Week seven is here and that means another edition of Patriots Mailbag! I answer your questions about the New England Patriots and the hot topics heading into their game against the Steelers. Let’s get to it!
With Landry Jones playing in place of Big Ben, will Bell get more touches and be the main weapon the Pats defense will focus on?
- With Roethlisberger on the mend following knee surgery, Landry Jones will be the Steelers starting quarterback in week seven against the Patriots. Obviously, that is a big downgrade for Pittsburgh and their entire offense. With that, I don’t expect the Steelers to have the same play-book for Jones as they would for Roethlisberger. I do expect them to rely more of the run game by way of LeVeon Bell, which may not be as easy as people think going up against the Patriots run defense. They have given up only 92 yards rushing per game on average (good for ninth best in the NFL) and a 3.7 yards per carry average (tied for seventh best in the NFL).
- With Antonio Brown likely to attract double coverage and Sammie Coates dealing with a broken finger, it is very possible that Bell is the Steelers main weapon this weekend. The Patriots will be sure to game-plan around him being the focal point of their attention and do everything possible to keep him at bay. They did allow for Giovani Bernard to gain 94 yards total from scrimmage in week six, so we could see Bell still be a candidate for over 100 yards. The Patriots will be keying in on Bell and focus their efforts on limiting his effectiveness as much as possible.
If/when Dion Lewis returns, how does he affect the running back rotation?
- While Lewis has yet to return to practice following his second knee surgery in a year, he is expected to be back in a few weeks after reports of his recovery seem positive. We saw last season that Lewis was a huge catalyst for the Patriots in the run and receiving game before going down with his knee injury. He had 622 yards from scrimmage in seven games along with four total touchdowns, so he was averaging just under 90 combined yards per game in his injury-shortened 2015. In his place, James White has stepped up as the primary receiving running back while LeGarrette Blount handles the majority of early down running work.
- Lewis will likely be brought back slowly even when he is active, so don’t expect for him to handle 10-15 touches a game right out of the gate. He could however take work from both Blount and White when he gets back to full strength. Lewis proved to do well in the run game (4.8 yards per carry in 2015) & the receiving game (36 receptions and 10.8 yards per reception in 2015). It will likely be more of a three-horned attack from the Patriots rather than Lewis taking someone’s role necessarily. All three will be involved, but it is possible that Lewis is able to finish the regular season as the team’s primary running back.
Any idea as to why Julian Edelman hasn’t been producing the stats we saw from his last year?
- Over the course of the first six games, Edelman has 28 receptions for 261 yards and no touchdowns for 9.3 yards per catch and 44 targets. At this point last season, he had 45 receptions for 503 yards and four touchdowns for 11.17 yards per reception and 66 targets. To Edelman’s credit though, he has had three different quarterbacks throwing to his this season (Jimmy Garoppolo for two, Jacoby Brissett for two and Brady for two). In his two games with Brady, Edelman has 17 targets, nine receptions and 65 yards with no touchdowns. So he is still seeing close to nine targets per game but has been unable to make many big plays on his receptions with only a 7.22 yards per reception average.
- Edelman has been on the Patriots injury report for the past weeks with a foot injury, the same foot which he had two surgeries on in the off-season. While he has played the entire season without missing any games, Edelman could be limited because of it. He could have issues cutting, planting his foot to change direction and/or just simply not be able to run as fast due to the pain. Along with that, the emergence of James White, Martellus Bennett and the usual suspect in Rob Gronkowski have taken up most of Brady’s attention as well. Edelman doesn’t appear to be 100% with his foot issue and also not as much of a focal point in New England’s offense with the Patriots consistently running two tight end sets. He is still an important part of this offense and should snap out of this soon, but it is something to monitor going forward.
Which player on injured reserve has the best chance of coming back later in the season?
- This is actually a difficult question and it’s not because there is so many players to choose from. Believe it or not, the Patriots haven’t sustained many losses due to injury this season so far. They currently have three players on injured reserve, which would be Jonathan Freeny, Greg Scruggs and Jacoby Brissett. Scruggs suffered a knee injury a couple of weeks ago in practice and sounds like it could be serious enough that he’d need surgery on it. Brissett had thumb surgery after being placed on injured reserve when Brady returned. Freeny went on the IR only a few days ago with a shoulder, at the same time as Scruggs did.
- Besides Freeny to some extent, none of these players had major roles this season. It is possible that none of these players do come nor are even worth bringing back. It may be negative thinking, but it’s possible that if someone else is placed on injured reserve in the near future with a size-able role on the team could be the player brought back. If that is not the case and I had to take choose someone, I’d say Freeny because the Patriots linebacker core (Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower) do deal with injuries at some point every season.
Does Dont’a Hightower’s week six performance show that he is the more important linebacker to try & re-sign?
- I’ll preface this by saying that both Collins and Hightower are very important players on this defense and arguably the two best players as well. With that being said, Hightower had a heck of a week against the Bengals in week six while Collins sat on the sidelines with a hip injury. Hightower managed 13 tackles and 1.5 sacks and even took home the AFC Defensive Player of the Week award for week six. He was a big part of why the Patriots held the Bengals to under 20 points and why the Patriots currently rank as the second best scoring defense in the league (15.2 points per game).
- But so has Jamie Collins, who functions as an outside linebacker who can drop back in coverage and also rush the passer from the outside while contributing in the run game. Hightower is more in the middle linebacker mold who excels in run defense while rushing the passer when called upon. Regardless, the Patriots are projected to have $65 million dollars in cap space in 2017, according to Over the Cap. Plus, a contract like Danny Amendola’s (team could save $6.5 million dollars by cutting him after the season) could help give the Patriots even more cap room. I expect both will be re-signed ultimately, so “who the more important player/linebacker” may be irrelevant here. Regardless, both are extremely important on this defense and hopefully both will be on the Patriots for years to come.