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Patriot Maven Mailbag: Best Fit for Onwenu, Patriots’ Rushers Ready to Run? …and More

Patriot Maven tackles various issues, such as the Pats’ depth at swing tackle and the team’s prowess in the running game in this weekend’s question-and-answer session with fans.

The New England Patriots are set to host the Dallas Cowboys at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts at 4:25pm ET on Sunday, October 17.

This weekend, Patriot Maven opened up our mailbag to answer your Patriots questions. Here are some of the week’s best questions for #MavenMike:

Q: Is it time to kick left tackle Michael Onwenu outside and give Ted Karras the guard spot?

From: Murph, @TMurph207

Great question, from the Great ‘Green’ Man, himself. There is certainly a valid argument for Onwenu to be moved back to the right tackle position. Trent Brown remains on injured reserve, and his return date remains uncertain. The platoon of Justin Herron and Yasir Durant has been serviceable, at best. Yodny Cajuste was effective against the Houston Texans, yet there is too small of a sample size before the position becomes his. While some have argued that Onwenu has not been as effective as he was in 2020, the 23-year-old is having a successful 2021, thus far. Through his first four games at left guard this season, Onwenu has earned a positional grade of 85.2, from Pro Football Focus, making him their 10th highest-graded offensive lineman. He is also the highest-graded Patriots player through the first five weeks of the season. Overall, Onwenu has allowed only one sack and two quarterback hurries in 153 total snaps. At his best, the massive offensive lineman has shown a consistent and impressive ability to overwhelm defenders in the run game, while anchoring well to protecting the passer. It is a rare occasion on which he is easily bypassed on a pass block. Therefore, it would make little sense for the Patriots to move him from a role for which he is obviously being groomed; one that was most recently held by former All-Pro Joe Thuney.

Q: Who should J.C. Jackson match-up with Sunday?

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From: Murph, @TMurph207

Jackson continues to demonstrate his worthiness of the top spot in the Patriots secondary. Whether deployed in man coverage or zone concepts, Jackson has developed an impressive instinct for finding the football, while keeping his targets in range and maintaining a visual on the opposing quarterback. In Week Six, he will see prominent action against quarterback Dak Prescott’s impressive arsenal of offensive skill position players; including receivers Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, and tight end Dalton Schultz. While New England’s coaching staff may look to deploy him against any one of the aforementioned players on Sunday, it is widely expected that he will see plenty of snaps lined up opposite Cooper, and I agree with that assessment. While Lamb can be equally as effective in the field, Jackson is better-suited to follow Cooper’s routes. Still, no matter now the Pats choose to employ their top corner, the secondary will have its hands full on Sunday.

Q: Is J.J. Taylor too small to be more than a third-down back?

From: Murph, @TMurph207

Though Taylor is currently slowed by a groin injury, I still believe that the Patriots running game is best served with him playing more than a sporadic role. The 23-year-old’s ability to receive out of the backfield should provide some additional help on third down attempts, but he is capable of making things happen on early downs. When he is at his best, the former Arizona Wildcat has the shiftiness and the skill set to be the team’s ‘change-of-pace’ back. In that regard, his size is more of a help than a hindrance in playing that role. Taylor is quite effective between-the-tackles, and can contribute as a pass catcher out of the backfield. It is more likely that Taylor’s ball security issues (along with his health) are what has kept him on the Belichickian equivalent of ‘double secret probation,’ rather than his size.

Q: With the injuries [to the Patriots running backs] and ball security issues, who do you expect to get the carries today?

From: Anthony Curtis, @AnthonyCurtis68

Great question, Anthony. For Sunday’s matchup with the Cowboys, I still believe that Damien Harris will receive the majority of the carries. Despite him still nursing a rib injury, his dual-threat capabilities make him the Pats’ best option on early downs, as well as in the red zone. That being said, Stevenson possesses the necessary intangibles to be an effective option in both situational runs, or even receiving out of the backfield. He is a physical, powerful runner, yet athletic enough to make tacklers miss in short yardage. The former Oklahoma Sooner nicely blends power and athleticism into his running style. Whether it be power-sidestepping his way into the end zone, or showcasing his speed by breaking for a 91-year touchdown, Stevenson could be a productive offensive weapon on Sunday against a tough Dallas defensive front. Brandon Bolden will continue to be an option on situational downs, but I believe that Harris and Stevenson will get the greater amount of carries.

Q: What are the chances we will see any of these four players activated for Week 7? Terez Hall who is on Reserve PUP. Cameron McGrone and Joshuah Bledsoe who are on Reserve NFI. Malcolm Perry who is on IR.?

From: Miguel Benzan, @patscap

Excellent question, from the Patriots’ salary cap, ‘Top Gun.’ By all indications, McGrone is highly unlikely to be activated from NFI, with Bledsoe’s chances being dubious, at best. Hall has been effective in his time on the field with the Pats. However, he has yet to see any action in 2021, having been placed on reserve/PUP prior to the start of training camp. The Pats have a crowded depth chart at linebacker. With the recent signing of Jahlani Tavai to the 53-man roster, I would say that Hall’s chances of activation are remote. Perry has positional value due to his versatility, both at receiver and running back. There is also the chance that he could take a snap or two at quarterback. Of the four players mentioned above, Perry has the best chance in my opinion…but even that is a stretch.