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Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 10: Patriots vs. Colts

Things to consider while finding an entire season summed up in 8 seconds:

--In 1937, Germany sent us the Hindenburg. It took us 86 years, but we finally returned the favor by sending them the 2023 Patriots.

--This one was yet another reminder of how good we had it not all that long ago. These international game used to be a blast. Back then, the Patriots were true ambassadors of the game. Bringing the finest example of tackle football to the world. They'd be better prepared for the travel and the change of time zones than whomever their hapless opponent would be. For instance, that time they played the Raiders in Mexico City, where Belichick had them practice at Air Force Academy in Colorado to stay acclimated to the high altitude after playing in Denver the previous game. The Raiders meanwhile, practiced all week in Oakland, at sea level. And the game was over before kickoff. Or they'd go to London and not only blow the doors off the place, you could also count on something hilarious like Gronk marching like a toy soldier before spiking the ball in his victim's face. It was the NFL presenting our culture at its very best. Yesterday felt like a Amazing Race where you're embarrassed to be an American because a couple is having a screaming match in front of a foreign cab driver:

--When it was confirmed the Patriots were getting this Frankfurt game, I thought it would be the perfect chance to write this Knee Jerk from the perspective of the Germany I learned about while taking three years of German in high school. Lederhosen. Oompa Bands. Gigantic pretzels. Cold cuts for breakfast. Tyrolean hats. Friendly, bosomy Teutonic madchen carrying preposterously large tankards of Oktoberfest beer. Instead, all I'm reminded of is the dark, depressing German philosophers I had to study in college. Schopenhauer droning on about the will as a blind, unconscious, aimless striving, devoid of knowledge. Hegel's dreary dialectics, the contradictory process between opposing sides. But mostly, given where everything is at, I can't stop thinking about that hilarious bundle of fun Nietzsche declaring that God is dead. 

--With that preamble out of the way, it's time we have a talk about Mac Jones. We can't put it off any longer. There's been a lot going on here that is beyond his control. He was under duress for most of the game. At the end of every 5- or 7-step drop, the Colts pass rush came at him faster than Germany got into Belgium in August, 1914. (Too soon?) Aside from Demario Douglas, he doesn't appear to have a single receiver capable of getting separation against man coverage. But two things can be true at the same time. A lot of this can be not his fault while much of it very much is. 

--Simply put, Jones is shook. He's damaged. The things that are beyond his control and the things that are entirely his fault have combined into a powerful storm front. Then they ran into the high pressure system of working for the kind of demanding coaches who won't hesitate to scream into your ear in front of our NATO allies, and formed a cataclysmic weather event in his soul. Just look as this broken man:

--It's not like he's weak or lacks mental toughness. This isn't a character flaw. It's just that for now, Jones is not equipped to be the QB1 on this team. At this point, keeping Jones on the bench would be a mercy. Both to him and to the organization. If you'll excuse me yet another Germany-adjacent reference (I think I reached my limit already, but this one is too perfect not to use), think of Buck Compton in Band of Brothers. A good soldier. Respected by his men and his commanding officers. But eventually he dealt with too much and saw too much and needed to be pulled off the line and sent to a hospital for a while. The unit was better off without him in the meantime, and eventually he was able to come back and prove he was the capable fighting man they knew him to be. Right now, Jones is no good to us. He needs to be sent away from the front lines until he can get himself right. And not be further damaged in what is already a lost cause. 

--On the one hand, I don't know what the most rabid anti-Jones critics think any quarterback could do under these circumstances. A Norse god couldn't get a pass off when a pocket collapses this spectacularly:

But then he nearly got picked in the end zone after trying to loft one in to Hunter Henry instead of just firing it at him. There were other various missed opportunities. Like a 3rd & 2 when Rhamondre Stevenson was uncovered as his outlet flat receiver and a guaranteed 1st down, but he passed up the easy toss to hold the ball and look for someone coming open deep, before finally choosing this option:

That's the one that inspired Bill O'Brien to do his Bobby Cox impression in Jones' ear. Because nowhere in the 100 or so practices they've had together has O'Brien ever had his quarterback work on his Middle Aged Wine Mom Lobbing a Ball Into a Basket in a Survivor Challenge fundamentals. It was safer when Jones just flat out didn't see his receivers coming wide open at the sticks on crossing routes:

--There is no better illustration of the utter ineptitude of the Patriots passing game than this spray chart:

Two attempts of more than 10 yards, and one of those was a red zone pick. None as long as 15. FIFTEEN! This is the passing chart of Keith Molesworth for the 1932 Bears when they had six ties in a season and had positions that don't exist any more like flankers and split ends. This shouldn't exist in a modern NFL offense. I'm willing to bet the only time there's been a spread like this in the last 50 years was that Pats game at Buffalo that was like it was played with jet engines going on both goalposts going full throttle. I look at this it makes me want to hop the first Acela to Philadelphia and beg Matt Patricia to accept my apologies.

--Before we move onto other topics thought, it's worth revisiting the big one. To go back to the crime scene and put down all those little plastic tents with the numbers on them and piece together the fatal shot that got him benched:

There are no words. Play action out of 12 personnel. Ezekiel Elliot stayed home in pass protection before releasing into the flat. Shaquille Leonard was spying him. Julian Blackmon came up in run support but did nice job identifying the fake and dropping into the seam/curl zone. But was nowhere near getting back to Mike Gesicki's area as he came free on a corner route. Jones had a clean pocket. He simply didn't step into it. The classic front foot throw of a QB who's taken one too many hits. Ted Lasso put more on the dart toss he beat Rupert with. As to why he threw it like that, I'm in no mood to be curious; just judgmental.

