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Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 9: Patriots vs. Colts

Things to consider while still adjusting to the change:

--The Patriots defense is the reason they're above .500 and deserves all the credit for this win. But they're not the story right now. We'll get to them. For now though, the focus needs to be on the other side of the ball. Because I for one and making a major course correction when it comes to the offense. No longer am I expecting them to figure this out and start to resemble what they were in Mac Jones' rookie season. Meaning when they could be competitive with top attacks like Tampa, Dallas, and Buffalo. Or dropping 50-burgers on the bad teams like the Jets or Jacksonville. After nine weeks I'm coming to grips with the fact what we've been seeing is what they are. Slow starts consisting of multiple 3 & outs. Unforced errors. Lack of ball security. Leading the league in turnovers. Drives that spin their wheels in the mud once they cross the opponent's 30. Relying on the improbable late career Renaissance of Big Kick Nick Folk to put points on the board. My philosophy on this unit is no longer one of optimism. It's Stoicism. Founded by Zeno of Cyprus when he lost everything dear to him in a shipwreck off the coast of Athens, he read up on Socrates and spoke at Stoa Poicliae and preached that one should not mere accept bad situations, but embrace them as part of the human experience. Amor Fati: Love your fate. Best expressed by philosopher-king Marcus Aurelius in a journal he kept while on a military campaign and missing home called Meditations, wherein he came up with such wisdom as, "Here is a rule to remember in the future, when anything tempts you to feel bitter: Not 'This is misfortune,' but "To bear this worthily is good fortune.'" Basically everything in Meditations would've been used as Instagram captions by the bikini models of his time to make them sound wise and thoughtful. But is also extremely useful in the 2022 season as we continue to watch a 37-year-old placekicker be our biggest and most reliable offensive weapon. Embrace it. Stoically. Because it doesn't look like things will get better. To bear this worthily is good fortune. Amor Fati.

--The reasons we need to be inspired by dead Ancient Greeks just to deal are many. I have thoughts and your results may vary. But I think we can all agree it begins with Mac Jones. We're now a half a year or more into this grand experiment to transmogrify the Pats system that has been working since Charlie Weis into something more akin to Sean McVay's. An experiment I think they abandoned a couple of months ago. But the negative effects are still obvious. I don't think Jones suddenly forgot how to play football. I do believe though that he hasn't recovered from all the changes implemented in the spring and summer. He reminds me of me when I was in college bought my brother's Toyota Corolla from him and had to learn how to drive a stick. After a quick driving lesson in which he got increasingly aggravated with me, I told him "I'm all set," thanked him for his time, and proceeded to take the damned thing into Boston during rush hour. During which I stalled out, ground the gears or mis-shifted on average every 50 feet of the commute. But it was immersion therapy. By the time I got home that night, I had the basics down and never struggled again. I feel like that's the journey Jones is on, with Matt Patricia as his frustrated, impatient brother.. Except I figured by early November, he'd be operating this vehicle like he was at Le Mans. Instead he's stalled out at the Dorchester gas tank and Pats fans are in the SUV behind him leaning on our horns. 

--Simply put, there's no rhythm to his game this year. No decisiveness. You almost never see him do what was routine last year. He'd know what his best options were in the pre-snap. Make a 3- or 5-step drop. Plant his foot. Get the ball out quickly and with precision. Take whatever profit the play offered and call the next huddle. Now every passing down is an adventure. He gets to the top of his drop and it's like he's counting cards at a Black Jack table. And by the time he's calculated how may face cards the shoe is up, security (i.e. the pass rush) is onto him and he has to scramble for the exit. 

--When he's not squandering precious seconds of the admittedly limited protection his offensive line is providing him, Jones continues a disturbing habit of locking in on one receiver. Consider the second possession of the 3rd quarter. Facing a nakeable 3rd & 4 from the Indianapolis 25, the Patriots had a three-man bunch on the right, but Jones fixated on Rhamondre Stevenson, who was in the left flat. And also covered. Incomplete. Bring out Big Kick Nick. Again. The only surprising part of the play was that Adam Archuleta actually called Jones out for not looking for open receivers on the other side. Correct though he was, by the low standards of 1pm regional games, even that level of criticism of a young QB is severe. Just not as severe as the part in Archuleta's hair, which could not have been more on point. That man is a future star in the industry.

