Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins Should Boost Patriots’ Red Zone Offense Against Ravens (Mailbag)

Aaron Dobson Kenbrell ThompkinsIt always seems to come down to the Patriots and Ravens.

This season is no different, though some of the familiar faces are gone. Ray Lewis is giving hot sports takes on ESPN, Ed Reed is toiling away on the Jets, Wes Welker is currently concussed on the Broncos and Aaron Hernandez is sitting in jail (not to mention the absence of Rob GronkowskiVince WilforkJerod Mayo and many, many more). In their places are Ravens linebacker Daryl Smith, Ravens free safety Matt Elam, Patriots receiver Julian Edelman and, well, no one really replaced Hernandez, huh?

If the Patriots go down to Baltimore and win, they win the AFC East. If the Ravens win, the Dolphins lose and the Chargers lose or tie, Baltimore makes it to the playoffs, and we could see this game as a rematch in the wild-card round of the playoffs. That’s a frightening thought for this Patriots team.

This isn’t quite a must-win game for New England, but it’s close. And coming off a loss to Miami, this team better be hungry traveling down to Baltimore.

The No. 1 concern on fans’ minds seems to be the height of the current wide receiver corps. I’ll cover that first in this week’s mailbag.

How are we going to score red zone TDs?
–@JoeLeverone

Will Dobson and Thompkins actually make the offense that much better?
–@bigghuffdaddy

Hi Doug, do you see Dobson and Thompkins re-emerging due to the loss of Gronk? Will they see more targets?
–@WesleyGJohns

I’ll take on Joe, Huff and Wesley’s questions all at once. I think question No. 1 depends on whether rookie wide receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins will play. It’s extremely difficult to score red zone touchdowns with a bunch of 5-foot-10 slot receivers. The times when Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan score touchdowns are more bizarre aberrations than anything else. I know I saw Hooman pull in a one-handed touchdown, but I’m still not entirely convinced it happened.

Having Dobson or Thompkins healthy for last week’s game in Miami could have made a huge difference on that last drive. It probably would have helped to have Boyce healthy at that point of the game, too.

I think Dobson and Thompkins will make the offense better if they can play this week, but certainly not to the level that a healthy Gronkowski would. Dobson is dealing with a foot injury, while Thompkins is trying to recovery from a hurt hip.

I don’t think the offense played that poorly against the Dolphins. It was certainly a grind to get downfield, but the Patriots did it time after time. They just were not able to finish. It’s possible they would have with a bigger receiver, though.

I think we’ll see a decent number of four-receiver sets when Dobson and Thompkins come back, so yes, I do think they will each see more targets. Both rookie receivers have had interesting seasons. It could be argued that they’re overrated, properly rated and underrated depending what aspect of their game is being discussed.

Why are you such a charmer?
–@f_hammond

I think many people who know me best would disagree with your characterization of me, Mr. Hammond. But I thank you nonetheless.

If you could take any football player out for dinner, who would it be and why?
–@MilanNL

Gilbert Brown. So I could try to match him plate for plate and get really, really, really sick.

In next year’s upcoming draft, what position should the Patriots focus on drafting?
–@H_Resto13

I think I answer this question every week, but I’ll continue to do it because it’s fun and I love the draft. If I had to project the team’s needs, I would say: tight end, interior offensive line, interior defensive line and possibly cornerback, depending on what happens to Aqib Talib.

Tight end and interior defensive line would likely be the biggest needs. New England has never put a high value on centers or right guards, so I would expect them to look for interior offensive line in the middle rounds or late in the draft. It couldn’t hurt to take another running back, quarterback or pass rusher at some point, either.

It’s been mentioned by others, but if a quarterback the Patriots like is there in the first or second round, it would not be shocking to see them bite the bullet to take Brady’s replacement. A.J. McCarron is the first player that comes to mind. He’s got a little Tom Brady in him, though his mechanics are that of a more mobile Manning. I don’t think Ryan Mallett is the heir to the throne for many reasons.

How does the Edelman/Amendola effect work against the Ravens’ secondary this week without Gronk opening up the middle?
–@culvey13

Timmy! My old intern. It’s nice to see you in the mailbag.

