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Behind Enemy Lines: Q&A with Pats Pulpit

Some information given to us courtesy of Pats Pulpit’s Taylor Kyles

New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

In preparing for Sunday’s matchup against the New England Patriots, Pats Pulpit’s Kevin Nogle and I sat down for a small Q&A for one another’s publications.

Check out the Q&A below, and be sure to check out DraftKings Sportsbook for all your betting needs this season.

1. Entering the season there was a lot of excitement surrounding Patriots quarterback Mac Jones. I know the stats don’t tell us everything, so what can you share about Jones through two games that Ravens fans haven’t seen? The good? The bad?

With all the offensive staff and scheme changes, there have been understandable growing pains for Mac and the offense. For the most part, Jones has done a good job avoiding negative plays and keeping the offense on schedule. He’s also been much more aggressive going downfield than he was last season, but the results have been a mixed bag.

He’s struggled to find consistency targeting anyone not named Jakobi Meyers (who hasn’t practiced this week due to a knee injury) or Nelson Agholor. Kendrick Bourne was also more involved last weekend, showing flashes of the potential Patriots fans have been hoping he’d realize this season.

Unfortunately, Jones not trusting his full arsenal of receivers has resulted in the typically cerebral passer not seeing the field well at times. Both of his interceptions this season have been to new addition DeVante Parker, who has been a non-factor in the passing game. Though Parker blamed himself for one of these turnovers, saying he could’ve been more competitive at the catch-point, the other was a terrible post-snap read from Jones where he floated a pass over the middle and was intercepted by Minkah Fitzpatrick. He almost had another pick later in the game after missing Cameron Sutton while trying to extend the play and throw across his body.

Mac has plenty of intelligence, talent, and potential. But we won’t see it realized until the offense finds its identity.

2. The Patriots are spending an awful lot of money on tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, but through two games they’ve combined for only 53 yards. Is the lack of production due to scheme, skill, chemistry with Jones or something more?

I’m convinced Hunter Henry is dealing with an injury because he’s taken a huge step back after being a reliable safety blanket in 2021. He ran a route incorrectly against the Steelers last week and didn’t see another target the entire game. Henry’s also been a liability as a blocker and was replaced by Lil’Jordan Humphrey in run situations.

It seems the offense is trying to get Jonnu Smith more involved and use him in different ways, including screens and a designed fade opportunity against the Dolphins where Jones delivered an uncatchable ball. Unfortunately, Smith is one of their least-nuanced route runners and doesn’t see the field often in passing situations. He’s excellent after the catch and has big-play ability, but there hasn’t been nearly enough production relative to his salary.

3. If you were to scheme against the Ravens offensive coordinator, how would you scheme against this Patriots defense?

I would dare the Ravens to run as often as possible while keeping athletes in case Lamar Jackson keeps it. The Patriots’ defensive strengths are their defensive line and safety group, so I’d rather put the game in their hands.

The Patriots have been using more 2-high safety coverages on early downs the past couple of weeks to deter passers from going downfield off of play-action, and I’d expect the same this weekend with Lamar’s proficiency on those types of passes.

When New England knows Baltimore will pass, they’ll probably go to their single-high roots and major in Cover 3 so defenders can have eyes on Jackson. When the Pats play man coverage, there will likely be a safety like Jabrill Peppers spying the QB to make sure he doesn’t take off and move the chains himself.

4. What can you share about the Patriots rookie class? Anybody standing out? Anybody to take note of?

1st-round pick Cole Strange hasn’t been perfect, but he’s living up to his draft stock early. The rook was surprisingly competitive against Cameron Heyward last week, despite major concerns over his ability to hold up vs power in the pre-draft process. He’s an excellent athlete who excels on reach blocks and pulls in the run game while possessing the nastiness to move defenders on down blocks.

4th-round pick Jack Jones has gotten some snaps at outside corner in relief of the team’s veteran starters and shown the twitch and competitiveness he played with in college. However, he’s been exposed in consecutive weeks when forced to track receivers in motion and tackle them in space.

Undrafted guys DaMarcus Mitchell and Brenden Schooler have stood out positively on special teams, with Mitchell bringing rare size and physicality and Schooler recovering a muffed punt last week.

5. The Ravens are favored in this game by -3 according to DraftKings. Do you think they should be favored going against Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick at home? Where would you set the line?

Considering how potent the Ravens’ passing game looks and how inconsistent the Patriots’ offense has been, I think the line is right where it should be. The Ravens’ defense is also the kind of disruptive, ball-hawking group that could potentially expose the cracks in New England’s unproven unit.

New England’s defense will keep the game competitive, but the offense must capitalize on opportunities and not hurt themselves with penalties and poor execution.