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Bill Belichick Press Conference

Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick talks to the press about the upcoming AFC Championship game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Sunday.To read a full transcript, click below.



BB: First on the injury front we haven't done much in the last couple of days obviously. We will go out and run around a little bit today so we will have a little better read on that, but I don't think that there is anybody that won't be available for Sunday's game in Pittsburgh, at least at this point that's the way it looks. I think we came out of it pretty okay there. At this time of the year it would have to be something pretty bad to keep guys as competitive as these guys are off of the field for a game like this.

Pittsburgh is a team that had the best regular season record in the AFC. They lost their first game, they won 14 of their next 16. They have been very impressive on offense and defense. This is a real strong team. I have known Coach Cower for quite a few years now, back when he was at Kansas City and I was with the Giants, all the way back there. He went to the playoffs his first six years in Pittsburgh and then kind of rebuilt the team and he has obviously rebuilt it very well and he has done a tremendous job. I think that he has certainly has done as good a coaching job as anybody in the National Football League this year. He has got that team playing well and it is a very good football team. We know we have got our work cut out for us going to Pittsburgh, but we have had a lot of challenges this year and we are looking forward to the opportunity to play for the AFC Championship. So that is pretty much what the state of our situation is right now. We are not really concerned with anything except trying to get ready for the team that has been the best team in the AFC from Week Two on.

Q: Do you have any comment on being such an underdog? You are an eight-point underdog right now, does that play into it for you?

BB: Can we get those points, will they put them up on the board for us? We have been underdogs before. This game will be decided in 60 minutes of football, well maybe more, you never know.

Q: Is this going to be the most aggressive, the most physical team that you have played all year?

BB: They are pretty physical, yeah, I would certainly put them up there with some of the more physical teams that we have played. There is no question. They run the ball hard on offense and they have a very good offensive line. Defensively we all know how aggressive they are. They blitz getting off of the bus and they come at you all game. They have got a great set of linebackers. Kendrell Bell has been a terrific addition to go with [Jerry] Porter, [Jason] Gildon and [Earl] Holmes. So they are a very formidable defensive football team, very aggressive, no question.

Q: How have you seen Kordell Stewart improve?

BB: The last time I saw Kordell Stewart was the playoff game here in '96…It was his second year in the league. He has obviously matured. I think [Mike] Mularkey and Bill have done an excellent job with Kordell. He's a great athlete. He has tremendous speed. I remember when I went to Colorado and worked him out. They had some pretty fast guys on that team, guys like [Michael] Westbrook and Kordell was the fastest…best player that they had. He had run under 4.2 at Colorado. He is a terrific athlete and he has obviously come into his own this year. He has had a fantastic year both running the ball and throwing it and making big plays on third down, but he beats you with his arm and he beats you with his feet and he beats you with is head. He certainly has as much to do with that team, with the record that the Steelers have as anybody does. He has had a fabulous year.

Q: What were the new challenges for Tom Brady coming into the playoffs?

BB: Each week is a new challenge and when you get to this point in the season every team that you play is going to be a real good football team, obviously the best in the league and Oakland presented a number of challenges for us. With Pittsburgh now they play a 3-4 defense, they stunt it, they blitz it a lot, they bring their linebackers, they bring their safeties, they move the front around, they come at you from a lot of different angles and the quarterback is going to have to do a good job of reading his keys and making sure that he is doing everything perfectly right or otherwise they will have a guy coming loose and blowing us up. He will have to get the ball out of there on time and to the right people and Pittsburgh's one of the best defensive clubs in the league. Coach Cower has been running that system now for ten years. They know how to run it, they know what they are doing.

Q: Have you talked to him at all before the playoffs?

BB: I meet with Tom, the quarterbacks we meet together on a regular basis so I get a chance to express my feelings there.

Q: What did you tell him?

BB: What we need to do on a weekly basis. It will be a lot different this week than it was last week and the specific things we need to execute against Pittsburgh, they are the ones that will get the most emphasis.

Q: How difficult is it for an inexperienced quarterback to prepare for all of those zone blitzes?

