Bill Belichick's Monday conference call with the local New England media is generally a recap of the prior day's game and an initial look ahead at the new week's coming opponent.
But with the Patriots having played last Thursday night – improving to 7-0 win the blowout of the Dolphins – today's chat with the media included both general questions about Belichick's team as the midpoint of the season approaches as well as an early look at Sunday's battle with Kirk Cousins and the Redskins.
Questions about New England revolved around the team's improved third down defense against Miami, the work Sebastian Vollmer has done in the switch to left tackle and the history of Belichick's philosophy of having all his offensive linemen where knee braces in game action.
1.On the money: Third down is known as the money down in the NFL. Offenses that stay on the field via regular conversions are, like the Patriots offense, among the best in the game. Defenses that can, in turn, force punts are more likely to find themselves on the winning end. New England's third-down offense has been great all year, ranking No. 2 in the NFL. Things on defense haven't been so consistently successful. The Patriots third down defense currently ranks tied for 21st, buoyed by an impressive performance against the Dolphins last Thursday night in which Miami converted just two off 11 chances (18 percent). The coach acknowledged that the performance was better, but that overall there is still plenty to work on in the always-important area.
"We had the Jets in a lot of long-yardage situations, that we couldn't convert in," Belichick said. "I just think overall our execution on third down as a team was better and it needs to be better from every standpoint. The pass rush. The leverage on the quarterback keeping him in the pocket and attacking the pocket. Maintaining our coverage leverage, whatever it is, inside or outside, just being where we are supposed to be and using our help and being disciplined enough to do that as the pattern develops. I thought our execution was better last week but there is still … we can still improve on that, too.
"We all have to coach it better and play it better and be more disciplined to follow through with all the little, they are not little, but the little things and all the little assignments that are part of the play to make is successful. When one thing breaks down even though you could be doing other multiple things right the results aren't good."
2.Seabass settling in: Sebastian Vollmer has been an All-Pro caliber right tackle for most of his career when healthy. But after Nate Solder went on IR with a torn bicep and Marcus Cannon suffered a toe injury, the man they call Seabass had to swap over to the left tackle spot. He's just one of the many men up front who've had to roll with the punches along the Patriots banged-up offensive line, but according to his coach the career right tackle has done a nice job settling in on Tom Brady's blindside.
"Sebastian's done a good job for us," Belichick said. "I think it is a tough switch. It's kind of going from doing everything one way, all your footwork and punching and leverage and everything you do and then flipping it over and doing it the exact opposite way. From a technique standpoint it's definitely challenging on top of the fact that you're working with different people on the other side of the line and there is that timing and being able to see things the same as the person next to you. But it's a different person. Sometimes we all see the same thing just a little bit differently. So getting all that together is … it takes time. It takes work. It's not easy. But I think all that being said he's done a great job of making the transition over there the last couple weeks. We've really needed him to do that. Sebastian's one of the best teammates, a guy who always puts the team first as much as anybody we have on our team. So he's done that and done a good job of it for having had minimal practice at it through training camp and so forth. But he works hard and we've definitely been able to maintain a lot of our offensive production, so that's been good."
3.Braced for action up front: Last Thursday night rookie guard Tre' Jackson took a hit on his knee that looked to have the potential to result in a severe knee injury. But after the young lineman was attended to by trainers he limped off the field under his own power and reports have indicated he avoided a major knee issue. Part of the reason for that might be the knee brace worn by Jackson. In fact, Belichick has historically called for all his linemen to wear knee braces during games, something that's now quite common throughout all football, including down through college and even the high school level.
Monday, Belichick was asked about the roots of his must-brace philosophy for his linemen.
"The braces that the players wear now are a little different than the braces that I think we first started wearing back in the '80s when I was with the Giants and then in Cleveland," Belichick recalled. "They were kind of like a steel hinge that was usually taped or wrapped to the side of the knee as opposed to the bigger, those DonJoy braces that most guys wear now. So I can remember on multiple occasions seeing the brace like literally bend in half, or not maybe in half, but bent significantly. So that it had taken a blow and the brace bent. The player maybe had a minor injury or a low MCL sprain or something like that. But had the brace, and the braces were strong, had they not taken that blow and protected the player you have to imagine the injuries would be a lot worse.
"So I think that was a pretty vivid image that I had and we did that as well with the players, too. When that happened, in a meeting I'd just hold the brace up and say, 'well, look, it's fortunate that so-and-so was wearing this protective brace. It looks like he might miss a week or two or maybe he isn't going to miss any time at all, but I think we could all picture a more severe injury if he didn't have this protective on.' That type of thing. The braces now, the way they are constructed, they're really not conducive to that type of a visual example. But you still see plays on film where guys get hit in a way that it looks like it's going to be a pretty bad injury and then it isn't as bad as it looks. I'm sure part of that is the protective equipment."
That may have been the case with Jackson last Thursday night against Miami.