While we’d love to sit here and say the New England Patriots’ 18-point second half — which almost lead to a comeback victory over the defending AFC Champions — was a result of a better offensive production, it’s hard to do so.
For the majority of the 60 minutes last Saturday against Cincinnati, it was more of the same for the New England offense. The passing attack was hampered by poor timing and spacing — which resulted in losing tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry to injury — while year-long communication issues continued.
Much of this can be blamed on coaching, but the players are not simply executing things well either. Routes are being run sloppily, players are ending up in the same location, and they are better than how they’re playing.
What did lead to New England’s 18-point second half was more of several individual bright spots, specifically between quarterback Mac Jones and wide receiver Kendrick Bourne.
On the Patriots first offensive scoring drive of the game (in the third quarter), Jones and Bourne connected on three third-down conversions — including the score. It was nothing fancy scheme wise, just Bourne winning one-on-one and Jones finding one of his favorite receivers.
The first conversion came on a third-and-seven, where New England dials up a simple 787 concept. Bourne is able to win his one-on-one down below and Jones delivers a strong anticipatory throw just before the rush arrives for the first-down.
On the following third-down, the two connect for yet another big play. Running a simple dagger concept, Jones fires a bullet up the seam and Bourne goes up and over a handful of Bengals defenders to haul it in.
The final conversion came on a 3rd-and-7, where Jones makes perhaps one of his best throws of his career. With Cincinnati dropping into Cover 2, New England dials up four verticals — another simple concept. Jones fires a back shoulder dot along the sideline in the Cover 2 hole and Bourne makes a spectacular catch (after review) to move the chains.
While the individual efforts are welcomed and needed, it’s nothing to applaud scheme related wise. In fact, the plays even highlight some of this teams issues. On the second conversion, Tyquan Thornton is likely Jones’ first read running the dig (and has open grass in the middle of the field), but is too slow getting into his route and takes himself out of the play.
Throughout all the struggles, the Patriots still find themselves with their playoff hopes in their own hands. Let’s empty out the #PostPulpit Mailbag to figure out how they can get there and more.
@Skywal1Thaddeus If Marcus Jones, Jack Jones, and Jalen Mills are out, what are the Patriots’ options at CB Have a great New Year also!
@bfitzgerald_12 WHO is playing corner this week?
If there was a worse possible time for New England’s cornerback room to take an even bigger hit (besides the AFC Wild Card round against Buffalo), it was this week. Marcus Jones certainly figured to be a big part of the Patriots’ defensive plans this week against speedsters Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, but a concussion will likely keep him sidelined.
With Jack Jones (knee) and Jalen Mills (groin) also still missing time, New England is left with Myles Bryant, Shaun Wade, and Jonathan Jones — who is still on the injury report with a chest injury — for Sunday as healthy cornerbacks.
New England would almost certainly need reinforcements, perhaps defensive back Quandre Mosely, who ran an unofficial 4.32 40-yard dash in his pro day back in April, off the practice squad. Mosley, who joined the team three weeks ago, is joined by safety Brad Hawkins and newly signed Tae Hayes as the lone defensive backs on the roster.
#Patriots currently with just five healthy cornerbacks on the practice fields.— Brian Hines (@iambrianhines) December 29, 2022
Practice squaders Quandre Mosley and newly signed Tae Hayes join Jonathan Jones, Myles Bryant, and Shaun Wade. pic.twitter.com/bnf9I4LcnT
An outside-the-box idea could be using wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. in the secondary. Bowden, who resides on the practice squad as a wide receiver, showcased tremendous versatility throughout his collegiate career. He appeared as a receiver, running back, returner, and even a quarterback his junior season as he won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most outstanding all-purpose player.
Bowden didn't play defense in college, but one of his coaches noted he could have been a “star defensive back.” Perhaps New England finds their next Troy Brown or Julian Edelman in an all-hands-on-deck situation.
Happy new year to you, as well!
@WillyG12185844 I’m just a fan and hardly know the ins and outs of defense but why are the Pats conceding a 10yd pad on opposing receivers. Against Bengals every cover guy was in the next area code at the snap. Burrow had 5 to 7 yds gifted to him every snap.
The Patriots are known for being a matchup-based defense and spinning the dial a lot on that side of the ball. Last week against Cincinnati, New England played a ton of soft zone and Cover 2 to try and limit their explosive plays downfield and force Burrow to take profits underneath. The massive size mismatch at the wide receiver and cornerback position also played into that.
Things would have likely been different this week against Miami, as the Dolphins have struggled over the past month as teams have used plenty of man-to-man press coverage against them. Chargers’ head coach Brendan Staley played press-man on 35 percent of the defensive snaps three weeks, keeping Miami to just 17 points.
This seemed like an easy game plan for New England to mimic, but with three corners likely out — including Marcus Jones — who knows how the Patriots will try and slow down Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.