--Here's a clear example of what I mean when I'm talking about lack of rhythm and using manual transmission metaphors. This play clearly called for Hunter Henry to chip and then release. And it worked to perfection, as he was unaccounted for in the flat and more alone than Michael Jackson when he'd rent out Disneyland by himself. But either because Henry waited to long to get into his route and the pressure was too much for Jones to bear, or because Jones never spotted him, it goes for a sack instead:

That's how it took them 10 plays from scrimmage to finally get into positive yards of offense. Which is scary to think about since by this time last year Jones and Henry had long since done the Vulcan Mind Meld and were sharing a brain.

--With that, here's an example of what it looks like when it's going right. This was after a turnover put the Pats on a short field. After motioning Henry into the backfield for extra protection in a Pistol look, Jones read the Colts in Man across the board. To his right he had Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers running a Scissors concept, and to his left he had Nelson Agholor as the boundary receiver on a post. That cleared out the flat for Stevenson, who drew Bobby Okereke in coverage and had plenty of room to operate. You can see Jones anticipating Stevenson's break before he makes it. He could've held the ball and waiting for Henry to get into his delayed release, but he saw he had the matchup he wanted, was decisive and delivered the ball where Stevenson could make his second one-handed Web Gem in as many weeks for the only touchdown of the game:

It should be lost on no one that this came two plays after the CBS mics picked up a guy in the stands yelling "Mac! You SUCK!!!" clearer than any promo for an all new season of Yellowstone. I'm going to assume that guy was wearing a $160 Bailey Zappe jersey and calls Sports Hub once a day. But at least on this play, he was wrong.

--Also on this one, where Jones improvised brilliantly, getting Jonnu Smith the ball safely, despite facing a head-on collision from Kwity Paye after Smith chipped him:

That's the ability to make positive plays under pressure that has been in such short supply this year. With extra credit to both James Ferentz and Yodne Cajuste for their ballsy effort upfield plowing the road for him. The screen game has been inconsistent, to put it politely. It's not too big an ask that Patricia put a couple of brightly colored Post-Its into that section of the playbook and spend extra time on it during the bye.

--The question going in was who was going to get DeVante Parker's reps with him out. And the answer was Bourne, who got his most snaps of the season by an order of magnitude, despite the Pats heavy use of two tight end sets. Last year Bourne caught close to 90% of the balls thrown his way and had a pass rating when targeted of over 140. Yet despite being on the field for 48 plays yesterday, he finished with three catches on four targets for just 11 yards. Like with Henry, the chemistry between Bourne and Jones is way off. Like they're no longer familiar with each other, and at this point he's just somebody Jones used to know. Somebody needs to get the two of them a gift card to the Olive Garden or something, so they can get reacquainted over bread sticks and unlimited salads.

--I'm not in the excuse-making business. I just do it as a sort of hobby. It's not my vocation, it's an avocation. Anyway, I think this offensive line critically misses David Andrews. Not that Ferentz is a turnstyle by any means. He's an adequate backup. But they miss Andrews in the middle, making the adjustments, calling out the sliding protections and so on. I don't think it's a coincidence that since Andrews got cheapshotted injured in the Bears game, Cole Strange's play has regressed considerably. Along with his playing time. Isaiah Wynn was subbed in for Strange after one of the many sacks on the day, or possibly his Illegal Hands penalty , and the rookie didn't get back on the field until it was time to take out the trash. When you're the 1st round pick other coaches literally laughed at and your own coaches are happy to swap you out in favor of playing the tackle who leads the league in penalties (Wynn added to that total as well), out of position, you're making a lot of people in the organization look bad. For that reason, he'll get a long leash. But if he gets pulled one more time, they'll be fitting him for a shock collar. 

--Not that the blocking issues are all on Strange. It just feels systemic at this point, with an unnerving number of negative plays, running backs having to survive a Jackie Chan fight sequence just to get back to the line of scrimmage, and sometimes total breakdowns. For instance, on the second possession, Okereke came clean through the A-gap to meet Stevenson right at the mesh point on a play that looked like (I'm clearly guessing) it was on Jonnu Smith to come across and throw a wham block. He wasn't two steps toward Okereke by the time the linebacker was flossing chunks of Stevenson from between his teeth.

