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Knee Jerk Reactons to Week 2: Patriots vs. Jets

Things to consider while realizing it's worth risking ALL the celebrity lives if it means giving awards to "Ted Lasso":

--There is only one thing Bill Belichick likes better than a 19-point victory on the road against a division opponent. And that is a 19-point victory on the road over a division opponent when his team could've done better. When they could've played it better, coached it better, done better in all three phases. Few things will put a wry smile on his impish face as he takes Nike for a walk at the end of a work day like getting lost in the reverie of knowing he can take out his red correcting pen and circle all the mistakes on a pretty convincing win. And this one will keep this tough grader busy all morning.

--Not that a lot of that ink is going to be used up on Mac Jones, but I'm not going to not start with him. On a weekend where all the rookie quarterbacks kept putting the ball into the wrong hands, Jones continued to live up to his Hippocratic QB Oath: "First, do no harm." But as his numbers - 22 for 30, 182 yards - would reflect, he lived on the short, safe, underneath passing game. Flats, curls, screens and more check, check, check than Mike McDermott in the final game at Teddy KGB's. Granted, there's a lot to be said for that approach, but I don't know how many teams besides the Jets you're going to beat when the air yards of your average throw is below 4.0. You can only bunt your way on base so many times before you've got to swing for the fences. 

--I'm not sure exactly who to pin that on. Whether it was Josh McDaniels all of a sudden getting more conservative than a Sean Hannity guest, his receivers not getting free against the Jets deep zones, the lack of pass protection or simply Jones himself deciding to work low-to-high. One of the few times McDaniels decided to get more liberal with his play calling was the double pass:

After which, Trent Green insisted Nelson Agholor was wide open and Jones simply missed him. We cannot confirm or deny, because rather than show us a replay of one of the most interesting play calls of the young season, CBS decided we needed to see proof that Jeff Probst is drinking the same unicorn blood as Tom Brady and will never age. But whether he was open on that one or not, Agholor finished with three catches for 21 yards. Last year he led the NFL with 18.7 yards per receptions. So as of right now, the shortness of this passing game is a feature, not a bug. 

--Nevertheless, where he chose his targets was the only thing about Jones' game that lacked aggressiveness. All game long he was in places one does not expect to find a quarterback doing decidedly unquarterback-like things. Right from the opening possession, when the ball came loose from Kendrick Bourne and the Jets seemed to have recovered a fumble (the play was blown dead because Bourne's forward progress was stopped), Jones was upfield trying to rip the ball loose from the defender. On the reverse to Bourne, he threw this savage, merciless block on Shaq Lawson that filled the John Hannah-shaped hole in ever old Pats fans' heart:

Then he helped Damien Harris into the end zone with such force he should've gotten some Fantasy points for it:


And while we're talking about Harris' touchdown, that was a standard inside power run, brilliantly executed. They lined in two tight ends left, with Hunter Henry at an attached Y and Jonnu Smith at H-back. Henry threw a kickout on Bryce Huff, Isaiah Wynn and Michael Onwenu doubled Quinnen Williams as David Andrews and Shaq Mason sealed off Folorunso Fatukasi at nose tackle. Smith came up to the second level to occupy a linebacker just enough for Harris to hit the hole and make one cut. The rest was all Harris, carrying bodies like the big bug in a nature film getting swarmed by fire ants. Harris broke seven tackles in all. And I'm convinced he could've turned around at the 1, gone back to the four Jets who didn't touch him, and carried them into the end zone as well. You might not see a tougher run by any back in the league all season. So you have to appreciate CBS really capturing the moment, bringing us the drama and excitement that can only come from Zach Wilson sitting on the bench looking at his forearm. Twice. 

--Anyway, as I figured, Harris spent the week carrying a football everywhere, like the egg in one of those high school sociology projects that are supposed to teach you about responsible parenting or whatever. And it showed as the Jets tried to rip the ball from his arms as Jones shoved him across the goal line. They would've had to chainsaw his arms off at the shoulder to get that ball loose. His fumble last week cost them a win, no question about it. But his mistake might pay off in the long run. 

