[wysifield-embeddedaudio|eid="475251"|type="embeddedaudio"|view_mode="full"]HEAD COACH BILL BELICHICK
Q: How much emphasis is placed on creating big plays in special teams when you go into a season and how much do those plays swing the momentum either for or against a team?
BB: Well, sure I think those big plays are always good plays for momentum and, you know, just put a little spark into the team. Honestly we're always trying to make them. We've never tried to do anything but make plays. I'd just say the more playmakers you have out there then the better chance you have to make them. Sometimes you end up with players who are just fulfilling a role out there, which you need that, but when you actually have playmakers, guys in the return game that you can count on to make blocks, or you can put one-on-one to make blocks on their good players, or in coverage guys that can't be single-blocked and have to be double-teamed. If you only have one of those guys then they double team him and you're back to kind of treading water. If you have more guys than they can handle then whichever ones, one or two they might double, then you've got good opportunities with other players. So, returners that can make plays with the ball in their hand, blockers that can block good players, coverage players that have to be double-teamed and then obviously good specialty play from the snapper, kicker, punter, and punt returner or kickoff returner; those are all the keys.
Q: Is there a common denominator in terms of their mentality that allows certain guys to excel on special teams?
BB: Well, I don't know if it's a mentality. I mean it is to a degree, the aggressiveness, trying to make plays as opposed to just trying to stay in your area of responsibility. I'd say that just the instinctiveness of being primarily a space player, recognizing how much space there is between you and the runner or how much space you have to defend from the guy you're blocking to where he has to get to the runner, can you get around the guy to the backside to make the play, do you have to go to the front side, or do you have to go through him? Obviously, the combination of speed and explosiveness, their strength, is the combination that you're looking for. So, if you have to take people on you can take them on and if you can run around them or avoid them you've got the speed to do that as well. So, it's a combination of space ability, speed, power, explosion, quickness, and just judgement in space which is different than making inline judgements or close quarter type decisions. Those space judgements are your speed, their speed, the angle, what's between you and the guy, whether you're blocking or covering. Those are all kind of instinctive qualities that we coach, we have guidelines on, we try to explain fundamentally what you want to do but each situation's a little bit different. The player has to make that decision as to whether he can make it or not make it and so forth. So, it's a lot of instinctiveness on all of those plays because each one of them is different. You just have to have a good sense and a good feel for where you can get to with your skills versus what obstacles you encounter along the way.
Q: What did you see from the Bills' running game yesterday and how difficult is it to defend against an offense like that with a mobile quarterback and a feature running back, in Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy?
BB: Yeah, their running game definitely gives you a lot of problems and I think that in addition to those points that you made, which are very solid ones, the overall scheme that they employ is challenging as well with the read-option scheme, zone schemes, and then some blocking scheme plays. Double teams, pullers, combination blocks; they have all of that. I also thought that [Mike] Gillislee gave them some good, strong runs in some short-yardage and red area type situations as well. Obviously, McCoy is as good as it gets. The production that he has had is outstanding so he's a very difficult guy to handle. So yeah, they give you a lot of different problems there between, like I said, not only the players but also the different schemes that they employ.
Q: What is the thinking behind kicking off closer to the sideline as opposed to the middle of the field where the returner may traditionally line up?
