The New England Patriots are once again in sole possession of first place in the AFC East, following a 25-0 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday. As the team prepares to host the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, November 28 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, there is still much to be learned about the Pats and their potential push for a spot in the 2021 postseason.
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 this the game against his former team (Tennessee Titans) in which Jonnu Smith breaks out?
From: Miguel Benzan (@patscap)
This is a great question, Miguel, and one that is on the minds of many Patriots fans. Since Smith joined the Pats in March on a four-year, $50 million contract ($39.25 million guaranteed), he has been expected to provide exactly what the Pats lacked in 2021. At his best, the 26-year-old is a prototypical move tight end, best utilized as an effective target in the red zone. In his final season with the Tennessee Titans in 2020, he totaled 41 receptions for 448 yards and eight touchdowns. All eight of those scores came in the red zone. However, his Patriots tenure has not been overly productive to date. To be fair, Smith has been dealing with a shoulder injury that is likely to be limiting his effectiveness as an offensive target. Through ten games played in 2021, Smith has compiled 210 yards receiving with one touchdown. Surprisingly, he has been used more in run protection schemes. Though Smith is a more than capable blocker, one would think his talents would be better utilized as an offensive scoring weapon. Yet, in Thursday’s matchup with the Atlanta Falcons, Smith was deployed on only seven routes, while aligning on 22 run-blocking snaps. In Week Twelve, the Patriots will be facing an aggressive Tennessee defensive front. As a result, the 6-foot-3 248-pound former Titan might be poised for a breakout performance as a ball carrier, or as the red zone target for quarterback Mac Jones.
Q: How will Mac Jones play in bad weather? I have had this concern since day one. [Jones does not have] the strongest arm, and a quarterback does need some zip to play in the winter here or the chances for INT and incomplete passes go up.
From: LJ (@Show_1)
With winter fast approaching, this is a timely question, LJ. Anyone playing quarterback in New England during the winter months will tell you that the weather can be both a blessing and a curse. While Tom Brady seemed to thrive off of the harsh winter conditions in Foxboro, Mac Jones has yet to brave those elements. While there is little sample size of his aptitude in such conditions from his days at Alabama, I was encouraged by his performance during his first taste of the New England elements. During a mandatory minicamp practice in June, Jones maneuvered well through the wind and rain As a rookie, Mac showed both poise and command when throwing into the wind, and handling the wet ball. While some quarterbacks tend to sail the ball in such conditions, Jones’ passes remained mostly steady. Jones showed the same type of prowess during the Patriots’ rain-soaked matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Granted, each of these moments took place during comfortable temperatures. However, the inclement weather did not seem to weaken Jones’ arm strength. As the temperatures begin to drop, we will certainly get our answer. Still, my observations of Mac Jones lead me to believe that he is well-equipped to handle the New England winter.
Q: Do you think Chase Winovich will get more playing time this season? I understand he struggles against the run and just came off IR, but I think he can be a situational pass rusher and sack the QB some. Could he be traded next year because he doesn't fit in the system?
From: Bradyboy12 (@TuckerRossCon)
This is a great question, and a relevant one, considering Jamie Collins’ recent placement on injured reserve. Despite missing significant time this offseason, Winovich is still on my list of defenders that could have a significant impact on the Pats front seven in 2021. When he is at his best, Winovich brings a non-stop motor to the edge rush/outside linebacker position. As such, the Patriots appeared open to his continuing in that role this season. To do that, however, he needs to see the field. Winovich opened training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list with an undisclosed injury. The 26-year old recently spent time on injured reserve with a hamstring injury, as well. As he works his way back into playing shape, Winovich remains intent to focus on his consistency; especially when it comes to funneling run plays into the middle. As a result, many expected him to see notable snaps as an off-the-ball defender, or as a package-specific pass rusher in the coming weeks. While it is true that his style is not an ideal fit in the Patriots’ defensive system, I still believe that his athleticism and skill set are enough to keep him in a Patriots uniform beyond this season.