Patriots head coach Bill Belichick addresses the media during his press conference at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday, December 30, 2009.
BB: We've had a little more time to watch Houston the last couple days here. They're a real impressive team. Defensively, they're real active. They played very well the last several weeks. Statistically, they're good and they have a lot of good players. [DeMeco] Ryans is a terrific player. He's a tackling machine. He's got the most tackles or second most tackles in the last four years in the league and it looks like it. He's around the ball a lot. [They have] a real active front there with Mario [Williams] and [Antonio] Smith and they are active inside with [Amobi] Okoye and [Shaun] Cody. Both offensively and defensively they have a lot of young players, obviously a good draft class and a couple of young corners playing for them. [Connor] Barwin on the defensive line, [Brian] Cushing and then, offensively, [Arian] Foster and [James] Casey's played for them at tight end. They added some good young players this year in the draft. [They have] a real explosive offense, great receivers, good quarterback, productive tight ends, solid offensive line and I think what's probably most impressive about the Texans is the kicking game. [They have] excellent returners – [Andre] Davis who we know of course and [Jacoby] Jones. [They've] a great coverage team. Their punt coverage is outstanding, nobody's really returned a punt from them all year and they cover kickoffs as well, too. [Kevin] Bentley's done an outstanding job for them, leads their team in special teams tackles with Davis there right behind him. They're really a solid special teams unit, both in coverage and their return game and they've broken some games open with their returns. We've seen a couple fast starts out of these guys, last week against Miami was exhibit A. Seattle's [game was] right there with it though, the first play was a 60-yard touchdown. The first defensive play is a strip sack. The first kickoff return's a 25-yard punt return. They can get it in a hurry and they have and they've done it coming right out of the gate, too, so they're really a dangerous team that way. They're playing really well right now. It's a good opportunity for us to go on the road and play against a real quality football team this week. We'll have to play well.
Q: What do you think about the Pro Bowl selections?
BB: I'm happy for the guys that got it. I think they deserved it. I think there were other players that were deserving that didn't get it, but that's the way it is every year.
Q: Your offensive line hasn't given up a sack in four games. Are they doing anything different? Is Tom doing anything different?
BB: No, not really. We try to protect well in every game. A lot of that has to do with the receiver's being open. The quarterback needs somebody to throw the ball to. If you protect long enough to be able to get the ball to whatever the designed route is, whether it be drop back, play action, empty, closed formation or whatever it happens to be. It gets back to team execution. It's not just the line. It's the backs. It's the tight ends. It's the receivers. It's the overall timing of it and, of course, being able to run the ball always helps the pass protection. I'd say it's a team thing.
Q: I know you would like to never give up sacks, but what's good for an offensive line for a year?
BB: What's good is to score points and win. In the end, all those other statistics are nice, but we've been down in the time of possession and sacks and no sacks and turnovers and all that and they all help lead to the outcome, but ultimately it comes down to scoring points or giving them up and that comes with big plays and red area and goal line, whatever the side of the ball you're on. That's how you score. So you either get it all on one play or you got to drive it through the scoring zone. Those are the stats that I think have the biggest impact on the game.
Q: You mentioned you are happy for the players that got in, but is there one player that you think on this team that maybe hasn't gotten the credit they deserve?
BB: I don't see all the other teams. I see the teams we play and four of them are in the NFC, so there are a lot of great players in this league and there's a lot of teams that I just really haven't seen play. So it would be hard for me to compare players that I know to players that I haven't seen this year, regardless of what their reputations been in the past. That's not really my thing. I'm just trying to coach this team and get them ready to play against Houston.
Q: Do you think it says something about Vince Wilfork that he's asked to do different things and he doesn't generate the stats, but he's able to garner the respect around the league to get an honor like this one?
BB: Well, I think when you watch another team play or you compete against them you have a respect for the players are. And I think — in all honesty — you take a look at stats a lot more than we do. We watch the players play and you know who's a good player and who isn't regardless of what their stats are, where as I'm not sure if everybody else watches the players play. They look at the stats and try to make a determination on what the players play is based on numbers versus actually watching the guy play.
Q: I know individual things don't mean much to you, but do you ever worry about mentally how a player that thinks he should have gone is going to react to that? Do you ever even concern yourself with those kinds of things?
BB: I think everybody around here has enough confidence and enough support for their team and their teammates that that's really the more important thing. As usual, when I talk to the players yesterday and inform them the decision before it was announced, the first thing every player asked about was who else made it. I think that's reflective of the attitude. And that's the way it's been in the past, too, [it is] reflective of the attitude on the team. They're more concerned about everybody else than they are themselves. I think that's a compliment to those guys.
Q: Our schedule media-wise has been juggled around this week. Does that reflect any changes you've made?
BB: Yeah, we decided to go out a little bit earlier. To go out at noon, it's a noon game in Houston, so we're just going to move the schedule up a bit and try to get used to getting out there earlier and practicing earlier, playing earlier and make sure we're ready to go. We don't want to happen to us what happened to Seattle and Miami, get down by 20 points in the first and second quarter. It'd be hard to win that way.