BB: Well, I think what most teams try to do on the corner-type kicks is to force you as the return team to either take the ball right up the sideline where you catch it, which means you have a limited amount of space to work on, or to bring the ball all the way across the field which means you're doing a lot of running without gaining yards and there's the potential that you could really get caught inside the 10 or really get pinned down there deep if somebody's able to cut off the returner before he can get all the way across the field. And if you put hang time on that ball that makes it tougher to come across the field with. On the return end of it if you know where the balls going to go then you could set up a boundary return even though you're running into pretty tight quarters there, but you could set it up and get the blocking angles the best that you can and just try to take the ball up the field the shortest distance. But if you're not sure where it is and if the kick goes away from where you think it's going to go, so if you set up a boundary return one way and the ball ends up getting kicked the other way, now you've kind of got all of your guys out-leveraged, and again, your choices are to either take the ball straight back up field with not enough blocking or bring it across the field to where your blocking is but you've got a long way to go. It definitely can put you in a tough situation on that. That happened to us in the Carolina game where they kicked it over to the corner and James Develin had to field it and he obviously was our short returner, not the primary guy, so it kind of limits what you can do if they can get the ball in the right spot or in a tough spot. It really limits your options for the return team. Obviously, the best option for you in the kickoff return is that the ball is straight down the middle of the field with not very much hang time. That's the best returnable ball. The toughest returnable ball just on the kick alone - forget about the coverage, that's a whole other discussion - is a ball with good hang time that pins you in the corner. You just have a lot fewer options there.
Q: What kind of performances do you feel you have gotten from Jonathan Freeny and Clay Harbor in their respective roles?
BB: Well, Jonathan continues to do a great job for us. If Jamie [Collins] and Dont'a [Hightower] are ready to go at inside linebacker then Jonathan would see less time defensively but with High out the last couple of weeks Jonathan has seen a lot of time. But Jonathan's a very good and core special teams player. He gives us some size in the kicking game, [he's] important, so he's a versatile player in that he can give us those special teams plays but he also has given us a lot of defensive plays, whether that be in sub defense when we're in a two linebacker defense or in some of our bigger groupings, whether that be three linebackers, or goal line, or short yardage, things like that. He also has enough length to at times be able to play on the end of the line if we need him there, which he plays there in certain alignments. His versatility on defense is very good, and as I said, he gives us a lot of plays in the kicking game because of his size and his length. Again, it's hard to find those players on special teams. It's a lot easier to find smaller, faster, more athletic guys. So, I'd say that's kind of where Clay comes in to play, too - 250 pounds or wherever he's at. He gives us another size and athletic player in the kicking game with good depth there at tight end, so in keeping AJ [Derby] and Clay, that was part of our decision there on the roster, was to keep our depth at that position with guys that had both offensive and special teams value. A lot of times with those types of players it's one or the other. So, to find guys with both, like I said - Freeny, Harbor, Derby - guys like that, they're just harder to find. Those players are harder to find.
Q: Is there statistical analysis that has shown that an offense will have a tougher time starting with the ball on the 20-yard line as opposed to the 25-yard line, and is that why with the change in touchback rules this season there has been a bigger emphasis on those lofty kicks that are designed to force the return team to bring the ball out of the endzone?
BB: I think that's part of it. Yeah, I do. I think that's part of it. I'd say, you know, also part of it is just the matchup with your opponent and what they're strength is in the return game and so forth. You know, I would say over the last couple of years because of fewer and fewer kickoffs were returned, it made decisions tougher for teams, made it tougher for teams to carry guys on the roster whose strength was on kickoff or kickoff return, whether that be the returner, or a coverage player, or a wedge guy or something like that because you just weren't getting very many shots at it. And so if you have a real good kickoff returner, how many times are you going to get to return it? In some games you're probably not going to get to return any. Again, especially depending on where some of those games are being played, a little bit less of an issue where we are because sooner or later those balls aren't going to be touchbacks but if you're kicking in a dome or you're kicking in the south consistently, those are pretty heavy touchback games. That's one thing there, so I'm just saying that explosive kickoff returner that maybe could make a handful of plays during the year that would change the game, can you really afford to carry that guy for the number of opportunities he's going to get? Overall, generally speaking the level of returner in the league has probably declined a little bit on kickoffs because the opportunities that they have and so it's become more of a punt and punt return game. Not to digress, but when I came into the league on special teams you had six phases. Every phase was very competitive, so field goal protection, field goal rush, kickoff, kickoff return, punt, punt return - now that's really down to just two phases; punt and punt return. Field goals - it's very hard to block a field goal because of the rules. You can't hit the center, you can't jump, you can't overload, you can't do much of anything. You just have to make a great play to somehow split the coverage or have a bad kick or both to really affect that play. It's not impossible but it's hard, so field goal protection isn't what it used to be and the field goal rush has really been taken out of the game. Then when you start touch-backing the kickoffs you take the coverage players out of the game because you and I could cover a lot of the kickoffs when they're nine, 10, 11 yards deep in the end zone. You don't need anybody to cover them and the same thing with the return game. They don't block because there's no return, so it's become a punt and punt return game and that's where a lot of the emphasis now has to go in the kicking game because that's where most of the plays are. As the kickoffs I think are coming back into it, at least it seems like they are this year more, then that increases those opportunities and probably the value of some of those players that play in that phase of the game. It will be interesting to see how it goes. We're only a couple of weeks into the season. We'll see how it all plays out, but in looking at a few other games it looks like there are a lot of teams that are doing some of the directional, corner-type kicking with good hang time. Just kind of popping the ball up in the air and making teams bring it out, which isn't surprising. That's exactly what happened with the college rule.
