Patriots Mailbag: DeVante Parker could be the key to beating Dolphins

·12 min read

Perry's Mailbag: Why DeVante Parker could be the X-factor in Miami originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

We finally made it. The New England Patriots will play a meaningful football game this Sunday against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.

Before the 2022 season officially kicks off, let's squeeze in one more Patriots mailbag.

Stick on the offensive side of the ball. It's the receiver who brings something to the Patriots offense that they didn't have last year. It's the receiver who could potentially change how defenses play the Patriots. That's DeVante Parker, former Dolphins wideout.

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Lost in all of the discussion of the changing Patriots offense and the coaching staff is that Parker had an excellent summer. He's not the burner that rookie Tyquan Thornton (on injured reserve) is. But he's a boundary threat. He's a 50-50 ball threat. He's someone who may coax an opposing defense to keep a safety deep to help on Parker over the top.

Miami may not feel as though it needs to dedicate that kind of help to Parker if it's All-Pro corner Xavien Howard matched up on him one-on-one. But if it's anyone else -- No. 2 corner Byron Jones is out on the physically unable to perform list -- then Parker should be one of Mac Jones' top targets. And if the pair can hit on a couple of down-the-field throws? That could alter what the Dolphins do defensively.

One of the most aggressive teams in the NFL in terms of their blitz rate, the Dolphins could be encouraged to soften up a bit if Parker makes an explosive play or two. Plus, if a second safety drops deep, then Jones should not only have more time to throw, he'll also see, potentially, some favorable run looks that help the Patriots establish something on the ground.

How Parker is defended, and how Jones tries to leverage the one-on-one abilities Parker flashed in camp, is one of this game's top storylines.

No. They're not playing rope-a-dope. But they have slow-played everything offensively. Installation was glacial. There was very little changing of plays at the line of scrimmage. There was a consistent emphasis on thinking less pre-snap. It was all done with this idea in mind: gradually getting everyone adjusted to the new offense in Foxboro.

That's how players describe it, by the way. It's a new offense. Not a tweak. Not a shifting emphasis. These changes have been substantial. They have covered everything from scheme adjustments, to a changing offensive language, to an overhauled between-series sideline operation.

All that said, here's how it could potentially look like they were playing rope-a-dope all summer... That agonizingly slow, everyone-dip-their-toes-in-the-water summer approach? Over. Time to use the tools at their disposal to best position themselves on every snap. That means audibling. That means not treating games like practices and running plays into bad looks just to get them on tape. That means they won't have to stick with certain concepts simply because that's their identity, damn it, and they're going to do what they're going to do.

Perry: Why Mac Jones should have more say at the line of scrimmage

If their wide-zone runs aren't working Week 1? Bill Belichick isn't going to stick with them out of stubbornness, in my opinion, and run them a dozen times. (Plus, if they fall behind trying to run wide zone, odds are they'll have to scrap it for a more pass-heavy attack anyway.)

They're in the business of winning games now. It still may not look pretty. It still may take some time, as Belichick explained recently, saying they won't really know what they have in their locker room until October. Their offensive line, in particular, has a lot to figure out -- especially before seeing a blitz-happy Miami defense.

But there is a path to them looking more competent in Week 1. And it starts with allowing the quarterback to use the tools he was asked not to use for the vast majority of the summer while everyone tried to wrap their heads around this new plan.

I'd understand a Caley takeover. He's the most experienced offensive coach in the system. But it's very clear that Belichick has a plan to get Joe Judge and Matt Patricia some real offensive experience. So handing the play sheet to Caley, while possible, seems less likely than Patricia keeping it. Or Belichick doing the play-calling himself. Just never say never with this team.

I'd go under here. Last I saw, the total was set at 46.5 points. I have it pretty comfortably under in my recent prediction, a 24-17 Dolphins win, which I explain in more detail here.

Not sure it matters all that much, Jake. Especially for a team that may play as much zone as the Patriots. But it can't be all zone.

Matchups will play critical factors at times. And while Jonathan Jones, I believe, will end up on the best Miami receiver (Tyreek Hill) at times on Sunday, that doesn't serve as an indicator that he'll always get the opposition's top guy. He's seen plenty of Hill in the past. In terms of their athletic profiles, Jones is one of New England's top options for Hill. But when the Patriots play Las Vegas, will he be on Davante Adams? Will he take on Stefon Diggs in Buffalo?

