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Knee Jerk Reactions from Week 3: Patriots vs. Lions

Things to consider while admitting Tom Brady’s helmet flip was the best throw all night:

–How bad was this? Let us count the ways. …

–The offense started with three 3 & outs for the first time in the Belichick Epoch. Drew Bledsoe never did it. Matt Cassel didn’t do it. Neither did Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett. Brady barely cracked 100 passing yards. They held the ball for half the time Detroit had it. And yet the offense wasn’t the worst Patriots unit on the field. Let that sink in.

–That indistinction belongs to the Front-7, who got mauled by one of the weakest rushing attacks in football. Let that sink in.

–The defensive line is supposed to be a strength of this team, yet they got blown off the ball all night by the likes of Frank Ragnow, Graham Glasgow and TJ Lang. And the best player on that unit, who tried at least to play inspired tackle football, was Deatrich Wise, Jr. Let that sink in.

–At cornerback, the Patriots relied heavily on Jason McCourty, who was playing safety with the fifth-stringers in the 4th quarter of preseason games, and Cyrus Jones, who’s done nothing in his career and was released so they could save a roster spot for the immortal Kenjon Barner. Let that sink in.

–The passing offense took a huge hit when Phillip Dorsett went down. He didn’t catch a pass and yet he’s still a guy they can’t afford to lose. Let that sink in.

–They were this horrifically gawdawful against Matt Patricia’s team, who by all accounts had quit on their new coach before the season even began, were building toward an all out mutiny, gave up 48 points to the Jets in a game in which he had no answers for Sam frickin’ Darnold. Our Matt Patricia. Whose defense Nick Foles cut through like he was wielding a lHatori Hanzo blade. Let that sink in.

–That’s how bad this was. They lost their second game in a row by double digits, something they haven’t done since the Super Bowl hangover team of 2002, the worst Pats team since the Dynasty began. If this game was a movie, it’d be Pixels. If it was music, it’d be Yoko Ono. If it was a TV show it would be Walking Dead, but just the insufferable Carl-Enid teen romance subplot part. If it was sound, it would be two pieces of styrofoam being scraped together while a colicky baby cries. In fact, I’d rather experience all of those things together while Harvey Weinstein opens his bathroom and rubs one out in front of me before I’d ever watch this painful, infected, bleeding, open sore of a game again. Or even talk about it. But my bills won’t pay themselves, so here goes.  Time to earn a living.

–The real pisser is, I didn’t see Patricia’s team do anything especially clever or out of the ordinary. Offensively they just physically dominated the Pats, mainly out of 11 personnel (1 tight end, 1 back) with a lot of pulls from the guards and wham blocks from the TEs. Defensively his schemes were about as exotic as a stay-at-home mom from Ann Arbor who drives a Ford Focus and hosts the book club. And yet the Padawan coached his old Jedi Master’s brains in. And, by comparison, made Brian Flores look like Young Anakin. I take that back. Nobody has ever deserved that insult. It was bad, but nothing could ever be that bad. My apologies.

–It looked like Patricia was able to use his understanding of the Patriots defensive communication to create confusion. He gave them presnap looks knowing what adjustments they’d make, then made adjustments off those adjustments. Which is why we saw so much gesturing and audiblizing and defenders still moving into position as the ball was snapped.

–That confusion made it easy for Matthew Stafford to grab any prize he wanted out of the Patriots Defensive Weakness Claw Machine. Shallow crossers in front of the linebackers? He got some of those. Defenders like Cyrus Jones and Jonathan Jones chasing receivers? He got a bunch of those. Theo Riddick undercuts Cyrus on a 3rd down option route to pick up the 1st? Yup. A misdirection to get Duron Harmon (the single high safety) to bite leaving the field wide open for Marvin Jones to run a deep slant on Stephon Gilmore? Oh, Stafford wasn’t going to leave that one behind, even if he needed another roll of quarters. Which he obviously didn’t.

–Even more concerning than the breakdowns in coverage – which we saw at this time last year and were corrected – is the way they were manhandled up front. Again, a defensive line group of big, space-eating 2-gappers like Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton, plus solid 3- and 5-tech tackles like Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler should never be pushed around like that. Especially not by a line that hasn’t produced a 100-yard rusher since Walter White was still alive. Even when the Pats dropped down extra defenders to give them a numbers advantage in the box, there were still holes wide enough to run a post-holidays-weight Pablo Sandoval through to the second level, untouched. If you can’t account for all eight gaps and are getting gashed at the point of attack against a typically bad rushing team, nothing else you do matters.