Q: It was interesting that the first rule change in 2011 to the kicking game didn't entice teams to do these lofty pop-up kicks.
BB: Right. Well, I think the 25 - getting the ball out to the 25-yard line is obviously harder than getting it out to the 20 and those touchbacks that put it on the 20, I mean I know it's only five yards and five yards is five yards, but it just seems like it's a lot easier for teams to just touchback and put the ball on the 20, whereas now there's just a little more incentive to make them return it to the 25 as opposed to just handing them the ball on the 25-yard line. And I think there are really a lot of teams where if the ball is a yard or two yards deep in the end zone, they're pretty content to just touchback it and take it on the 25. I think that extra five yards has enticed the return teams to do that more.
Q: How impressive have LeGarrette Blount's last two performances been on short rest with the game being on Thursday?
BB: It was good. We really needed it in both games. LeGarrette has a lot of skill as we know. I mean he's a big back that has very good quickness, and feet, and balance and speed for that size. So, we just kind of always feel like if we can just get a hole, get him started, get him going that he has a lot of ability to make yards on his own if we can just get him going, get him downhill, and get him some space to run. He has done a good job with it. He has broken tackles. He has run through some arm tackles and things like that. He has gotten some good, tough yards for us. Hopefully we continue to do that. Hopefully we can continue to get him the ball with some momentum, some space, and give him an opportunity to do some things on his own and not have to deal with four or five guys there at the line of scrimmage but try to get him going. He has worked hard, he's in good condition, he has done a good job of gaining yards in the fourth quarter and at the end of the game. He hasn't gotten worn down in those situations so that's all been very positive and we needed it.
[wysifield-embeddedaudio|eid="475256"|type="embeddedaudio"|view_mode="full"]DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR MATT PATRICIA
Q: How important will it be this week to make sure your defense is well-balanced given the challenge that the Bills running game presents?
MP: Yeah exactly, the points that you talked about as far as the run game is concerned with Buffalo, it's a very explosive, big-play run game, and the additional threat that you now have to deal with is the quarterback. Obviously, [Tyrod] Taylor out in space is an issue, we saw that in the game yesterday, and combined with [LeSean] McCoy who has tremendous bursts in speed and excellent vision, even [Mike] Gillislee when he was in the game. I think it's the combination of making sure that you obviously have good force can set the edge and do all the things on the defense that we need to do. I think also what you saw from the film the other day was their ability to run inside, so they do a great job of kind of mixing the scheme. There are zone schemes, there are gap schemes. They'll do both, they have pullers both from across the ball and from the same side of the ball, so they're trying to create a divide or separation in the defense and really give those backs, or even the quarterback, just a little bit of space to make some room and they can turn those plays into obviously very fast, quick big-play, touchdown-type of explosive runs. It's a very complex run game. It has a lot of different facets to it. It has, like I said, both the zone and the scheme element to it, along with the quarterback run. Certainly, when you take a look at the guys up front, they do a great job of blocking and staying on their blocks. They're big and they're strong, and they drive guys off the ball. They do a great job of just staying with it. One thing definitely with their offense, both with coach [Anthony] Lynn and also Rex [Ryan], they're going to stay with the run game and they're going to keep coming after you, so it's something that you constantly have to be able to defend on all down and distances, which is always very difficult.