My guess is that against some of those longer pass-catching options, Mills will still look like "CB1." He had a tremendous summer in that role. I named him my Patriots Training Camp MVP. Belichick just has to hope he keeps that up.

It makes sense to me to have Belichick call plays. You may lose something in terms of his overseeing the overall operation. But there's so much on Matt Patricia's plate right now as offensive line coach, having him call plays as well feels like it could be too much.

If Belichick calls plays, allowing guys like Patricia and Judge to settle into their roles and their game-day routines, there would be some logic in that. It doesn't look like that's how it'll go, but one of my bold predictions for this season was that -- at some point -- Belichick will call the plays into his offensive huddle.

That would shock me. Belichick may shake up the responsibilities on his staff at some point. But the staff is the staff. First of all, there aren't many coaches worth hiring who aren't busy right now. But even calling up someone like Adam Gase, who is no longer in the NFL, to come in midseason seems like something Belichick would be loathe to do. Can't see it.

  • Jakobi Meyers: 1,085 yards

  • DeVante Parker: 809 yards

  • Hunter Henry: 716 yards

  • Kendrick Bourne: 602 yards

  • Rhamondre Stevenson: 551 yards

What's the record? If the Patriots are at four wins or fewer? Sure. I just can't envision that happening. Therefore, no hot seat.

I would be more surprised by zero touchdown passes. I think the Patriots are going to have to throw the ball well to move it consistently. I think he's their best offensive player, and the coaching staff knows it. I think even when they get close to the goal line -- remember, they didn't run a live goal-line run-game practice period all summer -- they'll probably be most comfortable with the ball in his hands.

They ain't getting shut out. And when they score, I think there's a good chance it's off the hand of Mac Jones. Three or more touchdowns would be surprising, too, but nothing? He had four games all of last season with no touchdown passes, and one was the wind game in Buffalo.

If Isaiah Wynn is healthy enough to play, it'll be Trent Brown at left tackle, Cole Strange at left guard, David Andrews at center, Mike Onwenu at right guard and Wynn at right tackle. If Wynn can't play? Figure Yodny Cajuste will be the replacement.

Based on what we've seen this summer, the best way for the Patriots to run the ball would be with "gap" schemes. That's been much more consistent than the wide-zone attempts we've seen.

There are runs that get to the edge -- toss crack, for example -- that should work. But if they're desperate to move the ball, it wouldn't stun me if we saw "Duo" with double-teams at the line of scrimmage getting downhill or "power" with a pulling guard.

We know Bill Belichick has very little patience for negative runs. They're drive-killers. He won't let the Patriots rack up play after play where they end up behind the original line of scrimmage. Don't expect him to keep it going, even early in the season, if it's a mess.

I believe there are a handful of issues that have led to Bourne's quiet summer.

The coaching changes haven't appeared to do him any favors, though I'm not sure that's the primary issue. Second, the Patriots added bodies at his position, which has led to a changing rep count and perhaps some shaken confidence. Both Parker and Thornton got plenty of first-team work in camp.

Where does Bourne stand with Patriots? Troy Brown weighs in

Third, Bourne simply didn't play well early in camp, and it seemed hard for him to get his rhythm after that. Then came the fight with the Panthers, and before you knew it camp was over without Bourne having made much of an impact.

High.

I wouldn't go that far. There's optimism in the locker room that things will look differently now that the team will be doing all it can before every snap to put itself in positions to succeed. But the offense wasn't very good in training camp, as players themselves would tell you, so when we reported on it, we told you what we saw and heard.

Doesn't mean the season is a lost cause by any stretch. Does mean they'll have to change some things -- and they're in that process now -- in order for the product to be improved.

The Patriots are currently scheduled to have more cap space ($58.8 million) next offseason than any team other than the Bears, according to Over the Cap. The only players who would leave the Patriots with some dead money if released next offseason are Parker and Shaun Wade, per OTC.

I believe Jonnu Smith will be involved much more, as will their "12-personnel" packages. And he'll be involved from a variety of alignments as well. In-line. Slot. In the backfield. In motion. They have a plan for him, and it may look gadgety at times. But it's a plan nonetheless, and the expectation in the building is that this new offense will benefit his skill set.

Makes sense. In the YAC-heavy Shanahan-style system it appears the Patriots would love to implement, Smith -- an excellent open-field runner -- could be a consistent explosive-play threat.