HEAD COACH BILL BELICHICK
Friday, October 1, 2021
Q: I wanted to ask you about blitz pick-up for running backs. Specifically, when you have a young player who maybe wasn't asked to do that much in college, what are kind of the initial points you try to make with that guy?
BB: Well, there are really three big aspects to blitz pickup, and it's a very difficult job. The first one is actually blocking the guy. Even though you know who to block, learning the blocking techniques and learning who you're blocking on a blitz because there are a lot of different blitzers. You could end up blocking a DB, which is more common in sub situations. Although, you could see it any time, or you could block a different type of linebacker. Blocking [Devin] White would be a lot different than blocking [Dont'a] Hightower or somebody like that or [Demario] Davis last week or whoever. So, blocking them, that's one problem. The second problem is figuring out whether they're blitzing or not. So, linebackers will try to make it look like they're blitzing to keep you from getting out in the pass pattern, and as a back, you have to recognize if he's blitzing, then you got to block him. If he's not blitzing and he's just trying to keep you in, then you want to get out so you can be part of the passing game and also take him out of the way of the pocket and the quarterback and the offensive line and everything and clear it out so that it's more definitive as to who the rushers are and who they aren't and give the quarterback another option in the passing game rather than be trapped in there blocking a guy who doesn't have to cover you because you don't get out in the pattern. Then, of course, the other problem is figuring out who to block, and so depending on what the defense does, there are a lot of offensive systems that give the running back -- make him responsible for two players. Sometimes he's only responsible for one, but if you only make him responsible for one, then if they bring the other guy, if you have six players in protection and they bring a seventh guy, then if you've picked the wrong guy to leave free, then he's running at the quarterback, and that creates a lot of problems. If you give the running back two guys, then you can handle six of the seven blitzers. Not all seven, but if they bring all seven, then the quarterback knows that he's got to make a decision and get rid of the ball because you only have six blockers, but if they bring six guys out of seven and you can block those six, then that changes everything for the quarterback and so he's actually got it picked up. So, when you combine all those things with the back and, again, whether it's with our back or another team's back, systematically the issues are the same. Figuring out which guy it is that you're looking for or which two guys maybe you're looking for depending on the protection scheme is recognizing whether they're actually blitzing or not or whether they're just trying to keep you in from getting out into the pattern and then, as I said, when they come, actually blocking them is another story, and then what gets even more difficult for a back is when they run a pick stunt between the linebacker the back's responsible for and a lineman, a defensive lineman, that the offensive lineman is responsible for, so instead of linemen working together on games, now you involve the back working together on a pick stunt or a game with an offensive lineman, and that gets, I'd say, a little more difficult. Those are the things that a good back and a blitz pickup in the passing game can do, and a lot of that doesn't happen on first down, play action passes; things like that, but when you get into third down, soft protections, and passing game and all that, every team in the league has to figure out how they're going to deal with those problems and what they're going to ask that back to do and all that, so if you free the defense some, that's easy, but now you only have five blockers or you involve your tight end in the protection or however you want to do it, and again, that's one way to alleviate some of the back pickup problems, but then it pushes the problems somewhere else, but it is a very underrated part of the back's job. Especially on third down, the difficulty of the job, it's significant. You don't just throw somebody in there and say, well we'll put this guy in on third down. If you're going to give him any pass protection assignments, it can be involved.
Q: What would you say the team gets the most out of when you hold the practice inside Gillette?
BB: Just the overall environment in there. The wind patterns in the kicking game. We get to experience those kind of the way they are, and that can affect some directional kicking and obviously the returning that goes along with that. That's probably the biggest thing, but just general familiarity with certain landmarks that each stadium has and so forth. I think there's a small amount of value of getting more familiar with that. We play in away stadiums half the year anyways, so I don't want to overrate that. Those would be a couple things we get out of it.
