The Patriots travel to the Meadowlands on Sunday to take on the New York Jets in a surprising battle of first place teams (both tied with Buffalo at 3-2). Wednesdays are generally an opportunity to get caught up with the upcoming opponent and Bill Belichick plenty of his press conference discussing the Jets.
The overall competitiveness of the Jets was one theme Belichick continued to circle back to as the coach alluded to the fight the team has shown in the early part of what many felt would be a rebuilding year in New Jersey.
"You just see everybody playing very hard. You see all of the guys with the ball in their hands fighting and competing for an extra yard or two," Belichick said. "You see guys in the kicking game and defensively hustling to the ball, giving a lot of effort to get to the runner. Even though they're 30 or 40 yards away from the play they are running hard to get there.
"So I think they're playing with a lot of effort, a lot of extra effort. Linemen – guys hustling down field, making a block after a catch, things like that. They're playing with a high energy level and a lot of extra effort."
That has translated to three straight wins for Todd Bowles' team, and a chance to sit atop the standings in the AFC East heading into Week 7. The Jets are a hard-nosed team that relies on defense and the running game to get things done. The first part of that equation involves a talented defensive front, and Belichick agreed.
Creating problems – Leonard Williams is off to an atypically slow start for the Jets but remains a player who will have the full attention of the Patriots coaches. Belichick was asked how big a problem blocking Williams can be, and the coach believes he's one of the best the team will see this season.
"A big problem. He's got tremendous talent, long, athletic, plays on his feet well," Belichick said. "For a tall guy he doesn't get cut much. He's good against the running game, hard to block, both when he's on the move and at the point of attack. Passing game – he's got good quickness, good power, good length.
"As a team they bat a lot of balls. Kony [Ealy] has gotten a few. Leonard's a hard guy to throw over, too. [Mohammad] Wilkerson – I mean, those guys, they're big guys in the middle of the defense and it's tough for the quarterback to see over them, get the ball through them. But yeah, Williams is one of the best defensive linemen we see all year."
Another athletic QB – Veteran Josh McCown is at the controls of the Jets attack, and Belichick said he's been quite adept at extending plays. That's something that has caused problems for the Patriots defense this season, so containing him in the pocket should be a point of emphasis this week.
"Very athletic guy. You can see his ability to run, extend plays and get out of trouble," he said. "He's got quickness. He's got some speed. He plays on his feet well, has good feet in the pocket. But look, he's a tough guy. He's very smart. I don't know what happened in all of the situations that he was in. I just know what I see on film and from our interactions with him competitively.
"He's a good player. He's accurate. He gets the ball out quickly. He gets it to the open guy. If you make a mistake he is going to make you pay for it. You don't see him making a lot of mistakes. You see him throwing the ball accurately and you see him athletically getting out of some trouble. He manages the team well. He's good in close games at the end of the game, critical situations. I mean, there's a lot to like about the guy."
Running on empty –The Patriots ground game has been rather spotty this season with Mike Gillislee taking over as the lead back for the departed LeGarrette Blount. Gillislee has shown flashes and has been solid near the goal line, but his work in short-yardage situations has otherwise been subpar.
Belichick was asked about Gillislee performance so far this season.
"Mike's done a good job for us. He runs hard, he's gotten a lot of tough yards, he's been there every week," Belichick said. "I think he's done a good job. I mean, all of our backs, really – Rex [Burkhead] when he's played, Dion [Lewis], James [White]. Those guys have all been productive in different times, in different roles – some running, some catching, some both – but they've all been productive.
"We try to do what's best for the team and try to put everybody in the best position so the team can be successful. So, whatever that happens to be, knowing we have depth at that position, some guys are in certain groupings or in for certain plays.
"Everybody has to know everything because there's going to be times when you can't always get this guy in for that play or get this guy in for that situation. If you want to see a guy do a certain thing that he does well, then you try to put him in position to do that, but, I mean, you can't just do one or two things. I mean, anybody could figure out what that is, but these guys all have enough versatility to run different types of runs, catch different types of passes, be in different formation alignments and so forth. But, we try to use them the best we can."