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Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 4: Patriots vs. Bills

Things to consider while realizing you’re in that narrow Venn Diagram subset of guys who talk about the Patriots and make obscure references to early 60s musicals:

–I talked to a neighbor of mine after this one who said “Man, that was an ugly win.” And I told him that’s exactly what we call it this year. But for the past 18 years we’ve been calling games like this “an ugly loss.”

–Games like this happen every year. In the division. On the road. Typically in September. It’s the reason why you can all but guarantee they’ll go 5-1 or 4-2 in the AFC East every season. Because they run into that home team that’s been gameplanning for them all off-season and playing their best, while the Patriots are in Extended Training Camp mode, with their offense still on its shakedown cruise. So they’ll make enough mistakes to cost themselves the game. Yesterday they forced enough mistakes to head into October 4-0 instead of the 2-2 we’ve grown accustomed to.

–So I for one am not complaining. Like they say in golf when you skull a chip shot and it skips up the fairway and rolls onto the green anyway, nobody asks “How?” They just ask “How many?”

–But since we do ask “How?” all the time, let’s all try to appreciate the fact that this team as it’s currently constructed can win a game with the offense struggling mightily. Since about 2007 we’ve been wanting to see a team complete enough to pull out games in some way other than Tom Brady going all John Wick on the opposition. If they could put together an elite, aggressive, opportunistic defense and Special Teams that win the field position battle and put points on the board. And now that we’ve got exactly that, this is no time to get a case of the fussies about the offense not carrying them.

–Besides, this is more or less what a Sean McDermott defense does. If we’re doing the blame/credit math on this, I’d say it’s about 25% the Patriots not playing well and 75% the Bills are very good defensive team. The last time the two teams met, just before Christmas, Brady was 13-of-24 with 126 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs and a Passer Rating of 48.3. In the four times he’d faced the McDermott/Leslie Frazier Bills, he’d completed 66% of his passes with 4 TDs and 4 INTs and been sacked 8 times. But was 4-0. This is what you expect with this Bills team.

–They do it by playing that Carolina front McDermott picked up from Ron Rivera. With Jerry Hughes off the edge, corner blitzes from Kevin Johnson, with physical man press on the outside and a double high safety shell. Interestingly, it seemed like the Bills secondary put most of its attention on Phillip Dorsett, who looked like the middle man in a Human Centipede (I apologize for the imagery but I’m going with it) all game.

–Interesting too that they seemed to have no fear about single-covering Julian Edelman, even with a linebacker. Like they were gambling that he was still too banged up to be Julian Edelman-level effective. He Profiles in Couraged it to the point he was off the field for only three of their 65 offensive snaps. But he was pretty much the guy in a FPS game on 20% health who couldn’t find a First Aid kit. And that one extra step of separation he gets on slants or Pivot routes or whatever just wasn’t there for him. Still, he managed to throw the key block of the game, when he submarined Siran Neal on the edge so Brandon Bolden could walk into the end zone untouched on his end around.

–While I’m talking about the Bills defense, you might as well get used to seeing Trumaine Edmunds. He’s going to be part of your life for the next 10 years or so. The guy can process a play before it develops. He’s moving to the point of attack before the runner even gets the ball. He had a couple of plays in the 3rd that stood out to me. On one he slipped through the trash on a Sony Michel off-tackle run and hit him for a loss. And another when he came downhill to meet Michel in the hole for no gain. He has a chance to be his generation’s Zach Thomas, that linebacker you have to account for on every down and get a hat on him or he’ll destroy you. Also Matt Milano showed me a lot. He got burned by James White for 26 yards to set up the first touchdown, but then stayed with White step for step on the same sideline Go route later on, which not a lot of inside linebackers can do. These guys are good.

–But enough about the Bills defense when the Pats defense just painted another enemy flag on their fuselage. Yes, they had some issues with Frank Gore. (Who hasn’t?) And at times Josh Allen played like he was a Fifth Column, secretly working on behalf New England to undermine the Bills from within. And then there was that first Buffalo drive after the half, when it was like the defense was doing a battlefield reenactment of the 2009 team at New Orleans. But even mentioning that is being super nitpicky given that we are witnessing the best coverage and the best pass rush of our lifetimes.

