Patriots

If Patriots just did this, the offense would see a big improvement

If Patriots just did this, the offense would see a big improvement

Every week during the NFL season, Tom E. Curran & Phil Perry will go head-to-head and offer their own takes on a Patriots or NFL-related topic. This week: Call me crazy, but if the Patriots would just do THIS offensively, they’d see a big improvement. 

Bang it to the tight ends. So far this season, the Patriots have 26 catches for 349 yards and a touchdown from Benjamin Watson, Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo and Eric Tomlinson. The 27 catches have come on 38 total targets.

Tomlinson’s long gone and Izzo hasn’t played since Week 6 against the Giants. LaCosse, meanwhile, has missed five games. The 38-year-old Watson has been targeted twice in the past two games but has pulled in 12 of the 17 passes sent his way in the past six weeks.

Last season, a dinged-up Rob Gronkowski caught 26 passes for 304 yards by himself and that came on 43 targets. It’s astounding that an offense that’s been as reliant on the tight end as the Patriots has only directed 38 passes to the position through 12 games. Even in 2016, when Gronk missed a big chunk of the year, the team was still able to get 55 catches and 701 yards from Martellus Bennett.

I have a feeling the Josh McDaniels has noticed the absence of the tight end in their offense. I’m also sure that part of the reason it hasn’t been anything more than an afterthought is A) they’ve had a revolving door there with LaCosse injured and Watson suspended for the early part of the year; B) they’ve had woeful pass protection especially on the left while Isaiah Wynn was out and needed to keep a tight end in at times and C) they don’t have dynamic players at the spot.

But last week, the Patriots got a much-missed seam pass to Lacosse for 23 yards and a 32-yard catch-and-run from Watson. Could that be a motivator to get the ball out there a little more often? Couldn’t hurt.

***

I'm not sure there's anything they can do right now to see a BIG improvement. But there are improvements there to be made, no doubt. I'd focus on the red zone because that's the area of the field where there's the most obvious potential for growth for the Patriots.

There really is no reason for the Patriots not to be at least a little more effective at scoring touchdowns when they get inside the 20. They're currently 24th in the NFL when it comes to red-zone efficiency at 48.89 percent. That's a tick below bad offensive football teams like the Giants (53.12 percent, 22nd), Bears (59.46 percent, 14th), Bills (63.64 percent, 9th) and Dolphins (67.74 percent, 4th).

How do they improve? Go big. Go bigger in the passing game. Get those tight ends you mention, Tom, out there and allow them to use their bodies to post up on defenders in an area of the field where space is tight. Use N'Keal Harry, even if it's only as a specialty player in there, because he knows how to make a back-shoulder catch. Maybe give Phillip Dorsett and Jakobi Meyers a breather when you're in there.

And go big in the running game deep in opponent territory. Multiple tight ends. Maybe an extra offensive lineman at times. Since Isaiah Wynn's return, and since LaCosse has been healthy enough to be a factor as a blocker, the run game has improved. Especially out of two-tight end sets.

In the last two weeks, they've run for 4.2 yards per carry out of 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends). That number was 3.4 yards per carry in Weeks 2-11 without Wynn. They picked up 3.3 yards per carry in games without Wynn this year, whereas they've averaged 4.4 yards per carry the past two weeks -- regardless of personnel package. They should be able to run it closer to the goal line with the offensive line and tight end spots healthier. And if they prove they can do that, that'll open up the play-action passing game down there.

Poof. Just like that, the red-zone offense will be better and the Patriots will see more points on the scoreboard as a result.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Revisiting the 'enlightening' lesson Kobe Bryant taught Bill Belichick, Patriots

Revisiting the 'enlightening' lesson Kobe Bryant taught Bill Belichick, Patriots

In a statement Tuesday, Bill Belichick said he had "never witnessed a group as captivated" as the New England Patriots when Kobe Bryant spoke to the team in May 2018.

Belichick wasn't just paying lip service.

On Tuesday, NFL Films resurfaced a clip from HBO's "The Art of Coaching" documentary about Belichick and Alabama head coach Nick Saban in which both coaching legends reflected on their interactions with Bryant.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

These comments came in March 2019, more than 10 months before Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others were tragically killed Sunday in a helicopter crash.

