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Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 6: Patriots vs. Browns

Things to consider while realizing that a dominant, 23-point, blowout road win is the perfect gift for the couple that has everything:

--We'll get to Bailey Zappe. Very shortly, I promise you. But not until we've talked about Matt Patricia and Joe Judge. The Offensive Coordinator Senior Football Advisor and Offensive Assistant/Quarterbacks who have just produced 67 points in the last two games with a rookie quarterback out of Western Kentucky. For all of 2022 we've been force fed this narrative that these two shiftless, useless, incompetent, out-of-work jerks essentially guilted Bill Belichick into giving them jobs they're not qualified for. A couple of his poker buddies who were, um ... "between jobs," and pressured him to give them work. They're Johnny Lawrence getting Danny LaRusso to hire them down at the dealership even though they don't know anything about selling cars, and wackiness was surely going to ensue. But instead what we got was yet another game plan that got better as the game went on, and produced four touchdowns in the second half. Whichever combination of Patricia and Judge are the voices in Zappe's ear in the huddle and on the sideline, they're doing a remarkable job. That needs to be acknowledged before we go any further.

--What I'm not getting into here is any talk about a Quarterback Non-troversy. That's a topic for another blog. What I will say is Patricia and Judge are doing a better job of managing Zappe than they were Mac Jones. Owing to the fact this offense has been a work in progress all offseason, there were adjustments to be made going into the first couple of games, and they're sorting things out. Specifically, I think in the early going there was too much of a reliance on having Jones be aggressive, stress defenses vertically, take shots downfield, and accept the risks that come with that approach. Essentially play the way literally hundreds of Patriots opponents have over the years, when they would lack the patience to take what they were being given, and end up stepping on rakes. Which is the opposite of how Josh McDaniels handles Jones as a rookie. 

--Patricia hasn't kept Zappe in the rolling baby walker thing, he has let him run around the house, but he's managed the kid. Zappe had 36 dropbacks, compared to 29 rushing attempts, but his reads appear to be low-to-high. He's looking for the short to intermediate stuff first, only looking for deep strikes when those are covered, as his 6.4 average yards to target would seem to bear out. Which, with rare exceptions like 2007, is the approach that built this Empire. Hopefully it'll be the one they take when Jones is back under center. 

--I promised to get to Zappe soon, and I'm a man of my word. Here it is. Come. Gather 'round the fire. Pass the drinking horn. We shall feast in this young warrior's honor. Fetch the minstrels and let us sing songs of praise for the noble feats he performed on this day. Even the elders who have lived many moons and seen many battles have no tales such as his:

--Operating primarily out of 11-personnel packages with Rhamondre Stevenson as the lone back and Hunter Henry attached to the formation (Jonnu Smith played just under half the snaps, mainly out of the slot), Zappe was, above all else, efficient. He didn't try to play hero ball. If he attempted one pass that gave you that feeling of impending doom you get when you click a video of someone jumping off a balcony into a pool, I can't recall it. Mainly he worked the creases in the Cleveland zones, the quick slants, seam-flat-curl routes, and sit routes under the safety shell. And some of his best work came off play action, where he was most proficient. By way of example, the way he spotted Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah take the bait on the play fake and produced the biggest play of Smith's Patriots career:

--Even though he had Henry wide open up the seam, what impresses you the most as you rewatch it, is how quickly Zappe identified it with his back to the play after selling the play action. The nanosecond he whipped his head around, he spotted Henry breaking free with Grant Delpit on the ground and put him on missile lock:

--Still, Zappe's proudest moment to me was the touchdown to Tyquan Thornton. And not just because I invested 160 bucks in a Thornton jersey that hasn't shown any ROI. But because this was an example of him making a play out of structure. At the very least, having to go through progressions after his initial targets were covered. The first read on this was Jakobi Meyers, running a rub route with Henry, that Delpit had covered. So Zappe was forced to look backside, just as Thornton was getting separation from Greedy Williams:

And that play speaks to what Thornton brings to the table. A quality he showed throughout training camp (before I caused his collarbone injury by spending 160 bucks on his jersey), and that's his ability to defeat press coverage and get into his routes. Particularly in tight spaces. He had a similar touchdown catch against the Giants in the preseason, only on that one he also fought through a defensive holding penalty. The point being that he's shown he's not just a tracklete, despite his obvious speed and Spongebob legs. Though having skinny appendages does make it easier when he and Cole Strange do the Johnny Castle/Baby celebration:

Nobody puts Tyquan in a corner. Unless it's on a corner route. 

