Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 2: Patriots vs. Saints

Kim Jong Un

 Things to consider while expecting Kim Jong Un to shut down his nuclear program once he witnesses this display of Tom Brady’s capabilities:

*I think we’ve seen so many bounce back wins like this over the years, we’re incapable of being as impressed as we should be. After getting atomic-wedgied on Banner Night at home, a grossly undermanned Patriots team goes on the road against a quality, well-coached team and gives them an almost historic curb stomping. Once again due to Bill Belichick’s ability to take role players, special teamers, fullbacks and guys who just got here and give them the trigger words that turn them into Winter Soldiers.

*I don’t use the word “historic” lightly. A buddy of mine did a search on this and figured out that quarterbacks have had as many passing yards as Brady’s 447 with three or more touchdowns and no picks exactly three times in NFL history: Ben Roethlisberger’s inhuman 522-yard, 6 touchdown game in 2014, an Aaron Rodgers 480-yard, 4 TD game in 2013, and once by Tommy Kramer. But what makes Brady’s game yesterday unique in all the world is that none of those guys were throwing to a wideout wearing a neck roll.

*Given the fact that by halftime the offense around Brady looked like the Japanese army 1945, all conscripts, old men and teenagers who could barely hold a rifle, you could take any one of his 30 completions at random and it would be a remarkable throw. But the one that stands alone was the 53 yard touchdown to Gronk.

*New Orleans was in a Cover-2. And the Pats ran Brandin Cooks and Phillip Dorsett on vertical routes to draw the safeties and Gronk dragging Alex Anzalone with him on a shallow cross, so Brady had to hold the ball to let the play develop. By the time he released the ball, his pocket had collapsed to the point it was like he’d just gotten on the 5:15 Braintree train out of South Station. Even with no ability to step into it, he still managed to deliver a ball on the money, 20 yards in the air on a total arm-throw. If this is what Brady’s “cliff” looks like, every quarterback should hurl themselves off it like lemmings.

*I think what we also saw a lot of was Brady and the receivers adjusting to what went wrong last week. Where they tried to force a lot of deep shots upfield against Kansas City, against the Saints they kept running what they call “Alert post” where the speed guys run at the safeties, and if they stay deep, break off the route into a comeback. Brady hit Dorsett for a 23-yarder with one such route to set up the third touchdown and Cooks on a diving catch at the 2 to set up Mike Gillislee’s TD that made it 27-13. Which demonstrates not only that the Pats offense is reacting to what opponents have seen on their game tape, but that Brady and the few receivers he has might be in the beginning stages of developing that Vulcan Mind Meld he has with Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.

*A ton of credit for this one goes to Josh McDaniels. He was dealt a pair of Jacks and rest all discards and still managed to put together a winning hand. Show me another coordinator in the league who would ever take an offense dressing three wideouts and come out mostly in empty sets. Who would split James Develin out into Max Split, six yards outside the numbers. (Note to self: In case you ever get into EDM, consider using the name DJ Max Split.) Who would still scheme a way to keep the Saints’ D off balance by Optimus Priming from 3X1 sets to 22-personnel (2 backs, 2 tight ends), rather than just go one dimensional with that roster he was handed. Don’t bother looking. You won’t find one.

*By way of examples, there was a sequence in the middle of the 2nd when Brady had just hit Gronk on a seam route for 17 yards. So they came out in a 3X1 with James White in the backfield to spread the defense, checked to a draw play and White picked up seven. Next with a similar formation, Dorsett motioned into the backfield to block, Brady pump-faked the halfback screen and hit Chris Hogan wide open on an Over route after Kenny Vaccaro took a massive bite out of the fake. Early in the 4th, after Gronk went out) McDaniels had Dwayne Allen at tight end and four wide with Hogan as the Z. Dion Lewis motioned to the backfield and they play-actioned him. The linebacker froze, AJ Klein was slow to react, and White caught a seam route. That’s the kind of game plan that puts defensive coordinators on a diet of peanut butter and Dexedrine sandwiches.

*A more standard but still smart move by McDaniels was getting Dorsett and Cooks into the flow with end arounds and keeping the Saints guessing with play actions off the end arounds. Just a great, simple way to get guys used to handling the ball.

*The most encouraging moment watching Dorsett get acclimated to the McOffense was that ball that got them down into the red zone for their last score. He was in the slot, the corner pressed to take away his inside release, so Dorsett hand-fought him, got outside and with a safety making it middle of the field closed (MOFC), he stemmed off his route toward the flag and caught a contested ball. Between the get-off, the speed, the read and the catch, that’s like four great plays to make one.

*Brady’s best moments though might have been when he twice got the officials to change calls. One on the pick play, when he might have been the only guy on the field who knew that one-yard rule. And the other when he chucked the ball deep to draw the 12-men on the field penalty. Which the refs overturned even without the Pats using a challenge flag. I’m 90 percent certain he also sold them all the TB12 Method book and subscriptions to the meal plan.

