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Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 13: Patriots vs. Texans


Things to consider while recognizing not all Old Man Fights are created equal:

--No one's use to this team losing. Therefore, even 20 years into this grand experiment of nearly impossible success, on the rare occasions they do, nobody knows how to act. Least of all me. So when I write a Knee Jerk Reactions after a loss, there seems to be two schools of thought. One, that I'm pissing in my shoes for pointing out where I think they fell short. And the other tells me I'm making excuses if I don't agree with them that the failures are the retribution of an angry, Old Testament God, punishing the Patriots for Bill Belichick's arrogance or Mr. Kraft's sins of the flesh. Today, as I'm riding minimal, restless sleep filled with night terrors of how bad they looked most of the game, both camps can fight it out in the streets with machetes and Molotov cocktails for all I care. I'm in no mood for listening to either one of you.

--Yes, this is a shit sandwich, served on dung bread. The Patriots just fell behind Baltimore – who doesn't look like they'll ever lose again in anyone's lifetime – for the 1-seed. The problems that have plagued them for over a month now got worse last night. And they're running out of time to fix them. But I ask you, if it was your job to stand in the visitors locker room in Houston and address that team, what would you tell them? They're no good? They didn't make an effort? They have no character? None of those things are true. What is true is that they went on the road against a quality opponents and 17 players listed as limited by injuries or illness and they got beaten in all three phases. It happens.

--That's not excuse-making. It's a cruel world. No one's going to postpone the game so the Patriots can lie on their mom's couch watching Nickelodeon with some broth and saltines. Like they did in the 2006 playoffs when an epidemic swept through the roster as they flew back and forth from San Diego, you've got to put some 'Tussin on it and do what you can. In that AFC championship game, the defense couldn't make a stop in the 2nd half. In this game, Marcus Cannon (who's been sick for two weeks) struggled in pass protection against Jacob Martin and Mohamed Sanu (missed one week with a high ankle sprain) barely saw the field. Those are just two examples of guys who tried to play through something and had limited results. But  like Belichick said midweek, it's a good thing they didn't have to field a team on Wednesday. And when you've had you take the extreme step of sending a second plane filled with all your quarantined players – this Plane of the Damned, a communicable disease ward with wings – and kill polar bears with your extra carbon footprint, that's a valid reason for not playing to your peak potential.

--I won't pretend to know what they were sick with. SARS. Monkey Pox. Asian Bird Flu. Fibromyalgia. Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis. Crohn's Disease. Carpal Tunnel. Acid Reflux. Restless Leg. Hysterical Pregnancy. Whatever. All I know is that they spent the week drenching themselves in Purell and walking around the locker room wearing doctor's masks like it was the Toyko subway. Even someone with the most cursory understanding of military history knows that you lose more soldiers to disease than to combat. We've named cities and colleges after the Marquis de Lafayette, not for the brilliant tactics he came up with, but because he taught Washington's men the proper place to dig the hole they poop in.

--So with all that lame excuse-making out of the way, I give full credit to Bill O'Brien and Romeo Crennel for their game planning. Sincerely. If I'm judging “America's Got Coaching Talent” right now, I'm hitting the Golden Buzzer and sending them right onto the next round.

--Crennel has traditionally played his own, fairly unique scheme that combines a traditional, 2-gapping 3-4 with a sort of flexible Cover-4 in which the corners play up on the line of scrimmage, engage the receivers and then are responsible for dropping back to take the deep zone outside the numbers. It's not for everyone. It requires a lot of speed while prioritizing read & react coverages. Which is why their corners struggled last year and they signed Bradley Roby and drafted Lonnie Johnson. From where I was sitting, among a pile of New England IPA empties and my nose in a Doritos bag as Lord of the Sofa, it looked like Crennel changed that up with a specific plan that matched the Patriots perfectly.

--Without question, Crennel doubled Julian Edelman while primarily rushing four. Beyond that, it seemed to me he stuck to a two-deep safety look with a four-man zone underneath. With four, each man is responsible for a quarter of the field, so a box about 13 yards wide. They work essentially inside-to-out, with the inside guys responsible for the strong/weak Hook and Curl respectively, and the outside guys responsible for the strong/weak Curl and Flat, respectively. You're leaving half the deep field to each safety (with one bracketing Edelman), but since the ball takes time to travel the 30 yard to get there, you trust your guys can defend that. Unless the opposition has someone who can beat you deep. And last night the Pats quite simply did not.


