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10 big questions for the 2019 Patriots

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10. How will the running back roles be divvied up?

2018 first round pick Sony Michel was somewhat up and down as a rookie. He finished the season on a high note, posting 336 rushing yards and 6 TDs (including the only TD of Super Bowl LIII) in three playoff games. But throughout the year he would struggle in the power running game, particularly on the goal line, and his contributions in the passing game were not what they were expected to be. 

The drafting of bruiser Damien Harris from Alabama in the 3rd round suggests that the coaching staff is aware of Michel's limitations as a short yardage/goal line back. But it also suggests that the team will operate a more run-heavy offense in general. James White looks to figure prominently into the passing game as he always has, but what are the plans for Rex Burkhead, who played a crucial role during the playoffs? And just how many carries will Michel lose to the other backs in the stable?

9. What is the plan for Duke Dawson and Joejuan Williams?

The Pats' top 3 corners last year - veterans Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, and rookie JC Jackson - were among the best position groupings in the league. All three are returning, along with the solid 4th corner Jonathan Jones. There was absolutely no reason to disrupt this group in the short-term, and yet the Pats selected the 6'4", 212lb corner Joejuan Williams in the second round of this year's draft after having taken Duke Dawson in the same round last year. Both players, by virtue of their draft position, are expected to figure into the team's plans, but how? Certainly an injury to a mainstay can propel one or both of them into the rotation, but given that both project as being capable of playing either corner or safety, the more intriguing prospect is for one or both of them to be an understudy to veterans Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung. Williams is particularly intriguing because his size means he could be used as a CB/S tweener who shadows big receivers and tight ends the way the Cowboys' Byron Jones does. But as ever, Bill Belichick's plans remain opaque until they're actually unveiled on game day.

8. Will the new faces in the front-7 compensate for the loss of Trey Flowers?

Anyone who's read my posts at all over the last couple of years knows that I'm probably the biggest Trey Flowers fan who isn't a member of his extended family. Between his motor, his impeccable technique, his production against both the pass and run, and his ability to disrupt from any spot on the defensive front, I considered him to be the most underrated defensive player in the NFL and the best overall Patriots d-lineman since Hall of Fame candidate Richard Seymour. Turns out I wasn't alone in my assessment as Flowers cashed in this offseason with a 5-year, $90 million ($56 million guaranteed) deal from the Lions.

The Patriots have always set hard caps for how much they're willing to spend on particular players and given the franchise's success it's hard to argue against that approach. But given how much of a 'complete package' player Flowers is, one has to wonder how the team plans on filling the void he leaves. The obvious answer is trade acquisition Michael Bennett, who is the player whose profile most closely matches Flowers. But Bennett will turn 34 by midseason and whether he's going to be the player he's been with Seattle and Philadelphia is very much in question. Even if Bennett does adequately compensate this season, the longer-term question of who will be the Patriots' anchor on the D-line will remain. Can Deatrich Wise elevate his game in year 3? Will Lawrence Guy be asked to become more than a platoon player? Will we finally see something from 2017 top pick Derek Rivers? What can rookie Chase Winovich do? 

7. How will Isaiah Wynn fare in his first real NFL action?

Georgia product Wynn was immediately slotted by observers to become the man to replace the departed Nate Solder as the Pats' starting left tackle when he was taken with the 23rd overall pick in 2018. But those prognostications were immediately tossed away the following day, when the team traded a 3rd round pick for gargantuan 49ers tackle Trent Brown. Questions were immediately raised about the team's plans for Wynn, who was thought by many to project better as a guard than a tackle at the pro level. Was Wynn picked to play guard? And if so, what did that mean for incumbents Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason, both of whom had played at a high level the past two years? But alas, Wynn tore his Achilles in camp and all these questions were rendered moot. Meanwhile Brown's play netted him a Super Bowl ring and a 4-year, $66 million ($36 million guaranteed) deal from the Raiders. So now Wynn is penciled in as the week 1 starter at LT, but what should our expectations be? Wynn is certainly talented and he's been under the tutelage of possibly the best positional coach in league history, but will he be fully recovered from his injury and able to adapt to the pro game? And should he falter, what can we expect out of his presumptive backup, rookie 3rd rounder Yodny Cajuste?

