Patriots

Brady: We have quite a bit of work to do

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Brady: We have quite a bit of work to do

Though their performance in New England's first preseason game of the season was far from explosive, Tom Brady knows he has a variety of weapons with which to work this season. He talked about the composition of the Patriots offense, as well as a variety of other topics, when he joined WEEI's Dennis & Callahan show Monday morning.

"There's quite a bit of veteran depth at the receiver position and kind of youth depth at the running back position, and at the tight end position two guys who are returning who were very productive for us last year," Brady said. "So, there's definitely places to throw the ball. It's just a matter of how things really come together here in the next four weeks before the season starts. We have quite a bit of practices, we've got three preseason games. Based on last week's performance against the Saints and through training camp, we still have quite a bit of work to do. So, that's why we're going out there today to practice."

The Patriots beat the Saints 7-6 in last week's exhibition. It wasn't the immediate offensive outburst many might have been expecting, but as the first team offense receives more repetitions with one another, the number of points they post should surge proportionally. One player who could play a major role in the offense's production this fall is Brady's new outside-the-numbers threat Brandon Lloyd.

"He's one of the guys that has come in as a veteran player and he's had familiarity with what we're doing, based on being in Josh's offense for I think three or four years," Brady said. "A lot of it is just trying to understand each other a little bit better, what he's looking for and what I'm looking for. Like I said, it hasn't been long. We've only been at it for three weeks. We're constantly communicating about -- in order to be a good offense, you really have to anticipate what's going to happen before that actually happens. You can't really be reactive out there necessarily as an offense. Brandon and myself are constantly talking and trying to really get on the same page."

Lloyd's excitement to be playing for Josh McDaniels -- with whom he spent time in both Denver and St. Louis. -- has been well-documented. But Brady, who thrived under McDaniels' system when he set passing records in 2007, is just as excited to see his old offensive coordinator back in Foxboro.

"He and I are extremely comfortable with one another," Brady said of McDaniels. "He's a great coach. I love being coached by him. He comes prepared every single day. He's always got something new to add to us. He brings a lot of energy to our offense. He's a great coach."

Of course, not even McDaniels' offense can run without a functioning offensive line. The big boys in front of Brady have been very busy during training camp, trying out different combinations and different positions. Brady praised the group Monday morning.

"Always in training camp there's a lot of players in there that are competing for jobs. Certainly, the offensive line that played the other night, they've been in there a lot throughout the course of training camp," Brady said. "Honestly, it's not my job to worry about those guys. I have a lot of confidence in that group in general, not just the individuals. The longer offensive lines play together, typically the better that they play, the more comfortable they are with one another. Offensive line is very similar to an offense in general in that the more trust you have in one another, the better that you typically play. It's still early in training camp, and certainly we don't have all the answers three weeks into the year. I wouldn't expect us to peak here in early August. We've got a lot of practices, we've got a lot of communication, a lot of meetings, a lot of walk-throughs that we're going to need in order to be ready when the season really kicks off."

While he's confident that the Patriots offense will put in the work necessary to reach its considerable potential, he's not making any lofty predictions just yet.

"We're a long ways from the start of the year," he said. "We're a long ways from being the team that ultimately we're going to be. We haven't even had a regular-season practice yet. A lot of people want to make predictions this time of year -- and that's probably a fun thing to do -- but for us players, it's really a matter of just kind of putting our head down and going through the grind of training camp and the preseason games and making mistakes and learning from our mistakes and talking about the mistakes so that ultimately, when it really matters the most, we can be at our best. That's why the training camp is so necessary."

Brady touched a few other topics in the interview:

On Plaxico Burress' workout with the Patriots: "I have no idea. Those decisions aren't up to me, and like I said, I'm a player on this team, I don't make any of those decisions or decide who visits our team and so forth, or who we draft. I kind of find out like everybody else. We have a lot of receivers that have worked really hard over the course of the offseason and through training camp that are competing for a job, so it's a very competitive position, and every single one of those guys on this roster that I've had a chance to be out there with I have a lot of confidence in. However it presents itself with the final roster, those are really Coach Belichick's decisions. He's made those since the day I got here and there's really no one that can talk him into or out of anything, he's the one that makes all those decisions. That kind of the way that it goes."

On Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen: "I had quite a bit of time with them last year, and I spent the entire last season and a lot of communication with both of those guys. Obviously it looks like they've really learned a lot from last year, and judging by the way they played the other night, they're obviously very talented players, it's just a matter of, like I said, consistency and dependability of everybody on our offense. And certainly at the running back position, when you haven't played as much, it's fun to get out there and play and really see the work you put in the offseason and see how it plays out on the field. They're both excitable and they're fun to have in the huddle. They made a bunch of great plays the other night, so that was fun to see."