--Like I said, Sanu missed a lot of snaps. At his best, Phillip Dorsett is a nice complimentary piece. And he's fighting his way back from a concussion, so I'll be gentle. But his game is predicated on working the edges of zones, along the boundaries. Out routes and Comebackers. And he was getting open against Lonnie Johnson in a 13-yard box. He tried. But it was taking him forever to get into his routes and Johnson wasn't buying his Riverdances at the LOS so those back shoulder routes he's made a career out of were never open. And even fully healthy he's got the catch radius of Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, so he was neutralized from being any sort of a threat all night.

--Jakobi Meyers came through at times. He broke back on a sideline pass for 16. Had a nice run-after-catch for 9 as they were trying to get points on the board just before the half. But he's not some precision route guy who's going win a lot of one-on-one battles or run himself open a lot. And to the best of my knowledge, after that interception, N'Keal Harry never saw the field except to block on running plays. Which tells me either his coaches and his quarterback expected him to be underneath Roby on that one or they thought he should've fought harder for it, or both. And I'm thinking both.

--So what we've got is not enough healthy receivers. The ones who are taking the snaps are coverable. And they simply don't have the personnel to attack two- and three-man deep coverages they way it's always been done, with four verticals.

--tl;dr: That's how you pad a 500-word essay answer when all you're really trying to say is “No one's open.” Even when Brady has time to throw, he's going through his progressions and finding a defender where all his guys with the numbers in the teens and 80s should be. Which is why he's giving everyone around him the Gunnery Sgt. Hartman treatment and looking at them like they're all future murder victims, cause of death: Helmet:


--And you can rip him for his body language or pissy demeanor all you want. But all the Zen philosophy and “The Four Agreements” way of looking at life will only get you so far when you're having to scramble out of the pocket and throw the ball out of bounds yet again because no one can separation. Even when things are going great and they're scoring 33 points a week like nothing, Brady is demanding and cranky. Right now he's Gordon Ramsey working with the “mother's hours” staff at a Chik-fil-A but with the same Michelin Star standards. He's earned the right to throw a mountain range of helmets.

--The damned thing is, Josh McDaniels came out with a semi-surprising game plan, going with all two-tight end sets in the opening drive, determined to run the ball and open up Play Action, and did it effectively. Edelman caught a Crosser and an Out against Vernon Hargreaves. Sony Michel was running well, either behind Elandon Roberts or by himself in 12-personnel. He had that 17 yard chunk play when Shaq Mason pulled and the motion looked to be going to the defense's right but went back against the grain thanks to a Joe Thuney down block on DJ Reader and Michel making Zach Cunningham miss. But week after week we see it where they can't finish the drive and sort of spend the next quarter or so face down in their pillow not wanting to talk about what's bothering them. In this one, Jonathan Joseph broke up Meyers in the red zone and James White drew a double team on the goal line so they settled for three and completely went away from what moved the ball down there in the first place. They went to a spread, which led to Roby's interception and Harry being sent to detention for the rest of the game. Then they couldn't put together another drive until the game was practically out of reach. It was change for change's sake, instead of finding something that worked and sticking to it. A case of McDaniels being too clever for his own good.

--Hate me all you want for making excuses, but at least give me credit for not buying into those last couple of scoring drives. We've been on the good end of far too many games where an opponent puts up numbers that look really impressive in the box score the next day and watched guys hit all sorts of incentive bonuses with meaningless plays at the ends of games on their way to getting their coaches fired to get suckered in by James White's 177 combined yards, Brady's 300 or Edelman's 100. As a great man has often said, stats are for losers. These are stats. They lost. Moving on. …

--Who's the new kicker and will he be here very long? I looked him up over the weekend and found out in 2017-18 he missed eight of his 53 XP attempts, which is 15.1%. All the more reason I guess then to take a weirdly intentional Delay of Game penalty and make it even more likely he'd miss. And he did. I'm over hoping the latest model to roll off the Unemployed Placekicker Droid assembly line will produce or not. I'm just wondering if it's worth the time and effort to learn how to spell and pronounce his name. Kai, something? Ky Detmer? Cobra Kai? Sgt. Horvath? Whatever. I just continue to treat him like temp you don't expect to see around for long. And assume every kick will be missed and enjoy the momentary pleasant surprise in those times where I'm wrong. But what a knee to the groin the kicker situation has been this year. It might be time to just sign Doug Flutie and let him drop kick everything.

