[wysifield-embeddedaudio|eid="519216"|type="embeddedaudio"|view_mode="full"]BILL BELICHICK, HEAD COACH
Q: How dangerous are Pittsburgh's weapons such as Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell when Ben Roethlisberger is playing at such a high level?
BB: Yeah, they're really good. They're a tremendous offense. Kansas City was able to make some plays in the red-area, but I mean they could've easily been up in the 40's last night. They do a lot of things well; can run it, can throw it. [Antonio] Brown's the main guy, but all of the receivers, tight ends, backs, I mean they're all a problem. [Ben] Roethlisberger is really good, can make all of the throws. It looks like his mobility is good. They're doing a great job. They're a good offense.
Q: Would it be accurate to say Le'Veon Bell often gets stronger and has more production as the game goes on?
BB: He's good all of the time. He's really a hard guy to tackle. He's got good vision, great patience, and he does a good job.
Q: You mentioned the production you got from the three Rutgers alumni on Saturday in Devin McCourty, Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon. Is that the kind of production you envisioned when you drafted those guys and studied their time in the college ranks?
BB: Well, I mean they're all different. Devin [McCourty] played corner his whole career down there and was a good corner. Of course, we eventually moved him to safety and he's gotten a lot of recognition at safety, as well. Duron [Harmon] was really a safety all the way, at least in the latter part of his career, and they had a pretty good group of corners there with Logan [Ryan] and [Marcus] Cooper. They had a pretty good group, and then Logan was a very productive player in college, as he has been in this league, both inside and outside. I'd say Logan and Duron's roles have been pretty similar to what they were in college. Devin has shifted from corner to his safety role, although sometimes he's a multiple guy. He's versatile. He's definitely more of a safety now, was more of a corner in college.
Q: Has Devin McCourty really stepped up as of late over the past month or are the plays he is making now more of a result of the opportunities that have come his way?
BB: Right. Well, those are certainly standout plays in critical points in the game, but he's had a real good year for us. He's one of our most consistent players on everything, down-in, down-out, running game, passing game, deep balls, breaking on zone coverage, man-to-man coverage. He's just done a good job for us all year. But those plays were huge, significant plays for us, so I don't want to minimize those in any way, but I don't think it's just one or two good ones. He has a lot of them every week.
Q: What have you seen from Elandon Roberts and Vincent Valentine throughout the season that has allowed them to contribute in their roles here in the postseason and going forward?
BB: They've both done a good job for us, worked hard. A little different from what they were doing in college, but they've both adapted well and tried to learn the new techniques and communication that we have. Defense is sometimes pretty extensive, so I think that's been an adjustment for them, too. But both of those kids have worked hard. They don't miss much time. They're on the field. They've been out there a lot and practice hard and get better, so that's a good formula. Both are really unselfish, do whatever you ask them to do, try to do it the best they can, so good to work with.
Q: What challenge does Le'Veon Bell's patience present when he is determining where the hole is and what gap he is trying to exploit? Are there any comparable players from the past that he reminds you of?
BB: Well, I think defensively he really forces you to be disciplined. You jump out of there too quickly then you open up gaps and open up space. Le'Veon [Bell] has a great burst through the hole. He doesn't really need long to get through there, runs with good pad level. He's hard to tackle so if you don't get a full body on him then he'll run right through those arm tackles. [He] really forces everybody to be sound in their gaps. Like I said, getting off and jumping around blocks or trying to get to the hole too quickly just opens up cut-back lanes or stays in the front somewhere and he does a great job of finding it. I mean team defense is the only way to stop it. There's no one guy that can stop him. You're going to have to have everybody doing a good job in a number of different areas all the way across the front and then do a good job of tackling.
Q: How would you describe what it's like working for the Kraft Family and what they do for the Patriots that have enabled the success the organization has had?