BB: I think if there is any advantage that we have it is that we run a lot of 3-4 defense around here ourselves and the quarterbacks are used to seeing…really what is different is you see two middle linebackers instead of one and you have to take that into account when you make your keys. There is still an outside linebacker on both sides of the line, but there are two inside guys instead of one and that's the difference really in reading the defense. The safeties, of the four secondary guys, they give you the same keys as the 4-3 defense, it's the middle linebacker. So we have seen that and we will have to take…even though Pittsburgh plays it, I would say they do things a little bit differently than we do, but still conceptually there is some carryover and we will have to rely on some of our experience from training camp and at points in the season where our defense worked against our offense to fall back on that, but we have seen it, but they are very good at it and they present some different things then what we have show them.

Q: Has he seen a team that zone blitzes the way the do?

BB: Cincinnati did a lot of it with [Dick] Lebeau, New Orleans did quite a bit of it. We have seen zone blitzes every week. Oakland zone blitzed, Carolina, I mean everybody zone blitzes. It is like seeing screen passes. Everybody screens, everybody zone blitzes.

Q: What does it say about the makeup of Steelers that they were prepared to play with Jerome Bettis and then he can't and they don't miss a beat, what does that say about their confidence?

BB: Well I am sure that they have a lot of confidence, but you know Bettis hasn't played in six weeks so the other two backs have been carrying the load and they have done a real good job. Their running game hasn't dropped off at all. It is still very, very productive. Those are the guys that have been running the ball and they ran it again Sunday and did another good job of it. They have real good depth at the running back position. I am sure that whichever one of those three guys handles the ball they have confidence in all three of them and I am sure that's a good feeling for their football team.

Q: Stewart is clearly more comfortable and obviously more effective this year, what have they done with him to make him so much better? That game he had against Baltimore in Baltimore was one of the best games he has ever had.

BB: Yeah, a terrific game. Well you know we haven't played Pittsburgh in a couple of years here and didn't play him when I was in New York so it has been awhile since I have sat down and really studied their offense. I have looked at a lot of their tapes this year, but really not too much further back then that. So it would be hard for me to really identify his play the last couple of years. All I can say that is this year he looks very confident. The ball is coming out on time. Pittsburgh has done a good job of creating plays probably that only Kordell Stewart or maybe a couple of other guys in the league, [Aaron] Brooks or two or three guys like that, could run and that puts a lot of pressure on the defense. Again it is like covering a sixth receiver, you have to somehow account for the quarterback running with the football and that's not normally a thing that you take into account on your defense. So somehow you have to accommodate that threat and take it into consideration and at the same time understand that they have got a great running game and some big play receivers with [Hines] Ward and [Plaxico] Burress. So they have got a lot more than just one threat, but the quarterback is, he certainly adds another dimension to the offense.

Q: When you have talked about Brady in the past you have cited reasons for liking him, his consistency, his confidence, which is not arrogance and his work ethic, is there anything else just on a minutely personal level that makes you connect well with him?

BB: I think those are the main things. We have seen him be in a lot of different situations and I think for the most part he handles them all pretty consistently on a pretty even keel and I think that is a real strong point for him. We have been ahead and have had to manage the game and try to run out the clock, we've been behind and had to come back, we've had two minute drives, we have had play-action passes, shot-gun plays, all different types of plays. We have asked him to scramble a couple of times or called the play in the Jet game at the end on a quarterback sweep to try to run out the clock. He has been put in a lot of different situations and I think there is a certain steadiness to that performance.

Q: Is it a little bit easier with him because he is new to the league and he maybe doesn't have some of the habits that a veteran quarterback could have?

BB: It is an interesting point because on the one side you are not really trying to break a lot of bad habits, on the other hand there is no substitute for experience. You look at guys that have been in the league for awhile, we have plenty of them on our team that have been with other teams, they still bring valuable experience to this team. They have been through situations and they can anticipate things because they have a familiarity with the team or the system that the team plays so it is an interesting point. I think there is a balance there on both sides. As a coach it is fun to work with guys who are young who you can kind of get to hopefully form the habits that you want them to form, whereas sometimes when you get other players that have been through other systems or have their own habits sometimes you like those and sometimes you don't. Sometimes you try to change them and that is not always the easiest thing to do, but there is no substitute for experience and I think Tom is learning a lot every single time he goes out on the field whether it is in game or practice conditions. He is seeing things a little bit differently than he has seen before.

Q: With the importance of kicking in the last game do you see anything about this Bermuda Triangle business about kicking in the south end zone at Heinz Field?

