PATRIOTS HEAD COACH BILL BELICHICK
Q: How do you prepare your defense to be ready for the adjustments that Marcus Mariota is able to make when they utilize their RPO [run-pass option] where Marcus can pull the ball back from the running back if the look is not there?
BB: Yeah, right, so those plays - they're difficult to defend because you literally have to defend the whole field. The running play usually goes one way, and then on the other side of the field it's some kind of a passing combination. Either a slant or a diagonal or a bubble screen or something that attacks the defense on the other side, so if you overplay one, they run the other and vice versa. Those are hard plays to defend. It really comes down to team defense. If you guess at one and guess wrong, you're in trouble, so everybody has to take care of their responsibility and defend the space that they're responsible for. You have to be disciplined or they will get you on it. Some of those running plays also have more than one option, so the running back can get it or the quarterback could keep it or there's another part of the passing play as an RPO or a bubble screen, if you will, those types of things. Yeah, football is stress on the defense and really everybody's at the point of attack on that. It's not just where the ball appears to be going, but there's another part of the play away from it that you have to defend. They do the same thing on the stretch plays and the boots. They run a lot of outside runs and then if you chase the outside runs then they come back and boot the other way and get everybody coming back across the green or hit the defense if they over-pursue on the backside of those boots. That's a big part of their offense is the balance that they have between attacking one area, and then starting in that area but actually attacking a different area and forcing the defense to, as I said, cover the whole field.
Q: Do you get excited trying to find and best utilize matchups with Adrian Clayborn and Trey Flowers on the same side of the line, like we saw on their half-sack of Aaron Rodgers in the fourth quarter the other night? Is there an extra level of confidence when a play or scheme like that is executed the way you intended?
BB: Sure, I mean I have confidence in all of our rushers and we just have to take advantage of the opportunities that we have. On that particular play that you're referring to, the center went to the other side, so on a four-man rush, if the center goes one way then that side is three-on-two. The other side is two-on-two. Clayborn and Flowers were two-on-two there on the defensive right side on Lane [Taylor] and [David] Bakhtiari. There was a play earlier in the game, I think it was in the second quarter, when the center slid the other way. He would've slid into them and Adam Butler had a spin move and came inside so he was on the single side with [Deatrich] Wise and [Aaron] Rodgers ended up flushing out of the pocket and throwing the ball away. It was a similar type of situation. I guess the answer to the question is, yeah, you have to have a balanced pass rush. If they overload the protection on one side by bringing the center or keeping a tight end in or having a back in over there or however they do it, then wherever you get the singles, that's really your best opportunity to win and that's where you - you need to do a good job on the singles. Really, everybody's got to do a good job. Everybody's got to be ready to win their matchup because with five blockers, and potentially more with a tight end or a back to at least chip or get in the way before they go out on their route, not everybody gets a clean shot so the guys that do, those are the guys we're counting on to win.
Q: Is this game against Tennessee special to you given that it actually falls on Veterans Day this year?
BB: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. As they say, Veterans Day, Memorial Day - those are the holidays that make all of the other holidays possible. Without the sacrifices that people have made ahead of us and the ones that are currently making them today for us, we wouldn't even be playing these games or having any holidays or anything else. Certainly recognizing those men and women in our armed services and the sacrifices that they've made, we'll do that. We always do it. The Salute to Service was a great thing last weekend and then the actual Veterans Day holiday itself coming this weekend. We'll certainly talk about that. We have a veteran on our team, which is pretty special, too. I think everybody appreciates the sacrifices that Joe [Cardona] has made and continues to make as part of the reserves. Many of us have family members that have served or are serving throughout the organization. It's a very important day for me, for our team and really for our country.
Q: How difficult is it for the offensive coaching staff to put together game plans not knowing the availability of Rob Gronkowski? Do they need to have one plan that includes him and one without if his status is undetermined heading into a particular Sunday given his large role in the offense when healthy?
