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Patriots Unfiltered Q&A: Lovin' life in L.A.?

Fans' questions answered in our weekly mailbag. 


Under the new COVID rules, teams are not allowed to stay away from home. Will the Patriots get an exemption from that rule or will they have to travel to L.A. to play the Chargers Sunday, come home, and then travel back for the Thursday night game against the Rams? Jonathan Mitchell

No, they won't, Jonathan. After the league schedule was unveiled in the spring, during the first height of the pandemic, it was assumed that New England would want to spend this week in Southern California, so as to avoid all that coast-to-coast travel. The Patriots were granted all necessary permissions to do so, and must remain within their secure "bubble" until they leave town.

When the Patriots host a Thursday night game following a Sunday contest, they typically take Monday to recuperate before conducting walkthrough practices on Tuesday and Wednesday. Since they're now holed up in their home-away-from-home, they'll stick to that routine, utilizing the UCLA football facilities for their practice sessions.

Of course, as we've learned during this unusual 2020 season, circumstances can change at a moment's notice. Take the San Francisco 49ers, for example. As you're probably aware, due to tightened restrictions in Santa Clara County, where the Niners are based, they had to move their Monday night game versus Buffalo to Phoenix. They'll also play their next home game in Arizona, while staying remotely to practice.

There's been some concern that such restrictions could impact the Patriots-Rams game Thursday. However, media reports citing league sources indicate that this matchup won't be affected. It's something to monitor, though, given the way this year has unfolded. But as of now, the game Thursday night is a go. The Patriots would then fly home immediately thereafter. Erik Scalavino

How can the Patriots play good offense against a good Rams secondary? Jason Dillon

Well, one way is by not challenging them much and concentrating on what New England does best, which is run the football. That could be difficult, too, though, since the Rams allow less than 100 yards rushing per game on average this season. Los Angeles is just as stingy a pass defense, as you correctly suggest in your question. So, it's going to be interesting to see what kind of game plan the Patriots come up with. Whatever it is, they'll have to protect the football and not make many – if any – mistakes against this Rams defense. Erik Scalavino

So as of right now, the Buffalo Bills lead the AFC East division, while the Patriots are in third (which barely happens). What is the strategy now if the Patriots want to take control of the AFC East again? Keahi Holden

The "strategy," if you can characterize it as such, is to continue winning and hope the Bills (and second-place Dolphins) lose their remaining games. That's your only hope of seeing the Patriots climb back up to the top this season. Long-term, New England has to evaluate its roster, top-to-bottom, make some difficult decisions personnel-wise, and go about acquiring the kind of talent that can keep pace with surging Buffalo and Miami. That means both drafting and signing veteran free agents. It sounds a lot easier than it actually is, though (just ask the Bills and Dolphins, who chased the Patriots for the past 20-plus years). Erik Scalavino

The Patriots have had underwhelming drafts the last few years. The 2020 class, however, is contributing more. Is this the most promising draft class? John Pitcher

The 2020 rookie class might end up producing the highest number of regular contributors. Kyle Dugger, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Mike Onwenu, and Justin Herron have all seen significant playing time thus far. Cassh Maluia has made some cameos as well, and even though they've been hurt much of the time, the two rookie tight ends, Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi, remain promising. And Justin Rohrwasser is still developing on the practice squad. The lone outlier, Dustin Woodard, retired during training camp. That's a high volume of short-term return on long-term investment.

There could be some bigger hits from other recent draft classes, like Damien Harris, Jake Bailey, and Chase Winovich. And 2019 selection Byron Cowart is having a solid second season. Ja'Whaun Bentley from the 2018 class is now a co-captain, while Deatrich Wise is the only remaining player from a four-man 2017 class.

So, yes, the 2020 class is already well ahead of its most recent predecessors. Here's hoping it continues to pay dividends. Erik Scalavino

Hello from South Carolina. Unfortunately one drawback of living in this area is I get little opportunity to watch Patriot games live. As such, I have not been able to keep up with the progress of all second-year players. While the progress of players like Winovich and Harris is notable, Joejuan Williams seems lost. Where does he stand in his development? Is he fading with the emergence of J.C. Jackson and even Kyle Dugger? Michael Hylen

Williams certainly has seen his playing time dwindle since September, and that might have something to do with the emergence of Dugger. Williams was playing more safety this summer during camp and less cornerback, and the rookie Dugger seems to have supplanted him when it comes to game snaps. Williams is still active, though, and has been all season, seeing action on special teams and occasionally on defense. That might wind up being the role best suited for him. Erik Scalavino

[Julian] Edelman has been my favorite WR since they drafted him [in 2009]. Last two seasons, he has been banged up and not 100-percent [healthy]. Given his age, do you think this could be Edelman's last season with the Patriots? Hate to see him go, but the greats can't play forever. Mark Bushnell, New Hampshire

I'm sure you're not the only fan of this team who feels that way about Edelman. He's become quite the fan favorite over the past decade-plus.

