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Bill Belichick Press Conf. Transcript - 11/21/2002

Belichick: We’re putting everything we’ve got into the Minnesota game, and when the game’s over we’re going straight through, the exam is an example.



BB: We will let you know on (Antwoine) Womack when we make that decision after practice today. (We) don't have anything right now. But that will be coming up at some point later on today. No changes on the injury report, so I think we're status quo there. Anything up on your end? (Do you) have any news?

Q: No news. Just innuendo. (Laughter)

BB: Yeah, right.

Q: Talk about Steve Martin. I assume he was brought in here with the general purpose of playing the run, he's not a great pass rusher and you have been playing a lot of passing teams. But it seems like he hasn't been getting many snaps. Has his play been sub-par? Has it been a little less than you were looking for or hoping for when you brought him in here?

BB: I think it's really the point you just made. We've gone against some teams that have thrown the ball a lot, particularly Buffalo and Oakland. We've even been in more sub defenses, we've been in some even pass rush, we've tried to combine a little bit of our pass rush front with our regular coverage to try to get a little bit more of our better pass rush combinations out there. That's definitely factored into the game plans. Particularly two of the last three weeks and he played more in Chicago; therefore Willie (McGinest) has played more. I'm sure that you will notice that he has gotten more snaps. Some of that has really been not so much situational as it has been by game plan adjustments given the type of team we will be facing.

Q: He is not as quick as Brandon Mitchell, is he?

BB: Well, he's a different player than Brandon Mitchell. Brandon Mitchell is probably 20 pounds, well more than that, maybe I'd say 35 pounds lighter than Steve. Brandon probably would time better in a 40. Steve is bigger, he is stronger. They are different type of players.

Q: What's the toughest adjustment for a rookie left tackle?

BB: Well, I think some of it depends on the player obviously. There's no question that pass protection is a big issue for the left tackles. You take a guy like Matt Light, who played left tackle at Purdue, in an offense that threw the ball probably upwards of 45 times a game. They were in the shotgun a lot, Drew Brees at quarterback and all of that. In his particular situation, I don't think that pass protection was as big as an adjustment for him as it was say when I was with the Giants and we drafted Jumbo Elliott out of Michigan where they really never threw the ball and it was mostly play action when they did throw the ball. But they didn't throw a lot of drop-by passes. They weren't in shotgun, they weren't in empty and that kind of thing. Just to take two players out of the same conference, it was a lot different transition for one than the other based on where they were coming from. Maybe to answer the question is whatever they've had the least experience with is probably going to be the biggest adjustment for them. In the end, if you are playing left tackle, you have got to be able to pass block or you are pretty much are not going to be able to play the position.

Q: How does a coordinator or a coach help that left tackle? Do you just put him out there and say 'Hey kid, go out there and do your thing?'

BB: You could take any of those options. There are basically three things you could do. You can either throw the ball quick and then it doesn't make any difference for anybody on the offensive line, you have to hold the blocks for a shorter period of time. You can slide the line one way or the other, which ever way the line slides, that helps that slide inside, is that a word? Slided or Slid? The side that the line slides to gets more help, whether its four on three or three on two, but it puts the side away from the slide more on an island. Or you can take a back or a tight end and use him to help, almost double-team or maybe what we refer to as 'chip' in the protection. Essentially those are your options. Throw it quick, slide the line or 'chip' a guy before he releases. So you could use those or some combination of them. Again, that is assuming that you just get a four man rush. Now once they blitz, then your pretty much have to have everybody accounted for, you know, you are helping a guy but you are letting somebody else come free. So if they blitz you really can't help anybody. You have to single up the blockers. The problem is when you blitz defensively is that everybody has to be in a lane and you don't have a lot of freedom to rush. Whereas if you are only rushing four guys, then your rusher has a little bit more space to work in. Whereas when you are blitzing, you pretty much have to hit on one area or one gap or else you run into somebody else's blitz and anytime you have two blitzers run into each other, it's just not a very effective blitz.

Q: When did you, at any time last year, see that Matt had made the progression from collegiate tackle to NFL tackle? Was there a certain point when you said, 'okay, he's starting to get it?'

BB: Not that he hasn't really shown that he had gotten it, but I think that even in training camp, we felt that he would be able to help us at that position last year in his rookie year. Now he missed a lot of camp so he wasn't really able to display that until we got into the regular season. But I think even in training camp he showed that he would be able to pass block and have enough strength and toughness to be competitive in the running game and so forth.