Q: I know you've taken a thousand Tom Brady questions this week, so not specifically about him, but you did mention the other day how he's close to the all-time yardage record. Something I'm sure you'd appreciate more if he wasn't playing against you this week, but I'm just wondering does the NFL stop the game in that instance? Does the NFL do that, or do you have a say in that? Does the home team if there's an acknowledgment during the game of that?
BB: I have no idea. Honestly, we're going to try to keep him from gaining too many yards passing the ball so, I don't know. You'll have to talk to somebody else about that.
Q: Do you think you would've had the success that you have had here if Tom Brady wasn't your quarterback?
BB: Of course not.
Q: What about having him in that partnership brought you guys over the top for those years?
BB: We've talked about that for two decades. I think I've been on the record dozens of times saying there's no quarterback I'd rather have than Tom Brady, and I still feel that way. I was very lucky to have Tom as the quarterback, to coach him, and he was as good as any coach could ever ask for.
Q: In a week like this with potential distractions, do you need to remind players to avoid those and focus on what they need to do, or do you essentially trust them at this point to know that on their own?
BB: Each week has its own challenges besides the game itself. The actual competition on the field. The week of it. It could be a lot of things. Certainly, the travel on away games. Whatever the unique circumstances are of the game you're playing, so we always talk about those. Each game is different. Each one has its own elements to it. I don't think any two are really alike besides the fact that the teams are different. Some are more similar than others, but there's always an element of something that's a little bit different this week or a different something we have to deal with. It's part of the week.
Q: In your career, you've faced a lot of great, great quarterbacks. I'm wondering of those great quarterbacks, and I'm sure Tom [Brady] is in that group, are there any quarterbacks that you just can not fool?
BB: I've faced a lot of great quarterback as a coach in my career, but again, you're looking at an entire team. You have to look at all the people on the team. Not just the quarterback, but who his receivers are, who his tight end is, what the running game is, what the offensive line is, how they do things. Ultimately, if you play good team defense and, particularly, against a passing team like the Bucs are, they're the best passing team in the league, you have to defend the passing game in its totality. The pass rush, the coverage on all of the receivers because they usually get a lot of receivers out other than in some of their play-actions that are tied in with their running game, but then in the drop-back game, they usually get five receivers out, and so you have to have a way to cover, and they don't run the same play all the time, so they do a lot of different things that present a lot of different challenges. They try to attack the defenses, and you try to defend the passing game in general terms, but also situationally, obviously the best you can against each one of those passing attacks, and they're all different, but there's always some similarities conceptually, but the individual players and receivers and the protections and all that are varied from team to team, so you try to defend them the best you can.
Q: The Buccaneers activated Antonio Brown from the COVID list ahead of Sunday's game. You kind of just touched on it a bit, but how does their plan change when he's out there? And for you guys, how you approach their receivers when he's added to that mix for them?
BB: You have to ask them how it changes, but we expected AB [Antonio Brown] to be there. [Scotty] Miller was put down so [Antonio] Brown's skills versus [Scotty] Miller's skills, I mean, they're both good receivers. They're a little different. They've been used a little differently in the offense down there, but they're both good, and so we'll prepare for AB and not prepare for Miller, but, again, they have good depth, good skill, good quality at all positions. Quarterback, running back, tight end, receiver, and in the passing game. They're all a problem, so we'll have to deal with all of them and some of that depends on who else is out there as well. Just because a certain receiver, tight end, or running back is on the field, that's one thing, but a lot of times it depends on who's out there with them in terms of how you're trying to defend that grouping, not just that individual player. All those things become factors. AB looks good like he always does. He's quick. He's tough after the catch. He's got good speed, good receiving ability. He's a big-time playmaker. He'll be a problem when he's out there, I'm sure, like all the rest of them are.
Q: In big games, I know other coaches, I'm not asking you to speak for them, have just discussed how they've factored in the emotion of it in the first quarter and how that's affected just the way they plan or prepare to communicate. You've got to expect, given the history here, the relationships, to maybe feel something maybe a little bit extra. Is that something you factor into your expectations of how the game might start and the choices you might make, either offensively or defensively, to kind of account for that?