@BHyldburg Will Bourne have more than 100 yards receiving in the Dolphins Game? Who is going to play Tight End for the Patriots on Sunday?
Considering last week was Kendrick Bourne’s first-career 100-yard game (surprising), the odds aren't stacked in his favor. But, this week has potential to be another big game for the receiver as he reminded the team what he's capable of and New England should target the intermediate areas of Miami’s defense.
With that being said, we truly just can't count on this team to do the right thing, so Bourne could be right back to a reduced role this week. The hope is they continue to feature him as his ability to make plays one-on-one can help this offense (as we touched in the intro), but we’ll believe it when we see it.
As for tight ends, Hunter Henry should be good to go for Sunday. Jonnu Smith’s (concussion) status will be worth monitoring on Friday if he can at least log a limited practice. Tight end Matt Sokol also could draw an elevation from the practice squad, but New England might have their hands tied needing to elevate a defensive back or two (or Bowden).
@Sohnvonthor If Bill O’Brien is denying contacts with Patriots , what does this mean for the OC position? Just fake news ? Are we sticking with Patricia ?
@cbenti60 Why Bill O’Brien lying?
I wouldn't put too much stock into O’Brien’s comments from Wednesday, in which he said he has not been in contact with the Patriots since last April. It sounded like coach talk.
But, I also would not be surprised if they're true. Bill Belichick remains focus on the season once it begins and is likely not out actively recruiting for next year. He might know he has to look elsewhere, but that'll start whenever the season concludes.
@BostonEvan11 Is BOB even the best choice
@Cinjeopardy Who should be the next OC?
As all the focus has been centered around Bill O’Brien, is he the best choice? He's not one of these young innovators like Mike McDaniel or Sean McVay, but O’Brien would bring a level of professionalism back to New England that they need right now. He knows the ins and outs of offense that should be able to get the Patriots back to a structurally sound offensive unit. He should be at the top of their list.
Say O’Brien doesn't work out for whatever reason, Kliff Kingsbury would be another name on the top of my list if he gets fired or resigns from Arizona. He is one of these offensive innovators that could work really well with Mac Jones or whatever quarterback comes next if things go off the rails with Mac next season.
@avaragegaypats Do you think bill will keep patrica around if we make the playoffs?
@fewchas How are true Pats fans going to feel when Kraft & BB run it all back again next year so the latter can get his Shula record? You think it feels bad right now....
I believe there will be change even if they find a way to sneak into the playoffs. Belichick is smart enough to look at the product throughout the year and realize they can't repeat this. If not, Kraft will certainly be there to remind him (hello, Bill O’Brien rumors). I find it extremely hard to believe they run it back.
@jd_hazel We give flack to Patricia and Judge for the offensive struggles, and rightfully so, but why aren’t we talking more about WR’s and TE’s coaches Troy Brown & Nick Caley, and how much responsibility they shoulder for the struggles of those two position groups?
Absolutely. Everyone deserves some blame as almost every positional group has regressed. I’d certainly agree there should be complaints with wide receivers coach Troy Brown. His unit is not playing good football right now. They’re running sloppy routes and taking too long to get in and out of their breaks. There is a major lack of attention to details.
It’s noteworthy as it is his first year running the room after Mick Lombardi left for Las Vegas with Josh McDaniels. Brown was big with players like Jakobi Meyers helping him early in his career with his route running, but perhaps his message in other areas isn't hitting home. Just a theory, but New England’s receivers are better than what they're showing.
@Ed32589825 Why do the Pats still not have a plan in place? For sure they knew Brady was getting to an end, they must have planned something?build a coaching staff, build a young defense, build an O-line,get faster, develop run game, something?
I could go either way here. One, if the Patriots do bring Bill O’Brien back in the offseason that could have been part of the plan. The thought here would be Belichick did not want to hire O’Brien away from his pal Nick Saban and put him in a tough spot. Knowing O’Brien could then join the staff in 2023, that's why he did not promote a young coach on the staff like Nick Caley to offensive coordinator. Instead, he believed himself along with Patricia and Joe Judge could keep things afloat this season. It hasn't worked, so maybe the plan becomes complete if O’Brien comes aboard in 2023.
However, it’s also tough to see Belichick looking that far ahead while he also changed the scheme away from something that differs from what O’Brien tends to run. But, what stayed the same is that he still believed overhauling the offense would work with himself along with Patricia and Judge in charge.
Whatever the apparent plan was hasn't worked, so it’s time for change.
@mpcald12 Will next year be better?
Things should be better and there's a pretty concrete path to doing so. Whether it happens or not is the unknown. Here’s what we’d do:
1. Coaching staff: We discussed this above, but bring in O’Brien or Kingsbury (or someone else who become available) and whoever they want to potentially bring with them to fix the offense. An offensive line coach should certainly be part of that mix.
