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Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 11: Patriots vs. Raiders

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Things to consider while sharing the rich tradition of Masshole Culture with the good people of Mexico City:

*We’ve been so immersed in great coaching for so long now, it’s important that every so often we get exposed to average coaching, just so we can fully appreciate how good we have it. We need someone to measure Bill Belichick against, for perspective. In the way that kids books about dinosaurs will show how big a Brachiosaurus would be next to an elephant and a man, to give it scale. Which is why we need a Jack Del Rio on the schedule ever few weeks.

*Ten years ago, Tom Brady faced Del Rio’s Jacksonville defense in the playoffs and went 26-for-28. Read that again. It is not a typo. And in the decade since, Brady has gotten better, and Del Rio keeps running the same shitty soft zones at him, the same ineffective rush schemes, the same undisguised coverages that Brady reads like, well like a kids book about dinosaurs, while expecting that this will be the time they finally work. Do you remember The Brady Bunch Movie? If you don’t, you should. The first one and the sequel would’ve been up for Oscars if the Academy had any respect for comedy. Anyway, in it, every time Mr. Brady comes up with an architectural design, it looks exactly like the Brady house. Until one client tells his boss, “I think you’re kind of pumping a dry well, here.” That’s Jack Del Rio. And the tragically funny part of is, there are a lot of NFL coaches exactly like him.

*Contrast that with Josh McDaniels and what he cooked up for Oakland. He took an old traditional recipe and put his own spin on it to produce a whole new flavor profile. Sorry. I’ve been watching a lot of cooking shows getting ready for Thanksgiving. Anyway, presented with a defense that spent the week practicing on a field 7,000 feet lower than the one they were playing on, he spread them out and went no-huddle, but went after them with a short, controlled passing game that moved the chains and kept them on the field. Then it was just a matter of waiting the Raiders out until they lost patience and started trying to take away those underneath zones away, then he attacked them deep. It was a game plan that was beautifully presented and done to perfection. Really, great job. Again, I’m sorry. This Food Network high I’m on will be over soon.

*In particular, I like the way he utilizes Cooks. These zone defenders know they have to give him a cushion, so in the early going he’s running them off and killing them with stop routes, waiting for them to adjust so he can eventually go over the top and outrun them. And just in terms of his precise route running and sharp cuts, he’s as good as any outside receiver (ie not Wes Welker or Julian Edelman) they’ve ever had.

*There’s no better example of how Brady has the cheat codes to the kind of zone Oakland runs than that Danny Amendola touchdown that made it 14-0. First of all, that whole possession, the Patriots put it into hyperdrive, running the hurry up with 1.21 jigowatts of power to the point CBS didn’t even have time to run replays of downs like Reggie Nelson and TJ Carrie getting burned by Cooks (“burned by Cooks!” OK, that one was not intentional) on a simple Go route or Rob Gronkowski finding a seam between three defenders at the sticks or Gronk’s 3rd & 11 catch that put the ball at the 3.

*So when faced with the Raiders’ goal line D, Brady started adjusting. He gestured James White from the slot to the backfield. Motioned Gronk to slide outside of Cooks. Amendola in the slot on the other side of the formation got the signals for “Look into my eyes,” “Use your noodle,” “I L-O-V-E-Y-O-U” in American Sign Language, Jazz Hands, and the shadow puppet of a soaring eagle. All of which somehow meant that there would be a spot between zones under the goal posts between Shalom Luani and the other safety. There was.

*And likewise, for what feels like the millionth week in a row, they refused to let an elite pass rusher get into any kind of a rhythm. Just like they had done with Von Miller last week, they kept Kalil Mack guessing as to who would hit him on any given play. They chipped him with the backs, sometimes left LaAdrian Waddle (who did get beat once) or Cameron Fleming take him with a back available. Other times the tight ends helped or simply took him 1-on-1, like Dwayne Allen did on the 64 yard TD to Cooks. And just to go back to the coaching comparisons, contrast that with the way Dallas last week just threw a backup left tackle in Adrian Clayborn’s way with no help, no adjustments, just left him on his own to give up six sacks. You would never see that here. Fortunately, that is someone else’s reality, not ours.

*On that Cooks touchdown, it was exactly how Tony Romo described it. You had a single high safety. I don’t know if it was a straight Go route or if it was a Seam Read, where if the middle of the field is open (MOFO), the receiver stems off his route and runs a post. But you could see that Brady read it from the second they lined up. He caught Obi Melifonwu looking into the backfield for some inexplicable reason with his only safety sitting in the deep middle, and once Cooks got one step on him, the play was over.

*Just so we’re clear, how do the people of Mexico City feel about American football? Do they like it? That point was sort of lost on me. I remember Tracy Wolfson saying they really like it a lot. And Romo mentioned they love it a time or two. And if I’m not mistaken, Jim Nantz revisited the issue and confirmed that yes, in fact, they are excited about having the game there. And Tracy agreed, if I remember correctly. And in case you missed it, they had a lot of fun in the pregame, cheering a wicked lot. And deserve to have a team of their own someday, a point that was not lost on me the first 20 times it came up. Trump complains all the time about human traffickers smuggling people across the border. No one says a word about the NFL sending people down there to prostitute themselves.

