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Patriots Unfiltered Q&A: Replacing Develin, getting Michel going and more

Lots of running game talk in this week's Patriots Unfiltered mailbag.


In a week when we're missing James Develin, why move Jakob Johnson to the active roster and then not play him? Am I right that he did not get a snap? How unusual is that, especially in a game where it seems like we have some freedom to experiment. (I know nothing about Johnson, just thought it was curious.)


Wallingford, Conn.

Although Johnson technically was on the field for two snaps at the end of the game on kneel downs, you are correct in that for all intents and purposes he dressed but did not play on offense. He did get six snaps on special teams but obviously had no role in the game plan. My guess is Bill Belichick wanted to have Johnson in case of an emergency. As an example, if the Patriots were nursing a slim lead late in the game and felt running the ball was the best course of action, perhaps Johnson would have seen some time as an extra blocker. That need obviously did not arise, therefore Johnson wasn't a big part of the game plan, likely due to his inexperience. It's not overly unusual to have young players elevated to the active roster and not have significant roles on game day. Obviously that could change in the coming weeks with Develin out for a while.

Paul Perillo

Of the three players on IR (Develin, Harry, Wynn) and assuming they are all healthy and can return at the same time in the future, which two would be most beneficial to return to the team? I guess we assume that the team is as currently constructed as we don't know what trades, free agent signing or injuries will happen in the future. I am thinking Develin and Wynn. Given the state of the run game, I think Develin is key. Although a small sample size, Wynn looked really good and would help protect TB12 and help in the run game. I can't believe I am leaving out a wide receiver given the lack of depth at that position but I wonder how much chemistry and trust Harry can develop with TB12 midseason. Would you still pick him to return just to add depth at that position? Maybe Wynn is less critical Marshall Newhouse continues to play well.

Martin Banson

The true answer to this question is virtually impossible to know because we're assuming the state of the team will remain as currently constituted. If that is the case, I would probably agree with your choices of Wynn and Develin. But there's almost no chance that everything will remain as it is today once those decisions need to be made. Injuries will continue. Trades could happen. Lots of possibilities. I would say Wynn is probably a lock to return if he is healthy, but what if the Patriots acquire Trent Williams? That could change things if injuries hit the receiver position and make Harry (or Cameron Meredith) more pressing options. So a lot is unknown at this time but assuming the roster is pretty close to what it is today, I'd go with Wynn and Develin and let Harry red-shirt the season and come back ready for the offseason program.

Paul Perillo

I am curious to know why the coach took out the GOAT with 8 minutes left in the fourth quarter? As soon as the rookie takes over, we give up an easy 7 points to the Jets. What was the reason behind this decision? Please don't tell me that it's the coach's decision. The game is 60 minutes as the coach always tells everyone, so why does he think he won the game?

Luke Chang

Sorry to disappoint you but of course it was the coach's decision. All things involving the football team are Bill Belichick's decisions. Just speculating why the change from Miami to this week … I'd say he often has different game plans for different opponents and maybe he felt some need to continue playing in Miami based on what happened down there last year and he felt it was important to keep Brady in to back up that message. It's more unclear as to why he felt the only way to play a full 60 minutes was to have the team continue throwing, but that's another decision made by the coach. This week maybe he felt with Julian Edelman out and Josh Gordon banged up that the need to keep Brady in was minimal, especially against a Gregg Williams-coached defense that has been known to push the levels of fair play. It's a fair question since both games had long since been decided yet he opted to remove Brady against New York and keep him in against Miami. As always, Belichick said he did what he felt was in the best interests of the team both times.

Paul Perillo

When Sony Michel is in, the Pats run. Every time. The defense knows it. They stack him up. In the preseason we were told he would be more involved in the passing game to eliminate this predictability. So far, if memory serves, not one pass has been thrown his way and he's been totally bottled up. When the team is ahead by 30 points, you would think it might be a good time to at least try throwing him a pass to see if he can do the job. Can you shed some light on this?

Michael Martorano

You are correct in identifying the trend that continues with regard to Michel's usage. In general, when he's on the field the Patriots are running. He was targeted as a receiver once against the Jets on a play near the goal line that fell incomplete. He took part in 17 snaps in the game and carried the ball nine times, so about half the time he was on the field he got the ball. The Patriots have talked about trying to get away from this trend a bit this season but so far it hasn't manifested itself on the field. That will likely change as the season continues, however.