Q: What has Minnesota done with (Bryant) McKinnie? Can you talk about some of the things that they do to help considering his situation being thrust into the lineup? Are they taking special care to help him out?

BB: Well, I think that he is basically ready to come in and play, maybe in way … Well, he was drafted higher than Light, but in the same way that we put Light in there, I don't think that they are making a lot of accommodations for him. Just like I don't think that the Bears made a lot of accommodations for (Marc) Colombo. They do slide to him, sometimes the tight ends are on that side, but he might be there anywhere. But he was there anyway. When McKinnie wasn't playing, there was an element of that taking place of that as well.

Q: How does he look?

BB: He's big. He's athletic for a big guy, he's pretty athletic. I think he has got a good college background, obviously he's played at a high level of competition. He's blocked a lot of guys that are already playing in this league, (he) just blocked them a couple of years ago in college, you know the Florida State's, competition at Miami he has played against. I think he has still got a way to go like any rookie does. But he certainly shows he has a lot of talent. He's athletic for a big man. He knows how to use his hands. It doesn't look like a rookie in there. He looks like pretty much a regular left tackle. But they are big. He is big. (David) Dixon is big. Dixon is as big as they come. He is as big as a house. They are a big team, big tight end, big receivers.

Q: I know we only notice offensive linemen when they are making mistakes. But it seems as if Matt has struggles a little bit more this year than last year in his protection. Is that true?

BB: I wouldn't agree with that. I don't think so. There was some pressure there last year, not getting into numbers and all of that. I mean, our sacks this year (are) basically half of what they were last year for the same number per attempt and all that on a game-by-game basis. But we're throwing the ball. For the same number of times we threw it last year, we've thrown it this year, well we're probably being sacked half as much, and that doesn't get into the pressures and the hits and all of that, there were some of those last year too. So maybe that was close to (being) evened out.

Q: So he's pretty much the same?

BB: Well, I think he has improved. He's definitely improved. I don't think there is any question about that. I think he is much better than he was last year in pass protection. I'm not saying he is finished. He still has things he can work on and he's got a little ways to go. I think his protection is definitely better than it was last year, not even close.

Q: Is it just that he is drawing more penalties maybe this year and that's why some of us have this perception that he is not playing as well?

BB: I don't know why you have that perception. I can't really tell you why. I will just say in general, I think that there is a perception out there among people who aren't with the team on a continual basis that when you win, everything is great and there are no problems. You could have 15 penalties, but it doesn't really matter. You could have three turnovers and that doesn't really matter or you could give up 400 yards on defense and it doesn't really matter because somehow or other you won the game. So therefore everything is overlooked and everything is great. When you lose a game, then half of those problems all become magnified even to a greater extent than they were when you won and they were twice as severe. I mean, why do I think there is a perception out there? I think that is the way a lot of people look at it.

Q: Have you found it tougher to get Troy Brown the ball? Is he maybe not as close to physically perfect as you would like him right now?

BB: Well he is out there playing, so he is certainly healthy enough to play. I don't know that he is quite where he was at the beginning of the season, let's put it that way. Again, we don't go into many games, and I've said this before, you call a screen pass, okay you know who you are throwing the ball to, but we don't go into games saying, 'Well, okay this pass is going to go to this guy and this pass is going to go to that guy' or 'We have to throw the ball to this player or have to …' It's just hard to run a passing game like that because teams don't play the same coverages every down. You might want to go to one guy, but that's part of the route they are taking away. So the quarterback needs to throw where the coverage isn't rather than where is instead of trying to force balls into coverage. I think there are probably other teams in the league that we play against, well there's no question about it, they've played heavier coverage into Troy and doubled him. That means that there are opportunities for somebody else and we have to take advantage of those opportunities, rather than I think continuing to try to force the ball into a spot where it is really not there.

Q: Has he taken that pretty well? Adjusting to the double teams?

BB: Oh, yeah. I mean, Troy is as smart a receiver as you are going to get. Just because they have a coverage that is heavier coverage than normal, doesn't mean that he can't still find an opening and that's not to say he hasn't caught balls in double coverage or in bracketed coverage and that kind of thing. Again, by and large, the longer the quarterback holds the ball and waits for him to get open and tries to throw it into a tighter spot, eventually the more bad things are going to happen. Sometimes, let me tell you from a defensive standpoint, just because you double a guy doesn't mean you are going to cover him either. You can screw that up just like you can screw anything else up. Sometimes we move him around. Sometimes they can't quite get the leverage that they are looking for. I mean, again, look, he's a great receiver. We would like for him to have the ball and to handle it, that being said, in the right situation.