--To everyone on a defense that produced more yards on sacks (60) than they allowed in net passing yards (48), I apologize. You deserve better. But I go where the Jerking Knee takes me. And now we're here. After all, this is the second time the offensive play of the game was made by Jonathan Jones:

--I'm trying not to live in the past when it comes to this evolving (devolving?) offense. But we should all rejoice at the return of the old school, aggressive, attacking, not-at-all-risk-averse Belichick Family Defense. Just like grandpa Steve used to do it with the Midshipmen and Bill built empires with. Using mostly 30-fronts, primarily with his tackles - mainly Davon Godchaux at nose, flanked by Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise - playing head-up on lineman and two-gapping the Colts to death, they occupied blockers and let the ends run wild and free. Unless I was hallucinating (I only had two IPAs, I swear) or need a new corrective lenses prescription, I think I saw the occasional Bear front where all three down lineman are packed in between the guards. But where they were most effective was after putting the Colts into 3rd & longs. Which as recently as the Chicago game a couple of weeks ago, was a glaring weakness on this team. 

--On those obvious passing downs, Belichick the Younger mixed up his fronts and his rush schemes. On each of the first two Indy possessions, Matthew Judon ran an inside game behind his 5-technique tackle. On his first it was Guy. On his second, it was Daniel Ekuale:

--Ekuale in particular really stood out all game. On those 3rd & longs, he was very often the only down lineman. And I'm hoping to find the number of times the Pats ran that look versus how many times the Sam Ehrlinger as much as completed a pass against it, never mind picking up a 1st down. Ekuale played 24 snaps in all, so I'm going to assume Ehrlinger went 0-for-24. With at least a half dozen sacks. 

--Invariably in those situations, Steve Belichick brought a linebacker up over the nose, and didn't tip his hand as to whether he'd be dropping into coverage or rushing. For instance on that one above, Mack Wilson (having his best day in a Patriots uniform) sank into the shallow middle with his eyes in the backfield. On the Colts third possession, it was Ju'Whaun Bentley, and he stunted inside as Josh Uche got the sack. 

--Sometimes though, it was as simple as "Cry Havoc! And let slip the dogs of war." Speaking of guys having their best games, put Uche's name on that list in Sharpie. There was nothing schematically impressive about this. The Pats just rushed four, with Wilson spying the QB in the middle, and Uche just boiled Bernhard Raimann's noodles (Huh? See what did there? That's the Old Balls Difference):

--It was a day of redemption for several underachieving Pats linebackers, actually. Not the least of whom was Raekwon McMillian, a Week 1 starter who has been reduced to strictly to special teams. But in the 4th he was spelling Bentley and Wilson in the middle and had an impact. First he pressured Ehrlinger on the pass into the flat where Jack Jones blew up Jordan Wilkins for the PBU. Next he came up the A-gap on the play where Ehrlinger scrambled for a 15 yard loss. And finally recorded the Patriots ninth and final sack. All in all, the Colts were the right team at exactly the right time for a lot of guys who needed a breakout game.  Frank Reich is the substitute teacher who's filling in just before you go on break, shows a movie and gives you an A for showing up. The top students don't need the help, but he's a godsend to the ones in danger of flunking. 

--Imagine how bad the Colts would've been with Matt Ryan and Marcus Brady?

--Punting is a way of life understood by no one outside that world. They're the equivalent of that tribe isolated on their island who murder anyone who comes to their shores. So unless you have a punter in your life who can explain Jake Bailey going from the best punter in all the world to a guy who shanked a kick for seven yards, your guess is as good as mine. I'm not familiar with that culture.

--This Week's Applicable Movie Quote: "If you wanna give a kid a name, give him a NAME. Like Nick. Yeah, Nick! Nick's your friend! Nick's your buddy! Nick's the kind of guy you can drink beer with. Nick's the kind of guy who doesn't mind if you puke in his car! Nick!" - Walter "Gib" Gibson, The Sure Thing

--We have our first Christmas commercial, and Starbucks is the guilty party. They're the Spirit Halloween that opens in July. The pumpkin beer that goes on sale in August. Ecclesiastes says, "To everything, there is a season." Starbucks says, "Hold my Peppermint Stick Mocha on November 6th." I'm not a boycott guy, but if they don't face at least some backlash for this, it's our own fault if the Mariah Carey soon follows. 

--I hope this KJR lived up to your standards. Once again I say, I'm not in the business of making excuses. But if this one wasn't good, I have my reasons:

I'm not a hero. I just want my courage to be an inspiration to others. Amor Fati.