--Defensively, this was by far their worst performance since probably the loss at Miami last year. I can almost live with them giving up 31 at Kansas City in the championship game, because they're frigging Kansas City. Four touchdown passes to four receivers, one in all four quarters just felt so 2009 Patriots that by the time Jonathan Jones was getting turned around by Kenny Stills double move (Stills had outside leverage, went inside and then stemmed his route back outside), I was having a “I don't even know who you are any more” moment. The damned shame of it is that Jones has had the lowest Passer Rating against in the league practically all year and had just come off a great play, punching the ball out of Will Fuller's hands in the end zone that you felt like you could leave him without safety help the rest of the game. The Texans begged to differ, and turned out to be right.

--In general, it seemed like another game in which a mobile passer takes the aggressiveness right out of the Front 7. So the pass rush has to play contain and not rushing beyond his level. And Deshaun Watson made them pay. This defense is the best in the business when they're foaming at the mouth and attacking, running stunts and games on the outside and blitzing the interior gaps. And it'll be fascinating to watch if they're they're allowed off the leash against Patrick Mahomes. My guess it they won't be.

--This Week's Applicable Movie Quote: “Extremely serious. It starts with a slight fever and dryness of the throat. When the virus penetrates the red blood cells, the victim becomes dizzy, begins to experience an itchy rash, then the poison goes to work on the central nervous system, severe muscle spasms followed by the inevitable drooling. At this point, the entire digestive system collapses accompanied by uncontrollable flatulence. Until finally, the poor bastard is reduced to a quivering, wasted piece of jelly.” - Dr. Rumack, “Airplane!”


--I guess as we step under the yellow police tape and pick through the crime scene here, we can drop one of those little plastic tents with the number on them at Stephon Gilmore, who handled DeAndre Hopkins about as well as DeAndre Hopkins can be handled. He gave up one long completion late when the Pats started going Cover-0 out of desperation and Gilmore had no choice but to play deep off-coverage. And on the TD to Stills, Duron Harmon was shading over to Hopkins side, leaving Jones all alone. But Gilmore is still Buster Skruggs, going mano-a-mano against the fastest guns every single week, so they're not all going to turn out like his game against Amari Cooper did.

--It's hard to be putting stickers on the foreheads of any kid in a class that just flunked the standardized test, but very quietly John Simon is becoming one of their most consistent linebackers. If this game was close – and I don't mean pretend close like 36 yard completions to a back and 44 yards to your slot guy on 1st & 30 late in garbage time

… that play where Watson escaped when Simon had him dead in his crosshairs would be haunting my dreams. But still he's a perfect system fit, doing everything they ask of him. Maybe he can run vertical routes? Or kick field goals?

--My brain is pretty much tapioca after a game like this and it's probably best if I leave the material world behind. So I'll take a few positives away and credit the Patriots for the way they fought through a tough week and kept battling through a game where they were clearly outplayed, outcoached and generally outclassed. And just hope in the weeks to come they figure out how to counter what opponents are going to throw at them on both sides of the ball, locking down their short passing game and taking the aggression out of their front line defenders by moving the pocket (and weirdo gadget plays like that Triple Lindy reverse shovel pass thing to Watson). I sense a potentially huge bounce back win against the Chiefs this week, in classic Patriots style. Or panic in the streets. Either way it can't come fast enough to make us forget this.

--But since it's still a week away, I'm going to just deal with this in a mature manner, befitting a man of my age and experience. By watching as much Baby Yoda as it takes to make the bad go away.


--Yup. That helps. CGI is much better at making Yoda look young than DeNiro, Pacino and Pesci look young. This is the way.