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Old 03-31-2015, 05:44 PM   #1
AllWorldTE
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Patriots' Pass Game

Questions regarding the Patriots’ pass game come up every so often and I’m in the mood to talk football so here we go. We had a small discussion in another thread where a question was asked which got me thinking of starting a larger conversation so I figured on taking a closer look at the pass game in general and the Pats’ pass game specifically. I do this stuff on my own for my own purposes so I figured why not share. Plus Lisa loves my diagrams so I decided I’d post a bunch for her to make fun of. Hopefully I don’t bore you.

Feel free to ask any questions that come to mind regarding what I've posted if you’d like. Don’t be afraid to chime in. I know a lot of people read these threads but don’t participate but if you have a point to make or disagree with something I've said or whatever please do.

As usual, I’d like to mention that I am no expert and most of what I say is simply my perspective. I do not have access to the Pats’ play-book or meeting rooms. There’s little question I’ll make some mistakes here and there, so feel free to question whatever comes to mind. I may sound like a know it all but I’m far from it. The more I look at this stuff the less I realize I actually know.

Frequent topics have centered on Tom Brady focusing on specific receivers rather than “the open man” and the complexity of the Patriots’ pass game. I’ll touch on these points as we work through this.

I’ll try not to get bogged down too much with QB mechanics, pass protection or game planning. I’ll stay away from too much pass coverage detail as well. I’ll describe the basic coverages and point out a few things along the way though.

QBs and receivers have to have a clear understanding of coverages and how they work to be successful in the pass game on any level. The QB has to recognize fronts and their associated coverages while all need to quickly recognize the cues that communicate what coverage they are facing even when teams are disguising and attempting to confuse.
There are five basic families of coverages.

Cover 0 is a Middle of the Field Open (MOFO) pure man coverage for blitzing & doubling.
Cover 1 is a Middle of the Field Closed (MOC) Man coverage.
Cover 2 is a MOFO zone coverage
Cover 3 is a MOC zone coverage
Cover 4 is a MOFO zone coverage.

There are variations of all of these coverages which must be planned for and recognized. A MOFO coverage means that there is no Safety in the deep middle of the Field/Formation. Cover 0 has no one playing a deep safety position. Cover 2 & Cover 4 are dual safety MOFO coverages. Cover 1 & Cover 3 both feature a single high safety working the middle of the field (MOC).

I will point out coverage info as I go along especially as it applies to the play.

I won’t go crazy with Formation identification but will discuss nuances where appropriate. I will identify formation by how many receivers are aligned to a side as in 2x2 and 3x1. When I identify a receiver in a formation it will be by number and/or name. Number 1 is the first receiver from the sideline in, number 2 the second etc. Front-side (FS) is the play-side and back-side (BS) is the away side of the play.

Last edited by AllWorldTE; 03-31-2015 at 06:19 PM..
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Old 03-31-2015, 05:46 PM   #2
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It was asked recently why some receivers have difficulty learning and executing the Patriotsí passing game. Is it so complex that itís self defeating? Well one of the things youíll see if you study their pass game is that is isnít static. Some teams will install concepts and rep them to death as a single play or only a few plays and a receiver may only need to learn one or two components of the play. The Patriots donít do this.

They will build many different plays around their concepts over the course of the year. They will install the concepts in OTAs, Minis and Pre-season camp. They then use different components to build plays over the course of the year. There are very few plays they run the same exact way frequently. This means that a receiver here has to learn all the different components and be able to execute them.

Groups: A receiver may be an X in one group, an F in another and a Y in a third. They need to know week to week how they fit into the groups that are part of the game plan that particular week.

Formations: Once they know where they fit in the various groups they need to know where to line up in the Formations that are being used that week. They could have twenty or more versions of 3x1 formations that week. A particular player may be an X in some of them, or a Y or an F or a Z, whatever. They need to know how they fit in a group and how they fit into the Formations assigned to that group for the week.

Motions/Shifts: A player also has to know how he fits into motion calls by group. The Pats donít motion LaFell very often but if they want to move him this week for say a Stack Screen or to gain a release against a tough press man match-up they may insert him into a Z role in certain groups for the week and as such he needs to know where to line up and what motions are being called for him.

Concepts: The players have to have a deep understanding of the base concepts the Pats are using as they may be called on to execute any route within them. This isnít the old Bengalsí offense where Chad O always ran the same routes for the most past. In NE, you might find yourself executing a number of different phases of a concept and need to understand it and its adjustments. One play you might be running the Alert or simply an occupy route and the next call youíre the first read and the next youíre the second read.

