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Patriots Unfiltered Q&A: Breaking down the front seven, Stidham's upside and more

Lots of roster-related questions in this week's mailbag.


What moves have the Patriots made to shore up the defense that got run all over in the playoffs? I know the Patriots finished 6th in stopping the run last year but they can't be happy with the way the Titans ran at will on them to a dominating result. The Patriots have lost several veteran starters to the free agent market and have from the outside appeared to have done little to replace them. I have all the faith in Bill Belichick the greatest defensive mind in the league but if you do not have the bodies to hold the line it can be long season. All defenses require the sum of all their parts to work together to be successful but not getting blown off the ball sure helps in the run game.

-Bryant Smeeth

Stopping the run was a problem for large parts of the season a year ago and certainly as you pointed out it was a problem in the playoffs. Fortunately for the Patriots, many times it wasn't really an issue because the Patriots were playing with leads during the first half of the season and opponents were forced to get away from the run in an effort to catch up. That may not be the case this season so that area will need to be addressed. As you said the team suffered some losses in that area with Danny Shelton, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins all lost to free agency. But the Patriots did bring in Beau Allen to replace Shelton and second-year man Byron Cowart could be ready to fill a role up front as well. The linebackers will have a different look with Ja'Whaun Bentley likely tabbed to fill a spot inside. Rookie Anfernee Jennings is considered a strong player against the run and could be an option to set the edge on the outside. Otherwise it's mostly the same players who filled roles last year, so players like Lawrence Guy, John Simon, Chase Winovich and Dont'a Hightower will need to get the job done. With Tom Brady gone it would be reasonable le to expect the offense to have a tough time hitting 30 on a regular basis. If that's the case, the defense will need to be better against the run this season.

-Paul Perillo


We hear that the Patriots are really high on Jarrett Stidham. We can infer from the fact that he is still there that they don't think he stinks and from the fact that they did not draft a quarterback that they did not believe they were in a position to draft anyone more likely to succeed. Likewise they seem not to have regarded available free agents as a cost effective alternative. Does being high on Stidham mean any more than him being the best option for this year? Who knows how he'll play and if he's no good, we'll likely have more options next year. Or do you think some staff in the organization have some level of belief that he really is capable of leading the team for years to come?

-Alan MacMillan

There's no way of knowing how Bill Belichick and rest of the coaching staff feels about Stidham because they're not going to make that public. I do not take anything done this offseason as an indication that they feel strongly about Stidham one way or another either. They were not in position to draft one of the top quarterbacks, so the fact that they passed on the best of the rest means little to me. And the team was in no position to sink significant free agent dollars into any of the available quarterbacks, not to mention the fact that the pandemic prevented the team from hosting any players or having them checked out medically. So, it was no surprise to me to see Belichick lean on a veteran he knows (Brian Hoyer) plus young guy he's curious about (Stidham) to see how it works out. The team is in a rebuilding mode so watching and learning about Stidham seems to make some sense. If he shows promise then maybe the plan changes and they decide to continue his development. If not, then a quarterback might be in play next season when the Patriots are expected to have more cap flexibility and possibly higher draft capital as well. But honestly I wouldn't read much of anything into Stidham until we see him play.

-Paul Perillo

When are you going to update the coaching staff on the website? What's the big mystery? I think everybody knows that Dante Scarnecchia is no longer the offensive line coach. For close to two months now most people knew Mick Lombardi is moving to receivers coach and Jedd Fisch has been brought in to work with the QBs. I'm sure they've decided who the offensive line coach is going to be so how about a bit of transparency. After last year's big mystery have they decided to name a defensive coordinator or is that going to be in limbo again? For the life of me I just don't get what is to be gained by not publishing coaching additions on the website when they occur.

-Edward Grady

I know it can be frustrating at times but Bill Belichick has his reasons for not publicizing these types of moves and he's been very consistent with his approach. My guess is we'll be getting the official answers to these questions soon. Last year the team updated its roster with the official coaching staff list sometime before training camp and I'd assume that will happen again this year. You are right … some of the moves have been sort of leaked by various players in some offseason interviews. David Andrews told us a while ago that Cole Popovich and Carmen Bricillo would be working with the offensive line. Some of the draft picks have mentioned they worked out with various coaches and that's how we learned that Lombardi might be moving to receivers while Fisch handles quarterbacks. I'm not sure if we'll have an official defensive coordinator this year or not. But regardless, it doesn't matter what they make public because the people involved understand who has what responsibility. The players and coaches all know what's going on, even if we don't. So really it's not all that important when they make these announcement because the people involved have all known for quite some time.

-Paul Perillo

As I was watching Ryan Izzo last year, I was impressed. He beat out Matt LaCosse for playing time and increasingly got more time snaps. He was typecast as a blocking TE by the media, but showed good hands, an ability to get open and I think he did a competent job blocking as well. He only played four games, but adjusting for in-season improvement and an increase snap load, had he stayed healthy, he might have topped 500 yards and caught 5-6 TDs. That was his trajectory, more or less. For sure, his propensity for running illegal picks was aggravating, but that's coachable. I think Izzo has a lot of upside, but I'm not sure he'll even make the team at this point. What's your take?

