PATRIOTS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR JOSH McDANIELS
Q: There were a few plays on Sunday where it appeared that Tom Brady changed the call at the line of scrimmage. Is there an instance where there are multiple plays called in the huddle and he makes the call at the line, or can he just change it to whatever he wants?
JM: Well, we have a lot of different variations that could be in play there. There's times where we may have more than one thing attached, but other times where we would not. So it just depends on the game, it depends on the team, it depends on what we've chosen to do with the game plan. But generally speaking, we try to avoid having to go up there and do a lot of over-communicating at the line of scrimmage if we can help it. But, you know defenses are challenging and coordinators always try to put some pressure on you to do different things or handle different looks, so sometimes those things can certainly come up. This week against this team, I'd say that's definitely a challenge with Coach [Gregg] Williams' scheme and defense. The way they play, they give you a lot of different looks. They do a lot of different things with their pressure packages and they're very aggressive. So that's what we're spending our time doing right now, trying to figure out how we need to put it together so that we can go out there and try to be aggressive and play fast ourselves.
Q: I just wanted to ask about the geometry of the offense now. Obviously, Rob Gronkowski was such a seam threat that it brought people to certain spot on the defense, especially down the numbers around the hash. Now with Antonio Brown in the mix with Phillip Dorsett and Julian Edelman, the ability for sweep and jet motion makes it seem like there's potentially more horizontal action going on. How do you look at this in terms of trying to re-fashion the way you attack defenses?
JM: I think really the focus is trying to force the defense to defend not only the width of the field, but also to defend vertically. I think part of that is dependent on the defense and the scheme they try to use. There were times where we may have called something with an attempt to put the ball down the field in one of those areas the other day, and based on what they were doing it didn't really allow for it, and then the ball had to go somewhere else. So I don't ever think you want to become too one-dimensional in terms of trying to continue to throw the ball laterally or horizontally without pushing it up the field, and we tried to marry our scheme with the talents and abilities and strengths of our players, hoping to keep in mind what we anticipate from the defense. Which is the challenge every week, and it's really a fun challenge for us as coaches, is to try and take what we have and figure out how to get it to work and be productive against their defense and the schemes that they use on defense. But, you know, Phillip caught a seam pass the other day, I think to start the third quarter. Matt LaCosse had something up the seam, maybe later in the third quarter. And so there's still an element of trying to do a lot of the things that we've done in the past, it's just you try to – again, it's really about your players and trying to get them in spots that they feel good about the things that they're doing and that we're asking them to do. Again, Tom is really, really good at taking what the defense is giving us and not trying to force it into an area that maybe we want to try to go there, but if they take it away from us, then we've got to be smart, and we've got to continue to take profits in the passing game. Hopefully when they give us an opportunity we see it, and we have an opportunity to exploit it if it's there.
Q: You guys have had younger guys on the staff, and I'm curious about your impressions of having Troy Brown and Jerod Mayo on the staff. How has their experience as ex-players translated into their teaching and their respect in the room?
JM: I think both of those guys have really acclimated themselves to coaching very well. They're both smart guys, they both work extremely hard, and they both can educate the players and teach and coach players to do things the right way and to improve as football players, which ultimately earns you the respect of every player that you coach. I think they've had the right attitude. They've never used the fact that they played as a reason to listen to them. They've worked hard, they've had the answers for the guys when they have questions and really they've made the transition pretty seamlessly. It's a great pleasure to have the opportunity to work with them now as staff members after being on the staff with both of them as players, because they gave everything they had as players and now they've transitioned into the coaching profession. They're doing a very similar thing in terms of their preparation and the things that they're doing to try to help our team be productive on a weekly basis, so I couldn't say enough good things about the two of them. I've asked them why they're crazy enough to transfer into our profession, and the two of them just love football. They're passionate about it, and like I said, I really enjoy working with both of them.
Q: What do you lose when Isaiah Wynn isn't on the field, and how do you see the offensive line hanging in with all of the moving parts to this point this year?
