By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Somewhere along the way, referring to an NFL offensive system as “a high school offense” became a degrading insult. It’s an indication that a playbook is basic, that the plays are predictable, and that the complexity is not at all befitting of an NFL team.
With that being understood, if we can strip away the disparaging scent of the comment, can we all agree that the Patriots’ offense vs. the Cardinals essentially was a high school offense?
That’s not entirely a knock on the designs of Josh McDaniels or the quarterbacking abilities of Cam Newton. It’s a more a reflection of the talent on the roster. When a high school team doesn’t have the best receiving corps, the coach tends to keep the ball in the hands of the players who can do the most with it. In the case of the 2020 Patriots, that would be Newton, Damien Harris, James White, and (formerly) Rex Burkhead.
Some occasional passes to Damiere Byrd and Jakobi Meyers are thrown to keep defenses honest, but for the most part, the Patriots are what they are.
While the overall production isn’t always as dreary as it was on Sunday, it’s hard to feel any other way about this team after it put up 179 yards of offense in an entire football game. A 179-yard offensive showing is a solid two drives, not the output for an entire 60-minute game.
With 18 passes and nine rushes, Newton had the ball for 27 of the team’s 53 offensive snaps.
Harris had six carries. Meyers had five catches. White had five runs and one catch. Byrd caught three passes. Nobody else touched the ball more than once. Ryan Izzo was the lone tight end in uniform, and he played 96 percent of the snaps, but he was not targeted with a pass. Gunner Olszewski and N’Keal Harry each had a rushing attempt; they combined for negative-1 yards.
It’s not particularly shocking to see such an offensive output for this team, but it’s nevertheless a staggering reality. That was, more or less, what the Patriots are. While the team can pull off an occasional offensive outburst (464 yards at Seattle, 435 yards at Houston), the 179-yard performance against a mediocre-at-best defense is more in line with their offensive identity.
While the lack of reliable, explosive downfield threats makes that understandable … it is fair to wonder why McDaniels — widely regarded as one of the best offensive minds in the sport — can’t apply some next-level creativity and manufacture a little bit more. Perhaps, though, he simply doesn’t have the bodies. Perhaps a Julian Edelman return can open up some things, but depending on a 34-year-old receiver coming off a knee procedure might be wishful thinking.
As a result, the 5-6 Patriots are going to have to grrrrrrrrrrrind through the final five weeks of the season if they hope to at least remain somewhat alive in the AFC playoff picture.
Do you want to hit some leftover thoughts from that 20-17 win? Sure, let’s do it.
–While the offense was brutal, it was a classic Patriots win in the sense that New England:
–Got big plays from special teams (Donte Moncrief kick return, Gunner Olszewski punt return, Nick Folk’s game-winner)
–Made game-changing plays on defense (not one but two stops at the goal line before halftime)
–Watched as the opposing team puked at the end of a close game (missed field goal, unnecessary roughness penalty)
Retro and nostalgia is so in right now, so an old school Patriots win is appreciated in that sense.
–I know that the Cardinals insist that Kyler Murray is healthy, but IIIIIIIIII don’t know. If that was a healthy Kyler, then I feel cheated. He threw for 170 yards with no touchdowns and a tipped pick, and he only ran for 31 yards on five carries. He made exactly two exciting plays.
One was this pass off his back foot to Dan Arnold in the second quarter:
That was magical.
The other was his 15-yard run in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t particularly breathtaking, but he put a move on Kyle Dugger in the open field to make it a big gain.
Other than that … eh. Expect a bit more from the No. 1 overall pick.
The Patriots’ defense obviously deserves loads of credit for Murray having his worst performance of the year. But one couldn’t help but wonder if Murray was limited in this one. He was boring.
–On Monday morning, Cam Newton said in his radio interview that he’s never seen pass interference called on both the offense and the defense on the same play before. So at least we all got to see some history, yeah?
It’s funny but they actually seemed like the correct calls. Stephon Gilmore’s infraction was more obvious, as he grabbed a hold of DeAndre Hopkins’ left arm and never let go. But Hopkins clearly had used that arm to push off to gain separation.
The Hopkins-Gilmore matchup probably went to Gilmore for this round. Hopkins had five catches for 55 yards, but his biggest catch (16 yards) came against a zone, and his second-longest reception (13 yards) came when linebacker Terez Hall was lined up against him in man. (That’s a good matchup for Arizona, generally speaking.)
Gilmore allowed three receptions for 36 yards, and they all came when the corner was giving a decent-sized cushion to Hopkins. I found that strategy interesting, as if the Patriots were almost goading Hopkins into taking some free, short chunks instead of taking more chances down the field. So I went ahead and I asked the head coach about it on a video conference! Here’s what he said.