Here's what Belichick had to say at the time about Bryant's message to the Patriots:

Another thing he said to us, which was an awesome message, was, "When I was 25 (years old), I could go out and score 30 (points). When I was 35, 38, I could score 30, but it wasn't the same way. I had to learn how to play without the ball. I had to learn how to play in less space. I had to learn how to use picks differently. I couldn't just drive to the basket like I could in my younger days. I could still score, but I had to change my game."

That was so enlightening for all our players that heard that. Because you're sitting there looking at his career and then we're all thinking about ours. It's changed for me just like it's changed for the players.

Belichick is a student of football. He has won six Super Bowl titles over 20 years in New England by constantly adapting, changing his approach as a head coach and general manager to stay ahead of the game's shifting trends.

Belichick clearly saw the same trait in Bryant, who averaged 22.3 points per game at age 36 (after tearing his Achilles tendon) by altering his style of play after hours of study and practice. The 42-year-old Tom Brady obviously took Bryant's message to heart, as well.

Bryant is gone much too soon at age 41, but the impact he had on players and coaches of all sports will live on.

How Jimmy Garoppolo won his 49ers teammates over soon after Patriots trade: 'It was sick'

How Jimmy Garoppolo won his 49ers teammates over soon after Patriots trade: 'It was sick'

MIAMI -- George Kittle was dressed as a pirate. It was the day before Halloween of his rookie season. He was going to celebrate the holiday as any 24-year-old would. Then, as any 24-year-old would, he peeked down at his phone to check on a notification.

Jimmy Garoppolo had been traded by the Patriots to Kittle's 49ers. He had a new quarterback.

"I said, 'Wow, that's really interesting.' It was cool," Kittle remembered. "Jimmy G. Two Super Bowls. Hell of a leader. It's fun to have someone like that."

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

Kittle and other Niners this week remembered the deal that sent Garoppolo to San Francisco and in the process changed the course of the franchise. They couldn't have known exactly what they had then. Garoppolo had only two NFL starts to his name. But now, sitting in front of microphones in Miami in the days leading up to Super Bowl LIV, they couldn't believe their good fortune that Garoppolo landed in their laps. 

The hints that they had something in Garoppolo came early. 

"Honestly, it sounds cliche but it's real, it was at the first practice," said fullback Kyle Juszczyk. "He ran the scout team the first day. And that first period he absolutely diced our defense. You could see it in his footwork, his mechanics, the confidence that he emitted. You could see that this guy was the real deal."

For Kittle, the sign came loud and clear that his offense had a new leader. It came before Garoppolo even made his first throw from under center. 

"It was funny, his first play under center, he has a really good cadence," Kittle said, referring to the quarterback's calls at the line of scrimmage. "He has a good voice for it. Right after he said, 'Hut! Hut! Hike!' for the first time, everyone was like, 'Whoa! Nice!' It was sick."  

"Very authoritative," offensive tackle Joe Staley said of Garoppolo's line-of-scrimmage vocals. The 13-year veteran smiled and added, "He's commanding. Lets you know he's there."

It came together quickly for Garoppolo in his second professional stop. He started five games after being traded, winning all five, and completing 67.4 percent of his passes at a clip of 8.8 yards per attempt. 

He tore his ACL after three games the following season, but rediscovered his 2017 form this season. The Niners went 13-3 with Garoppolo taking the snaps. He completed 69.1 percent of his throws (fourth in the NFL), threw 27 touchdown passes (sixth), and put up an 8.4 yards per attempt figure (third). 

"I didn't really know much, actually," Staley said of Garoppolo's days in New England. "I remember the one game he had in Arizona where he started and did really, really well. But didn't know much. Didn't have much of a reaction [to the trade] either way. Knew everyone was really high on him. 

Click here to listen and subscribe to Tom Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast: 

"Then he came in here and he really blew me away. In the huddle. All the little nuances of being a quarterback. The command that he had. His quick release. You could definitely tell that he was trained in that Patriots system as far as getting rid of the ball fast, which is awesome for an offensive lineman. He's continued to grow and develop since he's been here. It's been awesome to see him get to this point."

The Niners are back in the Super Bowl after a 4-12 record last season. Back in the Super Bowl with a chance to win one for the first time since January 1995. And thanks in part to Tom Brady continuing to play at an MVP level the season Garoppolo was dealt, thanks to the Patriots holding onto Garoppolo until midseason that year, all it cost the Niners to change everything was a second-round pick.

"I think," Juszczyk said, "we got him for a bargain."