Week six 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 Bengals. Let’s get to it!
Dion Lewis was spotted again in the Patriots locker room without a limp or brace on his knee. What is his status?
- Lewis has been stuck on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list ever since needing another surgery to fix his injured knee. There were reports earlier this week that he was walking around the locker room without a noticeable limp or brace on the knee. He is eligible to return to practice in week seven, so it is possible we see him back on the field next week. But he is not required to come off the PUP list next week, so the team may continue to let him work his way back off the field without costing them a roster spot.
- It remains likely that the team could keep him out until after their week nine bye, letting him return in week ten. The positive here is that there has been no negative news surrounding his recovery, so he would seem to be progressing well. Don’t expect Lewis back on the field for at least a few more weeks, but he should return this season.
After his hot start, LeGarrette Blount has less than 100 yards rushing over the past two games. Does Brady being back mean they will use their run game less?
- Through the first three games of the season, Blount had 75 carries (25 per game on average) for 298 yards (3.97 yards per attempt) and four touchdowns. Since then, he has seen 31 carries (15.5 per game on average) for 91 yards (2.94 yards per attempt) and one touchdown over the past two games. He has been limited in practice this past week and a half with a hip ailment, but it has not stopped him from playing in either weeks. Blount may deserve a pass for week four due to the Patriots failing on offense to generate any points at all and being a mess to begin with. But in week five, Blount immediately began to feel the effects of Brady being back.
- The Patriots in the 2015-2016 season ran the ball 383 times (23.94 per game on average) but only managed 3.7 yards per attempt, tied for 3rd worst in the entire NFL. That season, Brady managed to play all 16 games and the team relied heavily on the passing game to carry their offense. It looks to be that way again with Brady throwing for over 400 yards and three touchdowns in his first game back. The Patriots won’t necessarily use the run game less, but it’s possible they don’t use it as their primary means of offense anymore with their passing game doing well. Blount will still see 15-20 carries, but more of them may come in garbage time or when they are just looking to control the clock as well.
Logan Ryan has struggled so far after a break-out 2015. Any particular reasons why?
- Ryan was one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL in 2015 and even at times may have looked better than teammate Malcolm Butler. But so far this season, with the exception of a solid performance against DeAndre Hopkins (four receptions, 56 yards), Butler has struggled. Granted, the Patriots secondary as a whole has not looked as impressive as they did last season (except for Butler). But Ryan has been the main cornerback to throw to for opposing teams so far. He hasn’t given up an exuberant amount of touchdowns or big plays, it has been more so that he is beaten in one-on-one match-ups and has allowed for far too many first downs on throws targeted his way.
- Ryan is still a very physical cornerback who has no problem shadowing someone all night, but his main issue has been allowing too many short/intermediate completions that turn into first downs or that gain solid yardage. Ryan hasn’t necessarily been beat on deep throws or had issues tackling for the most part, it’s that he isn’t applying (or hasn’t been successful in doing so) pressure to wide receivers on short routes in order to preserve any big yardage plays from occurring. He has struggled compared to last season, but he still has plenty of time to turn it around. I would caution New England fans to be patient with him and the Patriots secondary.
There has been been a major improvement with the Patriots offensive line compared to 2015. Are there any changes that have led to it?
- There are two particular reasons as to why the Patriots offensive line has fared much better in 2016 as opposed to 2015. The first reason is because of their offensive line coach, Dante Scarnecchia being back. Scarnecchia was the team’s offensive line coach from 1999 to 2013 before retiring. That allowed for Dave DuGuglielmo to step in and ultimately be fired a few seasons later following the 2015 season. Scarnecchia was persuaded to come out of retirement and has helped the Patriots offensive line in giving up only nine sacks in five games this season, less than two per game on average.
- The second reason is the fact that the Patriots have a much more stable starting offensive line. The team in 2015 used 41 different offensive line combinations, a lot of it due to injury but also poor play in general. And while the team has gone through some changes without Sebastian Vollmer, Bryan Stork and Josh Kline, they have managed to keep a solid core together. That would consist of Nate Solder at left tackle, rookie Joe Thuney at right guard, David Andrews at center, Shaq Mason at right guard and Marcus Cannon at right tackle (Cameron Fleming did step in for him in week five because of injury). The strong core and not-as-frequent shifting of combinations has allowed for this primary unit to develop chemistry and work well together. They may not be the most inspiring group on paper, but their continued play together has done well so far.
We saw a break-out game from Elandon Roberts in week five. What can we expect out of him going forward?
- Roberts, a sixth round draft pick out of Houston, had a terrific game against the Browns in week five. This included the great highlight of him bulldozing over All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas on a run play. It ultimately caused the running back to be tackled behind the line when Thomas was pushed right into him by Roberts. Not only that, but Roberts proved to excel in both pass and run coverage. Roberts was everywhere on Sunday but showed especially well in diagnosing which gaps run plays were designed to and making sure to be there to meet the runner at the line of scrimmage. He also handled his own well in one-on-one coverage when needed. His great play allowed for the Patriots to be comfortable enough to sit Dont’a Hightower for most of the second half and let him take over.
- Not only was his coverage and run play diagnosing skills on display, Roberts speed also showed up as well. He showed great open field speed and explosiveness when going after the running back on designed run plays and being able to keep up in coverage against wide receivers, including Terrelle Pryor. While undersized at 5’11”, 235 lbs, Roberts makes up for it with his motor, great football IQ and speed. He will likely have more responsibilities and be utilized more on both early and third downs in roles where he can use his strengths. This isn’t be any means the last we have seen of him and the Patriots may have found someone special in him.