PATRIOTS WIDE RECEIVER MATTHEW SLATER
MS: Alright guys, I guess I'll start this off by giving you a public service announcement. My wife and I will be hosting an event October 25, next Tuesday, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. It's called Matthew vs. Matthew and the idea behind this is, we have family in the Carolinas and living up here in the Boston area, we've met a lot of people that have ties to Haiti. Hurricane Matthew has obviously had a devastating effect on a lot of people so we wanted to do something that would provide some relief efforts for the people affected by this. The event is at Splitsville, right up here at Patriot Place, next Tuesday; a lot of the guys [will be there.] We'll have some great auction items and it'll be a great time, but most importantly, every penny we raise will go directly to an organization called 'Samaritan's Purse.' That's already on the ground in the Carolinas and in Haiti. They do tremendous work. It's an organization I've had a long-standing relationship with. I can't take the credit for this. This is my wife's idea, but it's something I wanted to let you guys know [about] and get the word out there."
Q: Is there a website?
MS: It's MatthewvsMatthew.org. It'll have all the information on there.
Q: How important is it to get off to a great start on special teams against the Steelers?
MS: We can't afford to spot these guys any breathing room. They've got so much talent. When you look at this team, it's probably the most talented team across the board that we've seen all year, so to give them field position or extra yardage or even a big play is something that we can't afford to do. So we're going to have to be on top of our jobs this weekend. It's going to be a challenge for us but we're excited about the opportunity."
Q: Along those lines, you guys right now are [ranked] second overall in kickoff yardage allowed. I think Denver is the only one ahead of you. At this point, you're a little bit better than you were last year overall at kickoff return yardage. Can you explain, with the new rules and strategies, of [what] kicking off intentionally short [does] and how productive you've been at that.
MS: I think about the units I've been a part of and I'd say this is the fastest unit that I've ever played on across the board. We've been able to use that to our advantage by, as you've seen, not kicking touchbacks every time and letting our speed guys play fast and get down the field and not giving these offenses extra yards to get out there and line up with. I think it's starts with Coach [Bill Belichick] and [special teams coach] Joe Judge and [assistant special teams coach] Ray Ventrone. The idea, and the way they envisioned things coming into the season, and the attention to details from all the guys has been great. We've been able to go out and execute and hopefully we can continue that trend as we move forward.
Q: Half of Stephen [Gostkowski's] kicks are touchbacks so far. I assume that there are times when you want touchbacks. Is that fair to say or no?
MS: I guess it depends on the situation and the time and place in the game.
Q: Since you've been with the Patriots, you've seen some really good, quality linebackers like [Mike] Vrabel, Jerod Mayo and [Tedy] Bruschi before him. They've been leaders of the defense. Do you see Dont'a Hightower developing into that role now?
MS: Certainly. I think Dont'a is coming into his own. He's put a lot of work into improving himself as a player, and I know myself and a lot of the older guys have challenged him to embrace a leadership role and I think we're seeing that this year. Dont'a is unique in his own way. He's got things that make him different than Jerod [Mayo] and Tedy [Bruschi] and even Junior [Seau] and those guys, but in his own way, he brings a lot to the table and he's a very special player.
Q: How has he embraced that leadership role?
MS: I think just being willing to step up and hold guys accountable and being a little more vocal - things that maybe he wasn't comfortable with before, maybe he was. I'm not totally sure, but he's doing a great job of that so far.
Q: You look at a guy like [kicker Stephen] Gostkowski who's been almost perfect his entire career here, but has had a couple of hiccups recently. Do you say anything to him or is it more of giving him a pat on the back as he goes through what he's going through?
MS: I don't think much needs to be said to Stephen. He's been doing this for a long time at a very high level. If you play football long enough, there are going to be ups and downs. I know we're accustomed to around here, just in general with the Patriots, there being more ups than down. But that's part of football. With Stephen, I don't need to give him a big pep talk or anything like that. I know that he'll be OK.
Q: Is there any part of you that will miss competing against [quarterback] Ben Roethlisberger?
MS: Certainly when you play a team, you want them to be at full strength. As a competitor and a player in this league, you hate to see other players get injured, no matter who it is or how you feel about them. So it's unfortunate that Ben has sustained an injury, but Mr. [Landry] Jones is a very capable of getting the job done and this football team is still very dangerous.
