By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
With the Patriots’ playoff hopes all but out of reach, fans are starting to turn their attention to the offseason. While it certainly will be a crucial spring for Bill Belichick as a roster builder, there’s still three games to learn from this season. How some young players perform down the stretch could inform Belichick’s decisions in free agency and the draft.
Through your questions, let’s take a look at some key names to watch – mainly on the offensive side of the ball – as the Patriots’ season winds down.
Will there be a concerted effort to get N’Keal and the young TE’s the ball down the stretch, just to see what we have with them?
Harry was billed as a monster on 50/50 balls, so why aren’t we giving him a shot? He’s rarely getting separation, but it’s not like he’s ever doubled
— Peter Conroy (@ruhlax_guy) December 18, 2020
It’s hard to say the Patriots can make a “concerted effort” on a play-by-play basis to get Harry, Devin Asiasi, and Dalton Keene involved. It’s not like Madden where you can just spam the ‘B’ button and end up with 50 catches. Whoever the quarterback is, Cam Newton or Jarrett Stidham, they’re playing for a 2021 roster spot – whether that be in New England or elsewhere. They’re not going to throw into coverage just for the sake of it.
That being said, it is important for the Patriots to get those guys involved as much as possible. In a year where live reps for younger players are scarce (no preseason), these are not just valuable teaching games but evaluation games as well. Ideally, Harry, Asiasi, and Keene will be on the field regularly for the rest of the season. Whether or not they can get open will dictate how involved they are, but if they can’t create windows to throw the ball, that in itself in notable.
Do the Pats still believe that that have anything in Stidham or are they just going to move on? Will Josh actually call a play to get the young TEs involved or will he just leave them as the #5 option?
— Steve Bigler (@Bigsdog_19) December 18, 2020
It’s hard to imagine Stidham’s stock could be too high internally right now. After last Thursday’s loss, Bill Belichick seemed to hint he doesn’t think the team can win with the 24-year-old under center.
Stidham hasn’t exactly passed his tests so far. He started the season as the third string quarterback, and when he has gotten into games he’s alternated between inefficient short passes and turnovers.
To be fair, he’s yet to really have any time to truly prep for these games. It’d be shortsighted to fully close the book on him until he’s had a full week as the QB1, getting to work with the first-team offense and prepare for a 60 minute performance.
Now, he may get that chance or he may not. Belichick doesn’t seem to think it’ll happen, and he’s the one making the decision. But as a fourth-round pick with just two years left on his contract, Stidham’s window to prove he can be an impact player is closing fast.
I really hope Bill has enough balls to look in the mirror and get outside help with the GM duties this off season.
— TheNewTeddyRoc (@TeddyNew) December 18, 2020
I wrote this in the last mailbag, and I’ll write it again – Bill Belichick stepping down as Patriots’ GM won’t solve any problems, and it’s more likely to create new ones. Many talented rosters have been dragged down by a GM and coach disagreeing on the ultimate vision for the team, a problem that won’t come up if both jobs are held by the same individual.
As far as “getting outside help,” it’s not like Belichick is handling the entire offseason on his own. Nick Caserio plays a significant role, and the Patriots have an extensive scouting department. Maybe Belichick will bring in more people in terms of support staff, but he’s not going to create a major shakeup of the organizational structure – nor should he.
This Patriots team gives me bipolar disorder. They are either losing out or winning the Super Bowl by 30. No in between
— Hurwitz???? (@gillettenation_) December 18, 2020
Inconsistency certainly was the Patriots’ biggest issue in 2020. Take last month as a prime example, when they struggled mightily against a lowly Texans team, then came back the next week and beat a similarly-built opponent in the Arizona Cardinals. At times, it was hard to find constants even week-to-week.
Granted, inconsistency is usually a hallmark of a young team. The 2020 Patriots have an average age of 26.4 years old, the youngest team Bill Belichick has had in five years.
This is typically how younger players develop. They show flashes early as they’re still learning, then (ideally) the flashes become more consistent over time until that’s what that player becomes. In past years, the Patriots have been able to hide inconsistent young players behind a wealth of veteran talent, and wait to put them in key roles until they had things more figured out. In 2020 they didn’t have that luxury, and this has been the result.
The following Q&As are from Matt Dolloff
Who is your 2021 QB for the New England Patriots. Who you think it is and who you want it to be
— Jared Smith (@JL_Smith91) December 18, 2020
Just saw an article suggesting the Pats target Stafford via trade since the Lions are likely looking at a rebuild. Do you see that as being remotely possible?
— Evan (@SoWardRightNow) December 18, 2020
Is it ok, as a Pats fan since the early ’80s, if I am content with the all of the titles because I recognize that watching bad football just reminds me of all the bad football I was forced to watch as a loyal fan before T. Brady?
— Robot Townie (@DaveRobinson3) December 18, 2020
I try not to judge fans on a personal level, you can feel however you want and it won’t bother me – but I certainly have my opinions on being good or bad fans. I think being “content” with the six championships is far more reasonable than throwing a tantrum because, God forbid, the Patriots might not be air-dropped into the AFC Championship Game every year anymore. Your experience as a fan should help you navigate the Patriots’ transition into the next era better than most.
New England is full of passionate fans, which is part of what makes the whole experience so fun. I’ll certainly take what we do over apathy. But it’s also unseemly to be overly demanding of excellence, and I am worried that the Patriots’ run from 2001-2018 spoiled too many of us to the point that we’re morphing into arrogant Yankees or Steelers fans. I hope that’s not the case. Root for them to win, have your bar arguments, mix in some humble pie, and accept the results, whatever they are. Nobody likes arrogant, entitled sore losers. But that being said, act however you want and I won’t lose sleep over it.
If you’re looking to relive the good old says and need to kill some time while stuck inside, check out the latest edition of Pats Pod where Matt Dolloff and I discuss our favorite Patriots snow games.
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 Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com.