Patriots head coach Bill Belichick addresses the media during his press conference at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday, December 16, 2009.
BB:OK, well of course we've spent the last couple days watching a lot of film on Buffalo. I think it's pretty obvious they're playing their best football of the year at this point. I think they've been in a lot of close games recently, but they played very well. I think they are strong in all three phases of the game. They're very strong in special teams like they always are; [they have] excellent specialists with [Brian] Moorman, [Rian] Lindell, [Fred] Jackson returning kickoffs, [Roscoe] Parrish. They are very strong in that area, [and they have a] good coverage team. Defensively, the pass defense is excellent, 25 interceptions and have only given up 10 [passing] touchdowns. They do a good job rushing the passer. They make a lot of big plays in the passing game, as they did against us. Offensively, it's as probably a good a group of skill players as we'll see - excellent receivers, excellent running backs. They've got some consistency on their offensive line the last few weeks. I'm sure that's definitely helped them. It helped them in the running game and their overall consistency. The quarterback's athletic, made some plays with his legs and his arm. He's gotten the ball down the field to the receivers, [Lee] Evans and [Terrell] Owens. They've done a good job of attacking all areas of the field - outside, inside, deep, short. [They have] a lot of good skill players. Tackling and defending all those guys in both the running game and the passing game, it's a big challenge. I think Perry's done a good job with this team over the past month. Like I said, I think they're playing their best football of the year right now.
Q: What does Ryan Fitzpatrick bring as a quarterback for them?
BB:He's real athletic. He's made some plays pulling the ball down and running. Some quarterbacks we characterize - they run to run, they run to find time to throw the ball. I think he can do both. He can run to run and he can run to throw. He's had some nice runs. He's also had some big plays on scrambles, like the touchdown pass he threw to Evans against Jacksonville. [That] was really a nice play. It got called back on a penalty, but he made a nice play on it [and] Evans made a great catch. [He's] a smart guy. They do some audible at the line of scrimmage, changing plays. You can see him getting the team into good plays against looks they can take advantage of. It looks like he's given them a little bit of spark offensively, in terms of some big plays and also some plays with his feet and [he] manages the game well.
Q: What have they done on special teams that has made them so consistently good over the last few years?
BB:Every time we watch them they seem to be good, whether they're playing somebody else or we're getting ready for them. We've seen them on a lot of crossover tape this year, of course in the division and all the NFC South teams and the AFC teams that both teams have played. Obviously, they're well-coached. It starts with good specialists. [Brian]Moorman is an excellent punter, [he has a] great leg, can change field position, [he's] good inside the 20. [He's] an athletic guy. He's run some fakes and of course they ran the fake field goal against New Orleans. They fake punted. Lindell is an excellent kicker, good kick off guy, good directional kicker, got excellent returners with Jackson and Parrish and of course in the past it's been [Terrence] McGee and [Leodis] McKelvin and you can go right down the line. Those guys get the ball in their hands. They've got a good group of core players; [John] Wendling is an excellent player. I think he's leading their team with tackles, 25 tackles or whatever it is. [Justin] Jenkins does a good job for them. [Jon] Corto is a very productive guy, so they have a lot of good players that make plays. They're well-coached, they're sound, and they have good specialists. Buffalo isn't the easiest place in the world to kick in, but those guys do a good job there and they take advantage of the conditions and it usually seems they are able to get more out of them than their opponents do, but they are very consistent. We say this every year and every time we play them we look at the most recent games and it's there again. They step up and do it on a consistent basis.
Q: Is Bobby April one of the special teams coaches that you would hire around the league?
BB:Yeah. I have a high regard for all the coaches in the league, but yeah, Bobby's done a great job. I've known him for a long time. I knew him when he was at UNC. His teams have always played well and I have a lot of respect for what he does. They have a lot of energy. They play with emotion in the kicking game. They make plays and it seems like that sparks their team. Unfortunately, we've been on the other end of some of those plays. I know what that's like firsthand, but they're very good. I think he does an excellent job.
Q: Why do you think their run defense isn't so good?
