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Patriot Maven Mailbag: Patriots Positives, Offensive and Defensive Strategy and More

Patriot Maven tackles various issues, such as the New England Patriots offensive and defensive strategy in this weekend’s question-and-answer session with fans

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: Hi Mike. So, lots of positives to say about the Patriots at the moment, a few negatives too, granted, but who would you say is perhaps a quiet positive? Which Pats player is maybe flying under everyone’s radar and performing exceptionally well?

From: Clare Cooper (@clazzyclare)

Great question, as always, Clare. While several Patriots are enjoying stellar seasons thus far, there have been a couple that have quietly excelled, devoid of much fanfare. Jakob Johnson is a logical choice, as he has performed very well at fullback. Whether it be in blocking assignments or on the occasional carry, the 26-year-old has played a key role in the Pats’ success thus far. However, my choice for ‘quiet positive’ would be Ted Karras. Since taking over the starting left guard position, Karras has become a fixture on the Pats offensive line. His experience and physicality has made the difference in the line’s resurgence. The 28-year-old has been consistent in winning his one-on-one assignments and standing strong against both defensive linemen and linebackers; including Atlanta’s Grady Jarrett and Cleveland’s Myles Garrett. Because he is a natural center, Karras has been a strong complementary piece to team captain David Andrews in the middle of the offensive line. However, it is the leadership and support, which he has provided to left tackle Isaish Wynn, that has been most impressive. Since he started playing alongside Karras, Wynn has been much better at holding the edge and has improved the push out of his stance. For these reasons, the Pats have chosen to stick with Karras in the left guard role, instead of handing it back to Michael Onwenu, who started the season at the position. While many fans have clamored for Onwenu’s return to the line, Karras’ high-level play at the position has earned him the spot. In fact, head coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and Karras’ teammates have praised his consistency and work ethic. Judging by the results, it is hard to argue with the Patriots’ decision.

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Q: Hi Mike, It seems like the weakness of the defense is quick passes over the middle of the field where the linebackers are. How would you prevent this from happening in future games?

From: Joel from Hull (@joelshapiro20)

Thanks for the great question, Joel. While the Pats have been solid at all three levels on the defensive side of the ball, defending the quick pass can be problematic. To be honest, New England’s linebackers have been much better in recent weeks at containing the quick, intermediate passes from their opponents, and it starts with mixing in more zone coverage. This has kept their opponents guessing as to whether they will be deploying cover-2 or cover-3, which in turn can confuse the quarterback. On Thursday, the Pats did a good job of keeping Falcons’ tight end Kyle Pitts in check. Linebackers Ja’Whaun Bentley and Dont’a Hightower, along with safeties Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger, did a great job of reading Pitts’ routes. This helped to greatly limit Atlanta’s play action passes. Moving forward, I would expect the Patriots to continue to use the linebackers to control the middle of the field, with Phillips continuing to see time against pass-catching running backs.

Q: If Bill were coaching against the Patriots, what do you think his strategy would be to stop the offense, and how would Josh try to counter it?

From: Lee Nunes (@Leenunes007)

This is a great question, Lee. To be honest, it may be one of the most fascinating hypotheticals surrounding the Patriots at this time. Conventional wisdom would say that any hope to contain the Patriots offense would start with containing their running game. When the Pats runners are able to set the tone early, it creates a great deal of opportunities for Mac Jones to open up the passing game with play action. Therefore, I would expect Bill Belichick to use his nose tackles to clog the middle, while Bentley and Hightower provide solid run coverage in the middle. If successful, he would force Jones into obvious passing situations. At that point, Belichick may look to take a page out of the Dean Pees’ handbook, and dial-up some strategically placed blitzes from the second and third level of the defense in hopes of confusing the quarterback. Against the Falcons’ blitz on Thursday, Jones took three sacks while averaging just 4.4 pass yards per attempt.

In order to counteract this, Josh McDaniels might look to use the power scheme out of the spread offense. With the recent improvement shown by the Patriots offensive line, the guards should be able to block down and contain any blitzing linebackers. In theory, this would turn Belichick’s defensive blitz into an advantage for the offense. McDaniels could use either Damien Harris or Rhamondre Stevenson in the power run game to combat the blitz, without having to rely on throwing the ball. Should that strategy find only minimal success, the Pats could choose to utilize the no-huddle offense. This would allow Jones to win his battles in the quick passing game, while keeping the defense on their heels. In short, Lee, it would be a battle of two brilliant strategists. Patriots fans should be glad that both Belichick and McDanies are on the same side…their side.