Patriots Mailbag: How Can New England Fix Red-Zone Issues In Week 3?


Sep 24, 2021

Happy Friday, friends. It’s time for another New England Patriots mailbag.

Without further ado:

Do you think we will see McDaniels be a bit more expansive in plus territory this week? We seem ultra conservative thus far.

I think the complaints about Josh McDaniels’ conservative play-calling have been slightly overblown so far, especially after seeing All-22 footage of Mac Jones passing up a few shots to open receivers downfield. Personally, I’d rather have a rookie QB — especially one this early in his career — who averages 6.8 yards per attempt but doesn’t throw interceptions than one who keeps bombing it into double coverage. Of course, you’d ideally prefer a blend of the two, but Jones is on the right side of that spectrum.

But I would like to see McDaniels and Jones be a bit more aggressive in the red zone, where the Patriots are an NFL-worst 2-for-7 this season. You’ve probably heard the stat that Jones has yet to attempt a pass into the end zone. He also hasn’t thrown one beyond 3 yards of the line of scrimmage during any of his red-zone visits, save for one throwaway. His other five red-zone attempts traveled -3, 3, 2, 3 and -1 yards downfield.

The Patriots can’t keep settling for field goals, especially with several potent offenses coming up on their schedule. The New Orleans Saints’ 38-point eruption in Week 1 might have been a fluke, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys have serious offensive firepower. The Pats will see the Saints on Sunday, the Bucs next week and the Cowboys in Week 6.

Twenty-one of New England’s 41 points this season have come on Nick Folk field goals.

How’s Isiah Wynn’s injury?
Wynn actually hasn’t appeared on the injury report at all this year, which makes his early-season struggles all the more puzzling. In the past, the only real concern with him was that he couldn’t stay on the field. But he’s played every offensive snap this season and has not looked like himself.

Through two games, Wynn has allowed a team-high seven pressures, per Pro Football Focus; committed a team-high three penalties; and is PFF’s second-lowest-graded run blocker among tackles with at least 50 run-blocking snaps. His play has probably been the single biggest concern for the Patriots’ offense thus far. We’ll see if he can stabilize things in the coming weeks.

If that question was referring to right tackle Trent Brown’s calf injury, things seem to be moving in the right direction there. Brown has played just seven snaps this season, but he’s been able to participate in each of the last three practices, albeit in a limited capacity.

Bill Belichick said Monday he’s not concerned about the Patriots’ right tackle situation. But with replacements Justin Herron and Yasir Durant looking inconsistent at best, the Patriots really need the big man back on the field.

Do you think the return of N’Keal Harry will positively impact the underwhelming red zone offense?
Harry should be a weapon in the red zone with his big body and contested-catch ability, and we’ve seen flashes of that from him in his career. All four of his NFL touchdown catches have come from inside the 10-yard line.

The big question with Harry, though, is consistency, and it’s unclear what his role will be if and when he returns to the field. Right now, he projects as the team’s No. 5 pass-catcher behind fellow wideouts Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne and tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith.

Harry, who went down with a shoulder injury in the Patriots’ second preseason game, is eligible to come off injured reserve next week if he’s healthy enough to do so. So we could see him back on the field for Pats-Bucs.

Why aren’t the tight ends more involves in the passing game
I think part of it has to do with how much Jones has spread the ball around. Eight different Patriots caught passes in Week 1, and seven did so in Week 2. No one has tallied more than six receptions in either game.

Smith had five catches against the Miami Dolphins and four against the New York Jets (despite seeing a lighter workload in the latter), so he has been involved. He just hasn’t been much of a big-play threat thus far (only three first downs on nine receptions). Henry has been the opposite: he only has five catches, but four of them went for first downs, and the other picked up 9 yards on first-and-10. His 32-yard catch-and-run last week was the longest by any Patriot this season.

It’s also important to remember that Henry didn’t play in the preseason, all of Smith’s game snaps came with Cam Newton. Something tells me a breakout is coming for one or both of these highly paid tight ends.

Why did bower play ahead of uche and Wino last week?

That was notable, right? The Patriots still don’t seem to trust Uche or Winovich as run defenders.

Tashawn Bower, an elevated practice squadder, saw more action than both players in the first half of the Jets game, when New York was leaning more on its rushing attack. After halftime, when the lopsided score forced the Jets to pass more, Uche and Winovich saw their playing time increase. Uche wound up playing a healthy 35 defensive snaps, but just six of those were against the run, per PFF.

Uche was dominant as a pass rusher last week (two sacks, three QB hits, six pressures in just 19 pass-rush snaps) but the Patriots chose not to use him as an every-down player, even with Kyle Van Noy sidelined. And as successful as Uche was at hassling Zach Wilson, he did have one notable negative play in run defense, getting pancaked on a fourth-quarter handoff.

Barmore will have a better career than Mac Jones. Agree or Disagree?
Hmmm. I’ll say no, but I do like what I’ve seen from Christian Barmore so far. He made a bunch of plays as a pass rusher and run defender in the Jets game. Barmore’s pass-rush grade on Pro Football Focus ranks second among all rookie D-tackles and first among those with at least 15 pass-rush snaps.

What do you think will happen on the field after the game between Brady and Belichick and Gronk and Belichick

That’s a great question. I like to think there will be some sort of on-field acknowledgment, however terse, either before or after the game. I don’t expect them to be hugging and laughing, but it would be a little disheartening to see a complete stonewalling after all the success they had together.

Why does the media keep asking and recycling tom brady news? Seriously

Because the greatest quarterback of all time is about to face the team with whom he won six Super Bowls for the first time. This is probably the most anticipated regular-season game in NFL history. It’s a big deal. We’re going to talk/write/ask about it.

Thumbnail photo via Chris Pedota, via Imagn Content Services
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