FOXBORO — Two games into the season, the Patriots are averaging 12 points per game. That’s third-worst in the NFL behind Indianapolis and Dallas.
While the Patriots’ defense has held its own, the offensive output clearly needs to improve if the Pats want to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Where to start?
Obviously, quarterback Mack Jones has to play better, and the tight ends need to be more involved, but there’s another area that’s crying out for improvement.
In particular, the Patriots need more from wide receivers DeVante Parker and Kendrick Bourne. Neither is fully utilized, or in one case, not employed at all.
Up to this point, they can be classified as a pair of unused assets.
Even with Jacoby Meyers firmly established as Jones’ go-to guy, and Nelson Agholor providing some splash on the outside, the Patriots need to squeeze more out of one or both of those receivers.
Let’s start with Parker.
Through the first two games, he has been on the field for most of the offensive snaps. And nothing else is generated next.
He had just one catch for nine yards on four targets. Lil Jordan Humphrey has the same number of catches. Making matters worse, two of Parker’s goals have resulted in Jones interceptions.
So something has to change. Parker needs to be more involved, or ultimately have his snap count reduced.
On the surface, Parker isn’t a true No. 1, but while with the Dolphins in 2019, he posted No. 1-like numbers: 72 catches, 1,202 yards and nine touchdowns.
He shot it over the top in the Patriots’ receiver room, but if he’s only here to try and make catches on 50-50 balls, it won’t matter.
Play-caller Matt Patricia and a collection of coaches who create offensive game plans each week need to put Parker in a better position to succeed. Forget the jump balls. Patricia needs to do a better job of planning his openings in the coming weeks, starting Sunday against the Ravens.
This means he has to run faster slants, in-cuts, or short crossers. Just get him the ball, and see where it goes from there.
While it was easy to see his potential as a competitive catch during the summer, when observers noted that he was the type of receiver the Patriots wanted N’Keal Harry to be, it was Patricia’s choice to dial the plays. Does who has the ball in his hands with room. to run.
Because right now, back shoulder throws, deep fades, and 50-50 balls aren’t working. Part of that is on Jones, part of it is on Parker, but it also goes back to play calling.
Parker’s strength is not getting separation on passing routes. He has not been able to beat anyone in the field. So Patricia needs to see if he can spring Parker with short routes up the middle.
If the Patriots try it, and Parker remains unproductive, cut his snaps, and hand them over to Bourne.
CBS analyst Charles Davis, who called Sunday’s Patriots-Steelers game, seemed a little skeptical when it came to what more Parker could provide, based only on the receivers’ history in Miami.
“Is he motivated enough to find a way to make some of those plays? To be determined,” Davis said, when reached Wednesday. “That’s why they traded for him. But again, look at his track record over the years. That’s not a criticism or a shot. I’m just going on pure record. He’s going to have a big year in the league in 2019. And it’s starting to be almost as if it’s the opposite of a predictor.
That was the year Parker had a big game against Stephen Gilmore, the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. He caught eight passes for 137 yards, running a variety of different routes to get the better of the then-Patriots shutdown corner.
So the Pats need to see if they can get Parker on track with some easy throws. If they accomplish this mission, fiercely contested catches should follow.
Bottom line: Parker has to go or sit.
As for Bourne, his play in training camp didn’t help his cause. He was behind Meyers, Agholor and Parker on the depth chart, and even behind Tyquan Thornton before the rookie receiver was put on IR with a broken collarbone. He also showed up late for a meeting before the Carolina preseason game, which didn’t help his cause.
But he seems to be back on track. After getting on the field for just two snaps against the Dolphins, he scored 24 against the Steelers. He also did his share in plays.
Basically, Bourne needs to see more action for a few key reasons.
First, he has chemistry with Jones. Second, he is their most explosive player with the ball in hand.
Moreover, he produces when he gets the chance. Parker is not.
“I think McJones likes him, and trusts him,” Davis said of Bourne. “I asked Mack about it last week. He said he wasn’t worried about (Bourne) because ‘we’ve got bank representatives. We’ll get him back every time he gets back on the field.’ can take.’
“So I think we’ll see more of that. I really do,” Davis added. “He’s a good player.”
The offense needs Bourne’s explosiveness. If that means demoting an unproductive Parker, so be it.
If Parker starts to produce, and Bourne does the same when he gets on the field, that will solve a lot of problems for the offense.
At the very least, they have to try to get something out of Parker. They have to get Bourne more involved, whether it’s with jet sweeps or plays coming out of the backfield.
It’s up to Patricia to make the most of her assets.