Patriots

Ex-Pats assistant Pepper Johnson pulls no punches in Deadspin interview

Ex-Pats assistant Pepper Johnson pulls no punches in Deadspin interview

Pepper Johnson spent 32 seasons in the NFL as a player and coach. From 2000 through 2013 he was with the Patriots.

A former player for Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells, Johnson was a defensive coaching mainstay and beloved by his players. But when he was passed over for the defensive coordinator spot in favor of Matt Patricia, it rankled him. In 2014, he took the defensive line job with the Bills. A year later, he took the same position with the Jets. He stayed through 2016 then was fired by head coach Todd Bowles.
To date, he hasn’t found a new job.

The launch point in a sprawling interview with Deadspin’s Dom Consentino is Johnson’s departure from the Jets And there’s a lot on their dysfunction from ownership to the coaching staff to what went wrong with Muhammad Wilkerson.

All of it’s fascinating. But the headline stuff around here is Johnson’s insights on the Patriots and especially Bill Belichick.  

Said Johnson, “Our relationship was strictly football. There wasn’t anything outside that—because I mainly just saw [Belichick] in the building, I guess. Whether I was playing for him or working with him, it was always football. So, no, the relationship wasn’t the same.

But the characters kind of are different, too. And I would say our relationship, how it came about, it was different. One of my attractions to him was he was the first coach that, granted, it was my first experience in the NFL, that didn’t try to tell me how to do something. He told me what he wanted done, and then he allowed me the freedom to get it done however I had to get it done, and if I if I couldn’t find a way, then I would ask him - I was big enough I would ask him, and he would tell me.”

There’s plenty of gossipy stuff, like getting a beer with Belichick, but what I found most telling was Johnson’s appraisal of the Patriots defense and what happened in the Super Bowl.

As he begins to speak about philosophy, you can see in his reply the trepidation he has that Belichick will be mad at him for talking.

“What Belichick does—that guy can’t do anything to shock me anymore. Like, I’ve known him forever. But Belichick always worried about the passes. And so his philosophy — and he’s, I’m quite quite sure he — well, he won’t get mad at me because he knows his philosophy. Like, these guys are not going to change. They probably won’t even listen to me, you know, to this interview. What Belichick does, Belichick, what bothers him the most is what he does to other people. So, yeah. Quick passes, and Brady getting the ball out fast and all that stuff.

That’s a lot of hemming and hawing to say that the Patriots hate going against teams with offensive styles similar to theirs.

Asked how that played out in the Super Bowl, Johnson said, “That’s why neither team could stop each other...The Patriots had a linebacker problem, which was said at this time last year. And then you don’t have [Dont’a] Hightower so it’s going to be a bigger problem. So if you put two running backs out there at the same time, how much of a nightmare is that going to be for Belichick? Bill never likes two running backs. He never liked playing against two skillful running backs. It’s a problem because he can’t really cover them with his different combination of coverages with the secondary. The linebackers have to get them. And you need good linebackers.”

There’s some Spygate fodder and an interesting explanation about the conflicting defensive philosophies between Johnson and other defensive coaches in New York. In short, I recommend!!

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Fantasy Beat: Add Eagles' Carson Wentz to Bill Belichick's list of baffled young quarterbacks?

Fantasy Beat: Add Eagles' Carson Wentz to Bill Belichick's list of baffled young quarterbacks?

Fantasy football players seem to get smarter every year. The leagues get deeper. The competition gets better. That's partially because of the sheer amount of information available to fantasy geeks willing to put the time in.

But it's not always easy to find sound fantasy advice on players making up the back ends of fantasy depth charts. That's where we'll try to help fill in the gaps by providing you with information we've gleaned by being on the Patriots beat.