BB: Robert [Kraft] and his family have been very supportive of me, gave up a lot to get me here, and have been supportive for the years that I've been here. Our facilities are good. Robert gives me the latitude to do what I think is best for the football team and I appreciate that. I appreciate the opportunity to do the things that I feel are best, make the decisions that I feel are best for the team. There's not a lot of interference, so I think that smooths it out on the football end. We have a lot of good people working for us in the organization. We seem to through the years have been able to be productive together.
Q: Do you have any connection to the Rooney Family at all from your time in the league?
BB: Well, they're pretty close to the Mara Family. When I was with the Giants we played them every year in preseason. Of course Coach [Bill] Cowher, I mean Coach [Chuck] Noll and Coach Cowher when I was in Cleveland, but that was in competition with them, not in the organization. But I have great respect for what they've done through the years. Coach Noll was a tremendous coach. [He] did a great job of I'd say developing a certain style of play on that team, both offensively and defensively. Really he's kind of the founder of Cover-2 with Bud Carson and the stunt 4-3 defense that they ran, which is a 4-3 - it's similar to what we did in Cleveland. It has some principles to it. Spacing is different, but it has a lot of the same principles that I've used in coaching 3-4 and those types of defenses throughout my career, as well as the Cover-2 foundation that Coach Noll laid. And then Coach Cowher came in there and had tremendous success with their blitz-zone scheme and a lot of two-back running with a couple of different quarterbacks - [Neil] O'Donnell and [Kordell] Stewart - guys that played the position differently but were very good. Coach [Mike] Tomlin has come in and played a similar version but has adapted it to his own style. Offensively they're a lot different than they were under Coach Cowher. Defensively [they're] different but some similarities, but he and Kevin Colbert have kind of changed the makeup of the team a little bit in the last decade or so, I would say, to the speed that they have at inside linebacker and the explosive speed that they have at the receiver position has I think kind of been a trademark for their teams. They seem to have built them that way through their acquisition of players and the development of their team. It's been a very consistent organization in terms of coaching, scouting, ownership with some modifications over the years, as you would expect over a 40-year period. But I mean a lot less than some other organizations. They've been tough to deal with for going all the way back to Coach Noll in the 70's. They were pretty consistently tough to deal with through that entire period of time, which has been all of my years in the league. There might have been a year here or there, but for the most part they've been at a championship level or competing for a championship level for a long period of time. That's certainly a huge credit to that entire organization.
[wysifield-embeddedaudio|eid="519211"|type="embeddedaudio"|view_mode="full"]JOSH McDANIELS, OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR/QB COACH
Q: Josh, within the last couple of minutes there have been some reports that you have taken yourself out of consideration for the San Francisco 49ers job? I was just curious what you could tell us on that? And then, what do you see from the Pittsburgh Steelers and how they challenge your offense?
JM: Yes, I'll do both. I was really impressed with [CEO] Jed York and [Chief Strategy Officer and EVP of Football Operations] Paraag [Marathe] and [Director of Football Administration and Analytics] Brian [Hampton], the people that came from the 49ers organization. They did a great job with their presentation, and again [I'm] humbled to be included in that process. At this time, it's best for my family and myself to remain here in New England and focus on this year's playoffs and finish out the year however it turns out. With the Steelers, it seems like each time we prepare for them, whatever year it might be, some of the players change and they plug some different people in there and add some young guys to their group, but the bottom line is they are very difficult to plan for. They do a lot of things that challenge you in terms of their blitz packages and all of their personnel groupings. They rush the passer well with their linebackers, and they've got a lot of different guys that can create pressure on the quarterback. They play stout up front, and they continue to get better as the year progresses, which is, to me, a sign of how well they are coached, and they develop as the year goes on. We had the opportunity to play them earlier in the year, and now you're looking at them some 10 [or] 11 games after that, and they just seem to get better and improve in every area of their game. They don't give up many big plays, they make you drive it a long way, and they're difficult to convert, whether it be third down or in the red area to end up finishing those drives the way you want to. So, typical Steelers team; tough, physical, disciplined and will pressure you and create issues throughout the course of the game. You're going to have to be on top of your assignments and understand what we need to do to try to be effective and move the ball against them, because like I said, they don't give up many easy plays and easy yards. Great challenge for us, excited to start our preparation, and look forward to doing that here today.
