|Josh McDaniels says Patriots’ ‘two-dimensional’ approach makes Tom Brady ‘excellent’ on 3rd down, red zone||11.18.14 at 4:17 pm ET|
The Patriots may have found the true key to maintaining success down the stretch, at least offensively.
The Patriots scored touchdowns in all five chances Sunday night in the red zone. The key, according to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, was the genuine threat of either a pass or run.
As a matter of fact, the first five touchdowns the Patriots scored were the result of red zone execution. Instead of settling for field goals, which Tom Brady had mentioned in previous weeks as a problem, the Patriots were able to run it into the end zone four times behind the power attack of Jonas Gray.
Brady also converted a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tim Wright to cap an 80-yard drive that opened the second half scoring.
“In order to be good in the red zone, I think you have to maintain the ability to be balanced, two-dimensional down there,” McDaniels said in a conference call Tuesday. “If you ever get into the red zone and become all pass or all run, then generally a defense kind of either packs it in in the running game or tries to double cover certain people in the passing game, and there is obviously less space to throw it in, and there are usually more people near the line of scrimmage the lower you get in the red zone [and] the closer you get to the goal line.
“I thought that we were effective running the ball in the red zone the other night. A lot of people did a lot of good things. It’s tough when you get down there because there is not a lot of space, like I said, and you’ve got to get either receivers in there blocking tight, or your backs are going to have to break a tackle or run through an extra defender some times, and I thought that Jonas did a good job of doing that. We were fortunate to be able to run the ball in I believe four times the other night. Running the ball is not an easy thing, but I think the guys did a good job of trying to get a hat on those guys, and like I said, Jonas ran well.”
|Josh McDaniels expecting Chuck Pagano, Colts to blitz Patriots||11.10.14 at 2:32 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Normally, opposing teams try to stay away from blitzing Tom Brady because of his ability to read at the line of scrimmage and make big plays.
But Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels says Colts head coach Chuck Pagano is a little different.
Pagano, according to McDaniels, has been using the blitz to try and pressure quarterbacks since his secondary has been burned for big play after big play this year. The Colts defense is allowing 263.3 yards passing, including 31 plays of 20 or more yards and nine plays of 40 or more yards.
But the Colts have had their fair share of success getting to the quarterback, registering 24 sacks, tied for ninth-most in the NFL this season. Pagano is in his third season as Colts head coach, coming from the pressure based defensive schemes in Baltimore, where he served as defensive coordinator in 2011.
“I definitely think there is an element of that, certainly,” McDaniels said. “Chuck Pagano, obviously, that’s his background, and there is some of that there. But I also think there is a great blend here, and they’ve kind of created their own little package, and they do different things off of it each week.
In 2013, the Colts blitzed 33 percent of the time, according to the experts at Pro Football Focus.
“I think they really present a lot of different issues for you,” McDaniels said. “They blitz quite a bit more than most of the teams that we’ve played, which is going to be, I would say, a very critical factor in the game, our ability to handle that. They play a lot of tight man coverage. They have guys who do a really good job of covering man-to-man [in] one-on-one situations on the outside.”
Greg Toler and veteran Vontae Davis are the corners, while Sergio Brown and Mike Adams are the safeties. Brown and nickel corner Darius Butler are former Patriots who have faced Tom Brady in practice.
“They ask their safeties and linebackers to do the same thing, and they’ve got guys who can do that. They’ve been stopping the run, creating turnovers and getting to the quarterback, so there are not a lot of holes. I definitely see some of what we had faced in the past in Baltimore, but certainly this is their own defense. They’ve added different flavors to it, and we’ve got a big challenge ahead of us this week.”
Of course, if Brady is able to solve the blitz and get the ball to Rob Gronkowski, there is the potential for big plays in open space.
“I think with any skilled player, if you have an opportunity to release clean into the route in the passing game, it takes away something that you’re not really having to worry about or think about at the line of scrimmage, and then you can focus a little bit more on reading the coverage or whatever the route is that you’re running. I think that he gets played at the line of scrimmage some and some not.
“It’s kind of a mixture of all different things, but I would say that’s true for most or all of our skill players, especially our receivers. There are plenty of times where they get jammed and then there are some times when their corner plays them off. We work extremely hard on trying to help our guys release into the pattern. We spend a lot of time in practice doing that. [Tight ends] coach [Brian] Daboll [and] [wide receivers] coach [Chad] O’Shea do a great job of that. He knows that there are going to be challenges each week that different teams present, and we’ve got to do a good job of being prepared for those.”
|RB Jonas Gray focused on penning next great underdog story with Patriots||10.22.14 at 5:30 am ET|
FOXBORO — It was a long journey to the NFL for running back Jonas Gray, and so when he reached the huddle with the rest of the offense last Thursday night against the Jets, he said he took a second to look around and fully comprehend what was happening.