–Jerod Mayo had them in a lot of Single High Safety looks, mostly with Devin McCourty deep but sometimes dropping Duron Harmon. That left the corners responsible for staying with the deep routes outside the numbers, all the way up the field. And Jackson responded. On his first interception, Zay Jones stemmed his route outside, away from McCourty playing centerfield. And Jackson played the receiver and the ball perfectly. On his second, he was with Jones again on a Go route (with Jason McCourty on the slot guy), but Michael Bennett beat Jon Feliciano to flush Allen out of the pocket, so Jones broke back to his quarterback. But Jackson read the same thing and broke first, so he was in better position than the man he was responsible for. The rest was just a metahuman feat of athleticism to come down with the ball, get both feet down in bounds and hold on.

–I don’t mind so much that Dan Fouts was initially convinced JCJ didn’t get his feet in bounds. Mistakes happen in real time. And Fouts leads all analysts in career mistakes with a record that will stand the test of time. But what was up with Gene Skeletor chiming in like an hour later to tell us he didn’t think that was a catch? Like, where had he been all that time? Was in he bathroom? Was he dealing with a bad wipe? The call had already been held up on review and we’d all long since moved on with our lives. I was half expecting him to come back later declaring he’d found some inaccuracies in the Warren Commission Report.

–As far as the Jonathan Jones hit on Allen, I can both sympathize with him and not sympathize with him at the same time. I can be Schroedinger’s Jerry. Because on the one hand, Allen at that point was diving for a 1st down. You have to stop him like it’s your job. Because it is. And it was patently ridiculous for Fouts to call Allen “a defenseless runner,” which is flat out not a thing.

But at the same time, you have to expect the flag. Playing defense when a QB is running now is like driving a car near the end of the month. The cops all have speeding ticket quotas to fill, no matter how many times the bosses say there’s no such thing. So if you do 65 in a 55 zone on the 29th, you’re just asking to get pulled over. No matter how many times you’ve done the same speed on the same stretch of road. Just like you have to expect to draw 15 yards any time you go near a quarterback’s head, regardless of the circumstances. No one said defensive life was going to be fair.

–The Jamie Collins that was traded to Cleveland for some gas rewards points was a supremely athletic but low testosterone linebacker who could hurdle a 6-4 center but also disappear for an entire game. The one who came back from there is a monster out of HP Lovecraft. Cthulu Collins is beating tackles off the edge, shooting gaps, reading plays and making all the calls with the green dot on his helmet. With the game at 13-0, he preserved the shut out by spying Allen as the Pats rushed four, and then as Allen held the ball, bursting into the backfield in what felt like two strides to get the coverage sack and knock Buffalo out of field goal range. In the 4th, with it still a one score game, he blitzed the A-gap to pressure Matt Barkley as Kyle Van Noy got around Cody Ford on the outside to knock the ball loose. It’s classic Belichick to have saved so much money on Collins while getting back ten times the player that he sent to the Browns.

–And the guy who replaced Collins, Van Noy, might be the Patriots best Front 7 defender right now. He knocked the ball out of the QB’s hands twice. Had a sack negated by a hold on the first Buffalo possession. He beat Lee Smith on the outside on 4th & goal to give Barkley happy feet and overthrow Zay Jones in the end zone on that play where Pat Chung almost came down with it. He holds the edge as well as anybody they’ve had since Mike Vrabel. And gets pressure from multiple spots along the formation more consistently than Trey Flowers did.

–I was really excited to see Ju’Whaun Bentley back, since he was playing as well as anyone on the squad through two games last year before got hurt. Yesterday with Dont’a Hightower out he played half the snaps, and it was sort of a mixed bag. He got beaten in coverage a couple of times. He had Gore wrapped up on that 41 yard run (by the way, nice dual block by Tommy Sweeney, first chipping Michael Bennett and then sealing off Chung on each side of the hole) but couldn’t wrap him up. So far I just haven’t seen him be that impactful, sideline-to-sideline playmaker he was last year.

–I don’t care who’s been on the schedule so far. I’m not demanding they schedule more BCS teams and stop padding their ranking with mid-majors. You just don’t give up one touchdown going back five games. Especially when that one TD is a QB sneak that barely breaks the plane after four cracks at it. We’ll see how they look when the face Kansas City. But for now they are in the conversation to be the best defense since the 2000 Ravens. And I don’t say that lightly.

–Once in a while I miss the days of Ed Hochuli’s long winded, unnecessary over-explanations. Sometimes there are plays that leave you wondering What the Duck you just witnessed but the ref says nothing. Like that weird screen pass that hit the ground but there was no whistle, so Bentley scooped it up and ran into the endzone. Why did the entire crew not blow the play dead? Did all the peas in all their whistles at the same time? If so, it begs the question why do we still use 19th century whistle technology? We live in a world where the Toasted Cheddar Chalupa is a reality. Therefore anything is possible. It’s time to put our best engineering minds to work on this issue.

