The game was one-sided, but it’s wrong to feel like the Patriots played perfectly…
1. Tom Brady
One way to shut your doubters up is to shred a defense on the road in the next week. It seemed all too predictable that the game would be a quarterback duel, and it absolutely was.
Most of Brady’s struggles in Week 1 can be attributed to Kansas City’s defensive scheme of stacking the box and taking away the middle of the field for short and intermediate throws, and New Orleans is absolutely incapable of even trying that. In fact, the middle of the field was wide open the entire game.
Saints rookie LB Alex Anzalone has been beaten for both touchdowns so far. Patriots 13, Saints 3 with 5:29 left 1Q
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) September 17, 2017
The Saints have bad corners, but their linebacking core is even worse. Rookie linebacker Alex Anzalone got torched because he was unable to match the speed of New England’s passing targets. If you watched Do Your Job II, you’ll remember how much the Patriots love to pick on slow linebackers. Boy, did they ever.
It’s one thing to play a bad defense, it’s another to throw for 447 yards and 3 touchdowns on them. His throws were deadly accurate from deep and in mid-range over the middle.
From a numbers standpoint, it’s absurd to even suggest that Brady is showing his age after his Week 2 performance. Actually, that’s not entirely true. He did show off his veteran awareness by recognizing two penalties on interceptions and on a pick play that was in fact over the line of scrimmage. Also, he and Gronk are definitely on the same page now, so take from that what you will.
2. Deatrich Wise Jr.
You already know @GregABedard is thrilled that Deatrich Wise is having a game
— ScoutWithBrian (@SportsGarland) September 17, 2017
You know what’s been the worst part of the Patriots defense this year? Their front seven!
With injuries abound, the Patriots really needed a performance like that of the rookie out of Arkansas. Wise and Trey Flowers were teammates in college, and it’s not hard to see how well they work together. He made use of all of his freakish size to manhandle the Saints’ O-Line and hit Brees five different times, sacking him once. There’s an obvious difference between the Saints and Kansas City’s O-Line, but 2017 4th round pick Deatrich Wise and undrafted free agent Adam Butler seemed to play better than Hightower and Alan Branch, who were both out with injuries.
So Guy and Adam Butler getting early reps up front, playing for Branch and Hightower
— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) September 17, 2017
While Wise looked raw the in preseason and most of Week 1, he looked and played much more maturely against New Orleans. I’m of the mind that losing Trey Flowers would be the biggest hit to the defense, so the defensive end is one position that needs unsung heroes.
3. Rob Gronkowski
Week 1 against the Chiefs almost made you forget that Gronk was healthy, Week 2 didn’t. Gronk’s size and strength were on full display against poor linebackers that aren’t as fast as him, and corners that aren’t as tall as him. This was the game that plainly stated, “we have Gronk and you don’t.”
The Patriots played basketball with Gronk. He had one-on-one matchups and all Brady had to do was send Gronk up the field and catch it, because he was the taller and stronger guy to catch the ball. The game plan was to get Gronk in single coverage and it worked later in the game.
Gronk did get hurt with a groin injury, but it’s not supposed to be serious. He also dropped a perfect throw from Brady, but I’m nitpicking at this point.
Honorable Mention: Kicking Unit
Patriots kicking unit looked like a NASCAR pit crew in those closing seconds, not an iota of wasted movement, awesome to watch
— Nick O'Malley (@nickjomalley) September 17, 2017
A blowout win over a bad Saints defense probably didn’t thrill Bill Belichick very much. The Patriots defense knew Drew Brees was going to throw all across the yard, and they let Brees do it.
There was one event that should keep Belichick in a good mood while preparing for Houston this week, though: With no timeouts and seconds to go before the half, the Patriots offense was deep in Saints territory. In about three seconds flat, the offense got off the field and the kicking unit ran on to the field, and Gostkowski nailed the field goal to end the half.
I saw how well the Patriots were able to create space, how McDaniels was able to open up the middle for Brady, and Scarnecchia’s blocking scheme that kept the Saints’ pass rush mostly silent, but the kicking unit’s quick transition onto the field was what made me say, “Wow, this team is well-coached.” It was symbolic of how well the Patriots know their stuff. Even in games where they’re overmatched, they’ll still pull off wins by the fact that they know the game better than the other team. Heck, Brady and Belichick know the rules better than the paid officials.
1. Malcolm Butler
Belichick on why Eric Rowe started over Malcolm Butler: "There were a lot of things that go into it, but that's what we decided to do."
— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) September 18, 2017
Ok, you’re wondering what the Patriots are doing with Malcolm Butler. If Butler is getting dealt at some point, his game against the team he almost signed with was not a good audition.
To start the game, Butler was benched in favor of 6’1 Eric Rowe (who was pretty decent), and we’re all trying to figure out why.
Malcolm Butler, who already was given a reduced role, got caught up in traffic and allowed a TD to Brandon Coleman.
