Patriots Mailbag: Texans matchup offers real opportunity for offense to pop

Phil Perry

The Friday Bag is back, friends. Every week I'll be answering your questions be they Patriots-related, NFL-related or otherwise. This week, the focus for many of you was - no surprise - the overall effectiveness of the Patriots offense. We'll start with what we're expecting to see from this Texans matchup...

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You should see a very functional offense on Sunday night, Dave. Let's assume everyone is going to healthy for the game - Isaiah Wynn missed the first two days of practice this week because he was sick - and then look a little more closely at the matchup. The Texans are 25th in pass yards allowed per game. They're 26th in pass defense DVOA, per Football Outsiders. They're 27th in quarterback rating allowed. They're 31st in third-down defense. They're 32nd in red-zone defense. Their pass-rush is hurting without JJ Watt. Their secondary has been turned over several times since the start of the season. It's rough right now on that side of the ball for Bill O'Brien's club.

Consider, too, N'Keal Harry has another game under his belt and some confidence after his first score. The Patriots offensive line already looked better with Wynn's return - even against a tough Dallas pass-rush and with a sick Marcus Cannon playing almost the entire game - and should continue to trend upward. As long as everyone is available, this is shaping up to be a nice week for the Patriots offense. If it isn't, then the questions we've had all season - primarily: What are they good at? - will persist. 

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There's no way the Cowboys are going to let Dak Prescott walk, is there? I think Jerry Jones is going to eventually figure out that he'd rather pay Prescott somewhere in the range of $35 million or more per year than move into the future without having that position solidified. Even if it does mean rolling with Tom Brady for the next few years.

That said, if Jones for some reason doesn't believe Prescott is the guy, then trying to lure Brady and McDaniels would make sense. They would be about as sound a stop-gap option as you could have. Then you start looking in the draft for your Brady successor. The question - and I think this would be key - is who's picking The Next Guy? Is Jones ever going to relinquish his general manager gig to allow a high-profile coaching hire like McDaniels to take the reins?

One would think that kind of control, or at least the freedom to select his own GM, would be key. But one would also think that Jones isn't letting go of that role any time soon. Plus, if Jones isn't prepared to pay a young franchise quarterback $35 million per year, would he be willing to pay whatever it is Brady would be looking for to leave New England? Seems like an unlikely union, but a juicy one nonetheless if it were to play out that way. 

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I don't think we're reversing the specialist trend any time soon, Phil. As bad as things seem to be in terms of the number of competent kickers available around the league, they're as good as they've ever been. (Kickers in 2018 were more accurate from 40 yards and in than ever before.)

No team is going to be willing to turn back the clock and ask a receiver to kick full time. There's just not enough time to properly devote to both jobs. There may come along players who are talented enough to both kick and punt on a full-time basis, but even those are few and far between. 

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I'm going to go with Option A. Neither of those teams had played a very difficult schedule going into the game. The Bills had lost to the Eagles, Browns and Patriots and beaten teams like Miami (twice), the Jets, Giants, and Redskins.

But to get that win, in Arlington, against a good-not-great defense was impressive. Buffalo is well-coached, and the defense is good enough that they'll always be in it when the quarterback minimizes his mistakes. The Cowboys are a mess right now, don't get me wrong, but I learned something about the Bills yesterday. Can't say the same about Dallas.

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I think they'll improve, but I don't think you're suddenly going to see a 35-point-per-game juggernaut moving forward. Mohamed Sanu should get better as he gets healthier and more comfortable with the offense. N'Keal Harry should get better. The offensive line should get better with the addition of Isaiah Wynn.

But, to me, they're closer to the team that scored 13 points in Super Bowl LIII than the one that scored 33 in Super Bowl LII. There's also a real question as to which weapon will be on the receiving end of Tom Brady's most important passes down the stretch. That was Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski last year. Now Gronkowski is retired and Edelman (while still very productive) is clearly banged up.

They need late-game answers. I'm not sure who those are at the moment. It could be the running game - there's still time for that to get going - but with what they have at the tight end and fullback positions right now, I think that's expecting too much. 

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Austria checking in! Thanks for following, my friend. With Brady, I'm thinking this is an enjoy-it-while-it-lasts situation. It's just hard for me to envision him getting a deal from the Patriots any better than the one he got this past offseason. And it's hard for me to envision Brady being thrilled with that if he still feels he has two or three good years ahead. (I think he feels that way.)

Of course the entire scenario hinges on whether or not there's a perfect fit for Brady - salary, coaching staff, talent on the roster, market to grow his brand - somewhere else. I'm not sure where that place is right now. But if you asked me about Brady's ultimate destination, and if I had to pick either the Patriots or the field, I'd take the field right now.

I don't think it requires much creativity to envision Jamie Collins or Devin McCourty returning. Collins was psyched to be back this season, and I think he understands New England is a good fit for him. While he's having a good year, I'm not sure another team will be clamoring to break the bank to get him after Cleveland did the same to keep him a few years ago. Jason McCourty still has one year remaining on his deal, and I imagine Devin would like to finish things out here with his brother.

Joe Thuney has the chance to be paid as one of the top guards in football, which makes me feel as though there's a good chance he finds greener pastures. (Although, I'd argue, one way to entice Brady to return would be to re-sign his best offensive lineman.)

Van Noy is an interesting case in that he plays a premium position as an outside linebacker, now has multiple rings on his résumé, and he's been one of the best players in the league's best defense. He'll have an opportunity, I think, to approach the deal outside linebacker Preston Smith received from Green Bay. Smith is getting $13 million a year and is only a year-and-a-half younger than Van Noy.

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The former, Jack! They're constantly keeping tabs on positions they'd like to fill immediately or positions they think might need filling soon. Even with positions they have pretty well-stocked, they'll go out of their way to update emergency lists in case of . . . emergency.

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It's huge, Jacob. What Stephon Gilmore does is allow the rest of the Patriots defense to play the way it does. He erases an opponent's No. 1 option, makes quarterbacks uncomfortable, and allows pass-rushers to get home more often. Just by being better than everyone else at his job. The last time Gilmore shadowed Hopkins (Week 1 last season), the Texans still targeted Hopkins six times with Gilmore on him. He caught four passes for 50 yards. Think the Patriots would take a similar outcome Sunday night.

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Glad you asked, Joseph! Tom Brady had more time to throw, even against a pass-rush better than most they've faced this year. It wasn't a perfect day for Wynn, by any means. But he's going to make a huge difference moving forward. Broke down some of Brady's best plays last weekend -- and the protection he received -- right here

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Patriots Mailbag: Texans matchup offers real opportunity for offense to pop originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston




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