6. Will J'Whaun Bentley continue to impress upon his return from injury?

Through the first three weeks of the 2018 season, the Patriots' defense appeared in disarray, falling to 1-2 after consecutive losses to Jacksonville and Detroit, both of which finished the season under .500. The one bright spot for the unit through those first three games was the play of Bentley, a rookie 5th rounder out of Purdue. Bentley was one of PFF's top-rated linebackers through those games and showed a capacity for big plays in both the passing and running games. Unfortunately, Bentley's promising season was curtailed by a torn bicep suffered against the Lions. The Pats' defense would eventually right ship without Bentley but with Dont'a Hightower being a year older and a perpetual injury risk, the team is likely looking to Bentley to build on his early success in the hopes of being the veteran's successor as the team's designated every-down linebacker. A successful sophomore campaign would save the team the pressure of having to find a linebacker early in the next couple of drafts.

5. Will Josh Gordon be available and ready?

Unlike a lot of people, I'm not sweating over the Patriots' pass catcher situation. Sure, Rob Gronkowski is gone and Julian Edelman is getting long in the tooth, but the former was already a shell of his former self last year and the latter is showing no signs of slowing down at age 33. The team also has James White, on whom Tom Brady has leaned heavily the last couple of seasons, as well as the (IMO) underrated Philip Dorsett and Dontrelle Inman, who was an under-the-radar signing but may well emerge as the team's top WR if he plays up to the ability he displayed with the Chargers during his last healthy season in 2016. Anything they can get out of DeMaryius Thomas and Maurice Harris will be a bonus. 

But those of us who are less bullish on this group than I will rest a lot easier if Josh Gordon is reinstated from his indefinite suspension. Gordon, in the 11 games he played between being acquired from the Browns and landing on the suspended list again, looked not far off from the player who took the league by storm in his breakout season way back in 2013. He made a number of impressive plays, which included catching Brady's 500th career TD pass against the Colts. Reports of Gordon working out privately with Brady during the offseason has raised fan hopes, but until official word of Gordon's reinstatement comes down from Park Ave., nothing should be taken for granted. Nonetheless, a healthy and focused Gordon would certainly elevate the Patriots' 2019 passing attack to once again being one of the league's most feared.

4. How much will N'Keal Harry play?

With the 32nd overall pick in this year's draft, the Patriots made Arizona State's N'Keal Harry the first wideout they took in the first round of the draft since the late Terry Glenn way back in 1996. Harry is a big-bodied (6'2", 210 lbs) receiver who was highly productive at ASU and has drawn comparisons to the likes of Anquan Boldin and Dez Bryant. But despite those accolades, the deck is, if anything, stacked against Harry because of the Patriots' recent history with drafting at his position. The team has not successfully drafted or developed a wideout since Julian Edelman, who was picked in 2009 and did not break out until 2013. Aside from Edelman, the team has spent high picks on the likes of Brandon TateTaylor Price, and Aaron Dobson over the past decade, all of whom flopped at the pro level. Malcolm Mitchell, a 4th rounder in 2016, seemed to be headed for success after a promising rookie year in which he played a key role in the Super Bowl victory. But a series of knee injuries appear to have derailed his career for good. 

To overcome this history, Harry needs to acclimate quickly to the Patriots' notoriously difficult-to-absorb offensive scheme, which utilizes numerous option routes and requires precise timing and chemistry with the quarterback. The steep learning curve suggests that Harry will have minimal impact as a rookie... or it would, if the Patriots were not badly in need of the sort of perimeter threat that Harry was drafted to provide. If Josh Gordon does, in fact, return this season, or if DeMaryius Thomas is recovered from the Achilles injury that he suffered in late 2018 then most of the pressure will be off Harry, but neither of these scenarios should be considered likely, so the rookie may need to perform out of necessity more than any rookie Pats WR since at least 2013.

