Patriots

Ben Watson's debut a sign more 'Detroit' packages coming for Patriots?

Ben Watson's debut a sign more 'Detroit' packages coming for Patriots?

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It just so happened that Ben Watson's first opportunity to play in a game this season came on a Monday night. That meant a lot of down time during the day to sit around and think about things. 

Maybe too much.

"Today I had to sit around like all day and have jitters all day so that was even worse," Watson said. "I haven’t played a full game since last season. Definitely was a little bit of jitters."

Watson seemed a little off when he was targeted for the first time since the 2018 season. Running an out-route on the fifth snap of the game, Watson was late to turn to Tom Brady's throw. The football ended up catching Watson square in the face mask as he looked for the pass, eventually falling incomplete, making it one of the few true Patriots follies of the night during their 33-0 drubbing of the Jets.

There weren't many of those thereafter, and Watson quickly redeemed himself, converting on a third-and-five throw later in the drive. Three plays later, running back Sony Michel was in the end zone thanks to a key block on the edge by the 38-year-old tight end.

Watson's contributions ended up going well beyond his team's first drive, as he played 62 total snaps and caught three passes for 18 yards. But it was during that methodical 16-play scoring drive to start the game that Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick let the world know that they still have the ability to run a two-tight end offense, long known as their "Detroit" package.

(Why "Detroit?" The Lions had two tight ends in the mid-1970s, Charlie Sanders and David Hill, who were tough covers. The Lions used both together as weapons, upsetting Chuck Fairbanks' Patriots in Week 5 of 1976, 30-10. An assistant on that Lions staff? Belichick. According to Ian O'Connor's book, "Belichick: The Making of the Greatest Football Coach of All Time," it was Belichick who urged his team to try two tight end sets that week. Four years later, as an assistant in New England, Bill Parcells learned to call two tight end sets "Detroit." The name stuck as Parcells' coaching tree branched out to include the likes of Charlie Weis, Al Groh . . . and, of course, Belichick.)

The Patriots ended up using a 12-personnel look (one back, two tight ends) on the first snap of the game and seven times in all on the game's first drive, picking up 21 yards on six carries, including a three-yard Michel touchdown.

Newly-acquired tight end Eric Tomlinson played 38 snaps, impressing teammates with his ability to adjust to a new offense as he played both in-line and as a fullback. Watson, meanwhile, was used all over the formation as an in-line player, a fullback and detached from the formation in the slot. 

Coming into the Jets game, the Patriots had run just 18 snaps of "12," according to Sharp Football Stats. On Monday, they posted nearly half that total during the opening drive alone.

"Both Eric and Ben did a real good job this week of catching up, not only from an assignment standpoint but getting extra reps on the practice field, and getting timing and so forth, in both the running game and the passing game," Belichick said after the game.

"I thought they both competed well. It’s good to be able to put some bigger people on the field and not being four and three wides on every single play. So we had some productive plays from that. Hopefully, we can build on that and balance off our different personnel groupings a little bit more than we have in the past couple of games."

The Patriots were limited to one personnel grouping in Week 6 for the entirety of the second half thanks to the injuries they dealt with at both fullback and tight end. It was the first time that'd happened in 20 years, Tom Brady said after the game. 

Not the case against the Jets. Using their "12" package early made sense since Adam Gase's club had allowed 9.7 yards per pass attempt to that grouping coming into Week 7, as well as a 115.5 quarterback rating, per Sharp.

Without Matt LaCosse (knee) and Ryan Izzo (concussion), it looked like the Patriots might be forced to roll with 11-personnel groupings (one back, one tight end) for much of the game at MetLife Stadium. But both Watson and Tomlinson filled in effectively. The Patriots also used two-back sets, and they utilized "23" groupings (two backs, three tight ends) at the goal line when they had to grind out plays in short-yardage.

Watson and Tomlinson factored into them all.
 
"It's awesome. Coming in this week, one week of preparation and then coming in and playing a lot of plays is really impressive," James White said of Watson and Tomlinson. "Ben did great. Eric did great. I say they'll be able to continue to build on that. It's not easy just coming in in one week and going out there to play a lot of plays so hats off to them two."

It wasn't all positive for the Patriots offense. They averaged only 2.2 yards per carry as a team. Brady averaged just 5.5 yards per pass attempt. On their last nine drives, they scored one touchdown, punted seven times and were intercepted once.

