This week the writers of Patriots Unfiltered take a look at the most important questions facing the 7-6 Patriots as they take on Josh McDaniels and the 5-8 Raiders in Las Vegas.
Where does the Patriots defense begin trying to stop Davante Adams and Josh Jacobs, not to mention Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller (if they are able to return after starting practice this week)?
It's a similar task to last week against the Cardinals. There will be match-ups that favor the Raiders offense. The only way to compete is to have a pass rush that complements the coverage. Getting a lead and forcing Vegas to be one-dimensional would be nice but not something to count on. It will come down to the Belichick mantra: everybody just Do Your Job! -Fred Kirsch
The focal point to me is Josh Jacobs. Make the Raiders one-dimensional and force Derek Carr to carry the load. -Paul Perillo
The Patriots focus should be on stopping the Raiders and Josh Jacobs #1 graded rushing attack. I'd like to see the Patriots stifle the run early and takeaway the play action setups down the field where the Raiders have their playmakers. -Alexandra Francisco
This is the conundrum defenses have been in all year with the Adams-Jacobs tandem. Do you play two-high safeties to stay over the top of Adams, or load the box against Jacobs? Most teams have favored slowing down Adams, and that's what I think the Patriots will do. Trust your D-Line to mitigate the damage playing a man short in the box, keep the safeties back to limit big plays, and hope that keeps Vegas out of the end zone. -Evan Lazar
I believe the focus for the Patriots defense has to be on Davante Adams. The Minnesota game versus Justin Jefferson is a great example of what the Patriots shouldn't do in terms of coverage against the Raiders. Too much of the focus was on stopping Dalvin Cook, leaving Jon Jones one-on-one against Justin Jefferson. With the uncertainty of Jalen Mills and Jack Jones availability against the Raiders is concerning, Jon Jones will need all the help he can get against Adams. -Tamara Brown
I think the Patriots really need Jalen Mills back for this one because Josh will have the banged-up secondary in his crosshairs. Otherwise I think it's more about preventing big plays that focusing on one particular player. Tackling will be key. If the Patriots can force long sustained drives the Raiders offense has shown they can peter out. My gameplan starts with making sure Vegas doesn't quickly build a lead. -Mike Dussault
Josh Uche and Marcus Jones have been turning heads in recent weeks, which breakout player can have more of an important impact down the final four-game stretch?
Uche has developed into a pass rush specialist but Marcus Jones is contributing in all three phases. That means 3x the opportunity to have an impact. -FK
To me it's Uche if he can consistently provide the type of pressure on the quarterback that he has in recent weeks. Patriots opponents will have a lot of weapons to deal with, but Uche and the pass rush can mitigate some of that. -PP
Josh Uche - he's looking unblockable and going to put teams in a quandary as they look to slow down Judon. -AF
Good question. I'm going to say Jones because I expect the offense to stay conservative and his game-breaking speed is an element that they'll desperately need. It's been a long time since the Patriots have had an explosive offensive weapon like Jones. If they get healthy at corner, I expect him to play even more on offense. -EL
Josh Uche will be needed more down the stretch especially with facing the high power offenses of the Bengals, Bills, and Dolphins. The dynamic duo of Uche and Judon needs to remain consistent in the pass rush to give the secondary opportunities to create turnovers. The Patriots secondary has seen more success when the front seven is able to pressure the quarterback and win the line of scrimmage. The secondary will need to lean on that pressure a lot in the coming weeks when facing a plethora of outstanding offensive weapons down the stretch. -TB
Uche could get even more help if Barmore returns and I think the pass rush is absolutely critical to the team's chances down the stretch. That said, I want more Marcus Jones everywhere! His explosiveness is a new twist for the offense and if he can deliver a couple more big plays per game it could really change the offensive dynamic. -MD
With Rhamondre Stevenson missing from practice with an ankle injury and Damien Harris still limited by a thigh injury, can rookies Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong carry the load if called upon?
