Drew Brees

Brandin Cooks: 'A lot of respect' for former coach Sean Payton

Brandin Cooks: 'A lot of respect' for former coach Sean Payton

Brandon Cooks walked up to Tom Brady’s locker in a crowded Patriots locker room, telling the quarterback he played a great game. Brady put a firm hand on his new receiver’s shoulder and said “hell of a game. We needed that, Brandin. We needed that.”

For Cooks, the win over the Saints was especially sweet. The 23-year-old spent the first two seasons of his NFL career catching passes from Drew Brees. 

“I thank God for the opportunity,” said Cooks. “This time is special. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

PATRIOTS 36, SAINTS 20

Cooks appears to be a popular guy with his former teammates. Many of them sought out the speedster, exchanging handshakes, hugs and a few words. That included Brees and Head Coach Sean Payton.

“I said hello to him (Payton) before and after the game,” said Cooks. “A lot of respect there. It was good to see him. I wished him the best of luck.”

An NFL Network report from Sunday morning didn’t paint as rosy a picture. It said Cooks was concerned with his role in the Saints offense and that he didn’t think Brees had the arm to utilize him in the best manner possible. It also detailed a difference in opinion about Cooks worth. The receiver thinking he’s an elite player and deserving to be paid as such; the Saints disagreeing. Cooks didn’t want to get into that except to say “don’t believe everything you read.”

Cooks probably would have liked to have a bigger day. He was targeted just 4 times, catching two. One of those balls should have been a touchdown but Tom Brady couldn’t lead him far enough to the inside on a post. Cooks was demonstrative with the ball after but insisted all was well. The smile on his face a good indication he was shooting us straight.

“If you saw (the play), he got hit really hard, so for him to make that throw in the first place was amazing,” said Cooks. “ It’s all part of that game.”

With injuries continuing to mount, Cooks may find his role on in the offense grow even more. Rob Gronkowski went down with what the team is calling a groin injury and didn’t return, Phillip Dorsett left with what appeared to be knee trouble and also remained sidelined. Throw that on top of a hobbling Chris Hogan and the already hurt Danny Amendola (he missed the game with a concussion and a knee), and you can see why Cooks may find the ball more and more. Is he ready for it?

“I think things are progressing,”  he said. “I have to continue to come in here, focus and do whatever is asked of me.”

That's music to his quarterback’s ears.

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McCourty: Communication needs to improve vs. Saints 'to give ourselves a chance'

McCourty: Communication needs to improve vs. Saints 'to give ourselves a chance'

FOXBORO -- It's a tall task for Devin McCourty and the Patriots defense: Bounce back from a letdown performance in the season-opener by going on the road and slowing down one of the best quarterbacks of this generation.

And oh, by the way, that quarterback? Drew Brees? He's 38 years old, in his 17th season, and has stared down just about every defensive scheme in the league at one point or another. 

"It's like what we see on the regular with Tom [Brady]," McCourty said this week. "You can't fool him. We're not going to go out there Sunday and run some defense Drew Brees has never seen before. But we gotta try to make it tough and not just align and make everything easy for him to read.

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"We know he's a quarterback that loves being able to read coverages. He knows as soon as he sees the coverage where he wants to go with the football. It's going to be about competing in individual one-on-one matchups. Obviously, it's going to be about trying to get to him in the rush and not allowing him to sit back there. But it's tough."

Helping the Patriots is that Brees and the Saints aren't exactly coming home riding a wave of momentum. They scored 19 points during their loss Monday in Minnesota. They were 4-for-11 on third down, they converted on just one of five red zone trips . . . and they've had just six days to lick their wounds while the Patriots haven't played since Sept. 7. Additionally, Brees is working without one of his favorite targets, Willie Snead, who is serving a three-game suspension to start the season. 

But Brees still has plenty of weapons. Michael Thomas, a second-year receiver out of Ohio State, has drawn Marques Colston comparisons from some in the Patriots locker room this week. Ted Ginn is 32 but still a big-play threat. And coming off of a down year, Coby Fleener is already showing signs of resurgence in his second season with New Orleans, catching five passes for 54 yards and a score in Week 1.

If Brees understands exactly what the Patriots defense is doing on a snap-to-snap basis, those targets pose more of a threat than their collective skill sets would warrant in a vacuum. So what can the Patriots do to confuse a quarterback who's seen it all? And what's realistic when the Patriots have players who are still getting accustomed to the defense who could be playing significant roles?

The key might be to roll with a handful of coverages while dressing them up to make them look more complicated than they are. That could mean playing the same schemes with different personnel. Or maybe they'll be busy showing one look before the snap and drop into another before Brees has time to react.

Asked about disguising things without getting too fancy, McCourty remembered a favorite saying of his college coach Greg Schiano.

"Coach Schiano used to always say 'Simple me, complex them,' " McCourty said. "I think the good thing for us is [Matt Patricia] is always going to come up with stuff that is something we do. It's natural to what we do as a defense, but it might be hard for them. How exactly you do it, I don't know, but you have to find that balance.

"That's every week. Doing things that's hard for the offense to deal with, but also stuff that's not crazy for you that you struggle to do and it's just a big mess. That's always the battle of the coaches coming up with stuff, and us doing it during the practice week so when you get to the end of the week, 'Does this work? Does this not work? Do we need to do it?' That's always great dialogue between us and the coaches trying to figure all that out." 

McCourty acknowledged that regardless of the coverages the Patriots run out there in New Orleans, the communication between all three layers of the defense will need to be better than it was against Kansas City. There were plays in the opener when conversations were being had right up until the moment the ball was snapped with signal-caller Kyle Van Noy trying to relay as much information to his teammates as possible from his spot in the middle of the field. 

Even without linebacker Dont'a Hightower (ruled out with a knee injury) the Patriots will have to find a way to avoid similar pitfalls if they hope to keep Brees under wraps.

"I just think going off of last week, we have to do more," McCourty said. "Not just myself, but as a whole, to make sure we're all on the same page on every play. That we're aligned right, that we're playing the right techniques.

"If we don't have those things -- the small fundamentals and small details of the play -- we can't have a good defensive play. I think we have to really harp on that . . . just making sure we have all those things right before the play starts so that we give ourselves a chance.

"There were times last week where we didn't give ourselves a chance to have a good play. That doesn't come from Kyle with the green dot, or myself, or Duron [Harmon] in the middle of the field as the signal-caller for the safeties. It's all 11 guys on the field being on the same page, doing it the right way."

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