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Patriots Unfiltered Q&A: Any optimism on offense?

Fans' questions answered in our weekly mailbag.


Tom Brady says that his receivers are busting their tails off, doing the best they can do, and all they need is time. Well, it's December. Is there enough time to make a significant improvement on offense? Frank McCormick

Do you see any upside to this offense? Ken Kannapan

When examining this topic, it's important to remember that at this time a year ago, the Patriots hadn't even yet hit rock-bottom with back-to-back losses at Miami and in Pittsburgh. They somehow found a way at that point to reel off five consecutive win, in part due to an offense that suddenly found its rhythm, particularly in the running game.

It might be asking too much to expect them to do the same this year, especially given the considerable turnover the roster has experienced on offense over the past calendar year. However, New England has started running the ball a little better of late. That's certainly a positive development.

So, until they fail to produce when the games matter most (i.e., in next month's playoffs), I wouldn't count them out just yet. Erik Scalavino

It appears that Jules is close to a season-ending shoulder injury… Should Coach [Belichick] give Edelman a rest? David Gonsiorowski

What do you think is the likelihood of the Patriots' resting Julian Edelman for the final three games, and do you think it would be wise to do so? Max Taylor

Depends on your definition of "resting." It's true, Edelman has been dealing with a shoulder injury for quite some time this season, and remains, as of last week, on the injury report with this ailment. I'm not sure how close it is to being season-ending, considering how much he's already played through what I imagine is some considerable discomfort and still manages to continue being the team's top receiver.

With the offense struggling to find consistency as it is, the Patriots can ill afford to give Edelman much time off, I'm afraid, unless and until they can clinch a playoff spot, preferably a first-round bye. If that happens sometime prior to Week 17, then, sure, I could certainly see Edelman and any number of other high-profile players seeing reduced playing time (resting, if you will) in the final week or so. However, much still remains to be decided in the standings over the next month, so, I would expect to see a normal workload on the field for all these players, Edelman including, barring some unforeseen health setback. Erik Scalavino

Our screen passes have always been our bread and butter in gaining huge chunks of yardage. The past few games, it seems that [offensive coordinator Josh] McDaniels has elected not to install it in his game planning. Do you think we are underutilizing this play, particularly with [RBs James] White and [Rex] Burkhead? Or is it the lack of confidence in our current offensive line personnel? Marc Allard

I agree that we haven't seen the screen plays, a usual staple of the Patriots' offense over the years, as much this season. I'm not sure why that is. Perhaps the defenses they're facing this season aren't generally vulnerable to such play calls. It could be that this is just something the Patriots don't do well anymore. Whatever the reason, I'd like to see the screens incorporated more in the final month of the season and, hopefully, beyond, because I still think they're an effective element of this offense. Erik Scalavino

Now that the deadline for Rob Gronkowski has passed and there is no possibility of him returning and playing for the Patriots this season, do you think that Coach Belichick will fully address the TE issue in either free agency, the draft, or possibly a trade? Mark Williams

Yes, Mark, this past Saturday was the deadline for Gronkowski to be allowed to make a return from retirement and play this season. He, of course, has the option to do so next season, which is when New England will have to seek legitimate help at the tight end position. I would fully expect this to be a priority in all three areas you indicated when the time comes. The Patriots just aren't the same team offensively without this component that has an impact both on the rushing and passing attacks. It might be unrealistic to expect New England to find a player or two of Gronkowski's caliber, but they certainly need to upgrade the position from what currently exists on the roster. Erik Scalavino

[QB Tom] Brady had [five] seconds left on the clock [in the 4*th* quarter versus Dallas] and threw the ball out of bounds, which potentially left Dallas with the opportunity to make one "Miami Miracle" play to win the game. Why didn't we just give it to one of the running backs to run backwards to waste more time? They wouldn't even have to risk getting tackled, just run backwards then go out of bounds once time expires. Is there any rule against this? Sam Houghton, Wigan, U.K.

