Biggest Questions for the Patriots’ Offense As the 2020 Season Nears

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the upcoming NFL season will be one of the most unique in league history. The biggest question for any team– and the league itself– consist of issues surrounding COVID-19. However, as of now, football season is right around the corner. Training camp will begin to ramp up in the upcoming weeks and the Patriots are scheduled to play their first game on September 13.

Each NFL season presents a new set of questions the Patriots must answer in order to find success. In this article, we’ll give you the five biggest questions for the Patriots’ offense as we head towards the 2020 season. We’ll cover the defense in a separate article.

(NOTE: All stats came from Pro Football Reference.)

5.) How much production will the Patriots get from their two rookie tight ends?

Last season, the Patriots had one of the worst tight end groups in the NFL. Ben Watson, now retired, led the Patriots tight end room with only 17 catches for 173 yards. Instead of upgrading the position through free agency, the Patriots chose to select both Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

If the tight end group stays as is, Asiasi and Keene will likely be joined by Ryan Izzo on the final roster. In our eyes, both rookies offer more on the field than Izzo. Relying on rookie tight ends may not be an ideal situation, as rookie tight end production tends to be low, but the Patriots don’t have much of a choice. Even if the Patriots were to bring in a more established tight end, like the player we mentioned here, both Asiasi and Keene would still get a ton of playing time in year one.

The rookie most likely to step in and start right away is Asiasi. To us, he’s the number one option at tight end. He’s a perfect middle of the field option. In the clip below, you can see his breakaway speed.

Keene is more of a swiss army knife. He can play a mix of tight end and fullback. With Dan Vitale opting out of the upcoming season, it’s fair to expect Keene to receive snaps at fullback along with Jakob Johnson.

The truth is, anything Asiasi and Keene can give is better than what the Patriots had last year.

4.) Other than Julian Edelman, which wide receivers can consistently get open?

Without Julian Edelman in 2019, the Patriots passing game would have been incredibly bleak. It’s fair to say injuries to N’Keal Harry and Mohamed Sanu hurt the situation at wideout, but ultimately the inability to get separation played the biggest role in the Patriots’ lack of production at wide receiver. An injured Edelman carried the group with 100 catches for 1117 yards. Can he put up those numbers again? Sure, but it’s not ideal to have to solely rely on your 34-year old receiver. The Patriots need two or three other wideouts to consistently produce and get open.

Even though the receivers around Edelman underachieved last season, there are reasons to be hopeful about 2020. One of those reasons is Sanu. After a disappointing half-season with the Patriots, it’s easy to forget just how good Sanu was with the Falcons. In 2018, Sanu had 66 catches for 838 yards. In Atlanta, Sanu was a very reliable playmaker, just look at the one-handed grab he had against the Seahawks in 2017.

Sanus is best as a number three option. The problem is, there’s no clear number two option on the Patriots. Sanu will likely be thrust into that role unless Harry can take a huge second-year leap.

In his rookie season, Harry missed most of the preseason and half the regular season. Obviously, as a rookie receiver you need all the time you can get, especially in a complex system like the Patriots. With a full year in the system, we trust Harry will take a second-year leap. But, will it be enough of a leap to become the number two option? It’s possible, but it’s a lot to ask. Other receivers like Jakobi Meyers, Damiere Byrd, and even undrafted rookie free agent Jeff Thomas will have a great opportunity to get significant playing time.

3.) Will the running game return to its 2018 form after a disappointing 2019 season on the ground?

The road to the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory in the 2018-2019 season was old school ground and pound football. In 2018, the Patriots were ranked 5th in rush yards per game, but in 2019 the Patriots dropped all the way down to 18th.

The regression of the run game is complex. There were three main reasons for the struggles on the ground, the first being Sony Michel. Yes, Michel had 912 yards rushing but his yards per carry went from 4.5 in 2018 to 3.7 in 2019. Michel is a good back but he has limitations when it comes to his elusiveness. Another issue is the predictability of the offense when Michel’s on the field.

Second-year running back, Damien Harris has a great opportunity to earn himself a better role. If he can, he’d take some of those lead back snaps from Michel. Harris is a one cut back with very nice field vision.

In no way do all the problems in the run game fall on Michel. The run blocking was flat out bad at times last year. The offensive line struggled more than usual but we have faith they’ll have a bounce-back year. David Andrews, in particular, is a key component of the Patriots’ run blocking, and he’s expected back this season.

A large chunk of the run blocking problems can be attributed to the tight end spot. In the Patriots’ system, tight ends play a huge role in the run game. Watson, LaCosse, and Izzo just didn’t cut it. 

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, the Patriots missed James Develin. A lot of Michel’s success came running behind a fullback in 2018. After Develin went down with an injury, the run game was never the same. Unfortunately for the Patriots, that last season was the last time Develin would play a snap as he retired in the offseason. The fullback duties this season will fall on Jakob Johnson and Keene. 

2.) Can the offensive line stay healthy throughout the entire season?

The NFL opt-outs have already begun to affect the Patriots. Starting right tackle, Marcus Cannon, opted out of the upcoming season. Because the Patriots have a promising young tackle in Yodny Cajuste, they should be able to sustain the loss of Cannon.

The problem isn’t so much replacing Cannon, but replacing the depth that’s filling in for Cannon. Even with Cajuste, it’s likely the Patriots explore the free agency market for a veteran tackle to either start ahead of Cajuste or back him up. Cordy Glenn and LaAdrian Waddle are our favorite tackle options for the Patriots.

When healthy, the Patriots have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Even with several injuries a season ago, the group was still solid. It would be a huge plus if the line went through the season injury-free but one has to wonder how likely that is. Isaiah Wynn is a promising young left tackle but he’s only played eight games in two seasons. Meanwhile, Andrews is coming off blood clots in his lungs and Cajuste missed his entire rookie season recovering from surgery on his quad. The Patriots have a few promising young linemen to serve as depth, but over the next few weeks, you’ll likely see the Patriots add some veteran depth for more proven insurance.

1.) Just how good can Cam Newton be?

Nothing is more important in the NFL than the play of your quarterback. A starting job won’t be given to Cam Newton, but at this point, he seems like the best bet to start. Everything we’ve heard or seen since Newton signed with the Patriots points to him being healthy. Assuming that’s the case, Newton immediately becomes the best quarterback in the AFC East and it’s not even close. The play below shows what a healthy Cam Newton brings to the football field.

Some have claimed Newton’s 2015 MVP was a one-hit-wonder, but that’s just not accurate. Newton has been a good quarterback his entire career. In 2018, Newton threw for 3,395 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions with a 67.9% completion percentage. He also ran for 488 yards. If the Patriots can get a repeat of that, they should be considered favorites in the AFC East.

We know Newton is on a mission to prove everyone wrong for passing on him in free agency, but just how good can he be? As we head into the 2020 season, that is the biggest question for the Patriots’ offense.

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