Wednesdays are preview days in Foxborough and Bill Belichick usually spends most of his time discussing the merits of the upcoming opponents during his press conferences. This week was no exception.
Belichick extolled the virtues of the Jacksonville Jaguars as the Patriots prepare to take their first road trip of the regular season this weekend. Unlike some occasions in the past, Belichick did not have to exaggerate much to play up the young and talented Jags.
"Obviously we're playing a really good team this week," he said to open things. "This team has a lot of talent. They're very well-coached. They're a tough, physical team. This will be a big challenge for us down there on the road."
While Belichick spent time discussing all aspects of Jacksonville's personnel, it was the defense that drew his most significant praise.
"All of the numbers kind of speak for themselves," Belichick said. "They pretty much led the league in every category last year. They're all back and they're all good and they have a lot of depth. They had another return for a touchdown last week against the Giants. It's a very disruptive group. We've got to do a good job of taking care of the ball and try to create some positive plays."
The only thing possibly more impressive than the Jaguars talent is their swagger, and cornerback Jalen Ramsey has more than anyone. Ramsey has been outspoken throughout the offseason, and he directed some choice words at Rob Gronkowski by claiming he could be covered effectively by a No. 1 cornerback.
While it will be interesting to see if Jags coach Doug Marrone give Ramsey the opportunity to prove that on Sunday, it was even more fascinating to listen to Belichick when asked about the potential war of words.
"Well, look, we know when the game starts and we'll be ready to go. I'm sure they will, too," Belichick said in a rare acknowledgement of the off-field talk. "That's when we'll see what happens."
Too bad we have to wait four more days for kickoff. Until then, here are some other highlights from Belichick press conference.
New pieces – The Patriots added Corey Coleman, Bennie Fowler and Kenjon Barner to the roster this week and Belichick didn't have much to offer on the three newcomers. He was asked about the challenges that exist trying to get guys up to speed on the fly and offered some thoughts.
"It's definitely a game of catch-up. When players come in at the beginning, they're able to get a progression of installation and learn from the bottom up, build a foundation and work their way up," Belichick said. "Now it's more of a game plan situation so we don't have all of our plays in for this game. We would never do that. But the ones that we're running this week, those are the ones we'll focus on and we'll try to catch up on as much as we can but we have to prioritize what's going in for this game, what we need for this game, so we'll start with that first.
"It's a little bit of a backward way of doing it but it's the best way to prepare for a short window and try to catch up on all of the other things as much as we can – the terminology, all of the fundamental things, things that we're not going to be doing this week that are important, but we won't get to all of those this week but we'll try to catch up on those as soon as we can, but that's a challenge."
Blake Bortles facts – The much-maligned Jags quarterback is by no means among the most efficient passers in the league but he does provide an underrated element with his running ability. Bortles has the third best average per carry among quarterbacks in NFL history behind Michael Vick and Bobby Douglass. It's an element the Patriots defense will need to be aware of.
"He runs well. He's a big, strong kid. He's hard to bring down. He can extend plays, so just similar to the quarterbacks we've seen, really, the past three weeks, not counting the Giants game, but we've seen this three weeks in a row with players that have that type of skill and, yeah, he's definitely in that category," Belichick said.
"There's occasionally plays that, I would say, are designed for the quarterback but not many. A lot of his plays are either on some type of option decision based on what the defense does, or there are times where he'll just pull the ball down on a pass if the quarterback's not properly contained and he has an opportunity to run and gain easy yardage for a first down, or a touchdown, or scramble situation. He can do a lot of damage there.
Another challenge up front – The offensive line performed well against Houston but it won't get any easier against Jags. Belichick talked about the difficulty of stopping defensive end Yannick Ngakoue.
"He's a really good speed rusher that has more than speed, but he wins with speed and he makes you defend the speed and then he sets up other things off of that," Belichick said. "That's definitely his go-to move, is his get-off and his edge rush and his speed. But when you overplay that, he's quick enough to come underneath. He can turn speed into power and he can counter, so he's certainly got enough to be a problem in a lot of ways.
"His speed is hard to stop and his get-off, especially at home with the crowd noise, silent count and all that. He's good everywhere. I mean, we had trouble with him here in training camp and at home, but it's harder on a silent count and so forth."