HEAD COACH BILL BELICHICK CONFERENCE CALL
Q: What do you think of the new extra point rule so far?
BB:It's only been a couple weeks. I think let's give it till the end of the season and take a look at it then. It looks like it's a little more competitive play.
Q: Do Jason Witten's consistency and durability go hand-in-hand?
BB:I mean, yeah, I guess so. The fact that he's there every week and he plays good, whether it's in the running game, the passing game, he's a solid all-around player, one of the premier tight ends in the league. He comes up big in big situations, does a great job for them in the running game and makes big and clutch plays for them in the passing game. They obviously have a lot of confidence in him. Both quarterbacks look for him in critical situations, as they have for years. The fact that he's there all the time, has been there throughout his career, his durability has been remarkable.
Q: Is he still one of the best pass receiving tight ends in football?
BB:Yeah, no question. He does it all. They use him really to do everything. I don't think there are any limitations. I don't think they're sitting there saying, 'Well, we don't want to run this play with Jason in there.' He run blocks, he catches the ball over the middle, he catches the ball in the red area, third down, inside, outside, seams, man coverage, zone coverage, pass protects. I mean, whatever they need him to do, he does it and does a good job of it.
Q: What did you think of the play in the end zone at the end of last night's game? What are your thoughts on seeing the outcome of a game potentially altered because that type of play can't be reviewed?
BB:I think we've seen many examples of that. I could give you several examples of games like that where a play that might have been reviewed properly in the last couple minutes of the game would have or could have changed the outcome of the game. I mean, look, the procedures that are in place are in place. I think the officials work hard to do a good job. I think Dean [Blandino] does a really good job of communicating with the clubs and trying to get everybody on the same page. But the volume of the rules, the number of people that are involved, the closeness – I don't know if that's the right word – of so many plays, how tough it is to officiate and all the procedures that have to be dealt with, the protocols and so forth. It's a lot of volume there. I don't really feel any differently than I've felt, and I think I've gone on record on this stuff before, so I'll just leave it at that.
Q: Roosevelt Colvin said on Twitter last night that you taught your players that specific rule and practiced that situation. Is teaching players the rules an ongoing practice throughout the season, and do you have to teach all new players the rules because it seems a lot of players across the league are unfamiliar with the NFL rulebook?
BB:I think it's a really good question, but it would entail probably a pretty lengthy answer. There are so many different levels that that question encompasses. Let's start with rookies coming into the league. The first thing we do is teach them the rules in the National Football League and in particular make them aware of the changes between the college rules and the pro rules, which there are a significant number. And we don't really assume because we have no way of knowing how educated or uneducated they are on the rules, if they even are the same between the two – between college and professional football. So, it starts there. The NFL comes in and they go through all the rules changes with the team and the coaching staff, they meet with the coaching staff in the spring, which is a very informative meeting, and then they meet with the team in training camp and go through the rules changes and it's usually done during the time when the officials come to work the few days of training camp that they do for each team. So, that's also good. It creates a good dialogue between the officials, the players and the coaches, and gives coaches and players an opportunity to ask questions. Sometimes the dialogue goes back and forth – how's this being coached, how's this being officiated and so forth. All of that is done with the intention of trying to get everybody on the same page. Each of our position coaches devotes a significant amount of time in the spring and then also in training camp, particularly in individual, one-on-one-type drills where a lot of times there are only two or three guys on the screen instead of all 22 so you can really get a good, close-up look at a lot of rules like that – the holding and illegal contact and offensive pass interference, defensive pass interference – all those kinds of things. So that's covered very much on an individual basis, specifically to that position. Obviously, the offensive guard doesn't have to know everything about pass interference and vice versa, but it's important for them to know the things in their position and how the game is being officiated. And then those things are also pointed out in various other team or individual settings as they become pertinent over the course of the year, whether it be a particular play or particular opponent or that type of thing. And then I talk to the team on a regular basis on situational plays, which involve officiating, timing, utilization of timeouts and so forth and so on, so that's probably on a regular basis from training camp all the way through the end of the season – call it once a week or something like that – somewhere in that vicinity. Sometimes it's more than that, but always trying to keep our team aware of situations, and a lot of times we change the situation a little bit just to extend the conversation about a play. So this is what happened, but if something else or if they hadn't had timeouts or if the ball was here, or the ball was there, just try to understand and comprehend totally what we're doing from a team standpoint or an individual situation. The whole sideline, ball security, whistle, all those kind of ball possession plays, those are very important for everybody to understand and we stress those a lot. Any time the ball is loose, like it was in last night's game, try to make sure everybody understands what they can do, what they can't do. And of course once you get into the kicking game, you can multiply everything that happens on offense and defense exponentially because you not only have the possession plays, but then you have all the plays that happen when the ball is kicked, and those rules sometimes are, well they are different than plays of possession like a runner or a receiver or a returner who's carrying the ball. There is the whole handling of the ball and the kick and did it cross the line of scrimmage and so forth and so on. It's a lot for the officials to understand, it's a lot for the coaches to understand, and it's a lot for the players to understand. But in the end we try to look at the rule book as a useful tool, something that can benefit us if we know what we have to work with, how to make the best of a situation based on the way the rules are written and try to maximize our opportunities there. But that being said, there is still a lot happening in a short amount of time. It's challenging for all of us – players, coaches and officials. I don't know if that really answers your question. We could probably talk about that one for weeks.