JM: Yeah, Isaiah's been playing good, solid football and we'll see how that all goes when all of that plays out this week and moving forward. It's a normal part of our job, and Dante [Scarnecchia] does it as good or better than anybody else. He coaches every player the same. That's what we all try to do. We practice that way with each man on the roster, whether it's on the 53 or the practice squad. When they get reps, they're meaningful reps, and we are preparing them to be ready to play in the game on Sunday. So that part doesn't change for us, and really the next phase of that is you evaluate your team on a week-to-week basis. The personnel that's available to you based on injury or availability, and you try to play to your strengths and you try to protect any weaknesses based on matchup that you may have on a weekly basis. And those happen across the field. So the decisions that we make, how we try to play the game and what we try to do and attempt to do schematically hopefully is in line with what we're doing and what they're able and capable of doing at this time. We've got some new guys that haven't spent a lot of time in the building, and Dante and Carmen Bricillo have done a great job of getting these guys caught up and ready to play. I think that showed the other day with [Marshall] Newhouse and [Korey] Cunningham going in and playing a lot more snaps, and they held up really well. Certainly things to work on and improve, but again that's part of coaching and that's part of the National Football League. Every guy that's here should expect to play and should expect to go out there and play their best, and that's what we anticipate preparing for this week.
Q: When you have offensive line substitutions and kind of a merry-go-round like you had on Sunday, how does that impact your play-calling from play to play? Obviously, you have a lot of confidence in the players who are out there, but what kind of considerations do you have to take in when calling plays, based on the personnel?
JM: I think you always have to consider the positions that you're putting your players in. There's nothing more important than those guys being out there and being confident in the things you're asking them to do, but there's 11 of them out there. So you're trying to choose from things that you've worked on in practice, that you feel comfortable with all 11 guys executing. Sometimes you incur an injury in a game and that shrinks the menu of things that you can do, but I learned a long time ago it's not about what you want to do, it's about what you can do well. So to me, that's really where our focus would be if we incurred any injury or if we have any situation where maybe a player who is new or hasn't played quite as many snaps for us is in the game and playing, preparing to play. You put them in positions to do the things that they can do well, and you win the game doing that. That's what you try to do. So there's all these fancy X's and O's, but what's most important is the guys on the field feeling good about what you're asking them to do and being able to do it at a high level, and being able to do it being aggressive and being physical, and making as few mistakes as you can make. So that's where our focus is at, that's where it's been for a long, long time as long as we stick to that formula, hopefully we'll be able to put those guys in those positions again this week.
Q: To speak to the idea of doing what you do well versus what you want to do, last year we made a lot out of the fact that you guys became a more run-heavy team and were willing to embrace that idea. How are you feeling about your running game through two weeks? Are you seeing defenses play that aspect of your offense more aggressively after what you showed late in the season last season, or is there something else that might be leading to the production you've gotten there through two weeks?
JM: Well, we're always looking to improve in each area of our game. We know that, and I thought we made some progress from Week 1 to Week 2. Look, the defenses are always going to try to – every defense tries to limit your ability to run the football and force you into third-and-long. I think that's a pretty standard way of thinking on defense. The Dolphins did some things that were a little different, the Steelers did some things that were a little different, but that's why you have multiple facets of your offense. It's not about one area or another, it's about the production of the entire unit for four quarters. So some things that we do in the running game have improved, and then others we're working to improve right now along with our pass protection, our passing game. I thought we took some steps forward in the running game this last week, but there's definitely room for improvement. They look at tape of last year's team, but I think last year's team is different than this year's team, so the strengths and weaknesses of those two teams are a little different. We're still evolving and developing, as I'm sure every other team in the league is, and we're going to continue to try to do the things that we feel best about doing with our guys that are healthy and available on a weekly basis, and try to improve in every area of our offense. That's what the goal is, and that's what our guys are working hard to do each week.
PATRIOTS OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS COACH DEMARCUS COVINGTON
Q: There's been so much talk about the versatility of the defensive personnel and putting them in different positions. From your perspective, what are the challenges of making sure you get the most out of that personnel from week to week?