*Overall it was a well-officiated game, so I’m not going to whine about anything. But the Brandon Coleman touchdown was the result of a pick on Malcolm Butler that was 10 times more blatant than the one the Pats got away with. And Gronk’s drop in the end zone came on a route where he got egregiously grabbed a good eight yards past the LOS. Again, I’m not bitching. But there is clearly a separate, Shaquille O’Neal-like set of rules for defending him.

*Not that we’ll have to worry about it for a while. Because yet again he’ll be out for some indeterminate amount of time with a non-specific injury to some part of his anatomy. Where we won’t get any answers from the team outside of the injury report. And where the “Glasskowski” crowd will once again be impossible to live with. I just accept it now. It’s the price you pay for watching him catch his 69th TD before he turns 29. Living with the realization that every reception ending with a garden variety tackle could be his last for a while, a season, maybe ever. It’s our lot in life. It’s not a lot, but it’s our life.

*I just know that I’ve already developed a mortal fear of the Blue Tent from Which No Traveler Returns. They might as well just have Pennywise peaking out of there and completely destroy my soul.

*On the defensive side, it looks like Belichick and Matt Patricia managed to rebuild most of the Lego car that Andy Reid shattered on the floor last week. At least we can see how the main pieces are expected to fit together. Their base is definitely a Big Nickel, with Pat Chung playing full time in the box at Robber, or what Nick Saban calls “Rat”. With Kyle Van Noy at right outside linebacker, Trey Flowers on the left, Elandon Roberts in the middle, Malcom Brown at nose and – from the clouds – your defensive ends are Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler. There’s a better chance you’ll produce a perfect March Madness bracket than you saw that coming even two weeks ago.

*Still, the major area of concern looked … not horrible? I guess? The are able to generate a pass rush, inconsistent though it is. Their passing down front is Van Noy over center rushing or dropping, behind Butler, Guy and Deatrich Wise, who flashed at times. He killed that drive right after the half when he got his inside shoulder outside Andrus Peat and turned the corner for the sack. He also got in one a few run plays, like a 2nd & 2 when he sliced through his gap to get the TFL. And on the very next play got his arms around Drew Brees’ ankle to force an incompletion.

*By the way, I’ll add Peat to a list that includes Anzalone and Kenny Vaccaro as Saints players who qualify for full time Comfort Dogs after this game.

*If nothing else, they didn’t get gashed by the run after Kansas City split them like a piece of firewood. I thought Van Noy in particular stepped up. One play he he was playing force on an outside pitch to Mark Ingram, guarding against the cutback. But he was able to blow up a double team of Coleman and Peat and bring him down for the loss. That’s just one play. But with an undersized box and relying on (the wicked reliable) Devin McCourty to come up in run support, they at least forced New Orleans outside and prevented the big home runs. It’s progess.

*Like I said on Laces Out, I am so-far-so-good on Tony Romo. He checks every box as far as telling us stuff we’d otherwise not pick up on, not taking himself too seriously, admitting when he screws up, not lapsing into cliches. I mean, if I was advising him I would’ve told him to crop dust Jim Nantz with a massive fart on Day One, just to sort of mark his territory and show he won’t be bullied the way Phil Simms was. But Nantz looks like a guy who just got out of an abusive relationship and is totally smitten with his new love.

*Speaking of loving relationships, here are your final Patriots’ drives after that fourth touchdown and the offense completely having their way with NOLA: field goal, punt, field goal, field goal, punt. That final punt especially proving that Sean Payton is an honored foreign dignitary in Patriots Land, undeserving of even the last minute FU field goal.

*This Week’s Applicable Movie Quote: “Longing. Rusted. Seventeen. Daybreak. Furnace. Nine. Benign. Homecoming. One. Freight car.” – Captain America: Winter Soldier

*On the subject of movies, I love the first Kingsman. And it aggravates me to no end that Colin Firth went from dying a shocking death due to a bullet in the head from the gun of Samuel L. Jackson to showing up in the sequel missing an eye. It’s more of the JJ Abramsing of all movies and TV. Whatever happened before doesn’t matter. Logic is nothing. Just keep cranking out the new stories. They just better not tell us that the Swedish princess didn’t actually do anal with Eggsy at the end of the original one.

*Back to the defense: It looked much more like their default setting: Nothing over your head, play inside-to-out, use the sidelines to limit the damage. Granted like three different Saints had catches of 30+, but there were not massive breakdowns. Even that long one to Coleman looked like a simple matter of Stephon Gilmore lining up at the same level as the slot corner, a bad mistake because it let’s one receiver take two guys out of the play. That is easily correctable. It’ll just take him time to unlearn his Buffalo Billsness.

*Sneaky the unit that has best done the Next Man Up has been special teams. Absent core-4 guys like Mathew Slater and Nate Ebner, guys like Jonathan Jones and Harvey Langi have been beating coverage and stuffing returns, which is huge when you’re constructing a defense out of scraps. Langi’s killshot on Alvin Kamara is the reason he’s on the roster.

*Now if someone can just explain why David Harris (two plays in Week 1, zero plays in Week 2) is still here taking up oxygen, that’d be great.