3. How will the tight end position shake out?

For the first time in a decade the Patriots do not have a clear #1 tight end. The top three players on the depth chart in 2018 are all gone. Gronk most notably, of course. But Dwayne Allen was jettisoned in March and picked up by Dolphins while Jacob Hollister was sent to the Seahawks for a 7th round draft pick. The team is starting from scratch at the position with a group consisting of former Bronco Matt LaCosse, 2018 seventh rounder Ryan Izzo, former Texan and 2018 practice squadder Stephen Anderson, undrafted rookie Andrew Beck and ageless returnee Ben Watson. Watson will start the year with a 4-game suspension after having been popped for PEDs at age 38. Among the others, LaCosse, who caught 24 passes for 250 yards and 1 TD for Denver last year is the most likely man to start the year atop the depth chart, while Izzo and Beck are expected to compete for the inglorious role vacated by Allen. 
Post-draft rumors linked the Pats to Vikings veteran Kyle Rudolph as a potential trade target, but Rudolph's four-year extension with Minnesota squashed chances of him being brought in. And recent photos of Gronk suggest that he truly is done with football and will not be providing us with the proverbial 'cavalry has arrived' moment in 2019. So what will the Pats do with their tight end position this season? Is the team prepared to ride it out with the motley crew they've assembled over the last few months or is there another trade target out there for the team to pursue?

2. Will the threadbare defensive coaching staff cause problems?

The Patriots coaching staff being poached by the other 31 teams in the NFL has been an annual ritual for the last 15 years. The 2019 offseason was no exception, with linebacker coach and defensive-coordinator-without-the-title Brian Flores departing to become the head coach of the rival Miami Dolphins. But never fear, former Bucs head coach and Belichick pal Greg Schiano was signed on to join the staff as DC shortly after Flores' departure... until he withdrew from the post a few weeks later to "spend more time with his faith and family". So now the Pats are left in a lurch. The sole defensive positional coach listed on the team's website at the moment is 32-year-old Steve BelichickJerod Mayo was brought in to coach inside linebackers in late March, but with Josh Boyer (cornerbacks) and Brendan Daily (defensive line) also having departed in the offseason, he and the father and son Belichick are the only people on staff qualified to coach the defense. 

It's actually been fairly typical for the Patriots to go with a lean 'n' mean coaching staff during the Belichick era, but with just two defensive positional coaches and no coordinator on staff, 2019 is a pretty extreme case. And with the head coach now being 67 years old, it's an intriguing question as to whether he may be stretched too thin at a time when most football coaches are well into the stage of their careers when they start leaning more heavily on assistants for delegation.

1. Was Brady's slippage in 2018 a blip or a sign of things to come?

After winning the league MVP award with 32 touchdown passes, 4577 yards and just 8 interceptions, and capping the season with a record-setting Super Bowl performance in 2017, Tom Brady saw his performance drop off fairly substantially in 2018. The numbers were still good (4355 yards, 29 touchdowns) but the efficiency numbers (completion %, yards per attempt, passer rating) were down across the board. It was also the first time in 6 years that Brady would throw double-digit interceptions. Many observers chalked up the drop-off to an unsettled WR corps and the precipitous drop-off in Gronk's capabilities as a receiver, and there was a knee injury that landed Brady on the 'questionable' list a few times late in the season. But the fact is that a study of the game tape suggested that Brady was simply off his game for large chunks of 2019. Quality game plans by Matt Patricia, Mike Vrabel and Wade Phillips certainly contributed to Brady's struggles, but there was also evidence that the 41-year-old was suffering a decline in his velocity, particularly on throws outside the numbers, and that he was having considerable difficulty throwing without his feet set - something that was never a strong suit of his, but was certainly better in previous years than in 2018. 
Brady will play the 2019 season at age 42. For all intents and purposes, he is in uncharted territory for an NFL quarterback, expected to start every game at such an advanced age. He insists through his social media posts and his endless shilling for his TB12 Method that he remains in tip-top shape. But can he put his money where his mouth is and give the Patriots another year of high-level play, or will the decline that was hinted at last season continue and accelerate? 

Edited by Starless

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10. Damien Harris emerges as the x-factor back.

9. Joejuan plays a unique hybrid role between CB/LB/SS and Duke is used at every corner spot as well as safety.

8. Trey who? The front-7 will be better than 2018.

7. I worry about Wynn coming back from his Achilles injury. I think he will unfortunately struggle with a variety of things all stemming from the recovery process.

6. Bentley will be good depth, but I don't expect him to be a starter anytime soon.

5. I'm not sure the NFL will even lift Gordon's suspension. I am not expecting Gordon to be a part of the Patriots in 2019.

4. N'Keal Harry will play 85% of the offensive snaps (at least) and be a roughly 1500 all-purpose yard contributor between rushing, receiving, and returning.

