Coming off a weekend in which New England’s players had three days off to recover from the short week leading up to the impressive Thursday night win over the Colts, the Patriots are back to work on Monday to prepare for Sunday night’s battle with Kansas City at Gillette Stadium.
To kick things off coming out of the mini-bye weekend, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer held conference calls with the New England media Monday morning.
The bulk of the questions throughout the three calls fell into two categories: assessing various aspects of the Patriots performance/personnel through five games and the early scouting report on a red-hot Chiefs team that will arrive in Foxborough led by second-year quarterback sensation Patrick Mahomes.
“Pretty much everything,” Belichick responded when asked what had impressed him from the first-year starter’s performances this season. “He gets the ball to all of his receivers quick. Quick release. Sees things quickly. Can extend plays. He’s got a great arm. Got a fabulous arm. Can throw the ball out of the stadium. Makes good decisions. Accurate. Can get the ball out on time.”
While the Mahomes-led offense being schemed up by Andy Reid is the talk of the NFL in Kansas City’s 5-0 start, Belichick was asked about a Chiefs defense that got five turnovers in Sunday’s win over Jacksonville. Though the unit is ranked near the bottom of the league in many areas, Belichick clearly isn’t looking past the group.
“They are very good defensively,” Belichick said. “They do a good job. They are well-coached. They mix it up well. And they have a lot of disruptive players.
“They are solid across the board. Their front, their linebackers, safeties, corners. Mix up the scheme. They do a good job.”
Beyond Belichick’s early thoughts on the undefeated Chiefs, here are some of the other takeaways from a morning’s worth of conference calls with members of the Patriots coaching staff.
Turnovers remain a focus: Though the Patriots are on the plus side of the turnover differential on the season, at plus-1 through five games, New England isn’t necessarily happy with the ball security it has shown to date. Tom Brady has six interceptions in five games, though the two most recent against the Colts came off drops by his targets. Belichick spent time talking about the need for improved execution in the passing game and for better numbers in the turnover department.
“We haven’t had a game yet without a turnover,” Belichick said. “So, that’s definitely a goal for us every week. Hopefully we can hit that this week.”
“A big time” for offensive improvement: McDaniels’ offense has been on the uptick over the last couple weeks, scoring exactly 38 points in wins over the Dolphins and Colts. The unit has run the ball better. It benefited from Julian Edelman’s return against Indy and Josh Gordon’s growing role. Still, the Patriots coordinator understands the offense is not where it needs or wants to be.
“I think this is a really, this is a big time for every team in the league,” McDaniels said. “Certainly it is for us in terms of just overall improvement as a unit. We never expect to start the season as a finished product and feel like we don’t have room for growth. We certainly have a number of areas we need to get better in and show progress. That’s why we practice hard and why we work hard each week. We’re just going to keep our head down and keep moving forward trying to make progress in a number of areas. There is really no area that I would say we’re…we’ve done it exactly the way we want it done. In every area of our game we have to continue to try to improve: run game, pass game, taking care of the football, third down, red zone, short yardage, two-minute. You name it and there is work to be done.”
Jason McCourty a “selfless player”: Veteran cornerback Jason McCourty has seen his role in the New England defense change and grow early in his first season as a Patriot. Since arriving via trade from the Browns, McCourty found himself in a battle for a roster spot, spent time in preseason action at safety and, now, has found a role in the starting lineup at cornerback opposite Stephon Gilmore. McCourty has played in 72 percent of the Patriots defensive snaps. That’s the same as Duron Harmon, showing that the newcomer is very much in the secondary mix as a key cog.
As such, Boyer was asked what’s stood out in his first month with the veteran corner McCourty.
“The key thing with Jason is he works extremely hard,” Boyer said. “He’s been very consistent day in and day out. He comes in and puts in a good day’s work. That’s what we’re trying to do with all our guys, is we’re trying to improve day after day. The most important things that we usually do are practice and the game field and I think the consistency that we’ve seen with Jason has helped us on the field.”
Boyer was asked a follow-up wondering what specific traits that McCourty brings to his job.
“He’s got good speed,” Boyer began. “He’s about the normal size of most corners in the league. I would say that from a physical aspect, it’s hard to relate the physical without the mental. I would say he has a very good understanding of football, not just from secondary play but from defensive football in general. He’s seen a lot of things. I think the biggest contributor for Jason is he’s a selfless player. He works very hard to make himself better and he works very hard to make others better around him. And he brings pretty good leadership to our group.”