Patriots’ No. 26 Rank in Rush Defense Is Not Concerning, Unit Will Improve As Veterans Step Up

Sheldon Richardson, Aaron DobsonFOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots have been called the worst 2-0 team in the NFL.

That’s far from the truth, but the team hasn’t lived up the lofty expectations spoiled Patriots fans have come anticipate. But it’s certainly not time to panic. Tom Brady will come around as his weapons start to return.

Should it really be a surprise to anyone that an NFL offense struggled without it’s No. 1 wide receiver, tight end and running back (Shane Vereen likely would have started in Week 2 after his tremendous season debut)? Brady is a great quarterback (one of, if not the best ever), but he’s not a miracle worker.

As panic is running rampant through New England, I’m here to calm the Patriots faithful down in my weekly mailbag. Check it out below to read up on the receivers, Darrelle Revis and the Patriots’ run defense.

@The_Heater_29 asks:
Do you believe the Patriots will give Terrell Owens a shot at a roster spot?

No, I don’t. And I don’t know why fans even want a 39-year-old prima donna who hasn’t played a regular-season snap since 2010. Brett Favre has also been out of the league since 2010, just to give everyone an idea of how long ago that was.

Owens would probably be the worst fit possible for this young Patriots team. I explained why the Patriots don’t need a veteran receiver on Tuesday.

@jdpaquette asks:
What’s the fallback plan if the young receivers don’t develop? Dobson and Thompkins have looked lost at times in this offense.

The fallback plan is that Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola and Vereen will be healthy. At that point, those three players, plus Julian Edelman and Stevan Ridley, will all be receiving touches before the rookie wideouts. That’s why I think fans are panicking too much. The answers are already on the team. Any rookie receiver will be the sixth option in this offense.

The upside of Dobson and Thompkins is that they can stretch the field. Tom Brady has been targeting both players deep, especially in the game against the Jets. Having those players who can take the top off the defense opens up the middle for Amendola, Edelman and Gronkowski.

‏@Marcus_Ingram12 asks:
What do u think we can expect out of Josh Boyce and Zach Sudfeld this season?

I still think Sudfeld can contribute. But like I said above, he’ll be counted on as, at most, the sixth option in this offense. He’s a better receiving threat than Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan, so if he’s able to play this weekend, we’ll likely see the tight ends targeted more.

Boyce may be the guy who winds up on the inactive list once Amendola comes back. Dobson appeared to be a step ahead of him based on snap count in Week 2. We could see Boyce getting more of a shot in Week 3, but I expect Dobson and Thompkins to still be the No. 2 and 3 receivers in New England this week.

Outside of the deep haul-in from Ryan Mallett in the fourth preseason game, Boyce didn’t do too much during the summer to set himself apart. He’s a slot or “Z” receiver, which is also what Edelman and Amendola are. Unless both of those guys go down, it’s more likely at this point that the Patriots go with the other two rookies.

@Marcus_Mosher asks:
Who is Darrelle Revis most likely to cover?

I could see this going one of two ways, but I think the wisest decision for Tampa Bay would be to have him shadow Edelman in two-receiver sets, then have him take on Kenbrell Thompkins when the Patriots send three wide. When New England has three receivers on the field, I expect Leonard Johnson to take on Edelman.

The other way it could go is to have Revis shadow the “X” receiver and have Johnson shadow Edelman. Either way the Buccaneers do it, the player Johnson is taking on will probably be double covered, but he could also be the player most likely to exploited by the Patriots.

New England will probably do most of their damage in three-receiver sets when Johnthan Banks is on the field. It will be up to the young receivers again, though, to actually catch the ball. That’s something they had trouble with in Week 2.

@luketansley52 asks:
Why do wide receivers seem to either grasp the Patriots offense immediately or not at all? Is it that complicated?

It is very complicated. For almost every play the Patriots run, there are at least two outcomes for the receivers. They have to see the same thing and the same coverage that Tom Brady does and run their routes accordingly. That can lead to some confusion and players being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Fortunately for Thompkins and Dobson, they’re getting to spend time in the offense during the regular season. Part of the reason some of the other guys, like Taylor Price, never worked out is that they never got a chance to play during the regular season. Thompkins and Dobson might have looked rough in the first two weeks of the season, but both players are making progress.

To read more about how difficult life is for Patriots receivers, I would suggest reading Nick Underhill‘s piece on their responsibilities.

‏@bigmike05 asks:
Should the Patriots move to a teal-based uniform?

Yes. Every team in every sport should wear teal. It’s been a dying breed since the start of the new millennium. I support a comeback.

@slaugin asks:
What’s the deal with Brandon Spikes? Doghouse?

I don’t think there’s any reason to think Spikes is in the doghouse. The team obviously just thinks Dont’a Hightower is the better fit in the nickel defense while dropping back into coverage. Hightower has had a great start to the year so far. He’ll be looking even better once the Patriots start blitzing more, which could come this week against the Buccaneers.

Josh Freeman isn’t as much of a scrambling threat as Geno Smith and EJ Manuel were, so New England won’t be focused so much on containing Freeman. The Tampa Bay quarterback can get rattled when teams bring pressure, so it would make sense to send five or more rushers often on Sunday.

@YouSeeThisWatch asks:
New England is currently 26th in rush defense. Should that be a concern with Doug Martin coming to visit on Sunday?

I would never be overly concerned with the Patriots’ rushing defense. They might have taken a slight hit this year by swapping Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick for Tommy Kelly, but Kelly is a much better player overall.

Vince Wilfork hasn’t been his normal self so far this year. Once he gets it going, like we know he will, the rushing defense will be more stout.

Have a question for Doug Kyed? Send it to him via Twitter at @DougKyedNESN or send it here.