BB: Yeah. I think there's an element of that every week. I'm not saying it's the same every week, but there's an element every week. In the end, when the ball is snapped, we have to play good fundamentals, good technique, we have to all be on the same page and know what the play is and know what we're doing and know what our assignment is and know what adjustments we need to make based on what the opponent does, whether it's a kicking play, an offensive play, or a defensive play, and that's football, so when the players go out on the field and the coaches call the plays or make adjustments after the play or after the series, that's really what all of our jobs are -- to perform on the field. Of course, there's an emotional element to the game, but ultimately, it's based on performance and the most important thing for all of us, every one of us that participates in the game, is to do our job and do it well and to execute our part of the play, whatever that happens to be and our assignment and whatever adjustments we have to make at the highest level. So that's really what we all have to do regardless of what the other circumstances are. The opponent, the weather, the crowd, the wind, the personnel grouping that's on the field. We've all been trained to execute in situations, and when those moments come up, then that's the competition. Our execution versus our opponent's.
Q: Do you notice anything different stylistically in how he's running this offense as compared to the Patriots offense? Do you notice anything different in how this offense is put together?
BB: I'm not really sure I understand the question. I don't know what different means. We've looked at it. We've looked at last year's games. We've looked at this year's games. Coach Arians certainly has a very developed passing offense. He has ever since he's been in the league, whether it was at Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Arizona, Tampa. It's not like they never threw the ball with him. There are certainly a lot of his concepts that you see, but I think he said this this week. A lot of the concepts in football every team runs in the passing game, and I think that's true. There's probably a high percentage of passing concepts that every team runs. You know, vertical routes, spacing routes, man beaters, zone beaters, so forth, and then each team has its own, depending on who the quarterback and the receivers and the offensive coordinator or head coach's play-calling philosophy is. They have other things that are kind of more emphasized in their system, but I would just say, in general, this is a very good passing offense. It's well-designed. It attacks defenses. It attacks coverages, and it's well-executed by the coaching staff that has put it together with all the players. Not just the receivers, but the protections as I mentioned earlier. Those have to be coordinated with everything you're doing. The variety of routes and concepts that they employ to stress and challenge the defense, so who exactly does what and all that? I don't know. I'm sure Tom [Brady] has a lot of input. I'm sure that Coach [Byron] Leftwich has a lot of input. I'm sure Coach [Bruce] Arians has a lot of input. They do a lot of things repeatedly so that, you know, that's just what they do, and they execute them well, and I'm sure from game to game, like every team, they have some ways to go after the opposing defense based on whether it's personnel matchups or coverage tendencies or so forth, and that's based on that particular game. Again, it's what we do. It's what they do. It's probably what most teams do, so who exactly does what? You'd have to ask them that. I do think that there are, again, a lot of plays that look familiar to us, but that's true every week. It's not like the things we do, no other team in the league does. I've never said that. That's not the case. Concepts are concepts, and there may be a little variation in the way one team does it to the next, but conceptually it's the same idea, you know, who you're trying to put stress on in the defense. As I said, they do a good job of it. They have a lot of variety. They do it out of different looks with different people. A lot are the same concepts, but it looks differently to the defense, and it plays differently to the defense because you might have different people on the field based on the group that they run it out of. Those are, I would say, pretty common. I would say the thing about Tampa is they are very good at it. I mean, they lead the league in passing because they execute the passing game well, and that's, again, a team execution. It's not all to one player. It's not all one protection. It's not all one route. They throw the ball well on early downs. They throw the ball well on third down, two-minute, red area, and they have a lot of different receivers, backs and tight ends that contribute to that, and certainly Tom does a great job, as he always has, of recognizing where the weak spot in the defense is and getting the ball to the player who has the best opportunity. He's always done a great job of seeing that, recognizing it and making quick decisions and hitting the vulnerable spot in the defense, so that's one of the reasons why he's such a great player, but systematically, it's well-run, and it's well-executed.