Individual Routes: Thereís a lot of variation and skill in route running. In NE you are expected to run a wide variety of routes and run them well including advanced sight adjustments, conversions and hots. This offense isnít for the slow learner by any means.

As the team goes through the season they begin to establish who can do what well and roles within concepts begin to clarify and the offensive staff will build plays with their playersí strengths in mind.
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Old 03-31-2015, 05:50 PM   #3
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Iíll define a few things which are basic to the pass game. A pass route is run by an individual receiver. A combination pattern is two or three routes working in combination. A pass pattern is the configuration of the entire pass route figuration. A pass concept is a basic combination or pattern around which a pass play is built. A pass play is the melding of all the necessary components; personnel group, formation, motions, protection, concept, alerts, checks, etc.

There are different types of pass concepts and progressions. There are progressions where the QB reads the receivers in a set order and Key read progressions where the QB reads defenders who are his keys to where he needs to throw the ball. There are also match-up reads which are big in the NFL as everyone knows.

The QB really needs to have an outstanding ability to recognize coverage pre and post snap as many times his progressions or reads are drastically affected.

A straight progression tells the QB who to look for in a Pattern. He finds his first read, if the first read is covered, the QB moves on to the second, then the third, etc.

During Key read progressions the QB focuses on one and sometimes two defenders whose reactions to the pattern determine where the QB throws the ball.

So basically in progression passing the QB is reading the receiver through the area he is targeting. The idea is to focus on the area and if a defender appears in that area, move on to the next man in the progression.
The key read is effective in single and combo route concepts but becomes problematic in more complex patterns as the initial key could be false as another defender does the unexpected.

The QBís footwork on a given pattern is tied directly to the progression. He must time his drops and other steps to each route in the order of the progression which may change depending on the pattern and coverage. He must always initially use footwork which puts him in position to throw the ball to the first man in the progression if he is open and then adjust from there.

One thing that needs to be understood is ďAlertsĒ. An alert is a route built into a pattern separate from the actual concept. It is usually a deep route such as a Post, Go, or Seam read. The Alert will often change based on coverage and is designed to occupy a particular deep defender to prevent him from defending the concept. An Alert could be as simple as a receiver who runs a post at a single high safety (cover 1 & 3 MOC) or a Go against a Dual High Safety (Cover 2 & 4 MOFO).

While many routes will adjust to occupy the areas where the Safeties arenít, Alerts often adjust to occupy where they are. This forces the defender to play his deep responsibility and if he doesnít, it opens the defense up to a big play for the offense. Great QBs and coaches will often have figured out pre-snap if the Alert is going to come open. A good QB will know during his drop if heís going to throw the Alert or not. If not, he adjusts his drop on the fly to his second read.

We can look at a pass play built around the ďDriveĒ concept for an example. The Drive is a concept the Patriots use where two receivers cross the field, one low and one high, from the same side of the formation. The basic read is one crossing receiver to the other. The crossers are most often the number 2 and 3 reads in the progression however because an Alert route will be attached to the play to keep the Safety off of the deep crosser. So in effect, the Alert read, Post or Go, is the first read in the progression followed by the crossers. There may be two Alerts built into the play depending on the coverage and formation. The fourth read is most likely an outlet designed to occupy the defender in the best position to disrupt the crossing concept outside the read. In Drive you can do any number of things with this player.
Alerts can also change a play at the LOS similarly to Kills. A play call may have an Alert built into it that changes it from a run call to a pass call. Brady uses the word ďalertĒ at the LOS when he changes from a run to a companion Pop. ďKillĒ typically means that two plays were called in the huddle. The QB kills the first call and the team executes the second. Thatís different than audibles built off of the same formation where there may be a run, a companion Play-action pass and a screen or reverse or whatever as well.

