New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick addresses the media durin his press conference at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday, December 17, 2008.
BB:First of all, on the Pro Bowl selections, I have congratulated Stephen [Gostkowski] and Wes [Welker] on their selections for the game. Both guys had great years and I think we have a number of other players that were worthy of that recognition as well, but didn't receive it. That is usually the way it goes every year. With that being said, we'll turn that page and look toward Arizona. This is a team, if you didn't have to play them, is exciting to watch. They've scored six touchdowns not on offense. We know what kind of firepower they have on offense with the receiving corps, quarterback and running backs. They can score from anyplace on the field. They have a great group of skill players, but they have also scored on defense with a couple interceptions, fumble returns and in the kicking game with a blocked field goal, blocked punt and kickoff return. So they turn the ball over a lot. I think they lead the league in fumbles recovered and probably fumbles caused. They are a hustle and aggressive defense. They have real good team speed and make a lot of plays in the kicking game. They make a lot of plays on defense. You really have to take care of the ball and, offensively, they can move it as well as anybody. I think their offensive line is a good group. They are well coached and Ken [Whisenhunt] has done a good job with that team. There are a lot of people down there that I am familiar with, guys that we worked with at the Jets, like Todd Haley, Maurice [Carthon], Jeff Rutledge back to the Giants days. Kevin Spencer was with me at Cleveland. There are a lot of guys on that staff that I am familiar with. It worked out OK for everybody I think and they have certainly done a good job in getting that team… being in the playoffs, being the division champion, and clinching as early as they did this year. We have a lot to get ready for with a team that we don't know very well. We haven't played them in a few years. I think only about 20 or 25 percent of their roster is what it was the last time we played them. So there has been a lot of turnover with the coaching staff, as well as the players. We have a lot of work to do this week. That's what's in front of us.
Q:They have had a lot of long pass plays this year. Is that by design or by defensive mistakes that other teams have made?
BB:A combination of both. For example, last week against Minnesota they hit [Jerheme] Urban on a three-yard pass. It was a sight adjustment and the Vikings blitzed. He caught it, broke a couple of tackles and goes 55 [yards] for a touchdown. I am sure that play wasn't designed to go 55 yards, but it turned out that way. Same thing with some of [Anquan] Boldin's plays. I would say [Steve] Breaston is more of a vertical receiver. They give the ball to him on a lot of go, post and flag routes. [Larry] Fitzgerald, like the long play he had against Miami, it was a 20-yard play. He went up, took the ball away from Will Allen, came down, spun off a couple of tackles and went 75 yards. There are some of those plays. There are some plays where they hit Boldin, Breaston and Fitzgerald down the middle or on double moves. They do it all. They have catch-and-run plays. Boldin, I don't think we play against anybody that is any better with the ball in his hands than he is. He breaks a lot of tackles. He's a very good run after the catch player, but so are the other guys. They have four real good receivers.
Q:Can you talk about Jerod Mayo and the contribution he has made to your team this year?
BB:Jerod has done a lot for us. We have asked a lot of him. From day one he has been a well-prepared, very mature player who can do a lot of things: play in the running game, play in the passing game, blitz, helps us in the kicking game. He's a good football player that has good versatility. He's smart, makes a lot of defensive adjustments and calls for us. He runs well. He is tough. He is a good all around football player. He is very mature. He is very professional. For a rookie, he is probably as professional as anybody I've coached.
Q:When Mike Vrabel went out briefly in the last game, was Jerod Mayo leading the defensive huddle in the last series?
BB:Yeah. It went good. We actually worked on that last week in California when Tedy [Bruschi] wasn't practicing. When Mike was out, Jerod took over the signal calling. He did a little bit of that early in the year when Mike missed the first couple of weeks of training camp. Jerod was part of that with Tedy and some of the other guys we had in there. He did more of that last week and ended up doing some in the game.
Q:Was there some reluctance to give that to a rookie?
