Patriots Week 11 Mailbag: Let's talk pass catchers

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com

Welcome to Week 11 of the Sports Hub Patriots Mailbag!

With the Patriots ground game exploding last week, it seems like fans are now wondering if and when the passing game will catch up? We'll get into that, plus a breakthrough in the curious case of Chase Winovich. But first, how about catching up with two of the newest members of the Patriots?

This week does seem like a logical time for the team's deadline-week acquisitions to start to factor into the game plan. Unlike past years where it only took a week or two to get players up to speed and into the lineup mid-season, the added step of quarantine due to COVID has slowed things down in 2020.

Let's start with the tight end Jordan Thomas. The former Houston Texan should play a sizable role in the offense once he is caught up with the playbook. He caught 20 passes for 215 yards and 4 touchdowns as a rookie, and although his production has dipped since, he's proven he can be a factor at the NFL level, especially in the red zone.

Given the Patriots' lack of depth at tight end right now, the only thing seemingly standing in his way of seeing the field is playbook knowledge. If the coaching staff is comfortable in the progress he's made in one week of practice, expect to see him this week. If this game isn't it, we could see him get a healthy share of snaps against his other former employer, the Arizona Cardinals, next week.

As for Ford, the Patriots seemed to find a healthy three-receiver rotation last week consisting of Jakobi Meyers, Damiere Byrd, and N'Keal Harry. Ford might see spots snaps here and there, and could have a special role in the red zone, but pending any injuries it's hard to project him getting more than that for the foreseeable future.

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 4: Tight end Jordan Thomas #83 of the Houston Texans catches a pass for a first quarter touchdown under coverage by inside linebacker Josey Jewell #47 of the Denver Broncos at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on November 4, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

It feels possible. So far this season, Houston has allowed the second-most touchdowns to wide receivers (13 in nine games).

However, Houston has the 32nd ranked rush defense in football, so the Patriots shouldn't put the ball in the air except for when they really need to. Down on the goal line, we should see a heavy dose of Damien Harris.

If a receiver does catch a touchdown pass, it'll likely be on a catch-and-run kind of play. Keeping that in mind, I'll offer a prediction and say if a Patriots' receiver goes for six in this one, it'll be Damiere Byrd recording his first TD of the year.

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 13: Damiere Byrd #10 of the New England Patriots warms up before the game against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on September 13, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 13: Damiere Byrd #10 of the New England Patriots warms up before the game against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on September 13, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Kris, I think you're half right. The production (or lack thereof) from the tight end position has been an issue this year. But to say it wasn't a priority in the offseason is misjudging the situation.

Bill Belichick drafted two tight ends on Day 2 of the NFL Draft. That's a pretty heavy investment for one position, especially one like tight end where more often than not only one player is on the field. The reality is that neither player has worked out so far, as both sit on IR in their rookie year after posting slow starts.

Could they have been more aggressive and put themselves in a spot to take Cole Kmet, the top tight end in this year's draft? Sure. Should they have brought in a veteran to compliment the young group, especially after Matt LaCosse opted out? Probably, yeah. But I'd characterize those decisions more as poor asset management than overall neglect of the position.

They clearly saw it was an issue, and attempted to address it. If Asiasi and/or Keene had proven serviceable this season, it's likely a different conversation. That being said, I'd expect them to approach the position differently this upcoming spring.

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 18: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on during the game against the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium on October 18, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 18: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on during the game against the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium on October 18, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Why Chase Winovich rode the pine for half the season is one of the great questions surrounding the 2020 Patriots. No concrete reason has been given, so to say it was a dustup with Belichick, interviews with this station, or something else would be nothing more than raw speculation.

However, one of the potential on-field reasons given were his struggles against the run, and there is tape and data that somewhat backs that up. Yet on Sunday, the Patriots defense contained the Ravens' dangerous rushing attack with Winovich playing almost wire-to-wire. He also was moved around more than we saw before his dip in playing time, going from a traditional defensive end to stand-up outside linebacker and even receiving some snaps at the MIKE.

If he can continue to be effective in a versatile role, especially against the run, Winovich should remain a valuable defensive piece for the Patriots, and stay in the game plan. We'll know soon if last week was just an aberration, or the new normal.

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 18: Chase Winovich #50 of the New England Patriots looks on against the Denver Broncos during the first half at Gillette Stadium on October 18, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The following Q&A's are from Matt Dolloff

I suspect that they'll still look into signing a free agent, perhaps someone with a higher profile than Damiere Byrd. He's also going to be a UFA, by the way, so they may need to replace him. Ideally N'Keal Harry emerges as the No. 1 receiver and Meyers settles in as a nice complementary piece, but they may still need to add from outside the organization.
It'll be a talent-rich free agent market with guys like Chris Godwin, Allen Robinson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Will Fuller, Curtis Samuel, Kenny Golladay, and Corey Davis out there and not necessarily commanding top-of-the-market money. They could also take a flyer on a veteran like A.J. Green, Sammy Watkins, or T.Y. Hilton.

Depends on your definition of "real." The actual odds are long right now, and they won't improve unless teams like the Browns, Raiders, and Dolphins play sub-.500 football in the second half of the season. The problem with the Patriots is they don't control their own destiny and need help by teams ahead of them starting to lose, quickly and often. But I refuse to write off the chances of the Patriots going on a run, or the aforementioned teams faltering.

The path is there, but it still needs to widen - and the Patriots need to keep taking care of their own business, or they're cooked.

Glad you asked! I'm going golfing on Saturday, and it's supposed to be about 55 and sunny. The time for that is running out so I'm seizing the opportunity. On Sunday I'll be working, of course.


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Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at [email protected].