Some final thoughts ahead of Sunday’s game:
1) With the trade deadline approaching, it’s going to be interesting to see how the New England Patriots handle things at the wide receiver position on Sunday in Miami.
One of the biggest changes last weekend was the significant reduction in playing time for DeVante Parker, who saw his fewest snaps of the year during Sunday’s win over the Bills.
With JuJu Smith-Schuster sidelined, that also led to more snaps for Demario Douglas and Jalen Reagor, with Parker seeing a more reduced role. The veteran wideout was targeted just once all afternoon, with Mac Jones spending more time looking to wideouts Kendrick Bourne and Douglas, with Rhamondre Stevenson also seeing a fair amount of action out of the backfield.
Obviously, last weekend saw the Patriots finish with their most production offensively scoring-wise that we’ve seen all season. The 29 point mark was their highest of the year and the most since Week 6 of 2022, and was only the second time all season they reached 20 points.
Smith-Schuster appears ready to return this week, but right now, the Patriots are clearly at a point where at 2-5, there’s little margin for error with this offense.
While both players are both playing with significant salaries, it would still be a surprise for the Patriots to force these guys into the lineup at the expense of their offense.
Belichick said this week that how guys perform will ultimately decide things. He also said those who don’t play well, will need to step up if they hope to be out there.
“It’s been a very competitive situation,” said Belichick of the receiver position. “We have a lot of competition at that position. So, everybody’s in it. Obviously, the guys that perform the best play the most. The ones that don’t need to perform better.”
Getting a win in Miami is critical to the rest of their season. With that in mind, it’s going to be interesting to see if either of them are out on the field for any significant amount of time this weekend.
2) Clearly, the offense has been a problem, and Smith-Schuster’s issues this season are well-documented. His absence the last two weeks due to his concussion has opened up opportunities for both Douglas and Reagor, and they’ve both stepped up.
Douglas had his best performance as a rookie last week, while Reagor has continued to grow and he’s shown much better quickness than what we’ve seen from Parker. He also caught his first pass of the season, which was an 11-yard reception on their opening drive of the third quarter that led to Chad Ryland’s 49-year field goal. That put them up 16-10 early in the second half, and kept the heat on Buffalo.
From there, it was the tight ends who saw the remaining share of the targets. Hunter Henry, Pharaoh Brown, and Mike Gesicki were among the players featured last week, which after a slow start, has slowly been a unit that has quietly started becoming a strength of this offense.
That evolution certainly has changed things. All three have started having success in recent weeks, with Gesicki obviously being the one who caught Sunday’s game-winner against the Bills.
As a result, something is probably going to have to give there.
With Bourne slowly continuing his ascension, along with what we’ve seen from Douglas, Reagor and the tight ends, it leaves New England’s two veteran wideouts as dead weights in an offense that can’t afford to be held back. Especially as they try and continue climbing out of the hole they’re currently in.
Bourne’s name has been one that continues to be discussed as a trade option, but Phil Perry caught up with Mike Tannenbaum during his Next Pats Podcast while discussing New England’s options ahead of the deadline. Tannenbaum agreed that Bourne is a better candidate to be extended as the Patriots don’t exactly have much to build around on offense, with Bourne better suited to hopefully be kept around long-term.
As for what might happen with Parker and Smith-Schuster, that’s obviously the biggest question. And if things continue at their current rate, getting out from underneath one or both of those deals – and keeping them happy for the next 10 weeks – is likely going to be a challenge.
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3) Pharaoh Brown is the player who is probably going to be the most fun to watch in the coming weeks. He’s quietly been the most impressive player to emerge, as he’s been both a strong blocker and he’s definitely faster than he appears.
He made some big plays last week against the Bills. He hauled in two big passes of 25 and 26 yards, the latter of which got things started on a drive early in the fourth quarter and eventually led to Bourne’s touchdown.
He’s garnered praise from Belichick both for his play and the fact that the coach noted some of his catches have come in tight windows with the defense right there as the ball arrived.
Brown has held on each time, and he’s averaging a ridiculous 27.4 yards per reception, including his 58 yard touchdown catch in the second quarter back in Week 3 against the Jets. That play remains the longest Patriots reception of 2023 so far.
He’s a weapon that offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien has done a solid job of scheming open, and Jones seems to have some terrific chemistry with him. The veteran has seemingly been in the perfect spot when it’s come to getting him the football, and he’s been a great fit here so far this season.
Needless to say, it’s going to be fun to see if the two can keep growing from that standpoint, and hopefully they can put some similar plays together tomorrow in Miami.
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4) The offensive line continues to make progress, with Cole Strange’s name coming off the injured list on Friday for the first time in 2023.
Strange has been battling a knee ailment he suffered back in preseason, with reports saying it will likely require surgery at some point for him to be 100% healthy.
After missing three weeks, Strange was back out there on Sunday and participated in 100% of the snaps, stabilizing an offensive line that had seen a variety of lineups over the course of the year, yet not had much success.
Rookie Atonio Mafi had played in Strange’s absence and while he’s been just O.K. pass-blocking, he’s still missed some blitz pickups and he’s had a tough time blocking in the ground game.
From there, the club initially experimented with Sidy Sow at right tackle, and had since also tried solidifying that spot with both Riley Reiff and Vederian Lowe, neither of which panned out.
Sunday’s game instead saw the Patriots kick Mike Onwenu back to right tackle while Sow played right guard, and the results saw the Patriots steamroll Buffalo running the football on that side, while also giving Mac Jones time to throw.
By the time the game was over, the Patriots had put up 29 points and completed their first game-winning drive of 2023.
That unit will clearly be something we’ll all be watching tomorrow as the Patriots try and carry that success forward. For a team that needs to be at its best at the right time, they at least – finally – seem to have the right formula.
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5) Sunday’s match-up is certainly going to be challenging when it comes to the Patriots dealing with Tyreek Hill, who is expected to play on Sunday. However, they’re at least going to be a little better equipped to deal with Christian Gonzalez’s loss in this one.
Unlike their first meeting, the team will fortunately have Jonathan Jones active this week. Jones, who was out with an injury during their week two meeting, has been the player who has matched up quite a bit against Hill in years past. The fact he’s back should hopefully negate Gonzalez’s absence, and allow them to keep pace with the Dolphins’ offense.
They also have Jack Jones back out there, who was also sidelined in week two. His return has provided some much needed depth to a secondary that ended up relying a fair amount on Marcus Bryant, which at times certainly hasn’t been ideal.
Bryant’s been about as up and down as it comes. He’s either made some brilliant plays or he’s had some disastrous miscues. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of in-between with him.
He played in 84% of the snaps in Week two, which was his third-highest total of the season.
That game also saw the loss of Marcus Jones, who suffered a shoulder injury that ultimately sidelined him for the year, and that loss likely threw a bit of an unneeded wrinkle into a defense that was then forced to adjust after he left the game.
Thankfully, the Patriots are a little more stable in their secondary heading into this week, which should hopefully leave them with enough to handle the Dolphins’ offense.
Still, it’s going to be up to Mac Jones and the offense to hopefully put them in a position where they can get in front and not allow this one to get into a shootout. As we know, the Dolphins certainly have more ammunition and it would definitely make this one fairly challenging for a team that has only recently started finding its way on offense.
Kickoff is scheduled for Sunday at 1:00pm as the Patriots hope to improve to 3-5 against their AFC East rivals.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary