Tuesday is coordinator day in terms of conference calls in Foxborough and Josh McDaniels and Brian Flores joined Bill Belichick among those chatting with the media. Most of the uproar over the stunning last-second defeat in Miami has died down as the staff turns its attention to Sunday’s trip to Pittsburgh.
Belichick was asked a variety of questions about the Steelers, but it was one Patriot who has done a ton of damage against the Steelers over the years who generated some interesting discussion.
Rob Gronkowski enjoyed one of his finest days of the season in the loss to the Dolphins. He caught eight passes for 107 yards and a touchdown, and absorbed a number of heavy hits in the process. McDaniels was asked about the toughness the All-Pro tight end showed against the Dolphins.
“There’s no question that he’s an extremely tough guy,” McDaniels said. “I think we have a lot of those guys on our team and Gronk’s certainly one of the tougher ones in the league at that position. I think because of his size and where he usually catches the football, which is in between the numbers, there’s a lot of bodies that eventually come downhill toward him and have an opportunity to make a decision how they want to try to tackle him. Most of those people usually go low, they could choose to do some other thing, but a lot of times they go low because of how big he is and the concept of trying to tackle him high generally isn’t high on everybody’s wish list.
“There’s no question that playing his position at his size and understanding what happens in our league now with the emphasis on not hitting people in the head and all the rest of it is it requires a tremendous amount of courage to go in there and continue to run pass routes inside. You know you’re eventually going to incur some punishment, some hits, and thankfully most of those are not to the head and neck area anymore and that’s a good thing. But there’s no doubt that toughness and courage is a huge element of playing inside in our league and in the passing game and having success and being able to stay focused on the football, finish the play properly, understanding in the back of your mind, you know you’re going to take a hit.”
Gronkowski’s resurgence last week could be a positive sign moving forward. The Steelers and Bills – the Patriots next two opponents – are historically teams that he’s done a lot of damage against. In six career games against Pittsburgh, Gronkowski has 39 catches for 664 yards and eight touchdowns – that’s a great season for most tight ends.
It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows during the conference calls, however. There were also some concerns raised, among those the struggling run defense, which was among the items of note on Tuesday.
Can’t stop the run – Flores, the Patriots defensive signal-caller, was asked about the problems with the run defense. Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook racked up 84 on just nine carries two weeks ago while the Dolphins did even more damage on Sunday. Miami piled up 189 yards on the ground on only 21 carries with veteran Frank Gore ripping through the front for 92 yards.
Flores was asked about the struggles.
“The run game’s been something that we need to do a much better job of coaching, do a better job of playing,” Flores said. “We’ve got to do a better job of getting off blocks, got to do a better job with our angles in the secondary. It’s something we’re going to spend a lot of time on. It’s something we have spent a lot of time on. Teams are going to keep running the ball or attempting to run the ball until we do something to stop it. It’s got to be much better than it’s been, and hopefully we do that.
“It’s something that obviously they’re trying to scheme us, we’re trying to scheme them. We’re going to have different personnel on the field depending on what they give us and what they’ve done statistically in specific situations. So, I think, again, to me it comes back to fundamentals, technique, communication, playing physical and really as a team, just playing better run defense and obviously putting that on ourselves.”
Belichick was also asked about the struggles and agreed with Flores in that it starts with coaching but felt it was something that can be improved.
“The run game is about team defense. So, obviously, it starts with coaching so we’ve got to do a better job of coaching all aspects of it and executing it. It’s not one play. It’s a combination of our overall execution and consistency.
“Of course we feel like we can fix it.”
Simon says – The Patriots have gotten some contributions from an unlikely source in John Simon. The defensive end arrived Sept. 26 and has been a fixture in the lineup for the past several weeks. He turned in an outstanding play on third-and-one against the Dolphins when he correctly stayed home and ignored a Ryan Tannehill play-action fake and dropped the quarterback for a key sack in the fourth quarter.
Belichick was asked about Simon’s contributions and increase in the playing time.
“John’s done a really good job for us since he’s come in here and has picked things up very quickly, contributed for us right away defensively and in the kicking game,” Belichick said. “He’s really done a solid job. He’s experienced, smart and has very good football instincts. He’s got good awareness. Even though he hasn’t had as much experience in our system as some other people have, his instinctiveness to kind of just do the right thing on the football field at the right time consistently keeps showing up. He’s been a great addition. I’m glad we have him.”