Bill Belichick seemed in better health and spirits this Friday, apparently over the cold he'd been battling recently. The coach fielded a few questions about his team's next opponent, the Washington Redskins, but the most noteworthy answer he gave came in response to questions about his own team:
1) Coverage has helped pass rush
New England's secondary may be its weakest link in any of the three aspects of the game, but it has been responsible for helping the front seven get after opposing quarterbacks with regularity this season, according to Belichick.
"It's all tied in to the coverage. If you have the receivers covered, it gives the pass rush more opportunity. If you don't have the receivers covered, then even a good rush isn't going to result in a quarterback getting tackled, probably. The interceptions are a result of pass rush, just like sacks are a result of coverage," he explained.
"I think it's really team defense. The better team defense we've played, the more pressure we've had. I'd say when you look at a lot of our sacks, a lot of them are on three-man rushes, good coverage situations. Overall, you need good coverage to have a good pass rush, and a good pass rush to have good coverage. When those two have been in synch, we've been more productive. When they haven't, we've given up some plays."
2) Chandler Jones' development
Chandler Jones has been a big part of New England's ability to harass opposing QBs. The fourth-year player has 8.5 sacks as the Patriots reach mid-season – a figure that ties him for the league lead with Houston's J.J. Watt and Cincinnati's Carlos Dunlap, both of whom have already played one more game than Jones to reach that mark. Belichick was asked about Jones' development in his time as a Patriots and the coach described it as "steady," adding that Jones has a much better understanding of New England's defensive scheme and calls.
"The big thing about Chandler this year," Belichick pointed out, "is health. You know, he missed some time last year, came back, and played well at the end of the year. But this year, it's been good right from the very beginning. Hasn't missed time. Has been able to practice more, train harder, work on his timing and techniques, execution with his teammates… All those things are positives, work in the player's favor."
3) Harmon's excused absence
Safety Duron Harmon was absent from Thursday's practice, but not for injury reasons. He was allowed to be away from the facility to witness the birth of his second child. Since Harmon has become a more regular contributor on defense for the Patriots this season, Belichick was asked what his expectations were for Harmon this weekend, so soon after the milestone event in Harmon's life.
"Same as for everybody: be ready to go and go out there and do their best," Belichick declared. He then elaborated on his policy on players missing work for personal reasons.
"Every player has their own personal situations that come up from time to time, be they babies, deaths, hospital visits, relatives… each one of them is different, and each one is about that individual person, what their needs are and what the situation is. There's no set rule or anything because we're all different."
Bottom line with Harmon: expect to see him out on the field Sunday versus Washington.