Q: I wanted to ask you about two ends of the spectrum with regards to the Steelers defense, and how they're able to integrate both the young and the old? First of all, James Harrison, who continues to motor along at 37 years of age, and Bud Dupree, and what you've seen from both of them and how they integrate young and old?
JM: Yes, most players are playing at a very high level right now, and seem to, like I said about their whole group, seem to get better as the year goes on. They've always had an element of those experienced veteran players really helping those younger players come along, and learn the system, and learn what it means to play the way they play in their scheme and their system. I think those are two good examples right there of guys that [are] much different in terms of their age and experience, but both physical guys, both very difficult to handle in the running game, set the edge in the running game and they do a good job of trying to knock people back. And then [they] can create pressure on the quarterback, whether it's with speed or power, and they do it both. So, they fit into their scheme nicely, they've always done a great job of integrating young players into their scheme, because they know very specifically what they're looking for. I think those two guys are a good example of what they've had for a long time and how they develop these young guys to play really well and integrate them into their system and into their defense.
Q: I wanted to ask you about the Steelers' pass rush. How much improvement have you seen from this aspect of their game? From what I understand, they led the league in sacks over the second half of the season.
JM: Like I said, they have a lot of guys that can do different things. Their down guys are not just run stoppers. [Stephon] Tuitt is a very active guy, and he's created a lot of pressure on the quarterback from the spots that he plays. They'll pressure people with pressures, so with linebacker blitzes, so guys like [Lawrence] Timmons and [Ryan] Shazier and those types of guys, they all have sacks, they all have quarterback pressures. And then the edge rushers, the [James] Harrison's and the [Bud] Dupree's, those guys, I mean they're constantly involved in the rush as well. It's not just one guy; that's the biggest thing. It's the entire front, plus you're going to get secondary pressures, their nickel back, their safeties are all involved in the blitz packages, which has kind of been a hallmark of their defense over many years. Those guys are going to get hits on the quarterback, and you're going to have to pick them up in blitz pick-up and make sure that you don't give them any easy plays there, too. So, you can't really focus your attention on one or two guys. That's not really what this defense is built on. They're going to come at you in waves. Different people are going to come on different plays, and you've got to be ready to handle them all. And they're all physical, athletic and they know exactly how to execute in their system and in their scheme. They're extremely well-coached; [defensive coordinator] coach [Keith] Butler does a great job. I know [head coach] coach [Mike] Tomlin has always done a great job with them. We have a ton of respect for them, and like I said before, this is going to be a great challenge this week.
Q: How much have you enjoyed your time here in New England, and how nice is it to know at this point that you can focus on the playoffs and you will be back next year?
JM: I've always said how grateful I am for this opportunity to work here for Mr. Kraft and his family, and coach under Bill [Belichick] and with a lot of great guys on our staff, and have the privilege to work with the players that we get to work with each day. So, it's a great opportunity. [I'm] very thankful to be here, and very much looking forward to this week against Pittsburgh.
Q: The Steelers' secondary, they've got some young guys back there that appear to be very aggressive in the way they play, and then just wondering how you view them and try to take advantage of their aggressiveness?
JM: Well, there's a balance to all of this. They're aggressive, but they're very intelligent in terms of when they take their chances, because they understand when the time is running out [on the quarterback] and they'll make some educated decisions on when to take a few risks in the secondary. But, like I said before, they've given up very, very few big plays in the passing game all season, and so, to me, that's a testament to how disciplined they are. They're not going to give up many plays over their head, and even though you might say they do make some plays on the ball and they are aggressive, you've got to be careful with how much you're trying to risk in terms of holding onto it and doing all of those kinds of things, because you've got to deal with their blitz zones, their different types of pressures inside, and then just their straight four-man rush. You've got to be smart, you've got to be disciplined, you've got to be patient, and like I said, this is as disciplined and as patient of a group on defense, and they're going to play the very same way this week. They're not going to make many mistakes; they're not going to give you many opportunities to have easy yards. You're going to have to earn everything you get. Like I said, it'll be a great challenge.
