The Patriots have been going at it for 14 straight weeks dating back to the preseason and will finally get to enjoy a week of rest as the bye has arrived. Even though the team didn't play well in the final game before the break, having its six-game winning streak snapped in Tennessee, the rest will be welcomed by just about the entire roster.
With that in mind, Bill Belichick was asked several questions about the timing of the bye, what can be accomplished during the break and how it might affect the team's overall conditioning level.
"We have six games left," Belichick began. "We have over half the season of opportunity to evaluate the things that we're doing and what we can do better, maybe what we need to do more, need to do less of and how to improve some things and all that. So, it's quite a bit of information.
"We just need to try to get things just in general, what would be the things that would help us the most in the last six games. And then specifically looking at our next opponent, how does that apply to the Jets? But, it's a relatively short window – you know, a third of the season to go – and we have to really maximize our opportunity to perform at as high a level as we possibly can in those games."
Belichick also discussed the process of sifting through the information compiled over the first 10 weeks of action and determining how to prioritize which areas to focus on during the time off.
"I think there are a lot of things that are pretty obvious and very frequent, so those are the ones we'll address first," Belichick said. "There are some other things that have come up once or twice, and they can be important, too. We don't want to neglect those.
"But, things that are repeated multiple times in multiple games that it's clear that teams are trying to do things a certain way or not do things a certain way – again, I think those things are pretty evident, and we just need to make sure that everybody understands, including us coaches, what's happening, what tendencies are being broken consistently by our opponents and probably why they're doing it because of the certain thing that we do or perceived threat that we pose or however you want to look at it, and we just try to put all that together.
"I think it's always kind of interesting to look back at this point and see, kind of statistically some of the things that have happened or shown up. And, a lot of times when you look at it a little more carefully like this, the view is a little different than what you do from week to week."
Belichick was asked about some of the specific areas that he's focusing on in terms of self-evaluation, and those were among the highlights of Tuesday morning's conference call.
Under attack – Teams have been willing to blitz Tom Brady a bit more frequently, and with better results, that they have in the past – or at least that's how it seems. Pro Football Focus has Brady ranked last in passer rating against the blitz, but Belichick doesn't always put much stock in such numbers.
So, the coach was asked if he felt opponents were coming after Brady more so than they do other quarterbacks, and Belichick agreed.
"We've definitely noticed some of the things that we're getting on early downs, on third down, in the red area, in two-minute and long-yardage and short-yardage. There's definite trends that we've seen," Belichick said. "Some maybe a little bit unexpected based on what the team has done in the past and then they're doing things that they think they want to do against us. Maybe they haven't done them as much or not necessarily new plays, new coverages, but just might be a higher frequency of something that they maybe didn't do as much in that situation and now we're seeing more of it.
"And then the next week that trend continues and then the next week that trend continues again, so now you're seeing coordinators maybe either copying or getting ideas from previous games, or maybe it's talking to other coordinators who have played us to kind of get their sense. So, I'd say there's some elements of game planning against us that has been more consistent from game to game than it has been with the team – our opponent – and what they've done in their previous games."
Kicking themselves – The Patriots have taken a great deal of pride in their work on special teams under Belichick's direction. In general, the team has been among the best in the league covering kicks, but that has not been the case thus far in 2018.
Despite repeated attempts to have Stephen Gostkowski kick it short of the end zone in an effort to create bad field position, the Patriots have been unable to consistently pin opponents inside their 25 and have paid the price. Belichick was asked if the rules changes regarding alignment on kickoffs have played a role in the struggles.
"I think the rules have had some – they're relevant and they've eliminated some things that you can do on the kickoff team that we've done in the past," he said. "I think we've had our moments. At times, we've covered well, but as you point out, we haven't and have probably had more breakdowns in that area than what we are used to having in previous years.
"It's definitely an issue. It's an area that we've got to continue to work in. I don't think it's a rule thing as much as we've got to coach it better. We've got to play better. The whole operation has to be better. We have six weeks to get it to a high level and hopefully we'll be able to do that."