Q: Can you give a synopsis of what you see from the Steelers special teams?
MS: A lot of speed. A lot of speed and potential for big plays to be made. Obviously with Antonio [Brown] back there, he's dangerous any time he touches the ball, whether it's offensively or defensively. And then [Darrius] Heyward-Bey and those guys [like] Shamarko Thomas make a lot of plays. So we're going to have to be able to play fast as I said earlier. We're kind of built around speed, but we're going to need that speed this weekend.
Q: You talked about the kick coverage. You guys haven't been able to break one and I don't want to put it on the returner because I sense you'll say the guys up front play into that too. What do you need to do to kick-start the return game?
MS: I think attention to detail as we continue to practice is going to be paramount. Depending on the opponent, those opportunities may be five or six game or they may be one or two a game, so our attention to detail has to be great and we have to be ready to execute when we get those opportunities. And it is all 11 guys, it's not just the returner, it's not just the guys blocking. It's everyone out there just doing their job better.
Q: [Coach] Bill [Belichick] said before that usually by October you start to get a sense of the identity in the locker room. I'm wondering what you see in the locker room, where you feel this team is in terms of its image, where it is and how good it feels about itself.
MS: I think we've done a lot of positive things this year. We've really gelled as a team and I think that's been great. The great thing about this group is our personalities really click. It feels like a family in that locker room and that's a special thing I think in the National Football League. I think we're fortunate to be in the situation we're in with the group of guys who are not only committed to the game of football, but committed to one another. It's really still too early in the season for us to say who we are, what we do, etc. It's starting to form, but it's still coming together. We'll see. Time will tell.
Q: How much does playing in a tough place and against a tough opponent on Sunday add to your identity?
MS: We'll find out a lot about ourselves. As coach [Bill Belichick] said earlier today, if you like football, this is the game for you, so we'll find out. We're going into a tough environment [against] a very good football team who's very well coached. We'll find out a lot about ourselves, certainly.
Q: You've been around since 2009. How special of a moment was it last week when Mr. [Robert] Kraft presented [coach] Bill [Belichick] with his 250th victory game ball?
MS: I think when you think in terms of the history of football and what Coach [Bill Belichick] has been able to accomplish here, I know we like to live in the now and don't get into talking too much about these things, but when you step back and you look at what coach has been able to accomplish in his career, it's really remarkable. I think four coaches in the history of the game have 250-plus wins, and there's been a lot of coaches to coach this game. There's been a lot of teams that have taken the field and the model of consistency that coach has shown, his approach to this game and the way he's handled himself, I think you can't say enough good things about it. But I know he would have me say, 'All that aside, we're focused on Pittsburgh this week.'
PATRIOTS DEFENSIVE BACK DEVIN MCCOURTY
Q: Your thoughts on how big of a test this will be going into that environment and playing a team like the [Pittsburgh] Steelers?
DM: I think Coach [Bill Belichick] said it the best this morning. If you love football, if you love competition, there's going to be no better place to be Sunday than Pittsburgh. Obviously a very good football team, very tough at home, an environment who loves Pittsburgh Steelers. You probably won't find many Patriots fans in there Sunday so it'll be a good environment. It'll be a huge challenge for us going on the road against this type of team. We look forward to it though. That's what makes you a good football team. You learn how to go play in those environments.
Q: Being the competitor that you are, would you have wanted to see Big Ben [Ben Roethlisberger] under center for them?
DM: Yeah, but I don't get into all of that. Guys love saying 'I'm disappointed, I want to'. It's the game of football. You know, you hate to see anybody get hurt but we've got to be prepared. I think he was ruled out but history shows you never know with this guy but we'll see. It sucks that he can't be out there playing.
Q: What do you know about Landry Jones?
DM: We know that he's been there for a couple years now and there has been different times when he's had to step in for Ben [Roethlisberger]. The games he's played, last year he started against Kansas City, they run their offense. The skills guys around, which I think they believe they have a great group and they do. Those skill guys don't change because Big Ben [Ben Roethlisberger] is not out there. But obviously a little different. I don't think there's any quarterback that you can find like Ben. But he's a guy who we know is going to run their offense. He does a good job of reading coverage, wants to get the ball out there, get the ball in skill guys' hands. We know it's not going to be this totally different game plan. Obviously there will be little changes, little tweaks, probably just preparing for playing against us.
