Patriots

Bean: RIP, 19-0; season's lost a little flavor

Bean: RIP, 19-0; season's lost a little flavor

As we sort out the mess that was the Patriots’ season-opening 42-27, Patriots fans will look for a silver lining. 

If that silver lining for even one person is “at least the 19-0 talk is dead,” cut that person out of your life forever. They’re no fun.

Nineteen and zero wasn’t just a potential record, it was the extent to which we presumed the 2017 Patriots were better than everyone else. They still may be leaps and bounds better than the rest of the NFL, but they weren’t for one game. 

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Yet we set that mark. The aforementioned anti-fun folks cautioned against all the variables that go into a given season: injuries, officials, luck. The rest of us understood all of those variables, but also understood that if things went mostly right for this roster -- particularly the offense -- that they could win every game. No other team can say that.  

Then there were the people afraid of chasing perfection. Maybe the perfect record got to the Pats as the 2007 season wore on, culminating in a suboptimal game plan in the Super Bowl. Then again, the best team doesn’t always win anyway. The 2016 Pats came a penalty away from being a best team that lost. 

I wanted 19-0. Not because I’m some sort of In "Bill We Trust" nutbar, but because it’s something we haven’t seen before. And it’s not like 19-0 was a topic over the summer because we were bored; this was something that was conceivable. 

In fact, I was even going to do a weekly 19-0 Watch looking at every upcoming matchup and where the season could go wrong. That lasted just one installment before @OldTakesExposed got to it.

The Patriots, as they should be, are still favored to win the Super Bowl. They’re better than every other team. They could lose any game, but they should win every one. And hey, there’s never been a team that’s run the table through a 16-game regular season and playoffs, so imagine the Patriots becoming the first en route to tying the Steelers for most Super Bowl titles ever? 

This sounds outrageously New England sports observer of me, but I can’t help but feel that the season has lost a little of its flavor with 19-0 no longer in play. Sure, they’ll still probably run away with the top seed in the AFC and will have a terrific chance at a second straight title, but think back to 2007. The drama that came in the three near upsets was outrageous. 

A season after having the year of three starting quarterbacks, it would have taken something crazy for the Patriots to remain unique beyond their usual dominance. That would have been it. 

Every Patriots championship season can be identified by just a word or a name. Brady. Harrison. Branch. Butler. Comeback. Will future Pats teams be better than this one? Maybe not; as Tom Brady ages, it’s plenty realistic to assume this is as good as it will get. “Perfect” would have fit nicely. 

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Signature Plays: Hoping the defense falls for the slip screen

Signature Plays: Hoping the defense falls for the slip screen

We've already taken a look at a handful of go-to offensive concepts for the Patriots. There was the two-back stretch, the smash route, the post-wheel and the high-low crosser. Today, we'll focus on yet another key offensive play for the Patriots, one they broke out in the Super Bowl when they needed to spark a drive: the slip screen. 

There were points last year when the Patriots weren't thrilled with their production in the screen game. The assignments weren't executed perfectly. The timing was off. The production simply wasn't there. 

"Our screen game hasn't been as productive as we need it to be," Bill Belichick said on a conference call in November. "We need to, obviously, coach it better and execute it better. We're not getting enough out of it. It's disappointing."

But they stuck with it. Their offensive linemen are required to be athletes. (Just ask Dante Scarnecchia.) Their backfield was loaded with backs who can catch and make defenders miss in the open field. The screen game still has a chance, the thinking went. 

And in the biggest game of the season, when the Patriots needed to get a drive kick-started after going down 15-3 in the second quarter of Super Bowl LII, they turned to their screen game again.

In the fifth entry of our "Signature Plays" series, one that identifies some of the Patriots' favorite concepts in key situations, we'll take a look at how many elements are involved in one of New England's slip screens - and why, with the personnel the Patriots have in 2018, it should be a staple for their offense again.  