3. Tight end will be fine. People will be surprised by the interchangeability of Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo, and Andrew Beck until Ben Watson comes back off suspension. Essentially better than 2018 with a hobbled/semi-retired Gronk and block-only specialist Dwayne Allen.

2. Not enough to disrupt the Patriots from still achieving an eleven win season and AFC East champs again.

1. Of course it is a sign of things to come but I think there will be no regression from 2018. I expect the same caliber season with increased throwing velocity so perhaps slightly better in 2019.

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10 hours ago, Starless said:

10. How will the running back roles be divvied up?

2018 first round pick Sony Michel was somewhat up and down as a rookie. He finished the season on a high note, posting 336 rushing yards and 6 TDs (including the only TD of Super Bowl LIII) in three playoff games. But throughout the year he would struggle in the power running game, particularly on the goal line, and his contributions in the passing game were not what they were expected to be. 

The drafting of bruiser Damien Harris from Alabama in the 3rd round suggests that the coaching staff is aware of Michel's limitations as a short yardage/goal line back. But it also suggests that the team will operate a more run-heavy offense in general. James White looks to figure prominently into the passing game as he always has, but what are the plans for Rex Burkhead, who played a crucial role during the playoffs? And just how many carries will Michel lose to the other backs in the stable?

Michel will be the lead back and eat up the majority of the carries. He had 1,250 yards in the 16 games he played last season and I don't see the amount of carries changing. In fact if he stays healthy for 16 games I could see his amount of yards increase and number od TDs as well. Don't think James runs the ball at all and Rex/Damien might combine for 8-10 carries.

10 hours ago, Starless said:

9. What is the plan for Duke Dawson and Joejuan Williams?

The Pats' top 3 corners last year - veterans Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, and rookie JC Jackson - were among the best position groupings in the league. All three are returning, along with the solid 4th corner Jonathan Jones. There was absolutely no reason to disrupt this group in the short-term, and yet the Pats selected the 6'4", 212lb corner Joejuan Williams in the second round of this year's draft after having taken Duke Dawson in the same round last year. Both players, by virtue of their draft position, are expected to figure into the team's plans, but how? Certainly an injury to a mainstay can propel one or both of them into the rotation, but given that both project as being capable of playing either corner or safety, the more intriguing prospect is for one or both of them to be an understudy to veterans Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung. Williams is particularly intriguing because his size means he could be used as a CB/S tweener who shadows big receivers and tight ends the way the Cowboys' Byron Jones does. But as ever, Bill Belichick's plans remain opaque until they're actually unveiled on game day.

Dawson will be either the backup slot corner or unseat J. Jones. Joejuan figures to be featured prominently against bigger receivers and tight ends.

10 hours ago, Starless said:

8. Will the new faces in the front-7 compensate for the loss of Trey Flowers?

Anyone who's read my posts at all over the last couple of years knows that I'm probably the biggest Trey Flowers fan who isn't a member of his extended family. Between his motor, his impeccable technique, his production against both the pass and run, and his ability to disrupt from any spot on the defensive front, I considered him to be the most underrated defensive player in the NFL and the best overall Patriots d-lineman since Hall of Fame candidate Richard Seymour. Turns out I wasn't alone in my assessment as Flowers cashed in this offseason with a 5-year, $90 million ($56 million guaranteed) deal from the Lions.

The Patriots have always set hard caps for how much they're willing to spend on particular players and given the franchise's success it's hard to argue against that approach. But given how much of a 'complete package' player Flowers is, one has to wonder how the team plans on filling the void he leaves. The obvious answer is trade acquisition Michael Bennett, who is the player whose profile most closely matches Flowers. But Bennett will turn 34 by midseason and whether he's going to be the player he's been with Seattle and Philadelphia is very much in question. Even if Bennett does adequately compensate this season, the longer-term question of who will be the Patriots' anchor on the D-line will remain. Can Deatrich Wise elevate his game in year 3? Will Lawrence Guy be asked to become more than a platoon player? Will we finally see something from 2017 top pick Derek Rivers? What can rookie Chase Winovich do? 

I think you can compensate it with a combination of Bennett and Wise/Winovich. Hopefully Rivers steps up but I have my doubts. Jamie Collins and Donta Hightower will also be seen more as edge players at times.