In this diagram we see the Pats 3x1 against the Bears in Cover 1. The Safety circled in yellow aligned in the deep middle is who they want to occupy. The Post Route in blue is the alert route designed to occupy him. The two pass routes in red crossing the formation is the Drive Hi-Lo crossing concept. If the Safety comes up on the Hi crossing the Post is the throw. The QB looks through the area the Post will occupy and if the Safety stays home he moves on in his progression to the Drive combination. If the Drive crossers are covered he moves on to the reads 4 & 5. The RBís route as Iíve drawn it has an effect on both the Drive concept and the Comeback Route the X (LaFell) is running on the back-side which weíll see later on.
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File Type: jpg Progression Passing 1.jpg (85.6 KB, 276 views)
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Old 03-31-2015, 05:52 PM   #4
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Combination routes. Every team, including the Patriots, makes use of two and three man patterns which they package with other combinations when they build a packaged play. These combinations work exclusive to each other within the same play. These can be quick passes or full five and seven step combinations. It serves the purpose of being able to attack multiple coverages. The QB reads the defense, identifies the coverage and makes his best decision on which of the route combinations heís going to work. Sometimes a receiver will be wide ass open and people will freak that the QB didnít get him the ball but often times itís because the QB is working the other side of the field.

In this picture we see two separate and distinct route combinations being run against the Denver Broncos who are in off man Cover 1 (MOC). There is a single high safety moving to close the middle of the field. At first glance this looks a lot like Cover 3 Zone but if you look closely youíll see Vereen split wide left and Devlin wide right. A Safety aligns on Vereen and a LB aligns on Devlin which indicates man coverage as does the LBís inside leverage on Devlin. If the Broncos were in Zone, CBís would have been aligned on those players with outside leverage.

We see two route combos here. The two receiver side in red is executing a Hi-Lo China/Smash concept which is outstanding against Dual Safety coverages (Cov 2, 2 Man & Cov 4). The 3 receiver side in blue is running a Stick Combination which is good against a single high safety. The green line splits the field. Brady has to choose which side to work pre-snap or immediately post-snap based on the coverage. This is an example of play packaging which most teams utilize on all levels of football. The Pats are one of the premier concept packaging teams in the NFL.
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Old 03-31-2015, 05:53 PM   #5
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Types of Progressions

These are all progressions most teams make use of in some form or fashion in the pass game.

Quick Game

Flat to Slant
Pats used this heavily in the Super Bowl
Can be a Progression or key read
Can be executed by one, two or three receivers.

Outside to Inside
Typical quick game concept read either in progression or key
QB reads from the outside route to the inside route
Typical concepts include Fade/Seam, Fade/Out, Out/Seam and Hitch/Seam

Flat to Stick
Two or three man combo
Pats frequently package this with two & 3 man combination concepts
Features a Flat route to Inside Stick/Out progression

These quick progressions work best on certain levels when reading the reaction of an individual defender then working to the receiver away from that defenderís reaction as a key read. Other people feel otherwise. Itís a matter of philosophy and what works for your particular QB. Having said that, Iíd imagine the Patís use some combination of Progression & Key reads in their quick passing game.

Drop Back Passing
Alert-Mesh-Flat (Pats staple in the past)
Sideline-Stop-Middle (Pats use frequently as a Combo)
Curl ĖFlat-Middle (Not a Pats core deal but often a BS Combo)
Alert Post-Comeback-Flat (or Drag) to Middle Pats like dragging Gronk here)
Alert Post-Dig-Drag-Flat (A core concept last year)
Alert Post-Outside-Inside- Flat (another Core deal)
Alert Post-Corner to Flat to Middle (Core RZ Concept)
Streak to Dead Zone to Flat (Two minute core concept)
All Go, Inside to Outside to Middle (When trailing late they like to go to this)

As we break down the Pats 2014 Pass game weíll see examples of all of these progressions in action.
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Old 03-31-2015, 05:55 PM   #6
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Itís been asked repeatedly if this complexity is worth it when itís obviously difficult to develop receivers here. I think it is. The offense here has been outstanding for a very long time, often built with receivers who werenít highly sought after or higher paid. It takes work and effort and can be frustrating but the results speak for themselves.

I do not know what the names the Pats call most of their pass concepts. I do know that they do not use the standard names for most of them such as ďStickĒ. I believe they call that Ghost. Whatever they call their concepts, it doesnít really matter as terminology is so fluid as to make no sense to anyone if youíre anal about it and I donít care to be. You could hear five coaches talking, oneís talking about a Snag, another a Scat, another an Exxon, another a Chevron and yet another a Mesh yet they are all talking about the exact same passing concept. I know of coaches who use those different terms all for the same concept so getting bogged down discussing it isnít important. Iíll call the Patís concepts whatever I feel like calling them and that and their descriptions will have to suffice.

Iíll use a concept the Pats liked a lot last year because of Vereenís receiving skills to illustrate how they build these plays and how it stresses the receivers. It is a Post-Wheel-Cross concept. It features the Alert Post-Dig-Drag-Flat progression. A lot of teams on all levels run some version of the Post-Wheel where the QB reads the progression. The Pats like to run it with six man protection and four receivers releasing. They typically will have two receivers aligned to the front side along with the running back who runs the Wheel creating a three receiver surface.

