It’s Week 9 of the 2023 NFL season and the 3-5 Washington Commanders will be facing a 2-6 New England Patriots team in Foxborough.
Thus far, the 2023 season has been forgettable for both the Commanders and Patriots, with Washington losing to the miserable Bears and Giants and Bill Belichick off to one of the worst starts of his coaching career. What is Belichick’s future in New England? Are the Pats so decimated by injury they’ll be vulnerable at home? Who are their rising stars?
To learn more about these and other issues, I asked Taylor Kyles of Pats Pulpit five questions about the state of the Patriots and what to look for in this game.
1) What’s going on with Bill Belichick? First there were rumors that he might be on the hot seat in New England, and then there were rumors he would be extended. I imagine there are a lot of mixed feelings about him at this point. What would fans like to see happen?
There’s probably truth to both. Belichick reportedly did sign what’s believed to be a multi-year extension, though you’d have an easier time breaching Fort Knox than getting the exact details. I think Robert Kraft also warned Belichick that if this season, which had high expectations after Bill O’Brien’s hiring, was worse than last season, Belichick’s tenure could be in jeopardy. This seemed like, at worst, a 9-win team with the potential to steal a couple of tough games. No one expected this year’s disaster, though.
Injuries have had much to do with it, as the team has lost three of its best players to season-ending injuries and had other key starters in and out of the lineup. Mac Jones has also committed at least one turnover in all but two games this season, including a pick in scoring territory during both Dolphins matchups. But those issues have turned the cracks in New England’s roster construction, like failing to acquire premium talent at wide receiver and offensive tackle outside of Trent Brown, into glaring issues. Between Belichick the GM being exposed and the team’s inability to live up to previous standards of discipline and clutch play, fans have begun to turn on the Hall of Fame head coach. And frankly, it’s tough to blame them.
2) The Patriots’ QB situation is a bit confusing to outsiders. Though Mac Jones has played all season, it seems like there has been a lot of dissatisfaction with his play. Is the Bailey Zappe era over? What is the future in New England at the QB position?
To be brutally honest, the Bailey Zappe era was never really a thing. He filled in admirably for Mac Jones last season but was more opportunistic than eye-opening. Zappe does what he’s asked when the demands are simple but struggles to produce consistently outside of that. That was brought to light during the summer when he struggled to pick up Bill O’Brien’s offense and was exposed to waivers during roster cuts.
Mac Jones has regressed over the past two seasons while throwing to a subpar receiving corps behind several line combinations. The aforementioned personnel issues have put Jones in an impossible position that few, if any, could succeed in. But he’s compounded these problems by committing inexcusable turnovers while flashing a worrisome lack of poise. You can tell he isn’t fully broken, as there are enough moments of strong pocket presence, decision-making, and accuracy that remind you of Alabama Mac. But the bad is really bad, and it could force the team to look for potential replacements in the draft.
The team reportedly didn’t receive any calls on Jones, so he’s likely in New England through his rookie contract. But as much as I like him, the Patriots would be committing malpractice if they didn’t invest significant capital at the position this offseason.
3) To describe the Patriots offense as anemic seems overly generous. That said, Washington’s defense has turned many a bad offense around this year. What would you say the Patriots offense does well? What is its biggest vulnerability?
The Patriots offense has been at its best when running downhill, getting the ball out quickly, and relying on play-action to get chunks over the middle. They also moved the ball pretty easily on Miami when using tempo. The run game has also been inconsistent due to a lack of continuity but has the size and talent to dominate when locked in. The offense lost its best skill player, Kendrick Bourne, during last week’s game, leaving rookie Demario Douglas as the passing game’s only legitimate threat. DeVante Parker will also be inactive this week after suffering a head injury against the Dolphins.
Jalen Reagor and potentially even 2nd-round speedster Tyquan Thornton will be asked to step up this week, but each has just one catch past the line of scrimmage this season. While this looks like a great opportunity for the offense to gain some confidence on paper, Jones will be throwing to a lot of players he lacks experience and chemistry with.
This offense’s biggest vulnerability is—well, how much time do you have? Turnovers are at the top of the list, which mostly falls on the shoulders of Mac Jones. Slow starts have been another persistent issue, though they’ve been better in that area the past two weeks. They also constantly find themselves in 3rd & long situations that they lack the arsenal to convert because of poor execution and negative plays early.
The offensive line found some stability by moving Mike Onwenu to right tackle and putting pass pro specialist Sidy Sow at right guard, but left tackle Trent Brown has significant ankle and knee injuries. The interior is still working on its chemistry, as Cole Strange missed a ton of time with his own knee injury, so they can be attacked with blitzes and line games. If the offense can get its mojo back from the Bills game, where they were able to minimize mistakes and capitalize on opportunities, they could be competitive. But consistency hasn’t been in their vocabulary this season.
4) Tell us a bit about one player, both on offense and defense, who we might not know about, but who you think we should. Who excites you in terms of their potential?
Offensively, I’ll go with 6th-round rookie out of Liberty, Demario Douglas. Outside of Kendrick Bourne, he’s been the only Patriots receiver who threatens defenses downfield and after the catch. He’s undersized but plays big and has great explosiveness. There have been issues with route consistency, but the offense’s lack of firepower has forced him to the forefront.
Defensively, linebacker Jahlani Tavai is having a breakout season, in my opinion. He took a big step forward last season, proving to be a well-rounded player despite being used as more of an early-down presence. This season, he’s been top-10 at his position by PFF’s defensive grades, and he had two key stops late against Miami while filling in on 3rd downs for Ja’Whaun Bentley, who could be limited this week with a hamstring injury. Tavai splits time between inside linebacker and the edge, providing strong run defense and solid pass rush when blitzing. He’s also got underrated athleticism in coverage and rarely misses tackles. Expect to see him around the football a lot.
5) What are you expecting the final score of the game to be this week? DraftKings Sportsbook has the over/under set at 40.5. How many points do you expect to be scored overall?
I’ll go with 16-13 and give New England home-field advantage for the win. The Patriots’ defense gave up a lot of explosive plays last week, but that had a lot to do with Miami being a well-coached juggernaut. This isn’t a bad defense, and while Terry is indeed quite scary, I think they’ll rise to the occasion against an inexperienced quarterback. New England’s offense, for all its inconsistency last week, showed some positive flashes when they didn’t shoot themselves in the foot. I still expect miscues, which is why I only expect them to reach the end zone once, but I could see rookie kicker Chad Ryland having a busy day to keep them in the driver’s seat.
Thanks again to Taylor for taking time out of his day to answer our questions about the Patriots. Be sure to check out Taylor’s companion piece over at Pats Pulpit.
As of right now, Vegas has New England as 3 point favorites. How would you bet?
This poll is closed
New England wins by 4 or more points.
New England wins by 3 or less, or ties.
As of now, Vegas has the over/under for this game at 40.5. Which would you bet?
This poll is closed
41 or more points are scored.
40 or fewer points are scored.