Patriots

Tom Brady looks like he's at his wit's end with Patriots receivers' communication issues

Tom Brady looks like he's at his wit's end with Patriots receivers' communication issues

Tom Brady lost his mind for a second. He pointed up the field in the direction of Jakobi Meyers and screamed the type of scream he once reserved for Bill O'Brien back when the Texans coach was Patriots offensive coordinator.

"Go!" he shouted as he walked off the field following a failed Patriots third-down attempt.

It was just one in a series of missed connections between Brady and his receivers in Sunday's 28-22 loss to the Texans. While Brady finished with a nice-looking statistical line — 326 yards, three touchdowns, one interception — there was a point late in the third quarter when the Patriots had just nine points on the scoreboard and Brady was 18-for-39 (46 percent) with one touchdown and one pick. 

"We're battling," Brady said after the game. "We're trying as hard as we can. Hopefully we can make enough plays and be the best we can be. It all remains to be seen. 

"You can make a bunch of predictions and so forth. That's not what it's about. It's about going out there and doing it. A lot of guys made some plays tonight. Try to build on it, see if we can do better next week."

Brady took an optimistic approach at the end of his press conference at NRG Stadium, but during the game there were several moments where he seemed irked with the people paid to catch his passes. 

The play to Meyers wasn't the first. The first was Brady's lone target to rookie first-round pick N'Keal Harry. 

Harry's 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame is what makes him an enticing option on slants, but on a third down play in the first quarter, Harry was undercut. Houston corner Bradley Roby worked around Harry after tugging quickly on the receiver to slow him down. Harry stumbled and fell backward, Roby beat him to a spot and picked off Brady's pass.

"I mean, I guess I could've used my body more," Harry said after. "But . . . I haven't watched it on film. I gotta see it first."

On the following series came the Meyers play that set off Brady. On a third-and-six snap in the second quarter, Meyers went in motion and ran a quick out route to the sideline. Brady held onto the ball for an extra second, and he gestured to Meyers to get up the field with the play off schedule.

Meyers didn't. The rookie worked back to Brady to try to give his quarterback a target, he said after the game.

"He was trying to telling me to turn up and go," Meyers said. "I don't know honestly what I thought in the moment. I tried to push up, come back, give him a target. We were just on different pages."

That's what led to Brady's on-field explosion and then a lengthy address to his receivers while on the sidelines. The address just so happened to take place with Brady almost looking directly into an NBC camera. 

"We gotta be faster," Brady said, "quicker, more explosive, everything."

Brady seemed to lament that his pass-catchers were playing robotically and not aggressive enough off the ball. He seemed to be getting to the point of over-heating while trying to encourage them to play faster. 

Not having much in the way of team speed is one thing. But to play as though there's an 11-point checklist that needs to be adhered to from snap-to-snap can make a team without much speed play even slower. That appeared to be Brady's contention. 

It didn't get much better. And it wasn't just the rookies who had their share of miscommunication issues with Brady. 

On a play in the third quarter, Brady gave Phillip Dorsett and Julian Edelman a finger-gun signal before the snap. Brady expected Dorsett to run a go down the sideline. Edelman was doubled and tried to run to space vertically. Going away from the double, Brady launched to Dorsett. But Dorsett didn't run a go. The ball landed about 50 feet away from the closest receiver. 

Later in the game, on third down, Mohamed Sanu ran a crossing route just shy of the sticks. He came back toward the football, which Brady typically likes, but he came back enough that he marked short of the first down. On the next play, fourth and one, Brady threw to Sanu again on a crosser. This time he was drilled by linebacker Zach Cunningham on what likely should've been called pass interference and had Brady's pass deflect off his hands. 

Neither play was an egregious mistake. But neither play resulted in a first down. Six plays later, the Texans were in the end zone to make the score 21-3.

Brady had his share of wayward throws. He was nearly picked on his team's second drive of the third quarter. He was nearly picked in the end zone on a sprint-out pass while targeting Meyers. He threw once into coverage and was picked but had it back because of a penalty. Brady missed Meyers over the middle for a good gain with under a minute left in the first half on a drive that resulted in a punt.

He wasn't perfect. But Sunday night's game against the Texans — who doubled Edelman throughout the game and took James White away with a defensive back in coverage — seemed to highlight the fact that Brady simply does not feel like the receivers he's playing with consistently know where to be and when. In an offense where timing and communication are the backbone, that's an issue. 

Apparently there's still plenty for the Patriots to correct as they (to steal a phrase from Brady's heated sideline address) grind this . . . sucker . . . out. Thirteen weeks in.

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Next Pats Podcast: Matthew Slater reflects on social unrest within U.S. and NFL

Next Pats Podcast: Matthew Slater reflects on social unrest within U.S. and NFL

As much as we'd love to talk football, it has taken a back seat to the conversations that need to be had about George Floyd's murder and the racial injustices that remain prevalent in the United States.

The "Black Lives Matter" movement has spread across the country with protests advocating for justice and racial equality. It has impacted the world of sports, with countless athletes using their platforms to let their voices be heard. NFL players even sent a strong message to the league with a video stating what they wanted to hear it say regarding the oppression of African Americans.

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On a brand new episode of the Next Pats Podcast, New England Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater joined Phil Perry to discuss the state of the nation.

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Slater covered a variety of important topics in the episode. But one that particularly stood out was his explanation of how if the country operated like an NFL locker room, it would be a more inclusive place.