BB:I think statistically I know what that is, but I would say overall I think their run defense is good. They've given up some long plays in the running game. You go out there and they run 10 plays and they gain 25-30 yards and all of a sudden you give up a 30, 35 or 40-yarder, and now it's six or seven yards a carry, whatever it is. I think what has hurt Buffalo is the long runs they've given up because when you watch them play, they do a good job. Their ends are good. Their inside players are very good, of course, [Marcus] Stroud, [Aaron] Schobel, [Ryan] Denney, [Chris] Kelsay, [Spencer] Johnson and [Kyle] Williams. They are all good players. [Paul] Posluszny is a good middle linebacker. He makes a lot of tackles. They're fast at linebacker. I know they've had some injuries and all, but [Bryan] Scott and [Chris] Draft, those guys run well and they're instinctive. It seems like teams get a little crease on it and instead of it being an 8-yard run it ends up being 35 or 40. When you have those kind of runs against you then statistically your run defense is not going to look good. But again, when you watch them on film, you see nine out of 10 plays played pretty well and there isn't a whole lot there. And then all of a sudden somebody gets one on them and they get a chunk of yardage and then you say, 'I hope we can get one of those plays', but when you look at the nine plays before, it it's really not there. I'm sure that that is probably a frustrating thing for them when you're playing really pretty good run defense and then you give up a big play and then the numbers don't look good, but I don't think that's really indicative of the overall quality of their defensive front. You look at the last four games they played and nobody's even been able to get 20 points on them. I think that's really more what I see of their defensive football team. This is a good, solid team that turns the ball over a lot and is good in their pass defense. And if it's taking the ball away, they have more interceptions than anyone in the league.
Q: (On simplifying the defense this past week)
BB:Well, we felt like, in the last couple games, maybe some of the execution might have been the result of not practicing things enough or not reacting quite quickly enough, so we tried to simplify it a little bit so there would be a little less decision making. Maybe we weren't always in the best defense we could be in, but at least we all knew what we were doing and we could be aggressive and take our chances on the weaknesses in that particular call. I think the players did a good job of that. Not everything was perfect, but they played hard and we tackled better. I think for the most part, we were not on everything, but we were on it pretty good. And then when you play good on third down then that really takes care of a lot of issues. And really, that was the big difference between the Miami game and the Carolina game, was our third down defense. We played better on third down against Miami and statistically that probably looked better than the Carolina game did, honestly, but we played good on third down against Carolina and that led to a lot fewer points, a lot fewer plays, and a lot better field position for the offense.
Q: Were Jairus Byrd and Pat Chung pretty different players when you looked at the two of them when they played at Oregon? Was the playmaking ability in Byrd evident there?
BB:He played corner and Chung played safety, although Byrd played different positions. He showed a lot of position versatility in college and he definitely was a playmaker in college as well. I think the issue with Byrd coming out was he was more of a corner in college. It was, I would say, a little bit of a projection to safety, which he's obviously done very well there, even though he's not a regular player for them. His playing time really comes on their sub-defenses. I think he's a guy that is obviously a valuable player to have, a valuable player for the defense. I think his role has got to be a little bit unique as to exactly where you put him, because I don't know if he's really a true corner or a true safety, but he's a player that if you have him on your team, [he] is going to help and he's going to make plays. That's kind of where he fit and there're players like that in the draft every year, players who are playmaking players that when you really try to say, 'What's their position?' Sometimes you have a hard time defining it, but you can see the player as a playmaker versus other players who have a defined position - 'Well this guy is definitely going to play there', but you don't see the playmaking ability of that player.
Q: Pat Chung moved around quite a bit at Oregon...
BB:Yeah, but I would say for the most part he played safety responsibilities, let's put it that way, regardless of how they configured it. There was a lot of sub defense in that conference because of the multiple receivers and spread formations and things like that. I think Patrick, for the most part, in addition to returning punts, really played more as a safety than as a corner. And again, regardless of whether he was actually the nickel back or wasn't, you could evaluate him as a player that would be doing safety-type jobs.
Q: Is the size, speed, strength combo Terrell Owens brings to that position unique to what you've seen?
