Five things we learned from Pats coordinators
This is something we did last year, and I think it'd be good to bring it back. Why? We have conference calls with Patriots coordinators Matt Patricia and Josh McDaniels every week, and sometimes what they tell us gets a little bit lost in the shuffle.
They usually conduct their conference calls with reporters early in the week, on the same day that Bill Belichick does one of his weekly calls, when people are still rehashing what happened on Sunday before focusing on what's in store for the upcoming weekend.
What we learn from the coordinators isn't necessarily going to send web traffic numbers through the roof, and oftentimes the soundbites don't lend themselves to sexy headlines. Still, the calls are a good opportunity for us to hear from two of the most highly-regarded football minds in the Patriots organization, two minds that will likely have their own operations to run in the not-too-distant future. It's worth reviewing.
Here are five of the things we learned from McDainels and Patricia this week . . .
1. Chris Long has made an impression that extends beyond his on-the-field production
The 31-year-old recorded four quarterback hits against the Dolphins on Sunday -- two of which led to interceptions -- and he has been the team's most effect edge rusher through two weeks of play this season. The former No. 2 overall pick looks like he's well past the injuries that dogged him the last two seasons as a member of the Rams, and he's been more than effective as a fill-in for suspended defensive end Rob Ninkovich.
Patricia likes what he's seen from Long both on the field and off, and he believes Long has benefited from starting with a clean slate in New England.
"Chris is just a true professional, a guy that comes to us with a lot of experience, but someone that really came to us with a fresh, brand new attitude and a new start that really wanted to learn our system and is really trying to do what we ask him to do from a defensive standpoint," Patricia said. "A very hard worker, extremely hard worker, studying the playbook and the game plan, works hard both on and off the field, and really is just a very coachable guy. He’s a great addition to the team as far as [being a] great teammate, works hard, does everything we’re trying to get done, and buys into the system. I think for him, and for us, it’s just been a good kind of fresh start to have him here."
2. A quarterback's ability to protect himself from punishing hits is something that can be learned with more repetitions
One of Jimmy Garoppolo's strengths is that he's an athlete. He can move both inside and outside of the pocket, extend plays, and generally put pressure on opposing defenses by using his legs. On Sunday against the Dolphins, he used his mobility to his advantage, but his last play of the game was one where he extended the play long enough for Kiko Alonso to drive him into the turf.
It's impossible to say that if Garoppolo had more game experience he would know to release the ball down the field, or out of bounds, a split-second sooner to avoid the hit and remain in the game. But McDaniels indicated that sometimes, as quarterbacks mature and understand the importance of their availability to their team, self-preservation becomes more of a concern.
McDaniels also explained that there's a fine line between saving yourself to help the team in the long-term and taking a risk to help the team in the short-term.
"I think certainly there’s a lot that goes into that, protecting ourselves physically and all of the work that we do in the offseason, and all of the lifting, and running, and managing and taking care of our bodies with the players," McDaniels said. "I think all of that stuff goes into trying to keep their bodies as safe as you can during the course of a long season, and just understanding there are times where you’re going to take some hits and that’s football.
"Other times maybe there’s an opportunity for you to avoid something, and if you can then obviously the right thing to do would be to do that if you make that decision. There are a lot of things that go into the split-second decision when you have the ball in your hands, and you’re trying to continue to move the football offensively. So, those things, you can learn them as you play more in terms of how long to hold it and whatnot, but ultimately you’re trying to help your team win. Sometimes those things are going to happen."
3. Brock Osweiler's toughness has resonated with the Patriots
Osweiler was hit seven times in Denver's regular-season win over New England last season. He didn't light up the box score, completing 23-of-42 passes for 270 passes, a touchdown and an interception. But he impressed Patricia and the Patriots defense by taking a good deal of punishment and forging ahead.
"If you look at Osweiler just as a quarterback from our games, an extremely poised guy," Patricia said. "He’s a tough guy, we hit him a lot, we hit him hard. He’s a big guy, bounced up, stayed in the game, didn’t really say very much. I thought he really just had a great composure about himself and just kind of command when he was out there on the field. Just someone who we had a chance to play, and obviously not with multiple years of experience, but stayed in there and did a great job as far as controlling the offense and controlling the game, so that was pretty impressive."
4. This isn't the first time the Patriots have had to put together a contingency plan
With all eyes on the Patriots quarterback situation, McDaniels was asked how uncertainty at that spot might impact his ability to game-plan.
Of course there are certain plays that make sense to include in a given week's attack based on the player taking snaps behind center. But the same applies -- if to a lesser extent -- at every position, McDaniels explained.
It makes sense. If Rob Gronkowski or Julian Edelman or Nate Solder is dealing with an injury, that's going to affect what the Patriots can and can't call.
"We’re going to put together a game plan for them, and they’re all going to learn their roles, and they’re going to focus on their job," McDaniels said. "I don’t think they’re going to worry about all of that stuff at this point. Whichever guy is out there playing quarterback, I think they’re going to have confidence in him, and we’re going to have plenty of time to go through what we need to go through . . . to prepare ourselves to play well.
"Our game plan process – there’s always things like this every single week. Who may or may not play? Who is or isn’t quite healthy enough? Who may or may not practice the first day or two of the week, or what have you and there’s a lot of that that goes on every single week. So, this is nothing different for us. This is, I would say normal, for the National Football League, and we deal with it a lot and have contingency plans in place and that’s the way you’ve got to coach in this league because you’re never quite certain about who may or may not be ready to go by the end of the week."
5. Patriots-Texans could be a "get the [expletive] back" type of game for Patricia's defense
Last season, the Patriots were able to focus on shutting down DeAndre Hopkins in their Week 14 matchup. They did, and they won handily, 27-6.
This time around, they'll also be forced to deal with rookie first-round receiver Will Fuller out of Notre Dame. He's just the second rookie in the Super Bowl era to rack up over 100 yards receiving in each of his first two games, and he's tied for fourth in the league in receiving yardage. He's a deep threat -- 10 of his 18 targets through two games were thrown at least 20 yards from the line of scrimmage -- but he's also fast enough to take a short completion and turn it into a big-gainer.
"Two outstanding players right now," Patricia said of Hopkins and Fuller. "Obviously Hopkins is a great receiver, does a great job running his routes, has got great hands, can get open, and understands coverage. He’s a real tough matchup, he’s a big guy so he uses his body well, and really he does a great job within their scheme and they feature him in a really good way. He’s very productive, pretty much a go-to player for them in critical situations, so he’s someone they rely on heavily.
"Fuller, another big guy in height and length, great speed, does a great job of getting open, and someone who they obviously have found a lot of trust in. The quarterback has a great on-field relationship, as far as looks, they’re trying to get both of those guys the ball. Fuller can obviously create the big play very quickly, and it’s a big problem as far as the deep part of the field is concerned."