Q: How would you describe the challenge of preparing for a team with a new offensive coordinator and how much does that past experience with the head coach factor in?
MP: I think certainly, Coach [Rex] Ryan has a philosophy that he likes to - that he runs his team with, both offense and defense and special teams-wise. That's not going to change. He's the head coach there and he certainly does a great job with the formula that he puts in place. I think with Coach [Anthony] Lynn, if you look at where he's been, he's been with Coach Ryan for a long time and been around, obviously, with Greg Roman here and with the system that they have in place, so I think basically what you're looking at is that it's a very similar offense. They're going to keep their offense going. They had a good, productive day yesterday. They've had some productive plays and days, so I don't think any of that really changes. It's just kind of a new guy calling the offense. I think if you look at the scheme and the players and what they've been doing, it's very similar to what they've done in the past, so at this point in the season, they're going to stay with what works for them.
Q: How do you coach your defensive backs in situations against a mobile quarterback like Tyrod Taylor?
MP: Certainly, [Tyrod] Taylor is a huge threat in both the run and the passing game, and in part of the passing game, that is a big problem that he possess for defenses in his ability to escape out of the pocket, extend plays, scramble, run, gain yards. He's very fast, he's very smart, he can keep his eyes down field when he gets out of the pocket and get the ball down field. So, we certainly saw that in some of the big plays that they had a couple of weeks ago where he was able to extend the play and get the ball down and get some production and points off of those types of plays. His wide receivers do a great job of getting open in those types of situations and the skill guys really understand that he has ability. From a defensive standpoint, you're just trying to make sure that you're playing fundamentally sound. You're trying to make sure that you have a good pass rush game plan, you don't want to let him run around back there and just turn the plays into extended plays where guys have to cover longer than they want to. Certainly, everybody's got to do their job, but the number one deal is just making sure everybody is responsible in what their assignment is. If everyone kind of handles their assignment at that point, hopefully, you don't have any break downs in the defense to allow a guy to get out of the pocket or allow those scramble or extended plays to hurt you.
Q: What have you seen from the Bills in the run game when it comes to ball security?
MP: I think ball-security wise, a lot of people like to talk about [LeSean] McCoy and the ball being loose from his body and away from his body. I think those are rare occasions when you see guys actually get the ball off of him. He's extremely quick, he's extremely fast, and I think he really does a great job of kind of tucking that ball back up into that chest area so that it's not hanging out there when defenders are around him. He's a very experienced, very smart running back from that accord, so I think first and foremost, if you get mesmerized with that, you're going to miss a lot of tackles on this guy because he is extremely quick and extremely fast. Our first and foremost priority is just trying to tackle him and the quarterback, or whoever's got the ball. They have a lot of great catch-and-run players just in general, even at the wide receiver position. For us, the emphasis is just going to be making sure we have good, secure tackles. That's really where our focus is.
[wysifield-embeddedaudio|eid="475261"|type="embeddedaudio"|view_mode="full"]OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR JOSH MCDANIELS
Q: How have you been able to handle the challenges and adversities facing the offense over the past few weeks and has there been a rewarding element to them as well?
JM: I think the process we've gone through is really the same. I know the variables change, but I don't think anybody here ever considers anything adversity. We just look at it the way we look at it every week, which is we've got to take the guys that we get to play with based on health and other factors, and then we consider the defense that we're getting ready to play against, and the great players and the scheme that they use, and then we try to formulate the right plan to allow our players to go out there and play fast, play well, and do the things that suit their talents the best. I don't think that our mindset has changed. Some of the variables have changed from one week to the next, which is always the case, and of course, when you get a group of guys a plan and then you work so hard to get ready for Sunday or Thursday night and go out there and watch them play and execute and take care of the ball and do the things you need to do to try to win, and then they enjoy it so much, that's really the thing that you take the most satisfaction from as a coach.
