Patriots Mailbag: Are More Changes Coming To New England Offense?

Plus: Could Jack Jones vault into the starting lineup?


September 23

It’s Friday mailbag time. Let’s dive right into your New England Patriots questions ahead of Sunday’s home opener against the Baltimore Ravens:

Do you see more RPOs moving forward? If I remember correctly, Stevenson was in on a series with 3 straight pass plays. Could drive defenses crazy..thoughts?

I do expect to see the Patriots utilize more run-pass options moving forward. We saw about a half-dozen of them against the Steelers, and Mac Jones raved this week about how effective they can be. Jones also said he “definitely” pushed for RPOs to be a larger part of New England’s offense this season.

“I think it puts stress on the defense,” the quarterback said Wednesday. “I definitely learned (that) in college just watching Coach (Nick) Saban sometimes explode in practice. Just knowing he’s trying to tell somebody to do something, but his guy is running a route, but then it’s also a run. Is it a pass? There’s a lot of cool gray area there from an offensive perspective. … You can’t really ever tell if it’s an RPO or play-action sometimes, so it’s kind of an interesting play.”

Jones was extraordinarily productive on RPOs in college (61-for-68, 778 yards, eight touchdowns, zero interceptions in 2020, per Pro Football Focus), and while the Patriots don’t have the massive talent gap that the Crimson Tide enjoyed in most of their games, they could benefit from working more of those plays into their weekly repertoire.

Are the Patriots abandoning 12 personnel outside of situational? It?s not working
Too early to say, but I doubt they’re full-on abandoning it. I think we’ll see the Patriots’ two-tight end usage vary based on the game and opponent. They used 12 personnel on 46.4% of their offensive snaps in Week 1 but on just one snap in Week 2. I expect that’ll continue to fluctuate.

New England did use a significant amount of what I’ve been calling “11-plus personnel” last week, deploying Lil’Jordan Humphrey along with two other receivers and either Smith or Henry. Bill Belichick has referred to Humphrey as a hybrid player who “doesn’t really fit a mold for a certain position,” and the Patriots have used him mostly as a run blocker. The benefit of having him out there? It allows New England to simulate 12 personnel against a lighter defense, as most opponents will replace a linebacker with an extra defensive back when facing three-receiver looks.

The Patriots do need more from their high-priced tight ends. Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith have combined for just five catches for 53 yards so far this season, with all of those coming in the opener. All four of Jones’ tight end targets against Pittsburgh fell incomplete, marking the first time he went an entire game without completing a pass to either Henry or Smith.

Do you think Parker will be more involved, I know he had some targets in game 1 but doesn?t seem to be the same as he was in preseason unless it?s more on Mac not throwing him a good ball?
DeVante Parker has been one of the biggest letdowns of this Patriots season to date. He’s been targeted four times through two games, and those have produced more interceptions (two) than receptions (one for 9 yards). N’Keal Harry posted better stats in his first two appearances last season (two catches, 19 yards).

As I wrote earlier this week, Parker isn’t solely to blame for his struggles. Jones also deserves criticism, especially for his decision-making on the deep ball last week that was picked off by Minkah Fitzpatrick. The QB-receiver connection between those two simply has not been where it needs to be after a full training camp and preseason together.

I’ve seen people knock Parker for his inability to create separation from defensive backs, but I don’t view that as a major problem. That’s the kind of player he’s always been, annually ranking at or near the bottom of the NFL in average separation. His calling card is his ability to make contested catches, and he has exactly zero of those so far this season while Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor — leaner receivers who aren’t built to outmuscle DBs — both have impressed in that area.

Timing is especially important on the 50-50 balls Parker often sees, so perhaps that will improve as he and Jones continue to build chemistry. But if that doesn’t happen quickly, the Patriots will need to start dialing back his playing time and diverting it to players like Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. Parker has played 109 snaps this season — most among New England skill players — and has one positive play to show for it.

Is it a red shirt year for Marcus Jones?
I don’t think it’ll be a full-blown redshirt for Jones, but he hasn’t had a role thus far. He played just four snaps in Week 1 and then was a healthy scratch for Week 2, with Myles Bryant getting the nod over him at both slot cornerback and punt returner.

Bryant seems to be unpopular with fans on social media, and he certainly had his issues late last season, but he’s been solid defensively through two games. He was PFF’s highest-graded Patriots DB against Pittsburgh, doing a nice job in coverage against the much larger Chase Claypool (four catches, 23 yards). He hasn’t done anything to lose that job.

The punt return role, though, will be interesting. Bryant narrowly avoided disaster when he muffed a punt near his own goal line, and though he responded with a quality 16-yard runback later in the game, the Patriots may be included to give Jones a try back there this week. The third-round rookie is the higher-upside option after tying the NCAA record with nine punt/kick return touchdowns in college.

In limited reps Jack Jones has not shown any ‘wow’ statistics but has not failed either. Combined with the confidence of taking on Tyreek in his first NFL snap, what is your prediction on his role by season’s end?

Jack Jones has been the Patriots’ No. 3 outside cornerback behind starters Jalen Mills and Jonathan Jones, and I expect him to stick in that role in the coming weeks. He hasn’t been flawless — he admitted last week that he got “Mossed” by Hill when the Dolphins star snatched a would-be interception away from him — but hasn’t looked out of his depth in his first taste of regular-season NFL action and plays with a visible confidence that not all rookies possess. The highlight-reel Hill catch in Week 1 is the only catch Jones has allowed in 20 coverage snaps this season, per PFF.

I don’t see the fourth-round pick vaulting into the starting lineup imminently, but it is worth noting Mills hasn’t exactly been a lockdown cover man through two games. The returning starter has allowed 10 catches on 14 targets for 152 yards and one touchdown with one interception and is PFF’s second-lowest-graded Patriots defender entering Week 3.

If that shakiness — from a player who looked like the Patriots’ clear No. 1 corner in training camp — continues, perhaps we see a change there at some point this season.

Any chance the pats are suiting up in the red throwbacks this weekend ?
Not just yet. Few more weeks. The Patriots are scheduled to bring back their beloved Pat Patriot throwbacks on Oct. 24, for their Monday night matchup with the Chicago Bears. They’ll also wear them for their other primetime home game, a Thursday nighter against the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 1.

I, for one, cannot wait. Those uniforms are gorgeous.

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