Sean Payton loves him some Patriots football.
Maybe not as much as he loves him some Saints football. But Payton's watching Bill Belichick's team and Josh McDaniels' offense, in particular. And he's taking notes. And he's occasionally showing the Patriots the sincerest form of flattery.
In a story on NBCSports.com by Peter King that was published Monday, Payton admitted that he'd seen a play the Patriots ran in the Super Bowl against the Eagles to tight end Rob Gronkowski. The way in which Gronkowski ran his whip route, he was able to box out a smaller defender for an easy touchdown.
"It was like catching an inbounds pass, using your body to keep the defender off you," Payton told King. "That’s perfect for us. I told Mike Thomas, ‘This is a touchdown.’ "
It wasn't a touchdown, but it did pick up 30 yards on the Eagles over the weekend.
But the imitation didn't start there. In a story that ran on SI.com earlier this month, Payton told Albert Breer that he'd seen something the Patriots ran against the Bears that he wanted to try: James White motioned in from the left, almost lackadaisically, then turned on the jets to get open in the right flat for an easy score.
The Saints used it against the Vikings the next week and scored.
“We have to see the Patriots offensive film each week,” Payton said.
That borrowing of schemes isn't limited to the Saints, of course. And what the Saints add to their playbook isn't strictly coming from New England. Payton told Breer that he's watching Kansas City and Philadelphia on a weekly basis as well.
I asked McDaniels for his reaction when he hears that there are others around the league, including the highest-scoring offense in the league, looking to New England for fresh ideas.
He said the Patriots are doing the same thing. It's part of life in the NFL as a play-caller or play-designer.
"I think that’s football," McDaniels explained. "Certainly, if there’s something that we’ve done that somebody else takes, that’s great. We probably steal as much as anybody else, and there’s a tremendous amount of great coaches in our league that do great things and there’s a lot of great players that make those plays go.
"I think you have to understand that there’s a lot that goes into something like that, and when we look at other teams and we look at other teams that are having some success, whether it be a team that’s doing well in the red zone or running the ball well, or third down, or big plays, or whatever the category might be, you see a lot of good things that these guys have designed, and most importantly, have been able to get their players to execute really well on game day.
"That’s the biggest factor in all those things is you’ve got to be able to transfer it to the field and get it done right, and sometimes you know the ins and outs of why they’re doing it and sometimes you don’t. That’s the great thing about our league is there’s so many very talented people that work in all these different roles and they come up with a lot of different ways to do things."
The Patriots have adapted plays from the college level before, too, with one memorable example being the fake kneel-down play they ran at the end of regulation of Super Bowl LI, which was taken from Western Kentucky.
"There’s very many ways to skin a cat in our league, and you try to fit things that may work for you and your personnel that you see, you try to fit those in maybe when you can," McDaniels said. "Like I said, there’s so many good coaches and play-callers, and obviously the players are the thing that make it go.
"That’s a fun aspect of our job – you take a look at some things that are maybe trending in certain directions and see where it may fit for you and your team and what might be difficult to defend for the opponents that you’re getting ready to coach against."
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