BB: Yeah, that's a great question Ben [Volin]. Look, it's part of the game. That comes up pretty regularly. It could come up at any position. Obviously, with a position like Rob's, who as you said is on the field a lot and a key part of the game plan, it's a little bit harder. But No. 1 - yeah, the coaches do a good job of that. Josh [McDaniels] and the staff do a good job with that. So do the players because it affects the players as well. If we change a play or add a play or delete a play, they're the ones that are really affected. It's relatively easy for a coach to look down on a sheet of paper and call one play instead of another. For the players to be able to make those adjustments and go to a new set of plays, or go to a different adjustment on a play because of the way the players are positioned due to availability, that's harder on the players and there are some other effects, too. Without Rob, as you said, Dwayne [Allen] plays more on offense, which then Dwayne maybe is playing a little less in the kicking game, which then affects somebody that would play in his spot there and so forth. Again, you go through it every week. Every team goes through it, but those adjustments are one of the challenges that you face every week and I'd say every week there's usually - I don't know, it changes obviously - but there's one or more guys that are really very close to game-time decisions. Maybe it comes down to Friday or Saturday or even the day of the game as to how they're feeling, what they'll be able to do and how effective you think they'll be. So you have to really be ready to go both ways on those because truly a lot of them are 50-50 calls until you finally have to make a call and you give it as much time as you can to resolve. Finally at some point you have to make your active list and go with it. Those are adjustments for the players as well as the coaches, but the coaches have done a great job with that. However it comes out, it's something we'll be dealing with every week, but so will every other team. Every coach I talk to has that all pop up. It's the same thing. It's no different on any other team.
PATRIOTS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR JOSH MCDANIELS
Q: I want to talk about the double-pass and the flea flicker. When you're calling those plays, are those specific game situations or is there some predestined use of those in the playbook?
JM: I think that that would be dependent on the opponent and maybe what you were trying to get those plays called against. So, from one week to the next, it might not be the same. Any time you try an unconventional type of play, you probably have a specific purpose in mind for it. There's a reason why you feel like you want to do it against a certain opponent, maybe a certain spot on the field, because you feel like you're going to get a certain type of defense. So, I think that's very dependent on the opponent, the week and the look. So, in this situation, we ended up calling both of them after we got into the drive a few plays and they played a defense that gave us a chance. Again, every ounce of credit goes to the players because those aren't easy plays to execute. It takes a lot of little things and a lot of details to execute something like that under some type of pressure from the other side of the ball. Our guys in both situations, I thought, did a really good job of executing the little things and the details. The pass-protection on the flea flicker was good - James White's patience was excellent. I thought Julian [Edelman] and Tom [Brady] were on the same page. And then on the throw back, we had a lot of people do the right things. That's what those plays normally require if you're going to have some success. There's not a pre-scripted exact time to do it, but you're hoping for something that you feel good about running it against when you do it, and ultimately, it's going to come down to our players' execution.
Q: There's familiarity with Dean Pees and Mike Vrabel. How much of this defense is sort of similar to what Dean was running here and Mike was a part of as you're studying the Titans?
JM: I think there's definitely some carryover. I know we adjust as we go through the course of many years here on all sides of the ball, so certainly they've adapted. Whatever they were doing here, they've adapted it to their personnel and they've had years away from New England to put in new things, try new things, create different things to try to give the offense problems. I would say the number one thing I can say about both of those guys and the way that this defense plays is that they're well-coached, they're very sound, they're very physical and aggressive, which is something I think we always try to be here. They don't give up many big plays. They're very, very good in the red zone - the best team in the league. They've given up the fewest points allowed in the league so far this season. All of that sounds familiar to me. They've got good players at all three levels of the defense, they know exactly what they're doing, they put a lot of stress on the offense on all three downs - they don't just wait for third down to do that - and they put their players in great position to be successful and do some things to try to take advantage of whatever scheme they're playing against on the offensive side of the ball. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mike and Dean, their staff - certainly have done a good job. This is a tough place to play. We've played there a couple times and it's not an easy place to play. So, getting ready to do that against this group, on the road, is going to be a huge challenge for us. And, we've got a lot of things that we want to try to do better as it is and we've got to get ready for this group, as well. So, big challenge, excited to start our preparation.
Q: This offense is famously not the easiest to pick up, especially for those that come in mid-season, and Josh Gordon has been someone who's come in and contributed. From your perspective, why is it working so well with Josh Gordon?