2. Fix the offensive line: The offensive line has played better the past few weeks, but they still need to make some major upgrades at the tackle position. I’d start with bringing in Mike McGlinchey in free agency and adding a top-100 pick at tackle (likely first-round) to pair with Trent Brown. Conor McDermott has also proved to be a solid third or fourth tackle option the past few weeks.
3. No. 1 wide receiver: Copy the model. You’ve seen how it works for Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts in year three after they got guys like Tyreek Hill and A.J. Brown. Figure out a way to get a guy for Mac and see how it looks.
4. Cornerback: Last on the list here is a cornerback with size. If they resign Jonathan Jones to pair with Marcus Jones and Jack Jones, adding a fourth player into the mix with some size at the position is needed. You saw how Cincinnati was able to take advantage of the size mismatch on the outside last week.
@bruinspatriots1 1. Can we skip to off season so we can sign @Lj_era8 and trade for @DeAndreHopkins ? 2. Can we fire the hell out of Patricia and sign anyone who knows what their doing ? preferably before question 1.^
Lamar Jackson is not happening. DeAndre Hopkins certainly could as it appears the Cardinals are on the verge of blowing things up. However, bringing in Bill O’Brien to coordinate the offense would likely take you out of that running due to their history in Houston.
Secondly, I’d be shocked if Patricia was fired. I’d expect him to move back into his 2021 role as Senior Football Advisor, or perhaps stick as the permanent offensive line coach if he prefers that route.
@PatsSavage Do you think the Patriots are going to extend Meyers after the season? If they extend him, do you think it will be on a 1 Year deal again or on a Multiyear deal?
@jackdawson9911 Pats should let Jakobi Meyers walk and trade for Michael Thomas ?
Jakobi Meyers is going to get paid on a multi-year deal this offseason. It’s a weaker free agent wide receiver class and he is one of the top two players available at the position. I’d be surprised if he doesn't fetch a deal earning him around $15 million annually. Truthfully, I have a hard time seeing that come from New England, but we shall see.
As for Thomas, I think New England can do better. He has a big cap hit for the next two seasons and hasn't been able to stay on the field. Since his historic 2019 season, Thomas has played just 10 total games over the last three years.
@WeatherMaster34 How will bill Belichick enter the offseason with nearly 80 million in cap space
According to our good friend Miguel, the Patriots are projected to enter free with just under $40 million in cap space.
My latest projection for the Patriots' 2023 salary cap space number. Tucker Addington=biggest change since last projection. Projecting Patriots will sign most of their practice squad to future deals after the season so they will have at least 51 players on their roster in March pic.twitter.com/MXLLLOOP0r— Miguel Benzan Patriots Cap Space Equals 1,715,349 (@patscap) December 25, 2022
Now, they could easily create more space through cuts and trades if they need to do so. Some names to watch in that department include Hunter Henry, Trent Brown, Jalen Mills, DeVante Parker, and Kendrick Bourne.
@ForbesSumner What’s going on at the K position? Could this be the end for Folk? Where do they go from here?
I wouldn't have much concern about Nick Folk. He missed two extra points last week in a frigid Foxboro where Cincinnati's Evan McPherson, one of the league’s better kickers, also struggled. It’s also worth noting he’s working with an entire new operation of late with a new snapper and holder.
@Andresistheman9 Can we still make the playoffs. If so how?
The Patriots are alive — somehow. The most straight forward path for New England is to win their final two games.
There’s a number of different ways they can make it if they split their final two games. If they beat Miami this week they could sneak in even with a Week 18 loss to Buffalo. The Jets would have to lose to Seattle this week and then defeat the Dolphins. But, let’s make it easy and just try to win the last two.
@Rockanroller71 Will Mac Jones be the patriots quarterback in 2023?
@TimDwight5 If Pats decide to bring in competition for Mac who would you rather have. Carr (if he’s released) or Mayfield?
I doubt they'd bring in any major names from the outside. Year 3 is the year you have to figure out what you have in Mac Jones, as the decision on his fifth-year option is due following the season. Put him in a good situation and see what you really got before you go back into the QB draft carousel.
@BrianJBaby How real do you think LV giving us 2 firsts for Mac
If New England decides to eventually move on from Mac, Vegas makes an obvious destination as long as Josh McDaniels remains their head coach. But, Derek Carr is essentially a more expensive Mac Jones. Would be an interesting move for Vegas and two first-round picks would certainly be a pipe dream at that point, however.
Should the Patriots get new uniforms and why should it be these ones? pic.twitter.com/TXnb5yeanK— A Hopeful Patriot (@AHopefulPatriot) December 29, 2022
I’d be a fan of new uniforms for the Patriots. Not a huge fan of those, however. The shoulder colors don't do it for me. I do like the white helmet, though.
@bp4gaming Where’s Gamora?
I’ll do you one better: Why is Gamora?
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!