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Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 9: Patriots vs. Packers

Things to consider on the first workday after Daylight Savings Time:

–There’s a lot to process in this game. So many key moments. So much strategy. Adjustments in reaction to audibles called due to disguised looks set up by previous plays made because of counter-adjustments multiplied by straight up improvisation that John Nash couldn’t illustrate it if he had infinite chalkboards. Pick any play in this one at random and put both coaching staffs on a panel discussion about it and they could spend a weekend breaking the film down. Well I don’t have that kind of time. Plus I was a C- Calculus student and never more than an assistant on defense for a JV team of 11-year-olds. So what follows here will be making a series of assumptions based on my limited, sleep-deprived ability to make sense of it. And I won’t be showing my work.

–First of all, this was as close as we’re ever likely to see of the Patriots defense shutting down an elite passing offense the way they used to in the early days. In the First Age of the Bradichick Epoch, the ability to dominate top quarterbacks was what defined them. Holding the Greatest Show on Turf to 17 points and the Colts to one field goal in the playoffs and all those shutouts in 2003. Well now that Commissioner Farquaad has banished all the Fairy Tale Creatures we call defensive backs from his kingdom, this is pretty much what that level of defensive excellence looks like in today’s world.

–They did it, for the most part, the way they used to. By taking away what an offense likes to do best and making them play left-handed. In this case, they took Davante Adams out of the game using a sophisticated set of complex coverages we’ll call “You Got Him, Gilmore.” Stephon Gilmore simply put a big, red X through one of the hottest receivers in the game. I believe when he was in solo coverage, Adams had two receptions for 15 yards (again, I’m not showing my work after a late game). And he had a Pass Broken Up in the end zone to end the first drive. Jonathan Jones got Randall Cobb out of the slot for the most part. And Jason McCourty tended to get the bigger wideouts, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown (I promise I’ll limit how many times I have to spell those), while Pat Chung took Jimmy Graham. They then handed out the double teams on a rotating basis, while doing their best to disguise the lucky recipient until after the snap so Aaron Rodgers would have to figure it out as he went through his progressions. Think the Borg deflector shields, changing their phase to neutralize the Enterprise’s phasers. It all began with Gilmore, who gave them the luxury of not having to sweat Adams. But the rest was a tremendous job by Brian Flores.

–You could worry about the way they were giving up yards up the middle, but I think it was by design. Gameplan specific. We was less of the bigass defensive linemen like Danny Shelton and Malcom Brown than we have all year. And more of the (relatively) smaller, more mobile ones like Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler, with Deatrich Wise playing a ton outside and Trey Flowers sliding inside to 5-tech end. That meant a lot of “under” fronts with the tackles in the gaps, designed to get just enough pressure on Rodgers to cage him up in the pocket and if the Packers were going to try to win with Aaron Jones running between the tackles, so be it. That’s not a “pick your poison” move. Aaron Rodgers is poison. Aaron Jones is, at worst, a skunky beer.

–And they did a good job of containing Rodgers. As well as you could reasonably hope for. I’ve watched him Discount Double Choke the will to live out of too many defenses to get all worked up when he hits a double-teamed Scantling on a full sprint rollout for 23. Or then next play when he’s in a collapsed pocket as crowded as a 5:30 commuter train and he lays a perfect sniper shot to Scantling over Jones’s fingertips. I didn’t flip out about his misdirection bootleg touchdown to Adams, because it’s inevitable when you’re facing the God of Scrambling. You know it’s going to happen as soon as the schedule comes out. Expecting to not get burned by Aaron Rodgers’s freakish athleticism is like going to an orgy and expecting not to smell man ass. You just accept it as part of the deal and all you can do is for the best.

–Whoever decided to roll the Red Sox out in a Duckboat is an inspired genius. It was just so out of place as to be surreal. The Packers must have felt like Romans did the first time saw elephants being led into the Coliseum, wondering what strange and exotic creature this could be:

There is one thing better than watching a local team win, and it is seeing them take their victory tour through the other three teams. What a time time to be alive.