Q: With the addition of so many new players, what have you thought of the play of your secondary so far? Have you settled on any groupings yet?
BB:Every year has its own individual characteristics and players on the team and the roles that they develop for themselves and that the team needs to place them in for us to be in the most competitive position possible. We have some players back there that weren't with us last year. We have quite a few players that were. There is definitely a mixture there. We've always been a team that's tried to do what we feel is best to play the specific opponent that we have, and that includes different personnel groupings, sometimes different positions, sometimes different schemes. But that's a part of what we do in varying degrees. I think that's always been a component of it. Some games may look a little more different to the fans or the media or even ourselves than others. Some may look kind of the same. Some may look a little more different. I think they're all different, but as I said, the appearance sometimes can be a little more or less than others. Again, it's all an attempt to try to put ourselves in the most competitive position we can. We ask a lot of those guys and everybody on the team to do that. They do a good job of it. They have versatility. They've all played multiple roles – inside, outside, man, zone, flipping over, not flipping over, matching up, not matching up – a lot of different combinations. We do that in training camp and in the spring to try to give ourselves some versatility and flexibility. Sometimes we end up using more of it or less of it than others, but eventually it seems like we always need it, so we work on those things and how they come up from game to game just really depends on that individual game and the game plan. What we do this week doesn't necessarily have a great correlation to next week, but that includes all three phases of the game – not just defense and not just the secondary. You'll probably see that on offense and even in the kicking game too. Bottom line is we ask them to do quite a bit so we have some versatility back there and then we try to do the things that we feel are best. It's a good group to work with. They really work well together, help each other out, study together, have a lot of good camaraderie and communication, and we still have a lot of work to do. We'll see how it all comes together this week.
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR JOSH McDANIELS CONFERENCE CALL
Q: How do your decisions get impacted by quality of kicker?
JM:That's a good question, and it's a topic that honestly comes up each week. It is a discussion point for us in terms of, maybe not as much this week or next week because of the domes, but on a week-to-week basis you're dealing with wind, you're dealing with potential rain or precipitation, you're dealing with the conditions of the field. If it is an outdoor field, grass, is it torn up, whatever the surface might be. The conversation for us before the game generally is the range depending on the direction that we're going that we would need to get the ball into if it was a situation where we needed a field goal or if you're in a long-yardage situation, let's say it's third-and-12 and the ball is at the 45-yard line, you need to kind of have an idea, if I don't pick this up but I get seven of it, are we getting it close enough where Stephen [Gostkowski] can attempt a kick that he can go ahead and make. And you're exactly right, we've been very fortunate, or I've been very fortunate to be on a few teams with only a few different kickers that were obviously very accurate, we depended on them a lot, we trusted them incredibly, and they also have good legs and certainly can make long field goals. We always try to avoid that, by not putting them in that situation, but you have to know where's that cut-off point depending on the direction you're going, field conditions, wind, the weather, and so on and so forth. And each week it changes from one game to the next. It could be at least a little different depending on where you're playing.