Number 1 Front-side typically runs a read route where he either runs a deep Dig (in-cut) or a deep stop route). A read route adjusts to coverage.

Number 2 is the Post man. He can run a deep or a short Post, a Stop or a Dig depending on the presentation offered by the Safeties.

Number 3 is the RB running the Wheel from the back-field.

The number 1 Back-Side receiver runs a Crossing Route. Everyone has seen this concept in action this past year multiple times. The Pats typically leave a TE in to block as the 6th man in the protection as the RB is releasing on his Wheel who is not involved in the protection.

The progression is the Alert Post (number 2 receiver) to the Dig (Number 1 receiver) to the Wheel (number 3) to the Crosser (Back-side 1). The Dig read almost never gets the throw. It can come open but usually itís too late. Typically the Dig ends up blocking the Safety looking to tackle the Wheel or Crosser.

I took a look at a few versions of this concept the Pats used during the year to show how they built actual plays around this concept. I grabbed screen shots of four different and distinct plays, two were run against the Lions, one was run against the Chiefs and one against the Chargers. Iíll compare the two from the Lions game first. The first pic will show the pre-snap formation with the routes in yellow and the second pic shows the receivers at the top of their stems.

The pic shows the pattern weíre looking at. The play-side is to the offenseís left. The back-side is to the right. We see a 3 receiver release play-side and a single back-side receiver crossing the formation.

Number 1 from the side-line is LaFell aligned on the LOS. Number 2 is Dola, number 3 is Vereen. BS number one is Edelman and BS 2 is Gronk. Gronk is going to stay in as the sixth pass protector. Edelman is going to cross the formation. LaFell had a Dig read where he runs a purpose route designed to cut under Dola who is running the post-read in the ďWheel-PostĒ. Vereen has the Wheel.

Both LaFell and Dola are reading coverage. Dola is assigned to run a Post initially but itís not a route where heís going to run it regardless of coverage. He will read the near safety, in red, and break either to the Post if the MOF is open, stay high is itís closed and in some cases sit down or Dig vs versions of Quarter Safeties. Here he stays high after being forced inside by the LB so heís already occupying the area he would of if he hit the Post. Vereenís Wheel is pure, he has no read other than ball placement.

Now Brady is working high to low here. If Dola is available he can hit him but thatís going to be rare as the Patís feature the Wheel-Crossing route and get the ball out fast typically. Here we see the two deeper routes clear out while the Wheel stretches giving Edelman a lot of free room. This is a case where Brady most likely knows pre-snap that heís not taking a shot at Dola.

The second pic shows where the receivers finish up their routes.
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File Type: jpg Post-Wheel Cross 1a.jpg (87.8 KB, 269 views)
File Type: jpg Post-Wheel Cross 1b.jpg (108.8 KB, 269 views)
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Old 03-31-2015, 05:56 PM   #7
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The third and fourth pics illustrate what the Pats like to do with their personnel which can be a challenge. They liked this concept against the Lions and decided they might use it several times most likely because the Lionsí defense was deep route conscious at the expense of their under coverage.

This time we see the same pre-snap formation however their personnel group is different and they motioned. Here Hooman is in Gronkís previous alignment, Gronk is in Edelmanís, Edelman is in Dolaís and LaFell and Vereen are static. So Gronk and Edelman are now each playing a different position, different alignments and different routes in the same concept we saw earlier. The Patís regularly do this with all of their core pass concepts and do it week to week.
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File Type: jpg Post-Wheel Cross 2b.jpg (101.2 KB, 269 views)
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Old 03-31-2015, 05:57 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AllWorldTE View Post
As usual, I’d like to mention that I am no expert...
O.K. But WTF does that make me?


Joking aside really cool stuff, and thanks so much.

Your Magnum Opus.