But having a couple of tight ends ready to go as part of the attack helped the Patriots show a little diversity in Jersey, and it forced the Jets to stay on their toes to try to keep up with the personnel changes called by McDaniels.

Having Watson back in the mix, in particular, was something that his teammates appreciated.

"Awesome, man," Julian Edelman said of Watson's night. "He went in there and he played like the pro that he is. He's a veteran player. He knows what we have to do. It's awesome having him out there and having a guy who's got some stripes."

He also has a few catches and more than a few snaps to his name this season after beating the Jets. To think it was only a couple of weeks ago that the Patriots didn't have a roster spot for Watson following his four-game suspension. 

How long his spot remains his is yet to be seen, but on Monday he was a key piece in helping the Patriots get their offense established. 

Best & Worst: Really rough night for Darnold>>>>>

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Crazy stat highlights crazy contrast in success between Patriots, Knicks since 2018

Crazy stat highlights crazy contrast in success between Patriots, Knicks since 2018

The New England Patriots and New York Knicks are at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of well-run sports franchises. 

The Patriots are the gold standard with 19 consecutive winning seasons, nine conference championships and six Super Bowl titles in the last 20 years. They are the NFL's greatest dynasty, and the party isn't over yet as Tom Brad and Co. sit atop the AFC standings with a 9-1 record entering Week 12.

The Knicks, meanwhile, have been an absolute disaster. Since the start of the 2001-02 season, New York has reached the playoffs just four times with zero conference finals appearances over that span. The Knicks haven't played in the postseason since 2012-13, and after an abysmal 3-10 start to the 2019-20 season, don't expect Madison Square Garden to host any NBA playoff games in the near future.

If you think that's bad enough for the Knicks, we're about to make it even worse by dropping a crazy stat. Since 2018, the Patriots and Knicks have won the same amount of regular season games despite New York playing in 69 more of them!

The worst part about the Knicks' situation is the misery doesn't appear to be ending any time soon. The Knicks don't have any generational talents (sorry, R.J. Barrett fans) despite consistently finishing near the bottom of the standings this decade. They also haven't been able to lure free agents despite the advantages the New York market provides, and the biggest failure might have come this summer when Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving took their talents to the rival Brooklyn Nets instead of MSG.

The Patriots have set a tremendous example for other teams in all sports to follow, and it would behoove the Knicks and other poorly run franchises to look toward New England for guidance.

Updated NFL playoff picture entering Week 12>>>

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Watch out, 2000 Ravens? Patriots defense still on pace to make history

Watch out, 2000 Ravens? Patriots defense still on pace to make history

Tom Brady admitted Monday morning that the New England Patriots' strengths are their defense and special teams.

He's not wrong -- especially about that defense.

The Patriots allowed just 10 points to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, holding Carson Wentz and Co. scoreless in the second half to escape with a 17-10 win.

That's the sixth time in 10 games New England has allowed 10 points or fewer, dropping its points allowed per game to 10.8, easily the lowest in the NFL. (The San Francisco 49ers are second at 15.5 points allowed per game.)

The Patriots' defensive effort Sunday also means they're very much in the running to have one of the best defenses in NFL history, even after giving up 37 points to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 9.

Courtesy of Boston Sports Info on Twitter, check out how New England's defense sticks up with the 1985 Chicago Bears and 2000 Ravens -- widely considered the two best defenses of all time -- through 10 games.

The Patriots have allowed just three fewer points through 10 games than the Ravens, whose 165 points allowed during the 2000 season are the current NFL record.

And the 2019 Patriots — led by All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore and the "Boogeymen" linebacker corps of Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins — lead both the '85 Bears and '00 Ravens in point differential, opponent passer rating and touchdown passes allowed.

New England has feasted on some subpar competition, and keeping this historic pace won't be easy: Their next three opponents — the Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs — all rank in the top 10 in points per game.

But the Patriots haven't had it much easier than either the '85 Bears or the '00 Ravens. Per Boston Sports Info, here's the combined winning percentage for each of these teams' first 10 opponents:

2000 Ravens: .440
1985 Bears: .420
2019 Patriots: .400

That data suggests the Patriots very much have a chance to make history if their defense keeps playing at this level. But here's the stat Bill Belichick and Co. probably care most about: The '85 Bears and '00 Ravens both won the Super Bowl.

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