It's a big ask, not so much carrying the ball but more in the passing game – catching and protection. I doubt either can do it all like Stevenson was doing. I'm not sure the percentage of offense that was going through Stevenson but it will be unrealistic to think that can be maintained by either rookie. Tight ends must step up if Stevenson can't go. -FK
Unfortunately the running game hasn't been overly effective even with Stevenson and Harris in the lineup so I don't think the rookies will be able to carry the load alone if called upon. -PP
Can they carry all of it? No. The offensive line needs to come together this week if New England plays without RBs 1 & 2. -AF
I liked what I saw from both rookie running backs, but especially Strong. The 4.37-speed translated on the 44-yarder and a 16-yard screen. Even if the vets are healthy, I want to see Strong in the game plan for let's call it five touches per game. Like Marcus Jones, they need that speed in their offense. Strong brings another gear. -EL
Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong Jr have fresh legs that I believe could help fill the void of Stevenson and Damien Harris while they recover from injuries. The key to both rookies being able to help the offense will depend on their ability to secure the football and limit mistakes, if they can do that they can continue to move the chains for the Patriots offense. -TB
It's a big ask, and it does look like Damien Harris could give it a go but even still I'd love to see Pierre Strong get some more third-down work if he's up for the pass protection part of it. He's another new explosive element like Marcus Jones that could really change things up for the offense over the final weeks. -MD
What are realistic expectations for Mac Jones and the offense over the final four games?
Tell me how the offensive line will play and I can better answer this. Beyond that, if Meyers can return, that will help Mac immensely. If everything falls in place, it's realistic to expect 20-25 points per game. -FK
Show signs of improvement in keys areas: third down, red zone, downfield passing game. That should lead to more production and more points. -PP
Play mistake-free football and be opportunistic. Don't force plays or take pre-snap penalties. -AF
If they continue to build on the Marcus Jones package and can consistently play the same five along the offensive line, I think this group could be average down the stretch. Not great. But better than we saw against the Bills and Jets, for example. Let's call it 24 points per game. -EL
Realistic expectations for Mac Jones and the Patriots offense over the last four games starts with the offensive line. Mac Jones is in desperate need of a healthy offensive line with good communication to see success down the stretch. The pre-snap penalties are the achilles heel of the Patriots offense and hasn't gotten better throughout the season. It's impossible for the offense to make strides when the positive yardage they do get, is negated by penalties. -TB
First I'd say elimination of bad plays like presnap penalties and blown assignments. Just getting rid of those preventable mental mistakes would go a long way, we've seen the improvement that came just from reduced turnovers. But third downs and red zone are the areas that are the final major hurdles to overcome. They have to start executing at a high level in the game's biggest moments. -MD
What is your key to a Patriots victory?
Force Raider mistakes. There needs to be a moment or two where the Raiders start to think, "Uh oh, here we go again." -FK
Make Carr uncomfortable. He's a solid quarterback but can be wildly inconsistent, even within individual games. Pressure him and force some mistakes. -PP
If the defense can stop Josh Jacobs early and take the Raiders out of their game plan, which I think they're capable of, Mac Jones will still have a heavier load than usual. If the offensive line can step up tremendously and Mac & the skill positions don't turn it over, I think they can gain some big plays against this Raiders defense. -AF
The Patriots offense expanding on the motion and RPO elements they ran against Arizona with the young speedsters. By my estimation, they'll need 24-27 points to win, so they'll need to put some drives together. Let's get motion and misdirection crazy to see if Marcus, Pierre Strong, or Thornton can break a big one. -EL
The key to a Patriots victory against the Raiders is to take advantage of the struggling Raiders pass defense. The Patriots can build on the screen game and quick passes to give Mac Jones better pass protection and success on offense to move the chains against the Raiders and hopefully be able to see success in the red zone. -TB
Don't give up any easy big scores and be as opportunistic as possible in all three phases. You might have to weather an early storm as the Raiders look to show what they might've been capable of this season with their full contingent of weapons. Also, be on the alert for trick plays. Seems like a slam dunk Josh will try to catch the defense napping with something different. -MD