10 hours ago, Starless said:

7. How will Isaiah Wynn fare in his first real NFL action?

Georgia product Wynn was immediately slotted by observers to become the man to replace the departed Nate Solder as the Pats' starting left tackle when he was taken with the 23rd overall pick in 2018. But those prognostications were immediately tossed away the following day, when the team traded a 3rd round pick for gargantuan 49ers tackle Trent Brown. Questions were immediately raised about the team's plans for Wynn, who was thought by many to project better as a guard than a tackle at the pro level. Was Wynn picked to play guard? And if so, what did that mean for incumbents Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason, both of whom had played at a high level the past two years? But alas, Wynn tore his Achilles in camp and all these questions were rendered moot. Meanwhile Brown's play netted him a Super Bowl ring and a 4-year, $66 million ($36 million guaranteed) deal from the Raiders. So now Wynn is penciled in as the week 1 starter at LT, but what should our expectations be? Wynn is certainly talented and he's been under the tutelage of possibly the best positional coach in league history, but will he be fully recovered from his injury and able to adapt to the pro game? And should he falter, what can we expect out of his presumptive backup, rookie 3rd rounder Yodny Cajuste?

I think he was picked to be the franchise left tackle, Froholdt should be seen as the future LG in 2020. Wynn has an excellent chemistry with Sony Michel and should continue that. I think rust and some struggles should be expected through the first 8-10 of the season but I think he could be very solid at the end of the year. If he somehow is not ready, I think Thuney will fill in at LT. Cajuste looks be the swing tackle for this year and if he does impress he could replace Cannon in 2020.

10 hours ago, Starless said:

6. Will J'Whaun Bentley continue to impress upon his return from injury?

Through the first three weeks of the 2018 season, the Patriots' defense appeared in disarray, falling to 1-2 after consecutive losses to Jacksonville and Detroit, both of which finished the season under .500. The one bright spot for the unit through those first three games was the play of Bentley, a rookie 5th rounder out of Purdue. Bentley was one of PFF's top-rated linebackers through those games and showed a capacity for big plays in both the passing and running games. Unfortunately, Bentley's promising season was curtailed by a torn bicep suffered against the Lions. The Pats' defense would eventually right ship without Bentley but with Dont'a Hightower being a year older and a perpetual injury risk, the team is likely looking to Bentley to build on his early success in the hopes of being the veteran's successor as the team's designated every-down linebacker. A successful sophomore campaign would save the team the pressure of having to find a linebacker early in the next couple of drafts.

I think Bentley will be good in 2019. He has a mentor in Hightower and Mayo also looks to be well respected as the new LB coach. From what I've seen he looked good in OTA's.

10 hours ago, Starless said:

5. Will Josh Gordon be available and ready?

Unlike a lot of people, I'm not sweating over the Patriots' pass catcher situation. Sure, Rob Gronkowski is gone and Julian Edelman is getting long in the tooth, but the former was already a shell of his former self last year and the latter is showing no signs of slowing down at age 33. The team also has James White, on whom Tom Brady has leaned heavily the last couple of seasons, as well as the (IMO) underrated Philip Dorsett and Dontrelle Inman, who was an under-the-radar signing but may well emerge as the team's top WR if he plays up to the ability he displayed with the Chargers during his last healthy season in 2016. Anything they can get out of DeMaryius Thomas and Maurice Harris will be a bonus. 

But those of us who are less bullish on this group than I will rest a lot easier if Josh Gordon is reinstated from his indefinite suspension. Gordon, in the 11 games he played between being acquired from the Browns and landing on the suspended list again, looked not far off from the player who took the league by storm in his breakout season way back in 2013. He made a number of impressive plays, which included catching Brady's 500th career TD pass against the Colts. Reports of Gordon working out privately with Brady during the offseason has raised fan hopes, but until official word of Gordon's reinstatement comes down from Park Ave., nothing should be taken for granted. Nonetheless, a healthy and focused Gordon would certainly elevate the Patriots' 2019 passing attack to once again being one of the league's most feared.

That's anyone's guess. I know that if he will play, he will produce. Without training camp he was trending towards being our leading receiver. When he is reinstated is unknown, the NFL has been tight lipped about it. Hopefully we hear something within the next 2 weeks. I wouldn't expect him to not get suspended though.

