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Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 2: Patriots vs. Seahawks

Things to consider while appreciating the fact that, while your team lost, at least they lost while keeping it Beast Mode at the 1-yard line:

--While it's true there are no good losses and moral victories are for chumps, it's also true some losses are less awful than others. There are times when you're a team in transition with a lot of question marks and even in defeat you prove to the world and yourself that you can stand nose-to-nose in the middle of the octagon with the best in the game. Think the time in 2001 when the Patriots with a still relatively new quarterback showed they could keep up with the Greatest Show on Turf Rams for 60 minutes in a prime time game. They didn't lose again all season, and whatever they learned about themselves that night proved useful a couple of months later. I think this is one of those losses.

--This was yet another "They Live"-style alley fight we are pretty much guaranteed to get whenever the world is lucky enough to have these two teams meet. The kind of game that will be remembered, talked about and studied for generations. The way they study Napoleon's battle plans at war colleges. Fellini's movies in film schools. Or the way MBAs will learn about how a sports web site that couldn't pay me if Portnoy had a bad weekend of college football became the number one sports book in the country. An underdog, on the road against a quality opponent, with one of their most respected team leaders suffering an incomprehensible tragedy. And they come a yard short of a enormous win. I know there's no extra credit for dramatic losses in the playoff tiebreaker formula. But there are positive takeaways all over the place as we move on from this one.

--The lesson future football historians will learn about this game and we saw for ourselves last night is that Cam Newton can run any style of offense you ask him to, even an up-tempo, pro-style, spread system built around attacking a defense from deep-to-shallow. In other words, the polar opposite of what he ran to beat Miami in Week 1. In that game he ran the ball 15 times. In this one he completed 15 passes of 10 yards or more (on 19 attempts) for almost 300 yards. And he finished with 397 yards total. There might not be another quarterback in the league - or in your lifetime - capable of that sort of scheme versatility.

--Clearly this was Josh McDaniels' plan going in, because we saw almost none of the elements that were so effective against the Dolphins. No designed runs using the read option to freeze the defensive end. Very little in terms of motions and misdirections. And aside from the times in short yardage where he put nine guys on the line and only Jakob Johnson in the back field with Newton - so 10 blockers for a 6-foot-5, 250 pound running back - there were no QB run calls to speak of. The rest of Newton's runs were second reaction type plays. The result of him spreading the defense with three wideouts, finding space and taking advantage of it, outside the structure of the play. And, whenever possible, sliding rather than take the punishment he did last week. 

--So aside from a few I formation runs early on, almost the entire game was the McOffense attacking Seattle's 3-deep zones with 11-personnel. Ryan Izzo at tight end, Rex Burkhead as the running back and Julian Edelman, N'Keal Harry and Damiere Byrd as the wideouts. As a matter of fact, Edelman saw the field less than any of those guys I just mentioned and he took 71% of the snaps. The few times they went with just one wideout, Harry drew the assignment.

--The result was Newton going after the soft spots in the triples coverage: the seams, the deep sidelines and the 12+ yard curls and flats. And aside from that route Clinton Dunbar jumped when Newton sort of stared down Byrd and another near pick that Dunbar dropped, his throws were dead balls accurate. I think that drive right after the half was the one where McDaniels just decided to scrap the running game and just call the old Erhardt-Perkins scheme he's been raised on. At one point they'd had 14 running plays and 14 passe. But at that point, they gave up all pretense of balance and just put the game in Newton's hands. Beginning with that drive. And one key down in which he shook off a Jamal Adams blitz to extend the play and hit Edelman on the run to convert a 3rd & 10. He then hit Edelman in the hands with a pass on a designed rollout but it was dropped. He followed that with a 3rd & 6 completion to Jakobi Meyers with Ugo Amadi all over him that was catchable but low and away enough to be safe. He then hit on a deep cross to Edelman over Adams and a screen to Burkhead to get them in 1st & goal. And the only thing kept them out of the end zone was a perfectly times dual blitz by KJ Wright and Adams where Burkhead picked up Wright but Adams came in clean to blow it up and the Pats had to settle for the field goal. But from that point forward, it was all Newton and his mighty arm. 


--And no throw he made was better than the 49-yarder to Edelman, who had gotten Adams' hips flipped around on a double move. Even though Edelman had to dive for it, that's the safest option when your 5-11 slot guy has created a small amount of separation between himself and one of the best safeties in the game. And if you've had any lingering worries about the surgery on Newton's shoulder, that throw ought to be all the anxiety meds you need to relax about that. 

