EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — the Monday Night Football matchup touted as a potential trap game for the Patriots was never even competitive.
New England trounced the New York Jets in their building, scoring 24 points in the first 22 minutes and forcing six turnovers in a 33-0 shutout.
The Jets were hyped up as candidates to turn around their season with quarterback Sam Darnold’s return leading to an upset win over the Dallas Cowboys last week.
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Well, they were frauds, and the Pats blitzed the daylights out of Darnold, who admitted that Halloween came early when the ESPN mics caught him saying he was “seeing ghosts” out there.
Outside of a defensive battle in Buffalo, the Patriots haven’t been tested with the Jets looking like a JV team rather than a unit prepared to take on the defending champs.
But what the New England defense is doing in the first half of the season is downright silly, allowing only 3.9 points per game.
The Patriots can be more consistent on offense and will need to stand up defensively to stiffer competition in the future, but make no mistake about it, this team this season is darn good.
Here are ten things we learned as the Patriots improved to a perfect 7-0 on the season:
1. Patriots Defense Had Sam Darnold “Seeing Ghosts” on Monday Night
Darnold admitting to “seeing ghosts” in the pocket was quite the compliment for the Patriots defense. In all, Darnold was under pressure on 15 of 33 dropbacks and turned the ball over four times while under pressure.
The Pats defense confused the second-year quarterback by cycling through a creative blitz package that included a heavy dosage of “zero” blitzes, which are all-out pressures where there’s no deep safety allowing the defense to bring six or even seven pass rushers.
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As Jason McCourty explained in the video above, for the defensive backs, it’s all about trusting that the blitzers will get home and feasting off the quick pressure by playing techniques that allow them to make plays.
And linebacker Dont’a Hightower told me it takes “comfortability” from reps in practice to be able to execute those aggressive schemes in games. Hightower also added, “it’s done off of coaching throughout the week.” Let’s get to a few examples.
On Darnold’s very first throw of the game, the Patriots brought the first of many zero pressures.
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As Darnold said after the game, the Pats brought more defenders than the offense has blockers. The Patriots bring seven, and the Jets only have six blockers, somebody is going to have a free run at the QB. To make matters worse, the offensive line blows an assignment, leaving two defenders unblocked. With pressure in his face, Darnold tries to throw hot to the receiver in the flat, but Devin McCourty gets eyes on the quarterback and peels off his man to jump the route.
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Here’s another example of a zero blitz by the Patriots on John Simon’s strip-sack. This time, the Jets correctly slide the protection to Darnold’s left, picking up six of the seven rushers. With more blitzers than blockers, Darnold has to know he’s hot and get rid of the football. Instead, he holds on to the ball for too long, and Simon, the unblocked defender, brings him down.
With Darnold’s head spinning now, the Patriots showed an all-out pressure and then backed off into more of a coverage look.
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On Duron Harmon’s interception, the play that sparked the “seeing ghosts’ comment, the Patriots only brought five rushers playing man-free in the secondary. Man free means that they’re in man-to-man coverage with the free safety roaming in the middle of the field. Darnold reacted to pressure that wasn’t there because of all the exotic blitz looks he had seen at this point and threw up a terrible pick.
Darnold hadn’t thrown an interception against the blitz in his NFL career coming into Monday night’s game. Against the Patriots defense, he threw three of his four INTs against the blitz.
2. Patriots Opening Drive Extravaganza
The Patriots opened the game with a 16-play drive that lasted eight minutes and 47 seconds, the longest opening drive in the NFL this season.
One of my favorite parts of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’s play-calling is how the Pats OC builds off of his calls on a given driven. On the Pats opening drive, McDaniels had a beautiful sequence of jet action plays.
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On the second play of the game, Brady gave the ball to Julian Edelman on a jet sweep that gained nine yards and a first down.
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Later on the drive, the Patriots used a dummy motion to get Sony Michel into the end zone for his first of three touchdowns. This time, they fake the jet handoff to Edelman, and you see the Jets defense flow to the right reacting to the motion. It’s a misdirection toss sweep, and Brady flips it out to Michel for a walk-in touchdown with Ben Watson leading the way.
The Patriots do a fantastic job of giving teams eye candy to screw with undisciplined defenses.
3. Tom Brady Schools Sam Darnold on Monday Night Football
There was such a lopsided differential between the play of the two quarterbacks on Monday night that you almost felt bad for the Jets. Almost. Brady saw the field well, generally had great ball placement, and put on a pocket passing clinic with his awareness and cadences. The contrast in how Brady handled blitzes compared to how Darnold fared against pressure was staggering. Let’s get to a few Brady throws.
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The first throw we’ll highlight was a terrific example of Brady’s ability to maneuver the pocket compared to Darnold’s “ghost” protocol. The Patriots ran play-action and right tackle Marcus Cannon gets beat by speed initially on the edge. Cannon gets his man past Brady at ten yards, which is how it’s taught. At that point, it’s on Brady to step up in the pocket and let the edge rusher fly by him. Brady climbs up in the pocket and throws a dart to Jakobi Meyers on a deep in cut with the middle of the field vacated.
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Because he’s darn good at this, Brady also dropped a dime to Phillip Dorsett for a 26-yard touchdown. Dorsett creates a little bit of separation on a double move, but it’s not much, and Brady still drops it in the bucket for the score. Brady dimes are fun.
Although Brady threw an interception for a fourth-straight game, he was nails to build the lead making some pretty throws along the way.
