Week-to-week game plan key for Patriots offense

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Week-to-week game plan key for Patriots offense

If there's one thing we know about the Patriots' offense, it's that Tom Brady has several weapons on any given play.

But deciding which weapons to use on Sunday is a strategy that changes every week, every play.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien talked about utilizing their offensive weapons in a conference call on Monday following their 41-23 win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

The topic came up because of Aaron Hernandez' big nine-catch, 129-yard game, while Rob Gronkowski finished with only four catches. Lately, those numbers had been the other way around.

Hernandez was Tom Brady's go-to target against the Broncos, but that was just something that developed as the game went on.

"I think it really comes back to the execution of our offense, as far as reading the defense and getting the ball to the right people," said Belichick.

"As much as you'd like to think that only one guy's going to get the ball, that's just not the way it works . . . If BenJarvus is open, then hopefully we'll throw it to BenJarvus. If Aaron is open, then hopefully we'll throw it to Aaron. If Chad Ochocinco's open, hopefully we'll throw it to Chad."

"They did a lot of different things to Gronkowski," said O'Brien. "They hit him at the line of scrimmage, or they put two guys on him, or whatever it was. So, whenever that happens, that means that, there's only 11 players on the field. So you can't double everybody. And Aaron benefited from that, and the backs benefited from it. And that's a good thing. So we'll just have to keep seeing how teams are playing us, and get ready game-to-game, week-to-week."

O'Brien said his receivers are taught to run "multi-purpose routes" and are -- as cliche as it sounds -- a "game plan offense."

"If they take this part of the route away, then this other part of the route should be pretty good," said O'Brien. "And that's how we've coached the passing game since I've been here. Tom does a good job of recognizing coverage, both pre-snap and post-snap, and tries to throw it to the open guy, which is always the goal here. Just get it to the open guy, the guy that's got the best chance to make yards with the ball.

"We look at the defense that we're playing that week, and we say, 'OK, how can we put our players in position to do the things that they do best, every week?' And it's a very challenging deal, not only for the coaches, but for the players."

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Four-player draft class an indication of Patriots confidence in roster

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Four-player draft class an indication of Patriots confidence in roster

FOXBORO -- The Patriots had only 50 to 75 players on their draft board. From that group they took only four this weekend: Youngstown State edge defender Derek Rivers, Troy tackle Antonio Garcia, Arkansas defensive end Deatrich Wise and UCLA tackle Conor McDermott. 

What are we to gather from that? Does that miniscule class -- the smallest in team history -- mean this was a particularly shallow pool of talent?

Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio seemed to indicate otherwise about a week before the draft during a press conference.

"Look, there's good football players top to bottom, I would say, across positions," he said."Our job is to find the ones that fit for us. The reality is, look, there are some players that fit. There’s some players that don’t. In the end, we end up with 50 to 75 players that we would draft from top to bottom. That’s a small number, but that’s where we end up."

That explanation seemed to be a sign that maybe Caserio, Bill Belichick and their staff felt as though there weren't many players in this class who could compete for spots on what was was a talent-laden roster well ahead of draft weekend. There were good players scattered throughout the class, as Caserio said, but maybe only 50 to 75 were good enough to challenge for jobs in New England.  

Boston Sports Tonight's Michael Holley -- whose book War Room followed closely the draft strategies of the Patriots, Chiefs and Falcons in 2011 -- said something interesting on CSN two weeks ago once Caserio let it be known that the Patriots draft board was looking relatively small. Holley believed the number of names on the draft board was a sign that the Patriots felt very good about their team before they were even on the clock to make a pick.

Because the Patriots will put names of their own players on their draft board, comparing them to potential draftees who might compete with them at a certain position, pegging only a limited number of players as "draftable" may mean that many of the veteran names already on the roster were unlikely to be leapfrogged by rookies.

It was an interesting point. In retrospect, it highlights the fact that this draft probably wasn't devoid of talent. But it may have been short on talent that could "fit" in New England -- or realistically make the 2017 Patriots. 

One area in the draft where the Patriots seemed to believe in its depth? Perhaps the team's most obvious area of need: Edge defender. 

The Patriots had just three established defensive ends on the roster going into the draft in Rob Ninkovich, Trey Flowers and Kony Ealy. Ninkovich, 33, is going into a contract season. Ealy is in the final year of his rookie deal and has never played a snap in New England. 

The Patriots had several options on the edge with their first pick at No. 72 overall. Kansas State's Jordan Willis, Texas A&M's Daeshon Hall, Alabama's Tim Williams, Auburn's Carl Lawson and Ohio's Tarell Basham were all on the board . . . yet they traded back. 

As ESPN's Mike Reiss suggested Sunday, that deal could have been the result of a player the Patriots liked -- like defensive end Dawuane Smoot of Illinois -- coming come off the board just before No. 72. Maybe they wanted to regroup and trade back to buy themselves time to make a choice they felt confident in.

But it also could have been a case where they had a handful of edge players on their board graded similarly, and they wanted to pick up some draft capital by moving down the board without sacrificing much in the way of talent. 

They ended up with Rivers, who some believe has the ability to be a top-end pass-rusher and would have been taken much higher had he played for a program in a power-five conference. Then they hung tight at No. 131 in the fourth round and found another added layer of depth for the edge in Wise, who in some ways looks like Chandler Jones when Jones was a rookie in 2012.

Whether or not the they thought of this year's draft as "deep" throughout? That's debatable. That they liked the look of their roster going into the weekend before making a pick is not.