New England Patriots

New England Patriots

New England Patriots

  • Entering Week 15, the Patriots find themselves in the drivers seat for a playoff spot. They’re currently the seven seed in the AFC, which would make them the final Wild Card team.

    At the same time, there’s a lot of football left to be played. It’s a close Wild Card race in the AFC and the Patriots’ remaining four games include three against teams who have all but clinched their playoff spot in the Bengals, Dolphins, and Bills. The final non-playoff opponent they’ll face is their opponent this week – the Las Vegas Raiders.

    While the Raiders aren’t a playoff team, their 5-8 record doesn’t exactly reflect their level of play this year. They’ve been in just about every game they’ve played this year, with seven of their eight losses coming by single-score margins. Their biggest issue hasn’t been getting leads but holding them – they’ve blown four double-digit halftime leads so far this year.

    Those late-game shortcomings have been attributed to the adjustments of a new coaching staff, led by former Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. While McDaniels’ team looked clunky early things seemed to settle down in the second half of the season as the team ripped off three wins in a row before losing to Baker Mayfield and the Los Angeles Rams last Thursday night.

    Was last week a sign that the Raiders haven’t really gotten over the hump? Or will they bounce back against the Patriots? Let’s take a look at the key matchups that will decide this game…


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  • The coaching matchup

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - AUGUST 26:  (L-R) Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots and head coach Josh McDaniels of the Las Vegas Raiders shake hands after their preseason game at Allegiant Stadium on August 26, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – AUGUST 26: (L-R) Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots and head coach Josh McDaniels of the Las Vegas Raiders shake hands after their preseason game at Allegiant Stadium on August 26, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

    The main reason this game was originally supposed to be in primetime before getting flexed out last week was the coaching matchup. It’s the first time Bill Belichick & Co. will face former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who left for the Raiders’ head coaching job in the spring.

    It’s not just the head coaches that have familiarity though. McDaniels took most of last year’s Patriots offensive coaching staff with him to Vegas. Mick Lombardi, who was the wide receiver coach in New England in 2021, is now the Raiders’ offensive coordinator. He’s joined by quarterbacks coach Bo Hardegree, offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo, and senior offensive assistant Jerry Schuplinski. On the defensive side of the ball, both defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and senior defensive assistant Rob Ryan spent time in the Patriots organization.

    Earlier this week, Patriots assistant coaches downplayed familiarity impacting the game. For one, as familiar as the Raiders’ staff is with the Patriots, it’s the same the other way around. Plus, linebackers coach Jerod Mayo talked about the fact that McDaniels and the assistants will likely deploy different strategies with different players at their disposal.

    However, facing former assistants has resulted in mixed results for Belichick. He’s 11-11 all time when facing a head coach who previously worked for him in New England. One of those losses came against McDaniels, who was head coach of the Denver Broncos when they beat the Patriots 20-17 in overtime in 2009.

  • Carryover from the Cardinals game

    GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 12: Kevin Harris #36 of the New England Patriots celebrates with Mac Jones #10 and Tyquan Thornton #11 after scoring a 14 yard touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals during the second quarter of the game at State Farm Stadium on December 12, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

    GLENDALE, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 12: Kevin Harris #36 of the New England Patriots celebrates with Mac Jones #10 and Tyquan Thornton #11 after scoring a 14 yard touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals during the second quarter of the game at State Farm Stadium on December 12, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

    Sticking with the theme of coaching, this is a big game for play-caller Matt Patricia. On Monday night, we saw the Patriots try some new things offensively against the Cardinals, many of which worked. Will he stick with and/or build on those concepts this week?

    Most of the ‘new’ looks we got from the Patriots last week involved different offensive packages, as the team worked around multiple injuries. Running back Damien Harris and wide receiver Jakobi Meyers were inactive for the game, and running back Rhamondre Stevenson and wide receiver DeVante Parker both left the game due to injuries.

    With those players out, others stepped up. Wide receivers Kendrick Bourne and Tyquan Thornton both had a season-high five targets in that game, and rookie running backs Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris both has season-high usage rates and were involved when they were on the field. Cornerback Marcus Jones also got more looks on offense.

    Getting those players on the field added significant speed to the Patriots’ offense. Even though they had to go screen-heavy and throw a lot of quick passes due to the Cardinals’ pass rush regularly generating pressure, they were able to put together plus plays on the ground and after the catch.

    It looks like this week, some of those same players who were hurt Monday night again won’t be available. Stevenson, Meyers, and Parker haven’t practiced yet this week. With that, will the Patriots go back to the looks they were ‘forced’ into Monday night? Will they build on the concepts they can run with those faster personnel groups? They’ll need to be able to score and score quick to keep up with this Raiders’ offense, so getting an offensive boost like that could be key.