–The Patriots 2019 Rookie of the Year was also the offensive MVP of the game. Which is a sentence I was hoping I’d be typing about N’Keal Harry by this point. But I’m saying about Jake Bailey. In a game like this, that’s fought in an alley with trash can lids and broken bottles, field position becomes critical and he was immense. Flipping the field repeatedly. Preventing run backs. Pinning the Bills at their 10 with a short kick that 90% of the time seems to end up in the end zone for a net gain of like 20 yards. Hopefully we can still get more out of this rookie class. But so far Bailey has more than justified them trading up to draft him in the 5th Round.

–Of course I’m concerned about Stephen Gostkowski. But once you’ve said that, what do you expect to happen? Are you going to release one of the five most dependable kickers in NFL history and replace him with the best unemployed kicker in the world? Or the woman who can kick a 50-yarder if she gets to take 10 strides to the ball? I don’t talk about it much because beyond “He needs to kick the ball in such a way that it goes between the uprights,” there’s not much else to the conversation.

–The offense is a different matter. A quarter of the way into the season, the running game has been a major disappointment. And not just at the positions that have had injuries. Across the line. A Golden Corrall buffet of failure to get a push, penetration up front, guys meeting ball carriers in the backfield and tackles for loss. Sony Michel is more of a run-through-contact guy than someone who’s going to make guys miss. But right now Super Mario couldn’t jump around enough to make this many free defenders miss.

–In protection, the middle of the line held up well for the most part. Aside from at least one great play recognition from Kyle Peko when they were selling a slide to the left while the misdirection was going to the right. He slipped in right behind Shaq Mason and blew the play up. But the problems were mostly on the edges, where Marshall Newhouse and Marcus Cannon weren’t getting completely pantsed, but they were getting pushed back into the pocket. Brady was forced to scramble and roll out more against the Bills than the previous three games combined.

–Typically when Brady turns his back to the defense, something great comes out of it. Somebody hesitates or bites on the play action and he finds someone open in the vacated spot. Not yesterday. Every time he turned back around, somebody was right behind him like he’d just said “Blood Mary” 10 times in front of the bathroom mirror.

–They still do miss James Develin. And I say that not just as someone who’s partial to Jimmy Neckroll, but as someone who recognizes Michel is one of those Adrian Peterson type backs who runs better in 20-personnel groups. Jakob Johnson played 30% of the snaps, and he’s a work in progress. I saw him block nothing but air on their second drive on a run that went nowhere, but then later blow up Lorenzo Alexander on a positive run. In the 4th, when the Pats kept the ball on the ground looking to pick up some 1st downs, he helped get Michel across the 30 on a Jab play with a block on Milano. But the runs weren’t effective enough to run out the clock and put the game away. The ground game doesn’t have to be great. Just good enough to make the play action game work. Right now it isn’t.

–For the most part in the Pats man schemes, JC Jackson Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones rotated duties on Zay Jones and TJ Yeldon. While Stephon Gilmore exclusively drew John Brown, who played as well against him as anybody has so far. Belchick talked this week about how Brian Daboll utilizes his wideouts’ high end speed with a lot of deep crosses. And while Brown only caught five balls on 11 targets, 69 yards is a rousing success against Gilmore right now. If you catch a 28-yarder against him like Brown did, save the ball.

–This Week’s Applicable Movie Quote: “Fumble this football, and I will break my foot off in your John Brown hindparts. And then you will run a mile.” – Coach Boone, “Remember the Titans”

–It gets updated every year but it bears repeating: Since 2001, Brady has won more games in Buffalo than any other quarterback, with 16. That includes all Bills quarterbacks. Take a minute to process that.

–The three QBs in this one combined to go 40/83 for 430 yards with 0 TDs, 5 INTs, and 5 sacks. I’ll take a 43-0 win every week and you’ll never once hear me complain about how boring all the excellence gets. But when you prove you can win a Steel Cage Match like this too, it’s very much a positive.

–After seeing the bride throw the bouquet, Buffalo tried to send her in for Josh Allen.

That sounded better in my head. Before he left with a concussion. But then, if BDaboll can scream in his face like Angry Little Bagel Man in front of 70,000 people, I get to throw shade on a Monday morning. Get well soon.

–The only thing more disappointing than watching Brady end the longest drive of the season with a bad end zone pick was not seeing a sex toy land on the field. Don’t go getting civilized on us, Bills Mafia. Free the Billdo.

–I’m with David Andrews.