Q: Tom Brady is often credited for his ability to see things with his pre-snap reads and knowing where he's going to go with the ball, and I'm curious, after the game on Saturday with Houston, what importance or value … As you guys make adjustments on the sideline - it seemed like early on the Texans were walking people around trying to confuse the pre-snap looks - as you go through a game, his experience and understanding of what defenses are trying to do as you make adjustments. Can you just discuss in general terms the importance of that?
JM: I think there are multiple layers to that. You know, experience is great, but I think ultimately what matters is how we perform and execute on that night, or on that day. You have to understand that everything you're looking at before the ball is snapped might not always be exactly what you're looking at once you snap the ball. So, there are different layers [and] you can try to gain some of the information before the ball is snapped, but certainly, I think at the quarterback position in this league with how difficult defenses have become and the different things they try to do to disrupt the quarterback position, you've got to do a good job of not only using some pre-snap information or keys, but you better read the coverage out, or the pressures once you have the ball in your hands, because that's ultimately going to be when the defense declares what they're doing. So, Tom [Brady] has obviously done this for a long time, he's very well versed in all of those things, and we also understand that the other team, they prepare hard and they have a good game plan, and Houston was extremely well-prepared and well-coached, as we knew they would be. They did some things to try to disrupt us, and that's part of the game. You've got your two playoff teams playing a game to try to move on, and both teams are going to give it their best. I thought they did a few things to try to change it up, and we had to make some adjustments, and that's how these games go at this time of the year.
[wysifield-embeddedaudio|eid="519221"|type="embeddedaudio"|view_mode="full"]MATT PATRICIA, DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR
Q: What kind of stress does the Steelers offense put on the defense?
MP: Yeah, I mean obviously Pittsburgh's offense [is a] very dangerous, very explosive offense. This will be different for us than obviously the first time with Ben [Roethlisberger] being back. They run a very consistent offense, let me put it that way, with Todd Haley. He does a great job of scheming things up and getting the ball to his go-to players. They have very explosive guys at all the skill positions. The running back, Le'Veon Bell, is obviously a very dangerous player. [He's] a guy that really does a great job in the run game and the pass game. [He's] a guy that's a great space player. [He's] really very dynamic in his ability to make people miss in open space from a tackling standpoint. [He's a] very patient runner. It's kind of a different style of running game where he kind of gets to the line of scrimmage and really just finds that hole or that seam and he has this incredible burst to be able to get through. I think the offensive line - these guys are big and long and strong and they just cover you up. They really do a great job of getting into their blocks and making it very difficult for the defensive line to get off. And then with the speed of Bell and the burst of Bell through the line of scrimmage it's very difficult to get a good hit on him, so it's a lot of arm tackles, which he can break those and his very strong lower body so he can get through those and get some positive yardage. You just kind of see these smooth runs that may hit for like five yards, seven yards, nine yards, 12 yards then it's like 26 yards. And they do a great complement of different scheme runs to get him the ball in different areas of the offense. So it's inside, it's outside, it's counters coming back. So [it's] kind of a wide variety there. I mean really just in their run game consistently, we've seen [DeAngelo] Williams a couple of times, too. It has just been a dynamic run game for them and obviously you can see that here in the last couple of weeks, which at this time of the year running the ball is critically important to success in the playoffs, so they're doing a great job of being consistent with that. I think in the passing game when you look at what they're being able to do is push the ball both vertically and horizontally. Antonio Brown is obviously a great wide receiver and a huge threat to get the ball, once it's in his hands to make people miss and turn small plays into big plays. But I think the other receivers, because there is so much attention that goes to Brown even though he does get open anyways, those guys really kind of stepped up - you know, [Eli] Rogers - you're going to see all those guys kind of in there playing their part and included with that would be the tight end position. Jesse James had a great game and does a great job of finding space and Roethlisberger is just so calm in the pocket where he can really just wait and those guys do a good job of reading coverage or getting off coverage and the offensive line is doing a great job of protecting him. So then they just kind of get open or work themselves into space and he's got an incredibly strong arm so he can just get the ball to them once they kind of uncover. Obviously, the deep threat which is a big play possibility, the catch and run, which you've seen them do here especially in the last couple weeks with explosive-type plays, and then combine that with the running game, it really stresses a defense both in the front to make sure that the run game is handled and then in the deep part of the field. And they're really doing a great job of taking advantage of, we'll call it, intermediate and horizontal part of the field where there is a lot of space now and they get the ball to those guys in space and they'll catch and run and make a lot of big plays. That's a long answer. Sorry about that.
