Back to .500! Two in a row!
I don’t know what it is about the Browns, but they just love getting smacked around by the New England Patriots. Maybe Belichick is still bitter about the way he was forced out. Maybe the Browns front office is so filled with remorse over letting Belichick go that they decide to throw these games whenever they come around as some sort of penance. Or maybe Belichick planted a bug in the Browns locker room before he left and as a result knows every single move they make.
Whatever it is, it’s another Pats-Browns game, another Pats beatdown.
- I wasn’t sure whether to start these Fan Notes with Bailey Zappe or the defense, so I flipped a coin. It came up tails. I then realized I forgot to assign any value to either heads or tails, thus rendering the exercise useless, and rather than flip again, I just decided to go with the D, since they were on the field first.
- Because the defense set the tone for this game from the first snap and never really looked back. Be it interceptions, more fourth-down stops, fumbles, sacks, or limiting the most potent rushing attack in the NFL to 70 total yards, this was just an all-around great performance.
- But who gets the game ball? Who dominated most? Kyle Dugger, with his eight tackles, two pass breakups, and a pick? Matthew Judon with his four-tackle, 49-snap, business-as-usual dominance? Davon Godchaux for completely taking away the A gaps, forcing almost all runs to the outside? Jahlani Tavai just to be a nice guy about it? Honestly, you can’t go wrong here.
- If there was ever any doubt that Kyle Dugger isn’t an elite NFL player, I’d like to think that this season has been definitively putting those doubts to rest. He may not be the kind of player OCs are specifically game planning around — there are only so many Ed Reeds and Troy Polamalus in the world — but he’s in on almost every play and this defensive unit is a different squad when he’s out. Has the athleticism to cover both receivers and tight ends, hard hitting up the middle on run stops, and enough lateral speed to blow up east to west plays in the backfield.
- Though his interception was as much Deatrich Wise Jr. as it was Dugger. Made a beeline for Jacoby Brissett and forced the bad throw off his back foot into coverage. I’m going to need to do a deep dive into how many players make a massive leap in their sixth year in the league.
- Brissett made his plays — the Browns have weapons, no denying that — but this was one of those games where the Patriots made the opponent earn every single inch of yardage they gained. Almost every reception was tightly contested. Very few yards after contact or catch. Forcing Brissett into tight windows. Making him throw on the run or before he was ready. A second pick generated by pressure.
- More than anything else, this defense is just fun to watch. I look forward to seeing them on the field, as I find them a challenging unit to break down. By no means am I an expert when it comes to football... but I can usually recognize defensive formations, get a read on whether there’s a player in the Robber role, and get a read on overall strategy. But I find myself stymied on multiple occasions watching them transition from 3-3-5 to a Cover 1 shell to a small 3-4 with multiple safeties in the linebacker slots and it’s a blast to see.
- OK, time for Zappe Hour. What a day from the rookie. 24-for-34 for 309 yards, and two TDs, with a strip sack that really wasn’t his fault. I’m trying to think of a single throw he made that he really shouldn’t have and I’m coming up empty. He hit Devante Parker on a beautiful 29-yard sideline throw on 3rd-and-9 to set up New England’s first points — a field goal in the red zone! Who saw that coming???
- That said... THERE IS STILL NO QUARTERBACK CONTROVERSY IN NEW ENGLAND. The Patriots significantly limited the playbook, kept the schemes extremely simple, and based everything off of the run game.
- Another 100-yard day for New England on the ground. Well, 98 yards, technically, but Zappe lost four on kneel-downs, so I’m counting it. And though he didn’t crack 100 on his own, my favorite number surrounding Rhamondre Stevenson’s day is four — the number of yards per carry he averaged. When you have a back who can average between four and six yards a carry, that just makes everything else so much easier.
- I also don’t understand how a back his size is able to cut laterally so well. His 31-yard touchdown run was a simple draw play up the middle where Henry’s pre-snap motion froze the tackles just enough to allow Stevenson to break through the gap and into the second level, where both Martin Emerson and John Johnson Jr. had him dead to rights. But he Dion Lewis’d his way to the outside and ran in untouched for the score. Unreal.
- I’ve been waiting quite a while to find a time where it would make sense to note that Mondre only pawn in game of life... but nothing about that guy is pawn-like. That man is a straight-up Bishop.
