The Patriots enjoyed some time off and returned to Foxborough rested and ready to take on the final six weeks of the 2018 regular season. The Patriots kicked off the stretch drive with a set of conference calls featuring Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels and Brian Flores.
One of the themes that emerged was the team's play in the red zone – both offensively and defensively. Belichick was asked to address the defense, which hasn't been great to this point in the season.
Yeah, unfortunately, that's true," Belichick said when about the numbers being down in that area. "That's an area we need to work harder at. We just need to do a better job of coaching it and need to do a better job of executing it and try to save those points and keep them off the board. As always, it comes down to team defense. It's not one thing. It's all of us doing a better job. It starts with the coaching staff and me. It's an area we need to tighten up.
Belichick then discussed some of the characteristics of strong defensive play near the goal line.
"Really, everything," he said. "Stopping the run down there, getting them in third down, playing well on third down, getting them off the field on third down in the red area."
Flores also weighed in on some the situational defensive work that needs improvement.
"Every down is important and every snap in the game is important. We try to let our players know that," Flores said. "We never know what play the game is going to come down to, so we want everyone to be good. Obviously, the better you do on first and second down, the longer third down is. And percentage-wise, just across the league, longer yardage on third down, you have a high percentage of getting off the field.
"We've got to do a better job of stopping the run, stopping the pass game, creating pressure on the quarterback. Those are all goals and things we try to get accomplished on a week-to-week basis. You know, it starts with fundamentals and technique, like it does every week. It's something we preach here, we talk about every week and we practice them every day in our individual drills. So, I think that's where it starts."
The red zone continued to be a topic of conversation and was among the highlights of Monday's conference calls.
Seeing red – McDaniels' side of the ball wasn't spared when it comes to the red zone. The offense has been a little better in that department, converting better than 65 percent of their trips into touchdowns, which was good for 11th in the league at the bye. The offensive coordinator was asked if it was important to run the ball in such situations.
"I think it's important to have positive plays in the red area, run or pass," McDaniels said. "It doesn't necessarily mean that you have to be married to one or the other, and certainly you want to have some balance in your offense in every phase that you can. But I think the most important thing is really having positive plays in the red zone, and what I mean by that is some teams don't let you really run the ball very easily because of the scheme that they chose to play or the pressure that they try to apply at the line of scrimmage.
"As much as you can, you try to make sure you're running a good, solid play that we can execute and gain yards and move the ball towards the goal line. Most teams try to avoid having you run the ball in the end zone. For us, it's been about positive plays, it's been about trying to move the ball forward, run or pass, and staying away from long yardage situations which are very difficult to overcome with limited space down there. [Wide receivers coach] Chad O'Shea does a really good job of really researching that each week, and our guys understand the targets that we're trying to hit on a week-to-week basis. This week is going to be a huge challenge for us because the Jets are certainly one of the best red zone defenses in the league."
Bringing the heat – Flores as asked about the defense's success this season when bringing defensive backs on blitzes. The Patriots have tried a number of players in that role, and the de facto defensive coordinator talked about some of the traits of a good blitzing defensive back.
"It's definitely something we evaluate. There's good blitzers, there's not so good blitzers from the secondary," Flores said. "I think we've got a good group here, whether it's Pat Chung to [Devin] McCourty to Jon Jones to Duron Harmon. I mean, I think we've got a good group of guys that can pressure the quarterback. And, again, it's not something you can do on every snap, but I think it gives the offense a little bit of a different look, kind of helps us in a variety of ways from a disguise standpoint, from a scheme standpoint. It's just a different look to the offense.
"So, as much as we can do that, when we can do it, it's helpful. I think we've got a good group of blitzing secondary players and I think those guys do a good job. We'll try to continue to do that if we can, but I think they do a lot of things well. Whether it's coverage, whether it's blitzing, whether it's zone coverage. We've just got to continue to work on that on a day-to-day basis in practice."