Patriots

Belichick: Brady was once protected from cuts

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Belichick: Brady was once protected from cuts

New England's tight schedule of three preseason games in 10 days has had an interesting effect on roster cuts.
Bill Belichick explained Thursday on his conference call.
"When you're playing once a week then you have a chance to practice everybody and play everybody in different increments during that game. The advantage of that is you get to see those players -- let's just say you did it in all three games -- in three different schemes, three different types of match ups with the other team, where we played kind of a split squad thing in the last three weeks. Probably the amount of plays is about the same, close to the same, but it was more segmented.
"I think overall it worked out to about the same number of plays, but you just didn't see some guys against Philadelphia and you didn't see some guys against Tampa, and you didn't see some guys against the Giants just compared to last year's preseason games. Practice-wise, some of the same things."

If having an extra day between preseason Game 4 and Friday's 9 PM cutdown deadline has any impact on the decision making, Belichick said it's "marginal." The coaches have been aware of date for months and have been evaluating accordingly.
Though there's a lot to think about.
"When you get to a certain point of your roster you look at whatever the number is, say 46, those are the guys that are going to go to the game, those are the guys that are going to play. Probably in that group you have a couple of players that may be injured, so to start the season maybe they wouldn't be able to play, but eventually you think they will be healthy and able to play.
"Maybe it's 50 players. Somewhere over 46 and somewhere less than 53, whatever that number is. Then you have basically depth and insurance for your team. So, you can have a player on your team that is on the 53 man roster, but he's not going to play on the team until you get to the 46, and then whatever the criteria that would get him to the 46 man roster-- is it special teams, is it injury, is it development of him because if it was just inexperience, do you feel like he could potentially grow into that role -- and then you need players on the practice squad, whoever they are."
Belichick pointed to OL Nick McDonald, who was picked up last September after being released by Green Bay, and Dolphins waiver Matt Kopa as depth players who joined the team from other sources. The value of such practice squad players is high because they're in the meetings and learning the system just like everybody else.
"You've seen them be activated as late as Saturday afternoon for a Sunday game," said Belichick. "It comes down to a question of where you want to carry your depth, in terms of what it costs -- what it costs financially, what it costs in terms of opportunity. You keep a person for depth here, does that leave you shorthanded somewhere else? Of course it does. So which players can you control? Well, you can control the ones on the 53, you can control the ones on the practice squad, not totally, but to some degree."
Not knowing what the team will need, or when the team will need it, is the very basis of what makes cuts so complicated. But maintaining some semblance of control is huge.
Take quarterbacks for example. In the past, the Patriots have kept as few as two. This season they will likely keep three in Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, and Ryan Mallett.
Could there be any conceivable reason to hang onto four? In 2000, there was.
"Kind of a unique situation, we had really two third quarterbacks between Brady and Michael Bishop. One of them could have been on the practice squad. In any case, we could have carried one of those guys on the practice squad, but, again we had 53 players and if you're going to have the inactive group anyway . It really doesn't matter whether the guy is on the practice squad or the 53 man roster -- if he's inactive, he's not going to play in the game.
"So then the question is, as an organization, which players do you want to protect? You can protect the ones on the 53, to some degree you can't protect the ones on the practice squad. In that particular case, that's why we didn't put Brady on the practice squad -- we wanted to make sure we had him, not so much for that year, but for the following year."
Turns out that was a wise move.
Belichick is hoping his judgment is similarly sound this week. There's just no way to know until the Patriots, and every other team in the league, is knee-deep in the season.
"There are a lot of considerations that come into play. We'd like to keep more than 53. We keep 61 when you add the practice squad. There's other players we'd like to keep working with, but we're just not going to be able to do that. We have to decide, what do we do that's best for the team?"

Patriots not taking the bait on potential bulletin-board material from Darnold...yet

Patriots not taking the bait on potential bulletin-board material from Darnold...yet

FOXBORO -- Devin McCourty knew where the question was going before it had even been asked.

"At his press conference yesterday," a reporter started, "Sam Darnold..."

McCourty laughed. He was already aware of what Darnold said Thursday. But he didn't want to be the one generating headlines ahead of Monday night's matchup with the Jets, reacting to something said at a podium by a second-year quarterback he'd soon be tasked with trying to stop.

"We'll see," McCourty said. "I don't have a comment on that right now. We'll see how it goes."

Darnold, fresh off his team's first win last weekend and AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors, didn't say anything that would be considered by an impartial observer as incredibly inflammatory. 

But these are the Patriots. They've long had a reputation of taking slights, real or perceived, and using them to their advantage. A little extra motivation never hurt. And it wouldn't be surprising if what Darnold said this week serves as fuel for his opponents.