BB:Well, I would say it would be in the upper echelon, but I think there are other players that are big and fast, like the Braylon Edwardses of the world. There're a decent number of guys that are 220 pounds, that can run probably sub-four or five, that are strong, that can go down the field, break tackles and run with it, like that type of a player. I would say there're a decent number of those.
Q: (On T.O.'s performance in Super Bowl XXXIX)
BB:Yeah, it was a tremendous performance, it really was. Kind of all the indications that we had were that he wasn't going to play and not only did he play, but he played very well. I would say we under-game planned for him in that particular game.
Q: Can you reflect on how special this decade has been to this franchise, this team and to the other Boston teams?
BB:I hate to be the Grinch here on this story, but look, there have been some great times for all of us in Boston, the different teams and the Patriots and all that, but in all honesty, we have a one-game season and it's Buffalo. If we can reflect back on that some other time, I'd be happy to do that.
Q: Have you noticed any subtle differences or major differences in the way Buffalo is playing?
BB:I think fundamentally they're the same, but I mean, obviously, they've made a change at quarterback [and] they've made a change at running back. Even though [Marshawn] Lynch plays quite a bit, they started Jackson ahead of them. I'd say they are playing well. What exactly all the components are that go into that, I'm not sure. People in Buffalo would probably be better able to answer that than I would. Maybe that's a good question for the conference call. I think they're playing well, as I said, as well as I've seen them play all year. I think Perry [Fewell]...I've known him for quite awhile - since he was at Jacksonville. He's an excellent defensive coach and he's certainly done a good job of getting his team to play well in the last month of the season in all three phases of the game. And it hasn't just been one thing; it's been offense, defense, special teams. Their young players are playing well. Their veteran players are playing well, so I think you have to acknowledge that. I think he's done a good job there.
Q: What makes it so difficult to defend Buffalo's scheme game?
BB:Buffalo's tough to defend, period, because they've got an excellent running game, two outstanding backs, then they've got two outstanding vertical receivers with Owens and Evans. Of course those guys do some damage underneath, too, on intermediate, in cuts and things like that. [They] have a good third receiver in [Josh] Reed or Parrish, whoever they elect to use in there. If you're out there worrying about the receivers, then you've got issues with the running game and backs on screen passes, check downs and things like that. If you're in there worrying about the running game and backs on screens, then you get into the 50-yard touchdown to Owens against Miami, the 98-yard touchdown to Owens against Jacksonville, the 50-yard touchdown to Evans against Jacksonville that got called back, the 32-yard touchdown to Evans down there in the corner of the end zone against Tampa, so you want to stop one guy and they've got some other guys. They do a good job. They rip off 50-yard runs, they throw 50-yard passes, they hit 25-35-yard screen passes, the quarterback scrambles and runs for a 30-yard touchdown against Miami. I think you could take one of those away and maybe even two of them if that's all you wanted to do, but then you've got problems somewhere else. I think that's where teams have run into trouble against Buffalo. They stop one thing and then [there's] something else. In our game, Evans and Owens didn't, statistically, have the kind of production the backs did. Maybe had we played or defended some of those plays differently that production would have shifted. That's not uncommon to see.
Q: When you look at the full body of work that Laurence Maroney put together to this point, do you see anything that he's doing this year that he hadn't done?
BB:Well, last year he didn't play that much. That was the big difference in last year. I mean, Laurence works hard. Laurence and I spend a lot of time together. Together we talk and watch film a lot about the running game, his running style, reads and so forth. I think he's worked hard this year. He's had a good offseason. He's worked hard in camp and all through the year he's been healthy, so those things are always positive. It's just like everybody else; he's done a lot of good things [and] there're other things he's still working on to do better, like all of us do. The biggest difference for him this year is he's been out there; he's been healthy. He's been out there all the time, he's gotten all the reps. He's been able to execute all the things we're doing and there's no question that has helped him.
Q: In those times you've spent together talking about his running style, what are you stressing to him? To lower his shoulder and run hard?