Q: How much of an advantage is it to have four running backs at this time of year that you can go to?
BB: Well, we have five running backs and we're confident in all of them. It's great. I mean, it's always good to have all the healthy players you have and quality players. We're thankful for all the players that we have that are able to participate now. We have confidence in all of them, whichever ones play. There're only 45 guys we can activate, but if we had a chance to have more than that we would and the other players that would be active would play. We don't have that option. It's good to have them all.
Q: Kevin Faulk is a different type of running back, but do the other guys you have, do you see them as interchangeable?
BB: I think all of the players can really play on all the downs – Sammy [Morris] has, Fred [Taylor] has at different points in his career and even for us, [BenJarvus Green-Ellis] has, so I think Kevin can do that, too. Kevin's role has been more of a third-down, two-minute sub role, but we've all seen him in there in regular down situations and he's been productive. He did that last week when he came in against Jacksonville. He came in at the end of the first or beginning of the second quarter, so we know he can play in those situations, too. And the other guys have played in other situations. Laurence [Maroney] has played on third down, Fred's played on third down. I think it's just a question of how we end up game planning it and how we use them, but I think they all have the ability to play on all three downs, definitely.
Q: Is Matt Schaub's accuracy his greatest strength and is that going to be a test for your secondary this week?
BB: Yeah, it will be a real good test. The guy's leading the league in passing yardage.
Q: Is his accuracy a big part of that?
BB: Yeah, they throw it to everybody, too. Their receivers have a lot of production but so do their tight ends and so do their backs. They've done a good job of spreading the ball around, getting it to everybody. Certainly, [Andre] Johnson's a guy you got to stop. He's a tremendous player, but all of their other receivers have been productive and so have their tight ends. They've lost [Owen] Daniels and [Steve] Slaton and those guys and combined they accounted for 1,000 yards in passing, so whoever the next guys are in there they've been productive, too, whether it's [Joel] Dreessen, [James] Casey or the backs. They've all been productive catching the ball and I think that's a credit to the quarterback to be able to get the ball to the guys that are open. He's had a terrific year, yardage, completion percentage, points – you name it – third down.
Q: What stands out about him from the quarterback we saw several years ago?
BB: It looks the same to me. He threw the ball very well that day. He's a good quarterback. He's mobile. They use him in a lot of bootlegs. He has the ability to buy time in the pocket or scramble for a first day if that's necessary, and that certainly helps their passing game, to be able to put those bootleg play action plays in it and get the quarterback on the run and make you defend a running quarterbacks, as well as a drop back quarterback and a good play-action quarterback, but they do it all. They play action. They drop back. They go empty. They throw the ball down the field. They use short possession plays. They're a good screen team. You don't lead the league in passing offense and be good in one thing. They're good at a lot. They've got a lot of good players.
Q: Jerod Mayo had 15 tackles, was his game as good as the stats?
BB: I thought he had real productive plays and he was in on a lot of plays. He's in on a lot of plays every week and a lot of times he doesn't always make the tackle, but he's – a lot of times – forcing the runner, the play and the guy runs away from him and into somebody else. He's around the ball a lot. He's hard to block. He's got good speed. He's explosive. He's a very instinctive player. He knows where the ball is. He's around the ball a lot for us — run, pass, man, zone — whatever the plays are he ends up pretty close to the ball on most plays.
Q: Has he made any strides this year? He seemed a little slower after the injury?
BB: I think he was pretty good last year and I think he's pretty good this year. I think the big difference for Jerod has been, he was a leader by the end of last year or even during the year last year, he had good leadership, but it's hard for a rookie. And this year he's taken a big jump – being a team captain, being a signal caller on defense, making more adjustments, really taking on that role like a quarterback on offense, he's the defensive signal caller and one of our best players and one of our most prepared players and one of our most productive players. All that leadership and that role on the team of being in the middle of the defense on every play, run or pass, calling the signals, he's emerged into the real leader on the defensive side of the ball. I'd say that's the big difference from last year, but as far as him taking on blocks or tackling, his reads and recognition are improved as they should be, but I think that's all kind of what the normal progression would be, but his leadership's outstanding and his ability to be the guy that's the bonding glue for the whole defense, whether it's goal line, first down, sub, whatever it is. He's in there on everything.
Q: Is that unique for a second-year player?
BB: Yeah. Obviously, there're other guys that have done it. I think that's a strong part of his game. He embraces it and he does a great job with it and he's an outstanding player of just doing his job, going out and playing well. Again I think when a team elects a guy in his second year as captain that tells you what they think about him and I see that, too.
Q: He talked a lot in the offseason about going to improve his big plays and he hasn't had a ton of those, is that circumstantial and has he missed some chances?
BB: I can't think of too many chances he's really missed. He's around the ball a lot and he's been in on a lot of big plays. Sometimes that's just the way it bounces.
Q: Can you talk about how challenging it is to play that position?
