Thievery is encouraged in the NFL, at least among play-callers.
On Monday, Peter King of NBC Sports published a fascinating look inside the New Orleans Saints’ Saturday night game-planning meetings. Included in that piece was this interesting tidbit: the big gain Michael Thomas had early in Sunday’s 48-7 demolition of the Philadelphia Eagles came straight out of the New England Patriots’ playbook.
Saints coach Sean Payton explained to King that while rewatching highlights from the Patriots’ Super Bowl LII loss to the Eagles on Friday, he realized a route that resulted in a 5-yard Rob Gronkowski touchdown could work well with Thomas, New Orleans’ 6-foot-3 superstar receiver.
“I hadn’t watched all of New England’s offensive plays in the Super Bowl against Philadelphia in a while,” Payton said, “and so (Friday) night, I put the tape on and I found something. Gronk caught a ball inside the 10 and scored, but it’s how he caught it. It was like catching an inbounds pass, using your body to keep the defender off you. That’s perfect for us. I told Mike Thomas, ‘This is a touchdown.’ We practiced it (Saturday). I think we’ll use it.”
They did, and it worked. Thomas boxed out Eagles cornerback Sidney Jones — mirroring the way Gronkowski beat Ronald Darby in February — then took off, gaining 30 yards on second-and-9.
A few hours after King’s story went live, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was asked how it felt to see another coach utilize a concept he had drawn up.
In short, McDaniels was all for it — because he does the exact same thing.
“I think that’s football,” McDaniels said on a conference call with reporters. “Certainly, if there’s something that we’ve done that somebody else takes, that’s great. We probably steal as much as anybody else. There’s a tremendous amount of great coaches in our league that do great things, and there’s a lot of great players that make those plays go.
“I think you have to understand that there’s a lot that goes into something like that. When we look at other teams and we look at other teams that are having some success — whether it be a team that’s doing well in the red zone or running the ball well or third down or big plays or whatever the category might be — you see a lot of good things that these guys have designed and, most importantly, have been able to get their guys to execute really well on game day.
“That’s the biggest factor in all those things — you’ve got to be able to transfer it to the field and get it done right. And sometimes you know the ins and outs of why they’re doing it, and sometimes you don’t. That’s the great thing about our league — there are so many talented people that work in all these different roles, and they come up with a lot of different ways to do things.”
When it comes to play-calling, if you’re not stealing, you’re not trying.
“That’s a fun aspect of our job,” McDaniels said. “You take a look at some things that are maybe trending in certain directions and see where it might fit for you and your team and what might be difficult to defend for the opponents that you’re getting ready to coach against.”
The Patriots, who sit atop the AFC East at 7-3, were on a bye this past weekend. They’ll return to action Sunday against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.
Thumbnail photo via Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports Images