Five things we learned from the coordinators: Ninkovich embodies Patriot Way
Five things we learned from the coordinators: Ninkovich embodies Patriot Way
We've decided that it would be a good idea if every week we provided you with a few nuggets of information relayed to us during weekly conference calls with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.
Why? Both coaches are highly-regarded inside the Patriots facilities and around the league, and both have had their names floated around for head coaching jobs in the past. It may not be too long before one or both land a head position.
Until then, they're here, and we're here to highlight some of the noteworthy things they say. This week the topics included the importance of Rob Ninkovich to the Patriots defense, the growth of quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett, and how Terrelle Pryor is a bit of a "throwback."
Here's what they had to say...
1. The Patriots were pleased with what they saw from Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett in Tom Brady's absence
Neither quarterback made it through the last four weeks unscathed, but both Garoppolo and Brissett impressed in different ways as the Patriots put together a 3-1 record to open the season. Garoppolo ran a sophisticated version of the Patriots and proved he was a polished passer. Brissett showed he could keep from making the back-breaking mistake in Week 3, and he exhibited toughness by playing through a thumb injury in Week 4 that later landed him on injured reserve.
While Brady will have the reins of the offense as long as he's healthy from here on out, McDaniels was happy with what he saw from the two fill-ins.
"Well, they both work hard and they’ve really had an opportunity to learn a lot in their time here," McDaniels said. "Obviously, the last four weeks have been an opportunity to play in games and that is always, to me, the best way to gain valuable experience and learn about this league and what it takes to win and play winning football. So they’ve put in a lot of time and effort since they got here, since they were both drafted.
"I think they did as much as they could to prepare themselves for the opportunity that was ahead of them and went out there and tried to execute the game plan as they could. There are a lot of things that they learned and a lot of things that we learned that we’ll work on moving forward and we’re going to do that."
2. Don't forget about Rob Ninkovich.
The Patriots had two players come back from suspension on Monday, and while one has garnered the majority of the attention this week, the other is an important piece to the overall Patriots puzzle in his own right.
If Ninkovich is activated before Sunday's game with the Browns, the Patriots will have yet another versatile piece on the edge to rush the passer or drop into coverage. When matched with other well-rounded defenders like Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long, Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins, Ninkovich gives Patricia yet another weapon to try to confuse opposing quarterbacks.
There's a chance that the Patriots opt to call up to their 53-man roster a player not named Ninkovich -- whose roster exemption is good through Monday -- but even if he doesn't play, Patricia said it was good to have the 11-year veteran back.
"I mean, I think Rob has had some really good productive years here through his career," Patricia said. "He’s done a great job for us just from being a guy that’s come in the building as a true professional, and a guy that really kind of embodies everything that we’re looking for from a point of work ethic and trying to improve, trying to get better and trying to do his job out on the field."
3. Browns' Pryor a throwback
Terrelle Pryor has the type of athleticism that may make it seem as though he's been sent from the future, but he's actually a bit of a throwback.
How rare was Pryor's performance in Week 3 when the Browns fell to the Dolphins, 30-24? His 144 receiving yards, 35 passing yards and 21 rushing yards made him the first player to hit 120 yards receiving, 30 yards passing and 20 yards rushing since Frank Gifford did it in 1959.
"Another really complex guy to try to defend . . . Will be in a bunch of different situations and positions," Patricia said. "You have to prepare for him on the outside, on the inside, obviously in the backfield. He’s a guy who’s a very big-bodied, very strong player who is extremely fast, quick and elusive with the ball in his hands. Then there’s the whole quarterback problem, too, he can throw the ball and is very comfortable in the pocket.
"But he is kind of a unique player in that he’s done some things that people probably haven’t seen in quite a long time, and it’s a problem to defend that type of a player because you have to be ready for him to be in multiple different positions. He’s got extremely good hands, he can catch the ball really, very easily, he’s big, he’s fast, he’s strong, he’s got the ability to get tacklers off of him. He’s been in situations where he carries the ball a lot, and he knows how to make guys miss out in open space. Just a really good football player. That’s probably the best compliment you can make, just an overall kind of throwback football guy that can do everything and those are always hard to defend."
4. Pryor's not the only Browns weapon who will require attention
Running back Isaiah Crowell has been one of the most productive running backs in the NFL thus far this season. His 6.5 yards-per-carry average is tops in the league among backs with at least 20 carries, and his 394 rushing yards were second in the league after four weeks. He's also tied for third in the league with three runs of 20 yards or more and he has one whopping 85-yard touchdown under his belt.
"I mean, you’re talking about one of the best backs in the league," Patricia said. "This guy is an explosive runner, he’s got good vision, he’s got really good feet and balance. If you look at his burst and his ability to get through the line of scrimmage with the power and the acceleration that he hits the hole, it’s very impressive.
"You see him really kind of fit through some tight spaces very quickly. They do a great job in the run game with both the scheme and the gap system as well as the zone system to really be able to get the ball downhill in a very effective and quick manner. This is really a very good back. This guy has done a great job to really complement this offense. He has tremendous speed, he can get to the edge and break the big runs. They obviously have a very explosive running game, one of the best run games in the league. His balance, his body control and his vision have really played into allowing him to use his power in a very effective manner, so just a very, very good running back."
5. Homecoming for McDaniels
Sunday will be a homecoming of sorts for McDaniels and several other Patriots employees who graduated from John Carroll University. The trip to Cleveland will put McDaniels, director of player personnel Nick Caserio, director of pro personnel Dave Ziegler, assistant quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski, coaching assistant Nick Caley and pro scout Frank Ross about 10 miles from the campus of their alma mater.
McDaniels also grew up in the area and went to Canton McKinley High. Though he won't have much time to visit his old stomping grounds, he said he's expecting a lot of familiar faces at the game Sunday.
"I’m very proud of the fact that that’s where I grew up," McDaniels said. "My father was a coach for a long time in Northeast Ohio. There will be a lot of people that I’ll have an opportunity to do my job in front of. I don’t know how much time I’ll get to see everybody, but I’m happy that they’ll have an opportunity to be around and be there.
"It’s always good to go back and see my family and have an opportunity to see some people that you don’t get a lot of time with during the course of the year. Like I said, there won’t be much time for that, but hopefully we can go out there and do our job well and represent our organization the right way. It’s always good to go back to Northeast Ohio. It’s just such a great football tradition. I’ll look forward to doing that."