Q: Of 627 missed field goals in the fourth quarter league-wide since 2000, the Patriots have contributed only seven of them. What are your thoughts?
JM:That doesn't surprise me. Like I said, I've been very lucky – I think all of us have. Steve has been tremendous and Adam [Vinatieri] before him was equally as accurate and made a ton of clutch kicks and we've always felt good that if we had to put it in their hands, if we have to do that to win the game, we know what we need to do offensively to give him an opportunity and we certainly trust him to go out there and make it. He's done that numerous times.
Q: Do you ever concern yourself with the mental state of your kicker?
JM:I've never really concerned myself with that as the offensive coordinator. If you're the head coach or special teams coach, I'm sure that's something you have to consider. I just know that what they need from me or what they need from our group would tie in to what they feel they need to do for the kicker.
Q: Can you look back at practices leading up to good games, are there indications that you would play well? Coming off the bye, what do you look for in practice that would give you an indication that you are capable of doing that?
JM:To the first part, I think you're always … Practice is tough and we try to purposely make it difficult on our players, on whatever it is that we are trying to do during the week to get ready for that opponent so that we see the most difficult looks, so that we make our players aware of the things that could certainly affect the game in a negative fashion. There are days where we practice well. I would say very few days where we go out there and everything is perfect, and that's designed that way. We challenge our guys and challenge what we are trying to do for the game plan and make sure we feel good about it going into the weekend. Because of that, there are days where you leave the practice field knowing that you'll have to make some corrections in the film sessions. I would say that's a regular occurrence for us. You have to make them better on the field and then maybe have an opportunity to hit a few of those things the next day. There is a lot of learning that goes on based on the mistakes we may make in practice and our guys do a great job of trying to digest that information and then be ready to go when we use it during the course of the game. During the bye week, coming off the bye week, the most important thing for us is not looking back in the past. We have things we want to work on. At the same time we have an opponent that we don't know very well, a group of players that we don't know very well, a totally different scheme than some of the things we've seen in the first three games that we need to familiarize ourselves with pretty quickly. Our time is going to be spent really focused on working on trying to improve on some of the areas that we need to get better in and at the same time really doing a good job of trying to familiarize ourselves with Dallas, their personnel, their schemes, how they play and how they've been effective against other teams' offenses.
Q: How beneficial is it to have Ryan Wendell back in the fold and what does the competition look like that you'll have on the offensive line? How difficult is it for you to evaluate the different guys when they don't get full contact reps?
JM:First it's always good to have guys healthy and back out there, so it's good to see Wendy coming back and we'll see how that goes as we go through the week and into the next so many weeks here. Evaluation any more in our season and in the league, you have to take every opportunity you have to evaluate them. Some of them might not be physical and that's just the way that the schedule is set up. Due to the limited number of padded practices, you have to evaluate them mentally on the non-padded days. There are some technique fundamentals certainly you can get done without them hitting each other that are important and valuable to us and we need to evaluate on a day-to-day basis and then you need to take advantage of each one of the padded practices that you do have to try to make sure that you get good, solid work done and try to find some improvement in the areas that each player needs it in. There's nothing we can change about that relative to more padded practices or those types of things. Players need to come to work each day and understand that there are a number of things that we can get done, padded or not, and our guys have great mindset about that and great attitude and they come to work to try to make things better and improve their own individual games and collectively will make us a better team, and our job as coaches is to evaluate the work that we're doing, not worry about what we can't do. We take each day, we watch the film very diligently, we look at it with the players, make sure that we are trying to make corrections and improve each guy as best we can each every single day and over the course of a long season, those repetitions in pads, you stack them on top of each other. This week it's this many, next week it's the same thing and over as many days we have left in pads, we try to get the work done that we can and then you make the best of the time that you have.
Q: The Cowboys are getting back Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain. What have you seen from their defense at this point and how do you think it might change with those two guys in there?