Cheers, BostonTim

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Old 03-31-2015, 05:57 PM   #9
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These two pics show the Post-Wheel-Cross concept as run against the Chiefs early in the year. As you can see the personnel group is drastically different from those used against the Lions with a two back set (White and Vereen) and no Gronk. Itís a different formation as well. Edelman is in the Dig role, Dola is running the Post read, Vereen as always runs the wheel, and here LaFell is running the Cross which is different than what he did against the Lions. The protection is different with the Pats using a six-man RB double read call with White the sixth protector rather than the six-man TE protection they used in the other play calls we looked at. So we are looking at the same concept but a different play call altogether.
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File Type: jpg Post-Wheel Cross 3b.jpg (98.2 KB, 259 views)
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Old 03-31-2015, 05:58 PM   #10
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This is the same concept run against the Chargers later in the year with some interesting wrinkles. LaFell and Edelman are back in their Dig-Post roles and Vereen again runs the Wheel. On the back-side Wright is running the crossing route and Gronk staying in as the sixth protector like we saw against the Lions. So this is yet another personnel group for this concept. On top of that, the Pats attached a TE Y-Screen back-side to dump the ball off to Gronk if Vereen or Wright failed to come open. This was a new wrinkle which is interesting. You can clearly see Gronk & the OL setting up the Screen in the second pic. The SD defender read it well putting the defender in blue in the bind of choosing to cover either Vereen or Wright. Vereen was wide open in the progression so he got the throw even though Wright was clearly viable. Edelman staying high on his Post read might have been a nice throw here as well although Brady was being pressured here into a quick throw.
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File Type: jpg Post-Wheel Cross 4b.jpg (86.1 KB, 256 views)
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Old 03-31-2015, 05:59 PM   #11
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This serious of looks at the same concept gives a good feel of how the Patriots construct their pass game. We saw multiple personnel groups, multiple protections, including an attached TE screen, and saw receivers running multiple routes within the same concept. Gronk ran the crosser, he protected and ran a screen. Edlelman ran the crosser, the Post-Read and the Dig-Read. LaFell ran the Dig-Read and the Crosser.

This gives some understanding of what a receiver in this offense is expected to execute. In Edelmanís case he needs to know which spot heís playing in each of the different groups, where that spots aligns and what route he runs. And each of the routes he ran is adaptable to coverage. The Post coverts, the Crosser adjusts and the Dig converts.

This is a lot to learn and execute on an NFL level and the Pats do this with most of their pass game concepts.

As we look at what they like to do in the pass game it should become clear.
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Old 03-31-2015, 06:00 PM   #12
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The Pats use a lot of different types of passes and concepts.

I define the different types of passes used in the pass game as:

Quick game
Slow Quick game
Drop back game
Play-Action Passing

Roll Out
Screen Game
Now Passes (Smoke Screens)
Pops (Quick Play-Action)

Just as the Pats do in the run game, they have certain core concepts that fit into those categories which form the base of their offense and other concepts which they use schematically here and there against certain opponents or which they experiment with. For instance, they ran two shuttle passes last year, both poorly, against the same opponent early in the season (Vikings). The shuttle was a scheme concept which was not practiced often and was not a go to play in their game planning. Now the Slant was called multiple times in many connotations over the course of 19 games last year. They relied on it heavily. It is a core concept that is repped constantly.

Weíll explore each of the core concepts the Pats build their offense with, how they function and the wrinkles they used over the course of the year. Weíll dabble in the scheme plays here and there when of interest.
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Old 03-31-2015, 06:01 PM   #13
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Quick Game Passing

The Quick game is what it sounds like. Quick passes that attack the under coverage and slows down the pass rush. It’s a great drive or serious starter and great on 3rd and short and in some cases on the goal-line. The QB is making quick reads and getting the ball out fast. Quick Passes are usually 2 or 3 man combination patterns. They can be read via progression or Key. They can be mirrored where both side of a formation are running the same concept and the QB decides which way he is going or they can be packaged with different concepts to stress the defense. The Patriots package these concepts for the most part. Occasionally you’ll see mirrored patterns from them but it’s not typical.

I’ll take a look at each in depth and later on we’ll see some of these concepts again when we look closer at some of the Pat’s packaging game planning.

The Patriots’ Quick Game core staples include the Hitch-Seam read, the Fade-Seam read, the Slant-Slide, Levels and Stick. They will combine all of these in their play calls.

Each of these concepts has built in adjustments and calls which we’ll see a little of. We will also see how the Pats change up groups, alignments and individual routes for their receivers.

I'll post some info on the Hitch-Sean concept the Pats use frequently first.

Last edited by AllWorldTE; 03-31-2015 at 07:51 PM..
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Old 03-31-2015, 06:01 PM   #14
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Mods, can we sticky this - please.

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Old 03-31-2015, 06:02 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by BostonTim View Post
O.K. But WTF does that make me?


Joking aside really cool stuff, and thanks so much.

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