--More than anything, we should all be grateful Newton is recovering the nearly lost asset that was N'Keal Harry, who already has caught more passes from Newton in two games than he did from Tom Brady in seven. And he's become the guy Newton looks to in big moments. On the drive that led to the Patriots first offensive touchdown, he hit Harry on a slant on 4th & 3. That was the play where Harry got his skull bucket caved in by Quandre Diggs. Newton also went to him three times on the final drive, including an 11-yarder off play action to start the drive, another off his back him for a 1st down and the last one where Harry posted up under the basket for the catch at the 1. 

--Harry's critics (N'Kritics? Harry Haters? I'll work on it), who were saying he can't get separation have now switched to bellyaching that he goes down too easily. OK. Fine. Whatever. He does need to work on fighting through first contact. But don't question his toughness because the helmet-to-helmet that was egregious enough to get Diggs ejected kept Harry off the field for one play. But more to the point, can't we just be glad he's leading the team in receptions and has developed an obvious chemistry with his quarterback when last year's QB was treating him like he was trying to pledge Omega House. Last  night was his 10th career game, including the playoffs. He's reliable and getting better. So back the duck off and give a 23-year-old the chance to continue developing his game, fercrissake. 

--I realize that so far I haven't even mentioned how Russell Wilson carved the defense up like a spiral ham. And I will get to that. But first I want to circle back to where I started, which is the call on the last play. I could not be more OK with the decision to run out of that 10 blockers Tank formation. They had run it three times successfully already. It's almost impossible to defeat because you have every gap accounted for and then some. Properly blocked, it's like a toss-crack play, only with a big, athletic, hard-running QB instead of a halfback. On Newton's first score, Izzo and Jakob Johnson doubled the play side linebacker Cody Barton and a pulling Shaq Mason wiped out free safety Delano Hill. Later on they sold the exact same run but Johnson slipped by the defense uncovered for the easy pitch and catch. On the final play, Hill crashed down and submarined Johnson and L.J. Collier broke through faster than Mason could get over there. The numbers advantage was still there, the Seahawks just defeated the blocks. But I'd run that play 100 times out of 100 in that situation. Look for it again, but with more variations off of it like the touchdown to Johnson. 

--And before we move onto the defense, congrats to Johnson for his first career TD, as he is as close as the league comes to having a foreign exchange student. When he goes to his high school reunion back in Stuttgart, there's a good chance he can impress his old crush by bragging about having an NFL touchdown without worrying about some one-upper claiming he's got one too. 

--OK. Now to the other side of the ball, which I do reluctantly. What can you say other than Russell Wilson is as good as anyone in the game right now? For historical comparisons, this was like that game Drew Brees threw at them in 2009, where he had a perfect passer rating and five TDs on only 23 attempts. The case can be made that that was the best single passing game anyone has ever had. Wilson's night wasn't far behind. 

--Like Brees in 2009, Wilson has the fully developed skills to go along with the maturity and experience to read how the play is going to develop from his pre-snap reads. Whether it's recognizing he'll be able to throw Tyler Lockett open as he scrapes along the back of the end zone with a step on Jason McCourty (his first TD), or knowing that D.K. Metcalf will get outside leverage on Stephon Gilmore before the single high safety can get over and hit him perfectly in stride for 54 yards (his second) or that Freddie Swain will lose J.C. Jackson in the wash of a shallow cross (his fourth). Wilson right now is a man in full, with a complete mastery of the system he's been running for nine years and with the athleticism to exploit all your weaknesses. 

--I mean, that back shoulder throw to David Moore over Jason McCourty was the Plato "Theory of Forms" ideal of what a throw and catch would look like in its perfect state. Right down to Moore getting his second foot a centimeter in bounds while in a full backpedal. Maybe it could've been covered better, but not by much. One percentage point, maybe. What can you do when someone is that dialed in with his wideouts in today's NFL? 

--Speaking of covering it better, Gilmore drew the thankless task of having Metcalf in mostly solo coverage. He got better as the game went on, but by then the damage had been done. Gilmore is a grownass man, but watching him try to contain Metcalf on his own was like watching the San Diego P.D. try to stop that guy who went on a stolen tank rampage in 1995. 

--We'll be dissecting this defensive scheme for a long time. But for now we can only guess what the plan was because Steve Belichick was so effective at covering his mouth with the playsheet so we couldn't read his lips through his Covid facemask. That is the Paranoid Coach equivalent of suspenders with a belt. But it's safe to say no one on Pete Carroll's sideline was stealing his calls and relaying them to the huddle. 


