Each Wednesday Bill Belichick approaches his press conference virtually the same way. He discusses in detail the merits of his team's upcoming opponent, referencing as many outstanding areas as he squeeze into his opening thoughts.
One would think that task would become a tad more difficult this week with New England scheduled to head to the West Coast to take on the 1-8 San Francisco 49ers, who are currently mired in an eight-game losing streak.
Not so for Belichick, whose task was made easier due to the presence of Niners coach Chip Kelly, the same Chip Kelly who led the Eagles to town a year ago and authored an upset over the heavily favored Patriots.
Belichick had that in mind when asked about the thin line between winning and losing in the NFL.
"I think they're getting better. You see them getting better every week. The last two weeks they've created a lot of explosive plays on offense, more than they have," Belichick said. "Of course they've had some issues with their run defense but last week they went down to Arizona and shut down David Johnson to, whatever it is, under 3 yards-per-carry. He had 55 yards. I thought they tackled well. I'm sure getting [Glen] Dorsey and [Mike] Purcell back helped as well, but that was a very competitive game in Arizona, the same kind of game we played with the Cardinals right down to the last possession.
"I know a lot of people were talking about the same thing last year when the Eagles had lost a couple of games by four touchdowns and coming in here with a poor record and then they come in here and hammered us. So I don't really put too much credence into that. The way they played last week against Arizona is very indicative of their talent level and their ability to do things right against a good team."
The Niners were the main topic of conversation on Wednesday but the coach delved into other areas as well.
Gronk's status – Rob Gronkowski is dealing with some sort of chest injury, depending on which of the various reports is aurrate. Belichick was asked about the tight end's toughness and then some follow-ups regarding his All-Pro and it led to this brief exchange.
In his seven years with you now, what have you learned about Rob Gronkowski's toughness both mentally and physically?
"It's good; very good."
If Rob Gronkowski is not available this week how much does the past experience of not having him available help your team?
"Yeah, I don't know."
What have you learned about working with Martellus Bennett now that he has been in your program on a day-to-day basis?
"Yeah, he's been good to work with. It goes all the way back to training camp. We talked about the same thing in training camp. He's a smart guy, has a good set of skills, he works hard."
Time for Lewis? – Belichick was asked if he planned to give more work to Dion Lewis in practice this week in order to determine whether he's ready to go against the Niners, but the coach didn't really get into any specifics with the running back.
"I think any time a player is coming back from missing a significant amount of time, there's a certain buildup process. Sometimes that accelerates, sometimes it doesn't, sometimes it just stays on a straight line course. It's hard to predict how that's going to go. Training is an important part and component of being ready to play football, but playing football is playing football. Especially at this time of year where you're halfway through the season and teams have quite a bit of scheme in, both us and our opponents. What's the right time – it's a little bit of a feel situation. But to answer, your question, we just keep going. We'll see."
Running concerns – Back to San Francisco, there were a lot of questions about the insertion of Colin Kaepernick at quarterback and his impact on the Niners offense. Considering the constant references to Kelly and the Eagles, a question pointed toward the differences for Kelly's offense with Kaepernick at the helm as opposed to Sam Braford last year in Philadelphia.
"I think one of the big differences for us in the running game is just the quarterback. That really wasn't a big factor in the game last year. They still ran the ball with a lot of success against us in multiple formations or multiple types of runs, and then you add that to, now a quarterback, which gives you another dimension in the running game. We're going to have to do a better job on what we saw last year, but in addition to that, defend the quarterback runs as well, or the quarterback keeps or bootlegs. They bootlegged with Bradford some, but not as much as they do with Colin. The whole dynamic that the quarterback brings to the offense is definitely another dimension. It's going to be challenging for us."