Championship Wednesday, as it has come to be known in Foxborough, may not be taking place in Gillette Stadium this year but the Patriots are still very much a part of it. Bill Belichick doesn’t always express a great deal of enthusiasm during his press conference, but the Wednesdays leading into the conference championship games in which the Patriots are playing are exception.
That was the case again this week.
“It’s always an honor to play in this game and compete for an AFC Championship,” Belichick began in his opening remarks. “I’m really proud of what our staff and team have done to get to this point. Obviously, it’s a very strenuous competition. So, to be here and to be one of the final four teams playing this weekend is a great privilege. We embrace it and we’re willing to jump in here with our best competitive effort, week of preparation and be ready to go against a great football team.”
As for one of the biggest topics of the week – the weather – Belichick wasn’t ready to display as much excitement. Temperatures are projected to hover in the single digits at Arrowhead Stadium, but the coach wasn’t willing to talk about it.
“We’re going to get ready for the Chiefs. Whatever it is, it is,” he began. “Love to play in a championship game. Schedule it wherever you want. We’ll be there.”
Will harsh weather impact the play calling or the passing game in particular?
“I don’t know. It’s Wednesday. We’ll see what happens Sunday night. Right now, we’re getting ready for the Chiefs,” he said.
And with that, attention turned to the Chiefs and Sunday’s AFC Championship Game. Here are some highlights from Wednesday’s press conference.
Mr. Jones – The Chiefs defense has been much-maligned all season but one area where Kansas City is as good as anyone is up front. The pass rush tied for the league lead with 52 sacks, and interesting it was Chris Jones, an interior player, who led the way with 15.5 of those.
Belichick was asked about Jones’ disruptive nature and his ability to bat down passes at the line in particular.
“We deal with that every week. That’s always an issue,” Belichick said. “There are guys in front of the quarterback when he throws the ball, so it’s a combination of a lot of things – what the route is, the protection that goes with the route and the location of the defenders when the quarterback releases the ball. So, I’d say they’re all different on every single play.
“The quarterback’s got to do the best he can to work around whatever the obstacles are, if there are any, and the receivers have to position themselves in locations where we’re able to get the ball to them cleanly. So, we’ll need good team execution on that. But, he’s definitely a problem. I mean, he’s a problem as a rusher and he’s a disruptive player in terms of batting down balls or affecting the throwing lanes, even if the ball’s not batted down. If the quarterback and the receiver have to make adjustments, then that’s a degree of disruption.”
Pick your poison – Belichick and the Patriots have often gone into games with the idea of taking away the opponent’s top option and forcing them to succeed with lesser players. The problem with the theory against Kansas City is the Chiefs have multiple, elite weapons. In the two most recent meeting, Travis Kelce has been held in check but Tyreek Hill has blistered the Patriots secondary to the tune of 14 receptions for 275 yards and four touchdowns.
Belichick was asked about the challenge of determining which weapons to prioritize against the potent Chiefs attack.
“That’s what it comes down to – figuring that out, trying to balance it, between rush and coverage and how you want to cover, and there’s plenty of other good players out there, too,” Belichick said. “So, you just have to decide how you want to handle it. [Chris] Conley, [Sammy] Watkins – you know, you don’t want to be light on those guys, either.
“So, they have a great offense, they have a great set of players, and again, Andy [Reid] does a great job of putting the defense in compromising positions where you have to make choices, and the quarterback makes choices based on that. They’re hard to stop. That’s why they lead the league in points, lead the league in yards, lead the league in scoring, lead the league in everything. They’re really good.”
Running with the changes –The Chiefs were forced to switch from Kareem Hunt to Damian Williams in the backfield after Hunt was released following the release of a video showing him in a physical altercation with a woman.
Williams played exceptionally well against Indianapolis, racking up 129 yards on the ground while continuing to be an effective outlet in the passing game out of the backfield. Belichick talked about the differences in the offense between the two.
“They have a very I’d say extensive passing game,” he said. “They do a lot of different things with their passing game so that includes the backs and the tight ends and the receivers. They utilize all of their personnel in a lot of different ways and multiple players in the same spots as well.
“The backs are definitely a problem in the passing game. Andy and Patrick [Mahomes] do a real good job of utilizing them, as they always have and they’re a problem to cover. They’re a problem to tackle and schematically they give you issues too. We’ll have to deal with all of it.”