10 hours ago, Starless said:

4. How much will N'Keal Harry play?

With the 32nd overall pick in this year's draft, the Patriots made Arizona State's N'Keal Harry the first wideout they took in the first round of the draft since the late Terry Glenn way back in 1996. Harry is a big-bodied (6'2", 210 lbs) receiver who was highly productive at ASU and has drawn comparisons to the likes of Anquan Boldin and Dez Bryant. But despite those accolades, the deck is, if anything, stacked against Harry because of the Patriots' recent history with drafting at his position. The team has not successfully drafted or developed a wideout since Julian Edelman, who was picked in 2009 and did not break out until 2013. Aside from Edelman, the team has spent high picks on the likes of Brandon TateTaylor Price, and Aaron Dobson over the past decade, all of whom flopped at the pro level. Malcolm Mitchell, a 4th rounder in 2016, seemed to be headed for success after a promising rookie year in which he played a key role in the Super Bowl victory. But a series of knee injuries appear to have derailed his career for good. 

To overcome this history, Harry needs to acclimate quickly to the Patriots' notoriously difficult-to-absorb offensive scheme, which utilizes numerous option routes and requires precise timing and chemistry with the quarterback. The steep learning curve suggests that Harry will have minimal impact as a rookie... or it would, if the Patriots were not badly in need of the sort of perimeter threat that Harry was drafted to provide. If Josh Gordon does, in fact, return this season, or if DeMaryius Thomas is recovered from the Achilles injury that he suffered in late 2018 then most of the pressure will be off Harry, but neither of these scenarios should be considered likely, so the rookie may need to perform out of necessity more than any rookie Pats WR since at least 2013.

He'll play a lot. He is probably entering training camp behind Dorsett and Harris but it wouldn't shock anyone if he is already the 2nd WR come opening night. What impact he'll have, who knows. I think he'll surprise a lot of people and is build for this moment but we shall see. I think the adaption issues for WRs here are overblown. Most simply weren't good and that was the problem, I think Harry was an excellent pick. He is big, very strong, good hands, fairly fast for his size and great work ethic. Don't be surprised if he ends up with 800 yards and 7 TDs.

10 hours ago, Starless said:

3. How will the tight end position shake out?

For the first time in a decade the Patriots do not have a clear #1 tight end. The top three players on the depth chart in 2018 are all gone. Gronk most notably, of course. But Dwayne Allen was jettisoned in March and picked up by Dolphins while Jacob Hollister was sent to the Seahawks for a 7th round draft pick. The team is starting from scratch at the position with a group consisting of former Bronco Matt LaCosse, 2018 seventh rounder Ryan Izzo, former Texan and 2018 practice squadder Stephen Anderson, undrafted rookie Andrew Beck and ageless returnee Ben Watson. Watson will start the year with a 4-game suspension after having been popped for PEDs at age 38. Among the others, LaCosse, who caught 24 passes for 250 yards and 1 TD for Denver last year is the most likely man to start the year atop the depth chart, while Izzo and Beck are expected to compete for the inglorious role vacated by Allen. 
Post-draft rumors linked the Pats to Vikings veteran Kyle Rudolph as a potential trade target, but Rudolph's four-year extension with Minnesota squashed chances of him being brought in. And recent photos of Gronk suggest that he truly is done with football and will not be providing us with the proverbial 'cavalry has arrived' moment in 2019. So what will the Pats do with their tight end position this season? Is the team prepared to ride it out with the motley crew they've assembled over the last few months or is there another trade target out there for the team to pursue?

I wouldn't expect a trade and think they will carry 2, Izzo and LaCosse, to start the season and add Watson in week 5. I think this group despite not having flashy names can have the same production as last years group.

10 hours ago, Starless said:

2. Will the threadbare defensive coaching staff cause problems?

The Patriots coaching staff being poached by the other 31 teams in the NFL has been an annual ritual for the last 15 years. The 2019 offseason was no exception, with linebacker coach and defensive-coordinator-without-the-title Brian Flores departing to become the head coach of the rival Miami Dolphins. But never fear, former Bucs head coach and Belichick pal Greg Schiano was signed on to join the staff as DC shortly after Flores' departure... until he withdrew from the post a few weeks later to "spend more time with his faith and family". So now the Pats are left in a lurch. The sole defensive positional coach listed on the team's website at the moment is 32-year-old Steve BelichickJerod Mayo was brought in to coach inside linebackers in late March, but with Josh Boyer (cornerbacks) and Brendan Daily (defensive line) also having departed in the offseason, he and the father and son Belichick are the only people on staff qualified to coach the defense. 

