The Patriots will look to get back on the winning track this weekend as they return home coming off a disappointing loss to face the 3-5 Washington Commanders. Washington sent two of their best players to other teams just before this week's trade deadline, but they still feature a dangerous group of receivers and a quarterback in Sam Howell that is unafraid to let it rip. How can the Patriots knock off the Commanders and pick up their third win of the season? The writers of Patriots Unfiltered weigh in with their thoughts on the key players, matchups and factors.
Kendrick Bourne is out and DeVante Parker is looking doubtful, pick one receiver as a focal point to step up in their absence.
- Juju Smith-Schuster
- Kayshon Boutte
- Tyquan Thornton
It has to be, and let's hope, it's C. The Patriots spent a 2nd round pick on Thornton and we're still waiting for the return. Injuries may have stunted his growth but it's time. -Fred Kirsch
It's time to see what Thornton can do. Line him up, let him play through some mistakes and figure out if he can be a piece of the puzzle moving forward. -Paul Perillo
JuJu Smith-Schuster. He's the highest-paid receiver on the team, so I believe it's his responsibility to step up over the rookie and second-year receiver. Last week's touchdown catch was hopefully a step in the right direction for him. -Alexandra Francisco
With Kendrick Bourne out for the season and DeVante Parker doubtful to play versus the Commanders one receiver that needs to step up in their absence is Tyquan Thornton. Being a second-round draft pick he has not lived up to expectations since he arrived in New England. After being a healthy scratch last week versus the Dolphins, he needs to return to the lineup this weekend against Washington and showcase some of that combine speed that everyone raved about before he was drafted on the field in his route-running. -Tamara Brown
JuJu Smith-Schuster. As much as I want to say Boutte and Thornton, the reality is that this coaching staff will probably rely on Smith-Schuster, who took over Bourne's role after he left the game last week. I'd love to see Boutte get those reps as a "Z" receiver in Bourne's spot. Boutte has the skills to separate on in-breakers and generate yards after the catch. But my guess is the coaching staff will view Smith-Schuster as more game-ready, and he'll get the snaps as the flanker, with Douglas remaining in the slot and Jalen Reagor/Tyquan Thornton at X. -Evan Lazar
I'm on Juju too. He unquestionably had a slow start and while I'm sure plenty of fans just want to see the kids play now, Juju must get a chance to show what he can do in extended action. Put it this way, if it's not Juju out there and the team has in fact already surpassed him and moved on to the kids it's an even worse sign of how far the situation has deteriorated after the Patriots signed him to a three-year contract this past offseason. I'm not necessarily holding out hope he's suddenly going to flash and put up a 100-yard game, but want to know if he can step up when the offense really needs him to and at least give them some kind of production. -Mike Dussault
The Commanders have some explosive weapons in the passing game but have given up 41 sacks already. What is more of a key this week, the pass rush or coverage on the back end, and who are the key players who can make the biggest difference?
Yes, the Commanders have trouble protecting the QB yet Terry McLaurin (42 receptions, 495 yards) and Curtis Samuel (35 receptions, 332 yards) are still getting their catches. Combine the pressure that Washington is allowing with good coverage and the Patriots defense should feast. Looking at the secondary to rebound from some communication/mental errors last week. -FK
I think the coverage will be key because it seems like Washington has adjusted to the heavy pressure and Sam Howell is doing a better job of getting rid of the ball quickly. JC Jackson and Jack Jones will have their hands full with Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson and Curtis Samuel. -PP
I think the pass rush should always be a focus, especially against a young quarterback, because disrupting the opposing offense's timing inherently makes things easier for the secondary. Anfernee Jennings has stepped up there, and if Uche, Wise Jr. and Bentley are healthy after last week, we have some good depth there even without Judon. -AF
The pass rush is key against the Commanders who have allowed 41 sacks on the season. Most of the sacks are Sam Howell's fault as he holds on to the ball for too long. Therefore, if the defense can put some pressure on him and keep him from slinging it all afternoon to his weapons, they can add to that sack total and keep Washington off the board. -TB
There are arguments for both. But I'm going to say coverage because the film says that you can get Sam Howell to hold the ball with good disguising on the backend. The best way to get pressure on the Commanders QB is by confusing him coverage-wise into holding the ball. I'd say this is a big week for the Pats safeties when it comes to disguising coverage. The rush will get home if they can get Howell to hold the ball. -EL
Obviously both feed into each other but for this game I'm going to go with the secondary. Howell isn't afraid to take hits and sacks, he keeps bouncing back. So not matter how much the pass rush gets there it's still going to be up to the back end to maintain discipline and play within the systems. Last week's breakdowns in that regard are concerning heading into this one. If there's blown coverages like there were against the Dolphins the Commanders could score into the 30s.
With two of their best defenders getting traded away this week, what kind of focus and compete level do you expect from Washington this weekend? How about from the 2-6 Patriots?