Of course, you could excuse Gray for drinking in the moment. The undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame — who suffered a knee injury as a senior against Boston College in 2012 — had spent two years bouncing from the Miami practice squad to the Baltimore practice squad before signing with the Patriots in January.
He led the team in touches over the course of the preseason, but he was released by New England as part of the final cuts. The Patriots then brought him back via the practice squad, and after starter Stevan Ridley went down with a season-ending knee injury earlier this month, he was promoted to the active roster. That set the stage for his NFL debut on Thursday against the Jets.
“You know what? I always look at it like I’m just writing a great story,” the 24-year-old Gray said after practice on Tuesday. “Writing one hell of a story — a page turner.”
For Gray, his story started to take shape in South Bend, where, as a collegian, he totaled 1,100 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns in 34 games with the Fighting Irish from 2009-2011. The latest chapter saw him finish his New England debut with three carries for 12 yards on 12 snaps. The numbers weren’t overwhelming, but enough to warrant praise from offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
“He did a good job of running hard,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said of Gray. “He runs behind his pads, stays low, not the easiest guy in the world to bring to the ground because he’s a thick guy with the ball. He stepped in there and picked up the blitz a couple times the other night.
“[He’s] a young guy who’s eager to do whatever is asked of him, and we’ll continue to work with him and see if we can’t continue to build on what we did the other night with him.”
“It felt good to be out there in my first professional regular-season game,” the 5-foot-10, 230-pounder said after practice Tuesday. “I tried not to overhype myself or make the big lights seem too big. The first play I got in the game, I just wanted to make sure I was going downhill and be physical and try to set the tone. That’s pretty much what I’m going to try every week.”
One area where he was able to really distinguish himself was in blitz pickup. He said that was an area where he really felt prepared, thanks in large part to his work as a practice squadder.
“On the practice squad, you’re kind of a full-go player as a running back, especially when you’re in full pads.” Gray said. “So going against the starters all the time, guys like Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower, they never give me a break, so that’s helped prepare me for opportunities I get in a game.”
Of course, there’s no rest around Foxboro. The back, who says he tries to be the last one at Gillette Stadium every night, has multiple responsibilities on his plate this week. He’ll not only have to get into his playbook to prepare for the Bears, but because he’s the low man on the totem pole, he’ll be the one assigned to scout team duty to give the starters a feel of what they’ll be facing when it comes to Chicago’s Matt Forte.
“It’s crazy. I just do whatever I can with the opportunities I’m given,” said Gray, who has also played the role of Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson at practice this year. “My support staff and the people around me, they make sure that I don’t overhype myself and I just come out and prepare the same way.”
|Josh McDaniels: Danny Amendola’s smarts were big part of late TD Thursday against Jets||10.20.14 at 8:31 pm ET|
On what turned out to be the play that produced the game-winning touchdown pass last Thursday against the Jets, one of the key moments came when wide receiver Danny Amendola recognized the fact that the play had started to break down and was able to scramble to get open. That helped quarterback Tom Brady find the receiver for the touchdown.
On Monday, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels praised Amendola for his ability to not only recognize what was going on, but lean on his experience with the “scramble drill” in an important moment.
“I think the big key for us is to try to always come back to the ball or come towards the quarterback — the direction that he’s scrambling — because throwing away from where the quarterback is going is always a difficult proposition,” McDaniels said. “So, we try to teach them to be friendly to the quarterback in terms of trying to give him an opportunity to make a throw that he can make. And then the guys that are deep, certainly if you’re deep and you go deeper you might get out of his range, so the deep guys may end up coming a little bit shorter.
“In this case, Danny was the short guy. And again, you have two choices, you could either kind of try to get away from your guy going towards the direction the quarterback is rolling to or running, or in the case of what Danny did, he turned and went in the other direction because he was a short receiver that ended up turning his route into a deeper play.”
For a receiver, it’s all about trying to do whatever he can to help out the quarterback.
“It’s not a perfect science,” acknowledged McDaniels. “But what we do try to tell them is, ‘Look, you can’t stand there and be covered, and you don’t want to run out of the quarterback’s potential window to throw you the ball.’ So, they want to stay active, they want to try to mirror the quarterback as best as we can and try to create some separation from the defender that’s closest to you. I thought Danny did a great job — we had a couple guys do a really good job on that play — and Danny ended up with the ball on it.”
|Tom Brady on D&C: ‘We’re going to go out there and play our best for’ injured teammates Jerod Mayo, Stevan Ridley||10.13.14 at 8:04 am ET|
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady made his weekly appearance on Dennis & Callahan on Monday, one day after Sunday’s impressive 37-22 victory over the Bills. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
Brady completed 27-of-37 passes for 361 yards and four touchdown passes as he improved to 23-2 against Buffalo.
