PATRIOTS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR JOSH MCDANIELS
Q: What have you seen in LeGarrette Blount's preparation that allows him to be so successful and even more productive in the second half of games?
JM: Well, LG [LeGarrette Blount], he prepares hard every week; practices hard and takes care of his body. He tries to do the things that are necessary to make sure that he continues to feel good as the season progresses, like all good backs are going to have to do. The guys are getting tackled 15, 18, 20, 25 times a game. They take a lot of hits and it requires a lot of time and effort to make sure that you're ready to go each week. He certainly has done his job when we've asked him to do that. He helped us the other day in terms of - he caught a pass or two. He's protected the quarterback, and then obviously, he's run the football. He continues to do what we ask him to do and he always prepares hard and is ready to go each week. We're going to need another good week of preparation from him along with the rest of our guys on our team.
Q: What goes into how you guys coordinate the run game as it seemed to really settle things down in the third quarter on Sunday?
JM: Certainly, there are a lot of people involved in any successful portion of your offense, and in particular, the running game. Everybody needs to do their part in order to make it go. Our receivers do a good job of blocking and getting in there and trying to take care of the guy that they're responsible for. Our tight ends are certainly heavily involved in what we do. We have a fullback that is tough and does a lot of dirty work for us in James Develin and then our offensive line certainly plays a huge role in our success and everything we do, whether it's pass protection or the running game, in terms of giving the back an opportunity to get started. Then the runner has got to do a good job of reading what they're supposed to read on each play, and then try to take the ball where it's supposed to go. It's a collective effort with the group that's out there playing. It's also a collective effort in terms of our planning and preparation. Dante [Scarnecchia], Ivan [Fears] and Brian [Daboll] do a tremendous job of studying that each week and presenting ideas and thoughts that we kind of build off of, and then create the running game menu from it, and then try to be as balanced as we can as much as possible. There's always a lot of things you can choose form, but ultimately you've got to try to narrow it down to what we feel like is best for each week, and those guys do a tremendous job of that. We just try to pick the things that we need to pick each week to make sure that we have a successful day on Sunday.
Q: What are your observations on Joe Thuney and what you've seen from him up to this point in the season?
JM: Joe [Thuney] has done a nice job of trying to acclimate himself as a young player to his preparation. He's here a lot in the building, he studies hard, he asks a lot of good questions, he's prepared and ready to go for practice each day and at the same time, as all rookies do, they continue to learn from the things they see on a week-to-week basis that maybe they haven't seen a lot of. We have a lot of guys, a lot of young players that use each experience, each day of practice, each game as a tool to try to improve their game and get better. I think Joe works hard at that. Certainly, he's had a great opportunity. He's been in there most of the year and has really tried to take advantage of that. I like his play style, his attitude, his demeanor; he's a great teammate, a guy that plays hard and plays the scheme the right way. We'll continue to try to build on we've done with all of our young players and hopefully we can play our best football towards the end of the season with each one of those guys.
Q: Is there anything more to your comment in saying that Joe Thuney asks a lot of good questions? Are his questions more advanced for a guy that has only been in the league for a couple of months?
JM: Yeah, no nothing - we have a lot of guys that ask a lot of good questions. We're fortunate to have a great group of guys that care about doing everything the right way. They study hard and they want to know all the answers that they can prior to going out there and playing so that they can play their best, and I think Joe is one of those guys that we have that does that.
Q: Given the increase in fumbles over the past few weeks, is there any more emphasis on ball security or what you might be doing to fix that?
JM: There's no question that our players and our coaches are emphasizing that. We know there is no greater determinant of success than taking care of the football on offense, that's for sure. Everybody would agree with that. We all understand how critical and important it is to our ability to win each week. There are a number of things, a number of different periods in practice that we set aside for that. The guys are working extremely hard at it and ultimately, it comes down to, we've got to do a good job of, in the moment, making sure that we cover the ball, protect it with both arms, with our breast plate, and make sure that the ball is tight, that there's no way that they can get it loose to begin with so that it doesn't end up on the ground. Definitely, something that we're looking to correct; definitely, something that we've done too much of. We understand the significance of it and we're going to do everything we can to work to correct that as we move on through the season.
