That starts this week in Miami, where a win would move New England to 3-5 with winnable games against the Washington Commanders and Indianapolis Colts on deck. Run the table, and the Patriots could somehow be sitting at .500 — with three divisional wins — entering the bye week.
Easier said that done for this team, especially against the Dolphins this week. Miami has been a house of horrors for the Patriots - which even dates back to even the end of Tom Brady’s tenure. And after it appeared they may catch a break with Tyreek Hill (hip) popping up on the injury report this week, the receiver has since declared he's good to go.
So now New England most stop Hill and the most explosive offensive in football. And as scary as it may sound, matching their speed with physicality may be the best way to do it.
Back in the Week 2 matchup, the Patriots limited the Dolphins big plays in their three safety “umbrella” look. While Tua Tagovailoa only connected on one pass over 20 air yards, New England failed to disrupt the timing of their passing attack. Tagovailoa’s average time to throw was a whooping 1.98 seconds as he was 17-of-19 on throws less than 10 yards. He was also under pressure on just six drop backs.
Facing Miami last week, the Philadelphia Eagles limited the Dolphins by being physical with the speedy wideouts. Like New England, Philly primarily relied on zone coverages, but jammed the Dolphins’ pass catchers at the line of scrimmage to disrupt the overall timing of the attack.
With that, Tagovailoa was forced to hold the football longer which gave Philadelphia’s pass rush a chance to get home. The lefty QB was under pressure on 31.4 percent of his drop backs as Miami mustered just 10 offensive points.
“Try to be physical with them,” Jabrill Peppers said prior to the Week 2 matchup. “Try to knock their timing off.”
Beyond the air attack, Miami’s run game poses just as big as a threat. With New England playing three safety shells and lighter boxes in Week 2, the Dolphins totaled 145 yards on the ground at 5.0 yards per attempt. With plenty of focus on the pass catchers, the Patriots will need their defensive line and linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley to slow down the ground game.
And lastly: tackle. New England missed eight tackles against Miami in Week 2. They are now coming off a game against Buffalo in which they tied a season-high with 12 missed tackles. Linebacker’s coach Jerod Mayo called last week’s performance an “outlier,” which they better hope if they want another upset opportunity.
With the defensive game plan set, let’s get into the rest of this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag.
@BostonEvan11 Is Reagor going to play over juju and parker
The Patriots signed Jalen Reagor to the 53-man roster on Thursday, which brings the total to seven wide receivers on the active roster: Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Demario Douglas, Tyquan Thornton, Kayshon Boutte, and Reagor.
As you saw last week, Douglas and Bourne need to be this team’s top two receivers. They are their most dynamic bunch and it should be no surprise their best offensive output of the season came when those two led the room in snaps.
The concern here, however, is that money will talk. Will New England continue to try and make Smith-Schuster work because he signed a pricey contract this offseason? To me, he hasn't done anything to deserve playing time over Bourne and Douglas, but the contract might be enough in their eyes.
As for Parker and his extension, it was encouraging to see them decrease his snap total last week after a poor start to the season and drop in Las Vegas. Reagor was the main recipient of those snaps as he brings a different skillset with his speed to the X spot. He also threw a key block to help Douglas break off a 20-yard run.
Wouldn’t be surprised if the #Patriots roster shuffling ends with Jalen Reagor on the active roster. He’s out of elevations and played a season-high 25 snaps Sunday.— Brian Hines (@iambrianhines) October 24, 2023
Had one catch and made a nice block to spring Pop Douglas free. pic.twitter.com/alZdtqJaQH
Moving forward, my ideal set up would be Reagor and Parker splitting X duties — Parker’s size mainly being used in the red area and Reagor’s speed being used in between the 20s. Bourne and Douglas then own the Z/slot duties.
What will the oline combo be this weekend? - Adam F.
The Patriots finally moved Michael Onwenu back to right tackle last weekend and it resulted with Mac Jones being under pressure a season-best 21.9 percent. I’d expect that starting five to stick this week with Sidy Sow at right guard and Onwenu at tackle.
Long-term, however, I would not be surprised if Onwenu goes back to guard at some point this season if Sow struggles. That could lead to Conor McDermott seeing time at right tackle.
For these eyes, guard is still Onwenu’s best position, but New England needs him at tackle this season.
@lukeobrien The questions are the friends you made along the way. Who has more of a chance of being on the roster in 2025, Mac, Zappe, or Grier? I’m assuming one or two of them will be around next year
I’m going Mac Jones here. There are 10 games left this season. If he builds off of last week and looks like that QB moving forward, it wouldn't be surprising to see them pick up his fifth-year option and continue to build around him. There’s a long way to go, but his future is in his hands.
@PatriotsInform With the exception of Tom Brady, which former Patriot would be the most helpful to the current team?
While it’d be easy to pick any of the offensive lineman or a true coverage dictator like Randy Moss, let’s go an unconventional route and say James White.
For as big as a role that White and those in front of him played in this offense, New England has chosen to just not replace him since he retired. And they clearly miss it. The hope was that Ty Montgomery starts to take on some of that role, but that looks unlikely at this point. The disappearance of that role has been an underrated and puzzling part of their offense the past few seasons.
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.