Paul Perillo

This is interesting: Rex Burkhead who is doing a decent job running and catching the ball says that there is a lot of room for improvement, while Michel who has been abysmal, says that the run game is where it needs to be. Do you think that such mindset is part of his problem?

Jeff Gorgin

I don't see the Patriots winning or even getting to the SB without a solid running game. Besides getting Wynn back, what else needs to happen for the running game to improve significantly?

Stan C.

I am not aware of those comments by Michel and would find it hard to believe he's satisfied with the state of the running game through three games this season. So far it's been rather tough sledding for all of the Patriots running backs and while Burkhead has been more productive he's also generally getting his carries in passing situations, which opens up lanes more easily. The injuries suffered along the offensive line have been part of the problem, as was the absence of Develin last week, but the coaches and players all understand that the performance in the ground game needs to improve.

Paul Perillo

Sony Michel seems to have regressed as a runner and did not improve as a pass catcher, and I wonder if this is the time to give Damien Harris some of his touches especially since Harris is a better catcher?

Derek Hamoin

This is a continuation of the previous posts, and while I agree that Michel has really struggled so far I'm not ready to pull the plug and give his carries to Harris. First, Michel hasn't had many opportunities in the passing game and Harris hasn't played at all, so I'm not ready to say Harris is the better receiving option just yet. I did find it curious that Harris wasn't given a few carries in the second half of Sunday's win over the Jets just to get his feet wet, but that could be an indication of how the coaches feel about the two players. I will admit to being a little disappointed that Michel hasn't gotten any chances to contribute as a receiver. As mentioned above, the trend of having him on the field and in turn running the ball hasn't really disappeared. But Michel was solid as a rookie a year ago and I expect he will get it going before long this year as well.

Paul Perillo

People are wondering what`s wrong with the running game, how about a patchwork offensive line that needs help. Brady can`t be throwing 40-plus passes a game, now that we`re light on receivers you don`t want to burn out who we have. Maybe a Trent Williams trade would help greatly?

Robert Popick

I would love to see the Patriots pull off a trade for Trent Williams. With Wynn out for at least half the season, it would make a lot of sense to solidify the left tackle spot. Although I felt Marshall Newhouse performed well in his two games thus far, Williams is a perennial Pro Bowler and I think it would be reasonable to expect some improvement in the running game if he were here. There was a report before the season started that suggested the Patriots offered a first-round pick for Williams and Washington said no. That was reportedly denied by the Patriots, but it's possible the interest was real and perhaps some of the details were not. Either way, I'd be all for adding a talented left tackle like Williams to solidify the front.

Paul Perillo

Have the Patriots considered Antonio Gates for a tight end position? I thought he was a free agent this year.

Diana Espitia

Gates is 39 and currently a free agent and over the last few years hasn't really been much of a factor for the Chargers. I have no doubt that he could chip in with a handful of catches here and there as a reserve but in terms of solving the team's need for help at tight end I'm not sure he would move the needle much. He has never been known as a blocker and doesn't run anywhere near as well as he used to. My guess is Belichick will continue to ride it out with Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse and we'll see how and if Ben Watson fits in when he's eligible to return from his suspension in Week 5. Gates is a surefire Hall of Famer but at this point I'm not sure he'd help much.

Paul Perillo

With how bad the Patriots have been in Miami over the last 5-10 years should we be concerned that the location of the Super Bowl might be a huge negative if we do make it to the big game this year?

Evan Perkins

Ah, Patriots problems. Concerns over the Super Bowl venue in September. I'm trying to envision the look on Belichick's face if I asked him this question at his next press conference. But I guess it's OK for those of us not directly involved with the team to wonder such things, and honestly I don't think it's much of a factor. I believe the weather has been an issue down there in the past, but playing in February at night, which will be the case for the Super Bowl, mitigates that greatly. But there's a long way to go before we worry about how playing in Miami might affect the team in Super Bowl.

Paul Perillo

Barring injuries, do you think this Patriots team with their vaunted defense and always good offense could go undefeated? I say yes.

Bradley Normandin

I know it sounds like a cop out but until a team loses there's always a chance, right? The Patriots defense was outstanding in the first three games but the level of competition will increase in the second half of the season. I expect the unit to remain strong, but routinely holding teams without a touchdown will be much tougher to do down the road. The schedule is not overly daunting but there is a five-game stretch in the second half that includes road games at Baltimore, Philadelphia and Houston as well as home games against Kansas City and Dallas. My feeling is that at least one loss is coming in that span. But yes, I do believe going undefeated is possible even if unlikely.

Paul Perillo

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