Patriots

McDaniels is back with more miles on him

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McDaniels is back with more miles on him

FOXBORO - Josh McDaniels just turned 36 and there's barely a wrinkle - or a hint of a whisker - on his boyish face.

During his three-year mission away from the Patriots, he got some miles put on him. Scrutinized, vilified and - was very briefly - glorified.

As head coach of the Broncos, he traded a surly quarterback (Jay Cutler) after a draft-time trade for Matt Cassel blew up in Denver's face. He silenced doubters by starting out 6-0 and gave them voice again by finishing the rest of that 2009 season 2-6. After a 3-9 start in 2010 he was given the gate.

He landed in St. Louis, offensive coordinator for a team that made the playoffs in 2010 with Sam Bradford under center as a rookie. The Rams went 2-14, were in offensive shambles and the coaching staff was fired.

Now McDaniels is back with the Patriots. While he'd be excused if he seemed a little world-weary, the tone he struck at rookie minicamp this week was of a guy happy to be back where things began.

Im older," McDaniels said when asked how he's changed. Then he added, "I think we all learn things about ourselves each year, and I thinkIve had some experiences that hopefully have taught me a lot of things aboutme as a person, and certainly as a coach, Ive learned a lot of things aboutdifferent ways to do things.

"Ive been around a lot of different people thathave different philosophies, and some I thought were really interesting, andsome I learned some of maybe what I dont want to do," he added. :I think you learn both ofthose things as you meet new people, and experience new things. Just try totake the best from all those experiences and apply them to what I do every dayand try to be a better coach.If you put all 32 NFL coaches in a room, you couldn't throw a balled-up pink slip and not hit a guy who's been fired as a head coach and gotten a second bite at the apple.
Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick spring to mind first as guys who've been canned then triumped. There's also Mike Shanahan and John Fox and a fleet of men - Norv Turner, Chan Gailey, Romeo Crennel, Jeff Fisher - who are on their second teams now.

The smart money is on McDaniels again emerging as a hot head coaching prospect. He said Friday that's way off his radar right now.

Asked why he'd come back to New England with nothing left to prove, McDaniels said, "I think its more about what I have to learn. I think this is a greatenvironment for a young coach to learn. As old as I might feel, Im stillreally young and have so much more to learn and understand. There is not abetter teacher than Coach Belichick and Mr. Kraft and the way we do thingshere, how we adapt each year, and I think that gives any coach young or old an opportunity to really grasp those things and really improve."

McDaniels actually has plenty to prove. He hasn't coached a winning offense since 2008 when Cassel carried the Patriots to 11-5. He needs to show he is still one of the most innovative minds in football but also do it with a different cast than the one he had in New England his first time.

Short-lived though it was, Brady-to-Moss was historically explosive for the Patriots in 2007 when McDaniels made his reputation. That link-up is obviously gone and new toys are in place including a revolutionary tight end duo, a slot receiver who's only gotten better and a different kind of outside threat in Brandon Lloyd. What will McDaniels conjure from this group?

The foundation of our system has really been the same, in terms of our termsand some of the things that we re-teach every year," McDaniels explained. "Really. I think itsimportant as coaches to go back to your foundation each spring and dontassume anything. Recall, certainly, with a lot of our players is something thatwe expect and that we want them to show us and demonstrate. But I thinksometimes as coaches, its really good for you to go back and get to the nutsand bolts of why it started where it did, and again, progress to wherever itneeds to go that year, for that team, to do the best it can.

"Each year, everyteam is different," he added. "This team, the players we have here, are different than anyplayers Ive had. Tight ends. Backs are younger. I think you just have to goback, re-teach your foundation, establish what you believe in and your coreeach year, and then build it from there and allow the personnel to kind ofdictate which direction you go.There must have been an avalanche of advice and counsel for McDaniels when he left the Patriots in early 2009. But none of that could necessarily prepare him for the realities of the job. Real-life experience - success, failure and controversy - they leave their marks even if the face doesn't show a crease.
McDaniels is back and - even though his stay as simply the offensive coordinator of the Patriots may not be a five-year ride - it's what he's locked in on now. Head coaching?
"That's really not something I'm worried about or concerned about," he concluded. "I'm really excited about the opportunity that I have here and looking forward, very much, to this spring and trying to do what we can this year to win."

