Patriots

Pats coach on Deshaun Watson: 'You can have him, but you don't have him'

Pats coach on Deshaun Watson: 'You can have him, but you don't have him'

FOXBORO – When Deshaun Watson came into Foxboro for the third game of the 2017 season, the impatient toe-tapping had already started.

In the first two games, Watson led the Texans offense to just two touchdowns – a 49-yard scramble he executed in a Week 2 win at Cincy and a touchdown pass in a Week 1 blowout loss to Jacksonville.

Then Watson played the Patriots and the toe-tapping ceased. The then-rookie from Clemson had a very, very good game going 22 for 33 for 301 yards with two touchdown passes and two picks. Watson also carried eight times for 41 yards.

Watson wasn’t flawless in the 36-33 loss. A couple of his scrambles went for 6 yards on third-and-8 and came up short, for instance. And he was understandably happy-footed in the pocket.

But his performance was an espresso shot to his season as he threw for 16 touchdowns and five picks over his next four games before a knee injury against Seattle ended his year.

One play in particular that stood out came in the third quarter.

It was second-and-22 at the Houston 34, the Texans were down 28-20. Watson took a shotgun snap, got heat from the right from Trey Flowers but stepped up as Flowers was escorted past Watson. Just as he stepped to that spot, though, Watson found himself eye-to-eye with Lawrence Guy who’d just spun off the center.

Watson put it in reverse hard and sidepedaled to his left while Guy chased. Running out of time, Watson pivoted his hips and threw from his own 26 across the field to tight end Ryan Griffin who was by himself at the Patriots 46. Watson got blasted by Guy. Griffin got down to the Patriots 31.

When the Patriots play a quarterback with mobility “setting the edge” becomes a catchphrase we use all week. The defensive line can’t allow scrambles around the end or big gaps in the rush that allow a quarterback to step up and buy time or take off.

But, as Patriots defensive line coach Brendan Daly pointed out Sunday, “setting the edge” is just part of the problem with Watson.

“This guy brings some different issues,” said Daly. “You obviously want to have him contained, you obviously want to have the edge handled but one of the biggest issues that we learned last year is, you can have him, but you don’t have him."

“Getting this guy on the ground is one of the more difficult things out there,” he added. “You can’t let him have free access around the perimeter obviously. But even when you do a good job there, he’s so elusive in the pocket in terms of making people miss, we had a major issue with that in our game last year and people continued to have an issue with that through last year and into the preseason this year. He’s very elusive.”

The Patriots have seen mobile quarterbacks before. Plenty of times. But the challenge is a little more pronounced when a player like Watson is on the schedule for the opener.

There are new players in the Patriots front-seven (defensive end Adrian Clayborn and inside linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, for example). And there are young players in the front-seven (Adam Butler, Deatrich Wise). A quarterback with varied skills means there will be more things for a defense to account for on each snap and – potentially – react to after the snap.

The telepathy good defenses have develops over time. Daly said that last year’s matchup has some relevance.  

“There’s a lot to be gleaned from that,” he acknowledged. “Obviously, he’s a dynamic player … but they evolved after we played him as he got experience in the offense before he got injured."

“He continued to develop and they continued to develop around him so we’ll see a different guy than we saw in Week 4 last year. He’s a year older and has a lot more experience and they have more experience in how they use the people around him.”

With Watson returning on offense and J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus rejoining the defense, Houston has all the talent necessary to challenge the Patriots in the AFC.

Sunday will be a good indication whether they’re ready to meet that challenge.  

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How Patriots' Stephon Gilmore knew to jump the route on his pick-six

How Patriots' Stephon Gilmore knew to jump the route on his pick-six

CINCINNATI — Stephon Gilmore knew what was coming. Or at least he had a very good idea. That much was clear. 

Gilmore made two picks in the third quarter of his team's 34-13 win over the Bengals, the second of which he took back for a 64-yard touchdown to make the score 27-10. Almost single-handedly, he buried a one-win team that was sniffing its second, down just three points trotting out for the second half.

"On the first, he kind of got me off the line, but I knew the route so I undercut it and made a good play," Gilmore said. "The second one, kind of knew the route, too. Was able to jump it. We had a blitz coverage so I knew our pressure was going to get there, and I was able to make a play."