--I don't mean to keep harping on the overly careful play calling. I should probably just gratefully accept a 19-point road win, say Grace, and then eat the W. It's just that it's hard no to get frustrated when we've been conditioned to see this offense stick the dagger in and twist it whenever the opportunity presents itself. For 20 years, they'd answer opponents' turnovers by taking immediate, effective, and demoralizing shots upfield. To make them pay for their mistakes. On the theory (which I happen to espouse) that the perfect time to kick someone is when they're down. That way you don't have to lift your leg as much or kick as hard. Despite four interceptions and two turnovers on downs, we saw none of that. Not that the Pats helped the Jets up, but for sure they didn't deliver a good, swift, rib-crushing kick as we're accustomed to.

--I guess I just have more confidence in Jones' ability to read a defense and deliver the ball on target than either he or his coordinator appear to. For instance, the perfect ball he hit Jakobi Meyers with on a slot fade for 24 yards. Or how he saw this utter breakdown in coverage before the coverage even broke down:


--Maybe I shouldn't put it on McDaniels. For the second straight week, he called more passes than runs. After coming out with a lot of 21- and 22-personnel early on, he went with a lot of 1-backs spreads and empty sets as the game wore on. And you can argue that his super cautious approach late came when he was more interested in bleeding the clock than putting up points. Maybe the fact that Jones ended up with barely over 6.0 yards per attempt is a reflection of the kids' fondness for relying on James White. You could make a lot worse decisions than that, as White was the best player on the field for either team. That 28-yard screen being a prime example, as he did a great job of patiently allowing Onwenu and Mason get set in front of him to plow the road, then burst out ahead of them when he had open field to work with. 

--But for the most part, the over-reliance on screens, bubbles, and assorted passes to the flat simply brought Jets defenders aggressively crashing down to eliminate YAC, without fear of getting anyone open behind them. As a result, we saw a lot of 3rd & longs and a conversion rate of only 3-for-12. And the Pats are not going to beat average teams if they don't make them defend the whole field. We're two games into the season, and Jones' next pass into the end zone will be his first. Whether or not you score 25 points, that alone should alarm everyone.

--It's part of a larger issue that bit them in the collective ass last week. The Patriots red zone game is a problem. The drive that ended with White's touchdown being the rare exception. That one was set up with White's inside zone run that went for seven. Followed immediately by this gem, on a counter run:

A counter is, by definition, a gap run as opposed to a zone. On this one, the counter was Mason pulling to wipe out Lawson - Shaq on Shaq crime - while Henry came up on a linebacker and Jakobi Meyers took out Marcus Maye. Just exceptional blocking all over the formation that allowed White to responsibly socially distance as he went in for the score. 

--But that sort of blocking isn't common enough right now, particularly at the tackle spots. Isaiah Wynn is committing too many penalties. And the right tackle spot is this season's Defense Against the Dark Arts job that no one can hold onto. (That, along with the unicorn blood thing, is my second Harry Potter reference of this KJR. That puts me over the limit so I'll have to self-impose a two week moratorium. Thank you for your understanding.) I'm positively baffled that Yodny Cajuste wasn't the first guy inserted into the role when Trent Brown went out after he looked so good throughout the preseason, because Justin Herron and Yasir Durant have been abysmal. With too many unblocked rushers, blitzers unaccounted for, and stunts just confounding everyone. Durant let Maye come in clean from a wide-9 alignment on the first possession that took the Pats out of field goal range and it was all downhill from there. The low point being the back to back sacks he gave up in the middle of the 2nd quarter. Until Brown comes back, I don't want to see anyone but Cajuste at that spot. 


--I've taken way too long to get to a defense that forced as many turnovers (including on downs) as they gave up points. But Zack Wilson's struggles aside, this was how this unit has played when they've been at their peak. Think that 2001-04 era or the 2019 team. Not necessarily laying stop sticks out under everyone's wheels. The Jets outgained the Pats 336 to 260. And not putting up pass rushing numbers that will blow wind up your cargo shorts. But forcing turnovers with aggressive press man and pattern match zones disguised as press, containing a scrambling quarterback, and patiently waiting for him to go full Shaggy when he starts seeing g-g-ghosts. 

--Last week the secondary got shredded by Tua Tagovailoa checking to slants, for which the Patriots had no answer. As far as I could tell, this week they went with a lot of Cover-3 Buzz, in which you have two safeties but one drops down to take the crossers away, while the outside corners drop to cover the deep areas outside the numbers. They used a lot of that to stop the Rams in Super Bowl LIII. Only this time that safety coming down was either Adrian Phillips or Kyle Dugger. While Devin McCourty hung back playing "deeper than deepest" in the middle of the field.

