Patriots Mailbag: Will Pats Expand Playbook For Mac Jones In Week 2?

Plus: Who replaces Trent Brown if the big tackle can't go?


September 17, 2021

You asked, we answered. Let’s dive right into this week’s New England Patriots mailbag:

After seeing Mac and what he is capable. Do you think a variety of new plays will be opened this week? Maybe streching the field a bit more? Try new plays? Or do we stick on whats on the paper for now?
It wouldn’t surprise me if Josh McDaniels opens up the playbook a bit for Mac Jones in his second start. McDaniels and Jones both were relatively conservative in New England’s Week 1 loss to the Miami Dolphins — the latter ranked 26th among quarterbacks in average intended air yards, per NFL Next Gen Stats — but I liked what I saw from Jones in his few opportunities to attack downfield. His two 20-plus-yard strikes to Nelson Agholor were, as was his over-the-shoulder wheel to James White.

The New York Jets also don’t have the cornerback talent that Miami does. Their starters against the Carolina Panthers in Week 1 were 2020 fifth-round pick Bryce Hall and 2021 sixth-round pick Brandin Echols. Behind them: 2021 fifth-rounder Michael Carter and 2020 undrafted free agent Javelin Guidry. McDaniels could look to challenge that inexperienced group on Sunday.

Trent Brown has to miss extended time, do you think the team will pivot Onwenu to tackle, especially after Herron?s struggles? I didn?t think Durant was too much of a liability, but Big Mike is a proven anchor out there, with Karras moving inside.
That’s probably how I’d handle it, but it looks like the Patriots would prefer to keep Mike Onwenu at left guard. He said Wednesday morning that he hasn’t worked at tackle at all since the start of training camp. New England’s top right tackle during the open media portion of Thursday’s practice was Yasir Durant, who finished Sunday’s game there after Justin Herron was benched.

Was that a hint at the Patriots’ Week 2 starting lineup, or misdirection from Bill Belichick, who knows reporters are only allowed to watch a small sliver of each practice during the regular season? We’ll find out Sunday.

A few notes on Durant: He was a three-year starter at left tackle at Missouri but didn’t see much playing time as an undrafted Kansas City Chiefs rookie last season, starting one game at right guard and playing an additional 36 snaps at right tackle. The Patriots acquired him in a trade after their final preseason game. Listed at 6-foot-7, 330 pounds, he’s New England’s second-tallest player behind Brown and third-heaviest behind Brown and Onwenu.

Brown did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. He played just seven snaps against the Dolphins before a calf injury shelved him.

Will the tight ends become a major part of the offense (receiving) or is that wishful thinking?

I’m sure they will be. Remember, this season opener was Henry’s first game since last December (he missed the preseason with a shoulder injury) and Smith’s first game action with Jones (all of his snaps in preseason games were with Cam Newton). I think you saw that connection begin to improve as the game went on, with all three of Henry’s catches and targets coming after halftime and Jones hitting Smith for 10 and 11 yards in the fourth quarter.

Will Henry and Smith combine for 2,200 yards and 24 touchdowns like Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez did in 2011? I highly doubt it. But they’ll be much, much more productive than any tight ends the Patriots fielded in the previous two seasons.

In case you forgot just how bad the Patriots have been at that position since Gronkowski left, Smith’s five catches on five targets Sunday were the most by a New England tight since Gronk had six in Super Bowl LIII.

It’s worth noting, though, that Smith popped up on the injury report Thursday with a hip issue. We’ll see if that limits him at all on Sunday.

Thoughts on the decreased usage of a fullback last week? I know the team ran a ton of 2 TE sets.

That’s just what the offense is going to look like this season when Henry and Smith both are in the lineup. The Patriots had two tight ends on the field for nearly half of their snaps in Week 1. You’ll still see some 21 personnel with Damien Harris and fullback Jakob Johnson, but that’ll be a smaller part of most Patriots game plans than it had been in previous years.

What?s status on Harry and his time table to return to the field.

N’Keal Harry is eligible to come off injured reserve in Week 4 — so, after he sits out two more games. It’s hard to say what his role will be once he’s back. Maybe he gets the handful of offensive snaps Gunner Olszewski played against Miami? Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne and both tight ends are above him in the pass-catcher pecking order. But Harry changing his jersey number does suggest to me that he no longer expects to be traded.

Will Damien Harris remain the leadback? What kind of volume should we expect this Sunday?

Maybe the Patriots will dial back Harris’s workload to some extent this week — he ranked third in the NFL in carries (23) and fifth in touches (25) in Week 1 — but he’s their lead back. There’s no question about that. And he ran the ball very well before his comeback-killing fumble. I would expect him to see somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 to 20 touches against the Jets.

The bigger question to me is how they’ll handle the rotation behind him. Patriots backs have been benched for better performances than the one rookie Rhamondre Stevenson endured last Sunday (lost fumble, blown pass protection in five snaps), but with Sony Michel gone, New England needs someone who can spell Harris on early downs. Stevenson should be that guy, but the primary requirements of young backs are to protect the ball and protect the quarterback, and he couldn’t do either against Miami.

Maybe it will be J.J. Taylor, who was a healthy scratch against Miami. The 5-foot-6 Taylor led all NFL rushers in yards per carry this preseason (7.8) and received another positive review from position coach Ivan Fears this week. I’d give him a shot this week.

Do you think something is the matter physically with Hightower ?

I think it’s more rust from his year away from football than any specific injury, but Dont’a Hightower definitely did not look like his usual self against the Dolphins. He admitted as much Thursday, saying he needs to “play a lot better” moving forward.

He’s never been an elite-level athlete, but the Hightower we saw on Sunday was sluggish in his movements and seriously lacking in explosiveness. We’ll see if he can restore that as he reacclimates to game speed. The Patriots will be banking on that, given how important the 31-year-old is to their front seven.

It’s too early to panic here, but Hightower’s performance is a legitimate concern, especially since the Patriots might not have Kyle Van Noy this week.

Would you pick the Pats as your survivor pick this week?


Thumbnail photo via Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports Images
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