On the replacement officials: "None of it's for us players to worry about. We have to go out there and do our job. We have plenty of things on our plate that we have to take care of. The other night, for example, the last thing I was thinking about was the refs and their calls. I was worried about trying to complete passes. Whoever's out there is out there. I really could not care less who's calling the game. I've got to go out there and do my job as best I can."

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

When the Patriots signed Stephon Gilmore in the offseason and then managed to keep Malcolm Butler around, the consensus was not only might this be the best 1-2 punch at cornerback the team has ever had, but maybe, just maybe, it was the best duo in the NFL this season. 

Newsflash: it hasn’t been. Not even close. 

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The latest example comes from Sunday night in Denver. Gilmore returned from a three-game absence (concussion) to play well against Demaryius Thomas in that 41-16 win. The same can’t be said of Butler. He spent much of his day playing man-to-man versus Emmanuel Sanders and struggled mightily.

Butler’s issues started on the very first play. He got lost along the sidelines and surrendered a 31-yard catch. Butler initially had Sanders blanketed. The two were lined up outside the numbers along the left sideline. Based on the formation, and the alignment of safety Devin McCourty, it was pretty clear Butler was alone on an island. Sanders initially drove inside before straightening out his route. Then he cut sharply, working speedily to the flat. Butler had a good beat on the play but unwisely peeked into the backfield. That’s when Sanders turned up and found nothing but green grass.

“I would just say I’d just tip my hat to him,” said Butler. “It was a great route. He steered me in. Then he went up then went out then went back up so I thought that was it. It was a little more than I expected. You gotta learn from it and play it better next time.”

On the same drive, he was beaten again by Sanders, this time for 13 yards. The Pats defense tightened up and held Denver to a field goal but a pattern had already been established between the Patriots' 27-year-old cornerback and Sanders.

The next big play Butler coughed up came with 4:13 to play in the second quarter. Broncos QB Brock Osweiler summoned Sanders to come across the formation via motion but then sent him back as the wideout approached the tackle box. Butler overreacted, trying to jump out ahead of the motion while simultaneously looking into the backfield. It was then he realized Sanders had done an about-face. To his credit, Butler recovered and jumped on Sanders shortly after the snap of the ball, actually shoving the receivers’ right shoulder in an attempt to disrupt the pattern. 

As Sanders turned upfield, he appeared well-covered by Butler. But then another old habit that’s been hard for Butler to break appeared. He lost track of the ball once it took flight. Sanders slapped on the brakes and high-pointed the football while Butler watched, helplessly flat-footed. Chalk up another 23-yard gain.

“I would just say he underthrew it and I got pushed by,” said Butler. “I probably burst because I was expected the ball to come too. You just got to play it the best way you can. Things happen. He just made a great play. I was in good position but not good enough.”

Sanders caught one more pass on the drive, and should have had a touchdown in the second quarter, streaking past Butler toward the end zone. But Osweiler made a terrible throw, unable to even keep it in the field of play. Hence another field goal instead of a touchdown. Bullet dodged - and there were a few.

“You can’t win with three all day,” said Butler of the defense’s red-zone efficiency. “They’re very hard on us on protecting the red area and not giving up touchdowns in the red area. Bend but don’t break. That’s been the motto.”

The Patriots would break later and Sanders beating Butler was a part of it. The play coming about five minutes into the third quarter on Denver's only TD-scoring drive. The Broncos came out in trips, employing a bunch formation that had plagued the Patriots so often the first month of the season. Unlike then, the Pats handled communication perfectly and as Sanders worked toward the seam, Butler had good position and help toward the post, with safety Duron Harmon eyeballing Sanders the entire way. So did Butler do? He gave up outside leverage, with Sanders breaking hard to the flag. Butler’s footwork was a mess - he got spun around like he was auditioning for "Dancing With the Stars" - and was unable to recover until Sanders had picked up another 23 yards.

“Another good route,” said Butler. “He got me thinking inside and broke out. He’s a good player. A great receiver.”

There’s no denying Sanders’ talent, but Butler has got to be better and more consistent. He’s too often been lost in coverage or gotten caught gambling, eyeballing a big play that’s rarely come in 2017. With their issues up front, it’s the Pats secondary that’s going to have to lead the way. The corners have only occasionally played to the level expected of them. The clock is ticking. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: this is when the Patriots want to be playing their best football. About time Butler answered the call.