-Elliot Kramer

I'm not sure your description of Izzo's 2019 season is accurate. First, he never beat out Matt LaCosse for playing time. Both suffered through injuries throughout the season but LaCosse played in 11 games starting eight while Izzo appeared in just six games with four starts. When LaCosse was healthy, he played more than Izzo, although both were banged up pretty regularly. As for the production, Izzo caught six passes in those six games for 119 yards. I'm not sure how this translates to 500-plus yards and five or six touchdowns. And the bulk of Izzo's 119 yards came on one play, a 41-yard gain early in the season against the Jets. Neither player really did much to distinguish himself during the season, and part of that time came when Benjamin Watson wasn't on the roster and the team basically had no options at the position. My guess is the coaches felt that way too as they drafted Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene to add some depth at the position. Dan Vitale is a fullback by trade but can operate as an H-back type as well. Clearly, Belichick felt an upgrade was needed at the position. Asiasi and Keene are pretty much roster locks, so it's possible that Izzo and LaCosse may be fighting for one spot, if that. If there's room for only one, I'd keep Izzo because he's younger and perhaps has more upside but honestly I wouldn't consider either one to be a vital part of the future.

-Paul Perillo

I've been trying to learn more about the pre-Belichick and Brady era since No. 12 left. What current player does Drew Bledsoe compare to the most?

-Rich Daniels

Comparison questions are always tough to answer because really no two players are the same. Bledsoe was a big pocket passer who liked to stand tall in the pocket and relied heavily on his strong arm. Ben Roethlisberger was certainly more mobile than Bledsoe in his younger days but both are tall, strong-armed quarterbacks who liked to hang in until the last second and relied perhaps too much at times on their arm strength. This led to a lot of big plays but also costly mistakes, and we've seen that with Big Ben at times. It's not a perfect comparison but I see some similarities.

-Paul Perillo

Not having seen as much of the Pats as you all have I still have an impression from the last few seasons. I got the feeling that Tom Brady was such a perfectionist that it made it hard for receivers to gel with him. Were most of the receiver mistakes from the newbies bad routes or Tom not liking it enough? I guess what I'm saying is that the passing game hung on the receivers being submissive to Tom and Tom is not flexible enough. Maybe this year Stidham is more flexible and willing to try passing even if the receiver has not run a perfect route. What are your thoughts on this?

-Jeff Cobb, Berlin, Germany

Without being involved in the process it's hard to know and understand what goes into all of the aspects of the passing game. There were certainly times when the receivers weren't always up to speed on their assignments and that caused Brady to become impatient. There were also times when Brady's lack of patience likely led to ore problems as well. I know now that Brady is gone there seems to be a growing sentiment that he was a big part of the problem last year with the sporadic offense and passing game in particular. But honestly I have a hard time not taking the side of the best quarterback who's ever played, the same guy that helped the Patriots win six Super Bowls, and not young. Unproven receivers trying to make their way into the NFL. With Stidham and Hoyer at quarterback this season there won't likely be many storylines involving a lack of patience and flexibility. There also won't be the comfrt that comes with two decades of dominance at the game's most important position.

-Paul Perillo

Can you hazard a guess as to who comprises the front seven this season? Who is most at risk among this group? Do you see them trading for a run stuffer or will they go with who they have?

-Paul Koscziak

It's tough making projections when we haven't seen the team on the field for even a springtime OTA session but I could envision a front seven that includes some combination of Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Beau Allen, Byron Cowart, John Simon, Chase Winovich, Dont'a Hightower and Ja'Whaun Bentley. I would expect to see rookies Anfernee Jennings and Josh Uche in the rotation and perhaps someone among the group of Deatrich Wise, Shilique Calhoun, Brandon Copeland and Derek Rivers to make an impact as well. Again, it's early and we haven't seen the alignments in practice so it's hard to project not knowing how Belichick will use the personnel, but these are the players that should factor into the equation. There are also some undrafted rookies – like William & Mary's Bill Murray – that we know very little about at this point. There's still a long way to go.

-Paul Perillo


Does Jakob Johnson still get an extra slot on the practice squad with being on the overseas development program, or does his live game experience now mean he's classed as a regular player?

-Paul Sculpher

Johnson is still considered part of the international pathway program and therefore would not take up a spot on the practice squad and he currently does not count on the 90-man roster. He also doesn't count on the salary cap at this point either. If he manages to find his way to the active roster, as he did last year, then he would be considered just like every other player.

-Paul Perillo

On a scale of 1 to 32, how would you rate the offensive line in 2019? And if it's rated in the bottom 15, what changes would you make? I have them in the bottom half at best based on last year. No running back could consistently run behind that line because the RB is getting hit at or behind that line way to many times.

-Richard Fisher

I'd say the offensive line was below average for most of last season but I would also say I didn't feel Sony Michel did a great job of hitting the line quickly and maximizing the yards that were available. As for changes, the only thing that is necessary for this season is to stay healthy. Last year David Andrews (all season) and Isaiah Wynn (eight games) were out of the lineup, leaving backups and fill-ins to carry the load. Hopefully both stay healthy this year and the Patriots are able to use their preferred starting five of Wynn, Joe Thuney, Andrews, Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon. If that's the case, the performance should improve.

-Paul Perillo

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