The Patriots are putting the finishing touches on their preparations for Sunday's AFC East matchup against Miami, and Bill Belichick certainly sounded like a guy who's been impressed with the Dolphins 3-0 start during his Friday morning press conference.
Belichick talked about a Dolphins offense that has been dynamic in the early going, and explained some of the specific challenges Miami presents with its penchant for big plays. Belichick was asked if discipline on defense was the key to eliminating the breakdowns that lead to those explosive plays.
"Exactly. Well put. I should bring you in the room to talk to the defense about it," he said. "You can't just stop one guy. They attack you at all different points, horizontally and vertically and so if you're deep, you have to be deep, if you're outside, you have to be outside, if you're inside, you have to be inside.
"As soon as you put too many players in one spot they go somewhere else. That's where the 50-, 60-, 80-yarders come from. Discipline, tackling, leverage … those are all critical."
Further adding to the challenge of containing Miami's big plays is the diversity in which they have come. Rather than focusing on one player, as was the case when Jarvis Landry was the Dolphins main option, the Dolphins already have three players with touchdowns of 52 yards or more in just three games (plus a 102-yard kickoff return).
"Like any good passing team, it's whoever's open," Belichick said of Miami's new-look attack. "They do a good job of putting pressure on you, getting the ball to the open guy. They're all dangerous – the backs, the tight ends, the receivers. Coach [Adam] Gase does a good job with the scheme. The quarterback does a good job reading it. You have to stop all of them. You can't just stop one guy."
The guy running the show is Ryan Tannehill, who is back healthy after missing last season with a torn ACL. Belichick spoke highly of both Gase and Tannehill, and those thoughts were among the highlights of Friday's press conference.
Worthy contenders? – Gase and Tannehill have been together for 16 games during the coach's two-plus seasons as Miami's coach, and the Dolphins are 11-5 in those games. The problem has been keeping Tannehill healthy, which now is the case.
Belichick said Gase is challenging to prepare for because of his ability to game plan while Tannehill's athleticism and running ability presents problems as well.
"Adam's a good coach, he does an excellent job," Belichick began. "His teams have always played well offensively. He does an excellent job of game planning. His teams play well fundamentally. He's a good coach, there's no question about that.
"[Tannehill] is a good player. Obviously players get better with experience. He does everything well. He makes good decisions, gets the ball to his skill players and makes key plays in close games to help them win. That's the bottom line: get your team to the winners circle. That's what he does a lot of and that's certainly what it's about."
As for Tannehill's running ability, Belichick explained it's not just about conventional scrambling.
"He's good at it, not just getting out of the pocket but they use him on quarterback running plays, read zone plays and things like that, bootlegs, moving pocket plays … all of the above," he said. "If you don't contain him, he can get out and run. If you do contain him he can hurt you passing. It's another weapon they have. Instead of covering five receivers it's really six."
Injury updates – The Patriots were forced to place two players on injured reserve earlier in the week as Rex Burkhead and Ja'Whaun Bentley went down. Both will have to sit out eight weeks but are eligible to return in Week 12 if they are healthy enough to do so. Not surprisingly, Belichick didn't offer much in the way of information regarding the team's plans.
"It's unfortunate for both players," he said.
Are they options to return?
Belichick had a similarly tight-lipped approach when asked about Josh Gordon.
"Josh is working hard on and off the field. He's done everything he can do."
Do you get a sense he will be ready to play mentally and physically on Sunday?
Possible replacements – With the losses of Bentley and Burkhead the Patriots are thin at linebacker and running back. One possible adjustment for the former spot is an increase in playing time for Nicholas Grigsby.
Grigsby was signed last November to add depth on defense and special teams and was a standout in the kicking game. His penchant for big hits was impossible to ignore last season, and after a full year in the program Belichick believes he could be in line for a bigger role.
"He's a lot further ahead because of his opportunity to start from scratch the beginning of the year with the offseason program, OTAs, training camp … as opposed to coming in last year in November," Belichick said. "He's had a better opportunity to learn the defense, get reps in it and play in the preseason. He's earned some playing time based on that."
The team also signed former Colts defensive end/linebacker John Simon.
"Based on our situation we thought that he was the best player available," he said. "He's played on defense, he's played in the kicking game and he's been in a couple of different systems. We'll see."