Copycat Texans: How Ravens helped hand Patriots another loss to take over No. 1 seed

Copycat Texans: How Ravens helped hand Patriots another loss to take over No. 1 seed

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick knows it's coming. He might not know exactly how or when. But he knows it's coming.

There's going to be a play or two or more that pop up over the course of a given game that his team has seen before — a play that maybe his team has had trouble defending in the past. And Belichick knows they'll have to be ready for it.

"We see, I would say, copycat plays every week," Belichick told WEEI's "Ordway, Merloni and Fauria" program this week. "Some teams are more of a copycat team than another. Some teams will just kind of stick to their system. Everybody does that to a degree. There are some plays that are repeat plays from an earlier game. Not necessarily the last game but an earlier game in the season if it's something similar to what they do or they feel they can do."

It happened during New England's loss to Houston over the weekend. 

Given that the Patriots defense has been one of the best in football throughout the season, there likely haven't been many plays for offensive coordinators to point to and scream gleefully, "THAT'LL WORK AGAINST THE PATRIOTS!" 

But one of those looks availed itself in the Patriots' loss to Baltimore back in Week 9. It was a relatively rare formation that the Ravens were able to run with a rare talent at quarterback in Lamar Jackson. The Texans must've perked up when they saw it help the Ravens run through Belichick's defense on film.

The Ravens ran out of the Pistol — with a running back aligned behind a quarterback in the shotgun. They also used an inverted wishbone look with two tight ends aligned as fullbacks and one tight end as an in-line player on the end of the line of scrimmage. 

They used it successfully on multiple occasions that night in Baltimore. 

Not every team would be able to execute a similar style of play. First and foremost, most teams don't have a quarterback with great mobility to be able to carry out the option (or option fake) the way Jackson did for the Ravens. 

Houston's Deshaun Watson isn't all that far off as an athlete, though. And the Texans, like the Ravens, had three tight ends to run out there for that 13-personnel (one back, three tight ends) grouping. 

The Patriots handled that copycat play well the first time around. They limited Texans running back Carlos Hyde to a gain of three. It was much better than when Baltimore's Mark Ingram ran for 14 on the same play the month before. 

But then the Texans threw a wrinkle into the Ravens look. They faked the inside handoff. But not for Watson to run, as Jackson did in Week 9. They faked the handoff for Watson to keep . . . then throw.

That was an adjustment off the copycat play that the Patriots hadn't yet seen. 

"That showed up [Sunday] night," Belichick told WEEI when asked about the Texans borrowing from Baltimore. 

"That's been showing up all year though, and it's certainly shown up in the past. It's not uncommon at all. That's what a lot of offensive coaches will do. They'll take things that are successful — either plays or concepts — and if it matches up with their personnel and the way they want to attack you, sure. You'll see those again."

The question is whether or not there are other teams who can take these Baltimore-style looks and add them to their plans for attacking the Patriots defense moving forward. Specifically, do they have the personnel? 

The next team on the Patriots schedule, Kansas City, has an athletic quarterback (who dealt with a bad knee earlier this year), Patrick Mahomes. In theory, he could do something similar. But the Chiefs might not have the beef required at tight end to pull it off. They have fullback Anthony Sherman. They have a blocking tight end in Blake Bell. But star tight end Travis Kelce is closer to a big receiver than a true dual-threat (receiving and blocking) tight end so it may prove difficult for the Chiefs. 

The Bills are the other team on New England's schedule with a mobile quarterback, Josh Allen. They also have three capable blockers at tight end in Lee Smith, Dawson Knox and Tyler Kroft. Additionally, Buffalo has an offensive coordinator that knows the Patriots intimately in former Belichick assistant Brian Daboll. It would come as little surprise if what the Ravens used against the Patriots — and what the Texans sprung on them — pops up again in Week 16 at Gillette Stadium for an important AFC East showdown.

"That's why it's so important to watch the film after the game, to correct the mistakes, to go through what happened in the game," Belichick said, "so if they do come back up again, at least you've got an understanding of how you want to handle those situations.

"Sometimes those things reappear. Sometimes they don't. Hopefully if you anticipate it's going to be a problem going forward, that's what you do. There was some of that in the [Texans] game. I wouldn't say an inordinate amount. Certainly the running game had a lot of elements to the Baltimore running game, but that really wasn't a big problem in the game. The bigger problem for us was second down."

Belichick was right about that. The Patriots largely had the Houston running game swallowed up Sunday, allowing fewer than 3.0 yards per carry. 

But in tight conference games late in the season, the difference can be one play, and the Texans got the Patriots for one crucial touchdown that helped them win it — thanks to a little help from Baltimore. And now the Ravens control their own destiny as the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

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Here's why a lot of Patriots recent draft picks have Senior Bowl experience

Here's why a lot of Patriots recent draft picks have Senior Bowl experience

Bill Belichick was there. Josh McDaniels was there. The Patriots had a large contingent down in Mobile, Ala. for this week's Senior Bowl practices (the game will air Saturday on NFL Network at 2:30 p.m.), which should come as no surprise.