Right now, he's 34 (his birthday's in May) and on Injured Reserve recovering from knee surgery. Yet, head coach Bill Belichick recently sounded an optimistic tone with regard to Edelman's possible return to action this season. With only a handful of games left, we need to see him at least attempt to practice to give us any clear indication of what his short-term status might be. And unless New England somehow squeezes its way into the postseason, you might have to consider the distinct possibility that we've seen the last of Edelman in a Patriots uniform.

Of course, he's been counted out before and proven people wrong. Who's to say he can't do so again. Erik Scalavino

Hi, guys. Can you explain what happened with trading for WR [Isaiah] Ford, not playing him, and releasing him just to waste a draft pick? Some of these WR moves are just plain baffling. Thanks from sunny Sydney, Australia! Grant Tedro

I agree, Grant, it was strange that we never got to see Ford, for whom the Patriots traded early last month, ever take a snap with New England. He seemed like an intriguing prospect, especially after the way he performed for Miami against the Patriots last season. Practice squad veteran Donte Moncrief apparently proved more productive in the offense and on special teams and has been getting reps at the expense of Ford.

However, I wouldn't worry too much about the capital the Patriots expended to acquire Ford in the first place. Reportedly, it was a conditional draft choice in 2022, and my guess is, those conditions included a certain amount of playing time. Since he never actually got any, it's probably safe to assume that New England won't have to surrender that future draft choice after all. Erik Scalavino

One of the Patriots' strengths is at running back. What are the chances they run out of an I, Wishbone, or Option with two backs joining [fullback] Jakob Johnson? James Sawyer

It's usually unwise to say that these Patriots will "never" do one thing or another, because just when you least expect it, they do it. That said, at this point in the season, if they had any designs on instituting such a formation in an effort to make the offense more productive, we'd have seen it by now. Erik Scalavino

Seems Sony Michel is injury prone all the way back to college, if I recall correctly, and has not played a full season for the Patriots yet. Would it be unreasonable to try to trade him in the off season? Steve Earle

You're right, Steve, Michel has yet to play a full 16-game regular season, and his injury history does date back to his collegiate days at the University of Georgia. While it wouldn't be unreasonable for the Patriots to try to see what his value might be in a trade (if they haven't already), think about this question from the other teams' perspective. If injuries and a lack of durability are your primary reasons for wanting to trade him, what team would find those qualities attractive enough to trade for him? My guess is that it would be a very short list. Erik Scalavino

Week after week, I am frustrated with the lack of aggressive tackling. Since when can you stop an NFL ball carrier with arm tackles? I hate watching opposing runners and receivers gain 3-5 yards and sometimes even more after contact. Why aren't we hearing more about this from the coaching staff? When will the Patriots ever start wrapping up, driving them to the ground, and stop trying to arm-tackle and just throw bodies at them. Too many missed! Mike Holyoke

It's a lament I share, Mike, and have been voicing for a long time. Less so in recent seasons, however, as the Patriots have become one of the more solid tackling teams in the league. Yes, there are still some occasions when we see defenders diving shoulder-first at an opponent's legs and it results in a broken tackle for a bigger gain, but overall, New England is still better than a lot of other teams I've seen. Maybe not THE best, but certainly not the worst, either.

It starts with youth football. Fundamentals need to be reinforced when the players ascend to high school, college, and the pros. But it seems like so much practice time is spent on preparing for the opponent that perhaps there's less time dedicated to tackling fundamentals. It's pervasive, league-wide, not just here in New England, I assure you. Erik Scalavino

What with emerging young players, returning opt-out players, draft capital, and the position on salary cap, am I right to be very optimistic about 2021? Robert Whittaker

With the possible exception of returning opt-out players (because we don't know how many of them will actually return to play), I'd say yes, Robert, you should be excited about New England's team-building potential in 2021. As always, it depends on what the Patriots actually do with all those resources, but at least they'll have plentiful options at their disposal this coming offseason. Erik Scalavino

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