By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Update: This column was completed and published prior to Saturday’s news that Cam Newton tested positive for COVID-19 and that the Patriots-Chiefs game has been postponed. Just letting you know, since some of this may seem dated.
When you think of which Patriots receiver might play the most against the Chiefs this weekend, it’s unlikely Damiere Byrd comes to mind.
But that’s likely going to be the case. Three weeks into the 2020 season, Byrd leads all Patriots wide receivers with 184 offensive snaps (89.8 percent). A large chunk of that is due to Byrd being the go-to receiver as a run-blocker, which wasn’t a major role for him in his first four years in the NFL. But after working on his blocking and earning that role, Byrd is seeing the field more than ever.
“Yeah, I think being able to block, being able to help in the run game, that kind of is what dictates how much you’re on the field,” Byrd said Thursday. “As a player, if you can’t run-block then coaches don’t put a lot of trust in you. At the end of the day, whether it’s a run or a pass, I’m out there to do my job. and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Byrd also got involved in the passing game in Week 2 against the Seahawks, when the Patriots’ gameplan focused more on an aerial attack. He got good separation against the Seahawks secondary and caught six of his nine targets for 72 yards. Byrd resembled the 2014 version of Brandon LaFell in that game, a dependable, complementary outside target for Cam Newton on out routes and comebacks.
The former Panthers wideout said his experience working with Newton in Carolina helped them get back on the same page in a timely manner. They dusted off some already built-in chemistry, and in concert with the Patriots’ coaching staff, know where each other are going to be at an even higher level.
Three of Byrd’s targets against the Seahawks came in “21” or “12” personnel, so Josh McDaniels isn’t only looking to use him as a run-blocker in those formations. His downfield speed can help keep defenses honest and potentially open up space underneath for Edelman and others. It’s important for Byrd to be prepared to get the ball either way, and he’s certainly looked as prepared as any Patriot in the first three games.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” Byrd said. “You go in, you know what you have to do, your job is kind of to take out the coverage. But if that safety jumps or anything else happens, that ball’s going in the air. Every play I have the opportunity to get it, and just kind of take whatever the defense gives us.”
The Patriots offense has morphed each week, yet Byrd has led the way for receivers in terms of workload every time. He’s helped the team preserve Julian Edelman for when he’s really needed in the passing game. But they wouldn’t put Byrd out there if they didn’t trust him to execute.
“I think in this game you get what you earn,” Byrd said. “You go out and you just continue to do your job play in and play out, and eventually opportunities will come and you just take it as they come.”
Teachers first, coaches second
One way that Cam Newton has really taken to the Patriots’ mode of preparation is their streamlined ways of explaining things. Tom Brady previously remarked how Belichick can distill a complex concept down to simple terms, which helps players connect with it and retain information. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has a similar approach, and it’s helped Newton pick up the offense remarkably quickly for a quarterback who walked in the door in late June.
“I’m just such a different person now, and just ready to digest certain things differently, than I have been in the past,” Newton said Thursday. “I’ve been growing each and every year. [McDaniels is] a person who really kind of spells out a lot of things. Coming from me, I’m a person who loves to put things in layman’s terms, no matter how complex or how simple things may be to other people. He does that. He’s a great teacher first and a coach second.
“For him, to make sure everybody’s firing on all cylinders from different ID points, to the reason why we’re calling this play, to in-game adjustments, to trying to attack to this defense because; and have a whole dissertation for that reason, is something that is relatively neat and impressive.”
Communication Is Key
The Patriots’ offensive communication is typically more complicated at Arrowhead Stadium. But this weekend in Kansas City, it’s the Patriots’ defense that will have to be on point in that department against the Chiefs.
Belichick remarked how the Chiefs typically use pre-snap motion on around 50 percent of their snaps. But on Monday against the Ravens they took it to yet another level, using it on 56 out of 75 offensive plays (74.7 percent). The complexity of Andy Reid’s West Coast offense helps the Chiefs diagnose the defense and create mismatches. It’ll be up to the Patriots to communicate at a high level and make sure they don’t get caught.
“Like we always talked about here, this is a classic, like just ‘Do your job’ game,” Devin McCourty said. “Everyone has a task. Everyone’s gonna have a guy. Everyone’s gonna have to do something. We’re not gonna be able to say, you know, put three guys on Kelce, two guys on (Tyreek) Hill. Like, we don’t have enough guys for that. So each guy that’s gonna take the field on Sunday for us on defense is gonna have to show up and do their job at a high level.”
Communication is still only part of the battle against an offense as talented as the Chiefs. The Patriots’ defensive communication has been good this season, but against the Chiefs this weekend, their overall execution will have to be better than it was in Seattle and at the end of the two halves against the Raiders.
Shilique Calhoun Makes His Mark
The Patriots suddenly had a deep, diverse pass rush last Sunday against Las Vegas. Shilique Calhoun was a big part of that, racking up three QB pressures and two forced fumbles, one of which Deatrich Wise recovered for a touchdown that put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter.
In classic Patriots fashion, Calhoun credited the front-seven as a unit for their success against Derek Carr.
“That one was great complementary football, honestly. I think that the cover guys did a great job of covering, and the D-line did a great job of rushing. But I think just lining up we just knew that a play needed to be made, and that was, like I said, complementary football. So it was on everybody coming together and having a full team effort in terms of full defensive effort in terms of being able to get the ball out. Because if the DBs didn’t cover, then there wouldn’t be enough time for us to get to the quarterback.”
Of course, they face a much tougher test with Patrick Mahomes. But if Calhoun, Wise, Chase Winovich, and the like can speed Mahomes up a little bit, they could give the team’s deep stable of defensive backs a better chance to make plays in coverage.
Podcasts to get you ready for Patriots-Chiefs this weekend
Here’s myself and Alex Barth talking Patriots-Chiefs:
And here’s my call with the Adam Jones Show from Thursday night:
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff or send him a nasty email at email@example.com.