4. Ben Watson Makes 2019 Season Debut Against Jets
Watson was waived by the team following a four-game suspension before re-signing with the Patriots last Monday. He caught three on five targets with two huge conversions, one on third down and another on fourth down. Watson brings a much-needed middle of the field threat for the Patriots offense, especially when he draws a linebacker in man coverage.
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On his third and five conversion, Brady hit Watson on a crossing pattern against a linebacker to move the chains. The Jets get pressure up the middle, but Brady knows based on the coverage that he has Watson against a linebacker. He sees that Watson has inside positioning and makes the throw.
Out of new tight end Eric Tomlinson, the Patriots need a serviceable blocker. And out of Watson, they need another matchup player against man coverage. Both did their jobs on Monday night.
5. Patriots Offense Rolls Through Six Personnel Groupings
(through three quarters)
Despite injuries at the skill positions, the Patriots still cycled through a variety of different personnel groupings, including a two-tight end package (15 snaps) and a new heavy package on the goal line. The 15 snaps with two tight ends on the field, despite both Tomlinson and Watson signing this past week, was a testament to their ability to get caught up with the playbook to allow McDaniels to use those groupings. As far as the new goal-line package goes, the Patriots unveiled an ultra-heavy grouping with linebacker Elandon Roberts lined up at fullback. Roberts told me that he started practicing at fullback during his rookie season, but they shelved the idea until this past week at practice.
“The Jets have a very physical front,” head coach Bill Belichick said. “They’re a hard team to run against so we were trying to put some guys out there that were competitively matched up size-wise.”
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On Sony Michel’s third touchdown of the night, the Patriots had six offensive linemen on the field with two tight ends and Roberts at fullback. The Pats got just enough push off the right side to get Michel into the end zone.
6. Stephon Gilmore Locks Down Robby Anderson Again
For the fourth consecutive meeting, Pats cornerback Stephon Gilmore erased Jets wide receiver Robby Anderson from the game. With Gilmore in coverage, Darnold only completed one of five passes, and Gilmore joined in on the turnover party with an interception.
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On the interception, the Patriots brought six in the pass rush out of another cover-0 blitz. Gilmore drops almost like a safety into the middle of the field, reading Darnold’s eyes and beating Anderson to the spot on an over route.
In the last four matchups, Gilmore has allowed four catches for 32 yards on 19 targets in coverage on the speedy Anderson.
7. Phillip Dorsett Picks Up the Slack With Josh Gordon Out
The Patriots were banged up at the skill positions and missing Josh Gordon, but they made do by spreading the ball around to several targets. One of those targets was Phillip Dorsett, who has developed into a steady presence for Brady, and a clear top three receiver on the depth chart.
Dorsett made an excellent touchdown grab on a 26-yard go ball from Brady. After the game, Dorsett told me that it was a straight go route, but noted you have to run them differently depending on the matchup.
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Against Jets cornerback Trumaine Johnson, Dorsett set up the route with a terrific setup into the go route. He sees Johnson playing him with inside leverage off the line, so he runs at Johnson’s inside hip to sneak into the blindspot. After hiding out in the blindspot for a second, Dorsett accelerates into the vertical route and creates a tiny bit of separation for Brady.
“You can’t throw the ball any better than that,” Dorsett said.
8. Deatrich Wise Deserves More Love For Contributions This Season
If a defensive player is flying under the radar for the Patriots, it’s defensive end Deatrich Wise. Wise has been one of the more disruptive interior defenders in the league and was wreaking havoc once again in his 19 snaps on Monday night.
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Here, Wise uses great technique against the run to strike with upward momentum to jolt the blocker back. Then, he sheds by working his hands to the outside of the blockers’ shoulder pads and is waiting for Jets running back Le’Veon Bell in the hole. Wise’s efforts force Bell to cut backside where Elandon Roberts is waiting for him.
Wises’s improvements against the run and ability to play as a base defensive end is another factor in Michael Bennett’s limited usage.
9. Brandon Bolden Is Better In Second Stint With Patriots
Following a similar trend to past and current Patriots, running back Brandon Bolden has returned to New England this season and flourished. In his first stint with the Pats, Bolden was primarily a special teamer, but now he’s making regular contributions on offense, both as a ball carrier and receiver.
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On Monday night, it was Bolden the pass catcher that stood out against the Jets. The Patriots emptied the backfield flexing Bolden out wide. Bolden then ran a fade route against Jets cornerback Darryl Roberts. With Roberts in his hip pocket, Brady threw the back shoulder to Bolden who made a terrific adjustment and grab along the sideline.
We should be used to players coming back to the Patriots and shining, but Bolden’s contributions as an offensive weapon this season are stunning.
10. Play of the Game: Terrence Brooks’s Third Quarter Interception
There were several options to choose from for the Patriots, but let’s go with another interception by safety Terrence Brooks.
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The reason we chose this one was that the Patriots once again bluffed a zero blitz out of their amoeba front. They have six defenders lurking around the line of scrimmage. Only four rush the quarterback, but Darnold still felt uncomfortable in the pocket as he did all night, and threw the ball up to Brooks. Here’s Brooks’s take on the play:
“It was some great communication by our veteran safeties. Duron Harmon pretty much got us in a good situation on the play, and we executed. Everyone played off each other, and I saw his eyes get big, so I turned my head and saw the ball. I thought ‘man this is it, I gotta go get it.’ It felt good, it felt like everything was in slow motion, and I came down with it, and it was a relief. It was a relief of everything that I’ve been through to get to this point and be trusted by these coaches to be out there in those critical situations.”