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Unfiltered Mailbag: Patriots offense now in search of consistency and clutch

Patriots fans are looking forward to a key divisional rematch and wondering how the offense and defense can take the next step toward playoff contention.


Why isn't Jack Jones playing? I keep checking to see if he's injured or traded. Is Bill mad and sent him back to the practice squad for being mouthy? He had some sweet picks at the beginning of the season and was really fun to watch. -Christine Ryan

No, Jack hasn't gone anywhere, I think it might just be that after a hot start he hasn't shown up lately with any big plays. I'd say the way to sum up Jack's role now is that he's the third rotational outside cornerback who plays about half the snaps. On the season he's played 57 percent of the defensive snaps after a slow start, which is to be expected of a rookie. Clearly, he's got a nose for the ball and is a promising and needed player to develop at an important position. Seemed like Minnesota might've been targeting his aggressiveness a bit, we'll see how things go down the stretch as the passing offenses keep getting more and more challenging. He's had just one pass defensed in the last five games. -Mike Dussault

I wanted to follow up on a Mack Wilson question from last week. You said you felt he was better than Winovich but didn't really move the needle. I would agree. However, is it the player or the system. BB loves those big thumpers in the middle not some guy who can play sideline-to-sideline. The last guy we had who could play sideline-to-sideline was Jamie Collins and we traded him because he had a habit of freelancing. I don't ever remember BB using his speed in our defense, except for rushing the passer. So is it the player, coaching or the system. -Badax22 Michaud

I think Wilson has carved himself out a nice role on the defense and I'm especially curious to see how the team uses him this week against the Bills. Winovich was a situational end and really just provided some depth in his time but it feels to me like Wilson has somewhat of a unique skillset on the roster and one that should be useful. I do think there were some growing pains with Wilson initially as the coaches tried to figure out how to use him, but now he's settled into an extensive special teams role, with some key defensive snaps, usually around 25-30 percent per game. He's playing more in New England than he did last season for the Browns. We'll see if the team chooses to retain him after his one-year deal, but I think it makes sense given his contributions and how he kind of fills the void between linebackers like Bentley and safeties like Dugger and Phillips. -Mike Dussault

Hi. Is there a particular strategy in starting Damien Harris (the team's RB2) over Stevenson (RB1)? Of course most teams start the guy who will be playing the majority of snaps, then rotate other guys in as the game moves along. With the current Pats situation, it's the opposite. What are Belichick and the offensive staff thinking on this one? -Jonathan Kerr

I think we get caught up in those designations when what I think it is is that Harris was set to take an early-down role in this game while Stevenson was being tabbed for third downs. Obviously, it's never that clear-cut, but given Stevenson's extensive work over the course of this season and Harris’ relatively fresher legs I actually liked the decision. Stevenson's emergence in the passing game has been welcome and necessary and now, with Damien Harris sustaining an injury that could cause him to miss time again, it puts more pressure on the second-year back out of Oklahoma. The Patriots can't afford to see Stevenson go down, they've got to figure out who between J.J. Taylor, Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris can help lighten his load down this important stretch. -Mike Dussault

What (if any) improvements have you seen in Mac Jones from last season to this season. If none, do you think there's still time left in this season for him to make any sort of progress? I tend not to think so, given the overall players around him. -@chadfmartin

Up until the Minnesota game, I'd probably have said none and while I don't want to overreact to one game, I do think it highlighted Mac’s improved ability to throw the ball downfield. Now it certainly hasn't been anywhere close to consistent but from the first day of minicamp in the spring, Mac's ability to hit plays downfield has shown up, whether it was to Parker or Agholor or Meyers. Would still love to see Tyquan Thorton get in on this party. I think the Vikings game also illustrated that Mac's mind and anticipation that he had as a rookie haven't gone anywhere. It just highlighted the need for good protection and trust amongst the offense. There's still time this year and it doesn't get any bigger than Buffalo. But even with the signs of promise from the Vikings game the last steps are clear and remain daunting – playing their best, mistake-free football in the most critical situations like 3rd down, in the red zone, and late in the fourth quarter. -Mike Dussault

We haven't seen the Mac that played on Thursday all season. What do you think changed? Patricia finally giving him some chances to throw the ball past the line of scrimmage and pick up firsts? -@StanLemons

As mentioned above I think it all starts with the protection, but even still there were times this season when I thought the protection was okay and Mac either drifted into pressure or bailed early. So credit to him too for settling in as the protection proved sufficient. From there everything seemed to blossom as he found his stride, hitting passing all over the field and showing he can make the kind of throws necessary to go back and forth in a high-scoring game. Not that that is what you want to do, but it's a game type that people have held over Mac's head since his arrival since the Patriots can't seem to win a game that gets close to 30 points. Again it just comes down to consistency and clutch now for Mac and the offense… maintain that level of play but do it against the best defenses in the "gotta have it" moments. -Mike Dussault

Hi Deuce. Just to play the "if" game for funsies, if you could switch out an oline guy, which specific player would it be and, who would you ideally like to Pats to go get to plug in? -@Clazzyclare

Hard not to find my mind drifting to all the long-time tackles that have been in New England and strung together healthy consistent seasons together on the regular. Matt Light, Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer would top the list. Certainly, all had their times where they had bad games or missed games due to injury, but for the most part, those were three guys you could count on week in and week out to give you quality play along the offensive edges. I'd put tackle close to the top of draft needs at this point for obvious reasons but the Patriots are hardly alone in this need. -Mike Dussault

Mac Jones celebrates a TD against the Minnesota Vikings.
Mac Jones celebrates a TD against the Minnesota Vikings.

Are we going to be flexed out of the Sunday night game with the Raiders? -PlayaPatriot

I think there is a good chance but let's see how this week's matchup for the Patriots against the Bills goes, obviously the Raiders are on a little win streak and that could mean it stays put. But I'd think the Patriots at least need to make a strong showing, even though New England drew a near-record amount of viewers against the Vikings. Miami travelling to Buffalo in a game that could have first place in the division on the line seems like a suitable replacement to promote from the afternoon games. -Mike Dussault

I don't think I have ever been so proud of a loss than I was on Friday morning after our New England Patriots narrowly missed out against a strong Vikings side. They gave us plenty to be thankful for in a complete turnaround from the nonexistent offensive performance from the week before and for me the cherry on top was the way that Mac Jones gave us a look into his strong psyche and resolve which revealed his strength of character to contribute that stellar career high effort after weeks of being torn to shreds from a large element of the footballing world. What was your overall take on what unfolded on Thursday night and did you have to, like myself, willingly eat a nice and large slice of humble pie for Thanksgiving desert? -Mark Saez

Well, I thought the Patriots would win this one so I wasn't eating any humble pie, but I agree there were some encouraging signs from the offense that we basically have not seen yet this season. As much as I felt reenergized by that kind of performance the same big question continues to loom, as mentioned above. They need to find mistake-free, highly executed football in the most important moments against the best teams. There are plenty of good opportunities down the stretch, against a number of good teams and wins are wins at this point, so I don't want to pump the style points too much. I'm hopeful the offense can build off what they did in Minnesota while also carrying over the motivation from that loss. Hopefully it sparks a game full of clutch execution that really makes things interesting against Buffalo. -Mike Dussault

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