BB:No, not at all. Again, Jerod did it in training camp and it was fine. He had a lot of playing time in preseason and did it in some of the preseason games. We just felt that Tedy and Mike had a little bit more experience in our system and with our opponents. At this point, Jerod isn't really a rookie anymore. He has played 18 games counting preseason, so he's had a lot of snaps. We feel real comfortable with him there. He did a good job.
Q:Ty Warren indicated last week that because of his injury his effectiveness would be limited to obvious running downs. How has that, if at all, affecting your rotation?
BB:I don't really think it affects it. With all due respect to Ty, when you play football you play whatever they run. They are calling the plays not us. If he is in there, if it is a run, a pass, a screen, a draw, then that is what we have to play. With Arizona, they run some no-huddle. They mix it up. They get in the shotgun on first down. They will run on third down. You don't really know what it's going to be. So if you are in there you play what they run.
Q:When you look at Fitzgerald's size and his athleticism, do you see similarities between him and Randy Moss or the young Randy?
BB:They are both real good players. I think their styles are different though. No, I don't think you would defend them the same way. They are both good players. I just think they have different skill sets and they run different types of routes. They are good receivers; they just have different strengths. I think they both have real good hands.
Q:What has allowed Wes Welker to develop into a Pro Bowl player?
BB:Wes is a hard working guy. He's very conscientious and diligent. I think he is very professional and puts a lot into his job. He is here early, stays late. For his size, amount of catches and hits he has taken, he has been very durable. He's out there both on the practice field and in the games just about all the time. If anything, we have to slow him down a little bit, ask him to back off or pull him out to try to help that durability and help him last a little bit longer. He works hard at it. He has all the skills that we saw he had when he was down in Miami. We couldn't cover him when we played against him down there and he is still hard to cover. We have a hard time with him in practice and it looks like teams have a hard time with him in the games.
Q:How do you feel Jonathan Wilhite has responded the last couple of weeks to more playing time?
BB:Good. I thought Jonathan has done a good job the last few weeks. Earlier in the season, he had been working mainly in the slot. A couple of times, we were trying to work him in or he was working toward more playing time, but some circumstances set that back. One time he got sick and another time he had a family thing. Recently, he's had that opportunity and he's been able to capitalize on it. He's played well. He had a big turnover last week and I think he's played very competitively at both outside and in the slot. It's been good. The challenge for him is now that teams have seen more of his play they might start attacking him. Sometimes when you are a young corner, you don't get too much of that until they get enough of you on film when they can figure out what they want to do. He's worked hard at it. He's improved all year. He was a very good player coming out of college. Will [Muschamp] coached him at Auburn so he had very good coaching. On a collegiate level, fundamentally, he was probably ahead of most players that I've coached coming out of college. He had a great college coaching background so technique wise he was pretty refined in relative terms.
Q:Do you notice him with more confidence on the field from early November?
BB:Sure, really all year. I think he has improved steadily through the course of the season. In some of his opportunities to play and having some success, no question that helps a corner's confidence to go out there and do it on the field and in game situations. It's good to do it in practice. That helps. But when you are doing it in games, that's really good for your confidence.
Q:It's a different system between the Cardinals and the 1999-2001 St. Louis Rams, but what is it about [Kurt] Warner? Can you make comparisons between those teams and the skill position players?
BB:Both real good, real good skill position players. St. Louis had as good as skilled position players as I've seen. That team didn't use their tight ends as much in the passing game as they did their backs and receivers. I would say that is true of the Cardinals offense; that they use their backs and receivers more than they use their tight ends in the passing game, but they are all very good. All of the skill players were good for St. Louis. They are good for Arizona. Warner does a good job of reading defenses. He knows where to go with the ball. He knows blitzes. He does a decent amount of audibling on the line of scrimmage when he sees weaknesses in the defense. He can get to those plays. He has that kind of flexibility in his offensive system. He is not wrong too often. He gets rid of the ball quick as long as he can see it coming. Every once and a while he gets hit from the blind side like all quarterbacks do and there is not too much they can do about that. But, if he can see it coming, then he usually finds someone to get it to. Last week against Minnesota was a good example on the blitz where he hit Urban. He threw it hot to him, Urban broke a tackle, 55-yard touchdown. Those are the kind of plays if a quarterback doesn't make a good decision and doesn't see it then it's not a good play. If he does see it and the receiver breaks a tackle it's a long touchdown. It is a little thing but it makes a big difference.
