Devin McCourty slams the idea Tom Brady is a 'system QB'

Devin McCourty slams the idea Tom Brady is a 'system QB'

You’ve probably heard the word reductive? Just a fancy way of saying something is being grossly oversimplified.

We’ve got a clear case of reductive reasoning right under our noses this week.

The thinking goes that, because Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett combined to win three games for the Patriots this year and Matt Cassel won 11 in 2008, Tom Brady is merely a schmoe who happened to be in the right place at the right time in 2001, plugged into a can’t-miss system.

Tom Brady is...a system quarterback.

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Patriots safety Devin McCourty was presented with this piece of reductive logic Friday on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football program (nice to see two-thirds of a Quick Slants reunion with McCourty and our great friend Kay Adams).

McCourty’s response?

“That may be taking it a little too far,” said McCourty. “Just a system guy? That’s wrong. Obviously, everyone knows Tom Brady’s legend. His game speaks for itself. We obviously can’t wait to have him back in the locker room, he’s the leader on our team. To say that is ridiculous. Obviously, here in New England we find ways to win. It’s a little different here without Tom but to try to say he’s a system quarterback I don’t even think you should waste your time asking questions like that.”

For anyone who’d like a more detailed dismissal of the notion of Brady being a system guy, let’s look at the season that is most often used to discredit Brady’s singular excellence, 2008.

In 2007, the Patriots set NFL records for points (589), touchdowns (75), highest point-differential (315), Tom Brady set the NFL record for touchdown passes (50) and Randy Moss set the record for touchdown catches (23). The team recorded the NFL’s first 16-0 regular season and got to 18-0 before losing the Super Bowl.
In 2008, the Patriots scored 410 points, put up 43 touchdowns, Cassel threw for 21 touchdowns (Moss catching 11 of them) and the team won five fewer games than when Brady was there. I mean, 11-5 is still pretty good even if those Patriots did miss the playoffs, but the offense was barely half as effective.

Every team has a system. Every quarterback is a system guy. You know what system the Texans run? The same system the Patriots run. They didn’t score on Thursday. You know who else was a system quarterback? Joe Montana. And Steve Young.

Anyway, McCourty also had this to say about Bill Belichick and the trait that sets him apart.

“Consistency,” said McCourty. “You come into a short week, third-string quarterback, rookie quarterback, I think a lot of people would be expecting the head coach to come in and try to draw up all these different things you have to do, give you a big Kumbaya speech. He came in the same way he was three years ago, week one, week, two and let us know, ‘We need to do this, this and this and we can win the game.’ I think as players, you see that and the head coach comes in focused and you say, ‘Oh, he knows. We’ll follow him. We’ll do these things and see how it turns out. Over the years you see it. You do those things, you come out as a winner.”

Good system.  

Don't pigeonhole me: How will Adrian Clayborn fit into the Patriots defense?

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Don't pigeonhole me: How will Adrian Clayborn fit into the Patriots defense?

Looking for a two-word answer from Bill Belichick during a press conference? Ask him how a new addition to the roster might fit into the Patriots scheme. 

"We'll see," is Belichick's typical reply in those situations. 


We point that out here because it's hard to know exactly what any new player's role will be with the Patriots, particularly for an edge player like Adrian Clayborn. That spot in Belichick's defense can take on a variety of roles, from pass-rusher, to edge-setter, to coverage player. 

But we can take an educated guess as to how Clayborn will fit in the Patriots defense, based on what we know. That's what the Patriots did when they signed him. They saw certain skills. They saw Clayborn perform in certain situations. They made their projection. 

There's always the chance Clayborn asserts himself in a way that wasn't expected. Or maybe the way he fits with his new teammates will open his coaches' eyes in ways they weren't anticipating. But at this point, as is the case with every new addition, they're hypothesizing. So we will too. 

AGAINST THE PASS: Clayborn was, for the vast majority of his snaps, a pass-rusher for the Falcons last year. He played 631 snaps for the Falcons, which was 53.4 of their defensive snaps. Of those 631 plays, Clayborn rushed the quarterback 477 times, per Pro Football Focus (76 percent of his workload). And of those pass-rush snaps, only one came from the left side. (Clayborn was born with Erb's palsy, which means his right arm has some limitations compared to his left, which impacts the side of the field he aligns on. He played 91 percent of his snaps from the right side in 2016.)  Clayborn played over 80 percent of the snaps during each of his first three seasons in the league as a member of the Bucs so he's been a three-down player before. But recent history would suggest the 6-foot-2, 280-pounder is now more of a sub option.

Here's how Clayborn responded during a conference call on Wednesday when asked if he could chip in on first and second down for the Patriots. "I believe that’s what people have pigeon-holed me in as a third-down player, but I know I can play first, second, third down if need be," he said. "That was my role in Atlanta because that’s what they asked me to do, but I mean, I can play all three downs if you ask me."

AGAINST THE RUN: According to Pro Football Focus, Clayborn has been a negatively-graded player against the run during each of his seven seasons in the NFL. Last year he checked in as PFF's 78th-ranked run defender among edge players, which was far below the ranking Trey Flowers received (19th) but ahead of Deatrich Wise (85th) and Eric Lee (96th). During each of his last three seasons with the Falcons, he has seen his snap-counts break down similarly: about 75 percent of his work came against the pass, about 25 percent came against the run. He can defend the run. He's capable of it. He just hasn't been asked to consistently hold up on the edge on a down-in-down-out basis during the most recent phase of his career. 

THE FIT: Based on his history in Atlanta, it would make sense if the Patriots asked Clayborn to come off of the right edge in passing situations in 2018. That's where his recent experience has been. Keeping him away from the left side not only makes the most of where he's strongest, but it also keeps him from finding himself in coverage. As Belichick has explained in the past, the left end spot (Rob Ninkovich's old spot), going against right-handed quarterbacks, is typically asked to do more in coverage. The right edge has been Flowers' area in the recent past -- he played almost 65 percent of his passing-rush snaps last season off the right, per PFF -- but if the Patriots are fully-healthy up front, Flowers could kick inside to do his rushing. An ideal sub package for the Patriots, it could be argued, would have Clayborn on the right edge, Flowers and either Wise or Adam Butler on the interior, and Derek Rivers or Dont'a Hightower on the left edge. Rivers saw some work off the left side before suffering an injury in last year's training camp. Early last season, Hightower saw time on the left edge. 


Clayborn will have an opportunity to show he can do more than rush off the right side. He said on Wednesday that the Patriots have discussed multiple roles for him. (Perhaps he could rush from the interior, though he's not as long as Flowers or Wise, whose arms make them good matchups for stouter guards and tackles.) Wherever those opportunities come, Clayborn knows he'll have to make the most of them if he doesn't want to be pigeonholed. The deal for two years and $10 million he just signed in New England doesn't guarantee him myriad responsibilities.

"Whatever I can prove I can do,” he said. "I know I can rush the passer. I know I can set edge in the run. I mean, there’s a couple of different positions that they believe I can play, so it’s up to me to prove I can play them."


Ex-Patriot Ricky Jean-Francois signing with Lions

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Ex-Patriot Ricky Jean-Francois signing with Lions

Former Patriots defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois is signing with the Lions, according to Jordan Schultz of Yahoo Sports.

The 31-year-old had six tackles in six games for the Patriots in 2017. He'll reunite with ex-Patriots defensive coordinator and now Lions head coach Matt Patricia in Detroit.