Phil Perry

Will the Giants determine which quarterback starts for the Patriots?

Phil Perry breaks down five important Patriots storylines to watch.

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Which young players may provide some hope for the future? Which veteran leaders are still showing some week-to-week resiliency during a lost season? And, of course, what exactly is going on at quarterback?

The why and how of the winning and losing of games isn't exactly at the top of mind for Patriots followers at this point. It's about salvaging some dignity, building something positive for 2024, and figuring out what kind of mettle exists in certain pockets of the roster.

We'll touch on all of that -- and, yes, the quarterbacks -- in this week's Storylines to Watch...

1. Who gets the start... and why?

Bill Belichick may have really liked to see Bailey Zappe win the starting quarterback gig in practice this week. He may believe as strongly as anyone that his team could use a change behind center. But Belichick also believes strongly -- and has for many years -- that playing time needs to be earned in practice. And if Zappe hasn't been able to wrestle the job away from Mac Jones, then Jones could very well be the choice on Sunday, even after getting benched for the two-minute drill in Frankfurt prior to New England's bye week.

As of this writing (Friday afternoon), a set-in-stone choice at starter has not been announced. Belichick didn't hint at anything one way or the other during his final press conference of the week. But the team the Patriots will play this weekend may help determine Belichick's choice.

The Giants are owners of the second-highest blitz rate in the NFL under defensive coordinator Wink Martindale (40.1 percent, per Pro Football Reference). And Jones, as the more experienced pre-snap signal-caller, should have an edge on Zappe in identifying pressures as the two share practice reps this week.

2. Does player input matter when it comes to Belichick's call at quarterback?

Under most circumstances, the head coach of a football team might be sensitive to how his locker room is feeling when making a decision between two quarterbacks. For instance, under normal circumstances, if Belichick believed his team had lost confidence in Jones, he might be willing to go to his next-best option.

But in this circumstance, where the Patriots are 2-8 and owners of arguably the league's worst offense, Belichick seemed to indicate Friday that he's not about to take a survey to see how players feel on the topic.

🔊 Next Pats: Why Jayden Daniels should be the third QB taken in the 2024 NFL Draft Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Asked if making a choice at quarterback and announcing it to the team would allow players to rally around the pick well before Sunday, Belichick said, "I think everyone’s got their own things to work on. Just concentrate on what you have to do, be ready to go, and don’t worry about what everybody else is doing. I think that’s good advice for all of us."

3. How is the rest of the offense impacted by Jones versus Zappe?

Belichick's reluctance to settle on a starting quarterback, whoever it is, is in some ways an indication that this weekend's game plan won't be incredibly reliant on the quarterback chosen. While Jones and Zappe aren't night-and-day different in terms of their physical skill sets, their physical skill sets are different. How they throw the football differs as well. Receivers asked this week relayed that Jones throws a "smooth" ball whereas Zappe tends to zip it with more velocity. They would, it's safe to assume, have different likes and dislikes in terms of the play-calls coming into their helmets in critical situations.

But if Belichick plans on leaning heavily on his offense's running game regardless of the identity of the quarterback behind center -- the Patriots ran it 36 times against the Colts in Week 10 -- then perhaps those quirks from one quarterback to the next mean less. When asked on Friday if the timing from play-to-play differs when the team has toggled between quarterbacks in practice, Belichick explained that the differences aren't all that striking.

"No, I think everybody is capable," he said. "Sometimes the execution varies, but I think all of the players that we have are able to execute what we need them to do. Yeah, we just need to do it, obviously, with more consistency and continue to work guys together for timing and so forth, like on the offensive line, things like that. We can do what we need to do. We just haven’t done it as consistently as we need to."

On the latest Patriots Talk Podcast, Tom Curran and Phil Perry try to make sense of who will start at QB against the Giants on Sunday

4. Is Christian Barmore hunting an early extension?

Over the course of the last month, Christian Barmore appears to have been playing to his potential. In that span, he's the league's seventh-highest graded interior pass-rusher, per Pro Football Focus. He's also fifth during that stretch in terms of pressures generated (14) and sixth in PFF's "stop" metric (10), which credits a player for a tackle that results in an offensive failure.

If he can keep this up, would the Patriots want to extend him in the offseason? Could they get him for something less than what Javon Hargrave received last offseason from the Niners? Back in March, the former Eagles interior defensive lineman signed a four-year deal worth $81 million total and $40 million guaranteed at signing. Hargrave was considered by some to be the top free agent on the market, and he made a Pro Bowl in 2021.

Barmore may not have the ability to command quite the same kind of deal, but if the Patriots are confident his banged-up knee -- which he's had to manage since last season -- will hold up, they may want to move to prevent him from hitting the market in 2024. He's arguably been the team's best player in 2023.

5. What do the Patriots do at right guard?

Sidy Sow has been the starter at right guard since Week 6, but will he hold onto the gig after allowing four pressures and one nearly-instantaneous post-snap sack against the Colts in Week 10? He's been stout as a run-blocker -- the Patriots ran behind Sow and Mike Onwenu repeatedly in Germany -- but there have been issues in pass protection. The answer for this week against the Giants and their talented defensive front could be Riley Reiff.

Reiff is dealing with a knee injury that popped up on the injury report this week after he was activated from injured reserve a week ago. He may be iffy enough health-wise that he can’t be relied upon along the interior, but the pass protection at the guard spots was dicey against the Colts. If the Patriots are hoping to get more there, they may be willing to swap out the rookie for the vet. 

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