Q: How much more is he being doubled this year than he was last year? Because he saw a lot of that last year too.

BB: You know, surprisingly he didn't get as much last year as maybe what you would think he would.

Q: When did it start to increase?

BB: We got a little bit of it at the end of the year. Pittsburgh did a lot of it in that game. St. Louis did a little bit, Oakland did a little bit, surprisingly there was a long time through the year, where we didn't really see as much of it as we did say in the last four, five, six weeks of the season.

Q: Is that the reason why he seems to be unable to kind of break those yards up, because of the double teams?

BB: There's more people there. Again, when you are throwing into zone coverages, which we are seeing more and more of, then generally speaking, that is going to keep your yards per attempt down. Completion percentage could be higher, but your yards per attempt or yards per completion usually drops because you are catching the ball in front of six or seven guys and they are rallying to the ball. As opposed to in man coverage, you know if you beat one guy, or break the tackle which Troy is very good at, then there are some extra yards after that before the safeties can get to him.

Q: Is (Tom) Brady good at skipping down and not focusing on one receiver?

BB: Yeah, I think Tom definitely understands coverages, and where the ball needs to go, and different coverages based on the pattern that we have, what the read progression is. I think that's a strength of his, not a weakness.

Q: Does that mean if David Patten is open he was skipped down?

BB: Right. But again, I don't want to mislead you, I don't think that's the way it really works in the passing game. I think for the most part, the quarterback sees the secondary, he reads the coverage, and that takes him to a certain side, or certain location, depending on how the pattern's set up. As opposed to taking the snap, looking at a particular guy and saying, 'okay, is that guy open or not.' First you see the coverage, and then that directs you to at least one half of the field, or maybe it's cover two and it directs you to the middle of the field, if the pattern's set up that way.

Q: So the primary receiver is determined in the huddle? Or is it by the look of the defense?

BB: Yes. The primary receiver becomes the primary receiver once you see what the coverage is. As opposed to looking at one receiver, if you look at the receiver and he's not open, then you don't know what the coverage is, that's the problem. So now, 'okay this guy's covered, but what is the coverage,' is it man on the back side, or what kind of man is it, or what kind of zone is it? You're just looking at one or two guys around a receiver, then you don't know what everybody else is doing, and that's dangerous. What a quarterback needs to do is see the coverage, know what the coverage is, then in his mind, he'll have a distribution of where the receiver is so that if this guy's covered, then that means the next guy has got to be open. Or if this guy's covered I can work back to my secondary outlet on the back side, that type of thing. The only reason why you would want to look at a particular receiver, or I should say you're still looking at the coverage as if you have a hot read, for example, if you're a linebacker and you're not picked up on this particular pattern, and if you blitz, then I have to get rid of the ball before you get me because we don't have anybody to block you. Therefore I've got to look at you, once I see that you're not blitzing, I have to take my eyes back down field, see the coverage, recognize what it is, and take my read progression from there.

Q: Is that across the board, that the quarterback looks to see the coverage across the whole field and sees what receiver is open?

BB: Well, it depends on the pattern that you have on. If you have on a full-field pattern, that's what you would want to do, if you just have on a half-field pattern. For example if you're just throwing the ball to the right side of the field, you have a guy on a go, you've got a guy on a corner route, you've got a guy out on the flat. Well then you're going to read the pattern from high to low, or from low to high, however you're teaching the quarterback to do it, and maybe you don't care about the backside, say if it's a play-action pass, you fake your play-action over here, you've got a guy out on the flat, you've got on the corner, you've got a guy down the field. Well, you're not looking back here, you're reading from the fullback in the flat, to the corner to the go, or if you're teaching him to read corner, go, flat, you're reading it one way or the other. That's an example of a pattern where you wouldn't want to do that, or say you're running a bootleg pass, where you're faking this way and rolling out over here, you're looking to the guy out on the flat, you're looking to the cross, or looking to the second crosser, that's the play. Plays lie that, the ball handling and the backfield action wouldn't allow you to do it, but if you want to go back and throw the ball inside against cover two, with all the safeties on the perimeter, or throw the ball outside against some kind of man coverage, or post-safety where everybody's packed inside, then you need to read the coverage, 'it's post-safeties, okay, we're going outside, it's split safeties, okay, we're coming back inside. That's pretty common, it's no state secret, but that's the way most quarterbacks are taught.

