Familiar territory for Belichick and McDaniels
FOXBOROUGH - Every game and every opponent presents challenges in the National Football League. But when a situation arises such as the one the Patriots will face this week in Denver, where former Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is the first-year coach of the 4-0 Broncos, it adds another dimension to the weekly preparations.
“It’s different, it’s a little bit different,’’ Patriots coach Bill Belichick acknowledged yesterday. “There’s not too many games like this. You might have one or two a year. Yeah, Josh knows what we do. I mean, we know what their offense is, too. I think that’s kind of a wash there. I’d say the big difference is he knows our personnel very well.’’
The Patriots (3-1) are early 3-point favorites, but Belichick seemed to concede the edge to McDaniels, especially given his intimate knowledge of the Patriots.
“He’s coached with and against these guys out on the practice field since most of them have been here,’’ Belichick said. “I think that’s an advantage in knowledge that they have.’’
However, Belichick had no sooner said that when he added, “But it’s not like we haven’t played Denver.’’
“We know their players and they have some new players,’’ Belichick said, no doubt referring to wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, running back LaMont Jordan, tight end Daniel Graham, guard Russ Hochstein, long snapper Lonie Paxton, and defensive tackle Le Kevin Smith, all former Patriots.
“We have some new players,’’ Belichick said. “That’ll all even out. What it comes down to is that’s probably going to be overrated, overhyped, and overtalked about. In the end, it’s going to come down to who blocks who, who can get open, who can cover who, who can tackle, who can break tackles, who can throw the ball, who catches the ball, who drops it.
“That’s what it’s like every game. That’s what it really comes down to.’’
As much as Belichick would like to downplay his teacher-pupil matchup with McDaniels, it will be a dominant story line and a hot topic in the locker room.
“It’s not a big secret, obviously, they know a lot our plays and we know a lot of theirs,’’ said running back Sammy Morris. “So again, we’ll find out Wednesday how we’re going to approach that.’’
Asked if the Patriots might incorporate some exotic plays in this week’s game plan, Morris joked, “We might just run the Wildcat, I don’t know.’’
Belichick is no stranger to such games against former assistants. There were games against the Browns when Romeo Crennel was their head coach. And there were those oft-contentious meetings against the Jets, who were formerly coached by Eric Mangini, now coach of 0-4 Cleveland.
This week, it’ll be McDaniels, 33, whose youth and inexperience as an NFL head coach were concerns when he found himself at the epicenter of a Mile High soap opera this summer.
Belichick said he talked “on a fairly regular basis’’ with McDaniels “not daily, but it’s not once a year either,’’ but declined to say if he offered McDaniels counsel when the Broncos coach had to deal with a disgruntled franchise quarterback, Jay Cutler, and a recalcitrant receiver, Brandon Marshall, who was indefinitely suspended during the preseason.
So how did McDaniels solve those problems? He traded Cutler to the Chicago Bears for Kyle Orton and got Marshall back in the fold by getting him to buy into his system. After he scored the winning touchdown on a 51-yard catch-and-run to help the Broncos defeat the Dallas Cowboys, 17-10, Sunday, Marshall and McDaniels made quite an impression when they embraced after the game, then repeated it during a postgame news conference.
“Again, hats off to Coach,’’ Marshall said. “He does a great job of preparing us for situational football, and that was a situation where we knew what personnel was on the field and what they do with that personnel. Before we even came out of the huddle, me and Kyle were on the same page and we took advantage of it.’’
Asked if he was a believer in McDaniels, Marshall replied, “You never heard me say anything [bad] about him coaching, or what he brings to the organization. I never complained about not being a part of the offense. I think when you take a new coaching staff and new players - it’s almost a new team - it takes time to get that chemistry.
“You are not going to get that overnight. We still have a lot of work to do. I didn’t expect to come into the season and put up huge numbers. I just needed to play my position and do my job, and everything will be all right.’’
Sound familiar? It’s become something of a mantra in Foxborough: Do your job.
“I think they’ve done a great job,’’ Belichick said, referring to McDaniels and the Broncos. “I think they are playing very well. I’ve seen, not all of them, but some of them at the end of the week, some last night and this morning, and I think they’re doing a good job. They’re playing good football. They don’t beat themselves.
“It doesn’t surprise me. It certainly doesn’t surprise me,’’ Belichick added. “I have all the respect in the world for Josh, both as a coach, personnel evaluator, and in general for his football knowledge and his ability to manage the game, whether it is as a coordinator or as a head coach.
“I think he has great insight into the game, so it doesn’t surprise me. Just watching them play, they do a lot of things well, so that’s reflected in their record.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.