JM:This is a very active group on defense, very athletic, fast, long, a lot of length, whether that's in the front or the linebacker group or the secondary. They are a team that takes advantage of offensive mistakes and create opportunities for themselves. They are very aggressive trying to get the ball and they do a good job of taking it away when they have their opportunities. They catch the ball well if they ever have a chance to intercept one. This is a team that you need to be alert and really on top of things every time you are out there. They create a lot of negative plays with their front. They play a lot of players. That's one of things that you see. You've got a lot of the guys on the front who play. They play a number of linebackers. They play a number of secondary players. They'll play base defense, nickel defense, dime defense – I mean, they play a lot of different combinations – so our players are busy really trying to familiarize themselves with a lot of different names and traits and watching these guys and studying them and making sure that we know who's who when we are in there because ultimately every week is a matchup game and this week will be no different. They're very well coached, they are very well coordinated, they do a lot of moving in the front, they do some things that are disruptive, and their linebackers are very disruptive. It's a fast team – you're not really going to outrun them. They have great players in the secondary. They are very willing to play man coverage. They are aggressive at the line of scrimmage. This is going to be a big test for us obviously in a place where we haven't played before against a group that as we said we are going to try to get familiar with quickly on the road in a hostile environment and the two guys they are getting back will only add to the group of players that we are studying. McClain is very good inside, finds the ball, intelligent, long, can be disruptive in the passing game, he's a good blitzer, he's a good tackler, this is a guy who does a lot of really good things in the middle of the defense. Hardy coming back, we played against him a couple of years ago. We understand the type of athlete and toughness, physicality, edge ability. They can move him inside and play him in there as well along with the other seven or eight defensive linemen that are going to rotate in there also. It only makes the group better having these two guys back. Certainly, it's a very good unit, very well coach. Coach [Rod] Marinelli and his staff do a great job. You can see that on a week-to-week basis and we've got a big, big challenge ahead of us this week.
Q: When you play a team with limited experience against them, do you go back and look at that film from the last meeting with the coordinator a little extra closely just to see how he is going to try to defend you?
JM:Certainly Rod, they've got a very good philosophy that they've played good defense under for a long time wherever he's been. They are very well coached, you can tell that at all three levels. There are very few mistakes you see them make. They aren't going to give you many easy plays. They play fast, they play aggressive. Sometimes people say it's simple. They don't play a lot of different exotic things, but there are some exotic things in there. There is no question about that. They have their group of things that they want to do and when you see them, you have to do a good job being on top of things. The thing that's always struck me about Coach Marinelli's defenses is how fast and aggressive they play and that comes because they're sure of what they are doing and they're confident in their assignments. Any time you play a team like that you're going to have to do a good job of preparation, you're going to have to be on top of your game plan and understand exactly how you are going to have to play them in order to handle them. In the past, going back to the past, I think you always do that as coaches to check yourself and if there is something that hurt us the last time, or something that was a common occurrence in the game previous, you take a look at those things. Personnel has certainly changed where he's been, where we are at now – the people we have versus the players he has. You always want to double check that you've crossed your T's and dot your I's as you're preparing for the game. If there is anything you can do to help your players be more successful on Sunday, there is nothing that you won't turn over to try to find something that will help us be successful.
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR MATT PATRICIA CONFERENCE CALL
Q: What have you seen from the Dallas Cowboys offense since they have been hit by injuries?