*Q: Is it also a lack of awareness of surroundings at times that contributes to fumbling the football? *
JM: I think there are a lot of factors that are involved in the creation of a ball security issue. It could be somebody from behind or the side. It could be circumstantial in terms of a helmet hitting the ball and you just don't have it quite protected properly. It could be trying to make somebody miss and the ball gets away from your frame. There are a lot of different things that could trigger an issue with ball security. The most important thing for us is to try to focus on the things that we can control, which is understanding where we're at on the field and making sure that if we feel like we're going to get contact, that the ball is protected, and really running. Even in the open field when we feel like we're not going to take on contact at the moment, still to run with the ball protected because again, there are times in the game that you're going to get hit that you didn't necessarily know that the hit was coming. That could happen to the quarterback in the pocket, it could happen to a receiver after a catch, it could happen to a tight end in the same situation, or it could happen to a back on a number of different plays. If we're protecting it all times and we're taking care of securing it and we understand the importance of making sure that we don't give the defense an opportunity to take the ball away from us, that's where we can start. Like I said, hopefully we can begin to make sure that we don't put the ball out there and allow them the opportunity to take it away from us.
PATRIOTS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR MATT PATRICIA
Q: What did you see from LeSean McCoy in the first game and what adjustments do you think you have to make this time around?
MP: Obviously, an outstanding, outstanding running back. Someone that is extremely quick, fast and versatile. They're doing a good job of using him in a bunch of different runs and run packages. I would say overall with him this year [he's] much more of an inside threat in the run game. He's obviously always been an outside threat. He does a good job with the bounce-out runs or some of the scheme runs where they get him outside on the edge and he can use his speed. He does a real good job with the C-gap runs, which are a lot of the runs that Buffalo likes to run kind of in their core aspect of the run game. You know, get the ball off tackle and he can hit it really at that 45-degree angle and get quick into the secondary. What he's been able to do now, what he's done a real good job of is downhill runs. The downhill runs, I would say out of him now, are much more dangerous and really once he breaks, he's into the secondary or into the safeties a lot quicker. Now he has an opportunity to get open field, kind of uses his skill level in the open field to get guys to miss tackles or get an angle on a defender where he can run away or make him miss and then push it vertical. So you definitely see that recently in the last several weeks where he had some of those really explosive runs right through the middle of the line of scrimmage. So those are a little bit of a different kind of issue for us and we've got to make sure we can defend along with everything he can do on the perimeter and on the edge. They've got a real good scheme and they can get him out into space, get him over where he can just basically outrun the force. He does a good job of that; very talented guy, dangerous, dangerous runner. Obviously, [he] is carrying the work load there for them. [Mike] Gillislee is another guy that has done a great job in the run game for them. He's a big guy, he can come downhill and he does a good job with those scheme runs; very talented in the backfield.
Q: One of Rob Ninkovich's strong points has always been his ability to set the edge. What goes into that in particular and why is he so good at doing that?
MP: We talk about setting the edge from the outside linebacker position. Obviously, a lot of the fundamentals and the techniques that we teach - hand placement, pad level, being able to do a good job of recognizing the runs that come to the edge. There are different schemes or different players that can block the edge of the defense. It's not just one guy. If you have a nose guard for instance, the nose guard is going to have to deal with the center and the guards. He's pretty locked in to the players right in front of him. When you start to get out on the edge of the defense on the perimeter, there's a lot more people that obviously can come at you from different angles and attack you. So the recognition of the tight end, the tackle, the guard, the fullback, maybe a wide receiver coming in to crack [block] you or to cut you off on the back side. There are a lot of different factors that come into there. First of all, recognition. Having good vision. Being able to play with good fundamentals, pad level, technique, hand placement, power. A good combination of all of those skills is what you need on the edge along with the awareness to see what the plays are and recognize different schemes or the different protections in the passing game, all different things that can happen to you as an edge guy. Obviously, Rob [Ninkovich] has a lot of experience for us. He's been in the position for a while. Experience is a big factor in helping you kind of be able to recognize and decipher those types of plays and scenarios that come up. It's certainly something that he can go back on in his years of playing in our system and understanding of how we need to play those particular plays and fit it the way we need it to fit.
Q: Is there a common thread that has led to the better performance in the red zone defensively in the last two weeks? What has stood out to you?