Q: Does the offense try to dictate the coverage?

BB: Yeah, again, I think a little bit of that is what you expect a team to do. So again, for example, if you expect a team to play a lot of middle of the field coverage with the safety in the middle of the field, whether they rotate down to a zone, or whether they play man-to-man coverage, all those middle of the field coverages would normally tell a quarterback, on most patterns, to go outside. Well, if that's what you're expecting during the game, then you probably wouldn't want to have Randy Moss lined up inside in the slot where you're expecting the majority of the coverage. So, you put him outside and move him from side to side, or line him up inside and motion him out of the backfield, there are a lot of different ways to do it. You're anticipating that you're getting them away from the coverages, in the similar example, if you're expecting a lot of split safety coverage, and maybe that changes during the game, maybe on first down the team plays a lot of post-safety coverages, and then on third down they play a lot of split-safety coverages like cover two and quarters, and that kind of thing. Maybe on third down you have patterns where he's more in the slot, again to try to get him to where you anticipate the coverage to be the lightest. If you're wrong, you're wrong, and then the quarterback should either force it in there if it's there, or read it back outside where the coverage is weaker. That's part of moving around, or if the team is a man team, and that's all they play is a lot of man-to-man, then moving around creates either different match-ups, or maybe it forces the corner who's used to play (playing outside, to now play in the slot to where he's less comfortable playing. Or maybe you run him on a pattern where he runs through a couple other receivers, so you get traffic problems and that kind of thing. That's really what a lot of football is, it's trying to anticipate what you think you're going to get in the game, try to create some situations so that you'll be able to attack that, and then, make sure that if it doesn't happen quite the way you think it's going to happen, whether you're on offense or whether you're on defense, that you have some type of alternative that you can live with, you're not going to get sacked back there, or you're not going to give up a 50-yard pass because you pick out one receiver to double and they throw it to somebody else. You're not looking to give up big gains just because they didn't throw it to the guy that you're trying to take away.

Q: Has Deion Branch hit a rookie wall?

BB: No. I don't think so. In fact I think there's some aspects of his game that have really improved in the last couple of weeks, particularly the return game. I think the passes will come, there was an aberration there in the San Diego game where he caught a whole lot of them because of, again, the position he happened to be playing, the coverage they were playing, it just worked out that way. He did a good job, don't get them wrong, but I think that the last few weeks he's really gotten a chance to get more reps, get more confidence, get more looks in the return game, I think that's definitely improved. I don't think that his ability or execution as a receiver has really changed much, I think it's been pretty consistent, it could always be better, but it's, been pretty consistent. I think those plays will come, I really do.

Q: How common is it, that they hit a wall?

BB: Hit the wall, they all do. They all hit the wall, there's no doubt. It's just a question of pushing through it, I think the term is a literal term, and for any of us that have run a marathon, slowly in this case, there truly is a wall that you hit, and you just keep going, and it's hard. I think that's definitely true in the National Football League, all rookies hit a wall, they find a way to keep going and push through it, but it's tough. The season is twice as long, and instead of being the best guy on the team, you're going up against guys every week that are as good, probably better than you are, relative to what the competition was in college. Game plans are tougher, meetings are longer, seasons longer, training camp, everything. It's just harder, whether it was (Richard) Seymour, or (Matt) Light, or Lawrence Taylor, I think they all go through it, and then they come back the second year and at least they know what to expect mentally and physically. I'm not saying that makes it any easier, but at least you're not going into it blind.

Q: Is it not a one-year thing?

BB: Sometimes he has different problems the second year, but I think at least the second year, if the player's been through it, he knows what to expect and can pace himself a little bit better. Now there may be some other problems that come up, and we've all seen players with the so-called "sophomore slump", and "junioritis", and "senioritis", and all that, and there's problems every year. Then they get old, and they're old veterans, there's a different scenario each year that the player has to deal with, but I don't think that there's any question that the length and the competition of the season is tough for any rookie. They have the symposiums, you talk to them about it, they hear about it from their peers, and they hear about it from their teammates, and at the end of the year every single one of them will say the same thing, 'boy I heard about it, but I didn't have any idea it would be like this. This is really a lot tougher than I thought it would be, I didn't realize how much mental preparation there was in the game, I didn't realize what a long season it was, I really need a break.'

Q: Is it more of a mental wall then?