- And all this is happening without a true third down back. I really, really hope I’m not getting myself too excited for the return of Ty Montgomery, but the Montgomerys and James Whites and Shane Vereens and Kevin Faulks of the world have been crucial pieces to this offense for two decades now and there’s an amazing amount of potential to what his return could mean for the offense.
- Speaking of a meaningful return for the offense, how about Tyquan Thornton? Four catches for 37 yards and a touchdown to go along with three carries for 16 yards and a score. His receiving touchdown was a simple inside move where he outran his defender and put his hand up immediately so Zappe could see him, and his rushing score initially looked like incredibly lazy defense... but I just think he’s really that fast.
- And it’s always great to see teammates so happy for a player getting his first NFL touchdown reception, especially coming after only two games. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think Jakobi Meyers’ congratulations looked a little half-hearted, but I can’t say I blame him for that.
- For the record, I’d be just fine keeping this offense in place once Mac Jones returns.
- It certainly didn’t hurt that the Patriots got 60-plus yards of production from not one, but both tight ends! Six catches for 122 yards and a touchdown from Henry and Smith is something I’d love to not even bother highlighting because it starts happening so regularly, but baby steps.
- And I don’t even care that 53 of Jonnu Smith’s 61 receiving yards came on one play; it’s exactly what I’ve wanted to see from him since he came to New England. Close to the line as a potential blocker, got a great jump at the snap, ran a short post right up the seam, caught the pass in-stride, broke two tackles, and outran/outmuscled the DB with athleticism.
- I can’t help but feel that Isaiah Wynn is now so deep inside his own head that he’s screwing himself over way more than his talent level dictates. He was always a fine-to-good offensive lineman, but he is now a legitimate liability on the right side of the line. I don’t want to fault him too much for letting Myles Garrett strip-sack Zappe — Garrett is one of the best rushers in the NFL — but more penalties and eventually getting benched is just a horrible look. I’d say move him back to the left side where he’s most comfortable, but do you really want Wynn on Jones’ blind side?
- Discipline in general was an issue yesterday. 12 total penalties for 92 yards, that’s almost the entire field surrendered for free, and a number of those penalties kept Cleveland drives alive. New England also escaped with a (correct) touching out of bounds call on the onside kick that could have changed the complexion of the game, and a Cleveland muffed punt ended up more or less putting this one away. So a lot to work on going forward.
- Between Cleveland’s illegal touching out of bounds and Bill Belichick’s complete refusal to take the spoils of Schooler’s muff recovery, it’s no wonder that there are still a few folks who are feeling a little cranky and backed up today.
- OK, good. I clearly haven’t grown up at all.
- Remember Cole Strange? I bet you forgot about him didn’t you? That’s because he just does his job and is never a liability and dominates on the inside. He’s been so good I haven’t even thought to make a Strange 69 joke.
- At least I hope it’s his play that has led to that as opposed to be finally growing up. I really hope it’s the former.
- Other Patriots rookies yesterday:
- Zappe: 309 yards passing, two TDs, Passer Rating 118.4;
- Thornton: 53 total yards, one receiving TD, one rushing TD;
- Jack Jones: two solo tackles, one pass breakup;
- Marcus Jones: full-time return man;
- Branden Schooler: muffed punt recovery, recipient of a Bill Belichick snub that even 10-year veterans haven’t had the honor of receiving.
- Not too shabby.
- I hope Christian Barmore is OK. He walked to the locker room on his own, which I’m taking as a good sign, but as of today there are no updates on his status. That’s going to be a huge loss if he misses extended time.
- Let the record show that abject disaster and in-over-his head Matt Patricia has manufactured an offensive scheme that has allowed a fourth-round rookie to put up 67 points in two games.
- The price tag on Zappe this offseason also just went up this offseason. Second-rounder or bust!
- And finally, another congrats is in order for Bill Belichick, notching his 324th career win as a head coach. He’ll be in sole possession of second all-time with a win next Monday night against the Chicago Bears at home, which is a very winnable game. He should surpass Don Shula (347) within the next three seasons, barring some kind of disaster, and once that happens I’m not sure another head coach will ever be able to surpass that. Andy Reid is the only active coach within shouting distance, and Reid is almost 100 wins behind Belichick. Never forget how lucky we are.
A Monday Nighter coming up, the first of five primetime games the Patriots will play this year. The extra recovery day is a bonus, as this team is looking pretty banged up right now. The Patriots have three very winnable games coming up before their bye week, although I guess the Jets are good now or something, before a tough close to the season. Time to get healthy and stay motivated.