It's a short week in Foxborough with the Patriots coming off their impressive Monday night victory over the Baltimore Ravens, but that didn't stop Bill Belichick from conducting his Wednesday press conference in similar fashion to every other week.
New England will travel to Denver to take on the Broncos Sunday afternoon and Belichick had nothing but praise for the defending Super Bowl champs despite the fact that they are fighting for their playoff lives.
"It's always impressive when you watch the Broncos play. As usual, they have a very good football team; well-coached. I think that Coach [Gary] Kubiak and his staff do an excellent job as they always do, offensively, defensively, special teams," Belichick began before tackling the offense and defense.
"Obviously, a lot of great players in all three phases of the game; very good defensively. This is a great defense, a lot of outstanding players at all three levels. They do a good job of taking the ball away. Turnovers – they've capitalized on those turnovers and turned them into more points than anybody else in the league, so ball security and decision making will be really important for us there.
"Offensively they always have a good game plan attack. Coach Kubiak does a good job of keeping the defense off-balance with his attack, running game, play-actions, drop backs, empty formations, things like that. They do a good job of creating mismatches on personnel. You really have to handle their good players but also mentally do a good job of being in the right place and having the assignments right."
Belichick didn't mention his team's struggles playing in the Mile High City, which will no doubt be a huge topic of conversation this week, but it sounds like the coach would expect a battle regardless of venue.
In addition to the Broncos, Belichick also discussed his team's newfound ability to move the ball on the ground and his stable of running backs that have gotten that job done. That is one major difference for the Patriots as they head to Denver looking to avenge a pair of defeats there from a year ago.
Backing it up – The Patriots have made a concerted effort to run the ball more frequently in 2016 and the results have been obvious. LeGarrette Blount is enjoying a career-year at the age of 30, with 1,028 yards and 14 touchdowns to his credit.
Belichick was asked about the mentality of having a physically tough running game and whether that started with the guys up front.
"They're a part of it, yeah, the line, the backs, the fullback, the tight end, the running back. Yeah, it's not always about pounding your head into a wall. Sometimes it's about creating plays in space, but finding ways to run the ball, get the ball to a good back with some space to work with and good backs can make yards on their own, so however you get to that, whether it's a power play, a toss play, a draw, it could be a lot of different things. Really you're just trying to get the ball in space to a guy that can do something with it.
"At some point you're going to have to run it when they know you're going to run it. You're going to have to throw it when they know you're going to throw it. You're going to have to defend the pass when you know they're going to throw it and you're going to have to defend the run when you know they're going to run it. You've got to be able to play in those situations once they declare. If you can't do it at that point then you're probably looking at not a good result."
Mr. Dependability – Blount has been the key to that running game as he's piled up a career high in carries and has been extremely consistent all season long. After talking about the team's improvement on the ground as it related to the offensive line, the coach was asked what stood out from Blount's work this season.
"I mean number one, ball security. Number two, durability. I'd say just in general his ability to get the yards that you need. A 2-yard run isn't a good run unless you need 1. A 4-yard run is not a good run unless you need 3. He's had some explosive plays in there, which always helps shorten the drive, when you can grab 15 yards, 18 yards, whatever it is. You don't necessarily think you're going to gain 15 yards when you hand the ball off. A good run is 4 or 5, maybe 6 yards. When you end up getting two or three times that, those are kind of bonus yards, if you will, that you're not really counting on. But if you run it enough hopefully you'll get a couple of those. I'd say his ability to make the yards that we need at the time that we need them."
Three of a kind – Switching gears slightly, the talk turned to the Patriots other backs and how their versatility can impact the opposing defense. Interestingly, Belichick offered up a distinction between what he referred to as a sub back in James White and Dion Lewis, who is of a traditional ball carrier.
The question asked how much operating while split out wide is an acquired skill for White.
"He's been very productive for us. I mean, we've had a lot of production out of that position from Kevin [Faulk]to Shane [Vereen] and then James the last two years taking over for Shane. So we've had a lot of production out of that position, the sub back, if you will, really since I've been here, so we've been very, very fortunate there.
Danny [Woodhead]was a little different, kind of more like Dion [Lewis], not really a sub back but could do some of those things. There was an element of it. But those guys, Kevin to Shane to James White, have been – that role has been pretty clearly defined for them and as I said, Danny and Dion have had some of that, but not quite the full position that the other three did. But that was [Dave] Meggett when I was here in 1996, and then we had him at the Giants. He was really in the sub back role that at times became a little more than that."