–And yet, that might not have even been my favorite pregame moment. Mine was probably watching Belichick take to the sidelines without that officially licensed Salute to the Troops hoodie that literally every other head coach in the league wore. Because when supporting veterans isn’t a month for you, it’s your lifestyle, you don’t virtue signal just to help the league move merch. Salute deez nuts, Goodell.

–But actually, no. Even that wasn’t my favorite pregame moment. Hands down it was the Patriots bringing out a WWII veteran as an honorary captain. It was one of those rare moments when you bring together two 48-man squads of testosterone-fueled, rageholic adrenaline junkies and the biggest badass in the building is a 102-year-old man. He probably stacked up piles of dead Nazis around him bigger than both rosters combined. And the fact that 73 years after V-J Day, he’s still here to tell the tale is a triumph of the human will we can all feel good about. Except dead Nazis, and I think we’re all OK with that.

–We’re seeing a pattern here of Flores patiently feeling out an offense in the early parts of a game and then going into attack mode later on. He stuck with straight up 4-man rushes for the first three quarters. Then by the 4th, he started working in the wrinkles. Clinging to a 7-point lead Adrian Clayborn and Flowers ran a “Tex,” a tackle/end cross, with Clayborn coming free to the inside while Flowers beat Lane Taylor outside for the sack. With the Pats up 31-17, Flores blitzed Kyle Van Noy, forcing Rodgers to keep the ball for 2 yards to make it 3rd & 8.

–But the best moment for me was that 4th & 4 from midfield. Flores brought eight guys up on the line of scrimmage. I assumed it was just for show and at least three of them would drop into coverage. Flores must have assumed that Rodgers assumed it too. Unless he knew Rodgers knew he assumed Rodgers would assume it and therefore he wouldn’t blitz and the Iocane powder had to be in his own goblet. Anyway, Flores ended up sending six. Clayborn got a hit on Rodgers and the throw had no chance of being a completion. Never match wits with a Patriots defensive coordinator when death is on the line.

–Offensively, this was yet another week where it looked like the Patriots were – pick one – out of sync/misfiring/malfunctioning. While once again they put up 30+ points. Without their uncoverable tight end, their lead running back and their most important interior O-lineman. To put that in perspective, yesterday they outscored the rest of the AFC East combined. And yet I can’t help but say they have still yet to play a complete game on offense. I think in a weird way, that is paying them a compliment.

–I mean, they left no meat on the bone of that opening possession. Pulling out everything on the James White Swiss Army Knife at once. Jabbing Green Bay with the can opener of an inside power run. Cutting them with the scissors of a pass to the flat. Burning them with the magnifying glass of motioning him in and out to identify their coverage. Until finally stabbing them right in the gut with the long blade of an outside zone off a misdirection fake to Edelman with the entire O-line flowing toward the play side, in front of White who went in untouched for the score.

–I want that drive injected right into my veins. And my favorite moment was White splitting outside of Phillip Dorsett while Brady gave him this complex set of hand gestures that was some sort of cross between semaphore, American Sign Language and calling for the hit & run. Whatever it was, White executed a flawless pick crossing with Dorsett for the 1st.

–Still, there was enough there not to like to make today a good day for a coach who works in negativity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. Red zone failures. Those 3 & outs when Josh Allen and the defense were dominating in the field possession game. You had Tom Brady and Julian Edelman missing a connection that could’ve put it inside the Packers’ 5 when Brady expected him to sit under the zone and he kept coming across. You had Brady rolling out on 3rd & goal from the 1 (for fucks sake, Josh McDaniels) and hitting Josh Jackson in the chest with the ball. Josh Gordon falling all over himself on a 4th fade that never had a chance. So yeah, there’s a lot to answer for.

–Not to mention that the more defenders Green Bay had carted off the field or ejected, the more stops the backups made. I was worried that if they lost Clay Mathews the Pats would start losing 10 yards on every play.

