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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Wed Jan 19 | 12:00 AM - 02:00 PM

Patriots Mailbag: Scouting offensive evolution, potential playoff matchups

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From pure speculation it would appear it's possibly Slater's last season playing, do you think there's any players you are confident could retire at the end of this season, and if so do you think they have a coaching role in their future? -@clazzyclare

Hard to know for sure what players are thinking but there are certainly some veterans to consider. Slater is 36 and will be up for another contract, while Devin McCourty (34), Dont'a Hightower (31), Jamie Collins (32) and Brandon Bolden (31) are also on expiring deals.

The Patriots have some void contract years with D-Mac and I think for the role he plays he's still got another year or two left in the tank, so it could make sense to figure out a deal with him, since they'll be taking a cap hit on him anyway.

Bolden is having his best season yet and proving his value once again taking over the third-down back role. He's a locker room favorite and it's easy seeing the value of keeping him in New England. It's doubtful he's hanging them up after the healthy season he's had.

Hightower and Collins still have good football left in them and they're a unique fit to the Patriots, keeping them at the heart of the defense would be a big plus. But finding the next generation of flexible Patriots linebackers must be one of the offseason's priorities.

Slater said every offseason he sits down with his family and decides if he's up for another go-round. We'll see what this year holds, but at 36-years-old any additional year is really a gift.

The most common thread here is a core of championship-caliber leadership that is at or quickly approaching the end of their football careers. When the time comes their departures will leave significant voids on and off the field. As far as the Patriots go, retaining all of them makes sense, but it will depend on what the players want to do. -Mike Dussault

Given what we've seen from JC Jackson over the course of the season what would be your approach in the off-season? Would you need to see how he performs in the playoffs before making that decision? Or do we look to the draft or other free agents to fill that void, thanks. -@YoungFinlay

This will be the biggest question we discuss on Patriots Unfiltered from day one of the offseason until the start of free agency.

First, I don't need to see how he does in the playoffs, I think he's an excellent cornerback with a consistent knack for the ball. The Patriots should make an effort to re-sign him but I doubt they'll match what Jackson could get in free agency. I would consider the Franchise Tag for him, but that is expected to run in the $17 million range and that would be a big chunk of the limited cap space the Patriots will have. That was the approach they used with Asante Samuel in 2007.

So, I think we're going to learn a bit about how the Patriots want to allot their money as the defense faces some turnover this offseason at linebacker and in the secondary. Since Aqib Talib arrived in 2012 they've shown they value having at least one man-cover corner. But with Hightower, Collins and Bentley hitting free agency, do they need to invest a bigger chunk at linebacker? As mentioned above, they're going to have to get younger at linebacker at some point.

While I don't rule out the Franchise Tag, my feeling has been that he cashes in elsewhere and the Patriots look to free agency and the draft to rebuild the cornerback spot. -Mike Dussault

Once Jonnu has the football in his hands, he's electric. Why can't they just hand it off him and/or throw easy screens to him 10 times a game and let him do his thing? -@mrdale71

I think that's really what they've been doing all year, it might not be 10 times a game but there's usually two or three screens or designed low crossers to get him the ball in space. I thought his blocking against the Jags was the best I've seen all year and he added in the catch and run for 20 yards as well.

The offense has really been spreading the ball around this year, but aside from Meyers, who topped his 2020 season by 20 catches already, the rest of the weaponry is right around their usual production, if not a little below because everyone has gotten in on the action in different games. I think Smith has been fine, he just needs a 'wow' play to make people feel a little better about his season. ­-Mike Dussault

If we find a way to unlock Jonnu once the post-season starts, is that enough of a shot in the arm to go to CIN/KC and win? I feel like those are our two biggest threats. Don't think we'll be pushed around again by IND/TEN. Don't think BUF is as good as they're made out to be. -@PatriotsFB3412

I think if the Patriots have to go to Cincinnati or Kansas City in the post-season it will be more about the defense than the offense if they're to play their game and win. The Patriots need to play those games, and really all the playoff games, on their terms. Takeaways and third-down stops. Run the ball and finish in the red zone.