Q: Can you use the uncertainty to your advantage as opposing teams are uncertain, too?
JM: I think there's always an element of the unknown when you're dealing with a player or something you haven't seen or scouted as much. I would say that's applicable most weeks during the season when we talk about the people who are active for the game on the other team, and I would imagine that would be the same for a team that's getting prepared to play us. I don't know if there's an advantage there, it's just that you don't have as much information on a player or on some scheme that they may use, which then forces you to figure some things out as the game goes along and do some quick self-scouting as you move through the first-quarter, the first-half, whatever it is, just to make sure that if it is something new you haven't seen before, if it is a player that you haven't played against and don't have a lot of volume of tape on, that you have an opportunity to evaluate quickly what is going on, what's happening in the game, how much of an impact is that player having, or are they trying to do something that's disrupting what you're trying to do with their scheme. I think that happens a lot of weeks during the course of the year based on health and availability, new players, guys being called up, someone that just got signed and you don't really have a lot of experience watching them play in their system. I would say that's a common occurrence for us.
Q: What goes in to making your running attack as diverse as it's been in the first three weeks?
JM: I think each week as a group, our staff does a nice job of evaluating where we might have an opportunity, whether it be in the running game, pass protection, pass game, concepts, whatever it is, and trying to put together the best plan we can that matches up against the other team's players and their scheme and then we'll go out there and work hard to try to do it. I'm not sure that it's a bunch of different things. I think the most important thing for us is that our players go out there, we have good players, and they execute together well and work together well. That's what gets us success in any aspect of the offense. I think, certainly, we've tried to stay out of long yardage situations, we've try to do some things in the running game to keep us in good situations on third down, and we've created some big plays in the running game so far this year. All of that, we can draw up whatever we want, but ultimately, the players are the ones that make it go and they deserve the credit for that.
Q: How much of that is dictated by your quarterback or your player personnel situation and how much is what you're seeing from the opponent on the other side of the ball?
JM: I would say what we try to do each week is a combination of a lot of different variables. Ultimately, our responsibility is to give ourselves a chance to be successful on each snap and each possession, so there are a lot of things that go into that. It's not just one thing or the other. Certainly, there are defensive looks you don't want to do things against. There are some looks that you do want to do things against, but it's not always a perfect call on each snap. Sometimes, there are things that you call and just let it go, and other times you want to change it. There are a lot of different variables that go into that. A lot of things you want to consider when you're putting together a specific game plan or a specific play for that matter. Ultimately, it comes down to, 'Did we allow our players an opportunity to go out there and play fast, be aggressive and work together to try to get good results?'
Q: What are your thoughts on the resilience of LeGarrette Blount in being able to bounce back and have another big game Thursday night in such a short time following the Miami game?
JM: Yeah, LG [LeGarrette Blount], he's had a number of games in his career here with us that he's really done a nice job of carrying the ball a few times and to be able to do that four days apart, that's always a tougher issue when you carry it a lot, and then come back and do it in the same week, four days apart, that's not easy to do. He does a good job of taking care of his body and trying to get himself ready to go each week, learn the game plan and get ready to go when his number is called. He's been in there a lot this year; he's carried the ball, he's pass protected, he's been involved in the passing game a little bit, so he does a lot of different things. Some show up in the stat sheets, some don't, but we've certainly counted on him a lot and he came through for us again on Thursday night.
Q: What is it that allowed Jacoby Brissett to execute some of the plays Thursday night that you guys only had a chance to walk through and not really practice at full speed?