MARQUEE MATCHUP

Carson Wentz vs. Bill Belichick
With the way the Eagles offense and Patriots defense are constructed right now, there's no way you can play Carson Wentz this weekend. Even in two-quarterback leagues, he feels like a borderline play. The Eagles simply have no explosive element to their offense at the moment. And that was when Alshon Jeffery was in the lineup. Jeffery could be out due to a calf injury, and there is no one else at the receiver position who will scare the Patriots defense. As a group, Philly receivers have 933 yards receiving this year, putting them on pace for almost 1,700 yards total. Michael Thomas of the Saints is on pace to break that mark all by himself. In their last six games, Philly receivers don't have a touchdown catch longer than six yards. It's not good for Wentz. And his favorite target, Zach Ertz, will certainly be getting extra attention from Belichick's defense. Yes, Wentz may find matchups he likes in Dallas Goedert and Miles Sanders (more on them later), and he has the ability to scramble for fantasy points. But you simply can't depend on Wentz, against a very good Patriots pass defense, as anything more than a borderline top-20 option this week. I'd start Matthew Stafford replacement Jeff Driskel over him. 

POPPERS

Julian Edelman
According to Pro Football Focus, the Eagles are allowing a league-low 7.6 fantasy points per game to opposing slot receivers, but Julian Edelman still needs to be in your starting lineup. The Patriots will want to get the football out quickly against Philly's pass-rush -- led by the still-ridiculous Fletcher Cox -- and Edelman will be a big-time beneficiary. It's worth noting that Edelman is off of the injury report for the first time since Week 3. 

Mohamed Sanu
One more week in the system. One more week to gain the trust of Tom Brady. There's a reason why both Sanu and Brady have said they're "gonna have some fun" when they get on the same page. Sanu, who played outside against the Ravens but could eventually see more time in the slot, is coming off a 10-catch game in Baltimore and should see plenty more targets this weekend. Even if he plays outside for another week, that'd be a good thing against the Eagles, who allow 29.6 fantasy points per game to opposing outside receivers -- most in the NFL. 

James White
Philly has had some success against pass-catching backs this year. They rank second in success rate allowed to backs, per Sharp Football Stats, but this feels like a game where the Patriots will rely on their excellent receiving back. The Eagles have linebackers who've struggled in coverage at times, and if the Patriots can get a 'backer -- particularly linebackers Nigel Bradham or Nate Gerry -- aligned across from White, they'll have it made. The screen game, which could slow down the Eagles pass-rush, could also be key this weekend. If it's deployed, White is likely to be the beneficiary. Rex Burkhead is someone we have to see contribute regularly -- and stay healthy -- before we could consider starting him. 

Jordan Howard
The Patriots are 26th against the run this season, allowing 4.7 yards per carry through nine games. Couple that with the fact that the Eagles passing game could be stuck in neutral -- explained above -- and Howard could be looking at a nice little fantasy day. He has 42 attempts combined in his last two games and should be used early and often again this week. 

Dallas Goedert
OK so "popping" is a relative term here on the Fantasy Beat. Will Goedert have as many fantasy points as Ertz (mentioned below)? I don't think so. But I expect him to out-perform his expectations, if that makes sense. He's considered to be in Vance McDonald/Darren Fells territory this week by some experts. I'd have him ranked higher. I'd have him ahead of Noah Fant in Denver and ahead of Mike Gesicki in Miami. The reason? I expect him to play quite a bit, since the Eagles have been using more and more two tight end sets -- and since Jeffery is looking like he'll be out or really limited. Plus, the Patriots have had a helluva time trying to stop two tight end looks. We went into detail on the "how" and "why" of things here, but it wouldn't surprise me if Goedert ended up with a top-12 fantasy day at tight end against New England. 

Tom Brady
It looked like the Patriots found something in Baltimore. Their hurry-up offense was productive and allowed Brady and his teammates to get into a rhythm we haven't seen much from them in 2019. They could use it again in Philly to help slow down players like Cox or Derek Barnett or Brandon Graham. If that's the case, Brady will be chucking it all over the lot. He'll need time -- the numbers suggest he's as good from a clean pocket as he's ever been, but he's as bad when facing pressure as he's ever been -- and if he gets it, he'll be a top-10 play this week. The Eagles secondary is flawed and their middle-of-the-field players -- their linebackers and safeties -- have been so aggressive coming downhill that I'd expect Brady and Josh McDaniels to try to toy with them early with play action. 

