Welcome back to the Patriots Mailbag. As you can probably imagine, there’s a lot of unrest out there after Sunday’s dramatic loss to Miami, which dropped New England to 0-2. This week, we have questions about Bill Belichick, Mac Jones, the coaching staff, two of the quarterbacks who could be available in the draft, the offense (and the offensive line), and much more. Let’s get to it.
When will they stop throwing jump balls to DeVante Parker? I’m tired of him losing contested catches to DBs!
— Steve Acres, Canton
Fair question, especially in the wake of Xavien Howard stealing Parker’s lunch money late in the game on that deep ball. That was textbook work by the corner, who bodied Parker and just took the ball away from him.
I’m not sure what to think of Parker, at least at this stage of his career. He hasn’t been consistently healthy, and when he’s been on the field, he’s been mostly underwhelming. There have been a few highlight-reel catches the last few seasons, but those have been few and far between.
It’s going to be fascinating to see what might happen to Parker if Kayshon Boutte continues to progress, because if he does, I could see him eating into Parker’s playing time.
Instead of a quick hitter or QB sneak, why would Bill O’Brien call for a 7-yard pitch back on a third and 1 when he has a Swiss cheese offensive line and the Dolphins defense got to the runner practically the same time he received the football?
— Larry Rosoff, San Diego
I haven’t had much of an issue with Bill O’Brien’s play-calling until that happened Sunday. As a football fan, nothing would get me angrier than seeing my team facing third or fourth and short and not going under center and everyone just pushing the whole pile forward. Sometimes offensive coordinators feel the need to try to outsmart everyone, when a simple sneak would do. That was one of those occasions.
The Patriots were clearly outcoached vs. the Dolphins. When will some of the assistants be made responsible for mistakes in game planning?
— Stephen Gravelle, Newbury
Stephen, other than a botched play-call here and there — like O’Brien’s aforementioned pitch — I didn’t have that big an issue with the work of the assistants Sunday. I think there were a couple of really nice moments for them, including the field goal block from Brenden Schooler, a play where Bill Belichick specifically singled out the work of the special teams coaches when he talked with us Monday morning. I had more of a problem with the execution.
Should the Patriots tank? Will Shedeur Sanders be available in this year’s draft?
— Richard White, Florida
No. However, Sanders will be available when it comes to the 2024 NFL Draft, and he already is a really intriguing NFL candidate. That being said, I have a conspiracy theory that he and his father are going to be a package deal either this year or next. That’s right . . . Deion Sanders, NFL head coach.
Should the Pats tank for Caleb Williams? There’s a chance they could start 0-4.
— Carvelville, via Twitter
No. People who follow college football and the draft tell me that Caleb Williams is the next franchise quarterback. The closest thing to a sure thing, at least right now. But no, the Patriots shouldn’t tank two games into the season. I’m not sure tanking is in Bill’s DNA.
Does Bill Belichick’s arrogance stifle his creativity? In other words, does he disregard criticism because he thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room?
— Gerald Poxin, Chelsea
I think after 20-plus years as a head coach and six Super Bowl titles, he’s earned a little arrogance. At the same time, I do wish he had some pushback, either when it comes to the front office or on the field. In the past, he has employed a consigliere — Ernie Adams, Floyd Reese, etc. — who would be inclined to tell him the unvarnished truth because he had a deep background with Bill. Not sure he has someone like that on the payroll right now. Ernie makes cameo appearances in the building, but it’s not nearly like it was.
What does the offense need to do to play consistently good football instead of playing from behind leading games?
— Ken Matias, via Twitter
Simple: Get out to better starts. And don’t turn the ball over, especially in the first half. Those two early turnovers against the Eagles and the one against the Dolphins really set the offense back in each game. The Miami offense played with a sense of urgency from the jump Sunday, something that was lacking on the New England side of the ball.
What do you think Kraft is thinking today? Sure, things could turn around, but we’re likely looking at another season stuck in the mud. And with the Pats presumably flush with cash next offseason, is he wondering if Bill is the one to still captain the ship?
— Ryan O’Connell, via Twitter
Unless things slide wildly off the tracks this year and they end up finishing in the neighborhood of 4-13, Bill will still have a job. Honestly, I still believe Bill will be the head coach of this team until he breaks Don Shula’s career mark for wins. As long as the Patriots are competitive for a playoff spot and Bill keeps stacking victories in pursuit of Shula, it’s something the Kraft family will be able to sell the fan base for a couple of seasons. Not sure if it’ll be completely palatable for everyone concerned, but that’s what I think is going to happen.
How long before RKK sees this losing hurting the team brand and begins to have internal discussions with Jonathan about jettisoning BB?
— John Celona, via Twitter
I’ll echo what I told Ryan: Unless things go wildly off track, I think Bill’s job is safe this year. As long as he’s in steady pursuit of the record, he has a job in New England. I think the worst nightmare for the Kraft family would be to see Bill break the record somewhere else, especially after they had to see Tom Brady win a seventh Super Bowl elsewhere.
Next week, do you expect them to start slow, make a bunch of bad turnovers and mistakes, have bad offensive line play, generally get dominated but somehow stay within reach, make it a game in the final minutes, and blow it because they don’t have good players on offense?
— Dave, via Twitter
Well played, sir. I do think this week’s game against the Jets will be an old-school rock fight between two really good defenses. First team to score two offensive touchdowns will win.
Why aren’t they running the ball more?
— Bill James, via Twitter
Good question. It’s easy to pin it on the offensive line, but I think there’s more to it, Bill. Rhamondre Stevenson doesn’t seem to have near the same burst he did last year. And I think while it’s only two games into his New England career, it’s fair to call Ezekiel Elliott underwhelming, at least to this point on the calendar.
One other thing: I think part of it is contextual. You don’t want to run the ball when you’re behind in the fourth quarter. You’re looking to throw in those situations. If the Patriots had a lead in the second half, I’d imagine they’d run the ball more.
Does Mac Jones’s performance in the first two games reflect him hitting his ceiling? Or is he being held back by coaching and other offensive players?
— David Kattan, Longmeadow
Good question. Honestly, I believe Mac is who he is — a good quarterback who should have a decent NFL career, but he needs pieces around him to succeed. Think Kirk Cousins, in his best moments. In my estimation, with Bill O’Brien at the controls of the offense, he has everything around him now to succeed, except for a healthy offensive line. A good offensive line can make a bad quarterback good and a good quarterback great. If the Patriots can get any semblance of consistency and continuity out of their five starters (Trent Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews, Mike Onwenu, and Calvin Anderson), that should be the last piece for him.
Run defense, there’s no thumper in the middle like Hightower or Seau. Is it scheme ?
— Joe King, via Twitter
Joe, assuming you are writing this in the wake of Raheem Mostert’s performance Sunday night. (He may still be running, for all we know.) That role usually falls to Ja’Whaun Bentley, but the Patriots were so focused on slowing the likes of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, they spent much of the night in nickel and dime packages, which meant Bentley was left to do the work of multiple players, and the run defense predictably suffered. But that’s the flip side of “holding” Hill to five catches for 40 yards. (I’ll bet you a venti coffee that will end up being one of Hill’s worst stat lines of the season.)
Mac looks really good to me . . . maybe as good as Tua. But he has no one to run routes like Miami does. Frustrating.
— Moe Giguere, via Twitter
Tua also has a sturdier offensive line and a track star like Tyreek Hill who is blessed with a good pair of hands. The Dolphins offense also does everything quickly. When it’s at its best, the Patriots offense is a sturdy, dependable Ford Bronco. The Miami offense is a Lamborghini.