“I think you’ve got to mix it up on this offense, this quarterback, and certainly on Hopkins. I mean, [if] you just sit in the same thing against him all day, I’m not really sure how good that is. So we played some man, we played some zone, we blitzed him, we pressed him, we played off, we rolled into him, we didn’t roll into him. Like I said, I think you just have to mix it up on them. One thing Steph did was compete well, forced some throws. They hit a couple. They didn’t hit all of them. And he tackled well after the catch, so we didn’t have any explosive plays there. So … Hopkins is as good of a receiver as we’re going to face all year.”
Stopping Hopkins is critical, too. He’s been held under 60 yards four times now this season, and the Cardinals have lost all four of those games. They’re 6-1 in all other games.
–Let’s talk about the late hit. Nooooo, not the one everyone’s talking about (that wasn’t actually a late hit and was more a case of a defender lowering his helmet to initiate contact). Let’s talk about this one:
Hey, man. You’ve got to chill out.
–As for the critical penalty called on Isaiah Simmons for his hit on Cam Newton, I said all I can say about that in another story. The thing that sticks with me is the fact that not one but TWO former heads of NFL officiating said that the contact was shoulder to shoulder. You can argue that helmet-to-helmet hits are legal on ball carriers, you can argue that Simmons didn’t lower his head to initiate contact, but you simply cannot state that the contact was shoulder-to-shoulder. It’s baffling that two people who have held such high positions in the NFL officiating world are seeing something that just … isn’t true.
And here’s the real scary part: Alberto Riveron is a downgrade from both of them.
–Isaiah Wynn didn’t play due to injury, and he’s actually on injured reserve for at least three weeks with a knee problem. That’s not great … but the left tackle spot was held down — mostly by Jermaine Eluemunor, with some help from Justin Herron.
I liked what Eluemunor said after the game about playing in that spot.
“It was pretty dope,” Eluemunor said. “I love it, I love tackle. If you would have asked me coming out of college what position I want to play, I would have said tackle right away. I played that at Texas A&M and I just love being out there on an island and knowing it’s you and that guy in front of you. You have to lock it down or they’re going to get sacks or pressures. I love playing tackle, it doesn’t matter which side I’m on.”
It was dope. You know? You know.
–Nick Folk’s game-winning kick wasn’t just good. It was GREAT.
HE DID IT AGAIN.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) November 29, 2020
Doesn’t get much more perfect than that.
Nineteen in a row for Folk, who’s become a steady, reliable influence on the team. A year ago, when every kick was an adventure, nobody saw that coming. But that is why sports are sports. (And it’s why nobody’s up in arms about what looks at this point in time to be a very bad pick in this year’s draft.)
–Goal line stands rock.
Tough break for KeeSean Johnson. Great effort to extend the arm, but the knee comes down just short.
— Mason Kern (@MasonKernMedia) November 29, 2020
Lawrence Guy remains one of the most underrated Defensive Lineman in the NFL. His ability to handle double teams and combo blocks has stood out for years now, and is the difference on this goalline stand right before the half. Allowed Bentley to unblocked in the B gap. #GoPats pic.twitter.com/wizCtfvG03
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) November 29, 2020
That’s it. That’s all I’ve got to say about that. You stop the guy a millimeter short of the line? That rocks, man. It really rocks. Nice job.
–It wasn’t quite a ferocious juke, but I nevertheless loved the decisive cut that James White made on his fourth-and-2 touchdown run from the 7-yard line:
More often than not, White is going to take that one to the boundary (like he did on his second touchdown). And it looked like he was committed to heading that way, too. But with one quick plant of the right leg, he burst up the field and made a big-time play. For a team that’s struggled so mightily to get the ball into the end zone this year, that was massive.
–Are the Patriots going to make the playoffs? No, not without a miracle. Winning their remaining five games is hard enough. Getting the necessary help elsewhere seems even less likely.
BUT! Something occurred to me today while looking at some schedules. And I realized that the Patriots finish their season at home against the Jets. And even in the likely scenario that the Patriots are eliminated from postseason contention before that game kicks off … it’s also likely that the Jets enter that game with an 0-15 record.
The Jets are currently winless. They’ve been outscored by roughly 1 million points, more or less. They’ve got the Raiders, Seahawks, Rams and Browns on the schedule the next five weeks. Four of those teams are playoff teams, and the Raiders are right on the outside of the playoff picture. They are all near-certain losses for New York’s second team.
And so, even if this year goes down as a net negative for New England … Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft still may have something to celebrate come Week 17: Cementing the 2020 Jets as arguably the single worst football team in NFL history.
In a year without much, that’s something to look forward to.