“I think all the guys, we made a ton of plays out there. It was really fun to be out there,” Brady said. “We’ve been making some improvements, and hopefully we continue to do so. I said after the game, it’s still early in the year, it’s great to go on the road against a team that is a good team, it’s always a battle against those guys.
“I know we’ve had a good record against them over the years, but they always play us tough. They had a great front, and the crowd was really jacked and into it. We went out there in the second half and did really a great job as a team, just taking the crowd out of the game and then going out and executing at a high level. That’s what it takes, that’s what it was all about.”
The Patriots had two bad losses early this season and now have put together two straight good wins, and Brady said it’s important not to overreact to either.
“Coach always says hopefully the losses act as motivation,” Brady said. “The only thing I would say, when you lose you’re probably way more hypercritical to your deficiencies than when you win. Having a tough loss like we did, we had a couple of tough losses this year, really understanding the things that we needed to do better hopefully can really serve a purpose for us.
“Like every week, whatever happened against Buffalo, it means nothing for what’s going to happen on Thursday night against the Jets. We’ve got to refill the tank and then go out there and try to play as best as we possibly can, because this team’s going to be ready to go. I know they’re having a tough year, but they always play us tough, they’ve got a great defensive front, it’s a division battle. We’ve got to put everything we can into. and that’s what you’ve got to do every week.
“You just can’t think this last game’s going to carry over to the next game, ’cause it doesn’t. Not sure if you guys understand that, but coach always nails that point home, and the veteran leaders really talk about that. So, that’s what we’ve got to do.”
|5 things you have to know about Bills||10.06.14 at 12:17 pm ET|
Here are five things you have to know about the Bills, who will be hosting the Patriots this Sunday in upstate New York with first place in the AFC East on the line.
1. They’re feeling pretty good about themselves
Buffalo is 3-2 after five games, and off to their best start since 2011, when they won five of their first seven. There’s every reason for the Bills to be feeling good, from the fact that Sunday’s game against the Patriots will mark the first contest under new ownership, to the recent play of the defense, to the fact that they just went into Detroit and thanks in large part to a late missed field goal, shocked the Lions (and carried off former Detroit coach and new Buffalo DC Jim Schwartz). Expect them to use this contest against the Patriots as a measuring stick game, with the idea that if they are able to come out with a win, they will have truly arrived in the chase for the AFC East title.
2. They have a good defense
The Bills have allowed 89 points through their first five games of the season, and that 17.8 points per game average is fifth in the league. On Sunday against Detroit, Buffalo had six sacks in a road victory for the first time in eight years, with Marcell Dareus coming away with a career-best three sacks while dislodging a fumble. Jerry Hughes added a pair of sacks in the win. The Bills were second in the league last year with 57 sacks, and through five games, they’re tied for the league lead with 17.
3. They are particularly stout against the run
If the numbers hold up, don’t expect New England to run with the same ability it showed in Sunday’s thunderous win over the Bengals. The Bills have the best run defense in the league, having allowed an average of just 71 yards per game over their first five contests. No team has cracked the 100-yard barrier on the ground this season against Buffalo, with Chicago (86), Miami (80), San Diego (83), Houston (37) and Detroit (69) all trying and failing to break through the century mark against the Bills. (Buffalo held Houston’s running backs to 15 yards on 17 carries.) One interesting note: The versatile Matt Forte of the Bears had the best outing of the year against Buffalo with 17 carries for 82 yards. Forte added eight catches for 87 yards in his game, and his stat line makes a pretty good argument that the sort of back who might succeed best against the Bills is a multidimensional threat like Shane Vereen as opposed to a traditional between-the-tackles guy like Stevan Ridley.
4. They are good when it comes to takeaway ratio
Through the first five games of the season, the Bills are at plus-six, tied for best in the league with a handful of teams (including the Patriots) for the top spot in the NFL. Buffalo has 10 takeaways on the season (six interceptions — tied for third in the league — and four fumble recoveries) and four giveaways (four picks). They’re only one of four teams in the league to not have any fumbles to this point in the year. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin leads the team with a pair of picks, while Kyle Williams, Stephon Gilmore, Corey Graham and Nigel Bradham all have one each.
