NFL

Patriots Mailbag: Checking In on the Secondary and Setting Expectations for the Offense

Brent Schwartz @BrentSchwartzz: In projecting the #Patriots ‘base’ D, which 5 DB lineup will ‘start’? Will it be 3 safeties/2 CBs, or the inverse? For me, it’s now – Gonzalez (boundary CB) J̶a̶c̶k̶ Jon Jones (covers Z/slot) Jalen Mills (nickel/safety) Dugger (robber/two-high) Phillips (single-high/two-high)

Assuming base is how the Patriots respond to groupings with multiple tight ends and/or running backs, I think you’re pretty close! Last season, New England deployed big nickel (3 safeties and 2 corners) against teams who used run personnel to create mismatches in the passing game. Fielding a third safety instead of a corner added physicality to the defense without sacrificing athleticism.

Jonathan Jones seemed to be the top corner opposite Christian Gonzalez in these groupings, though Jack Jones was also in the mix with the starting unit. My only change would be swapping Jalen Mills with Jabrill Peppers, who I believe is the top big nickel option. That said, there will be a ton of swapping and rotating in this and the other safety spots, which makes this a really exciting unit.

#1 Pats Mascot fan @Acasualpatsfan: What position is mapu most likely to play, safety or linebacker?

This is a tough one, as he’s listed as a linebacker but was used all over the defense in front of the media. Most of Mapu’s snaps during OTAs were in McCourty’s old centerfield role, but he was used near the line of scrimmage more often during minicamp practices. Despite these being slower-paced practices without real contact, Mapu’s recognition and explosiveness stood out no matter where he lined up.

My guess is he’ll be more of a safety/defensive back on early downs before dropping into the box as more of a linebacker in sub packages.

ohn Rodgers @LongWan61426947: Do you think the pats defense will be elite without jack jones?

Liam Frieswick: If the Pats lose Jack Jones this year, who can make up turnover production? Feel like we lost our ballhawk which had a lot of value for our defense/struggling offense.

Jack Jones’ ball-hawking is valuable, and I hope we get a chance to see how he grows under the Patriots’ tutelage. But he wasn’t consistent enough as a rookie for me to think losing him would be some massive blow to the secondary, missing the last month of the season (partly due to suspension) and plateauing after a strong start.

While Marcus Jones is smaller than his draft classmate, he’s about the same weight, faster, arguably more physical, and is another fluid athlete with exceptional ball skills. I do think Marcus is best suited for the slot, but his college and professional tape show he can hang outside if given the right matchups.

stevie ray woebegone @texanskoolaid: how are marcus jones and the younger (non-rookie) members of the secondary group looking?

Pascal @TheSkwal: Isaiah Bolden szn ?

Marcus Jones only participated in team drills during the final minicamp practice, and even those reps were limited. He was used exclusively on the outside, similar to last season, which was surprising since I expected him to take on more of a slot role in year 2. That said, it’s still early and the coaching staff is still figuring out people’s roles.

Jack Jones stood out with a few highlight moments in camp, including at least two interceptions where his recognition and closing speed popped.

Rookie Isaiah Bolden and second-year Shaun Wade seemed to be top backups outside, but neither made much of an impact in the plays I saw, at least not in a positive way. Bolden was targeted several times while covering DeVante Parker in the final minicamp practice, but couldn’t come away with any pass breakups. He’s an extremely talented young player with ideal size and speed for an outside corner, and Deion Sanders raved about him during the draft. Another player whose development bears watching.

Ameer Speed barely participated in team drills defensively, as he’s projected to be more of a special teams ace.

Matt St. Jean @mattstdream: How does this team stop the run, especially with a week 1 game against Philly? Relying on Godchaux, Guy, and Davis is not an inspiring group.

I understand that Lawrence Guy (33 years old) and Carl Davis (31 years old) are getting up there in age for defensive linemen. The nature of Godchaux’s position also makes it hard to gauge his impact, both in real-time and in the stat sheet. All that said, the Patriots had one of the league’s best interior run defenses last season, allowing a league-low 7 explosive runs (10+ yards) inside the tackles.

Godchaux, Guy, and Davis are nearly impossible to block 1-on-1 due to their power, pad level, technique, and recognition They’re a big reason the Patriots were able to use as many big nickel packages and 2-high shells as they did last season. While Godchaux isn’t as large as Guy or Davis, he’s got a bit more explosiveness and lines up at both nose and defensive tackle/end depending on the situation.

Guy’s situation is interesting with the veteran holding out for a new contract, with his age and 2-down value hurting his case a bit. But his consistency and leadership have been invaluable since he got to New England, and he seemed to have plenty of gas left in the tank last season.