--It seems as though the original plan was to stay out of the Pats usual man coverage, out of concerns Seattle would just run the coverage off and then have Wilson put stress on the defense by running or by leaving the pocket and burning them with second reaction throws. Jackson wasn't even on the field for that first possession, and he's their second best man corner after Gilmore. But as it turned out, Wilson beat the zone with runs anyway and they went back to more of what they normally do, with Jackson drawing Lockett and Jonathan Jones on Swain for the most part.

--Again they went with their "small 3-4", or a base nickel but with a safety - mostly Adrian Phillips - as an off-the-ball linebacker alongside Ju'Whaun Bentley. Last week featured a lot of Joejuan Williams either as that third safety or sticking with the tight end in coverage, but against Seattle he barely saw the field and it was Phillips covering the underneath middle and taking on Greg Olsen. 

--One major personnel development was seeing more of Kyle Dugger who looked impressive any time I focused on him. Particularly as a safety blitzer, like a 3rd & 5 with the Patriots up 14-7 in the 2nd quarter. The Patriots went with an eight man box around one down lineman. Chase Winovich came off the edge and earholed Carlos Hyde in protection, while John Simon and Dugger shot and interior gap and Dugger's closing speed through the hole was just ridiculous as they picked up the sack. It will take some repeated viewings, which I hope to find time for this week. But for a guy who at this time last year was prepping for Lenoir-Rhyne's big rivalry games against Newberry and Mars Hill, the NFL game doesn't seem to be too big for him. 

--I was especially curious about how Winovich would do against Wilson, since the plan is always to contain him rather than pursue him. Keep him in the pocket rather than blitz his face off and have him make you regret it. To hurry him but not go for the sack necessarily. And Winovich's factory setting is more to attack like a Viking Berserker. But I thought he handled the assignment well. Staying at Wilson's level, not letting himself get high-handed and pushed deep upfield beyond the pocket. He's definitely making the coveted Year 2 bounce from a situational rusher to an every down edge player in a Trey Flowers mold. 

--This Week's Applicable Movie Quote: "[Speaking to Wilson:] I know what I've got to do now. I've got to keep breathing, because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide will bring?" - Chuck Noland, "Castaway"

--As if the pandemic hasn't already cost America the Collinsworth Slide, now NBC is trying to turn it into a sitcom? Listen, I'm sure "Connecting" seemed like a good idea at the time. You're trying to figure out how to make programming during a shut down. The budget on this thing has to be ultra minimal. But you're out of your mind if you think the country wants to finish up a day of Zoom meetings just to watch no name actors have Zoom meetings while hilarity ensues. I'd rather you just show reruns of "30 Rock." Or better yet, give Ronan Farrow a show where every week he outs another NBC executive who killed the stories about Harvey Weinstein and the rape lock on Matt Lauer's office door. 

--In case I sound too positive - which is entirely possible because I'm on minimal sleep and mildly hungover - let me be clear: This defensive performance is unacceptable. I'd rather binge Season 1 of "Connecting" than that 3rd quarter again. (Or the three episodes that air before this show gets chloroformed.) If I'm not panicking it's only because Seattle's offense is so good and we've seen this before, where early in the season Belichick operates out of a small playbook and adds pages, coverages, blitz packages, schemes and schemes off of schemes as we go. 

--Besides that, some of the new and relatively new faces show a lot of promise. Winovich for sure. Dugger from what we've seen of him. For the second week in a row Byron Cowart was tossing a center aside (Ethan Pocic) and making tackles in the backfield. Brandon Copeland looks like an adequate interior linebacker. And Phillips is doing a fair approximation of Pat Chung. And by the time they face Russell Wilson again, they'll be better equipped to handle him. (I'm talking about the Super Bowl in case that's not clear enough.)


--If you've got kids under the age of say 10, try to share with them stories of that long ago time they are too young to remember. Back when the Patriots would line up for a field goal or extra point and you'd have a reasonable amount of confidence they'd make it. They probably won't believe you that such an age of wonder could've ever existed.

--Devin Asiasi has been on the field for all of 20 snaps, 10 in each of his first two career games. And he has not been targeted. Still, we've got a quarterback who likes throwing to Harry, got a career high 178 yards out of Edelman and actually hit Damiere Byrd six times for 72 yards. So patience, my young padawan. 

--Finally, this is everything. 

RIP, Miami-Dade Police Captain Tyrone White. Prayers for a full recovery, Lisa White.