MP:Yeah, I mean I think the first thing that comes to mind is obviously this is a pretty persevering group. I mean they keep pushing ahead and guys keep coming in and they obviously have a lot of depth. They play a lot of different people. They've played a lot of different players throughout the year so they've been able to kind of, you know, plug guys in and just keep the offense moving. I would say, you know, when you look at the offense, it's obviously built around the offensive line. It's a tremendous group up front, some of the best guys in the league that have been playing together for a while. It's a real cohesive unit and a group that really can dominate and control the game. So, I think, you know, they start there with the offensive line in both the run game and the pass game. They obviously have a lot of confidence in their offensive line for the run game that they run and then also with the pass game you can see some sets and formations where they might not have extra guys in protection because they feel confident that the guys up front can, you know, provide the protection of the quarterback and give him a chance to get the ball downfield. I would say obviously the running back position, you know, [Joseph] Randle, [Lance] Dunbar, [Darren] McFadden – but now really Randle and McFadden – being the two guys there that do a great job with this stretch-zone run game and being able to, you know, press the ball out into the perimeter and do a great job of cutting downhill and getting positive yards. It's an extremely difficult scheme to handle up front and be able to stop them in the run game – it's certainly the strong point of what they do. The tight ends do a great job for them. [Jason] Witten, who's just an unbelievable tight end for his longevity and what he can do in both the pass game and the run game, his blocking ability just seems to get better and better every year. Obviously he's great in the passing game but mixing him in, and they're going to rotate the tight ends in, they use quite a few of them – [James] Hanna or [Gavin] Escobar – you'll see those guys in there also and they try to gain an advantage out on the edge with those guys. The skill players have really kind of stepped in and stepped up to their role so you'll see those guys in there. [Terrance] Williams, you know, getting the ball to him a little more obviously with the situation they've got. [Cole] Beasley, who does a great job – I think this guy's a real high effort, real tough guy, hard guy to tackle, does a good job in the slot. So they have enough skill players for the passing game. They do a good job of the matchups there in the passing game, trying to feature, you know, whoever they've got to push the ball to based on what they think the coverage is, whether its finding the dead spots in the zone. They do a good job of getting the ball inside to the tight ends and the backs on the check downs or if they see a one on one matchup that they like, they'll push the ball downfield certainly and get it outside. I think they have a very balanced offense. They do a good job in both the run and the pass game. I think that comes from obviously the head coach. Coach [Jason] Garrett wants to keep everything balanced. Coach [Scott] Linehan does a good job of getting that done and really putting the quarterback in a good position to make decisions and make plays. I think [Brandon] Weeden's done a good job of running the offense, controlling the offense, and trying to keep that ball controlled style that they do in both the run and the pass game. They're great on time of possession and also controlled passes. I think the offense for these guys is really one that has a lot of depth and has been able to kind of withstand some of the injuries and just comes out and keeps plugging forward week after week.
Q: Is this a good test of your run defense this week against Dallas?
MP:Well, I mean we're trying to improve every week in all areas – the run game and the pass game, our techniques up front, our communication. Sometimes just our getting lined up needs to be better. Certainly, you know, each week that we step out on the field we're trying to get better than the previous week and trying to improve in all areas of the defense. I will say that Dallas does a great job in the run game. This is a huge challenge for us this week to be able to stop their run game. They run it very efficiently. They have great complementary plays to their key plays or, you know, the plays they run the most. This is a big challenge. The guys up front, like I said along with the tight ends, they do a great job of blocking. They've really been able to take the scheme that they run and plug in different backs in the backfield and be very productive. This will be a big challenge for us in the run game.
Q: What have you seen from the defensive line that you like and how do you think Akiem Hicks will fit in with them?
MP:Well, I think, you know, the guys in the front in general whether it's the ends or the defensive tackles or the linebackers, you know all those guys are trying really to hone in on their techniques. I think you can definitely see some progress with the guys inside, our defensive tackles, and trying to play the techniques better. Those guys are working really hard to do that and to be able to play the fundamentals the way we want them to. Certainly, [Akiem] Hicks is going to have to get caught up on that and learn kind of how we play up front and the techniques that we use, but certainly he looks like he can do that and is appearing to try and learn how we do that so that'll be his biggest challenge moving forward. But I think all those guys are trying to use what we're teaching them from a fundamental standpoint, trying to get better, get consistent. You know that's really kind of the word right now, would be consistently doing what we're supposed to up front with our techniques and how we play those blocks and how we defeat blocks up front. So, consistency is kind of the biggest key for us right now.
Q: What have you seen from Khyri Thornton thus far?
MP:Well, I think with all those guys up front and obviously Khyri fits right in this mold, you know competition is good. We're trying to get everybody to get better and push themselves to learn and improve. He's certainly shown some ability. He's an athletic guy. He's got some good length to him, some good power. You know, a guy that can play the way we want him to play inside and again it would be the same kind of answer for him as it is for all these guys – you can see good things and things that need to be improved in everybody and for us it's all about trying to do the good things more than you're doing the things that aren't so good. So the consistency of being able to play with power and strength and separation and the ability to transition from the run to the pass game and all those fundamentals that we're looking for, he's certainly shown and been able to do some of that, too, and hopefully he can keep improving like the rest of the group.