*I think reality is starting to settle in with Romo. Initially he was that girl that you hit it off with right away, you had surprisingly good chemistry and liked her a lot. But now you’ve been around her enough to start noticing the little flaws. The annoying habits. That nervous talking-too-much thing. The weird way she mispronounces certain words. She’s still not terrible, just not the dream girl you believed she was at first. Just to cite one example, with Oakland driving at the end of the half, he commended them for running the clock down. “They are playing this perfectly” were his exact words. They were down 14-0 at the time. And let me repeat, they had the ball. But he was congratulating them for having the foresight to give themselves less time to score. So instead, Trey Flowers punches the ball away from Seth Roberts, the Patriots recover and aggressively attack downfield to set up Stephen Gostkowski’s 62-yarder. Perfectly, my ass.

*Although if you’re a fan of socially awkward moments, you had to love the excruciating dead silence after he told Nantz he was drinking Coronas, given that half their paychecks are paid in Budweiser Bucks. At that exact moment, between CBS, the ad agencies and Anheiser-Busch, about a hundred millionaires spit Chivas Regal all over their butlers’ suits.

*But nothing will ever top the magical moment they did the shot of Mr. Kraft and Jonathan, sitting there fully immersed in the game, the elder statesman with his Super Bowl ring cufflinks. Then they do the immediate cutaway to Mark Davis, with his Lloyd Christmas hair, munching on his Goldfish crackers or whatever and just being … special. They better make the owner’s box on his stadium in Vegas open air, because it’ll be a bad look for the league when he’s licking the windows.

*At some point we’re going to have to begin to acknowledge that Kyle Van Noy is playing a high level. I’m not getting ahead of myself here. I’m not saying he’s Luke Kuechly. Just that he’s become this solid, dependable spill technique player that if the line does their jobs and takes care of their gap assignments, he’ll be able to finish the play off, sideline to sideline. Take for instance that play early on when he met Jalen Richard, who had a full head of steam, took him dead balls on and stopped him in his tracks. And he can cover some. Again, he’s not a star by any stretch. But just in terms of his size, speed and the way he reads a play, I’m getting some Roman Phifer out of him. And I mean that as a definite compliment.

*The interior defensive line had a tough day. They rotated through a lot, and while Trey Flowers played his usual good game – two tackles, two assists, half a sack and a pressure that got them off the field on a 3rd & 11 in the 3rd quarter, and I liked what little I saw of Ricky Jean-Francois (the armbar he buried DeAndre Washington with especially), I thought for the most part the tackles got pushed around in a way that would’ve cost them a game where the opposing receivers could hold onto a ball and their best back isn’t 95 in running back years.

*That’s two very good weeks in a row for Stephon Gilmore. He’s doing exactly what they brought him here to do: Take on the biggest receiver on the field and neuter him. Against Denver, it was Demaryius Thomas. With Oakland, it was Michael Crabtree, who caught about half his targets, barely cracked 50 yards and who’s longest catch was 15 yards, and that was with Johnson Bademosi in coverage. I mean, we could live without him getting dehydrated, because I believe there’s readily available supply of products that can prevent it. But still. The day they signed him, that pass he broke up in the end zone on Crabtree was what I expected. And now we’re getting it, without any of the messy breakdowns we were seeing two months ago.

*My only disappointment is that we never got to see Stephen Gostkowski get the Belichick Completely Unnecessary But History Making Moment treatment. Think Vinny Testaverde getting to throw a touchdown for the 21st consecutive year or Doug Flutie’s dropkick. The Patriots had their chances to let a drive die on their own side of the 50 and let him try for a 70-yarder. Even if it meant going backwards and taking a knee. It’s not like Brett Favre laying down so Michael Strahan could break the sack record. He still would’ve had to make the kick. And now he’ll probably never get the chance to kick up in the ionosphere ever again. Sad.

*On a related note, atmospheric conditions will affect footballs? Is this a new thing? Does the NFL know about it? And are they still measuring the psi level in the balls? I’m just curious because I remember when that was a thing.

*Joe Thuney is the most improved player on the Patriots. Shaq Mason might be the best right guard in football right now. And Ted Karras was so good subbing in for Dave Andrews that you never once thought about how Ted Karras was filling in for Dave Andrews. But the best thing I can say about the O-line, besides how they handled Mack, is that Bruce Irvin was a total non-factor. He didn’t even start the obligatory fist fight like he did with Gronk at the end of Super Bowl XLIX, which is kind of his signature move. He was out there for ¾ of the Patriots snaps, but you couldn’t find him with a Marauder’s Map.

*This Week’s Applicable Movie Quote: Seth: “Why, out of all the God-forsaken shitholes in Mexico, do we have to meet here?” Carlos: “One place is just as good as another.” – From Dusk Til Dawn

*Since I was keeping score at home, it was: Chantrix helps the old guy who likes to bake quit smoking, but will give you nausea and suicidal thoughts. And Entresto helps patients with heart disease, but will harm or kill your unborn baby. Thanks for all you’re doing, Big Pharma!

*Is it being xenophobic to say I think that ideally, locker rooms shouldn’t be so far from the bench and such an ordeal to get to that it sounds like the stories my dad told me about his walk to school where he carried a hot potato in his pocket to stay warm and then at the potato for lunch? Or is it cultural appropriation? I’m not really sure how that works. I’m just saying that before I’d schedule another game at Azteca, I’d build a new locker room closer to the players – a beautiful locker room, really so beautiful, you’ll love it – and I’d make Mexico pay for it.

*But the important thing is that they are wonderful hosts and a fantastic people who love football, in case you’d forgotten.

*Brady is averaging 314 yards per game. The defense hasn’t given up more than 17 points in a game in six weeks. And all but one of their remaining games are against AFC East teams, which are all in free fall. I admit I was panicking four weeks into the season. I apologize to anyone I may have offended. Now let us never speak of it again.