Great question, Sam. Frankly, I was expecting the Patriots to do just what you described. There's nothing at all in the rule book that would preclude such a time-wasting maneuver. So, it took me by a bit of surprise to see Brady drop back and chuck the ball deep. I suppose it's more of a risk to have a ball carrier running around because the possibility exists that he could lose the football somehow and thus give the opponent a chance to score. So, I understand the call by OC Josh McDaniels, which nevertheless should have worked to perfection, but the referee stopped the clocked prematurely. The ball was still in the air with a second left on the clock. Had the clock been allowed to run until the ball hit the ground out of bounds, which is normally what happens, time would have expired and the game would have ended right then and there. That was clearly an officiating error. Erik Scalavino

Why do some teams employ an offensive guard to slap the side of the center prior to snapping the ball? Why is this not a false start? The Patriots did it, if I recall correctly, around 2012 when they signed an experienced guard (Winters?) for one year and either [Dan] Connolly or [Ryan] Wendell was the center. Dave Lamoureux

The New England player you're thinking of was Brian Waters, a Pro Bowl right guard who started all 16 games (plus the entire postseason, including Super Bowl XLVI) in 2011. That was his one and only season in Foxborough (he sat out 2012 and was eventually released in spring 2013). Connolly was the center for most of that season (11 games) after starter Dan Koppen went down with an injury after just one game. Wendell started two games at center, as did Nick McDonald.

That all having been established, let's tackle your larger question, and it's a good one. According to a Los Angeles Times Q&A segment like this one from New Year's Eve 2017, this tactic first appeared in 2008 with the then-San Diego Chargers. Their o-line coach came up with the system, the piece explains, as a way of allowing the center, who's responsible for making the blocking calls for the line, to keep his head up and focus on the defense.

In hostile environments, the center could do that and still look between his legs to see if the QB was ready for the snap. That job fell to the guard, who would then tap the center to alert him that the QB was ready. In the huddle before the play, the offense determined how long after the "tap" the center would actually snap the ball, so as not to give the defense an easy way to anticipate the snap.

This tactic isn't against the rules because the linemen all get set after the tap and before the snap, so, this normally wouldn't fall under the false start penalty description. 

I think Brady will retire after this season. With Brady and Belichick so closely linked, I think it's possible Belichick will retire when Brady does. Do you think the Belichick era is nearing an end, or do you see him trying to continue the dynasty after Brady retires? Is it a foregone conclusion that Josh McDaniels will take over when Belichick retires? Scott Knox

My gut feeling is that this is the last year we will be privileged to see No. 12 leading this team. I would hate to see him play on another team, especially in the AFC. Do you think that [Patriots owner Robert] Kraft will end up intervening and letting Tom stay until HE is ready to go? My gut tells me that Bill Belichick would probably like to begin moving on if it were solely up to him. This is not saying he does not appreciate what he has had [with Brady] but BB truly is an unemotional man when it comes to business, which partly explains New England's tremendous success over the long haul. What are your thoughts? Dale Barksdale

What your gut should be telling you is not to worry about scenarios that might not even happen. Your gut should be telling you not to worry about circumstances that are out of your control. Your gut should be telling you to appreciate what you, as a fan, have while you still have it – namely, the greatest head coach and quarterback of all time, who are currently trying to win an NFL-record seventh Super Bowl title, and consecutive ones for the second time in their storied careers.

If your gut isn't telling you any of these things, Dale, then you need a gut check, my friend. Because my sense is that no one – not the head coach, not the owner, heck, maybe not even the QB himself! – knows what the future holds for TB12 beyond this season. So, take your cue from your favorite coach and concentrate on however many games are left in this season, which could result in a historic championship, and worry about the future when it gets here… which will be soon enough.

Similar response for Scott's question, although my sense is that Belichick will still be around the NFL after Brady leaves. And no, it's not a foregone conclusion that McDaniels succeeds Belichick. He could certainly be a strong candidate, but no one knows when Belichick will leave the game, nor where McDaniels will be when that eventually happens. So, again, focus on what we know: there's a big game this week and another likely postseason run to enjoy next month. Cherish that and leave the rest for another day. Erik Scalavino

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