BB: You know I've been aware of the comments about it and so forth. I've never been to Heinz Field personally. You know Romeo [Crennel] in Cleveland last year has had some experience there and Mike Vrabel. You know we have had a couple of guys that have played there. You know nobody really seems to view it as that, that unusual. It is what it is. It's open there and it's on the water and all that, but from the people that I have talked to and I will try to talk to some more as I got through the week here, but so far it doesn't seem like it should be anything as unorthodox as maybe what it's been made out to be. But I am no expert on that.

Q: In Adam's [Vinatieri] warm-ups, would he spend extra time kicking in that end zone?

BB: We'll definitely go down there and look at it. I mean we'd do that on any away field. We kickoff at both ends and kick extra points both ways just so we familiarize ourselves not only with the wind conditions, but the footing in that area of the field and anything that's specific. Cleveland Stadium is a little bit like that, I mean I'm not saying it is the same because I haven't been to Heinz Field, but it's closed at the end away from the lake and little more open on the lake end. But you know there are certainly variation conditions from end to end. I mean we've seen that and sometimes it swirls and sometimes it doesn't. So we'll just have to look at that one when we get there.

Q: When you look at Pittsburgh's defense what jumps out on you?

BB: You know they do everything well. They are very good in the running game. First of all they have a lot of quickness. Their linebackers are not only quick, but they are very explosive. They're big, strong, physical players. [Joey] Porter and [Jason] Gildon coming off the edge, they look like defensive ends rushing the passer, but they look like linebackers out in space chasing plays down and playing in pass coverage. So they are both very good. Kendrell Bell has been a tremendous addition. He's a very explosive, powerful player. They blitz him a lot. He comes up in there and just rocks backs and linemen. He's very powerful coming up the middle, as is [Earl] Holmes. And it's hard to get those guys blocked because they stunt and slant and angle so much in the line of scrimmage that it's hard to come off and just get a good shot at them. You maybe try to get them with angle blocks, but then sometimes those guys get knocked off or where the linebackers are just athletic enough to overrun them. When those linebackers get matched up against the bigger linemen they usually win athletically. When they get matched up against the smaller backs or sometimes tight ends then they usually win physically. So it's a real tough match up on all four of those guys. That's an outstanding group.

Q: Because they were able to get out so quick against Baltimore were they able to shorten the playbook?

BB: I don't know about that, they got Baltimore into some passing situations and then they just cut it loose on their zone blitzes like they always do. I mean they bring their safeties and they bring their linebackers. They bring them in all different kind of combinations. When they go to their sub defense they only have two down linemen in the game. So they really have nine potential pass defenders—their defensive backs and their linebackers that drop out of there. And then they have all the combinations of blitzing that you would want: one off either side, two up the middle, two on the same side, three on the same side, safety and linebacker, double linebackers. I mean there are a lot of combinations and they run them and they criss-cross them and they come all over the place. So it's a hard scheme to…it's hard to identify them and then it's hard to get them in the right position to pick them up and then it's hard to physically block them because they have a combination of speed and power. They're tough.

Q: Do you have to make five players available today for the expansion draft or are you exempt because you are in the playoffs?

BB: It will be the Tuesday after our last game.

Q: Could you talk about their wide receivers?

BB: Well [Plaxico] Burress has really come on this year. It looks like he's had pretty much a break-out year. He's a really big, physical guy and he's made some big-time catches going up taking the ball away from people with his size. He's a good vertical receiver because he, down the field it's just like basketball—just jump ball, they lob it up there. [Hines] Ward I'd say is probably as good a blocker as there is in the league. He's very tough, obviously versatile: can line up in the backfield, take the shot-gun snaps, play inside, play outside. You know they've gotten some good production out of [Troy] Edwards in the kicking game as well as on defense. I mean overall that's a pretty solid group. They've really stepped up. I mean Burress obviously has made a big impact for them. Hines Ward though is, I mean that's the kind of football player; I mean he's a Troy Brown kind of player. You love watching him play. He plays the game with a lot of heart and a lot of toughness and he's got some skill to go with it.

Q: How important are first downs for you? I mean especially with a team that blitzes like them?