It's actually been fairly typical for the Patriots to go with a lean 'n' mean coaching staff during the Belichick era, but with just two defensive positional coaches and no coordinator on staff, 2019 is a pretty extreme case. And with the head coach now being 67 years old, it's an intriguing question as to whether he may be stretched too thin at a time when most football coaches are well into the stage of their careers when they start leaning more heavily on assistants for delegation.

I don't expect it to be an issue. Some coaches will have to grow up but the cornerstones are still there and Belichick will lead them.

10 hours ago, Starless said:

1. Was Brady's slippage in 2018 a blip or a sign of things to come?

After winning the league MVP award with 32 touchdown passes, 4577 yards and just 8 interceptions, and capping the season with a record-setting Super Bowl performance in 2017, Tom Brady saw his performance drop off fairly substantially in 2018. The numbers were still good (4355 yards, 29 touchdowns) but the efficiency numbers (completion %, yards per attempt, passer rating) were down across the board. It was also the first time in 6 years that Brady would throw double-digit interceptions. Many observers chalked up the drop-off to an unsettled WR corps and the precipitous drop-off in Gronk's capabilities as a receiver, and there was a knee injury that landed Brady on the 'questionable' list a few times late in the season. But the fact is that a study of the game tape suggested that Brady was simply off his game for large chunks of 2019. Quality game plans by Matt Patricia, Mike Vrabel and Wade Phillips certainly contributed to Brady's struggles, but there was also evidence that the 41-year-old was suffering a decline in his velocity, particularly on throws outside the numbers, and that he was having considerable difficulty throwing without his feet set - something that was never a strong suit of his, but was certainly better in previous years than in 2018. 
Brady will play the 2019 season at age 42. For all intents and purposes, he is in uncharted territory for an NFL quarterback, expected to start every game at such an advanced age. He insists through his social media posts and his endless shilling for his TB12 Method that he remains in tip-top shape. But can he put his money where his mouth is and give the Patriots another year of high-level play, or will the decline that was hinted at last season continue and accelerate? 

I think the increased importance put on the run game is a sign that Brady can't completely carry this football team anymore. Still, I think he is very capable of being elite on a reduced level of throws. Last year he still ranked inside the top 5 in PFF grades despite 'struggles' and he obviously had significant issues in the supporting cast from Michel, Gordon, Gronk to a declining Hogan. If he can significantly improve his production likely hinges on Josh Gordon and N'keal Harry. Edelman for 16 games will also help.

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1 hour ago, SBLIII said:

I think Thuney will fill in at LT

I'd be shocked.

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Posted (edited)

I feel Michel's role and usage last season was still based more on circumstances than how the Patriots perceived using him. He's still best utilized as a change-of-pace, 10-12 touch guy, who could rip off chunks and provide some dynamic plays. While he certainly wasn't disappointing, I feel being the well-coached, take what you can, early down horse with an emphasis on ball security role isn't exactly his game. The Patriots would be smart to keep him fresh and just let him use his ability to create as the RB1B. Damien Harris as the RB1A should admirably fill in that early down/goal line role this year. 

I'm intrigued by Dorsett going into this season. Last season, he showed improve chemistry with Brady to start the year, then showed improved maturation in the mental part of his game towards the end there. If he could put those two together and build on it, we'd basically have a Brandin Cooks type player at a fraction of the cost and investment. There's nothing to stand in his way going into this season.

I've been saying it for a few seasons, this DB group is the best in the league overall. Remember when we all sh*t on Belichick for "overpaying" Gilmore, while we had Ryan/Butler and a long list of impending FAs to resign? Yeah I had my doubts there. It's only turned out to be arguably the best FA signing in this reign. Why do we still doubt this guy? He is The Father of me and you.

Edited by Nex_Gen

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Agreed about Dorsett. He could be surprisingly competent. 

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Brady's "struggles" were massively overblown in the hunt for a narrative - Gronk, Hogan and Edelman all played like total crap for long stretches last year. Especially Hogan, who was personally responsible for at least 2 passes he should have caught becoming INTs. Something like 6 of Brady's interceptions were dropped passes, take those off the board and numbers totally flip around.

Not saying he'll be fine this year, he's a year old after all, but I don't think we've seen any real decline yet.

