Bill Belichick always - always - has a message to send during his big Wednesday press conference at Gillette Stadium.
The message he sends to and through the media each week is often quite similar to the one he's given to his players as well.
This week, as the 3-1 Patriots prepare for the winless Browns while welcoming Tom Brady back from his four-game Deflategate suspension, Belichick's message is all about the former and nothing about the latter.
New England is coming off a frustrating shutout loss to, gasp, the Rex Ryan-led Bills.
So while Brady is indeed back, Belichick is simply worried about getting back to winning, complementary football Sunday afternoon in Cleveland. Something that TB12 can obviously help out with.
That message was obvious throughout the coach's morning press conference.
1. 7 Brady questions, one "Tom" mention: Belichick was asked seven questions specifically dealing with Brady's return or the team's situation with the franchise QB's suspension. Belichick acutely redirected the conversation back to general preparation and the Browns with basically every answer, only actually mentioning his future Hall of Fame passer by name once, when asked if Brady seemed ready.
"You'd have to ask Tom how he's personally feeling. That's something that I can't answer," Belichick advised, although Brady is not currently scheduled to speak with the media this week.
More often, Belichick stuck to his message.
How does he relay to his players that Brady's return won't fix all the Patriots issues?
"We've all got to do our job. We've got to do our job better. We've all got a lot of things to work on. That's easy," Belichick answered.
"We're focused on Cleveland this week, period; Cleveland," he added later.
2. Browns showing improvement: Belichick noted that the Patriots have a lot to prepare for against a Browns team that's not very familiar given the three-plus years since they last met. The New England coach has clearly been impressed with the advancements he's seen each week and what Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson is trying to build with his currently winless squad.
"I think that Coach Jackson's done a great job," Belichick said respectfully. "You can see them improving every week. They're obviously offensively a very explosive team with their skill players and excellent running game. Coach Jackson has done a good job of utilizing the backs as well as [Terrelle] Pryor with some of those plays, keeping the defense off-balance. They do a good job of getting the ball down the field. They've got explosive plays in the passing game, explosive plays in the running game, a number of different formation variations, personnel variations and so forth that are difficult to defend, similar to what he did in Cincinnati. Defensively they're very sound, aggressive. They capitalize on a lot of offensive mistakes with their effort and aggressiveness.
"Playing at home I'm sure we'll see a lot of energy with this team and their fans like there always is in Cleveland. They have great fans and very supportive so dealing with crowd noise and all of those kinds of things will be challenging for us as well. We obviously need to do a lot better job at what we're doing than where we were last week so we need a good week on the practice field, a good week in meetings, a good week in preparation against a team we don't know very well to be able to get that done. That's where we're at for this week."
3. Readying for Ray's defense: While the Patriots haven't played the Browns since a tight, 27-26 win over Cleveland at home in 2013, they do have some recent experience against the team's defensive coordinator. Ray Horton has bounced around a bit and that's meant matchups with New England that the team can look back on as it prepares a Brady-led game plan for Sunday's battle.
"We played against Coach Horton three of the last four years – Arizona, Cleveland, and Tennessee. [He has a] Pittsburgh kind of background," Belichick said, going on to describe what Horton's units bring to the field. "I think that there's certainly been some changes or modifications in his system from the Pittsburgh system if you will. I think there are definitely some similarities, but again, they're a 3-4 base team and a 4-2-nickel team. Really they don't take those two inside linebackers off the field in any situation. It's just a question of how they structure the front and the coverage. I mean they play a little bit of dime but they're primarily a two-personnel grouping. But they use a lot of personnel, particularly in the front. They use a lot of different combinations of people with the front four or front five, however you want to look at it. The two inside linebackers are pretty constant. I would imagine the secondary would be constant but they've dealt with some injuries back there. Guys have missed a game or two and they've had to replace them, but I would imagine that would probably be consistent, too, if they were all healthy. A lot of different guys upfront but the same basic alignments, again, similar to Pittsburgh. I mean they don't blitz zone as much as Pittsburgh does. I don't know if anybody does. It's not the same but it's that foundation."