--Which is not to suggest he isn't a track star as well. Credit to Patricia for finding a way to take advantage of his speed. His second touchdown came on a Jet sweep behind a three-tight end line. I'm no genius like an Einstein or a Romo, but as soon as Thornton went in motion, I could see this play coming. So, presumably, did the Browns. But still all he needed was one block from Henry on Martin Emerson and Newton's Laws of Motion did the rest:

--Which is as good a time as any to talk about this Patriots rookie class. The trade they made with Kansas City on draft night gave them Strange, Zappe, and Jack Jones, who played two-thirds of their snaps yesterday and broke up another pass after having a pick each of the last two games. Marcus Jones continues to see his playing time go up, as he took half the snaps and is their full time returner. He should've had an interception of his own, but for reasons known only to this officiating crew, they refused to give it to him. Still, one play later, Jones returned a punt 16 yards to the Patriots 39, giving them better field position than if he'd gotten credit for the pick. Between this draft class, last year's landing Mac Jones, Stevenson and Christian Barmore, the year before adding Kyle Dugger and Michael Onwenu, the people saying GM Bill should have his absolute control over the draft board stripped from him deserve to be shunned by polite society. 

--Getting back to the officials, this was one of those crews that uses replay as a crutch instead of a tool. Where they make every call based on what could be reversed later, rather than just make the obvious right decision based on what's happening in front of them. I mean, how do you need a replay to fix that onside kick call? Were they looking elsewhere on the field, and not - you know - at the spot the kicker was aiming for where the ball ended up? And then to take 10 minutes to sort it out was unconscionable. I guarantee you they're the kind of people who use their backup camera instead of turning around and looking out the back window, so it takes them half an hour to back into a parking space while you're stuck waiting to get by them.

--That in addition to missing penalties both ways (non-calls when Amari Cooper pushed off on Jack Jones who was in perfect position and when Deatrich Wise, Jr. grabbed Jacoby Brissett's facemask). And that abysmal fumble call when Zappe's arm was so clearly in mid-pass attempt. [Late Night Talk Show Host Voice:] Still, they did give us two Illegal Touches. Which is 20 fewer than Deshaun Watson. 

Giphy Images.

--Dugger was in that zone where it feels like there's two No. 23s running lose in the secondary. The interception was an atrocious decision on Brissett's part. A demonstration of what can happen to a quarterback when he's being coached somewhere other than Foxboro. As Dugger had his hips perfectly mirroring Pharoah Brown's:

But when he wasn't making that catch, he was making stops at the point of attack on Nick Chubb, setting the edge to stuff a sweep by Donovan Peoples-Jones. He did get turned around on that 33-yard double move by David Njoku. But other than that, made six tackles, broke up two more passes and was the best player on the field for either team. 

--The best unit for either side though, has to go to the Patriots front-7. Their defensive tackles in particular. Even without Lawrence Guy, who may be the team's best two-gap defender, they played a lot of 30-fronts, head up on the offensive linemen and controlling both sides of the blocker. Barmore and Davon Godchaux especially, with Daniel Ekuale and Carl Davis Jr. (having perhaps his best game as a Patriot) rotating through. Belichick talked all week about the Browns' running game, how well they scheme it and block it, and how hard Chubb is to stop. And yet long before they got a lead that forced Cleveland to the air, they had Chubb bottled up. Which is great news given how terrible their tackling had been through the first four games or so. Barmore is a huge part of anything they try to do up front, so losing him for any serious amount of time is going to hurt.

--I have no doubt at this point that the coaches are just trying to get Marcus Cannon in game shape before making him the full time right tackle over Isaiah Wynn. As the cliche goes, I'll drive Wynn to the airport. Even knowing he'll get tickets for Holding and False Starts before we reach the tunnel.

--I don't have a clever segue for this, so I'll just shoehorn it in here. Patricia would be getting killed today if he called a run play on 3rd & 10 from the edge of field goal range. But Stevenson's touchdown was the perfect call. The Browns came with a blitz off the edge and no off-the-ball linebackers. David Andrews (on Owusu-Koramoah) and Onwenu (Jacob Phillips) opened a hole, while Henry came off the left edge to throw a Wham block on Taven Bryan, and Stevenson had no tackles to break: 

Good on Patricia for having the perfect blitz beater for the situation.

--This Week's Applicable Movie Quote: "Hello, Cleveland! Hellooo, Cleveland! Rock 'n Roll!!!" - This is Spinal Tap

--If the Patriots didn't score that touchdown before the half, the rest of the game was going to be shown on Amazon Prime, where 3-3 games are sent to die.

--This is exactly what DeVante Parker was brought here to do. Let's hope McCorkle keeps feeding him the same way whenever he gets back:

--So Zappe's mom named him after Bailey Salinger. And he completed four passes each to Henry, Thornton, Stevenson, Meyers, and Parker. There's my Party of Five.

--If this is what a QB Controversy is like? Bring it on. I never realized how fun they can be.

--Congrats to the bride and groom. I hope the wedding night was as satisfying as 38-15. Just note that some people weren't accepting gifts.