5. New quarterback Kyle Orton adds a bit of a wild card element to what would otherwise be a fairly familiar divisional matchup
Orton, who took over the Bills on Sunday for the beleaguered EJ Manuel, is a journeyman who came out of semi-retirement to take over the Buffalo offense. In his first start of the year against the Lions, he went an impressive 30-for-43 for 308 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. (He became only the third quarterback to throw for 300 yards in his Bills debut.) The 31-year-old Orton, a 6-foot-4, 226-pounder who has also played for the Bears, Broncos, Chiefs and Cowboys, displayed a nice knack for running the offense in his first start, connecting with 10 different pass catchers and helping the offense pile up 343 net yards in the road victory. One quick note on Orton: The Patriots could have a small measure of familiarity with the quarterback based on his previous working relationship with Josh McDaniels. The two spent the 2009 and most of the 2010 seasons together in Denver before McDaniels was fired as head coach on Dec. 6, 2010. Orton’s one career start against the Patriots came when he was with Denver, and he turned in one of the finest games of his career, going 35-for-48 for 330 yards, two touchdowns and one pick in a 20-17 overtime win over New England on Oct. 11, 2009. The win was the unquestioned high point of McDaniels’ coaching career — it took him to 5-0 on the season. He would be fired just over a year later.
|Tom Brady on D&C: Reports of issues with coaches not true, ‘I’ve always had input on what we do’||at 10:54 am ET|
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady made his weekly appearance on Dennis & Callahan on Monday morning, following Sunday night’s 43-17 rout of the Bengals. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
The Patriots rebounded from last Monday’s humiliating loss to the Chiefs and tuned out all the criticism to put together a bounceback performance against the previously undefeated Bengals.
“There’s a lot of people outside of our locker room that never want to really see the Patriots win or do well. Certainly our opponents in the AFC East,” Brady said. “The more you eliminate distractions and eliminate listening to what people may say or think about you, the more you can focus on what you’re able to do. It was a really tough loss for us last week, we understand that it was one game and we didn’t play well and we can perform a lot better than we did, and we went out there and did it last night, which was really great to see, ’cause we’re a team that has a lot of mental toughness and a lot of heart. I’m glad that we went out and played our best game of the year so far.
“It’s a great step, it’s just a building block, it’s one game in a long season. We’ve got a huge one this week against Buffalo. So we’ve got to bring the same attitude, like we do every week, really an urgency to get better, make improvements, and then go out there and let it rip next Sunday.”
There was an ESPN report that there was “tension” between Brady and the coaches, and the quarterback’s input in game plans had been “significantly diminished.” Brady said that’s not the case.
“I’ve always had input on what we do,” he said. “I think that’s what’s been so great for me being here, is I’ve always had the opportunity to say how I feel and what I think. Those are very personal discussions I have with my coaches. They have so much respect for me, I have so much respect for them. I don’t feel that way, I would never say that way. It’s nice to for me to have an opportunity when you hear from my voice how I really feel. I feel there’s no place I’d rather play. Certainly there’s no coach I’d ever want to play for than coach [Bill] Belichick. My relationship with the offensive coaches is great. I respect them way more than they even know for the work that they put in to try to get us players ready to play.
“I think we’ve had a good thing going for a long time. I can see why people could try to be divisive when things aren’t going well. That’s not what our team’s always been about.The problems we’ve experienced this year have nothing to do with anything that’s been written or said. I try to tell you guys it’s about our execution and what us players need to do.
“Our coaches put us in a great position to win every week. And the way that they prepare, there’s nobody that has more respect for them than me. And certainly, if I ever had an issue with anybody in our organization, then how we deal with it as men is we go talk to each other about it. It’s unfortunate when things get said because I said after the game there’s very personal relationships that I have that you have years and years of trust and support with. And then someone other than myself says something and it gets reported as if it’s a fact. But there’s certainly no truth to it, to the way that I feel. And they know the way that I feel about them. It’s actually a great opportunity for me to say that from my own voice of how much I respect and love the job that they do for us players, because I don’t think there’s a better staff in the league that puts us into to position to win each week as players.”
Added Brady: “Absolutely not [true]. I’ve always had input. There’s not one play that’s ever been called in a game that I’ve said, ‘Look, I don’t want to run that play.’ That’s not the way it works. I think there’s always a great working relationship that I’ve had certainly when Charlie [Weis] was here, when Josh [McDaniels] was here the first time, when Billy [O’Brien] was calling plays, when Josh was calling plays this time. And we talk all the time. I’ve always had the ability to do those things. That’s what makes going to work every day challenging ’cause there’s always so much to learn and to work with people that you trust and respect — and they’re a hell of a lot smarter than me — that usually brings out the best in me. As I said, I’m very lucky to have those guys.”