Monday, September 21, 2020

Seahawks Outlast Patriots 35-30

The Patriots could not punch it in for the victory, falling 35-30 to the Seahawks. The loss leaves them one game back of the first-place Bills and one game ahead of the winless Bills and Jets. Next up the newly minted Las Vegas Raiders come to town for a 1:00 game at Gillette.

The Pats gave up way too many big plays in this game. The plan was obviously to let Seattle run the ball to keep it out of Russell Wilson's hands; but when Wilson threw, he killed them with long passes on a bunch of plays. And in the end, New England couldn't punch it in from the one yard-line as time expired, giving Seattle the win.

Four linebackers left in the off-season and it's starting to be a problem. Last night the Patriots started five defensive linemen and five defensive backs because the only linebacker they trusted was Ja'Whaun Bentley. Bentley at least has a few years in the system, but he is limited and has no pass-coverage skills at all.

Seattle torched them with short passes and a decent running game. And when the Pats brought players up to slow that down, Wilson hit three long bombs -- all for touchdowns. The Patriots gave up four total touchdowns to wide receivers last year; Seattle had that many last night.

The list of DBs who had decent games is short: Adrian Phillips and Devin McCourty. Phillips arrival from the Chargers reminds me of a past safety who did the same -- Rodney Harrison. It could be a move that pays off well. McCourty had a pick-six to start the scoring.

But Jason McCourty miss-timed his jump and gave up a long touchdown at the pylon. Jonathan Jones gave up a bunch of short stuff across the field. And our best corner, Stephon Gilmore, continued his slump, giving up multiple big plays to D.K. Metcalf.

On the D-line, they got pretty good pressure most of the game. And they even contained Wilson better than most teams. But probably not enough sacks (2) or forced throws given all the pressure, and most definitely not enough run stopping given that they had five men on the line all night.

The Patriots started slowly on offense; trying to establish the run against the fast Seattle D. They were tied at the half mostly because of McCourty's pick-six. But as the game wore on, they let QB Cam Newton throw more often, and usually with greater success.

Newton threw his first pick as Patriots QB, but he also threw for 397 yards and a touchdown (and ran for 47 yards and two additional TDs). He's getting more comfortable with the offense but still needs to learn when to audible to a new play. Some key third downs he didn't change up the play and it force Patriots punts.

Additionally, Newton's ability to extend plays has led to more long passes. In fact, Julian Edelman set a career high with 179 yards but on only 8 catches. Receiver N'Keal Harry got involved, too, with 8 grabs for 72 yards, and supposed #2 receiver Damiere Byrd had 6 catches for 72 of his own.

It's good to see chemistry developing between the QB and receivers other than Edelman. That was always hard when TB12 was here; but with Newton extending plays and giving his receivers a chance, they appear to be building something.

Special teams were just plain odd. For some reason the Patriots kept returning kickoffs out of the end zone, even though they got past the 25 yard-line only once (and then only to the 28). They also appeared to be trying to make Seattle return kickoffs, even though they returned an early one to the 43 yard-line.

They also had Nick Folk try an ill-advised 51-yard field goal (way wide left). And they went for the all-out block near the end of the half (and didn't get close) instead of setting up a return and at least trying to score. I will say that punt was a beauty, dying at the Pats 1 yard-line and forcing them to kneel to end the half.

Most of the coaching decisions were good; except maybe the initial offensive game plan and those odd ideas in the kicking game. Turns out that Steve Belichick is indeed calling the plays from the sideline, so he is the de facto defensive coordinator.

Also, on the last play of the game, they ran the same formation and motion they'd done three other times in the game. One that last play, it made sense to go with something new or to run something different out of that formation. But they plowed toward the left, where 8 Patriots met 10 Seahawks -- with predictable results.

(My suggestion would have been run that same play but have Newton jab-step left and then run around right end. There was only one player there to beat and he was being blocked by the tight end.)

So where does that leave us? This loss was likely expected; Seattle is that good -- but it was a golden opportunity to take a game when they could surprise a team early in the year. 1-1 and looking up at Buffalo isn't great; but I suspect the Bills will come back to earth before the season is out.

Biggest on-going issue: it's a tie between the on-going kicker issues and the lack of linebackers. Can they call Tedy Bruschi to see if he can come out of retirement?

Statistical oddity: I've watched thousands of NFL games, but this is the first time I've seen a team play a 5-1-5 defense regularly. Seattle almost never had to identify the "Mike" linebacker because there was usually only one on the field! 

Water-cooler wisdom: "Tonight when Belichick said: 'Seattle just made a few more plays than us' it was actually true."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 1-1!

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