Pats coordinators: Mitchell emulating veteran WRs
Five things we learned from Patriots coordinators
FOXBORO - Every week we'll provide you with a few nuggets of information provided to us in 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 said. This week the topics included the impact made by Patriots rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell, the challenges of facing Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor, and why it's hard to pry the football loose from Buffalo back LeSean McCoy.
Here's what they had to say . . .
1. Malcolm Mitchell is earning his playing time
The Patriots rookie receiver has checked in as one of the team's most frequently-used offensive skill players through three games this season. His 86 snaps exceed the individual totals posted by Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski, Clay Harbor, AJ Derby, James White, James Develin and DJ Foster.
The University of Georgia product has four catches for 75 yards on nine targets thus far, and 44 of his receiving yards have come after the catch. Mitchell had a drop in Week 3, but McDaniels likes what he's seen from the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder who has studied veteran teammates like Amendola, Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan since they began working together.
"Malcolm works really hard," McDaniels said. "He’s a good kid. He cares about football. He wants to learn. He has really tried to follow the lead of some of the veteran players that we have in his room. He comes in, learns the game plan, learns what his responsibilities are and is ready to go, takes care of his body, studies hard.
"He’s trying to really emulate some of the guys that he sees on a daily basis and goes out there and practices hard and tries to improve at his craft each day. I think we try to give all of the guys that have earned the right to get in there and play an opportunity to do that and Malcolm so far has done that. He has made the most of some of his opportunities that he has had here in the first three weeks."
2. Patriots defensive backs don't want to look like Houston's Jonathan Joseph
Remember him? He's the corner who turned and ran with Mitchell almost 30 yards down the sideline before realizing Jacoby Brissett had scrambled and was about to score. When Joseph made an attempt to stop the rookie quarterback, he was too late.
If Patriots corners and safeties don't want the same thing to happen to them when Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor scrambles, Patricia hinted, they'll have to depend on the play of their teammates at the line of scrimmage.
Patricia indicated more than once that if everyone did "their job," they'd be OK. One could infer that if the Patriots defensive front keeps Taylor inside the pocket and prevents him from scrambling -- its job on Sunday -- New England defensive backs won't have to worry about anything but their assignments in the secondary.
"Certainly, Taylor is a huge threat in both the run and the passing game, and in part of the passing game, that is a big problem that he possess for defenses in his ability to escape out of the pocket, extend plays, scramble, run, gain yards," Patricia said. "He’s very fast, he’s very smart, he can keep his eyes down field when he gets out of the pocket and get the ball down field. So, we certainly saw that in some of the big plays that they had a couple of weeks ago where he was able to extend the play and get the ball down and get some production and points off of those types of plays. His wide receivers do a great job of getting open in those types of situations and the skill guys really understand that he has ability.
"From a defensive standpoint, you’re just trying to make sure that you’re playing fundamentally sound. You’re trying to make sure that you have a good pass-rush game plan, you don’t want to let him run around back there and just turn the plays into extended plays where guys have to cover longer than they want to. Certainly, everybody’sgot to do their job, but the number one deal is just making sure everybody is responsible in what their assignment is. If everyone kind of handles their assignment at that point, hopefully, you don’t have any breakdowns in the defense to allow a guy to get out of the pocket or allow those scramble or extended plays to hurt you."
3. The Patriots could benefit from the element of the unknown
Now that Brissett has a start under his belt, there's tape on him. The Bills will have an idea of the plays he's comfortable running, and they will have prepared for him. Same goes for Jimmy Garoppolo. Between preseason and regular-season play, there's even more of a book on him.
But, if the Bills are preparing for both -- and maybe Julian Edelman as well? -- then the Patriots have a bit of an advantage. Every moment spent on one player takes away resources that could have been spent on another.
As McDaniels explained, there's uncertainty every week when it comes to game-planning. But for the Bills, New England's uncertainty at the quarterback position has probably meant a more throbbing headache.
"I think there’s always an element of the unknown when you’re dealing with a player or something you haven’t seen or scouted as much," McDaniels said. "I would say that’s applicable most weeks during the season when we talk about the people who are active for the game on the other team, and I would imagine that would be the same for a team that’s getting prepared to play us.
"I don’t know if there’s an advantage there. It’s just that you don’t have as much information on a player or on some scheme that they may use, which then forces you to figure some things out as the game goes along and do some quick self-scouting as you move through the first-quarter, the first-half, whatever it is, just to make sure that if it is something new you haven’t seen before, if it is a player that you haven’t played against and don’t have a lot of volume of tape on, that you have an opportunity to evaluate quickly what is going on. What’s happening in the game? How much of an impact is that player having? Or are they trying to do something that’s disrupting what you’re trying to do with their scheme?"
4. LeSean McCoy isn't as prone to fumbling as you may think.
There are times when McCoy carries the football out wide and away from his body -- picture Allen Iverson mid-crossover -- but Patricia says it's not as easy to pop one loose as it may seem. In 2,055 total touches over the course of his career, McCoy has fumbled 17 times. That's one fumble for ever 120 touches. Not bad.
"I think ball-security wise, a lot of people like to talk about McCoy and the ball being loose from his body and away from his body," Patricia said. "I think those are rare occasions when you see guys actually get the ball off of him. He’s extremely quick, he’s extremely fast, and I think he really does a great job of kind of tucking that ball back up into that chest area so that it’s not hanging out there when defenders are around him.
"He’s a very experienced, very smart running back from that accord, so I think first and foremost, if you get mesmerized with that, you’re going to miss a lot of tackles on this guy because he is extremely quick and extremely fast."
5. McDaniels considers ball-handling to be an "underrated portion of quarterback play"
Tom Brady has mastered the art of selling a play-fake, but it appears as though the Patriots have two more quarterbacks who can execute those types of plays as well. Garoppolo has been adept in the play-action passing game in his time as the starter, and Brissett has impressed with the variety of fakes he's used against both the Dolphins and Texans. Even some of the hand-offs that have include a slightly higher level of difficulty -- jet-sweeps, corralling misfired snaps -- Brissett has proven to be effective.
"I think we work hard with all of our quarterbacks with ball handling, and whether that’s the actual giving the ball to the halfback, the play-fakes ad the play-action passing game," McDaniels said. "In some guys they maybe come to us with a little more of a background in it than others, but I think we’ve got three guys that worked extremely hard during the course of the offseason and training camp at trying to improve in that area of their quarterback play.
"It’s an important area whether you’re running it, handing it off, faking it, whatever the concept might be, I think it’s an important and underrated portion of quarterback play. I think our guys have worked extremely hard to try and improve at it and hopefully we can continue to do well in that area."