Patriots

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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Steelers star has the least surprising take on Tom Brady's free agency

Steelers star has the least surprising take on Tom Brady's free agency

Ask anyone associated with the New England Patriots, and they'll tell you Tom Brady should stay put.

Ask any Patriots opponent, and they'll tell you Brady should leave -- and never come back.

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward joined 98.5 The Sports Hub's "Zolak & Bertrand" from Radio Row in Miami on Wednesday and was asked where he thinks Brady may sign in free agency this offseason.

His answer shouldn't surprise you.

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"I hope not with New England anymore," Heyward said. " ... Let the NFC deal with him for a while. That'd be nice. He's terrorized the AFC enough."

Heyward would know. Brady's Patriots trounced his Steelers 33-3 in Week 1 of the 2019 season and have beaten Pittsburgh in six of their last seven meetings, including playoffs.

New England also has reached the Super Bowl in four of the previous six seasons and made the AFC Championship Game in eight of the last nine seasons, annually crushing the postseason dreams of AFC rivals like the Steelers, who won 10 or more games in four straight seasons from 2014 to 2017 but never reached the Super Bowl in that span.

So, you can see why Heyward (and Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu) would appreciate Brady getting out of his hair.

Unfortunately for the AFC, that doesn't look likely: The Patriots are the odds-on favorite to re-sign the 42-year-old QB in free agency, followed by three AFC teams: the Los Angeles Chargers, Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans.

But Heyward still appreciates Brady's greatness, even if the 20-year veteran doesn't grant his wish.

"I think he understands the game at a different level," Heyward said of Brady. He knows when to hit you with pace. He knows when to make you feel uncomfortable, and he's gonna exploit you."

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Roger Goodell gives latest update on Patriots videotaping investigation

Roger Goodell gives latest update on Patriots videotaping investigation

The NFL's investigation of the New England Patriots remains ongoing.

The league launched an investigation into the Patriots in December after they videotaped the Bengals' sideline during Cincinnati's Week 14 road game against the Browns in Cleveland.

League commissioner Roger Goodell was asked Wednesday at his Super Bowl LIV press conference in Miami for a status on the process and why it's taken so long. Goodell provided a brief update and pushed back on the notion that it's taken too long for the investigation to complete (H/T to ESPN's Mike Reiss for transcribing).

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Question: On the videotaping incident with the Bengals, what is the status of the investigation? When do you expect it to be complete? Why is it taking so long? You have the video, the Patriots admitted wrongdoing, shouldn't it be relatively open and shut?

Goodell: "The answer to that (last) question is 'No.' It shouldn't, because our responsibility is to make sure we're being extremely thorough. We have a responsibility to 31 other clubs, we have a responsibility to partners, we have a responsibility to fans to understand all of what happened, and make sure that something that we don't know happened didn't happen. 

"And so, from our standpoint, we want to make sure we're being thorough. Our team has been on it. We have been focused on this. I think it has not been that lengthy of time. We have obviously put the focus on it, but we're going to get it right. When we come to a conclusion, we'll certainly make sure people are aware of it."

The Patriots issued a statement after the incident occurred that said the video crew was sent to Cleveland to collect footage for a team website series titled "Do Your Job." New England admitted the video crew "inappropriately filmed the field" from its spot in the Cleveland press box.

Part of the footage captured by the video crew was shown exclusively on FOX Sports' NFL pregame show on Dec. 15 before the Patriots beat the Bengals 34-13 to clinch a playoff spot.

There is still no timetable for when the investigation will be completed. Goodell did not provide one Wednesday, so it looks like this matter won't be resolved until some time in the offseason.

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