–Most concerning of all is Dont’a Hightower, who just can’t possibly be right. He moves slow, he’s hesitant and deliberate. When he was a rookie, it looked like the game was too fast for him, but he was just athletic enough and plenty physical enough to make up for it while he figured out how to play ILB at the pro level. Now he looks like none of those things. Lang wiped him off the map pulling from his right guard spot to convert a 1st down run. He’s playing mostly Sam linebacker – which is great, right where I prefer him – but he’s not setting an edge and outside runs are turning the corner around him. We better hope it’s just him still coming back from last year’s injury and not the permanent state of things because watching him every down it’s hard to believe he was the free agent everyone was furiously swiping right for just a year ago.

–Simply put, Brady had nobody open to throw to and no time to not throw it to them. Rob Gronkowski was doubled from the snap to the whistle. From the second he came off the line to the moment Ricky Jean Francois forced yet another throwaway. I bet every time Gronk rubbed himself with soap in the shower he elbowed Darius Slay and Quandre Diggs.

–The receiving corps that looked like it was going to be a bright spot, back in the Spring when we were all dreaming hopeful dreams of a bright future with Kenny Britt, Malcolm Mitchell and Jordan Matthews roaming free like wild horses has been reduced to watching a community theater production of a real receiving corps. It’s Chris Hogan trying to be a No. 1 when he’s at best a reasonable man’s 3. It’s Dorsett trying to get open deep while wearing the corner like a conjoined twin. Cordarelle Patterson rounding off all his cuts, the kind of sloppy route-running that would get him waived in minicamp if they had anywhere close to the depth they usually do.

–So what was supposed to be a nice balance of youth, experience, deep threats and slot weapons is just an endless loop of Brady checking down the back, then walking to the sidelines on 4thd down with the body language of, pick one:
1) A Beverly Hills socialite working a court-ordered highway litter detail
2) Lebron on the 2009-10 Cavaliers

–It makes me want to take one of those pictures where you shame your dog by making him wear a sign that says “I Ate the Pot Roast Off the Table” or whatever. Only I’ll be putting a “I Tested Positive for PEDs” sign on Julian Edelman.

–I suppose this is where I need to look for positives. But it’s not like there are a ton of diamonds to be found in the dogshit here. Sony Michel flashes. Though he seems slow on his decision-making and hole-hitting, resulting in too many negative plays. He’s not at the level of Slo-Mo Lawrence Maroney, and it’s just been two games so I’m not going to harp on him. But we should be looking for him to be more decisive as he gets some mileage on his odometer.

–And Ja’Whuan Bentley continues to be something to feel good about. If they accomplished nothing else in the draft, they pulled a magic trick in the 5th round with him. Considered a pass coverage liability at Purdue, he nevertheless slid over to Luke Wilson at the snap and stayed with him a good 20 yards upfield, undercut the route and came down with the interception that put the Patriots almost close to being back in the game practically. He had issues in the running game. At the start of the 4th quarter he got trucked by Taylor Decker, leaving a hole LeGarrette Blount tore through for 19. But he was still probably their best defender. And I think it speaks volumes about where Hightower is at that Bentley wearing the green dot even when Hightower is on the field.

–One other positive? Martha Ford looks pretty damned good. For a rich automotive heiress, that is. For a woman who probably has a map on the wall of her office with sea monsters on it. She’s a 93-year-old 6, which makes her a billionaire 93-year-old 9. If she was into the Sugar Mama life, a fella could do a lot worse. As J. Geils put it, “First I look at the purse.”

–This Week’s Applicable Move Quote: “Lady, have you got your lions crossed.” – Timon, The Lion King

–So the question of the day, obviously, is how deep do these problems go? Is this just more of the kinds of Septembers we’re used to, that sort of extended training camp we have to endure now that the CBA basically outlaws practice and the Patriots need the extra four weeks to get their precision engineered engine fully turbocharged? Or is this something much, much worse? Are they so pathetically thin at the skill positions that this is the beginning of some wretched new normal?

–Last October or November I made a vow to myself I wouldn’t freak out if this season started out bad. I’d fallen for it too many times in the past. On “Laces Out” I had AJ Hawk and Pat McAfee talking to me like police crisis negotiators, assuring me the team would figure it out, everything would be alright and there’s plenty to live for. And they were right. So for now I’m going to keep my promise to myself and to them and not panic.

–I said “for now.” I reserve the right to change my mind if the Dolphins come to Foxboro next week and push them around like Jacksonville and Detroit just did. If Gronk can’t get open and we’re forced to watch Brady try to run a state-of-the-art, high tech NFL offense with a Commodore 64 monitor, the motherboard from a Speak ‘n Spell and some lawnmower parts. If he continues to sit on the sidelines with the middle focus stare of a sad Wes Anderson character contemplating his existence. And if they fall to 1-3, three games behind the Dolphins with a head-to-head loss. Then I’m going right into panic mode. You sound like a dope saying any September game is crucial, but the Patriots just made that their reality.

Let THAT sink in.