— Doug Kyed (@DougKyed) September 17, 2017
When Butler finally made it out, he got beat by a totally original *wink wink* pick play, causing the Saints’ Brandon Coleman to make an easy catch in the endzone for a touchdown.
Look, there are two sides of the coin. The first, is that Belichick is being truthful when he said he wanted Rowe and Gilmore (both over 6′) to cover New Orleans’ receivers. The change could also be influenced by Butler’s poor play in preseason and in Week 1.
The second *adjusts tinfoil hat* is that Butler, a good soldier ever since he came here, is now in the doghouse with Bill. We saw this with Jamie Collins last year, after his “freelancing” as a linebacker brought Belichick to send Collins to Cleveland.
Poor play coupled with possible off-field issues (fighting, drugs, arguing) is an easy ticket out of Foxboro. Kony Ealy is the latest player Bill made an example of, by cutting him before the 53-man roster. Both the Butler Saga and the “why is Jimmy G still here” question may soon reach their ends very soon.
2. Patrick Chung
Chung isn’t the best safety out there, but we know what he is and what he does. Chung is a strong tackler, but line him up 1-on-1 like a corner and bad things happen.
Guess what? That’s exactly what happened Sunday. Chung was the player Brees saw as the weak spot in the Patriots defense, and he had no reservations about throwing Chung’s way.
Patrick Chung has been targeted heavily in this one. I have him down for allowing four catches on eight targets for 66 yards with a TD, PBU.
— Doug Kyed (@DougKyed) September 17, 2017
By nature, safeties aren’t as great as corners at being corners. Chung is where he is because he can swoop in and make a tackle when coverages bust. Safeties, especially on the New England defense, are trying to avoid the big chunk plays.
He stuck with tight end Coby Fleener the whole way, but he got beat for a 35-yard touchdown. That was one of eight targets on Chung all day, which makes up about a fifth of Brees’ pass attempts on the day. If you pay attention to PFF rankings, Chung is among the worst at his position, and has the worst PFF grade at his position among all of New England’s defensive starters.
To Chung’s credit, he did step up as a punt returner. The expectation for the Patriots defense was that they, like the offense, had a good opportunity to earn back some respect. While the defense did not break as much as it bent, it wasn’t all that stout.
As you’ll see with my last “down” player, this was not a good week for the corners and safeties.
3. Stephon Gilmore
Before we move any further into discussing Stephon Gilmore, he’s a B+ corner making A money (8th highest of all corners, according to Over The Cap), all because Bill wanted another corner in case Butler left and a taller corner to play against taller receivers. He’s overpaid, but not by all that much. Corners are expensive! Look at what Josh Norman got from Washington, what Xavier Rhodes got from Minnesota, what A.J. Bouye got from Jacksonville, and so on. Corner is a skill position, and the market and draft interest reflects that. This is also why the undrafted Malcolm Butler is an anomaly.
Gilmore’s job for the New England defense is to block off traffic going his way, and make tackles when it does. In the event his receiver makes a catch, Gilmore is going to bring him down and he’s probably not going far after.
As we’ve seen already in Week 1, Gilmore makes mistakes when he covers while thinking he has safety help behind him when he doesn’t. I got on him and McCourty for getting burned by Tyreek Hill on the unexpected Alex Smith deep ball, and that touchdown was the point where everything fell apart for New England.
The 42-yard pass to Brandon Coleman was a weird play. Stephon Gilmore got knocked down by a pick, then just stayed on his knees and watched. pic.twitter.com/HcolugbPYu
— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) September 18, 2017
Like his partner Malcolm Butler, Gilmore got buried in a pick and couldn’t (or just didn’t) get back fast enough to finish the play. Mike Giardi tweeted that Gilmore was playing through a leg injury, and that may have been the cause for Gilmore not to get up and finish the play.
Either way, another knock on Gilmore is just that: he shuts down on plays where he gets beat, much unlike Malcolm Butler who made a name for himself by sticking with the play.
If Butler does in fact get traded mid-season, the pressure will be on the big-money corner to perform. The Patriots can make do with an okay defense like last year, but the amount of injuries may make that difficult.
Honorable Mention: The microphones
The old wives’ tale is that the Patriots make it difficult for opposing teams in indirect ways. Of course I mean, the cameras, microphones, locker rooms and gasp the footballs. In their home game against the Dolphins last season, Miami’s microphones did not work.
If there is any truth to that, the Saints wanted to give Belichick and the Patriots a taste of their own medicine.
Bill Belichick credits coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia for working through communication issues before and during game.
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) September 17, 2017
Not that it mattered, since the Patriots know all the ins and outs of their playbook to the point where microphones aren’t necessary. The scoreboard also supports this theory.
Overall, this was an acceptable bounce-back from the Kansas City loss, and all signs point to a better effort from the Patriots defense against a slumping Texans offense at home next week.