BB:Fundamentally, that's always what a runner wants to do, especially if it's a powerful runner like Laurence - to try to drop your pads on contact. It protects the ball, it gives the defender less surface to hit on the tackle, and it gives you an opportunity to create more yards after contact. Those are fundamental things. We talk about those - how to read individual plays or by the way a defense is playing, their technique, their linemen or linebackers and how to best read those. Those defensive players are pretty smart, too; they just don't go out there and stand there like a bunch of statues. They're not just a bunch of morons. They try to show you one thing and give you something else or they're here to get you to go somewhere else, but somebody else is there - things like that. The more you can understand offensively what the defense is trying to do, whether it's in the running game or passing game, technique or whatever it is, the better you can attack it. Those are some of the things we talk about.
Q: Would I be mistaken to say you went through one of these mid-season coaching changes early in your career in Detroit?
Q: Do you remember some of the challenges that go into that and how tough that can be on a team, because obviously Buffalo is going through that now?
BB:Well, I mean, I think each team and each situation is different so it really would be hard to lump them all into one pot and say, 'Well, this is what it was.' That particular time for us in Detroit, I think we were 1-3, 1-4, whatever it was, and we were playing New England and they had just come off three huge wins - Oakland, Pittsburgh, and somebody else - won by like 2 or 3 points. And we just decided to do something a little bit different and a little new, and went into a formation with Charlie Sanders and David Hill - two tight ends and one back - which is something that now is common, but back then really wasn't. And we had a pretty good day with that and won pretty handily at home, and then the rest of the year was a little bit of an up and down year. That was certainly the high water mark, was that particular game against the Patriots during the week of that change. I think when a new coach comes in, you can't change everything. You already have a training camp and a certain number of regular season games already under your belt. Your team's already at a certain point in those areas. Can you go in and modify some things and change them, or maybe try to change an attitude or approach or something if you feel like that's what it needs, then I think you try to address that. How easy that is to change or modify would depend on the situation. I have a lot of respect for Dick Jauron. I think Dick is an excellent coach. I've known him a long time; in fact, he was on that Detroit team back in '76. I think Dick does a good job. His teams are well-prepared. We have a lot of respect. We've competed against them a lot. I mean, they played as well as anybody other than New Orleans in the first game. [If] they don't fumble that kickoff, maybe that's probably a different game. I have a lot of respect for Dick, but I have a lot of respect for Perry too. What exactly their differences are, what Perry has emphasized that Dick didn't or changes he's made or whatever, I think that's really a question you'd have to ask them. But they were over halfway through the season when they made the change, so it's not like they put in a whole bunch of new plays and all that.
Q: Since there have been changes since that first game, do you have to throw that first game you played out? How much can you take from that?
BB:You know, I don't know - I was at that game, I thought they played pretty well in that game, too. In fact, I thought they played really well. For most of the game, they played better than we did. I just don't agree that they didn't play well early. I think they played very well in that game.
Q: Because there's been so much time since that game, how much can you use that first game of the year to prepare?
BB:Well, yeah, it's like any time you play a team a second time, you look at it for the matchups. You look at it for some of the things that you did well or that they did well, and either how you want to defend them this time or whether you want to attack them the same way, or whether you think they're going to adjust to it and you want to shift to something else. There's a little bit of that game going on, like there always is when you have a repeat opponent. But I think the matchups, you know, a lot of those are the same - players against different players, or their patterns against certain coverages that we run, or our patterns against certain coverages that they run. I mean, you can sort of see how they're going to play them or how they want to fit on certain plays. But again, there are always changes. We have new wrinkles, they have new wrinkles, and sometimes you can anticipate what those are and sometimes you can't. That's part of that second time around, but I think that once the game gets to a certain point - middle of the first quarter, the end of the first quarter, whatever it is - that all that will kind of play itself out. I think that both sidelines will be able, at the end of the first quarter, to probably say, 'Alright, we see what they're trying to do to us today. They did this in the first game and now this is their version of it' or 'they did this in the first game, but they've gone away from that and they've taken a different approach,' or whatever that happens to be. I think that will declare itself fairly early, and then at that point it gets back to players that know each other, that have played against each other a number of times, that are very familiar with each other, going out there and being able to execute and handle the situations that come up. And that's how I think most of those division games end up going. There's a certain point in the game where there's some newness, but then after that it kind of settles in.