Q: What are you looking for on defense knowing that this guy might get the ball out faster?
DM: I mean I think there's not going to be much difference. You watch even when Ben [Roethlisberger] is out there they get the ball out quick. And you've got guys like Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, [Markus] Wheaton, all these guys, [Darrius] Heyward-Bey. They do reverses, they do it all. So there are plays where Ben gets the ball out quick to those guys as well. It's just the ball will come out quicker because there is no one like Ben. You know, Ben sits back there with two guys hanging on him, stiff arms one, slides to the left, slides to the right, then throws the ball. You just don't find many quarterbacks that can do that. So the ball will come out quicker just from the standpoint that it's hard to do what Ben does back there.
Q: What is unique to Antonio Brown's skill set?
DM: His quickness. He's very quick, great at the top of the route. I think when you double team a guy it's easy to stay with him through the top of the route. But no matter what at the top of the route, you could be trailing him, you could be over the top, inside, outside, he does a good job of turning it into a one-on-one when he gets to the top of the route. That's tough. It's tough to stay with him. I think one thing is you watch him, for a guy that's not that big, he catches everything. They throw the ball around and he goes out there and catches it with his hands and brings it in. I think his ability at the top of the route, with his quickness, his hands, he'll go out there and try to catch every ball thrown around him.
Q: Is he [Antonio Brown] the best receiver in the league?
DM: You pick any Sunday, you can pick any of these guys. He's definitely one of them. It's hard to say who's the best. I mean Julio Jones had 300 yards one game receiving. Week in, week out, last week A.J. Green, this week Antonio Brown. It seems like every week we're going against one of these guys that is just not normal.
Q: Twenty-seventh this year on third downs. I know Bill [Belichick] preaches third downs...
DM: That's not that good, huh?
Q: Is that sustainable success-wise to continue to win football games if you're going to be 27th on third downs?
DM: That's a tough question. I mean we've got five wins now. I wouldn't bet on it. I wouldn't bet being 27 you'll win many games on third-down. Within a game we have got to find ways to win but I'd be lying if I said that wasn't one thing we've talked about over and over again, that we need to get better at and we need to focus on it. Like I said third-down is all about matchups. You've got to win individual matchups whether it's in the pass rush, whether it's in coverage, you've got to go out there and somebody has to make a play to get off the field. It's something that we've talked about and we've got to continue to improve on and get better at. But it's a week-by-week [process]. We've played well at times but obviously overall we haven't. It's something we know we have to work on if we want to try and continue that success, but no matter what we know we've got to try to find a way to win within the game.
Q: Do you think Pittsburgh is the toughest place to play on the road in the NFL? If not, what is?
DM: It's definitely one of them. You go down the list, it's tough. We went to Kansas City, got blown out. That's a tough place. Seattle is tough. I mean we go to Buffalo once a year and like I said, I think you might find two Patriots fans all in Buffalo when we're at that game. That's a tough place to play that people don't even really talk about but every time we go there it's very tough.
Q: Do you have to prepare for a high volume of gadget plays from the Steelers as much as anyone else?
DM: You've got to know it's possible. I think because of how many good skill players they have they do different things to get them the ball. A lot of times you play against a team where they run reverses, it'll usually be a reverse guy. But you play against them it could be [Sammie] Coates, it could be Antonio Brown, it could be [Darrius] Heyward-Bey. That's what makes it tough. You don't know who the gadget guy is going to be because they have so many good skill players that it could really be anybody. That's not even naming Le'Veon Bell in the backfield who splits out at wide receiver and a ton of those things. I just think with the amount of good skill players it makes it the toughest team we've seen gadget play-wise. Just because you just don't know. Any given play could be one of them.
Q: Is [Le'Veon] Bell one of the toughest running backs you've had to prepare against with what he can do running and catching?
DM: Definitely. Definitely.
Q: What makes him so good?
DM: Everything he does.