Despite posting 50 points twice this year, I'm not sure how they will fare in a back-and-forth shootout, especially if they can't run the ball. Their ability to snowball opponents is a promising sign but their formula still feels heavily dependent on playing their game. If they do that, they can beat anybody. If they don't, they haven't really shown that they can simply ride the offense to victory. ­­-Mike Dussault

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Have we seen N'keal Harry's last Patriot snap? -@ThePatrickRollo

No, I don't think so and I'm just being cautious with his deactivation from Sunday's game. That doesn't mean I think Harry will suddenly be more than he's been to the offense this year, but I do think his value is understated because of the expectations that come with being a first-round pick.

I'm not entirely sure what the circumstances were surrounding his health and the Jags game, so I'll reserve a bit of judgment. I'd also say Wilkerson was more of an Agholor replacement but more on that below.

However, if this was a message being sent that the team needed more out of him against Buffalo, then I'd still bet they give him another chance to grow from it. -Mike Dussault

What are your thoughts about Josh Uche? Linebacker corps seems sometimes a little bit slow. Can Uche be a solution in the future or is the answer in the draft or in free agency? - @AriReunanen

It hasn't been the kind of season we were hoping for with Uche who landed on IR for a stint again in his second season. The role he's played has been that of a designated pass rusher, and when he's played he's flashed the same unique combination of quickness and power that can overwhelm offensive tackles.

The question with Uche is the same as it's always been… is there a first and second down role for him? His role in the pros largely mirrors what he did at Michigan and in two seasons the Patriots have mostly left him to that role. Fortunately, they haven't really been forced to find out due to pretty good health and depth at outside linebacker. But again, at some point the Patriots will have to inject some new blood into bigger roles at linebacker, it just continues to remain unclear how much of a role Uche could have. -Mike Dussault

Hey Mike, do you feel confident that Kristen Wilkerson will do a better job in the playoffs than N'Keal Harry, and if so, do you think he has now Wally Pipp'd him? -@NuJeru4Life

I liked what I saw out of Wilkerson, it reminded me a lot of what he showed this preseason, an ability to get open but also inconsistent hands. I think Wilkerson's activation was really more about replacing Nelson Agholor as an athletic outside receiver than it was about Harry. I think the Patriots knew they wanted to throw a little more in this one and Wilkson's speed is a better outside complement to the attack. I'd bet we see Harry back out there, especially if the Patriots are to take on the Bills for a third time. I don't really see a big role for Wilkerson once Agholor returns. -Mike Dussault

Who do you see as the most favorable match-up in the playoffs to go up against? -@Fuadnehemen

Assuming BUF holds onto the division, how would you rank the four division winners in terms of ease/difficulty for NE to beat on the road? - @MioInput

I don't really know who is the most favorable because I think the biggest key for the Patriots will be to play their game no matter who the opponent is. But let's rank the current AFC field from most to least desirable.

  1. Buffalo: The Patriots know them better than anyone else in the field and really, they can't play much worse than they did a few weeks ago in New England. There would be plenty of pressure on Josh Allen to play another perfect game. This is probably where the Patriots are headed and I think they'll play loose and much better against the Bills.
  2. Kansas City: Their defense has been better and it looks like their offense has re-found their stride but it still doesn't quite look like the same Mahomes and for that reason I give the Patriots defense a good chance to contain this version.
  3. Cincinnati: Their offense is scary good and J.C. Jackson on Jamarr Chase would be quite the matchup. Not sure the Patriots can match up across the board with all the threats. Would come down to how well could the defensive gameplan confound Joe Burrow, if at all…
  4. Tennessee: Are the Titans about to secure the bye and then be waiting on the other side with a healthy Derrick Henry? This is a far different Titans team than the one the Patriots beat and they certainly matched New England's toughness in the trenches that day. If Henry and A.J. Brown are fully good to go, the Titans are the team that looks like the toughest matchup to me.

Four good teams to be sure, but on any given Sunday I'd give the Patriots a chance against all of them. -Mike Dussault

What hoodie do you expect Bill to wear during the 1st playoff game? -@joelshapiro20

What a perfect question to wrap it up with and one that will have to wait of course because it will depend heavily on when and where the game is played and what the weather conditions are… -Mike Dussault

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