DROPPERS

N'Keal Harry
Going hurry-up might help Brady's numbers. I'm not sure it'll do wonders for Harry's. The rookie first-rounder was kept on the sidelines in Baltimore as Brady orchestrated a fast-paced offense in a hostile environment. Will one more week of prep have Harry ready to go if the game plan is similar in Philly? It sure sounds like Harry is going to play this weekend, but until we see what kind of role he'll have, you could only play him in the deepest of leagues as you hope for a red-zone target. (That is the type of thing Harry could help them with so it's not completely out of the realm of possibility.)

Zach Ertz
I think there's a decent chance we see Stephon Gilmore take Ertz the way we saw Aqib Talib take Jimmy Graham back in 2013.b

Miles Sanders
I wouldn't hate Sanders as a FLEX play in deep leagues, but if you're doing that, you're doing it in the hopes that as Wentz and the Eagles get away from receivers in the passing game, they start to move targets towards someone like Sanders. Still, he's had just three targets in each of Philadelphia's last four games. He could hit them for a few long ones, as he did in Minnesota in Week 6, but so far the Patriots have been pretty effective against backs in the passing game. They're fifth in the NFL, allowing just 5.0 yards per target to opposing backs. If they come at Wentz with zero-blitz pressure, that might be an effective way to neutralize Sanders in the passing game since it would likely require him to stay in the backfield to help as part of the pass-protection scheme. Wentz is smarter than most of the passers the Patriots have seen this season, but all the Patriots have to do to generate pressure is confound someone like Sanders or fellow rookie left tackle Andre Dillard. 

Sony Michel
If you're playing Sony Michel, you're hoping for a touchdown. And there's a chance you'd get one on the goal line, but the Patriots have been throwing more lately from down in close, which has meant fewer opportunities for New England's big back. He has just five red-zone carries in the last two games, and he's averaging 1.2 yards per attempt on those, with no touchdowns. What happened to Michel in the passing game in Baltimore, with one drop and one snap where it looked like he ran an incorrect route, there just doesn't seem to be much opportunity looming for him. 

Phillip Dorsett
The hurry-up might be a good thing for the Patriots passing offense, but the emergence of Sanu and a potential Harry debut make Dorsett's role a little less certain. He's dependable when he's thrown to, but he doesn't see enough targets to make him a must-start in any week. This week is no different. 

Eagles receivers
Just don't do it. 

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Here's how Robert Griffin III imitated Tom Brady in practice before Ravens-Patriots

Here's how Robert Griffin III imitated Tom Brady in practice before Ravens-Patriots

Robert Griffin III has helped the Baltimore Ravens prepare for several different types of quarterbacks this season by imitating their style in practice.

It's not uncommon for a backup quarterback to serve in this role for the scout team, especially for a dual-threat QB like Griffin. But he had to change his own approach for the Ravens to best prepare to play against New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in Week 9.

NFL Media's Mike Garofolo revealed Thursday on NFL Network that Griffin had to run in "slow motion" at times to emulate Brady in practice for the Ravens defense. 

Garafolo's provides more background in the video below:

Brady obviously isn't the most athletic quarterback, but he does move around in the pocket very well. Whether it's stepping up to avoid the rush, or sliding to one side or the other to buy extra time, Brady is a master at creating space in the pocket to deliver a strong, accurate pass. 

We'll never know how much Griffin's imitation of Brady actually helped the Ravens defense, but they certainly did a good job defending against him. Brady was sacked twice, hit 10 times and threw only one touchdown pass with one interception in a 37-20 loss to Baltimore. The 42-year-old veteran's QB rating of 80.4 was his second-lowest for a single game this season.

Griffin might have to imitate Brady one more time if the Patriots and Ravens meet in the playoffs. Based on the current AFC playoff picture, it wouldn't be surprising if these teams played again in the AFC Championship Game in January.

Mohamed Sanu shares his advice for N'Keal Harry ahead of debut>>>

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