Jakobi Meyers

Other playoff teams don't seem to be having this big an issue with young receivers

Other playoff teams don't seem to be having this big an issue with young receivers

Here’s something that's tough to hear as we blame everyone but Tom Brady for the Patriots’ struggles in the passing game: Other quarterbacks don’t seem to be having this big a problem with young receivers. 

Among potential playoff teams, the Seahawks, Ravens, 49ers, Steelers and Chiefs are all getting immediate contributions from rookie wide receivers. In particular, and D.K. Metcalf, Deebo Samuel, both of whom were drafted within eight picks of N’Keal Harry, are having very good rookie campaigns on contending teams. 

Here’s a breakdown of rookie receivers on playoff teams. I’ll keep it to guys taken in the first three rounds: 

Marquise Brown, Ravens, 25th overall: 36 rec, 520 yards, 6 TD

N’Keal Harry, Patriots, 32nd overall: 4 rec, 28 yards, 1 TD (spent first eight weeks on IR)

Deebo Samuel, 49ers, 36th overall: 42 rec, 564 yards, 3 TD

Mecole Hardman, Chiefs, 56th overall: 23 rec, 450 yards, 5 TD

D.K. Metcalf, Seahawks, 64th overall: 44 rec, 705 yards, 5 TD

Diontae Johnson, Steelers, 66th overall: 36 rec, 423 yards, 3 TD

Jalen Hurd, 49ers, 67th overall: IR

Miles Boykin, Ravens, 93rd overall: 11 rec, 185 yards, 2 TD

Before you play the “Harry’s only been available for three games” card, no he hasn’t. Week 9 in Baltimore could have been his first game back, but the Patriots were in no rush to play him, which further begs the question of why the Patriots haven’t been in much of a rush with him. 

Or these questions: Is Deebo Samuel that much better than Harry? Is Mecole Hardman? Is D.K. Metcalf leaps and bounds superior? 

Do you think if the Patriots had any of these guys, they’d be putting up the numbers they are with their respective teams? Or would they be the subject of endless “they’re just not on the same page” laments? 

Part of it is the offense. The same playbook that’s given opposing defenses fits has been tough to learn for youngsters and veterans alike. That’s fine, but if your receiver group is shallow and banged-up enough that you’re going to need production from Harry and Jakobi Meyers, you’ve got to meet them halfway. The Patriots aren’t. 

While it's easy to throw your hands up and say that you just can't count on rookies, consider that these other teams and quarterbacks could have, too. They haven't. Metcalf is second on the 10-2 Seahawks in both catches and receiving yards. Brown and Samuel are their respective teams’ top wide receivers. Hardman is tied for the Chiefs team lead in receiving touchdowns. Same goes for Johnson with the Steelers.  

These teams and their quarterbacks are proof that you can rely on young receivers and still be competitive. The Patriots are the exception to the rule right now, and they’re worse off for it.  

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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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N'Keal Harry MIA after lone target is intercepted: 'I could've used my body more'

N'Keal Harry MIA after lone target is intercepted: 'I could've used my body more'

Tom Brady wanted his receivers to listen up. Even the most inexperienced lip-readers could see that from the NBC cameras that caught his sideline address

N'Keal Harry didn't quite get the message. The rookie wideout told reporters after the game he wasn't positive what Brady said in that moment early in the second quarter.

"I'm not exactly sure," Harry said, "to be honest with you."

And that seems to be part of the issue. Harry was one of several receivers — rookies and otherwise — who appeared to have what often fall under the category of "miscommunication" issues with their quarterback.  

On the second Patriots drive of the game, Harry ran a slant on third and four. He got a tug from Texans corner Bradley Roby as he broke inward, then stopped his route and fell backward. Roby got underneath Harry and intercepted Brady's pass.

After an unsportsmanlike penalty by Roby (he took off his helmet before leaving the field), the Texans were set up on the Patriots 21-yard line and were in the end zone three plays later. 

Brady's interception came on Harry's 12th snap of the game. He played 22 total, according to Pro Football Focus. He did see the field on the drive after Brady's interception, and he was on the field early in the second quarter. So he wasn't necessarily benched immediately after the pick, but he hardly played. Fellow rookie wideout Jakobi Meyers, meanwhile, played 60 snaps, per PFF. 

Harry wasn't interested in getting into many of the details of the play that seemed to earn him more time on the sidelines. It was his one and only target on the game.

"I'm not exactly sure what happened with that on film," Harry said. "I got to look at it on film first."

Was it something about his route?

"Not sure," he said. "I haven't watched it on film yet. I have to watch it first."

How did it feel, Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran asked?

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

Former Patriots quarterback and NBC Sports Boston analyst Matt Cassel explained after the game that Harry's route won't be one that ends up on a Monday morning meeting highlight reel any time soon.

"Your number one job [on that route] is to come down and keep coming," Cassel said. "The moment you start to slow down and throttle for that ball or slip . . . You gotta come out of that break and come flat. 

"It looked like a stumble. It's an honest mistake. Sometimes it happens. But that right there led to . . . You didn't see him the rest of the game."

On the next drive, Brady couldn't connect with Meyers on a scramble drill play when Brady expected Meyers to go down the sideline and he didn't. That led to Brady talking to his receivers on the sidelines, telling them they needed to play faster, quicker, more aggressively. 

Brady didn't get what he wanted from Meyers. He didn't get what he wanted from Harry on the previous drive. 

Now, one week after scoring his first pro touchdown on a pretty back-shoulder play against the Cowboys, it's worth wondering where Harry goes from here. 

The Texans game was one in which the Patriots offense should've put up numbers. Houston had the worst red-zone defense in football coming in. The Texans owned the 31st-ranked third-down defense in football coming in. Harry had a gaffe and couldn't find his way back on the field consistently at a time when the Patriots desperately needed passing threats. 

Harry seemed to have a relatively positive outlook on where he needs to go from here. But it looks like he's a long way from being the passing game answer a first-round pick might be expected to be.

"I know for me, I just gotta execute better," he said. "I gotta do a lot of things better. The little things. That's what I'll be focused on moving forward."

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