JM: Well, first of all, I'd say we have a lot of guys that have come in here and picked it up well -depending on varying levels of prior experience in the NFL. He certainly has some exposure to our league and what it's like to learn an NFL system and he's come in and worked extremely hard to do that. I don't think there's any shortcut. When you come in to a new place, kind of mid-stream, there's no shortcuts to trying to learn the nuances and intricacies of somebody's system. I think we just put our head down. He's done a tremendous job of doing that. He tries to learn something new every day. Chad O'Shea deserves a tremendous amount of credit - he's spent a lot of time with him. He's done a tremendous job of getting him caught up as best we can. We're still in the growing phase. I don't think we've been together long enough to say that he has a foundation that's just completely finished. We're going to continue to work on that each week. He comes in each day, he tries to learn more and understand his role in the game plan and the things that we ask of him at each position that he plays. Like I said, Chad, he really deserves the credit for that because they worked really hard to do that. Ultimately, his performance out there on the field - good, bad or indifferent - he's learning from every rep that we take in practice and in the games. With all of those reps and all of that experience gained comes some confidence, and with confidence, I think you can improve your performance. He's just done a good job and we hope that we continue to do that each week and try to grow his foundation in our system.
Q: When you have players like Sony Michel and Rob Gronkowski that you're not sure are going to play that week, how does that impact you and your game planning? Do you have to have two game plans if they are or aren't playing?
JM: I think that depends. It depends on which personnel we're referring to, you know what I mean? In this situation, you're talking about a tight end and a running back. But, this is a very common occurrence for us. We have many weeks, probably more than not, where we're not one hundred percent sure exactly how it's going to finish when we begin at the beginning of the week of our preparation. You have to have an open mind. I think it's one of the great challenges that we as coaches enjoy is to put together a plan that - understanding the circumstances, that has enough variance in it and enough flexibility that you can adjust if you need to. I always say the same thing, I consider it the same as - if you go to a game and somebody gets hurt on the first series, you can't say, "Oh, shoot, we don't have any plays left." The players that provide depth at those individual positions, they're responsible for that material. They do a tremendous job of preparing hard to go in there and back up those positions and they're ready to go every single week. They deserve a ton of credit for that because they work hard to put themselves in position, whether they're starters or backups or they're going to play 25 percent or 85 percent - they work the same. They know and understand how this league works. They're always an injury away if they're a backup player - a guy who doesn't play quite as much, and all of a sudden, you're playing 95 percent of the snaps. We hope that we have enough flexibility within our offense. Our players almost always have to learn multiple roles each week just to be careful and protect ourselves against things like that. That's the nature of this league and our guys are very unselfish, they enjoy the challenge of learning multiple roles and being ready to backup things if necessary. If we have to adjust, I think the biggest thing that you can do when you have to do that is just you stay calm and you know that this is what we have and what we have is good enough and that's what we have to understand. Our guys embrace that idea and go into each game with the same focus and mindset if that were to occur.
Q: Talking to some of the players, they said it keeps things fresh and interesting to see what types of plans you guys have for each opponent since you change the offense so much week-to-week. Is that the same for the coaches? Is there a lot of excitement and creativity that goes into game planning every week that you enjoy?
JM: I think there's a tremendous amount of things that we enjoy. We're very fortunate to have an opportunity to do this every day. Relative to the game planning process, the number one thing you want to try to do is give your group an opportunity to be successful and achieve the goal of going down and scoring points on offense on each possession. That's the number one goal. If you can make it fun and you can make it creative at the same time, then that's a tremendous benefit for everybody. I think everybody enjoys that, I think coaches enjoy that, I think players enjoy. Sometimes, some weeks are easier to do that than others. I think a lot of it depends on who you're playing and what they do, the type of scheme they run, the challenges that they present. But, I always think if you can make learning and preparing fun and exciting, that kind of keep it fresh. We have a long season, we have a long year and our coaches do a great job of trying to do that and keep in mind that the number one thing we've got to do is be able to go out there and execute it well. Whatever we do, creative or similar to what we've done before, the focus is being able to do it well, and our guys understand that and they work really hard to be able to do that. Hopefully, we can implement a little bit of that each week and keep it fresh, but our guys are really adamant about going out there and playing well and knowing what to do and understanding their roles regardless of what the scheme is, and their success is obviously of the upmost importance to us.
