Patriots

Belichick provides scouting report on 'impressive' Bucs opponent

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Belichick provides scouting report on 'impressive' Bucs opponent

FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick's standard operating procedure is obvious by now: Emphasize the positive when it comes to a given week's opponent. Prepare your players for the worst in that regard, and do the same when behind a microphone so that there's no doubt in anyone's mind as to how highly you think of the other team.

This week, a short week for the Patriots as they prepare for the Buccaneers, was no different. Belichick ran through Tampa's top players on both sides of the ball, detailing their ability to impact the game. His scouting report given to the media wasn't necessarily a full scouting report, though. 

Here's what Belichick had to say about the Buccaneers on Tuesday, with some editor's notes to round out the current picture on that particular player.

On quarterback Jameis Winston: "Good. Look, good quarterback, very good arm, accurate. Gets the ball to all of his receivers. Uses the tight ends well, the receivers well. Strong, can stand in there against the rush. Moves well in the pocket to create a little extra time. He’s a hard guy to tackle, hard guy to bring down. He can throw the ball with people hanging all over him and he can throw it accurately and throw it pretty far, too. He stretches the field on you, sideline to sideline, vertical passer, 5,000 yards the last two years offensively, 50 touchdowns. They’ve had a lot of production on offense in two years. Coach [Dirk] Koetter has done a great job with him. He’s done well. For a guy in his third year he’s had extraordinary production. Not many guys that have more than he has, and we've had some pretty good quarterbacks."

Editor's note: Winston is clearly one of the better young quarterbacks in the league, though he's not without his flaws. He's the No. 10 quarterback in the league in terms of rating. He has a 2-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio. He's sixth in the league in yards per attempt. He hasn't been consistently accurate, though, completing 63 percent of his passes this year (19th in the NFL) and averaging a pick per game so far. In 2016, he was a middling quarterback -- 23rd in rating, 16th in yards per attempt, 25th in completion percentage -- but he's on track to best all of those numbers in his third season.

On receiver DeSean Jackson: "I mean, he's a great big-play threat," Belichick said. "He’s had tremendous production in that area through the course of his career, as good as any player in the history of the league. He’s a very explosive guy, short catch-and-run plays, vertical speed, good intermediate route runner . . . One of their many options in terms of playmakers."

Editor's note: To this point, Jackson hasn't quite worked out as the Bucs (or Jackson) had hoped. He signed a three-year deal for $35 million in the offseason, missed OTAs, and thus far has nine catches for 143 yards and a touchdown. He's been targeted 20 times in three games, and he's been pretty openly frustrated with how he's produced. 

On receiver Mike Evans: "Yeah, big, fast, can really go up and get the ball," Belichick said. "They throw a lot of high balls to him and he goes up there and can take it away from the defenders. He's strong. He’s a big target, catches the ball well. He’s tough."

Editor's note: Pretty much spot-on here. Not much to dislike about Evans' game. Even when he's covered, he's not. He's averaging almost 12 yards per catch on his 19 grabs through three games. He's being targeted more than 10 times a game on average, and he has two touchdowns. He's also doing this to people.

On tight end Cameron Brate: "Yeah, I mean, their tight ends are good. Brate’s done a good job for them. He’s done a good job in the passing game. He’s caught a lot of touchdowns in the last two years, more than any other tight end, so a good receiver, very dependable, knows how to get open. They’ve got a lot of confidence in him. They go to him in critical situations with option routes and in the red area, things like that. He’s been productive for them. I’m sure they like him. I can see why. He’s done a good job."

Editor's note: The Harvard product has 10 scores since the start of last season, and he came up with a big one last weekend against the Giants, putting the Bucs up five with just under eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. Brate is more of a pass-catching tight end than a blocker, and he's seen first-round rookie OJ Howard play more snaps (122 to 99) through three games.

On linebacker Lavonte David: "Well, he’s second in production to [Luke] Kuechly in everything except tackles-for-loss, and he’s second to [J.J.] Watt in that. He’s a very explosive player, good blitzer. That’s probably the one difference between him and Kuechly is he blitzes more than Luke did, although, Kuechly blitzed, too. Fast, athletic, good instincts, good nose for the ball, finds the ball, good tackler, strong, strong tackler, runs well."

Editor's note: David missed Sunday's win over the Giants with an ankle injury. He did not practice on Tuesday, and it's looking like the Bucs may be without one of their best defenders Thursday night. Starting linebacker Kwon Alexander (hamstring) has missed the last two games injured as well, so perhaps the Patriots will be targeting the linebacker level -- with rookie Kendall Beckwith and Adarius Glanton -- when their offense hits the field in Tampa. 

