The Patriots enter the season's second half looking to avoid a similar stretch run that saw them lose four out of their last five games coming off the bye week to end their season a year ago.
New England's post-bye struggles in recent seasons are well-documented. However, the bigger cause for the slumps than a one-week break was the opponents they went up against in the meat of their schedule, which is the case again in their final eight games of 2022.
According to Football Outsiders, the current seven-seed in the AFC playoff picture has a 44.1% chance of making the postseason. Why so low for a present wild card team? Well, the Patriots have the third-toughest remaining strength of schedule, with an upcoming three-game stretch that will tell us a lot about the state of not only the 2022 team but the franchise moving forward (vs. Jets, at Vikings, vs. Bills).
If the Patriots make the playoffs by going on a run in this slate of games, the general feeling of the team's direction will certainly improve. If not, it'll be an interesting offseason in Foxboro.
Without further ado, let's empty the Patriots Unfiltered mailbag heading into Week 11:
Q: How do the Patriots get Mac to be comfortable in this offense again? It blows my mind that someone can look so good in their rookie season, then regress into a different player in one offseason. - @YugiGar
It's unfortunate that Jones has taken a step back in his development, especially since decision-making and accuracy are strengths of his game going back to college. To get him more comfortable, it all starts up front. The 38.5% pressure rate Mac has faced in his last two starts isn't going to cut it for a pocket passer, and some of that is on him to get the ball out quicker. Along with improving the pass protection, the Pats hopefully took the bye week to scrap some of the newer elements of their playbook to return to what worked in Jones's rookie season.
For example, New England's revamped under-center play-action package was unsuccessful. They went from a team that used a power running game to pull the second level out of passing lanes to a seven-step, vertical play-action offense, and Mac is averaging just 6.5 yards per attempt off under-center play-action as a result. They no longer want him to hit intermediate crossers or in-breakers off the run fake. Instead, they are trying to dial up deep shots down the field, and the QB doesn't have the off-platform arm talent or comfortability behind his offensive line to execute the plays. Although we'll continue to advocate for more spread formations and RPOs, it's also time to return to their old under-center schemes.
Q: As good as the Pats D Has been playing in recent weeks, it just seems that our ILBs aren't fit to match up against teams good at RPOs. Thoughts on that? - @jscanocach
I would agree that their linebackers don't match up well with option offenses or mobile quarterbacks, but speed at the position isn't the primary issue. The main problem is recognition for their more athletic linebackers, such as Mack Wilson and Raekwon McMillan, who are getting fooled by the misdirection of those schemes more than they are too slow to keep up in space. I hope we see a different approach from the coaching staff against teams like the Bills, Cardinals, and Dolphins, where they flood the field with defensive backs and rely on five defenders up front to stop the run. I'd put six defensive backs on the field in a four-safety package with Devin McCourty (FS), Kyle Dugger (SS), Jabrill Peppers (SAM/Nickel), and Adrian Phillips (WILL) on the field together. Use a four-man line plus Ja'Whaun Bentley as a point-of-attack thumper, and let those safeties fly around and make plays. You have speed, versatility, and physicality at safety, which is also your deepest position on the roster; use it.
Q: If the Raiders fire McDaniels or the Cardinals fire Kingsbury, do you see them as potential options as an OC in NE? Do you think Franch Reich would want to come to NE? - @ManilTrivedi
McDaniels would be a strong candidate to return as the Patriots offensive coordinator. But with owner Mark Davis assuring he'll return next season, my read on the situation in Vegas is that it would take an internal coup for McDaniels to lose his job after one season, especially with buddy Dave Ziegler running the personnel department. As for Kingsbury, my guess is he'd rather return to the college ranks, where he would have plenty of options to coach a power five program than be an NFL OC. With Reich, he is a West Coast offensive mind that speaks a different language than the Patriots current EP system. He's not a friend of Belichick who would run the same offense, so it would be a complete overhaul. I don't see that happening, and if Reich were to resurface somewhere as an assistant, it would probably be in Jacksonville or another branch of the Doug Pederson coaching tree.
Q: What's the top three things they can do to help improve their red zone offense? - @iJustinCabral
The first thing would be to threaten defenses by horizontally stretching the field. In the red zone, you lose the vertical dimension, so you need to use the width of the field to open up the middle—jet motion, RPO, different wrinkles on their pick plays, etc. From there, a softer middle should open up the running game more and get the coverage off Hunter Henry, who is a priority for opposing defenses inside the 20. I also wouldn't hate finding a fullback by converting a defensive player or using an extra offensive lineman to play bully ball when they get inside the five. Shotgun runs without a mobile QB aren't going anywhere.
Q: We have seen some offensive success with hurry-up offense. Why hasn't it been used more? - @sumeetsumeet4
Chip Kelly can attest that the hurry-up is more of a gimmick than a sustainable offensive strategy in the NFL. Although it can be effective in spurts, it limits the offense to one personnel grouping, and your team as a whole needs to be conditioned to handle it. Running your entire offense in the hurry up will not cure all of their issues. But they could do it sometimes to put a jolt in the offense as they did in the second half against the Jets a few weeks ago.
Q: Why isn't Judon mentioned as much for Defensive Player of the Year? - @BurritoMurderer
According to BetOnline.ag, Judon currently has the third-best odds to win Defensive Player of the Year, so his name is certainly in the conversation. He'd need to flirt with the sack record (22.5) to have a real chance at it, while the Patriots would need to make the playoffs behind a stellar defensive performance down the stretch. With four-stretch primetime games on the horizon, Judon could surpass Micah Parsons and Nick Bosa if he balls out in those games.
Q: Why has Christian Barmore been so underwhelming this year? Is it injuries or something else? - @Skippyson
If you watch the tape when he's out there, Barmore has not been underwhelming. Unless you're Aaron Donald or Chris Jones, Barmore plays a position where he will not rack up gaudy sack numbers. He is attracting double teams, beating single blocks cleanly when he gets one-on-ones, and applying pressure even if the sacks aren't there. Barmore has been one of their most impactful IDLs when healthy.
Q: Does Jake Bailey have a future with this team after this season? Are his struggles an easy fix? - @TomeTrosanina
Bailey has a shade over $2.1 million in base salary guaranteed for the 2023 season, so cutting him would actually cost the Patriots money on the 2023 cap. Unless there's an undisclosed injury we don't know about, it feels like Bailey has the yips. Punters and kickers can work their way out of the yips. But sometimes, they lose that touch, and it never comes back. Either way, he'll most likely be the punter again next season.