Tom Brady is too old. Tom's got no 'weapons.' He goes into weekly tank battles directing clown cars or something. Blah, blah, blah.
Yet somehow through magic potions and elite-QB wizardry or something, the Patriots were able to blast through two of the NFL's better early season defenses in consecutive weeks. All with essentially the same personnel that supposedly wasn't good enough to beat anybody a few short weeks ago.
The New England Patriots take on the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday, October 12, 2014.
This is narrative crunch time. Did we just see a David Blaine football show? Or was the outside roster analysis a sweet potato diaper mess?
How dizzying it must be to keep the lists of which players 'suck' and which players are 'awesome.' The reality is the Patriots have a ton of offensive talent. They just took a month to figure out how to use it. Would they have done a better job if they figured it out quicker? Yep.
But this shouldn't be some surprising turn of events. It's the NFL. It's a league packed full of talented players playing a teaching and game-planning sport. Happens all the time. Gotta stop being surprised by the same "got your nose!" developments. You've seen this before.
Conversely (and most importantly), perceived talent discrepancies in the NFL can be largely negated by the little details of execution in any play--both for and against you. The difference between good and bad teams almost always boils down to these details that live outside of how 'good' or 'bad' a player or coach is. Adherence to the details that matter bring ya home a hero.
I don't know exactly how many hundreds of video presentations I've sat through where Coach Belichick illustrated examples of exactly this. 'If you (or they) would just do __ it would have turned out drastically different.' Oddly enough, these teaching points don't involve an NFL transaction to make them turn out differently. Huh. Sunday's Patriots/Bills game provided a perfect microcosm play that held within it so many of the elements I'm talking about, it's understandable that it could be blinked past in a fast-moving game. Let's slow down for a second and take a peek at a play that shows the sliver between great & garbage:
New Patriots WR Brian Tyms had a highlight reel worthy 43-yard touchdown catch that really turned the emotional tide in the hotly contested divisional matchup. Without each of the following elements all working in perfect harmony, this play absolutely doesn't happen: vital (albeit simple) play design detail, nice protection by an offensive line that supposedly can't, a throw by a 67-year old or something QB who can't make the throw he just did, and an incredibly athletic individual effort by one of those 'no weapon' guys.
Let's break it down into its component parts:
The Play Call & Design
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels deserves a ton of credit on the ultimate result in this big play because there is evidence that it wouldn't have happened if it wan't constructed exactly as it was.
The play was a play-action call that included a run fake mimicking a run play that Josh had already called earlier in the game. This matters for one very important reason: the Buffalo Bills defense had a player that could have covered up this pass play in the deep part of the field had the play design only been slightly different.
Defensive back #20 Corey Graham is playing at a safety position where he has both run and pass responsibility. The screen shot below traces the conflict the simple play-fake puts on Graham, forcing him flat-footed as Tyms is streaking down the field in his peripheral.
If the play call hadn't been play-action, instead just a drop-back pass where all the routes looked exactly the same, this play wouldn't have happened. Graham would taken deeper 'reminder' steps, and likely been a few yards deeper at the end of this play. What helps make this more real for Graham is the run plays that precede it. Just a drop of success gives you pause. That pause, provides the window the deep route runner needs.
Without that small detail in the play-call, Brady would've been throwing that ball into a block-party, and we'd be talking today about how he can't make that throw or something, doesn't have weapons who can get that separation, or whatever other bit of nonsense.
Screen capture via NFL Rewind
Every offensive lineman appreciates any element of the play-call that can slow the charge of the defensive lineman across from them. If the play-calls keep defenders uneasy and not firing off freely up the field every snap, everybody magically becomes a better blocker...or somehow the rusher becomes a worse rusher, whatever your point of view.
When McDaniels provided the plays prior to this big play to keep the rushers honest, and then tagged this particular play as play-action, everyone is put in a better position to do their job. Players who supposedly 'suck' are now blocking up the best pass rushers in the NFL for a critical gain. Magic or something.
Tom Brady can't throw the deep ball. Tom Brady had the space he needed to step up and make that throw. Tom Brady just threw one of the best deep balls you'll see. That's enough on that point...
Brian Tyms was afforded the clearance of the safety by the setup prior to the play and the play design itself. Now it's all about competing. And if you haven't got the sense of this by now, Brian Tyms is as hungry to compete as any player on this Patriots roster right now. His go-get-it skills to win on 50-50 balls from his basketball past are abundantly clear.
Buffalo CB Stephon Gilmore was the tenth overall pick by the Bills in the 2012 NFL draft. There aren't many more 'talented' players on the field than Gilmore. The story usually goes something like this: the scheme gets the Patriots players open. The Patriots get by with less talented people who are Christmas gifted Tom Brady and Bill Belichick's genius-ness to help them make plays they otherwise couldn't make.
Well, the story doesn't fit here, as it so often doesn't. Brian Tyms runs by and then leaps over 'more talented' players, to make a highlight touchdown catch. The throw was great, but if the catch wasn't equally great by a 'no weapon', nothing happens. And everybody goes back to supposedly sucking. Hopefully, this play illustrates how razor thin and layered the difference is between very good and very bad in a complex game. Hopefully people will remember the details of this play as we evaluate this Patriots team throughout this season.
As always, I won't hold my breath.
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