It seems like eons since the Patriots last took the field for a game but the memories of their Week 5 Thursday night win in Tampa remain. New England showed flashes of success running the ball for the first time this season, and Bill Belichick took some time to explain how there may be more coming soon.
Belichick was asked about Mike Gillislee during his Friday press conference as he and his team are putting the finishing touches on preparations for Sunday's trip to the Meadowlands to take on the Jets. The coach that while Gillislee has yet to enjoy a break out performance for his new team, he may be close to doing just that.
"In the opportunities that he's had to carry the ball he has been very productive with it," Belichick said. "I like having Mike. There are a lot of things that he does well for us.
"Mike has certainly given us a lot of tough yards. He's an explosive player. He hasn't really hit them yet but I don't think there's any doubt that those are going to happen. He's been close a few times so hopefully he'll start this week."
Belichick spoke about the backfield depth and explained that all of the runners have contributed in their early going.
"I don't know that we've been able to get to all of them with any of our backs to be honest with you because they've all been productive and we've utilized really all four of them – not counting Brandon [Bolden] – Rex [Burkhead] when he played earlier in the year, and then Dion [Lewis], Mike and of course James [White]," he added. "We really like having any of those guys on the field. They've all been productive and we have a lot of confidence in all of them. They've all been good with ball security. It's been a very productive group."
The Patriots may need to lean more heavily on the ground game on Sunday with Tom Brady on the injury report with a sore left shoulder. It would not be inconceivable to see Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels try to keep it on the ground a bit more often, not only to protect Brady but also due to the fact that the Jets run defense has been one of the worst in the league.
Despite the porous run defense, Belichick doesn't expect the Jets to make life easy for his team. The possibility of having Rex Burkhead back in the mix, as well as New York's competitiveness were among the highlights from Friday's briefing
Rex n effects –The Patriots have been minus the services or Burkhead for the last three games but the running back has been back at practice for an extended period at this point and it appears as if he could be in the lineup on Sunday. The question is, what will his potential role be?
"As a coach I can't control a player's performance. That's up to him," Belichick began. "So we put the players out there and let them compete and let them play and try to play the ones that earn the playing time, earn the opportunities, so that's up to each individual player to do. Sometimes circumstances enhance or can restrict those opportunities, but the most important thing is taking advantage of them.
"So, when Rex's come, how he does with them and how it goes will affect how many more are coming after that. It depends on where some of the other players are and how they're doing and how he's doing. Look, this is a production business. The more production you have the more opportunity you get. The less production you have the more somebody else is going to get those opportunities. It doesn't matter what positon you play, coach or anything else. We all know that's what it is."
Fantasy land –There was a common thought heading into the season that suggested the Jets were positioning themselves for one of the top picks in the draft in order to acquire a quarterback. With veteran journeyman Josh McCownscheduled to take the reins, and mainstays like Sheldon Richardson sold off prior to the season, some felt the Jets were tanking.
Belichick is not one of them, and he made that clear on Friday.
"They've played good for 60 minutes. They play hard. I mean, whoever is saying that I don't know what games they are watching. Maybe it's fantasy football or some garbage. I don't know. I don't know how you can watch that team play and not think they're one of the most competitive teams we've played."
Belichick offered several examples of the Jets outworking their opponents, and in some cases that effort making the difference between winning and losing.
"You look at the play in the Miami game. That's a great example right there where McCown goes back to pass, [Cameron] Wake kind of flushes him up in the pocket. [Ndamukong] Suh hits him as he's throwing the ball. The ball goes sideways off to the right. Is it a fumble? Is it an incomplete pass? Miami's got one guy running to the ball. The Jets have four guys running to the ball and, ultimately, McCown ends up recovering a fumble 25 yards off to the side of the play and they got four guys right there. He came up with it but it could have been one of the other three guys, too. Miami's got one guy there. I think that's a good example of their competitiveness as a team.
"Last week against Cleveland they're out of field goal range with six seconds. They run an out-of-bounds play, kick a 57-yard field goal, win by three. Exchange punts against Jacksonville in overtime with two minutes to go, get a punt return, kick a field goal and win in overtime. I mean, the other team has as good a chance at winning as they did. I'd say they outcompeted them, out-executed them, outperformed them in critical situations."
Nickels and dimes –Duron Harmon has been a big part of the Patriots secondary this season with his playing time on the rise. Belichick explained some of the factors that have gone into those decisions.
"He's been playing over 50 percent for us. We're one of the highest nickel teams in the league statistically. We see a lot of 11-personnel. We see a lot in the 12-personnel. A lot of times the second tight end is more of a pass-catching tight end, so we've played a lot of nickel against that.
"I know last week with Patrick [Chung] playing kind of the nickel position and then we were really in a three safety nickel, if you will, most of the time instead of splitting that between three safeties and three corners, like we have with [Eric] Rowe earlier in the year and Jonathan Jones at other times. Some of that is game planning. Some of it is situational. Some of it is injury related.
"Whether he's 60 percent or 80 percent, whatever it is, 70 percent, whatever it ends up being – look, we want him on the field. He does a good job for us. Some of it is situation or personnel related but he's going to be out there a pretty good amount one way or the other."