“I’m not going to hand out a copy of the game plan here,” Belichick deadpanned. “We’ll do what’s best for the team.”
Belichick did note there is a vast difference between the systems Brown had played in prior with Pittsburgh and Oakland versus what he’s immersed in now.
“Lot of variation there,” he said.
Brown is eligible to play for the Patriots on Sunday in Miami, as the NFL is not planning to place him on the Commissioner’s Exempt List because there isn’t a criminal investigation into recent accusations, NFL Insider Ian Rapoport reported. Assuming Brown does take the field Sunday — and the Patriots certainly have been putting in extra time to get him up to speed — how will offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels utilize the 31-year-old’s unique skill set?
Start with a bread-and-butter route in this and any offense: the slant. According to Pro Football Focus, no receiver has been targeted more on slant routes since the start of 2013 than Brown. In fact, Brown is the only player to have over 1,000 yards and 500 yards after the catch running slants over that time frame, proof that not only can Brown shake the defender at the line of scrimmage, but once he gets his hands on the ball, he’s not just falling down. No, Brown will make plays with his legs, which should concern Sunday’s opponent, the Miami Dolphins, who got beat on a 47-yard touchdown reception by Baltimore’s Marquise Brown (Antonio’s cousin) in Week 1 on, guess what? A slant.
If you’re looking for further clues about how the Patriots will incorporate Brown, just take a peak at Josh Gordon, who also got dropped into the lineup without the luxury of a training camp last season after being acquired in September from the Cleveland Browns. Since joining the Pats in 2018, Gordon has been targeted more on slants than anyone in the league (22.9% of his routes). Part of that is due to the hulking wideout’s massive frame and strength. But the other reason? The slant is about talent. Can you get off the line of scrimmage versus man-to-man? Can you find the proper angle versus a zone? Gordon’s managed just fine.
Now, just imagine those two on the field at the same time, with Julian Edelman assuming his normal role in the slot. Do defenses roll their coverage to the physically imposing Gordon, leaving Brown against single coverage? Do they roll it to Brown in hopes that the backside corner can handle Gordon? And what, pray tell, do you do with Edelman, who, when healthy, has been Tom Brady‘s go-to receiver? Oh, and Brown’s no slouch in the slot and Edelman has had success outside the numbers, so it’s not as if defensive coordinators will know who’s lining up where by seeing who’s in the huddle. You can see why Brady has to be giddy at the possibilities.
Here’s one more nugget for opposing defenses to consider: According to Next Gen Stats, Brown has faced the highest amount of press coverage since 2018, just a tick above 50 percent. By comparison, DeAndre Hopkins, certainly in the conversation as the game’s best receiver with Brown, has been pressed just 40 percent of the time. Brown averages 1.3 receiving yards per route versus press coverage, but when you back off, he jumps to 2.7 yards per route. That’s the largest increase in the league among players with at least 100 routes against press coverage since 2018.
“He’s a very smart football player, knows how to play the game. He’s been extremely productive,” Brady said earlier this week, while adding, “I’m not buying into any hype or potential. I’m into work, and our entire offense is into doing what’s in the best interest of the team.”
Follow Mike Giardi on Twitter @MikeGiardi.