Q: Do you ever see on-field examples of chemistry between players who have been together since their collegiate career - such as Devin McCourty, Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon at Rutgers and now with the Patriots - that you may not get with guys who did not play together in their college days?
MP: I would say definitely, and probably kind of separate from the game, and in and of itself the Houston game. But just in general with those guys, certainly being around each other for as long of a period of time as they have been around each other, they're very familiar with maybe their communication on the field or the way that those guys play certain things and have kind of a history with each other. I'm sure it's probably very [similar] in a way to maybe back in the day when teams had guys that were on teams for an extended period of time. You know, they were on the team for five, six, seven, eight maybe even 10 years together where there's that common background and history together that allowed them to play maybe a little bit more in sync at times, but I think for us the guys try to do everything we're asking them to do and a lot of it has to do with everybody on the field certainly. But I would say sure, for those guys, the history they've had together, I'm sure that has an impact on them.
Q: How will you try to coach the players to defend Le'Veon Bell and the Steelers running game? With patience or aggressiveness?
MP: Sure, well I mean I think the thing other than along with kind of what I said earlier, certainly if there's space or if there's a gap in the defense or if there's an edge in the defense, he's quick to take advantage of that. So he's going to be able to get into that open space pretty quickly so you can't really - I don't think you want to sit there and guess. I don't think you really want to sit there and try to play that game with them. I think for us it's always going to go back to the same thing in the run game of being able to play with good technique, and really trying to do a good job at the line of scrimmage of playing our guys, and defeating blocks, and doing the things we do, and tackling and making sure we do a great job of tackling and wrapping up. It should be a full team complement to stopping the run game and that's what we're going to need.
Q: How important has Alan Branch been in terms of closing off some of those gaps in the defense this year?
MP: I mean I think Alan [Branch] has done a great job for us of just really trying to improve which I think he has done all season. I think he has really tried to play with some good technique and he's a big guy, he's a long guy and he really understands the run game week-in week-out because it is different. He really does a good job with all that stuff and he allows us to put him in some different positions and move him around so he has done a good job, and that group just in general, with really trying to improve across the board - Malcom Brown, Vince [Vincent] Valentine - we put a lot of guys in and out in there. But I think just in general for Alan, I think he has done a really good job for us inside.
Q: How unpredictable can Ben Roethlisberger be and how much do you have to be ready for everything inside the 20-yard line when you're defending Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Jesse James?
MP: I think you hit it right on the head right there. As far in the red area, once you get down into that part of the field, they do a great job and Coach [Todd] Haley does a great job of putting those guys in different positions. There's some misdirection plays, there's some catch and run plays, there's some deep balls that they try to throw into the end zone and take advantage of their speed downfield, and their playmaking ability downfield, and plus Ben [Roethlisberger] [and] his ability to get the ball downfield. One of the things that happens a lot in the red area that you always have to defend are kind of those plays that take a little bit longer or get extended. For the most part in the red area it's kind of some timing plays down in there, but if those plays can get extended or prolonged, that's when it becomes really difficult and I think Roethlisberger right now is very mobile, very healthy. [He's] a guy that showed even again last night that just slight bit of movement or a slight bit of ability to maybe evade the rush or stand in there just a little bit longer gives his guys enough time to get open in those situations and certainly the red area is a big part of that.
