Josh McDaniels' season-opening plan for Patriots left Steelers reeling

Josh McDaniels' season-opening plan for Patriots left Steelers reeling

FOXBORO — The players, the players, the players. Bill Belichick is the best coach of this generation and probably all the other ones too. Regardless of sport. But when it comes to doling out credit, he starts with the Jimmys and Joes before he gets to the Xs and Os.

And he should.

But the game plan thrown at the Pittsburgh Steelers last night by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was so varied, so perfectly designed that all the Jimmys and Joes had to do was show up in the spots they were supposed to and do their jobs. Which they did.

The result? A 33-3 rout of the Steelers.

The defense was brilliant. As expected. But the fact the Patriots just kept scoring — four times in five possessions in the first half after their first drive ended with a punt — meant the Steelers had to bail on their offensive game plan. That’s the complementary football Belichick’s always talking about. But it was jump-started by the offense.

“Josh always does a great job of utilizing the players that are available, putting them in great positions and attacking the defense,” Belichick said. “Every week is a little bit of a different challenge based on the scheme and the players that we're up against, but Josh does a great job of organizing the game plan, play-calling, making adjustments in the game. I thought he did a great job tonight. The players did a great job executing. We took care of the ball. We had a lot of positive plays. It was a good outing.”

Before the first quarter was out, the Patriots had hit Pittsburgh with almost every personnel grouping imaginable, starting first with heavy personnel and a ground attack before switching to an up-tempo, empty attack.

The Patriots will morph this season from being tight-end reliant to finding other ways to stress defenses. Sunday night, they were in 20 personnel (two backs, no tight ends, three wide receivers) 19 times through three quarters. They used that personnel just eight times in 2018.

They mixed running back combos — Rex Burkhead and James White; James Develin and Burkhead; Develin and Sony Michel. They ran a pony formation with two backs split next to Tom Brady. They ran a variation of the pony with two backs to the same side of Brady in the shotgun. They went five-wide with the fullback Develin split out to the sideline.

They ran out of 21 personnel (two backs, one tight end, two WRs) 17 times.

They had 11 personnel on 16 plays. They had 10 personnel once and that resulted in a dart to Jakobi Myers for his first NFL catch.

All those groupings and all those formations stress a defense to get lined up and matched up. It also allows Brady, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of what’s going to happen post-snap, to get it to the most favorable matchup whether that’s Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, Meyers, James White, Burkhead … you get the idea.

It doesn’t necessarily make it “easy” for Brady because there’s still the execution end of things in the face of a defense trying to respond. But it makes it so that the offense is able to dictate when it’s all clicking.

“We’ve had a great relationship for a long time,” Brady said of his longtime OC. “I have so much trust in him and what he puts together every week. He works extremely hard, he’s diligent. He puts a lot of pressure on the defense, and that’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to keep forcing different things.

“I think over the course of the season, you’ve got to figure out a lot of different ways,” Brady added. “I think this team gets used to that. It’s not you’re going to win like this every single week. Some days it’s going to be more to the back, some days it’s going to be more to the receiver, some days it’s more tight ends, more it’s the run game — that’s the ebb and flow of the season.”

As it relates to Antonio Brown, it will be fascinating on two levels. One, how the Patriots deploy him and how often they go to a player that’s never been targeted fewer than 10 times a game since 2011. Two, how Brown responds when he begins to taste the reality of being a cog in the machine rather than the engine.

The skillsets of some key players on the Patriots offense are not off the charts. But the versatility they have and their ability to understand the concepts and subjugate themselves to McDaniels’ plan is what makes the offense potent. They see the bigger picture.

How willing Brown is to try and do the same might be the difference between this offense being really hard to defend — as it is without him — and impossible to defend as it could be if he buys in for the long haul, not just for a few weeks.

The Patriots don’t need Antonio Brown to be the answer to their problems. They’ve proven themselves to be damn good at solving those without him for going on two decades. All he has to do is show up in the spots he’s supposed to and do the job McDaniels lays out for him.

Antonio Brown 'excited to get to work' with Patriots>>>>>

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Tom Brady 'proud' of ex-teammate Jimmy Garoppolo's success with 49ers

Tom Brady 'proud' of ex-teammate Jimmy Garoppolo's success with 49ers

Tom Brady is admiring ex-Patriots teammate Jimmy Garoppolo's success with the 49ers from afar.

Despite suffering his first loss of the season on Monday night vs. the Seahawks, the former Pats backup quarterback is thriving as San Francisco's starting QB. Garoppolo, like Brady, has his team off to an 8-1 start and pegged as a favorite to compete in Miami for Super Bowl LIV.

Brady talked about Garoppolo's early success on Monday during his weekly Westwood One interview with Jim Gray.

"He's done a great job. The point of playing football is to win, so when your team's winning and you're the quarterback, you're doing your job," Brady told Gray. "I'm certainly proud of everything that he's accomplished. He was a really great guy for me to get to know and to see on a daily basis.

"I think the great thing to see if players who take advantage of their opportunity. He had an organization that put a lot on the line to get him, and he's taken advantage of that opportunity. I know he had a tough injury last year, but he showed a lot of mental toughness in coming back from a tough injury and is playing great football."

Garoppolo was drafted by the Patriots in 2014 and served as Brady's backup until he was traded to the 49ers in 2017. The Eastern Illinois product got the chance to showcase his talents in two starts during the 2016 season, going 2-0 with four touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Since then, the 28-year-old has overcome a devastating knee injury and become the leader of an NFC powerhouse that looks like it'll be in the mix for years to come. Not a bad deal for the man once thought of as Brady's potential successor.

As for Brady and the Patriots, they'll look to bounce back from their Week 10 loss to the Ravens on Sunday when they face off against the Eagles. If all goes according to plan, a February reunion for Brady and Garoppolo in Miami could be in the works.

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Rob Gronkowski reunites with David Ortiz, calls him his 'new trainer'

Rob Gronkowski reunites with David Ortiz, calls him his 'new trainer'

Two of Boston's most beloved sports figures in the city's history did some reuniting on Monday.

Rob Gronkowski and David Ortiz joined forces for an Instagram video that certainly will add to the speculation about a possible comeback for the retired Patriots tight end.

“Big Papi’s my new trainer,” Gronkowski says in the video while flexing. “We are reunited.”

Watch below:

Don't get too excited though, Patriots fans. Gronk has pretty much already shut down the idea of a comeback this season and is preoccupied with some new television responsibilities. He has, however, left the door open to return to the gridiron one day.

If Gronk does decide to help out the Pats' current tight end situation, he has until Nov. 30 to make up his mind.

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