Wednesday is official turn-the-page day in the NFL and Bill Belichick did exactly that in his press conference. The Carolina Panthers come to town Sunday and bring a struggling offense led by Cam Newton, who appears to be having a difficult time dealing with life as a pocket passer rather than running around.
But Belichick didn't quite see it that way,
"I think when you're talking about mobile quarterbacks, guys that are tough to handle, tackle, can throw, run, make good decision – I mean, I would put Newton at the top of the list," Belichick said. "I would say, of all the guys we play or have played recently in the last couple of years he's the hardest guy to deal with. He makes good decisions, he can run, he's strong, he's hard to tackle. He can do a lot of different things, beat you in a lot of different ways. We saw that in the game down there in '13, so I would put him at the top of the list.
"Not saying the other guys aren't a problem, because they are, but he's public enemy No. 1."
Newton has struggling trying to remain in the pocket coming off shoulder surgery, and the Panthers offense hasn't exactly lit up the scoreboard as a result. Carolina squeaked past Buffalo, 9-3, in Week 2 before dropping a 34-13 decision to the lowly Saints last week.
Still, Belichick is impressed with what he sees.
"Carolina is really an impressive team. I have a lot of respect for this organization. I have a lot of respect for Coach [Ron] Rivera and the job that he's done there through the years," Belichick said. "They have been remarkably consistent – consistently good at doing so many things – and that's kind of where we are this year. They have a lot of good players. They have a good blend of youth and experience. They're very sound fundamentally. They make you earn everything. They're a tough, physical team – run the ball, stop the run, play defense, play tough in the kicking game, block kicks."
Belichick touched on some of the elements of the Panthers that are worth watching.
Backup plan –The Panthers have featured running backs Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel in the passing game, particularly the rookie first-round pick McCaffrey.
"I think that's part of their game is the plays that get the ball to those type of guys in space," Belichick said. "I think they've always used those, but maybe a little bit more now with a guy like McCaffrey. They just put McCaffrey into the equation somewhere, and you just have to deal with him as part of that, but I think those are all things that are kind of within their wheelhouse. McCaffrey's added that. It's a dimension that is giving them some explosive plays."
Cool hand Luke –Belichick was asked about Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, one of the most versatile and respected players in the league. To no one's surprise, the coach was effusive in his praise.
"He is smart, very instinctive, reads plays very quickly," he began. "He's long – 6'3-and-a-half or whatever he is. Very fast, he's got good quickness, he can change directions in space, good tackler. It's hard to fool him. He doesn't take many false steps, so he's usually headed to where the ball's headed to right away.
"So, he beats a lot of blocks or gets to his area in coverage very quickly, sometimes before you do as a route runner or as a blocker. Look, he leads the interceptions, by far leads the lead in tackles in the last – wherever you want to start counting it from, even though he missed however many games it was last year, six games. I mean, his numbers and production are just off the charts. So, it's not just one thing. You get that kind of production by doing a lot of things well, and he does."
Short-yardage shortage –The Patriots offense has put plenty of points on the board but one area it has struggled in is short yardage. New England failed to convert a pair of fourth-and-ones in the opener and then went 0-for-2 on third-and-one in the fourth quarter against Houston.
Belichick explained that offensively you'd like to convert around 80 percent on those situations, and he admitted the team has fallen short in that area.
"We've got to obviously do a better job of coaching it and a better job of executing it and be better in that situation. That's a key situation. If you can't get a yard in this league, then that's going to eventually catch up to you.
"It's the coaches' job to put the players in the best situation that they can be in. So, if you put a guy in a bad situation, then it's hard for him to succeed. If you put him in a good situation, then you just have to execute the play. I think we need to do a better job, they need to do a better job. We've got to block better, we've got to run better, we've got to coach better. I don't think it's just one thing. We all need to improve on it. It's a key situation."