Bill Belichick is no stranger to the Super Bowl and all the attention that surrounds it. As he prepares for his 11th overall appearance and eighth as a head coach, Belichick opened his press conference on Wednesday asking how the media felt about continuing its work this late into the season.
"Feel good to be working this week?" he asked. "Or would you be working anyway?"
Belichick's feelings were much easier to predict, and he offered a quick thought before moving on to the Philadelphia Eagles.
"Well, it feels good for us to be working," he said as he focused on the Eagles.
"Obviously, a really good football team. I have a ton of respect for what they do, how they do it," Belichick said in his opening remarks.
"Coach [Doug] Pederson on offense, [defensive coordinator] Coach [Jim] Schwartz … they really have played well all year, have dealt with some things that really haven't gone their way injury-wise and had to make some adjustments. They've done a great job with that.
"They have a lot of explosive players. They can score on defense. They score a lot on offense. They're good in the kicking game, so they're really pretty good at everything, which is what you'd expect. That's why they're in this game. We've got a lot of work to do. Obviously, this isn't a team we know very well at all, and so we'll get the players in today and start grinding. I'm glad we have a little extra time on this game. I think we'll need it. They do a lot of things well and create a lot of problems. They've created them for everybody. That's kind of where we're at."
Belichick then touched on a number of topics, including Rob Gronkowski's status, the Eagles disruptive defensive front and dealing with backup quarterback Nick Foles instead of starter Carson Wentz.
Deeper dive –The Eagles defensive line, like Jacksonville's, is a strength of the team. Philly can generate pressure on the passer without blitzing and that was a big part of the team's success. However, unlike the Jags, Philadelphia uses more than just four players to get after the quarterback.
Belichick was asked what made the Eagles defensive line so unique and explained how the depth was a big concern.
"It's a lot more than four. I wish it was just four. Yeah, it's about eight, nine," Belichick said. "Again, it's a very disruptive group. They're hard to run against, hard to throw against. Again, they're well coached, very instinctive. Screens and plays like that that you think will take the edge off the pass rush don't look as good. When you run them they don't look as good as what you think they're going to look like – draws, screens, things like that, play action. A lot of times they blow those plays up, too.
"They do a good job. They've got a lot of good players. They have good inside rushers. They have good outside rushers. I mean, [Fletcher] Coxis as good as anybody in the league at his position. He's a very disruptive player, hard to block, run, pass, no matter what it is. They have good edge rushers and they come hard every play. These guys really play hard. There's no plays off, so you're going to have to block them on every play. You can't get away from them. There's nowhere to go. You have to deal with that front down after down and they wear you down. It's a great group. That's a huge strength for their defense."
Backup plan –The Eagles have been forced to play with backup quarterback Nick Foles down the stretch and in the playoffs, yet still find themselves in the Super Bowl. Belichick mentioned the team's resilience on a couple of occasions, describing how the coaches did an excellent job of overcoming a number of injuries to keep the team on track.
But while several front line players went down, none was more crippling than Carson Wentz, who was lost to a torn ACL during the Eagles Week 14 victory over the Rams in Los Angeles. Belichick was asked about preparing for an Eagles team that he admitted he didn't have much background against and if that task involved watching both quarterbacks to get a feel for the team.
"The offense is the offense. I think certainly in Philadelphia's case they didn't change the offense when they changed quarterbacks, which you wouldn't expect them to," Belichick said. "But Foles is Foles and Wentz is Wentz, so you want to make sure that you are ready for the guy that's going to play, but certainly there are a lot of things offensively that are scheme-related and the other players haven't necessarily changed, so looking at other players besides the quarterback. They're productive in every game. They move the ball and score points in every game. There are great opportunities to study the team in those games, too, so both."
Gronk update … sort of –Finally, the status of Rob Gronkowski is a topic of conversation after the tight end was knocked out of the AFC title game with a concussion. A reporter tried to press Belichick on Gronk's potential availability for the Super Bowl, and it predictably did not go well.
Q: Can you give us an update on Rob Gronkowski? Has he finished his time in the concussion protocol and you expect him to play?
BB: Yeah, we'll be compliant with the NFL injury report. When that's required, we'll put it on there.
Q: When is that process completed or finished?
BB: Whatever his situation is, whatever his status is, we'll put it on the injury report. We'll make sure you're the first one to get it.
Q: I'm sure you will.
BB: Yeah, not a problem.
Q: Do you expect him to play?
BB: We'll put it right on the injury report and that's what we're going to do, just like everybody else does. We'll make sure you're first on the list, too. I don't want to hold anything back here. We'll get that out there right away. That's all we can do.