Q: How does the closeness of the Patriots secondary off the field help with their production on the field? How have you seen them grow together as the season has gone on?
MP: I mean I just kind of speak as far as inside the building. Everybody here, we obviously work really hard and try to spend a lot of time studying and taking a look at the opponents. When you break it down in the different aspects of the defense by positon, the defensive backs spend a lot of time together. So they're going to be in the meeting room together, they're going to be studying, there's going to be a lot of communication, and what's nice is when you start to see that kind of spill over into the locker room or the cafeteria or wherever it might be that they're kind of just talking and hanging out. A lot of times then what happens is there's a lot of football conversation that's built into that as well, which I think just in general helps. The more you can talk about maybe what you're going to see that week or the players or the scheme or whatever particular matter may come up. It's just kind of that constant preparation for the game. So I think that's definitely a big part of it. I would say just in general the whole season is a long process and it's a long kind of - just trying to improve and get better each week. I would say as a group I really think those guys, they're trying, as a total defense I'm saying, to try to do that and really try to get better and really try to prepare harder. We're obviously going to need a big week of preparation this week to get ready for the Steelers.
Q: How important is offseason conditioning to your team's performance at this time of the year?
MP: I mean I think conditioning is something that we're constantly trying to make and ensure that we're working on. It's something that I don't think there's a big switch that says 'Hey we're in good shape and we're in good condition and we'll kind of have it for the whole year'. I think it's something that we try to make sure that each week we're in great shape and the best condition that we can be in. I'd say it's probably a good conversation or question for a lot of our strength staff here as far as the overall body performance and where those guys are. But I think conditioning in general and our guys are real smart, they understand that some games are going to be different, whether it's no-huddle or it's going to be paced different or the tempo of the game is going to be different where they might need to work on a little bit more conditioning week in week out. But I would say just in general, we're always conscious of making sure that we can play 60 minutes and in some cases we might have to play a little bit more, so you certainly don't want to be caught shorthanded. So throughout the week and just trying to stay on top of that and it's something that I think builds throughout the season so hopefully at the end of the season you're in the best condition and the best shape possible.
Q: How do you practice getting off blocks and making the tackle?
MP: I mean that's part of practice every week. Our guys here and the guys that give us a look, whoever that may be that particular week, do a great job of trying to study the opponent and try to simulate the way that maybe they block or they run or the way they run routes or the quarterback plays. That's the part of the preparation that really is the most important to us and that's why we say that practice is so important, to be able to try to emulate that look and get that look from our guys that are giving it to us day in day out. We certainly try to coach them up and those guys come in and they watch film and they try to do it exactly the way that they're seeing it on film so that we can really take a good look at it during the week.
Q: How absolutely vital is the concept of tackling going to be, specifically against Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown?
MP: Yeah, that's a huge part of the game; it's going to have to be. It's a team type of concept. So for these guys I don't really think you want to just have them out in space with a one-on-one tackle. Our guys need to be hustling and getting to the ball and making sure we're doing a good job of wrapping up. I think their short space quickness, and if you look at both of them [and] their ability to just give you a little bit of maybe a head and shoulder fake or an explosive jump cut in either direction, can allow you just to miss. These guys are extremely quick and fast. When you're coming in full speed and you're trying to make sure you break down and take proper angles and leverage these guys, they're extremely quick. So combine that quickness with the speed that they have and now it becomes very dangerous. So once they kind of get into that short space and they kind of give you a little bit of a shake and little bit of a jump cut or a hard stiff-arm or something like that, then you've really got to be disciplined to take good angles and make sure that you wrap them up and tackle. So both of them I have multiple examples of just big-play ability where they make that first guy miss and they can just outrun everybody else. There's just too much space in the defense where then they can just turn on their speed and use their ability to get by you, so that will be a big point of emphasis for us.