Q:Is his accuracy still the No. 1 attribute he has?
BB:I would say, like usual, accuracy and decision-making. That accounts for a lot of his production and obviously intelligence in terms of anticipating things. He is not going to make a lot of plays with his feet and scrambling for first downs and all of that. That's not really his thing. I am not saying he couldn't pick one up from time to time, but that is not really his deal. His deal is to see it, make a quick decision and get the ball out there and put it on the money, and he does that very well.
Q:Your teams have typically been strong in November and December. When that does happen for a team is it traceable back to training camp and the daily grind that begins at that point?
BB:I don't know. I am not sure. I think what you try to do as a team is you try to improve all year. In September, October and November and you are still trying to improve and get better. The things you are doing well, you try to maintain those. The things that you are not doing well, you try to keep working on those, whether it is an individual thing with a player or a group thing with the offensive line, skill position players, front seven, or if it's a team thing. Team situations, team adjustments - you just keep working on those throughout the course of the year. You try to keep improving week to week. At the end of the year, you should be better than you were at the beginning, at least from a standpoint of the number of reps and execution of those things in those situations. That's what we try to get to.
Q:How much more challenging is that in a year where you have had such a series of big injuries to critical players?
BB:It's what it is every week. Every week, we still have the same adjustments, the same situations to cover. We have to deal with blitz pickup. We have to deal with one back formations, empty formations, motion, all the situations in the kicking game and all of that. We deal with that every week. If we have to make an adjustment, or change in personnel, then we make it and do it. Sometimes we do and sometimes we don't.
Q:Has this been a more challenging season?
BB:I can't rank one week against another. It depends on who you are playing and what they do, too. Some weeks, I don't care if you have 40 20-year veterans. There are some teams that what they do is hard. The degree of difficulty is harder. You have to work at it, communicate a lot of things and recognize it. Other weeks, it's not as hard. I just think it is a week to week type of thing. That's the way I look at it.
Q:In terms of health and production, do you feel like the ground game is peaking at the right time?
BB:I don't know about that. I think we'll evaluate that at the end of the year. Arizona is a tough team to run against. They have a very active front. Their linebackers, including [Adrian] Wilson, who fits into the front a lot, or [Aaron] Francisco if he is in there, which they have used both of those guys some. In the run support, those guys are hard to block. [Karlos] Dansby, [Gerald] Hayes and their active front, they are tough to block. They get downhill and they cause a lot of negative runs. They knock the ball out and cause a bunch of fumbles, too. From the backside, they pursue hard. I don't know how the running game is going to be this week. I hope we can be competitive. It will be a challenge for us. These guys are fast and they fill quick. We are going to have to get on them.
Q:Is [Dominique] Rodgers-Cromartie similar to Antonio Cromartie?
BB:Same last name. Both play right corner. Both are fast with pretty good hands. Both are tall. There are some similarities.
Q:Good blood line?
BB:Yeah, he has made some big plays for them. That was really a great play he made last week against Minnesota, the blocked field goal. He showed great burst and timing coming off the edge. The long interception return against St. Louis - he's had a couple of them. He has real good hands and plays the ball well. He's fast when he gets it. He's a tough guy to throw over. He is a big guy, long arms, runs well and has good ball skills.
Q:Do they keep their corners on one side or flip them?
BB:They have had a couple different combinations in there with [Roderick] Hood, [Ralph] Brown and Cromartie. I am not sure what all the decision-making was with that. They have been moved around a little bit, but it's been a combination of a couple different guys. I wouldn't say they look like a big matchup team.