--One thing that will be lost in the bright light of Mac Jones' implosion will be the performance of the offensive line. But it shouldn't be. I can't ever remember such a schizophrenic game from any unit. In the passing game, they were Bruce Banner. I can't recall a single time the Colts had to send an extra rusher. Even down two of their top defensive lineman, they generated all that heat with just four defeating five and sometimes six blockers (Tyquan Lewis hurdled a low block from Rhamondre Stevenson to blow up a 3rd & 2 on the Pats fourth possession). But in the running game, they went full Hulk. Particularly between the guards, where (L to R) Cole Strange, David Andrews and Sidy Sow  were blasting open holes on Dives and Powers all game. But also on the right side behind Sow (who's settled in nicely at the RG spot) and Michael Onwenu were effectively throwing down blocks to open up the Slants and Counters for both backs. For example, on the opening drive, back to back runs by Ezekiel Elliot behind Sow and Onwenu, one for 9 and the next for 6, set up the Pats with a 2nd & 1 at the Indy 24 before a sack killed it and they had to settle for a field goal. One of the oldest and most tired football cliches is that you can't win if you can't stop the run. But whoever first started saying that never saw the 2023 New England Patriots. Now we should never have to hear it again.

--This seems like as good a segue as any to transition to the Patriots defense. Specifically, how it is utterly incapable of generating pressure unless it sends extra rushers. (Can you say "blitz" in Germany, or are our gracious hosts a little touchy about that? Moving on …) Absent Matthew Judon there is no one who's shown he has the quick-twitch speed to beat tackles off the edge. Josh Uche took 17 snaps but he's basically an NPC at this point. Keion White saw his first action at defensive end since preseason, on the left opposite Deatrich Wise, and was pretty well contained by Braden Smith. So as a result, the best they could do was put Gardner Minshew in a box. Rather flimsy ones at that. Like when the Amazon guy leaves it on the steps without a plastic bag and it rains. Because Minshew tore through the carboard with minimal effort. Nowhere was the difference between the New England offense, where everything has to work perfectly to get any results at all, and seemingly every other NFL system in which everything can break down and they still make big plays out of structure, more evident than on this little 3rd & 6 when the Pats absolutely needed to make a stop:

And do you really want to be miserable? Sure, Old Balls! We love misery! Bring on that sweet, sweet unhappiness! Josh Downs is a rookie the Colts drafted in the 3rd round. Minshew was the 179th pick five drafts ago who has kicked around the league and, oh yeah, is the backup to the franchise QB they took 4th overall this year. Together they're able to do something that is impossible in our little corner of the world.

--Here's another example, from the Colts touchdown drive. Another 4-man rush, but with Mack Wilson at LDE. See if you can see any similarities between the two:

If you drew a circle around Myles Bryant trailing three steps behind the target because he's incapable of staying in phase with any receiver he's assigned to for more than a nanosecond. The zone he patrols is the Field of Dreams. It's where quarterback incentive bonuses come true. He's a mortal lock to win the Man of the Year Award from Drew Rosenhaus' agency. Still, he was third in snaps among the cornerbacks with 41. And at this point, it's inexplicable. 

--Let's stick with the coaching, because there's some explaining to do. If it's me in charge, I'd put a punt returner on the punt return team in order to return the punt that gets punted to us, instead of letting it roll 70 yards for no reason. But what do I know about such high level strategic thinking? I'm also the kind of moron who'd attempt a Hail Mary with 0:02 in the half and 60 yards away from the end zone. Because in my simplistic risk/reward analysis, the chances of success may have been slim, but the downside is practically non-existent. But that again, is just conventional wisdom at work. Next-level thinkers try a wide receiver screen. Why, you might even think it wise to throw the occasional challenge flag when it's questionable that Michael Pittman got his knee down in bounds, like a dummy. Just remember that Nick Folk just set a record for consecutive successful field goal attempts of under 40 yards, and don't question why your rookie just blew a 35-yarder. Genius is hard for us lay people to understand.

--Here's our probable new QB1. Clearly his Fake Spike game could use some refinement. But he throws a nice interception too:

--Not to be lost in this debacle was how cool the game presentation in Frankfurt was. Music that perfectly pandered to the tastes of an overwhelmingly New England Boomer audience. More crowd noise than we've heard in Gillette all year. And the kind of ingenuity and innovations the Germans have been using to dominate the luxury car market for generations:

If the Patriots can ever get back to not embarrassing themselves and all of us, I hope they get back there. But that day doesn't seem to be coming any time soon.

--This Week's Applicable Movie Quote: "This is how we say goodbye in Germany, Dr. Jones. [smack]" - Voegel, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

--I'd say "Buy a shirt," but these are no longer available. And not collector's items, either:

--I'm going to end this where it began, with a disaster. A big, powerful piece of precision engineering that was once the marvel of the western world, until in the blink of an eye it became outdated and obsolete. Then crashed and burned before our very eyes. And I'm the guy who finds himself standing at the bottom of the tower in Manchester Township who once gazed in wide wonder upon this behemoth, but now can only stare in horror as it goes up in a spectacular fireball. Oh, the humanity. 

Giphy Images.