MP: Obviously, our job it to keep them out of the end zone no matter what part of the field they're in. Certainly, the red area, everything happens a little bit quicker, gets a little tighter, the plays are a little more difficult to defend. When you get down there, the space of the field changes. It doesn't go from a vertical field; it goes to a horizontal field. We've got to do a good job of recognizing the things that teams do down in those areas of the field. A big part of the red zone is being familiar with the schemes that the offense runs against us. Communication from us from a defensive standpoint, we have to do a great job there. A lot of our fundamental techniques have to be at a high level and executed at a really good mark. I think for us, the red area is something we look at individually each week just trying to make sure that week we have a good plan to try to stop what they do. It's extremely hard to do in this league. There are some really good players, obviously, on the offensive side of the ball. You can get into some matchup situations there that you have to defend, get into some scheme situations you have to defend. Everything happens faster, it happens quicker, it happens tighter. For us as we go through the season we're trying to improve every week in a lot of the situational football areas of football on the field and the red area is certainly one that we have a lot of improving to do. We're going to try to build on everything we do each week, and that's something that hopefully we can get done and move forward doing. Certainly, it's a huge challenge for us, that part of the field, and our ability to do well down there is critical to the game. We've got to keep working on it. Something we've obviously got to put in a lot of time and a lot of effort. Buffalo [is] very, very good in the red area. [The Bills] have a lot of dynamic players on the offensive side of the ball, plus the big, physical, strong offensive line that they have. The ability to run the ball in the red area really puts a lot of stress on the defense. It's going to be a huge challenge for us this week and like I said, it's separate every week in the red area itself. One week to the next we're just trying to do our best to defend those teams in the red area. So this will be a big challenge for us again this week. They're an excellent red area team and certainly like we mentioned earlier, it's a critical part of the field to try to be able to defend and to obviously keep them out of the end zone.
Q: What are your thoughts on Malcolm Butler's ball skills?
MP: I think as any defensive coach, probably any coach on our side of the ball, you love to see all of our interceptions go up. Those are huge plays in the game and any time we can get the ball from [their] offense and give it back to our offense, that's the entire goal of what we're trying to do. I love the interceptions when we can get them. I'd like to have more of them. Definitely need to keep working on it and keep pushing to get more of them week in and week out and take advantage of the opportunities that we get. You know, there are plays in the game where we think we have a chance to get one and we don't. They're usually very difficult plays. In general the offense isn't trying to throw the ball to the defender. They're usually trying to go to their wide receiver or one of their skills players. So for us to make a play or to get an interception, we've got to be in good position, we've got to make a really good play and go up and fight for the ball and come down with it. Certainly, those are very difficult plays. We'd like to have as many as we can get and we've just got to take advantage of the opportunities we can get when they come up no matter what part of the field it is. Whether it's like in last week's situation going into the end zone, or if it's in the middle of the field or towards the perimeter, in either case, just our ability to come up with the ball and get turnovers is critical for us.
Q: What is it like to work with Alan Branch on and off the field? What improvements have you seen in his play since he arrived here?
MP: In general the defensive line, that group collectively, is a very hard-working group. Guys that have a tough job, very difficult job on our defense. Guys that have to really be disciplined and play with good technique and be able to be strong at the point of attack in the run game and knock guys back in transition and be able to handle the pass rush duties and the quarterback responsibilities. I'd say all of those guys do a great job of really working hard and studying and trying to improve. In regards to Alan [Branch] in general, just very much so professional, hard-working, a guy that really tries to improve each week. I think it's someone that's - he's trying to execute the way that we want him to out on the field. He's trying to do things the way that we want them done, which is very difficult. I think he's done a really good job of doing that for the most part. He's big, he's strong, he plays with good technique, he's able to knock guys back at times and hold the point of attack. [He] also has enough of the ability to transition in the pass rush and get some pressure and push the pocket. Just overall, a guy that we really rely on to go out and do a good job, whatever it is. It changes week by week. We ask him to do some different things for us like everybody on the defense. It's going to be different based on whatever we need to do that week to win. He does an excellent job of handling that responsibility and taking that challenge on and really trying to do the best he can to help the team win. I really appreciate that much from him.