It’s going to be tough for the receiver who’s lined up across from Lardarius Webb and easier for the one who’s facing Corey Graham. I expect Webb to take on Edelman, Graham to cover Danny Amendola and Jimmy Smith to guard Thompkins or Dobson. Obviously there will be safety and linebacker help in the middle of the field, too.

Amendola and Edelman churned out a couple of astonishing performances against the Dolphins that will be hard to replicate in any week. If Dobson and Thompkins are back, it will lessen the need to do so, though. Dobson or Thompkins could also help open up the middle of the field by taking the top off the defense and pushing the safeties back.

After a down game, I would expect Shane Vereen to have a big impact against the Ravens, too. This Baltimore defense is obviously good, but I think there are ways to beat them, especially with Brady at the helm.

What movie have you seen the most number of times, and approximately how many times have you watched it?
–@YouSeeThisWatch

Unless there’s an obvious one I’m forgetting, it has to be Home Alone or Plains, Trains and Automobiles since I’ve watched them every holiday season since I can remember. Home Alone probably beats out PTaA because AMC has been showing nothing but movies that start with the words “Home Alone” for the past month. And when they’re on, I have to be watching them.

When Kevin is running from the cop and slides across the skating rink on his knees, how did he gain that much momentum?
–@DarrylJohnston

Maybe off screen he’s brushing the ice with his stolen toothbrush like some crazy form of curling. The police in the imaginary town where Kevin McCallister lives are a bunch of doofuses.

Can you break down the Patriots’ cap situation for this offseason?
–@cp_man12

I can do my best.

Spotrac.com is telling me that the Patriots’ estimated total cap in 2014 is $124,410,318. Overthecap.com is saying New England has $115,209,075 worth of contracts and $8,536,054 worth of dead money, equaling $123,745,129. The Patriots have $6,233,503 worth of cap space this season, which rolls over to next season.

This season’s salary cap was $123 million. Next year, it’s expected to go up to $126.3 million, according to Albert Breer of NFL.com.

That means the Patriots have roughly $8 million worth of cap space going into next offseason. There are also nine players the Patriots could cut that would save them more than $1 million, according to Overthecap.com.

Dan Connolly ($3 million), Isaac Sopoaga ($2.75 million), Tommy Kelly ($2.5 million) and Adrian Wilson ($1.3 million) could all be cap casualties. The other five players are Wilfork ($8 million), Stephen Gostkowski ($3 million), Logan Mankins ($2.5 million), Steve Gregory ($2.35 million) and Matthew Slater ($1.3 million).

Hernandez’s contract accounts for $7.5 million in dead money.

Thoughts on the possibility of Sunday’s forecast showing 24 mph winds and rain? Flacco is banged up. Could these two offerings net a win? Considering the Ravens are the league’s leading team in chucking it up and hoping for pass interference.
–@fskott

I think, if anything, it levels the playing field a little bit, just because it is so unusual. The Patriots played well in the extreme winds earlier this season against the Broncos, though it was more than 40 degrees cooler. It’s expected to be 71 degrees in Baltimore on Sunday.

That’s some absolutely insane weather for Dec. 22. It would not be odd if this game were being played in Jacksonville, Tampa or Miami, but Baltimore?

How would you cast the Anchorman News Team using only Patriots players and media?
–@NEPatriotsDraft

For Patriots media, Mike Giardi is obviously Brick. Jeff Howe is Brian Fantana, Rhett Lewis is Champ Kind and Tom E. Curran is Ron. Actually, Gary Striewski might be Fantana.

Due to their chemistry on Quick SlantsMary Paoletti would have to be Curran’s Veronica Corningstone.

Nick Underhill is Wes Mantooth and I’m the Luke Wilson character. Ben Volin is the Ben Stiller character, if only because thinking about that makes me laugh. No one in that movie is nice enough to be Mike Reiss or Field Yates. Wait, Levan Reid might be Champ. This is hard. I give up.

I’m afraid to do this for the Patriots because I would have to name someone Brick. And that wouldn’t be nice. Which is why I named Giardi as Brick for the media portion.

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

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