SUPER BOWL LII VS. EAGLES, 8:48 SECOND QUARTER, FIRST-AND-10,
REX BURKHEAD 46-YARD RECEPTION

THE CONCEPT: If an offense can get a defense flowing in the wrong direction, there's going to be an opportunity for a chunk play. If an offense can get a defense flowing in the wrong direction twice? That's gold. 

That's what a slip screen can do. By countering a defense's aggressiveness - the Eagles had an aggressive, relentless front that helped make them Super Bowl champions - the benefit of a play such as a slip screen can actually be twofold: First, if a big play is created, there's some immediate offensive gratification there; but second, a big play on one screen might help temper an opposing pass rush for the remainder of the game. 

The Patriots got the Eagles to pursue upfield hard on the first play of their drive midway through the second quarter. But they also got Philly's defense to pursue horizontally on a fake that ended up taking multiple defenders out of the play. 

THE PLAY: The Patriots aligned in a two-by-two formation with Tom Brady under center and Rex Burkhead in the backfield. On the opposite side of the line, the Eagles went with their standard single-high safety coverage on first down. They appeared to be in Cover-3 zone. 

Phillip Dorsett aligned wide to the right side of the formation with Danny Amendola in the slot. When Dorsett went in motion, the slot defender over Amendola took off to mirror the motion and help balance out Philly's defense. 

When Brady snapped the ball, he faked a handoff to Burkhead and then faked an end-around run to Dorsett. The Patriots have run so many of those jet-sweep types of runs in recent seasons, that the Eagles respected it. Not only did one defensive back mirror Dorsett's motion, but the fake to Dorsett appeared to help hold a pair of Eagles defenders on the offensive left side of the field. 

That's exactly what the Patriots were looking for since Burkhead was about to slip out to the right, into a wide open area of the field. 

One key to this play is the block of the right tackle -- in this case Cam Fleming. He needs to be a little soft here. Why? Because if he stonewalls his man at the line of scrimmage, that clogs things up for Burkhead. Again, he's slipping out to the right. So the right tackle has to bait his man into getting up the field, which Fleming does here. With the Eagles shading to Dorsett's motion, and with the left defensive end climbing up the field, the seas are about to part for Burkhead.

Not only does Burkhead have space to run, but he has a wall of bodyguards to escort up up the field. Shaq Mason, David Andrews and Joe Thuney have all freed themselves of the clutter at the line as Brady makes his throw. Because the motion did its job, it'll be a while before any of the big bodies have to throw themselves around.

The first block made is by Shaq Mason on safety Malcolm Jenkins, who read the dummy motion and flowed to the ball correctly. Still, Jenkins has no shot against Mason and is smothered. 

Then it's up to Andrews and Thuney. Backside linebacker Nigel Bradham flows to the ball, but Thuney gets in Bradham's way just enough to eliminate him. Andrews, meanwhile, has no problem blocking boundary corner Jalen Mills. 

But Burkhead wasn't done even as his first layer of protection was strewn about. He had another line of defense further down the field. Chris Hogan, who began the play aligned wide left, made sure the corner assigned to his side of the field was walled off. Then Amendola, who feigned a deep crossing route but was really focused on safety Rodney McLeod all along, made sure the deep-middle man would be a non-factor. 

The result was a huge gain that eventually ended in a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. 

THE PLAY IN 2018: Burkhead is back in 2018, though several Patriots backs could find themselves on the field in screen situations. James White and Sony Michel could both be in the mix for this play moving forward. Other key players return as well. Brady, obviously. Plus the three-man interior that moves well enough to make these types of plays possible. The Patriots should begin the season with Marcus Cannon as the bait-and-screen right tackle on these calls, which is an upgrade. And if the Patriots can swap in Julian Edelman for Amendola -- Edelman is as feisty a blocker as his teammate-turned-division-foe -- they should have the right mix to continue to rip off the occasional big gain with their slip screens. 

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Perry's Patriots Signature Plays series

Perry's Patriots Signature Plays series

What's made the Patriots so successful for so long? Continuity. As part of that, we take a look at a handful of go-to offensive concepts that they'll likely turn to again this season with old and new personnel. Click here for the full series.