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Gilmore had an idea of what to expect on those throws not because of anything the Patriots content team shot of the Bengals sidelines the week prior. That video, at least a portion of it, was broadcast by Fox on Sunday and showed the Bengals sidelines as substitutions were made.

What Gilmore studied in the days leading up to the trip to Southwest Ohio were routes. Route combinations. Concepts. Splits. Situations. Gilmore's anticipation on both of his picks was thanks to the film study he engaged in prior to Sunday, he explained.

"They gotta switch the play up," Gilmore said. "I won't say it was easy, but I knew the route. I trusted myself, and I was able to make a play."

On the game-changing interception-return, slot receiver Tyler Boyd aligned as the No. 2 (count receivers from the outside-in on both sides of the formation) to the field (the side opposite the hash where the ball is snapped), and he ran a quick out-route on first-and-15. Under pressure, Andy Dalton went for it.

"As soon as he threw it," Gilmore said, "I knew I was going. Just had to catch it."

The play, it turns out, has been somewhat of a go-to for the Bengals offense when they've been in get-back-on-schedule situations, trying to manufacture a manageable third down. (A play that goes for eight yards on first-and-15, for example, creates a more manageable second-and-7, which is more likely to lead to third-and-short.) 

In Week 8, Boyd was the No. 2 receiver to the field side on a get-back-on-schedule second-and-13 play. Similar scenario. Similar concept. 

There it was again in Week 5 — Boyd as the No. 2, running an out-route on second-and-long — helping the Bengals chip away at the Cardinals defense.

There it was yet again in Week 4, during a divisional matchup between the Bengals and the Steelers. It was second-and-11. Boyd was the No. 2 to the field side. And, despite the fact that it was a long throw, Dalton wanted to give Boyd an opportunity to make a play.

When Gilmore aligned across from Boyd on first-and-15 Sunday, he did so playing off of Boyd's outside shoulder. With a good understanding of what might be headed his way, Gilmore wanted to take away Boyd's path to the sideline. 

Boyd knew that Gilmore knew, and because Boyd knew the play was likely doomed before the ball was snapped, he awaited an audible call that never came.

"He (had) outside leverage," Boyd said of Gilmore. "He had perfect leverage on an out-route. We were running an out-route to the field with man coverage, outside leverage. Think it's going to be a pick?"

Boyd was also the intended target when Gilmore made his first pick of the afternoon.

"It was just one-on-one," Boyd said. "I won the majority of the matchups . . . But the two plays he made were great plays. He sat on the curl and played great leverage on the out-route. He was already in perfect leverage. We should have (called) a slant."

Boyd is just the latest receiver Gilmore has frustrated. He was targeted five times with Gilmore on him, catching only two for 24 yards. On top of the two interceptions, Gilmore also broke up a pass intended for Boyd.

Gilmore now leads the league with six interceptions, and he has a league-high 16 disruptions (breakups and picks combined). According to Pro Football Focus, Gilmore has allowed only 46.3 percent of targets sent his way to be completed, which is the second among corners. His quarterback rating when targeted is 32.8, which is tops among corners who've played at least 60 percent of their team's defensive snaps.

With excellent speed, enough size to play physical man coverage, and the IQ to have a sense of what's about to happen before it does, Gilmore is putting together another All-Pro caliber season to add to last year's masterpiece. If he keeps it up, he might eventually be recognized as the league's Defensive Player of the Year.

Gilmore is on the kind of run that had him feeling thankful Sunday evening — thankful that Dalton kept throwing his way.

"They gave me an opportunity," Gilmore said. "If they don't throw it, I'm not going to make no plays . . . Appreciate it." 

Gilmore has perfect tweet after two-INT performance>>>>>

Patriots' win over Bengals can mean everything to everyone

Patriots' win over Bengals can mean everything to everyone

Do you know what’s convenient about what happened in Cincy on Sunday? It can be whatever you want it to be.

Signs of offensive life for a group that could barely fog up a mirror for the past five weeks? Sure.

Further evidence that, whatever the New England offense can’t provide in terms of explosive plays, the 2019 Patriots can lean on their defense and special teams will.