DC: For me, it's about really getting our guys prepared each week for the team that we're playing. With our players, we have some players that are very versatile who can play different roles for our defense, which makes our job easier, and they're smart players. So, really just getting those guys prepared each week for the team that we're facing, and whatever we need them to do, we'll prepare them for that week for that role.
Q: With the depth it seems you have at outside linebacker, how closely are you tracking players' workloads in games and how does that impact how or when players get used? Or is it more about specific players fitting specific situations and that being more of the determining factor of when they're actually getting on the field?
DC: First of all, I give credit to the guys. They do a good job of preparing each week, so they all are ready in every situation, and in any position we put them in, they're all ready. That's what we try to do – prepare each guy as if they're the starter. So, we go through it each week, and it's not about who plays where, who does this, when he gets in the game. It's really about who's fresh, who's able to go in there and perform at a high level and really just roll the guys because they all can do things well at their position. So, play the run, stop the run, rush the passer – they can do all different things.
Q: Do you think that Jamie Collins' familiarity with the defense has helped him in his return? Also, how well do you think he's played thus far?
DC: I would agree with that, yes. We're glad to have Jamie back. He's a special player. He's a smart player who really just has a feel for getting to the ball. He's definitely, with him being in the building before, gives him a step ahead coming back of knowing the defense and the way we play and the "do your job" type of mentality we have in our building. He walks in the building knowing that's the attitude and that's the way we coach our players. So, with that being said, he's been awesome. He's been doing a good job for us. Whatever we ask him to do, he's been doing it to the best of his ability, and hopefully we continue to have that going forward.
Q: The path that coaches take is often interesting. You graduated from Samford and had several stops at UAB, UT Martin, Eastern Illinois, among others. How does someone on that path end up with the Patriots?
DC: Well, for me, coaching college was great for me. I started off, just like you said, at UAB and worked my way up through the ladder. Just connections and also just being at the right place at the right time. The Lord blessed me to be here. I was at Eastern Illinois where we had Kamu [Grugier-Hill] and I was at Chattanooga when we had Keionta Davis. So, those two players who end up playing for New England, we had those two players. So, I got the opportunity to meet Flo [Brian Flores], I got the opportunity to meet Bill [Belichick], and that's really the first step of how it all happened.
Q: How has Jamie Collins done this season with executing assignments on every single play?
DC: I think he's done a good job. He's done everything we've asked him to do. Like I said before, he's a very smart player. He has a nose for the ball. He does a good job in preparing well weekly for the opponent. He does a good job of playing fast, playing physical and really just playing at a high level in any role we ask him to do.
Q: Do his athleticism and rare physical gifts allow him to think differently than other players? For instance, on the jet sweep that he made the tackle for loss, not many guys can come off the ball as quickly as he did.
DC: Yeah, he's definitely a smart football player. He has the ability to play on the line and off the line. He sees things fast, he reads them fast and he's able to recognize formations and recognize people and players based off of what they do and react quick. Him being able to do that and being versatile is definitely a key part of his game where he's able to go out there and play fast because of how smart he is. He has very high football IQ.
Q: Dont'a Hightower talked about being leaner in the offseason. From your perspective, how has his conditioning translated on the field? Beyond that, how has it helped you as a coach having a leader of that group as intelligent and experienced as him?
DC: I'd say, first of all, Dont'a – he's a captain for the 2019 season, so that says a lot about his leadership ability, and that's all voted by his teammates. With that, he's done a great job as a leader of our defense. He's a veteran. He knows the defense in and out, so he's like a coach on the field. He's able to communicate effectively on the field, to communicate effectively in the meeting room, so he's been great. The leadership role has been great. He's been doing it on and off the field, which is a good thing for us and makes our job as coaches easier to have players like him, Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung – all those guys out there on the field who have a ton of experience and a ton of knowledge and are able to go out there and really be coaches on the field when the lights come on.
Q: Have you seen a difference in his movement this season based on his conditioning?
DC: I think his conditioning is great. He's in good condition. Our strength staff does a great job of getting our guys prepared for the season, and they do a good job throughout the week preparing these guys. He does a good job throughout the week, so I think conditioning is good for him and he's been doing a good job for us.