Deatrich Wise and Christian Barmore are solid backup options, particularly when the offense wants more athleticism and pass rush up front. But Wise tends to get blown out of his gap by double teams and Barmore has yet to prove he can be relied on consistently. Sam Roberts may be the dark horse in this group after getting reps in Guy’s place during OTAs and minicamp. He was an unstoppable force in Northwest Missouri State but didn’t see much playing time in his first season at a much higher level of competition. His development is worth monitoring.

Daniel Harms @InHarmsWay19: What does the offense need to accomplish to not sink a projected top 3 defense this season?

A fair question considering how often the offense let the defense down last season. And despite losing Devin McCourty, I agree that the continuity and off-season additions on defense should make it an elite unit.

Under Bill O’Brien, I don’t see the offense being as inept or self-destructive as it was with Matt Patricia in charge. Not only is O’Brien an old-school coach who preaches details, communication, and consistency, but he’s also a perfect fit for Mac Jones given their respective backgrounds. At the very least, Jones should become a respectable game manager who wins with recognition, smart decision-making, and accuracy.

And let’s not forget Rhamondre Stevenson and the rushing attack. Stevenson proved to be one of the league’s most dynamic runners before slowing down due to overuse. It will be interesting to see who establishes themselves as RB2 once the pads come on, but Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris are talented young backs who complement Stevenson nicely. If they can take the second-year leap Patriots backs are known for, New England could have a hyper-efficient squad on its hands that kills opponents with a thousand paper cuts.

brianna pirre @bsp_13: deandre hopkins. yes or yes?

Bruhbruhbruh @Bruhbruh344: Who would benefit the most on the roster from Hopkins presence?

To answer Brianna’s very tough question, yes! The Patriots’ lack of depth at wide receiver stood out during OTAs and minicamp practices, even with the offense using almost exclusively 12 personnel (2 tight ends, 1 running back) in team drills. Tyquan Thornton (soft tissue) and JuJu Smith-Schuster (ACL) were both managing injuries, leaving DeVante Parker and Kendrick Bourne as the team’s top wideouts. While Parker had several impressive catches on the final day of minicamp, Bourne was largely a non-factor in these sessions.

I think Mac Jones would be the biggest beneficiary if New England ultimately signs Hopkins, particularly after losing his most consistent receiver Jakobi Meyers this offseason. Hopkins may not be the top-tier talent he once was, but he’s still got some of the best hands in football and Bill O’Brien knows how to maximize the receiver’s skill set. Jones having a wideout he can rely on who has experience in a similar system would be a huge boost for the third-year quarterback.

Alex Herzlinger @PatsFanHertzy: Do you think trent brown is our starting LT week one?

If Trent Brown is in playing shape, he’s their best offensive lineman not named Mike Onwenu. But Calvin Anderson saw nearly all of the starting left tackle reps with Brown not attending OTAs and missing the first minicamp practice due to a canceled flight.

When Brown did take the field, he seemed tired going through position drills before moving to the lower field and didn’t participate in team drills. I don’t like to speculate on these situations without more concrete knowledge, so I can’t say definitively what his situation is. But if he returns from this break and the coaching staff is happy with what they see, he’s the clear top option and one of the league’s better blindside protectors.

Jon Olson @JonOlson62: will the Pats be using a fullback this year?

Fullbacks aren’t a big part of Bill O’Brien’s scheme, but he does use tight ends in that role from time to time.

I could see that job going to Anthony Firkser, who’s shown positional versatility in his career and looks like the clear-cut TE3. He isn’t a great blocker but can give the run game more flexibility while providing a soft pair of mitts out of the backfield.

Just a gym teacher @Justagymteachr: Predict the afc east standings at the end of the year….

  1. Buffalo Bills (all hail the kings)
  2. Miami Dolphins (best receiving duo in the division and a revamped defense)
  3. New York Jets (if their OL stays healthy, they should compete with the Fins for 2nd place)
  4. New England Patriots (if Mac Jones can close out a few close games late, they’ll be in competition for 2nd)

Colby Fauser @colbyfau: Game on the line, would you trust an offense comprised of eleven Vince Wilfork’s or a defense of eleven Julian Edelman’s more?

I love Jules, but he ain’t stopping Quinnen Williams, Christian Wilkins, or Von Miller.

Wilfork, on the other hand, can at least get in the way while Wilfork puts it on the top shelf where Wilfork can box out a defensive back, break a tackle, and rumble into the end zone.

So I gotta give it to Big Vince on this one.

Taylor Kyles

Taylor Kyles is the lead NFL Analyst for CLNS Media covering players, schemes, and tendencies through a New England Patriots-centric lens.

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