"It is a very unique place. A locker room setting -- you know, if our country operated and moved like a locker room, man it would be a beautiful thing," Slater said. "I'm not saying it's perfect, I'm not saying we've got it all figured out, but what a unique space where people from all different walks of life, different belief systems and things of that nature to work toward a common goal.

"And there's automatic respect that comes with the fact that you have a jersey and a helmet, and you're one of us. So I'm appreciative of that and I think now is a time for us to maybe forge those bonds even deeper. Guys that maybe hear personal stories and maybe experience this from their teammates have a different appreciation for why that guy is the way he is, why he does the things that he does. And I think ultimately that's going to lead to deeper and more fruitful relationships."

If anyone knows what a healthy, inclusive locker room environment looks like, it's Slater. The 34-year-old has been a captain for the Patriots for nearly a decade and has been an admirable leader throughout his stellar NFL career.

Slater also discussed how head coach Bill Belichick has been involved in the team's discussions about recent events, his experiences living as a black man in America, and much more.

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Patriots Roster Reset: Rookie tight ends offer optimism after 2019 drought

Patriots Roster Reset: Rookie tight ends offer optimism after 2019 drought

What if? What if Rob Gronkowski had announced his retirement just a few days sooner, allowing the Patriots to make a legitimate play for free agent Jared Cook? 

By the time the man who is arguably the greatest tight end in NFL history decided to hang 'em up (briefly), Cook was already making plans to join the Saints. He ended up eighth among tight ends with 705 receiving yards and second with nine touchdowns.

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Meanwhile the Patriots were left to piece together that spot with the likes of Matt LaCosse, Ben Watson and Ryan Izzo.

Reluctant to invest in young players at the position since taking Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in 2010 — since then they'd only drafted Izzo (2018, seventh round), Lee Smith (2011, fifth round) and A.J. Derby (2015, sixth round) — the Patriots had arguably the least-productive tight end group in the NFL last season: 37 catches for 419 yards and two touchdowns.

They've attempted to remedy that situation. In this year's draft, they traded up to land two intriguing talents in the third round.

UCLA's Devin Asiasi is a do-it-all player with the size to move people on the line of scrimmage and the body control to draw comparisons to some of the game's elites at that position. Dalton Keene is an athletic option with experience playing out of the backfield at Virginia Tech who could be the key to unlocking snap-to-snap unpredictability for Josh McDaniels' personnel packages.

Do they enter the equation as the immediate No. 1 and 2 options there? Let's reset the depth chart.

LOCK ‘EM IN

Asiasi. Keene. That's it. Those are the locks. Given the output, it should come as no surprise that there's not a player from last year's roster who comes into this season guaranteed to have a regular-season role. 

ON THE BUBBLE

LaCosse makes sense here. He could potentially end up on the roster as a 2020 version of Alge Crumpler — a veteran who can help guide two promising rookies — because his experience level dwarfs that of others on the depth chart.

However, his experience level isn't exactly overwhelming (33 career games). If he can't stay healthy, as was the case last season, or can't win a job, he'd save the Patriots $1.3 million on the salary cap if released in camp.

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LONG SHOTS

Izzo will have to open eyes in camp or become a special teams staple in order to have a chance to make an impact. Though he showed flashes of being a capable receiver last season, that part of his game was lacking consistency. As a blocker? It was there that he was thought to be a potential contributor when drafted out of Florida State two years ago. But according to Pro Football Focus, his 44.9 run-blocking grade was second-lowest among all players at the position in 2019.

Undrafted rookies Jake Burt from Boston College and Rashod Berry from Ohio State also have to be considered in this category. Burt looks like an in-line option at 6-foot-3, 260 pounds. Berry actually played both on the defensive line and at tight end as a senior. He finished his career with 17 receptions. 

NEWCOMER TO WATCH

In what was considered a tight end class short on game-changing talent, Asiasi might've been the most gifted. Notre Dame's Cole Kmet was the first tight end taken in the draft, going off the board in the second round as the "safest" of this year's tight end crop, according to several evaluators. But when it comes to physical ability? Asiasi can "do it all," one tight ends coach told me.

Some questions about Asiasi's makeup lingered into draft weekend, helping him stay undrafted through almost three full rounds, but the Patriots may have found themselves a steal if Asiasi can make good on his on-the-field promise. Asiasi's trainer Dave Spitz, who has also worked with Browns tight end Austin Hooper and Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, spoke to NBC Sports Boston earlier this offseason.

"He has the catch radius of Austin," Spitz said. "He has the body control and awareness of Zach. And he, I think, has more bend, more wiggle, than both of them. He's a beautiful combination."

X-FACTOR

Asiasi might be the most talented addition the Patriots have made at this position in years, but Keene's versatility makes him an interesting queen-on-the-chess-board piece for Bill Belichick and McDaniels. He has enough size (6-foot-4, 253 pounds) to play in-line as a "Y" tight end. He has the movement skills to serve as more of an "F" option. He's played in the backfield before. He's served as a lead-blocker like a fullback. There are a variety of ways in which he can be deployed.

Why does that matter? Perhaps the Patriots want to use their 12-personnel package with one back and two tight ends. Perhaps, because tight ends are oftentimes glorified receivers these days, a defense will respond to that two-tight end set by matching it with an extra safety instead of a linebacker. If that's the case, Keene could flex in as a fullback and the Patriots could run a 21-personnel look at a lighter defense for an advantage. If the defense keeps linebackers on the field to check Asiasi and/or Keene, the Patriots could use them in the passing game where their athleticism should give them an advantage over a traditional second-level defender. Options.

That's what Keene provides, making him an X-factor in the truest sense if he can handle a wide range of alignments and responsibilities early in his career.