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

FOXBORO - We’re not quite at the point of fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, or 40 years of darkness, or even dogs and cats living together, but this Patriots season isn’t headed down the right path, despite a 4-2 record and the top spot in the AFC East. 

There are several elements that appear missing at this juncture - chief among them a defense that actually has a clue. Please don’t celebrate holding the Jets to 17 points - I’m looking at you, Dont’a Hightower. Josh McCown threw for just 194 yards against the Cleveland freakin’ Browns for goodness sake, but he got you for 354 and two scores?! Even the 2009 Patriots defense is offended by that.

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We’d be foolish to think the Pats can’t get this leaky unit fixed for reasons so obvious I won’t state them in this space so as not to waste my time or yours. We also know - long before Bill Belichick’s 6 1/2-minute explanation on the Monday conference call - that it's not supposed to be perfect right now. Actually, it’ll never be perfect. That’s not how this game works. 

Yet week after week, we see uncommon breakdowns and one defender looking at the next as if to say, “I thought you had him?” or more to the point, “what the hell were you doing?” It started Sunday at MetLife on the third play of the game. Malcolm Butler, playing 10 yards off Robby Anderson, looking as if he’s never played the position before, inexplicably turning his back on Anderson even though the wide receiver makes no real move to the post. That results in just about the easiest completion of McCown’s life, a 23-yarder on third-and-10. 

On the same series, on another third-and-long, the Pats rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. Defensive end Cassius Marsh continued his season-long trend of rushing so far upfield he ended up in Hoboken. With Deatrich Wise ridden outside on the opposite edge, McCown wisely stepped up and found prime real estate with New York City views. He wanted to throw and could have when the Pats fouled up a crossing route from the backside of the play. But with that much room to roam, McCown took off, scooting for a quick 16 yards and another first down.

Fittingly, that drive ended with a Jets touchdown on yet another dumb play, this one courtesy of Mr. Hit or Miss, Elandon Roberts. Channeling his inner Brandon Spikes, the second-year pro blew off his key and responsibility on third-and-goal from the 1, charging hard to the line. This, despite one of the most feeble play-action fakes you’ll see. In fact, I’m not even sure it was a real play-action fake. Anyway, score it as a touchdown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and an indictment on David Harris, who apparently can’t vault past the erratic Roberts on the depth chart.

Similar to the week prior in Tampa, the Pats found better footing after that. They forced three straight three-and-outs in the second quarter and then helped turn the game when Butler intercepted an ill-advised throw by McCown just prior to the half. They got another turnover to start the third, with Butler coming off the edge on fourth-and-1 and forcing McCown into panic mode. The veteran QB fired an off-target throw to - get this - a wide open receiver who went uncovered on a drag route and Devin McCourty was gifted an interception.

But this group frowns on prosperity. It took a little-seen rule to prevent a Seferian-Jenkins touchdown in the fourth, and on the game’s final drive, the Pats allowed a 32-yard completion on fourth-and-12. Then, on what turned out to be the Jets final play, the Pats let Tavaris Cadet leak out of the backfield and run unchecked 20 yards down the field. Had McCown not soiled himself again, Gang Green would have had a first down and at least one crack at the end zone. Then, who knows what the heck happens?

It was just a season ago that the Patriots led the entire NFL in scoring defense. If you’ll recall, we spent a better part of the year wondering if that defense was championship quality. Turns out they were. Right now, we’re wondering once again if this defense is of that ilk, but through an entirely different prism. It’s on the players and staff to change the current outlook, or those cats and dogs will have to figure out their shared space.

Have the offseason changes negatively affected the Patriots locker room?

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Have the offseason changes negatively affected the Patriots locker room?

The Patriots improve their record to 4-2 with a win over the Jets, but there are still a lot of concerning factors for New England. Mike Giardi and Dan Koppen talk about something the team isn't used to - close games.

Giardi also dives into whether there is a major problem with the locker room dynamic, and whether all the moves they made in the offseason were blown way out of proportion by the media and fans of the talent added, but didn't factor in the personalities they lost.

Koppen and Giardi also look at how the offensive line play has fallen off, despite the same personnel as last year. Finally, discussing the late scratch of Stephon Gilmore due to a concussion. Anything to read into the timing?