  • Tackles put to the test

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 18: Defensive ends Chandler Jones #55 and Maxx Crosby #98 of the Las Vegas Raiders celebrate after Crosby sacked quarterback Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals in the fourth quarter of their game at Allegiant Stadium on September 18, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. A holding call against the Raiders negated the sack. The Cardinals defeated the Raiders 29-23 in overtime. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – SEPTEMBER 18: Defensive ends Chandler Jones #55 and Maxx Crosby #98 of the Las Vegas Raiders celebrate after Crosby sacked quarterback Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals in the fourth quarter of their game at Allegiant Stadium on September 18, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. A holding call against the Raiders negated the sack. The Cardinals defeated the Raiders 29-23 in overtime. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

    The Patriots’ tackle position has been noticeably inconsistent since the bye week. Injuries have created a revolving door at the position, and the players on the field have struggled to hold up – especially in pass protection – more often than not. For the last two weeks, Trent Brown and Conor McDermott have been the starters with Isaiah Wynn and Yodny Cajuste dealing with injuries.

    That’s not good news for the Patriots this week, as they get ready to face one of the NFL’s top pass rushing duos. On one side is Maxx Crosby, who is half a sack off the league lead at 14, and ranks third with 34 pressures.

    On the other side is former Patriot Chandler Jones. Jones had a slow start to the season, but has starting heading up the last few weeks. After recording 19 pressures and just one sack over the first 11 weeks, he has 23 pressures and four sacks in the last three games alone.

    If the Patriots want to try and stick to their drop back offense that has been slow to develop at times this year, they could create an environment where Crosby and Jones can get in a rhythm and take over the game. Instead, they may need to minimize that duo like they did Arizona’s pass rush last week, with those screens, RPOs, and other quick concepts as well as pre-snap motion and other eye-adjustment tactics.

  • What will the Raiders offense look like

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 13: Darren Waller #83 of the Las Vegas Raiders celebrates with Hunter Renfrow #13 after scoring a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth quarter at Allegiant Stadium on September 13, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – SEPTEMBER 13: Darren Waller #83 of the Las Vegas Raiders celebrates with Hunter Renfrow #13 after scoring a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth quarter at Allegiant Stadium on September 13, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

    One big reason the Raiders’ record is well below what was expected has been injuries to key players. Wide receiver Hunter Renfrow and tight end Darren Waller have both missed significant time this season. In fact, the Raiders have only had those two and Davante Adams all healthy for three games all season, and not since Week 5.

    Renfrow and Waller were both designated to return from IR this week. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said on Thursday that both “have a chance” to play in this game.

    “I don’t think you’ve really seen what the Raiders are actually able to do – and maybe we’ll see it this week – as far as the injuries are concerned,” linebackers coach Jerod Mayo said on Tuesday. “Waller’s probably coming back, and Renfrow’s probably coming back. They have [Josh] Jacobs, they have Adams on the outside and [Derek] Carr, so this will probably be the first time in a long time that these guys are actually pretty healthy.”

    If neither Renfrow or Waller return from IR this week, the Patriots’ defensive game plan can be relatively straightforward – and similar to what they did last week. Double Adams on the boundary, then stack the box to slow down the running game with Josh Jacobs and force Derek Carr to win by throwing to secondary options like Mack Hollins and Foster Moreau.

    Even one of Renfrow or Waller returning makes it much more complicated. The more talent the Raiders have on the field, the less the Patriots can commit to stopping the run without leaving a star pass catcher in single coverage. Renfrow being on the field means the team needs to deploy a slot corner, and Waller adds the need for an extra tight end. The two together stretch the front seven very thin.

    If that’s the case, then Jacobs can take over. Plus, the Raiders still use a traditional fullback – former Patriot Jakob Johnson – giving them a numbers advantage in the box.

    As dominant as guys like Adams and Waller can be, letting Jacobs run wild is also a scary though. Belichick raved about him earlier this week.

    “Strong tough kid to tackle. Has got good contact balance. Very powerful guy, has good patience, sees the hole, sees lanes and as we saw, has breakaway speed. He’s been able to go the distance and create some explosive runs, not just five and six yarders but he’s had some home runs too. He’s got that kind of ability, runs inside, runs outside, and has good vision,” Belichick pointed out. “He gets a lot of two, three, four extra yards after the first guy hits him, just because of his ability to play with a good pad level and play strong.”

    Saturday’s roster moves will factor into how this game plays out. The Raiders were built to win games offensively, but haven’t been able to do so for most of this year. If they start getting their weapons back, the picture changes.

  • Christian Barmore

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 17: Christian Barmore #90 of the New England Patriots reacts after a play in the second quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at Gillette Stadium on October 17, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 17: Christian Barmore #90 of the New England Patriots reacts after a play in the second quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at Gillette Stadium on October 17, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    The Patriots have their own IR return situation going on – and potentially their own evolving pass rush as well. Christian Barmore returned to practice this week, and he is now eligible to be activated off IR for Sunday’s game.

    Barmore would step back into a pass rush that has been firing on all cylinders the past few weeks. The Patriots have 24 sacks since Week 8, which is tied for the second-most in the league in that span. Most of that pressure has come off the edge, including Josh Uche’s 10 sacks in just that window. Barmore would give the team back its best interior pass rusher and really tie the whole group together.

    Through the first six weeks, Barmore totaled 11 pressures. He had a pass rush win rate of 14.8 percent in those games.

    Whatever the Raiders’ offensive arsenal in this game, the Patriots are going to need to get pressure on Carr to have a chance to win the game. Barmore’s presence would either leave Uche or Matthew Judon getting less attention, or him in one-on-one situations – which he’s proven he can win on a regular basis.

  • 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].

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