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Chief Thoughts: Analyzing the Patriots’ week 1 game against the Texans

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NFL: Houston Texans at New England Patriots David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

A weekly column analyzing the previous week of football and what to expect moving forward.

A Tale of Two Lines

The Texans were an interesting team because of the significant disparity between their offensive and defensive lines. In theory J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus help make one of the best defensive lines in football. Contrarily, the offensive line is devoid of a single meaningful talent and could be competing for the title of worst offensive line in football. The extremity of this disparity meant this was a great opportunity to test the ceiling of the O-line and the floor of the D-line. I’d say both lines passed the test, though neither were perfect.

The defensive line “only” got three sacks but was constantly pressuring quarterback Deshaun Watson and kept him from using his legs effectively. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the run defense got leaky in the second half, particularly up the middle. I don’t think this game proves we are going to have a good pass rush this year. The Texan OL sucks. I think it provides evidence that the defensive line will not be a major liability this season. That is still an improvement over last year. Another good bit of news was the performance of Trey Flowers, who despite looking lackluster in practice, had an excellent season opener befitting of a 3 year veteran in the last year of his contract.

The offensive line hinted at their ceiling. One of the sacks was the result of a miscommunication between David Andrews and Shaq Mason. This was an embarrassing display from a team captain and a newly extended player but one that is unlikely to be replicated. The big takeaway should be the tackle play: both Cannon and Trent Brown looked decent which is a great sign for the future of the season.

Nailing the Dorsett Transition

I am going to stroke my ego here a little bit because I’ve been making the argument for this transition all off season. Dorsett has been used as a deep threat for the vast majority of his career because he has elite 4.3 speed. Unfortunately he has never been a great deep threat like Brandin Cooks. One of the reasons is that Dorsett doesn’t seem to track the deep ball particularly well. The good news is that Dorsett also demonstrated good short area quickness with a 6.7 3 cone time that placed him in the 85th percentile for his position. That may not be as impressive as his 95th percentile 40 yard dash but it’s still a good showing. That’s the reason I argued Dorsett would be better served as an intermediate and short passing game. And lo and behold that is exactly how the Patriots used him. Dorsett thrived on the short and intermediate game, posting his best game since 2016.

Concerning Trent Brown

I understand Trent Brown had a good game but that is all that it was. One game. Drawing big conclusions from single game of football is a recipe for disappointment or needless nihilism. So take what Brown has done with a grain of salt.

That being said, it was an encouraging sign. I wrote back at the start of August, that I think Brown will be the best move of the off season. The fact that Bill was able to grab a potentially dominant left tackle for a 3rd round pick, after losing Nate Solder, was a masterstroke. But this is also the same player who made a variety of amateur mistakes during the preseason. His focus and motivation were the big concerns entering the season and we need to see more before we know whether that has been effectively addressed. I do think he will be up to the challenge for three reasons.

First, he is entering a contract year. If tens of millions of dollars cannot motivate you to act I don’t know what will. Second, he is being coached by the best offensive line coach in football. Third, his fellow linemen possess great character. Andrews is a team captain while Mason and Cannon are both Patriots through and through.

This raises an interesting question though: if Brown does deliver the goods do we sign him after this season? I think at minimum we franchise him. Franchising Brown would give the Patriots at least one more year of good tackle play and buys them the time to transition over to Isaiah Wynn. If they are extremely confident in Wynn, they should still franchise him because they would probably be able to get the pick they gave up when they traded for him.

I think the big question will be whether they trust Brown to be consistent after signing a big deal. If they do they should sign him. The league is bereft of tackle talent. The left tackle position is one of the most important positions in football. Brown is only 25 years old. The Patriots rarely get the opportunity to grab talent at premium positions, they cannot pass it up. Putting Wynn at guard would also give the Patriots one of the best offensive lines in football for the remainder of Brady career.

The big drawback is obviously the cap cost. Having a rookie left tackle presents a big cap advantages that I am sure Bill was salivating about. This will be ugly from a cap perspective but it is doable. I was erring toward the idea that we would trade Gronk but the report Gronk is saying it’s Brady or retirement effectively put a pin in that thought. Trading Van Noy, cutting Dwayne Allen, and chopping off $2.5 million off of Devin McCourty’s contract would leave the team with $41.6 million. I’m not saying we can do those things but the idea that we could have around $40 million in cap space is not improbable. Bill has also shown a willingness to spend on the position in the past.

I cannot imagine it’s what the Patriots wanted when making long term projections for the roster but it might happen. In any case it is going to be an important story line to follow the rest of the season and into the next.

Pumping the Breaks

I am glad Dorsett had a breakout game but he will be guarded by two of the best cornerbacks in the NFL next week. To say that I am skeptical of our wide receiver core going into next week is an understatement. I think it’s extremely plausible that Bouye and Ramsey could erase Dorsett and Hogan. This is the one game I look at and think Edelman presence could be the difference between a win and a loss. I think Edelman matched up against the Jag slot receiver would have been significant mismatch. This game is gonna be tough. One positive is that AJ Bouye has struggled with speed in the past, something Dorsett does not lack.

Looking Forward

I like what we saw out of Bentley in week 1. One of the things an elite PFF grade is good for is establishing a floor. Just because you had an elite score in college doesn’t mean you will be good but it’s rare to see guys post elite scores and fail miserably. Bentley was one of the highest ranked ILB by PFF though he was largely ignored because he was considered a liability in coverage. He’s obviously got a long way to go but this definitely looks like a solid pick so far.

The injury to Hill sucks. I was high on him when we signed him and his early impressions were positive. His injury makes Michel getting ready to play all the more vital and I am keeping my fingers crossed that he will be ready for next week’s game. If his health permits I am going to predict he puts up a surprisingly good performance. You just don’t take RBs in the 1st round unless you have a high degree of confidence about their ceiling. That goes especially for the Patriots who already had Burkhead and White under contracts and a proud tradition of turning mediocre RB’s into starters. The Patriots have a plan for Michel. I can only hope he delivers.

Once Edelman returns this offense will be missing three pieces. A franchise running back, a third receiver who can reliably beat man coverage, and a deep threat. I don’t see a deep threat appearing a la Cooks, but if Sony Michel can be a franchise back and Dorsett can turn into a reliable 3rd passing options behind Gronk and Edelman this will be a superior offense. Between those two possibilities my money is on Sony.

Brady looked pissed in his post game conference. Not as pissed as he would look in a loss but he was clearly frustrated about the pick and feels he could have done a better job.

Hogan will have much better games than he did today. He’s going to be good for at least a half a dozen houdini-esque moves when he mind melds with Brady against zone defenses. But it’s obvious that without better players to attract attention he is ability to impact the game is limited.

Around the League

PATRICK MAHOMES BABY! I know ya’ll don’t care at all but as a Chiefs fan seeing Patrick Homes hang 4 TDs with 0 picks was a wonderful sight for a franchise that has been without a top tier quarterback for decades.

Tyreek Hill has now posted 9 TDs of 50 yards or more. That’s five more than any other player since he entered the league two years ago.

Aaron Rodgers is a bad man.

The Patriots Do Not Rebuild, They Reload

Fitzmagic?

Saquon Barkley looked good. Still dumb to take a RB 2nd overall. The big question for me is how Barkley produces when he’s not scoring home run hits. His 68 yard TD was beautiful but if you remove that play his rushing stats are not impressive.