Josh McDaniels

Patriots' Josh McDaniels raises notable strategy concern of games without fans

Patriots' Josh McDaniels raises notable strategy concern of games without fans

Bill Belichick isn't the only New England Patriots coach who leaves no stone unturned.

Among the many adjustments the Patriots will have to make this season, they may have to play games in empty stadiums, as the continued spread of COVID-19 could prevent fans from attending games in 2020.

New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was asked Friday how a fan-less atmosphere may change how he runs the offense, and he gave a pretty revealing answer.

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"If it's quieter, I think there's some things you probably have to protect," McDaniels told reporters in a video conference. "You can't change your language. It's like, if we know English, we can't teach them Spanish before Week 1.

"I think you probably will self-scout yourself a little bit more with the television copy (of the game film), because they have the mics all over the place. So, you have to be careful (about) how much of what you're saying is easily detectable. I think it's more about protecting yourself and not giving everything away week after week."

McDaniels makes a good point: A quiet stadium without fans means teams could eavesdrop on opposing offensive coordinators to listen to their play calls, either during the game or while watching the television replay on film.

Under normal circumstances, offensive coordinators usually cover their mouths with their play sheets to prevent teams from reading their lips, but that precaution might not be enough if an in-stadium microphone picks up what they're saying anyway.

It's unclear how McDaniels and other coordinators will guard themselves against this potential subterfuge, but it's no surprise that Bill Belichick's longtime coordinator is considering all scenarios entering an unprecedented season.

Patriots QB Cam Newton and Josh McDaniels are in the honeymoon phase

Patriots QB Cam Newton and Josh McDaniels are in the honeymoon phase

Any coach worth the dried spit on their whistle knows player-coach relationships hinge on communication and expectations.

An avalanche of instruction is actually counterproductive if the coach doesn’t know what a player already knows or how he learns or what motivates him.

Early in any coach-player relationship, the simple phrase, “Help me help you,” has to be said.

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Josh McDaniels said on Friday that he and Cam Newton are already well down that road.

"I think he's a really good communicator,” McDaniels said when asked how the interpersonal fit with Newton has been. “He tells you when he when he feels comfortable with something and he tells you when he doesn't, and I think at the beginning of any relationship, I think that's a really good place to start (by saying), 'Hey, I'm going to be trying to move at a pace that suits you. Just be honest and tell me what I need to do better in terms of trying to communicate it to you.'

Care-and-feeding protocols for every player are a little bit different. And, if we’re being honest, the more talented and important the player is to the team’s success, the more important it becomes to make sure he’s comfortable.

Coaches aren’t lying awake at night worried that a practice squad player was sad after getting yanked out of a rep. A quarterback? A veteran quarterback? A veteran quarterback just getting to know new teammates? Different equation.

"The process of learning how to communicate and … coach and motivate each player comes with more experience and exposure to him on the field,” said McDaniels. “What happens when we make mistakes? When we correct them? Those opportunities, I think, we're all looking forward to going through them together that's how you build a good relationship."

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Newton and the Patriots are in the honeymoon phase. It's running and stretching on the field with the strength coaches and studying in the meeting rooms with the coaches and teammates.

What can go wrong? 

It’s well-established, the approach of the Patriots coaching staff is unique. There aren’t lobbing bouquets and high praise when a guy does, basically, what everyone expects him to.
Some veteran players have a hard time adjusting to that. Jerod Mayo told me once of a veteran Pro Bowler who wondered during his first training camp with the team why he never even got told, “Nice play…” by Bill Belichick.

McDaniels indicated that Newton doesn’t need a steady stream of positivity. And Newton himself said the pressure he puts on himself to perform means he’s right there with the coaching staff in being hard on himself.

“I've talked to some people that have been with them in the past and he's a very coachable guy,” said McDaniels. “This guy wants to work and he's worked really hard since since we signed him, and he's trying to gain every day, which is really all we can ask of him.”

After a week of spitballing about how Newton will respond to the Patriots’ style – first by me, and then (and more importantly) by former teammate Kyle Love -- this angle has been pretty well covered. So far.

But it’s an ongoing and fascinating subplot to the 2020 season.

Newton’s a once-brilliant quarterback trying to prove he’s still brilliant by going to a team that’s played a style completely different from what he’s used to.

Belichick nudged and cajoled Tom Brady toward the door and, now that the New England portion of one of the great rags-to-riches stories in sports history is over, the Patriots coach is turning to a guy who won the Heisman, went first overall and has always been The Man. And he’s telling him to compete for the job.  

Can these two men share an NFL sideline without driving each other crazy?

As weary as people may get by body-language interpretations and lip readings, how it works between Newton, Belichick and McDaniels will go a long way toward determining how well it works in general.

Ron Rivera: Josh McDaniels' creativity will help bring best out of Cam Newton

Ron Rivera: Josh McDaniels' creativity will help bring best out of Cam Newton

The New England Patriots have one of the NFL's premier offensive coordinators in Josh McDaniels, and Cam Newton's former head coach thinks the veteran quarterback and his new OC will be a good match in Foxboro.

Ron Rivera, who coached Newton for all nine of his seasons with the Carolina Panthers, is entering his first campaign as head coach of the Washington Football Team. He joined the "Dan Patrick Show" on Friday morning and explained why Newton and the Patriots offense coached by McDaniels has the potential to be very productive.

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"I thought all along that there were a couple teams that would've been really good for him, and I always felt the Patriots were one of them," Rivera said. "When Tom Brady went to Tampa Bay, I thought, you know that, that might not be a bad spot for him because of the style of offense and the things they ask the quarterback to do.

"The one thing I've always said is don't bet against Cam, especially when he has something to prove. Coming off the 2014 season, even though we got in the playoffs in 2014, he didn't play his best. In 2015, he played unbelievable. In 2016, he had an off-year and was hurt, and then in 2017 he had a great year that got us into the playoffs. In 2018 and 2019, he was hurt. I think he has something to prove. I think he's going to prove something. I like the fact that coach (Bill) Belichick and what they want to do offensively, I think that's going to suit (Cam). I think Josh McDaniels is creative enough to use Cam's skill set to the best of his abilities. I'll watch them. I'll be excited to watch them."

Newton should bring an element to the Patriots offense rarely seen at the quarterback position during the 20 years that Belichick has coached the team. The 31-year-old veteran is one of the best running quarterbacks of his generation. He averaged 601 rushing yards and 7.25 rushing touchdowns over his first eight seasons. 

He's built like a linebacker at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, and that makes him very difficult to sack or tackle in the open field. The Patriots can now run a lot of run-first plays for the quarterback and other schemes like the RPO with more frequency thanks to the dual-threat skill set that Newton brings to the field.

The No. 1 goal for Newton is to remain healthy. As Rivera noted, the last two years were full of injuries for Newton, and he missed the last 14 games of the 2019 season. But if Newton is able to stay on the field and beats out Jarrett Stidham for the starting job, we could see a Patriots offense that is both very exciting and very different than what fans in this region have watched for most of the last two decades.