The moment N’Keal Harry burst through the swinging doors and swaggered into the 2019 season like vintage Vince McMahon? Why not?

A resurgent running game powered by Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead?

Your reality can be that the team is 11-3, in first place in the AFC East, just got a toehold after two weeks of slipping and will now begin its triumphant climb upward just like last year.

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All you footie pajama-wearing Patriots fans who want to keep standing on the beach and marveling at the surf, not realizing that’s actually a tsunami, you can luxuriate in the Patriots 34-13 win. A win powered by five turnovers (two secured by the brilliant Stephon Gilmore), the 175 rushing yards (89 from Michel), the two catches for 15 yards from Harry (with two others erased by penalty) and the notion that the whiny Bengals got what they had coming to them after trying to step to the Patriots and Kraft Sports Entertainment!

OR! Orrrrrr…

For you miserable, ungrateful, insufferable, Chicken Littles who have never witnessed an iteration of the Patriots that is in the same hemisphere as “bad,” Sunday just further cemented your belief that this ain’t it.

That Tom Brady is in steep decline, his elbow is raging, his skills are fading, his accuracy is gone, he’s seeing phantoms, ghosts, ghouls and apparitions and the game has passed him by after a 15-for-29, 128-yard day. (Aside: There’s an astounding number of these people invading my Twitter regularly on game days, furiously shoveling dirt on the guy … weird).

That the offensive line is still porous and a threat to Brady’s health and the planet’s future.

That the 175 rushing yards was rolled up against a flat-lining defense that’s so stout it’s carried the Bengals to a total of one win. Over the Jets.

That the offense actually “drove” for a total of 10 points. The first touchdown of the game. A field goal in the second quarter. The other points came from a pick-six by Gilmore and three drives that started on the Bengals’ side of the field after two interceptions and a muffed punt. You might get that from the Bengals and Andy Dalton. You can’t count on that against “good” teams.

That the Patriots ballyhooed defense got gashed by Joe Mixon and the Cincinnati running game to the tune of 164 rushing yards – 136 from Mixon.

So those two sides – the Far Yay! and the Far Nay! – can lock themselves in a room and fight it out.

For most of the rest of you – the ones living on equal doses of hope and trepidation – it’s probably a mix of the two viewpoints.

You look at Harry and think that this may be the start of something very positive. After playing just two snaps last week against the Chiefs, Harry making significant contributions on a day when Julian Edelman clearly didn’t have any juice (two catches, 9 yards), Phillip Dorsett was invisible and Mohamed Sanu and Brady couldn’t get hooked up was a sign that he’s battling through the butterflies and learning curve.

His touchdown at the back of the end zone when he restarted his route to get available so Brady could rip a bullet that Harry snared with a tremendous hands catch was what you thought you might be getting before he got hurt in the first quarter of the first preseason game four months ago.

But you look at Edelman and Sanu and wonder if one is sawdust after being ridden all season and the other is just not seeing things the same way Brady is.

You look at Gilmore and J.C. Jackson and the special teams. You believe that, with Gilmore back there, the Patriots defense is going to be able to match whatever highly-paid, greatly-hyped receiver any other playoff hopeful will roll out there. And that his presence has the potential to make the rest of the defense feast. And that Jackson is a very underrated playmaker and that the punt coverage unit and the surprisingly reliable Nick Folk are going to make a huge difference in tight postseason games.

You look at the second-level tackling on Sunday and wonder if this is an issue that’s been cropping up intermittently throughout the year that has the potential to bite them hard against a Lamar Jackson, a Tyreek Hill or a Travis Kelce.

You look at the game-planning done by Josh McDaniels that featured so many different looks for the Bengals on the first drive of the game that Cincy didn’t know where the next punch was coming from.

And you also see that the difficulty for McDaniels after he shows his initial hand is something the Patriots have encountered a fair amount this year.

You see a team that’s 11-3, is holding on to a first-round bye and has a head coach that’s the best to ever blow a whistle and say you’re happy to take your chances no matter what it looks like now.

And you also see a team that’s lost its last three to AFC teams that are playoff-bound and you realize that – after 14 games and 15 weeks – the best chance to find out what the 2019 Patriots are comes next Saturday against the Buffalo Bills.

PERRY: How Harry got his groove back>>>