. Frosty if with a meal, blizzard if standalone dessert. Debate a wall.

@ThisShitTrashx9 What’s the best Christmas movie and why is it Elf? With a close second being 4 Christmases

Elf and Home Alone are classic. Rudolph was my childhood. Iron Man 3 deserves recognition as well. Hope everyone has a Happy Holidays!

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!