Now nine games into 2023, I've been beyond the point where this team can hurt me. That ship sailed after the pick-six in Dallas. So believe me when I say I felt nothing in either direction when a Mac Jones pass ricocheted off the hands of Juju Smith-Shuster and into the hands of Jartavius Martin. But this was a perplexing affair for the Patriots on multiple fronts. They gave J.C. Jackson and Jack Jones the 2010 Wes Welker treatment over the first handful of drives, played a ton of zone, and got shredded by Sam Howell, and additionally allowed the Commanders to shred them on the ground, while outside of a 64-yard score by Rhamondre Stevenson, did next to nothing to match. Now, the Patriots are 2-7 and are set to fly off to Germany later this week. But here's what popped up on film from Sunday.
"We Played Everyone"
It wasn't hard to notice the lack of Jackson or Jack Jones in the early stages of this one. Take this 19-yard gainer against zone coverage to Dynami Brown.
It doesn't take an expert to figure out that the two were internally disciplined for something, but Jeff Howe confirmed both were sat in the opening of this game for performance-related issues from last week. For the record, I have no issue with that for either player based on the second Miami game. The real problem lies in Bill Belichick dancing around questions about that after the game because of course he did.
I don't think anyone reasonable would have been too upset if Belichick just said what actually happened here, but he's going to go down with the ship doing things his way.
Someone that I was hoping to see get a chance without Kendrick Bourne or DeVante Parker was rookie Kayshon Boutte. However, he was never activated, leaving just three healthy receivers (Pop Douglas, Juju Smith-Shuster, and Jalen Reagor) and a clearly hurt Tyquan Thornton, who was being closely watched during warmups and was activated anyway. He would play just 12 snaps the entire day, and these were the two lowlights (the first one is on him, the second on Mac Jones).
I have no idea why Thornton decides to take three seconds to chop his feet before breaking out on that first play, but I have a hard time believing that's what his coaches want. That paired with the fact he got knocked off his timing even more before he broke outside meant this play was dead on arrival. The second play, meanwhile, should have been a touchdown. Thornton does a great job of hitting his highest gear as he breaks back to the outside and has a potential walk-in lane to the endzone, and Mac Jones somehow misses him on what was a turnover on downs. Inexcusable.
After the first few drives, Thornton wasn't seen again, meaning just three (3) wideouts were at the Patriots' disposal the rest of the way. The fact Boutte never even dressed falls entirely on Bill Belichick. I can't say I know what goes on in practice, so if he says something along the lines of "We put out the guys who gave us the best chance to win", I'm not going to spend much time disputing that. However, Bourne is gone, Parker is gone for the time being, and Thornton was nowhere near 100 percent. What are you exactly risking at this point by at least giving Boutee a chance? You're 2-7 now, and the top two receivers on the depth chart are hurt. I don't get the philosophy. If they were better, I'd understand it, but that ship sailed a month and half ago.
For whatever reason, there was a ton of zone coverage in this game from the Patriots, and oh buddy, did Sam Howell make them pay for it. Even then, the UNC signal caller had some good looks against man on Sunday, none better than the Jahan Dotson touchdown against a disguised cover-zero look.
What does the Pats in here, is Myles Bryant trying to press Dotson off the line when he was 10 yards back of him. He gets beat to his inside and subsequently over the top instantaneously, and Howell delivers a picturesque rainbow for six, genuinely a phenomenal throw. However, Bryant misplays this pretty badly, trying to press a guy on a zero blitz that he can't match in a foot race, and that led to a sequence where the Commanders put up the final 10 points of the game in roughly five minutes, in a game that was 17-10 Patriots before this. Gigantic swing, to put it lightly. Bryant has had a fair share of good moments this year too, which makes this especially sting.
What also hurt the Patriots for the second week in a row was busted coverage, and in many ways, it was much worse than last week. This one play sums it up.
While Howell getting chased out of the pocket changes things a tad for the mid-level defenders, just look at this to get an idea of where the problem lies.
For some added context, this is an early 3rd&7 on the Brian Robinson touchdown drive. From left to right with the blue dots are Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, Myles Bryant, and Mack Wilson, who is the key guy here. The DBs play this smart from the standpoint that you're not expecting Howell to go across his body after scrambling out to his right, but Wilson overcommits to the right side, leaving the entire left side of the field wide open since Jabrill Peppers at this point is already committed downhill. Even if he did stick with Logan Thomas here, that still doesn't account for Byron Pringle, who picks up 26 gigantic yards. A horrific broken play, which was one of a few, and the Patriots were lucky this only went for 26.
I also saw Evan Lazar bring this up yesterday, and I'm glad someone finally did, but why the Patriots continue to use Marte Mapu deep and not in the box in any capacity, I have no idea. He's only 15 pounds lighter than Wilson, but he fills more rolls and has much higher upside. Stick with Jalen Mills/Jabrill Peppers deep, don't overthink things.
A Positive Note
Might as well have some positivity to close this out, and I'm not too upset over a 60-plus-yard score for Rhamondre Stevenson, who wasn't the only big-time contributor on that run.
Don't let anyone tell you that blocking isn't a worthwhile trait for a wide receiver because Jalen Reagor has been excellent in that department all year, bulldozing Kendall Fuller here. Another usual suspect for the third week straight was Sidy Sow, who manhandled Daron Payne here. Again, a guy who had 11.5 sacks, 25 pressures, and 18 tackles for a loss in a Pro Bowl year in 2022, and he got thrown out of the club by Sow to give Mondre the widest hole possible. I'm telling you, he gets better with every game. They have something in this kid.
Final Score: Washington Commanders 20, New England Patriots 17
Gaffney's Three Stars from Patriots-Commanders
3rd Star - Pop Douglas (5 Catches on 7 Targets for 55 Yards)
2nd Star- Jabrill Peppers (3 Tackles, 2 PBUs, Allowed 0 Catches on 5 Targets, Remains the NFL's No. 1 Run Defender per PFF)
1st Star - Ja'Whaun Bentley (13 Tackles, 2 Sacks)
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