With the trade deadline come and gone, the Patriots stood pat and are now set to ride things out with the guys they have the rest of the way. Their opponents this weekend, the Washington Commanders, did no such thing. In a shocking move, they dealt not one but both of their star edge rushers, Montez Sweat and Chase Young, in about a four-hour span. Not exactly a great move when you could have kept one of them, and you got a subpar total return, but what's done is done. Now, a 3-5 squad, without their two best players, who've had four brutal losses, which include a pair of winnable games against Philly and then to Chicago and the New York Giants, roll into Foxborough this Sunday.
The Patriots' decision to stand pat may have come down to the team they play this weekend, believe it or not. Once Young went for only a third-rounder, that tanked the trade value of Josh Uche, who was widely believed to be available over the last week. My gut feeling as of right now is he won't be in New England in 2024, but trading him just to trade him would have been a mistake. In any event, if he can string some good games down the stretch like he did last year, that'll only help his market come March. Regardless, he and the rest of this team still have nine games to play out and just one before they head overseas to play in Germany. But another side-plot for this game is if Bill Belichick is getting an up-and-close look at his new team. More on that later, but for now, read up on your lyrics and get your left hands up.
Date: Sunday, November 5
Start Time: 1:00 EST
Location: Foxborough, Massachusetts
Stadium: Gillette Stadium
TV Info: FOX (Kenny Albert and Johnathan Vilma on the call)
Patriots Uniform Info: Blue Tops (Pants TBD. We should continue to bully them into using the silver pants with this uniform layout)
Players Already Ruled Out Before Sunday
Washington Commanders: Ricky Stromberg (IOL), Curtis Samuel (WR)
New England Patriots: Calvin Anderson (OT), DeVante Parker (WR)
With Sweat and Young gone, just under half of the Commanders' entire sack and pressure production goes with it. A lot of what they did defensively was predicated on their front four, Sweat, Young, Johnathan Allen, and Darron Payne, simply being too much to handle, and now that's completely gone. Allen and Payne are still game wreckers in their own right, but having a couple of Pro Bowl-caliber EDGE guys made life easier on them 100 percent. If there's any good news, one of the men being asked to step up, Casey Toohill, has three sacks and four pressures in his last three games. He's not either one of the guys he is replacing, but things could always be worse.
Now, without those two guys out on the edge, things are going to get a lot worse before they get better now in D.C. Entering this week, Washington is one of just three defenses to allow over 4.1 yards per carry, over 240 passing yards per game, and over 370 total yards per game, joining the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos. Not exactly the best reflection on DC Jack Del Rio when that's with that defensive line intact up until now.
Another storyline this week is cornerback Emmanual Forbes, who was taken one pick before Christian Gonzalez. Despite having a shaky start in the nation's capital, I liked Forbes coming out of Mississippi State. He was a ballhawk among ballhawks, with 14 interceptions and 20 pass breakups in three seasons there, and sooner or later, that hopefully will translate. For now, though, he's been beaten up pretty well in coverage and is no longer a starter, getting just 10 total defensive snaps these last two weeks. Those spots go to another guy I liked the year he came out, Ben St. Juste, and eight-year veteran Kendall Fuller.
This Washington offensive is a tough one to get a read on. They've scored at least 20 points in all but two games so far, and Sam Howell has been fine more often than not, but they looked brutal when they played the Bills and Giants, putting up 10 combined points. Now, a large part of why I've liked what I've seen from Howell is that he's had some good performances despite some atrocious play upfront. Before last week, where he was only miraculously sacked once, Howell found the turf 40 (FOURTY) times in seven games. And when Howell had time against Philly last Sunday, he threw for 397 yards and 4 touchdowns. I can't say if he's a franchise guy yet, but he's been good for what he's been given.
Given how this year has gone, it shouldn't be a surprise that OC Eric Beinemy has called the least amount of run plays in the league in 2023, but the Commanders rank pretty respectably in yards per carry as a team at 4.3. Brian Robinson, despite the lack of carries, is coming off the heels of a 10-carry 59-yard day. Don't let the total numbers fool you, Robinson, at 6'1 and 220-plus pounds, is a tough guy to bring down if he can get a head of steam. On the perimeter, Scary Terry McLaurin is always a threat, as are tight end Logan Thomas and receiver Jahan Dotson, although the latter can get hot and cold with regularity. Not exactly a Championship caliber offense, but it's hard to discredit them scoring 20 points in six of their first eight matchups, either.
New England Patriots
The two biggest things I'm hoping to see this Patriots defense improve at are sticking to their assignments and communicating. Those two areas being a big problem last week are just about the entire reason they lost this game, giving up walk-in scores to Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. Not exactly a Dolphins-caliber offense, but at the midway point of the year, mistakes like the Patriots made on the backend last week were unacceptable. I would hope J.C. Jackson, specifically, has a better outing this week.