I expect whoever is on the field for either team to be competing for their teammates and maybe most of all, themselves. Everything is on tape and these professionals know they're being evaluated by their own team and any potential employer on every play. Football is not the type of game that can be played at less than 100 percent. That's a great way to end up on the injury report. That said, as the game progresses, a team having trouble putting up Ws can lose hope if things start to go south. That's why it's important to get out to a positive start to keep that focus and hope. -FK
I think both teams will continue to play hard and give max effort. Both teams will have some younger players filling in, and those players are trying to establish themselves as regular NFL players. I don't expect effort to be a problem on either side. -PP
I certainly don't expect Washington to roll over the rest of the season, even if the moves at the deadline signified the Commanders front office wants to. If I'm a player for Washington, I'm playing with an extra chip on my shoulder this week, even if it doesn't last long after this next game. -AF
Even with trading away two of their best defenders, I expect Washington to go down fighting. Despite having a rollercoaster season, this is a team that is able to go toe-to-toe with the best in the league, they proved that last weekend versus the Eagles by putting up 31 points against a stout defense. For the Patriots it will be important that they take advantage of Sam Howell being a young quarterback and getting some pressure on him. If they can keep him from putting another 30-burger on the scoreboard the Patriots will be able to hang with the Commanders. If they allow Sam Howell to be too comfortable, it will be tough for an already struggling Patriots offense to be able to match Washington's offensive energy. -TB
This is the game for me. Which team wants to win this game more? I'm expecting the Commanders to play hard, especially the young guys replacing Chase Young and Montez Sweat. But the Patriots should rally at home to put together a professional effort. -EL
I think the Commanders might actually bring some juice because it's a chance for some young defenders to step up. Their offense should remain the same and really, that's the bigger concern to me and I expect they'll come out firing. As for the Patriots I expect they'll play hard but the injuries are a factor. Adding Bourne, Parker and likely Bentley to the list of inactives all hurt in different ways. Those injuries could be a bigger factor than any dip in effort. -MD
Last week the Patriots got an early lead and won the turnover battle yet still lost. What's the missing piece to get them back in the win column?
Beyond turnovers, there were other mistakes made by the Patriots on both sides of the ball. Route running and communication in the defensive backfield are two that stood out. Against a team like Miami with so many explosive players, no team can afford to let up and risk giving up a big play or miss a scoring opportunity. The margin of error might be a little less thin this week, but the Patriots aren't a team that can overcome too many road bumps in a game regardless of the opponent. -FK
Consistency on offense. Against Buffalo Mac Jones showed he could overcome some negative plays and adversity to get the job done. Last week that wasn't the case, right from the first play of the game. Jones needs to bottle the fourth quarter of the Bills game and use it down the stretch. -PP
Limit explosive plays and get the offense back in whatever mode it was in against Buffalo. -AF
The missing piece to the Patriots getting back in the win column is Mac Jones being comfortability and confidence. His ability to complete his reads, stay in the pocket and confidently deliver the football down the field will make or break this Patriots offense. If he allows a depleted Washington front to scare him, it will be a long afternoon for the Patriots. -TB
Consistency on offense. The Patriots offense didn't move the ball outside of one drive in the fourth quarter. They can't win games like that. There are flashes of what this offense could be, but I have my doubts that they can capture that level of performance for four quarters like they did against Buffalo. We'll see. -EL
Well Paul and Evan are on the same page here and I'm with them. The offense has been such a rollercoaster this season, from week to week and even play to play. The only thing they're consistent at has been their inconsistency, which has certainly leaned more toward the bad plays than the good ones. They continue to leave big plays on the field and until they start maximizing their chances they're going to continue to be stuck in neutral or reverse. -MD
We're about to cross the halfway point of the season, who has been your most pleasant surprise on the Patriots roster despite the team's record?
Anfernee Jennings seems to be making the most of his opportunity with Matt Judon out. He shows up at least a couple times each game with an impact play. -FK
Demario Douglas has been a pretty consistent performer through training camp and the regular season and I wasn't expecting that from a rookie sixth-round pick. It hasn't been perfect but Douglas has been one of the few bright spots. -PP
I love what Deuce's guy Jabrill Peppers has done this season to energize the defense. I get so hyped up watching some of his hits and he's really stepped up as a leader.-AF
Despite the team's record, Demario Douglas has been quite the surprise. Even taking into account the costly fumble that he had early in the season, when Douglas is on the field he make his presence known. He has a skillset that is lacking on the Patriots offense and they need more guys like him that are natural playmakers. -TB
Demario Douglas. I loved the pick at the time, but the questions about his size against physical NFL coverage were legit, and I wasn't sure how much his explosiveness would translate. It's one thing to be faster than defenders in the C-USA, but this is the NFL. Douglas is living up to the hype. -EL
Good stuff from the crew here, I'm going to bring a new angle (because Alex took Peppers) in Pharoah Brown. He's been a playmaker in limited chances and I think there's a good chance he'll earn himself a new contract with the team. I'm curious to see how his role evolves in the coming weeks, the guy just makes plays. -MD
Bonus Question: Best thing to see or do in Washington DC?
Love all Smithsonian museums. -FK
Definitely cliché but the museums/history of the city are amazing. -PP
One of my favorite places in the country. Underrated food city with so much history. I have to say the museums… and if I'm picking one, it's the National Air and Space Museum! -AF
Best thing in Washington D.C. is Saturday or Sunday Brunch. Nobody does it better, trust me. -TB
I'm going to say something cliche and say the Washington monument. It's a really cool spot. -EL
The Air and Space Museum was always my favorite. Don't forget the freeze dried ice cream! -MD