JM: Jacoby has worked hard from the minute that we got him here. He prepares to get himself ready to practice and play each day. He works early in the morning, late at night. He puts an awful lot of time and effort into his preparation to be ready to go when he is called on. So, last week he was no different. He spent a lot of time getting used to the defense that we were talking about playing and some of the looks that they presented, some of the issues that were there and present. [He] really digested the game plan, studied very hard during the course of the week to learn his responsibilities and the things that we needed him to do and what we were asking him to be able to get done on Thursday night. He was able to, like I said, take those three days of preparation and really maximize that time to get himself ready to go and then went out there and tried to do the best job he could under the circumstances. There are plenty of things we can improve on with all of our players and Jacoby is no different. We've got some things that we learned the other night that we'll try to get better at and improve. But I thought his preparation and the time that he put into it and his effort during the course of the week really helped us on Thursday night.
Q: Is he a little bit beyond his years at all with his ability to sell some of those play-fakes?
JM: I don't know where he ranks in terms of beyond his years and all of that stuff. I think we work hard with all of our quarterbacks with ball handling, and whether that's the actual giving the ball to the halfback, the play-fakes ad the play-action passing game. In some guys they maybe come to us with a little more of a background in it than others, but I think we've got three guys that worked extremely hard during the course of the offseason and training camp at trying to improve in that area of their quarterback play. It's an important area whether you're running it, handing it off, faking it, whatever the concept might be, I think it's an important and underrated portion of quarterback play. I think our guys have worked extremely hard to try and improve at it and hopefully we can continue to do well in that area.
Q: What have you seen from Malcolm Mitchell thus far both on and off the field?
JM: Malcolm works really hard. He's a good kid. He cares about football. He wants to learn. He has really tried to follow the lead of some of the veteran players that we have in his room. He comes in, learns the game plan, learns what his responsibilities are and is ready to go, takes care of his body, studies hard. He's trying to really emulate some of the guys that he sees on a daily basis and goes out there and practices hard and tries to improve at his craft each day. I think we try to give all of the guys that have earned the right to get in there and play an opportunity to do that and Malcolm so far has done that. He has made the most of some of his opportunities that he has had here in the first three weeks.
Q: Is his ability to make some yards after the catch a trait that you noticed coming out of Georgia?
JM: Yeah, he certainly did that in college and he has had a few opportunities to do that so far. He's an aggressive kid when he gets the ball in his hands and that's turned into some yards after the catch for us so far. So, [we] definitely have seen that before and hopefully we'll continue to see that from him.
Q: What are the qualities or intangibles that your players need in order to be able to adjust to a new game plan from week to week and to be able to execute that plan out on the field despite little time practicing it?
JM: I think the most important part of us planning is that we have good players and that they work hard to learn whatever it is that we ask of them. We've got a group that's unselfish that cares a lot about winning, and trying to play the right way, and do the little things well and work hard during the course of the week to put their best performance out there on game day. When you get a room full of guys like that it's a fun environment to be a part of. It's a really good group to coach and you feel good about going in there because you know they're going to give you their best effort to learn what it is you're asking them to do each week and then go out there and play as hard as you possibly can to perform their best so that the team can have success. There's a lot of little things I'd say, but their passion for football, their intelligence, their work ethic and their team first attitude are really critical for us and I feel like we have a room full of those guys and they make coaching here a process that you enjoy each day. There's no question about it.
Q: How much of that is a byproduct of some of the leaders in the offensive room from early in Bill Belichick's tenure and of course someone like Tom Brady that has been a constant in that room all along?
JM: Yeah, I think that's always good when your leaders demonstrate a team-first approach and a great work ethic, unselfishness, and I think we've got a lot of guys that would fall into that category. They come to work, they don't much care about the credit, they just try to focus on what they can do to help us be the best we can be this week. Worry about one week at a time, one day at a time, and I think the guys have seen from guys that have been here before and now we have guys that are leading the same way or similarly. I think it's a great example to set for some younger players as they come in and start to learn how we try to have success here. It certainly doesn't ensure us anything, but when you come in and you have an unselfishness about you and you're worried more about how you can focus on your job and take care of your responsibility and just for the betterment of the team – that really says a lot to a lot of people. The more guys that you have in your room that are like that then the better the atmosphere is. I think we have a really good group to work with and our leaders are doing a nice job this year.