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1 hour ago, ChazStandard said:

Brady's "struggles" were massively overblown in the hunt for a narrative - Gronk, Hogan and Edelman all played like total crap for long stretches last year. Especially Hogan, who was personally responsible for at least 2 passes he should have caught becoming INTs. Something like 6 of Brady's interceptions were dropped passes, take those off the board and numbers totally flip around.

While this is all true and I agree with you, there was a point later on in the season where Brady started making questionable decisions that led to several dropped interceptions.

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On 7/18/2019 at 3:29 PM, Nex_Gen said:

I'm intrigued by Dorsett going into this season. Last season, he showed improve chemistry with Brady to start the year, then showed improved maturation in the mental part of his game towards the end there. If he could put those two together and build on it, we'd basically have a Brandin Cooks type player at a fraction of the cost and investment. There's nothing to stand in his way going into this season.

 

On 7/19/2019 at 9:34 AM, SBLIII said:

Agreed about Dorsett. He could be surprisingly competent. 

I recall saying this before the Brandin Cooks trade ever happened and I was blasted. That said, Dorsett should make this team but he isn't a lock.

N'Keal Harry, Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, Maurice Harris, Dontrelle Inman should make it. Josh Gordon will probably be suspended and Demaryius Thomas on PUP. The wildcard to me is rookie UDFA Jakobi Meyers but I assume he will just be waived and signed to someones practice squad.

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I used my wide receiver draft projection model to determine a projected stat line for N'Keal this season. Here's some data:

N'Keal Harry, WR, New England
Statistic Figure
Projected AV 4.35
Bust Chance 52.98%
PB Chance 9.57%

AV stands for ProFootballReference's Approximate Value statistic. "Bust Chance" is the chance that the average of Harry's third and fourth seasons fall below 5.0 AV, whereas "Pro Bowl (PB) Chance" is the chance that the average exceeds or hits 10.0. Now, turning that into easier-to-understand data that all correlates to AV projection at at least 0.8:

Stat Line Projection: N. Harry
Statistic Figure
Receptions 37.41
Targets 66.01
Rec. Yards 496.18
Receiving TDs 3.13

For context, once-promising rookie Malcolm Mitchell hauled in 32 of 48 targets for 401 yards and 4 touchdowns for the Patriots. If N'Keal had a similar rookie season, that could be promising. 

And if Harry hits on that 10% Pro Bowl chance, here's the stat line that projects out to:

74 catches on 122 targets for 1,067 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Let's hope for that one, but I would find it promising for Harry to have 37 receptions for 496 yards and 3 scores at least somewhat.

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11 hours ago, AlNFL19 said:

I used my wide receiver draft projection model to determine a projected stat line for N'Keal this season. Here's some data:

 

N'Keal Harry, WR, New England
Statistic Figure
Projected AV 4.35
Bust Chance 52.98%
PB Chance 9.57%

AV stands for ProFootballReference's Approximate Value statistic. "Bust Chance" is the chance that the average of Harry's third and fourth seasons fall below 5.0 AV, whereas "Pro Bowl (PB) Chance" is the chance that the average exceeds or hits 10.0. Now, turning that into easier-to-understand data that all correlates to AV projection at at least 0.8:

 

Stat Line Projection: N. Harry
Statistic Figure
Receptions 37.41
Targets 66.01
Rec. Yards 496.18
Receiving TDs 3.13

For context, once-promising rookie Malcolm Mitchell hauled in 32 of 48 targets for 401 yards and 4 touchdowns for the Patriots. If N'Keal had a similar rookie season, that could be promising. 

And if Harry hits on that 10% Pro Bowl chance, here's the stat line that projects out to:

74 catches on 122 targets for 1,067 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Let's hope for that one, but I would find it promising for Harry to have 37 receptions for 496 yards and 3 scores at least somewhat.

I think the 2nd projection will be closer to the reality. According to reports Harry will be a crucial piece in the passing game and he was apparently much higher on BBs draft board than 32. I don't see tons of production coming from someone other than White, Edelman so I think Harry will put up some numbers. 

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14 hours ago, AlNFL19 said:

1,067 yards and 8 touchdowns.

 

precisely the type of number I had in mind. Barely over 1000 receiving but 500 other yards between returning and rushing with about 10 total touchdowns.

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