On defensive lineman Gerald McCoy: "Thirty-three sacks in the last -- whatever -- four years, an explosive guy, quick, good athlete, good balance, smart, plays blocking schemes well, recognizes protections well, instinctive player, strong tackler, good against the running game. He’s got a lot of negative plays, good pass rusher, good leverage, rushes with power, has quickness, a tough guy to block."

Editor's note: Belichick hit the nail on the head with this one, too. McCoy is one of the most disruptive three-techniques in all of football. He didn't notch a sack against the Giants, but he had four total pressures and three defensive stops last week, per Pro Football Focus. He'll be a headache for Patriots interior offensive linemen.

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EX-PATS PODCAST: How Belichick the perfectionist will find flaws in win vs. Raiders

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EX-PATS PODCAST: How Belichick the perfectionist will find flaws in win vs. Raiders

0:55 - Patriots playing great as they stream roll the Raiders but Koppen explains that Belichick will knock them down as he strives for perfection. Also talk about how it takes a couple months into the season for the coaches and players to learn each other again.

5:40 - Stephon Gilmore playing excellent lined up against Michael Crabtree. Malcolm Butler bounces back but gives up the only score to Amari Cooper. Koppen suggest Butler’s contract situation might be affecting his play. 

7:50 - All in on the Patriots defense yet? Giardi and Koppen discuss the defensive play and the upcoming offenses the Patriots will be facing.

10:30 - Dan Koppen talks about job security in the NFL and if he ever worried about somebody else taking his job, and the cutthroat nature of the Patriots. 

13:50 - Tom Brady picking apart the Raiders and Jack Del Rio’s defenses throughout his career. 

17:45 - A debate about Patriots backup quarterbacks and if Matt Cassel was actually a good NFL QB. 

21:20 - A few game notes: Rex Burkhead’s fumble vs. the Raiders, LaAdrian Waddle filling in for Marcus Cannon. 

Speed to burn: Cooks, Brady team up to form most productive deep-ball combo

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Speed to burn: Cooks, Brady team up to form most productive deep-ball combo

The first came in the second quarter, when Brandin Cooks turned on afterburners to beat a Raiders double team and glide underneath a Tom Brady heave for 52 yards. The second came in the third quarter, on the third play from scrimmage of the second half, when Cooks faked an out-route, jetted past rookie corner Obi Melifonwu, and sped into the end zone to make the score 24-0. 

Both deep completions in New England's 33-8 win over Oakland just added to cumulative effect that Cooks has had on the Patriots offense since arriving before the season to become their top deep threat. 

Paired with Brady, Cooks has actually become the most productive deep threat in the NFL. 

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According to Pro Football Focus, Cooks leads all receivers with 431 yards on deep passes (throws that travel 20 yards or more down the field). In second place is Houston's DeAndre Hopkins with 313 yards. 

And Brady, who has long been more effective in the short-to-intermediate range than he has been deep, is now among the league leaders in creating explosive plays from the quarterback position. The Patriots are third in the NFL with 41 pass plays of 20 yards or more, and they are tied for second with nine plays of 40 yards or more. 

"You're always trying to work on that," Brady told WEEI's Kirk and Callahan Show of his team's deep passing game. "It's not one particular year [you work on it]. I think that's been a concerted effort by our entire offense, trying to make more explosive plays in the pass game. 

"Sometimes your offense is built differently. We actually have some guys now that can really get down the field so that becomes more of a point of emphasis. The way Brandin runs, the way that Chris Hogan runs, the way that Phillip Dorsett runs, they're very fast. You need to be able to take advantage of their skill set . . . 

"When we had David Patten we were throwing it deep. I mean, but David Patten didn't run a lot of short routes. I would say Brandin Cooks, in general, he doesn't run a lot of short routes. Everyone has a different role. If we can get by you, I think that's a good place to throw the ball. if we can't, we gotta figure out ways to throw it underneath and different weeks are going to call for different things based on the strengths of the defenses we're playing, too."

A week before beating the Raiders, against the Broncos and their talented corners, the Patriots had less luck pushing the ball down the field -- though they tried to hit Cooks deep multiple times. In Mexico City, Cooks matched up with a weaker secondary, and he wasn't at all slowed by the altitude, catching six passes in all for 149 yards and a score. 

Per PFF, Cooks has seen almost one third of his targets (30 percent) come on deep passes, which is the ninth-highest rate in the league. He's caught all 11 of his catchable deep passes, three of them accounting for scores.

"Obviously when you're throwing the ball 50-60 yards down the field," Brady said, "your chances of completion go down, but if you hit it, it ends up being a very explosive plays and you can change a lot of field position and get a defense really on their heels if they have to defend every blade of grass on the field." 

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