--I still don't know how Wilson thought he could get passes through some of these coverages. Like JC Jackson's, when he was trailing Elijah Moore along the sidelines and Wilson put it right between his "2" and his "7." Or Jackson's other one. You might not see a wilder interception all year. All it needed was "Playing With the Boys" on the PA system and it would've been the most erotic film moment of the 1980s

--As far as the pass rush went, I think Wilson is one of those quarterbacks where Belichick is more concerned with him leaving the pocket and doing damage than he is about sack totals. Even though they did get him four times, those mostly came later on when the game was out of reach and Wilson wasn't going to beat anyone with his feet. So what we saw was rushers trying to contain and, above all else, not get deeper than the QB. They blitzed some. For instance, Ju'Whaun Bentley came on a delayed rush to help force that Jackson pick you just saw. And again on that 4th & 2, when Bentley shot the A-gap and Jonathan Jones broke up the pass. But for the most part, Steve Belichick didn't let his dogs off the leash until late in the game. That's when we saw a lot of Josh Uche and Chase Winovich. As did Wilson.

--Though the best defender for the Pats was Lawrence Guy. The Pats played a base 3-4, with the down lineman mostly two-gapping. Guy played 38% of the snaps in a rotation that saw a lot of Christian Barmore at DE and Davon Godchaux anchoring at 0-tech head up on the center. But Guy made the stop of the game on 3rd & goal. He was two-gapping as well, but on this one was shaded to one side of Greg Van Routen, with his head lined up in the G-T gap and was able to fire into the hole to drop Ty Johnson for a loss and force a field goal. The Front-7 is still having issues with gap control. And frankly at times looks painfully slow. And my guess is going with 30 fronts is their attempt to plug more holes with fewer bodies and let Bentley, Dugger and Phillips fill in behind them. The results are mixed so far. But if they can stiffen in the red zone - another hallmark of their very best defenses, then what happens between the 20s won't matter so much.


--The only person in America who'll get degraded and humiliated worse than Wilson did yesterday is the goofy white guy from "The Neighborhood." I never seen the show, but is the joke that he loves abuse? There are subs who pay doms good money to take the kind of punishment Cedric the Entertainer gives him five times a commercial. If that isn't the premise of the show, that a guy gets aroused by being verbally debased by his next door neighbor, it should be. Chuck Lorre will probably start working on a pilot as soon as I post this.

--Still, I'd rather have been Wilson yesterday than Robert Saleh, going "home" to a hotel room with seven kids under the age of 10. While I respect the Saleh's ability to breed in captivity, I've shared a hotel room with my two kids when they were that little, and it was the Ninth Circle of Hell. Good luck trying to get some rest with the Von Trapp children fighting over the terrible hotel TV choices and who's hogging too much of the bed. Unless that nanny is considerably more attractive than Maria, I'd just be sleeping at the office until those renovations are done. And if Mrs. Salah is anything like the Irish Rose, my guess is she's more of a Mrs. Doubtfire.

--It would take a heart of stone not to laugh:

But the Jets just continue to Jet. While Sam Darnold is lighting it up in Carolina. I heard from someone who was at the game who said most of the jerseys you see in the stands are of former Jets. Darrelle Revis and Curtis Martin and the like. Which is one of the saddest statements about a team that has a Top 10 draft pick every year that I've ever heard. If this franchise didn't exist, I'd have to invent them.

--This Week's Applicable Movie Quote: "It is something that man was not meant to disturb. Death has always surrounded it. It is not of this earth." - Saleh, "Raiders of the Lost Ark"

--In a million years I never imagined Nick Folk would be setting records. The best analogy I can think of is 2013 Koji Uehara, who was the Red Sox like 4th choice as a closer, and then put together one of the best seasons out of the bullpen in club history. Kickers, like relievers, are a weird, hard to figure bunch. 

--Seriously, McDaniels, let Jones eat. Fortune favors the bold. In the words of Frederick the Great, "L'audace, l'audace. Toujours, l'audace." ("Daring, daring. Always, daring.") Jerry the Marginally Above Average agrees.