–So it turned out to be another one of those games for McDaniels’ sizzle reel. Where he went deep into the playbook. Better yet, to the footnotes in the appendices at the end of the playbook. Not the least of which was the double pass from Edelman back across the field to White. The best part of that was watching the offensive lineman holding their ground so as not to get flagged for being upfield, but also trying to act casual so as not to give the play away. Which must have been hard as hell given how much they’re trained to hit and how long the play took to develop. They were like dogs waiting for you to say they can eat the slice of ham you put on their noses. The other best part was watching the upfield blocks, like the beatdown Ted Karras put on Nick Perry to spring White. The other other best part was seeing how much attention Green Bay’s secondary put on Dwayne Allen running a deep post, like he’d be the intended target. All in all, it was a brilliant play design and probably something they had to spend hours on in the practice bubble to get it right.

–The worst part of that double pass was seeing Brady out in front of it. He ended up not hitting anybody or getting hit. But for a split second he was right in the path of Montravius Adams, who’s listed as 304 but I wouldn’t be surprise if NASA just downgraded him to “planetoid.” We were a split second away from a Final Destination scenario I don’t want to contemplate any further, thanks.

–Some of McDaniels finest moments were set up earlier, like he was playing a long con the whole time, just looking for his chance. On that fleaflicker where White stood there in traffic for a couple of beats before pitching it back to Brady, the two inside linebackers were frozen out of concern White would put a move on them like his previous inside rushes, which gave the play time to develop. The touchdown to Gordon was set up by all those earlier screens and checkdowns. So that when Brady stared down Chris Hogan, Jackson and Jaire Alexander took the cheese and came downhill, leaving Edelman and Gordon in space. The way things had been going, I think everyone of us at home thought that was a bad overthrow of Edelman by Brady. And Minitron might have actually been a better option if Tremon Williams had been a half a step quicker to react. But he wasn’t. And it was a perfect pass to finish off the perfectly set up play.

–And credit to them for finally getting Allen some positive passing yards. Running their 3-man combo route “Ghost,” Allen was the inside guy who releases into the flat and was left uncovered. Maybe the fact Brady actually recognized him as an eligible receiver for one led the Packers to cover him on the double pass or what. All I know is if he doesn’t touch the ball the rest of the season, he won’t be the first tight end in NFL history with negative yards. That is a pure good.

–Not that the coaches are off the hook. We’re just over halfway through the season and we’ve had a decade’s worth of Too Many Men penalties, guys scrambling on and off the field and sloppiness on special teams. Thank God there’s always someone worse at that stuff on the other sidelines. But there’s no reason to let the gap narrow on the biggest advantage the Patriots have had week in and week out for 20 years.

–Consider that Roughing the Kicker penalty everyone on SNF was so triggered by. How about you don’t touch the punter at all? And if you do, and drill him in the kicking side butt cheek, don’t be shocked if they call that his plant foot. But again, as a reminder, you are not required to hit him, period.

–Though I will agree tossing Jermaine Whitehead out for that Three Stooges slap to David Andrews was a garbage call. All I could think of was maybe he also violated the rules against offensive racist language too? Except that I’m pretty sure Andrews belongs to every ethnic group you can make fun of with impunity, if what I see on Comedy Central is any indication. So I don’t know what happened there.

–This Week’s Applicable Move Quote: “[Surrounded by a pack of wolves] Stare right back at ‘em.” – Liam Neeson, The Grey

–Whatever else you can say about the coaching, they are turning Cordarelle Patterson into a legitimate option at running back. This week he got his pad level down, ran with more of a forward lean, broke tackles, kept his legs moving and covered up the ball. Just as importantly, he gave us the Visual Moment of 2018 so far:

… Take your time getting back, Sony Michel.

–Kenjon Barner was used more in a limited role. But don’t sleep on the blitz pickup when he absolutely clobbered Mathews with a full head of steam and dropped him where he found him. The last time I saw anything like it, a coyote was running into the painting of a tunnel on cliff wall.

–Just to bring it full circle, I handle Daylight Savings changes worse with each passing year. To the point it now takes me like 5 ½ months to adjust. Meaning I get like two good weeks in the Spring and two more in the Fall where my circadian rhythm isn’t all shot to hell. Not to mention I was several IPAs into the night when I did this math. Check me, but I think I’m right about this:

The GOAT issue hasn’t really been a legitimate debate for years. But this should finally end it once and for all.