PATRIOTS LINEBACKERS COACH BRIAN FLORES
Q: When I say the words, 'Malcolm, go!' what does that mean to you?
BF: It takes me back to a great memory. Obviously, I have a good history with Malcolm [Butler]. I think he's a great player, incredible player. He was a joy to coach, a joy to be around, really looking forward to seeing him this weekend and I wish him all the best always.
Q: I wanted to get your read on the fine line between being aggressive and waiting for the play to develop. Last night in Dallas, Marcus Mariota did a really good job on their last two touchdowns of waiting for the play to develop until the last second, especially the RPO to Dion Lewis. How do you coach against a player who is willing to wait until the very last second for the play to develop?
BF: Well, I would say, I thought Marcus [Mariota] and the Titans as a whole, they played incredible last night. I think they're going to be a huge test for us, especially going on the road and playing a quality team like they are. I think playing against a team like this who - and again, he made some spectacular plays last night - we've just got to do a good job with our fundamentals, our technique, playing together, having 11 guys on the same page, everybody doing their job and really doing it for the entirety of the play. He's a guy who can hold it and scramble, he can hold it and throw, he can extend the play and then scramble to run or throw it. I mean, we saw last night, we've seen it really over the course of his entire career, this guy is basically a big play waiting to happen. We just need to do a really good job as a group trying to contain him, and really the rest of this - they've got a great group of skill players who can create a big play at any time.
Q: Is it doubly important to make sure you stay with your assignment, because if you leave your assignment too early he can burn you?
BF: Always. I mean, we talk about everybody doing their job and making sure you handle your responsibility before anything else. You know, that's kind of the discipline of playing defense is you've got to stay home when you've got to stay home, but at the same time, we want to be aggressive. But, you've got to handle your responsibility first, and if we don't do that, then this guy is dangerous enough he'll find the open receiver or the spot on the field that was vacated. I mean, he does a great job with that, so we've got to do a great job playing disciplined football.
Q: We saw Trey Flowers play on the inside of the defensive line quite a bit. How much does that speak to his conditioning and his strength to be able to hold up throughout a game, seeing a lot of snaps on the inside and going up against some pretty big guys?
BF: I think you'd be hard-pressed to find somebody who works harder than Trey. On the field, in the weight room, in the training room, really across the board, this guy works incredibly hard. We call him the quiet storm. You don't hear much from him, but he's been a warrior for us and he's played lights-out for us, really, since he's gotten here. Everyone in the building respects him. He leads by example. Again, he doesn't say much, but he works extremely hard, he works at his technique, he works at his craft every day and he makes a lot of plays for us. He's a joy to coach and a joy to be around.
Q: Some of the players said that they really enjoy seeing what the coaches come up with every week in terms of a game plan and the creativity and surprise of it changing week to week. How much would you relate to that in terms of concocting whatever game plan you guys come up with?
BF: I'd say I love the challenge of game-planning for the opponent every week. You spend time, you see their strengths, you see their weaknesses. We look at ourselves, we look at our strengths, look at our weaknesses and try to put together a plan. You know, obviously, the rest of our staff - we've got a great staff here with Brendan Daly and Josh Boyer, DeMarcus Covington, Steve Belichick. You know, we've got a great staff here, so we spend a lot of time sitting in the meeting room and trying to figure out the best way that we feel as a staff, as a team, as a defense, to limit or stop, obviously, the offense we're playing that week. So, that's going to be a big challenge this week for sure. Tennessee's got - between the quarterback, the backs and receivers, really good offensive line - this will be a great test for us. I think schematically they do some things that are tough to defend, and we're just going to have to try to do our best to come up with a few things that will hopefully put us in the best situation to play solid defense. One thing I do know is our guys will come in and they'll work hard and they'll work extremely hard to try to get it and practice it and get it right. They do that. We're lucky to have a group, really at all positions, that they come in, they buy into the plan that we come up with and they really try to execute it, really from day one. I mean, they'll come in tomorrow, we'll give them a plan, they'll try to execute it - same thing Thursday, same thing Friday - and they're constantly working to try to get that right and execute it. It's a joy to coach those guys. Hopefully, we come out with a good plan for them because we'll need it this week.
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