BB: I think it can be a combination of both. The mental part's probably tougher than the physical part, but the physical part is tough too. Especially when, again, depending on the guys physical condition, if a guys gets banged up in week three, and he's playing with something that's nagging him he can keep playing, but it's bothering him the whole year, you go through 12 or 13 weeks of that. That can really take a toll too. Even without that, I think there's a huge mental price that rookies just don't understand how hard it is to play. I'd say that's for a coach too, I remember my first year in the league, a third of the way through the season I was . . . that was as long as I've ever gone before. Especially at Wesleyan, you're playing an eight-game season, you start in September and done in beginning of November, as compared to going to camp on the fifth of July, and playing into January, it's a totally different world, you can't prepare for it if you haven't been through it. It's a tough adjustment for anyone I think, player or coach, first year in the NFL is a big jump.

Q: Two games in five days, does that have anything to do with preparation or is it just an exam you have to cram for?

BB: I think it's an exam you've got to cram for. We're not going to take anything away from the Minnesota game. We're putting everything we've got into the Minnesota game, and when the game's over we're going straight through, the exam is an example. The game's over, then Monday we're on to the Lions, then start putting everything we have into the Detroit game, but for this week, we're not really doing much differently. Again, as we always do, there's certain coaches on our staff that always work a little bit ahead, then after the game the rest of us come and try to catch up on that, and that information's already been entered in to the computer, the films have been looked at, they've been taken off, and a lot of preparation work has been done. That's just standard procedure, in terms of us really getting prepared for the Detroit game, it really won't happen until Monday.

Q: Do you do anything differently from two years ago?

BB: I'd have to go back and look, I'm sure next week I'll go back and look those practice schedules and see how we laid it out from a time standpoint, we're going to work Monday, Tuesday, travel Wednesday, and play Thursday. The exact times, how many plays we were out there for, how we structure the practice, and that, since you're compressing it into a shorter time frame, I'll definitely take a look at that next week, but I haven't done it yet, no.

Q: Is safety a position where a guy can play well and virtually go unnoticed?

BB: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the first things the safety needs to understand is the most important thing for him is to not give up big plays in his area, that's why he's called a safety. That means defending the deep part of the field in the passing game, and preventing long plays in the running game, which is essentially taking good angles to the ball and doing a good job of tackling. I learned along time ago that, just really the way you put it, for a safety not to be noticed means you're not giving up big plays, they're not challenging your area, it doesn't mean that you can't continue to work and do things positionally, but if they're throwing the ball out on the flat, there's nothing you can do about that play, other than react to it and be into position so that if somebody else misses a tackle, or if the guy breaks loose, you're there to make it. The fewer plays that you're giving up in your area, probably the better defense we're playing. If you're not getting challenged, then that means that the offense is probably feeling that that area is secure and that's not a place we really want to go. That being said, that's really what the safety's job is, now within every game, I can't think of a game where a safety has never had a chance to make one play, or two plays. Eventually, your time's going to come, and then being able to come in and make it at that time is like being a pinch hitter in baseball. You get one shot to go up there and hit it, if you hit it, it's great, if you miss it, they could have left the other guy in and let him strike out.

Q: Because with a guy like Lawyer (Milloy) obviously a team leader, a big hitter who makes his presence felt …

BB: Well I think that in evaluating a safety in a position like that, it's a little bit like a receiver too. You've got to look at the production versus the number of opportunities. If the guys has got 30 opportunities and he's making 24 tackles, on the surface it looks like, 'Wow, 24 tackles, what great production.' And it might be. If he is missing a fifth of those, then I don't know if it is all that good. Whereas it might take another guy five games to have 24 opportunities and maybe make 23 of them. Well, that's really a lot more production that the guy who has got a little bit lower batting average, just gets more at bats.

Q: (On Lawyer's progress this season)

BB: Again, what we try to do in terms of evaluating players is take a look at the opportunities, first of all make sure they are doing the right assignments and then number two, take advantage of the opportunities they have and what kind of production they have with those opportunities and that's a little bit the same thing with the receiver too. Guys (who are) not getting any balls thrown to them, sometimes that's not being open, but sometimes coverage rolls into them for whatever reason, there's a blitz and the quarterback has to hot it on the other side or whatever it happens to be, if he just doesn't get very man opportunities, then it's a harder thing to evaluate. The last couple of weeks, again this is not secret, (we've been) playing teams that are throwing the ball down the field, the Buffalos, the Oaklands, the teams are putting a lot of priority in the passing game, particularly if they have a good deep passing games, we've played our safeties and played our coverage deeper. And it has definitely helped us. We haven't given up big plays in the passing game. That's your first priority

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