BB: It's important. The worst thing about second-and-10 is third-and-10 and that's where they get a lot of turnovers. You know stripped sacks and tipped balls and guys making interceptions and that kind of thing. A lot of their turnovers in second and third-and-long yardage where they know you've got to throw, they throw the kitchen sink at you and one of those athletes makes a big play. The more you can stay out of that and force them to play on, play run and pass, play every down like first down, second-and-short, third-and-short. If you can keep them in that mode I think you can, I won't say you can neutralize them, but at least you can play the game a little bit more on your terms than the way teams like Detroit and Baltimore and a couple of the more recent games that ended up where they get a couple-touchdown lead and then they are just coming from everywhere and they are coming 100 miles an hour. They don't care if you run a draw for four yards. They are going to bring it again every play.

Q: What are your recollections of the fog game against them here at the end of '96?

BB: I thought we had a pretty good day defensively. It was, overall I think a real solid team defensive effort. That's what I was most concerned about because that's the side of the ball I was coaching. [Mike] Tomzak started and then you know Kordell [Stewart] came in, I think maybe in the third. That was good way to start the playoffs that year. It gave us a chance to play Jacksonville the next week.

Q: You go great contributions from [Jermaine] Wiggins and [JR] Redmond on Saturday night. Does this remind you of any of your previous stops where a player who had a relatively quiet regular season steps up in the playoffs?

BB: Well I think we've been kind of getting those contributions all year. We've had guys step up…if you look at the last half of the season it's been, it seems like a different guy every week stepping up and making big plays and I think that's, that's just the little bit the nature of this team. We've had them in all three phases of the game and they've come from a lot of different guys. So one week it's Troy Brown, one week it's [David] Patten, one week it's [Fred] Coleman, one week it's Wiggins, one week it was Kevin Faulk, one week it's Antowain [Smith]. The only thing I can say is that what you want to try to do is put people on the field who when their number is called, when their bell is rung, that they are able to step in there and make it. Particularly on offense, depending on the coverage and the way that a defense deploys, you can't always know for sure where the ball is going to go. It's up to the quarterback and for him to have confidence in the people he is working with.

Q: If you were a defensive guy looking at your team and a guy like Wiggins who had 10 catches last week after having a similar number in the regular season, would you spend time during the week game planning for him or would you say, 'I am just going to go with the guys I think are going to beat me and if a guy like that steps up again, then that's the way it is?'

BB: Well I think as a defensive coach you look at the other team's offense and you understand what you have to prioritize the things in that offense that you are most concerned about. But then at the same time you have to take a look at your team and depending on what your team looks like decide how you want to defense that. Some places where you feel the mismatches are in their favor then you want to put a little more help there. Maybe there are cases where they have good players, but you feel like you are still matched up all right there because of the talent that you have then you know maybe you look for something else. I think that would really depend on the specific team that you were coaching. I don't think everybody…that's why everybody doesn't play each team the same way. It depends on what their point of view is and how their team matches up with that other offense.

Q: Can you talk about the decision to go with Tom Brady for the season?

BB: About the decision to go with Brady? Drew [Bledsoe] hadn't been playing for two months. Tom had been playing. Tom kept playing. I mean I'd like to make more out of it than that for you, but that's what it was.

Q: Now that you have seen things play out do you have any thoughts?

BB: That was so long ago I…it was two months ago. Right now my thoughts are on Pittsburgh. Tom is going to start at quarterback against Pittsburgh. You might want to run that on the wire.

Q: How much has good fortune played in your team's success this year and how much is it a part of football?

BB: We don't write the rulebook. Look, I tell the players this. I tell them this at the beginning of the year and it comes up here in the year. We don't write the rulebook and we don't make the calls. The only thing we can do as a football team, I'm talking about the coaches and the players, is try to play the game the way that the rules are written. However the officials determine to call it, they call it. Some call it tighter than others. Some call it looser than others. Whatever it is we have to play within that framework and there is an adjustment. There is an adaptation there. There is no question about it. But that is just something that as a football coach and as a football player, that part of the game is out of your control. There is just nothing you can do about it other than understand what the rules are, understand how the game is being played and play it within that framework. The only time to talk about that stuff is in the league meetings in March. But right now they are what they are and they are not going to change so we need to play within them. There are plenty of calls that come up during the year that I personally don't agree with and I'm sure our players that are involved in the play don't personally agree with the way they were called, but that doesn't make any difference. If that's the way the game is being called then that's the way we have to play it. There's no way that we are going to be able to change that formula

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