Randy Moss has transitioned flawlessly from Hall of Fame Wideout to Quirky TV Personality to Top Flight Analyst as smoothly as he used to burn Darrelle Revis on Go routes.
He's also a Patriot for Life, despite what it says on his bust in Canton. Therefore, when goes on Rich Eisen he has this to say about Tyreek Hill during Dolphins Week:
“Nothing but speed. I don’t know why the Chargers thought that they could cover this man 1-on-1. I remember, Rich, back when I was in, it may look like teams were playing and covering me 1-on-1 but that safety was still over the top. I don’t know why teams keep trying to fake like they’re not, or disrespecting him and giving him single coverage.
“I think Tyreek Hill is one of those very, very special athletes that, every single play, you gotta know where he is. And you have to honor him by putting somebody over the top. The Chargers didn’t do it, that’s why they went home with a loss.”
… the Patriots ignore him at their peril.
The good news for the Patriots braintrust of Belichick, Belichick & Mayo, they've done as good a job as any team in the NFL at containing Hill since the first couple of meetings they had against him. Once they got those first couple of shakedown cruises out of the way, they slapped a tracking device on him and dedicated a safety to monitor it at all times:
Even Hill's eight-catch performance last year in Miami "only" yielded him 94 yards, which is the second lowest YPRs he's had in his career against them. Still a fine total, but more in keeping with your mere mortal slot receivers as they kept his YAC to manageable numbers.
The even better news is that the key to putting Hill in a bottle seems to be the safety help for sure, but also putting Jonathan Jones on him:
Overall, the Original Jones Cornerback has held him to 11 receptions on 23 targets, for 143 yards, 6.2 yards per target, 0 touchdowns, one interception, and a passer rating when targeted of just 49.7. There simply cannot be a cornerback in the league with a better curriculum vitae when facing Hill. It's not possible. If Hill has a Kryptonite, it wears No. 31 in New England. In that way the Celtics used to put Dennis Johnson on Magic Johnson or the Bruins shadowed Wayne Gretzky with Steve Kasper or the one person who could cover Gronk was Bibi Jones:
(This was getting way too analytical and I had to add a little seasoning. This isn't the Boston Globe I'm writing for.)
But here's the bad news:
So unless Jones makes a sudden and semi-miraculous recovery from not practicing today - and Bill Belichick loves to say that if you don't practice, you don't play - we're probably looking at Marcus Jones being thrown into the breach. Meaning he'll need even more safety help. In his rookie year, Marcus Jones (it's such a pain in the ass having to use both names for every one of these Jones I might just start referring to them with a collective noun like Hanson) played 282 coverage snaps at wide corner and 59 in the slot. And overall had a fairly respectable passer rating against of 83.7. But not having Hill's one weakness available could spell doom.
But here's good news to end this on. From the Philadelphia Inquirer's follow up to last Sunday's game against the Eagles:
“I don’t know what their game plan was,” receiver DeVonta Smith said. “They did a great job of disguising their coverage. We never knew what they were doing, so I honestly can’t tell you what they were doing.”
According to receiver A.J. Brown, the Patriots were trusting their cornerbacks on the outside, but clogging up the middle with defenders passing off in match-up zones.
“I think Belichick did a really good job of just throwing lots of stuff at us,” Brown said. “Changing a lot of things up at the last minute, and it was tough. I don’t think we were not prepared, but I just think he was throwing so many curveballs and it was just hard to adjust.”
That is encouraging given that the Eagles have a veteran team with elite talent on the outside and went to a Super Bowl last year. And because we generally see more vanilla looks in the first couple of weeks of the season, and the scheme gets more complex as things progress. Even with Jonathan Jones, those curveballs will have to keep hitting the black. Without him, the secondary is going to have to deliver like Greg Maddux in his prime. If not, we're very much in danger of an 0-2 start to a season that the whole world thinks is the end of all things around here. Hopefully Randy Moss is right and the Pats do to Hill what few were ever able to do to him.