"Their defense is good, they have been all year,” Darnold said of the Patriots. "But just like any team, they’re not unbeatable. So we’ve just got to go out there, find the weakness in the defense and keep working it. So that’s what we’re going to do on Monday night."

The word "weakness" seems to have been the one that struck a chord with certain Patriots when they were asked about it Friday.

"I wonder what that is," Kyle Van Noy said, shrugging his shoulders.

Van Noy was at the center of things the last time we found out that the Patriots latched onto an opponent's words in the week leading up to the game.

After Bills tackle Dion Dawkins suggested in Week 4 that the Patriots hadn't done anything in 2019 until playing in Buffalo, Van Noy said after his team’s win, "Just wanted to make sure Dawkins knew who we were."

The Patriots, of course, have the league's attention. They rank first in the NFL in scoring defense (8.0 points per game) and first in defensive passer rating (42.6). They are, in the eyes of many, the easy choice as the best defense in football right now. 

Still, Darnold likes his offense's chances. If they can get tight end Chris Herndon back, Darnold said the Jets can be "unstoppable." (Herndon is dealing with a hamstring injury and isn't expected to play Monday.)

"Right now, we're just missing Chris," Darnold said. “Once all the guys are back together, I think we're unstoppable as an offense -- or we can be.  

"It's just up to us and how we execute. It's really up to us how many points we score, I think. I think we're capable of so many points. With our offensive line, too, the way they played last game, with the way we've been running the ball and the way they've been protecting, sky's the limit for us."

Darnold's comments -- comments from a confident young quarterback who undoubtedly is trying to instill confidence in his team ahead of their biggest game of the season -- could be ones he comes to regret. 

Not that the Patriots wanted to suggest as much ahead of the game.

"I don't know," Stephon Gilmore said for his reaction to Darnold's "weakness" comment. "You can ask him that, I don't know."

"I hadn't heard him," JC Jackson said. "I'm not on the internet. I don't pay attention to what other guys say.  We just show up. We let our play do the talking. We're just gonna play ball. We ain't got time for the talking. We're just going to show up and do what we do."

Jonathan Jones said his reaction to Darnold saying what he said is, "to go back to the film to find what he finds and find it before he does, I guess." 

"There's always some plays," Jones continued, "that they're going to be looking at and say, 'Hey, we had them here.' They might not have completed it or targeted the guy, but we'll definitely try to find those plays and anticipate those."

"It's not really [a slight]. There's always going to be plays out there. I don't care how good you are. Whether it be the front disrupting him and the quarterback didn't have time to get through his read and make the throw. but there's always plays that we can get better from. Hopefully, we can find those corrections before he does."

The Patriots are near the top of the league in just about every defensive category, though perhaps the Jets will try to run the football as New England ranks closer to the middle of the pack in yards per carry allowed (4.2). 

But calling that phase of their defense a "weakness" would be a stretch, as interior defenders Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton have been among two of Bill Belichick's best players on that side of the ball this season. Their front seven is loaded with athletic and experienced linebackers capable of stopping the run as well.

Darnold probably felt as though what he said Thursday wasn't a big deal at the time. But he might not be familiar with the time-honored Patriots tradition of taking an opponent’s words and using them as a spark.

They'll take any morsel of motivation they get and gnaw on it until the clock strikes zeros. Using the word "weakness" when talking about a defense on a historic pace probably qualifies as more than a morsel. As would suggesting the Jets offense can't be stopped.

The Patriots didn’t let on that they were zeroed-in on Darnold’s comments Friday. But it would come as little surprise — depending on how Monday night goes, of course — if they later acknowledge those words breathed a little extra oxygen into the fire that’s burned under their defense through the season’s first month and a half.

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Architect of Colts' infamous fake punt vs. Patriots was at it again

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Architect of Colts' infamous fake punt vs. Patriots was at it again

Perhaps Denver Broncos special teams coach Tom McMahon knew the anniversary of the NFL's worst fake punt was upon us.

Why else would McMahon, formerly the Indianapolis Colts special teams coach, call for probably the second-worst fake punt on Thursday night in Denver's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs? 

Did he really think this (see below) would work?

Metaphorically, at least, haven't we all been Broncos punter Colby Wadman at one time or another?

Ben Volin of the Boston Globe pointed out that McMahon was also the mastermind behind the Colts' fake punt with a formation-never-before-seen in football that came four years ago today in a Patriots' 34-27 victory in Indianapolis.

That one left backup wide receiver Griff Whalen snapping the ball to safety Colt Anderson, all by their lonesome, with the rest of the formation yards away and not on the line of scrimmage, which led to a subsequent illegal formation penalty flag, but only after Whalen and Anderson got blasted by five Pats defenders.

Next time, McMahon draws up a fake punt, (if there is indeed a next time), his head coach might want to just go for it. It couldn't be any worse. 

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