Bill Belichick toppled Kyle Pitts in an almost exaggerated way earlier in the week, calling Falcon’s rookie tight-end an NFL superstar and putting him in the same breath as Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez.
Then he got almost completely silent on him in the Patriots’ 25-0 trampling of the Falcons Thursday night.
And to do that, the Patriots coach used his own budding defensive star to shut down the Pitts. Second-year safety Kyle Dugger was not the only defender to match the tight end, but he was a big reason why the Pitts only finished with three catches in 29 yards on five goals.
As Dugger continues his rapid development, Thursday set the latest example. Safety set the tone early on with an impressive play on the Pitts on the Falcons’ first drive. When Atlanta faced third-and-9 from their own 5, Dugger was given the responsibility of singles coverage on the Pitts. Matt Ryan targeted his athletic tight-end at an incline, but Dugger got him covered by a blanket and reached in after a pass break to force a punt.
Kyle Dugger does a great job of getting a hand on the ball in man on a Kyle Pitt slant pic.twitter.com/MZ6qHJuw6w
– SyedSchemes (@syedschemes) November 19, 2021
Dugger finished with seven tackles and the pass break in victory that came four days after he produced a momentum-changing interception in the Patriots’ victory over the Browns. The safety now has the team’s best 71 tackles in 11 games this season to go along with four defensive passes and three interceptions. Clearly, Dugger has only gotten more and more comfortable in his second season, and the Patriots defense has been the pros.
“I would put everything down there,” Belichick said of Dugger’s improvements. “He’s a good athlete. He’s a smart kid. He’s learning a lot. He’s playing with some experienced players, especially with Devin (McCourty) and (Adrian) Phillips, but other guys in the secondary, other guys on the linebacker as well, ( Dont’a) Hightower, Kyle (Van Noy), Jamie (Collins), (Ja’Whaun) Bentley and the guys. He’s in there with a lot of experienced players. I’m sure he’s learned a lot about everything; keys “Matchups, run force, pass coverage, blitzing. He sucks it all in.”
The Patriots defense seems to be creating something of an identity by stopping opponents in short-range situations. They had several stops in Thursday’s win, including back-to-back games of third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 late in the third quarter as they stuffed the Falcons and forced a turnover on downs.
Belichick noted that this is an area the Pats have improved a lot in from last year, but more importantly, it has resonated as one of the defense’s core strengths throughout the season.
“I think it’s a real mentality and source of pride for the defense that we will fight for every yard, every inch, and get you to serve it,” Belichick said. “When you make finish line stops or stops at short distances, we’ve had a few examples of it this year, it gives you not only confidence, just as a defense, as a unit, you say to yourself: ‘We’ have to fight for every farm and they will have to earn it. ‘
“Like I said, we’ve done it a couple of times this year, but I think the players are very proud of it. The finish line of the Dallas game, the stops last night, it’s the real building block for that. It’s a area, we were not really good at last year, so it’s good to see that it also improves something. ”
A unique bond
There appears to be a tightness within this Patriots team that could be stronger than previous seasons. With a host of new players acquired through free agency and the draft, who have come in and taken on significant roles, there was no guarantee that the team would merge. But their chemistry, especially in defense, has been evident in this five-game winning streak that the players have noticed.
Belichick said they are always trying to evaluate how new players would fit into their new team both on and off the field, but that is not a size that suits everyone. They have been fortunate that the relationship has developed in a positive way.
“The relationship with the players is always a very special relationship,” Belichick said. “It’s not something you as a coach can orchestrate. I just think it’s going to happen. Hopefully you put players together who will be able to form those kinds of relationships, trust, camaraderie and all that stuff, but that’s not something you can legislate. It just has to happen. I’m glad it’s happening and I’m glad they have that feeling, because I think there’s a chemistry that goes with communication, expectation, knowing what the other guy is doing, and that he knows what you’re doing and that he can play. aggressively with all that. It is a good thing.
“I’m glad they have it that way, and I’m glad it’s evolving. It takes time. It requires some success. It’s not something you can talk about, and it happens magically. You need to back it up with some results that reinforce what you do, what they feel. ”