BB: It's a huge challenge. When you're playing the middle linebacker, you're going up against the offensive linemen, 300-plus-pound guys in the running game or in pass protection when you're blitzing and you're trying to cover some of the big receivers, tight ends. A lot of the times, you're matched up against tight ends, chasing receivers out there or chasing backs around, guys we played the last few weeks – the Maurice Jones-Drews, the Washingtons, the DeAngelo Williams, all those guys. You go from trying to play with power and explosion against the 300-pound linemen, trying to cover somebody that runs a 4.4, 4.5 with great quickness as a receiver or running back trying to tackle him or tight ends trying to cover them him that weigh 250 pounds that run a 4.6, the Kellen Winslows, the [Dustin] Kellers and the [Anthony] Fasanos of the world. To find guys that have the skills that can match up against all those different types of players, that's what linebackers are. It takes a special skill set to play that position.
Q: What is it that's made Logan Mankins so good, has it been his consistency?
BB: I would say just that word, consistency. He's a very consistent player. I think he was that at Fresno and certainly in talking to Pat [Hill] and doing a lot of research on Logan, he was a very consistent player out there at Fresno at left tackle and he's been pretty consistent since day one. He started for us since the day he got here and he's been one of our most solid, consistent players day in and day out – practice, games, offseason, offseason program, offseason workouts, training camp. He's really steady, consistent and he's good. As an athlete, he played left tackle in college and moved inside and I think athletically he's at the upper end of the athletic skill for guards. There're not a lot of guards that can play left tackle. There're some, but I wouldn't say it's a real long list. To have that kind of skill set in there at guard and still have the power and strength to play in there, which he has, that's why he's respected the way he is for his performance in that position. He pulls well. He runs well on screens and things like that. It's just what we talked about at linebacker, it's just the reverse on offensive linemen. One play you're going up against John Henderson and Kris Jenkins and the next play you're trying to block Jerod Mayo and DeMeco Ryans and John Beason. That's the challenge for the offensive linemen. [It] is just the reverse of what the linebackers have, but it's the same trying to matchup against those different types of players — blocking a speed rusher off the edge, the Julius Peppers, Mario Williams and guys like that and the next play going up against the Marcus Strouds, the big powerful guys that play that position.
Q: James Casey was a jack of all trades in college, do they use him in any trick plays?
BB: He's a real athletic player, a baseball player. [He's] an excellent receiver. He had great production both as a back and a tight end. He was a little bit of a hybrid there. He's a little on the short side for a tight end, but he's athletic, good quickness, good hands and you can see that when Daniels went out, his role increased in their two-tight end packages and you can see his quickness, his athleticism [and] his speed. He's a very good receiver and a tough kid that's a competitive blocker.
Q: Andre Johnson has had the kitchen sink thrown at him coverage-wise. What is it that's allowed him to consistently make big plays and be productive?
BB: They've got so many other players that you just can't throw everything at him on every play. You might be able to limit him a little bit, but you have a lot of other things to worry about, but he's a good receiver, he's good at everything [and] I think that's the hard part. He's very good down the field. He's an excellent deep receiver. He's got great size and speed and goes up for the ball — post patterns, corner patterns, go routes, play-action, bombs down the field — he's good at those. He's got good quickness in and out of cuts on those intermediate routes, those 20-yard in cuts, the 18-yard comebacks, the post corner routes and things like that. He's a strong runner with the ball in his hands, so they give him slip screens, slants, crossing routes and things like that, like Terrell Owens' type routes. It's a 3-yard route and it's 25 yards by the time he gets tackled. You can cover him on one thing, but it's hard to get him on everything. He's really dangerous with the ball in his hand, but he can get open. He overpowers the smaller guys. He outruns some of the bigger more physical-type corners. He's a tough matchup no matter who you put on him because of his route tree and his skill set.
Q: Schematically, how much do they do to free him?
BB: A lot. You don't really ever know where he's going to be. He's all over the place. He can be the perimeter receiver on the outside, on the strong side, the weak side. They put him in the slot. They motion him out of the backfield. A lot of times he's stacked with another receiver, so it's not just him by himself, it's him and somebody else that they switch release, double inside, double outside and make it hard to leverage him. He gets moved around quite a bit and he's a good blocker, too. He does a good job in the running game. Whatever he is, 220-225, he's a man, so whenever he comes in and cracks on linebackers and safeties he can get them, and on some of the little corners he stands there and covers them up and there's no run force. They like to run the ball outside and he's effective there, too. Those aren't in the stats, but he's good at that.
Q: You do the same stuff with Randy Moss and move him around, does that mean he's smart?
BB: Yeah, absolutely. The number of different things he does, the positions he does them from and when you watch the film where everybody is asking where do we lineup and all that, they go out there and run it. Clearly, he's smart, knows the different formations, the different routes they ask him to run from those different formations. It doesn't look like it's a problem. They don't have a lot of mistakes in the passing game, kind of like when you watch Indy, New Orleans and teams like that. You see the pattern, there's good distribution. They have good passing concepts. Sometimes you watch plays and you have guys running together and it doesn't look like it's a very well designed route. You hardly ever see that with Houston.
Q: How challenging is this week for you that you are juggling two balls in the air, you have the game this week and you also have the ultimate goal, which is the playoffs?
BB: We only have one ball in the air this week. We've just got one game. That's not a doubleheader, we just play Houston.