Josh McDaniels spoke with the press on Wednesday as the team wrapped up their short week of preparation for Thursday Night Football. There will be a familiar face across from him on the sidelines when the Patriots take the field against the Falcons, with former Patriots defensive coordinator Dean Pees now coordinating the defense in Atlanta.
The experienced coach has had his share of matchups against the Patriots when he moved on to work for the Ravens and Titans, and should have plenty of tricks up his sleeve for McDaniels rookie-quarterback-led offense.
"Coach Pees is obviously a really good football coach and he's a great person too," said McDaniels. "Playing against him is always different. The thing that I think I've always been most impressed with Coach Pees is his ability to adapt his scheme, which is I would say multiple, to the strengths and weaknesses of his players. Some games we've played them they've been almost entirely man-to-man coverage, other games they've used blitz zones, some games have been more split safety coverage and less of that other stuff. He has a great feel for what his defense can do well, he has a great feel for how to use his best players and his most disruptive players and he knows how to slow you down and try to take away some of your strengths."
Pees will see a new-look Patriots offense this time around, instead of the well-established one his defense's faced previously. With Mac Jones under center and making weekly progress, Pees' experience against Bill Belichick's team will stress the rookie in new ways.
"There's no question that this game tomorrow night will require discipline, patience and execution because we're not gonna see the same thing over and over either," said McDaniels. "He may play something that looks similar but it's not the same thing. There's a lot of variety, there's a lot of disguise, there's an element of discipline that's going to be required post-snap that we know we're going to be challenged with."
So far, McDaniels has been impressed with the job that Jones has done, as he listed off all the responsibilities that fall on the quarterback in the system, responsibilities that Pees will look to stress.
"The quarterback has to process information in our system every play," said McDaniels. 'He calls the play in the huddle and then there's so much work to be done prior to the ball being snapped. He's in tune with what the defensive front is, he's in tune with where the linebackers are located, what's the secondary shell like, is there rotation, is there not?Where are our threats in the blitz game, where do those come from? He's the one that's handling the protections, he's the one that handles the run game, distributing the blockers up front.
"And obviously once the ball is snapped, there's an entirely new process that begins anew again... reading the secondary, confirming what you thought you might get and then trying to get your eyes in the right place with the ball."
On a short week, while facing an experienced NFL veteran coach it should provide Jones with a unique new challenge. McDaniels was confident the rookie would be ready for the challenge, saying "I would say [Mac]'s processed a lot, he's doing well and continues to work hard to get better each week."
5 Points of Emphasis vs. Falcons
- No Mistaking It: On a short week, there's probably not a bigger key than avoiding the kinds of mistakes that can change the complexion of the game and give a team like Atlanta something to build off of. Last week against the Browns, the Patriots played a turnover-free game, and when they get interceptions like they have the last two weeks, it's an easy formula for success. The Patriots can't afford to go back to their turnover and penalty-filled ways in this kind of game. Simply playing a clean game is the first and biggest key and one they'll need to continue through the rest of the season.
- Down in the Pitts: With 40 catches for 606 yards, Kyle Pitts has emerged as the go-to weapon that everyone thought he would be when he was selected fourth overall in the 2021 entry draft. But with Calvin Ridley out and Cordarrelle Patterson battling an ankle injury, there aren't many capable pieces around Pitts and that's why he'll have a giant coverage target on his back on every single snap. The Patriots can use some combination of defensive backs on the rookie, with Adrian Phillips likely to take a sizable role, but he won't be alone, it will take a team effort to take Pitts out of the game.
- Stay Balanced: The offense posted a balanced attack against the Browns, moving the ball both through the air and on the ground with equal effectiveness. The running game could be even better, especially if Damien Harris is able to return to action on the short week. Otherwise, it would provide a chance for Rhamondre Stevenson to build on his first 100-yard game. Ultimately the Patriots offense will be chasing the kind of performance they had against the Browns for the rest of the season while trying to be a bit more productive on early downs to avoid so many third-and-longs. They can keep Atlanta on their heels by continuing to spin the play call dial.
- Continue the Physicality: The defense has owned the line of scrimmage in recent weeks in a way reminiscent of the Patriots' best defenses over the years. While it might be tough to replicate the same energy they brought against the Panthers and Browns on a short week, if they can own the line of scrimmage early on, the Falcons should struggle to get their offense going. They scored just three points last week against the Cowboys and are 25th in the league in points scored. An ineffective ground game, especially on early downs is a key culprit for the Falcons.
- Win: In some ways, it's good this game comes on a short week. The Patriots should win, should extend their win streak to five, should continue to build confidence as they approach a four-game stretch that will define where they end up in January. If they can manage the quick turnaround and get another road win, they'll have an extended break before taking on the conference-leading Titans, followed by a Monday Night Football clash against the division-leading Bills. Those are easily the two biggest games of the season thus far and with extra time to rest and prepare, it should give the Patriots a jump on the critical matchups.
The Patriots made some roster moves as they embarked on their way to Atlanta, moving Josh Uche to Injured Reserve while activating Chase Winovich off of Injured Reserve and releasing Malcolm Perry. Perry had spent most of his season on Injured Reserve after being signed early in the season.
The good news was that Damien Harris and Gunner Olszewski were both removed from the injury report after missing last weekend's game against the Browns with concussions. Both should be good to go against the Falcons on Thursday night providing a boost to the running back and returner groups.