Just look at how the Patriots have drafted of late. 

In 2019, they selected Jarrett Stidham, Byron Cowart and Jake Bailey -- all of whom participated in the Senior Bowl. They also signed undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers, who played in the game. 

In 2018, they grabbed Isaiah Wynn in the first round, Duke Dawson, Ja'Whaun Bentley and Braxton Berrios after they'd competed in the Senior Bowl.

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Three of their four draft picks from 2017, plus two undrafted rookies, were in the Senior Bowl. 

From 2013-16, they brought aboard 20 Senior Bowl participants as rookies.

"The great thing about the Senior Bowl is that you're seeing some of the best players," Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said last spring. 

"There have actually been some underclassmen who have been incorporated into that mix. So you're seeing them against good competition and it's a different dynamic or different situation that they've been placed in. You're kind of taking them out of their environment that they've been in and kind of giving them something new and seeing how they handle it against good people."

The small-school players -- or the players who are asked to do something they didn't do much as collegians -- are the ones who have an opportunity to really land on radars during Senior Bowl work. For the Patriots, who constantly harp on the benefit of having seen players work against great competition on a regular basis when they hail from an SEC program, seeing some of the best in the country work against one another matters.

"It’s one thing if they do it against a lower-level team," Caserio said back in 2016, when asked about the Senior Bowl. "I mean, look, not all teams are created equal. Not all conferences are created equal. That’s just a fact. We can’t control that. So when you can see them actually play against really good players or good players that are at a comparable level of competition that they’re going to see every Sunday, that has to be a part of [the evaluation], no question."

The next year, the Patriots took two Senior Bowlers from smaller programs: Youngstown State's Derek Rivers and Troy's Antonio Garcia. 

"Where [the Senior Bowl] probably helps a little bit is players on a lower level that maybe haven’t competed against the same level of competition," Caserio said back in 2017. "Obviously, they’re making a big jump. . . Garcia was down there. That’s going to be a big jump in competition because this is what they’re going to be playing against. 

"With all due respect to whatever conference Youngstown State is in, there’s not a lot of NFL players in that conference. I mean, that’s just the way that it is. You’re going to have to see him against NFL competition, which the Senior Bowl is usually a pretty good indication of that because you’re talking about the top seniors in the country. It’s a part of the process. You’re not making a decision based off of that, but maybe a player who doesn’t have as much experience against that level, you’re going to see how he fares, and then you just kind of continue to move forward."

Some small-school prospects who may have caught Belichick's eye this week? 

Dayton tight end Adam Trautman was already considered one of the better tight ends in the draft class and seemed to only help his stock.

Safety Kyle Dugger -- who hails from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne University -- impressed. Ditto for Division III offensive lineman Ben Bartch out of Saint John's, who saw rushers from Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Ole Miss and other high-end programs and reportedly held his own.

Perhaps the most recent success story out of Senior Bowl week for the Patriots wasn't with a small-school prospect, though. It might've been with Shaq Mason, a guard coming out of a run-heavy system at Georgia Tech. The Patriots simply hadn't seen him do much in the way of pass protection for the Yellow Jackets.

But Mason got to the Senior Bowl, took to the coaching he received, and the Patriots took notice. 

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"The thing I’ll say about Shaq," Belichick said after drafting Mason in 2015, "is just watching him at the Senior Bowl, I mean it was only one week, but he made a huge improvement just in those, whatever it was, four or five practices, whatever it was down there. His stance is different. You could see each day progressively how he was taking to the coaching down there and his footwork and his hand placement and his body position. I know it was basic. It wasn’t like it was a big scheme thing at the Senior Bowl, but just doing things on a daily basis better than the day before, looking more comfortable doing them. And it was different than what they did at Georgia Tech."

Big school. Small school. Everyone had something to gain in Mobile this week. And that includes the Patriots. That's why -- with more time off this year than recent years -- they were well represented down there.


NFL Rumors: Patriots hiring ex-Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch

NFL Rumors: Patriots hiring ex-Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch

The New England Patriots reportedly have made an addition to their coaching staff.

According to Jim McBride of The Boston Globe, they've hired ex-Los Angeles Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch.

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Fisch's official role with the Patriots offense is to be determined. But now that there's an opening at wide receivers coach with Joe Judge joining the New York Giants, Fisch could be a candidate for the job.

He brings plenty of experience to the table having coached Denver Broncos wide receivers in 2008 and Michigan receivers from 2015-16. Fisch also coached Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks in 2010 and was the Jacksonville Jaguars' offensive coordinator from 2013-14.