Assuming Josh Uche, who's been limited all week with an ankle/toe issue, is back in the lineup, that should help a Patriots front that's been good, not great at applying some heat. Outside of that freebie sack Miami gave Kyle Dugger, Christian Barmore was the only other sack-getter, and the Patriots only picked up nine pressures (19.1 percent of Tua's dropbacks, which on its own would be the eighth-worst percentage for the season in the league) on a very weak Dolphins front. No Matt Judon changes a lot understandably, but you have to put some pressure on a guy who's not just the most sacked quarterback in football, but by a wide margin.
One other thing I'm looking for is the health of Ja'Whaun Bentley. Last week he only played 20 snaps after a hamstring injury forced him out, and he's been limited all week. We saw it in Miami, but should the linebacker miss this game, it'll be Kyle Dugger carrying the green dot on defense again. Not having Bentley for the large portion of that Miami game hurt, and while Dugger can fill that in-game leadership role just fine, not having Bentley out there for what's effectively seven straight quarters would be problematic. Even on just 20 snaps last week, Bentley still managed to pick up six total tackles.
We got the news that Kendrick Bourne tore his ACL last Sunday, and that was the one guy the Patriots couldn't have afforded to lose on offense, no matter what. He's been the best and most reliable pass catcher this team has all year, and now, save for maybe Pop Douglas, there's nothing that stands out with this receiver group eight games in. With DeVante Parker now officially out with a concussion, my hope is that Kayshon Boutte gets another shot after how things went in Week 1. There's no guarantee on how things will go, but with this specific team at this point in the year, what are you exactly risking by putting him out there? The answer is nothing. Give him some snaps and designed looks, and if things go well, progress from there.
As for how the Patriots attack this Washington defense, go vertical. It hasn't been a strength of this team in years, but if there's any week to force this issue, it's this week. D.J. Moore had the Washington secondary in hell on go's, comebackers, and hitches. If Bill O'Brien can scheme things up in a way to entice the Commanders to get aggressive on the boundary, that feels like a recipe for success. As far as Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott go, they need to get some carries early and often. Washington has allowed over 100 rushing yards all but twice this year, so if the Patriots can't make it work on the ground this week, I have a hard time seeing them do so the rest of the way.
Belichick to D.C?
The talk of Bill Belichick's demise in Foxborough hasn't exactly been quiet around these parts, and a recent piece by Mike Florio over a ProFootballTalk just gave Boston Sports media material for the next five months. According to him, there are those in league circles who think Belichick could end up as the next head coach of the Washington Commanders by way of a trade this offseason. Again, not an outright report here, just Florio getting a sense of things being talked about around the NFL.
Now, do I think this holds merit? Absolutely. I find it very hard seeing Ron Rivera sticking around in Washington with how things are going, especially after the trades of Sweat and Young, plus some of these losses he's had this year. On the same foot, I also don't think this is a sure thing. Would Belichick want to uproot himself to D.C., even if that means he could likely bring in a ton of his former assistants not currently in Foxborough but on a team that, outside of a few elite pieces, is a long way off? That I don't have the answer to, but perhaps we receive more clarity in the next month or two.
What would be the incentive for this if you are New England, you may be asking? Draft capital. Remember, the Patriots got Belichick from the Jets by giving up a first-round pick and a late-round swap in 2000. Just recently, the Broncos willingly gave up a first and a future second-round pick for Sean Peyton and a future third-round pick. As someone who wasn't necessarily a huge fan of how Peyton managed things in the final five years of Drew Brees' career, I say, with all due respect, that was an incredible overpay, which has increased with interest as we've officially hit November. With that said, the bar has been set. In any hypothetical trade scenario, I'd be looking for > 2 top 100-ish picks or multiple first-rounders as a starting point. For whatever it's worth, Washington now has five picks in what will end up being in the opening 105 selections of the 2024 draft. Either way, Robert Kraft would be foolish not to consider this even a little bit should the Commanders formally ask them this offseason.
Points Spread: WSH +2.5 (-106) | NE -2.5 (-114)
Moneyline: WSH (-114) | NE (-146)
Over/Under: O 40.5 (-106) | U 40.5 (-114)
Lines via FanDuel as of Friday, November 3
I wouldn't be stunned if this was either the last or second to last time the Patriots are favored all year looking at the back half of the schedule, but -2.5 feels like an enticing enough number if you don't feel good about Washington. That said, give me Washington both ways and the over in this one. Odds are the Commanders score at least 20 in this one based on their prior eight games, and the Patriots won't be far off, no matter how this ends up.
Was hoping for a Patriots game with a bit more at stake on my birthday (25 for those keeping score at home), but here we are. I'm fascinated to see how this matchup of the Patriots' offense without Bourne, and the Commanders' defense without Young or Sweat plays out. I have some serious doubts that the Patriots will be able to consistently move the ball downfield and create chunk plays with anyone not named Pop Douglas or the people's tight end, Pharaoh Brown. With that in mind, I think this ends in a Patriots defeat, falling to an AFC worst 2-7 as a result.
Final Score: Washington Commanders 24, New England Patriots 20
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