PATRIOTS HEAD COACH BILL BELICHICK
December 6, 2023
Q: With the IR to return window designation for Riley Reiff, I think it's set to close. Do you anticipate Riley being added to the 53-man roster?
BB: No, he's not going to be able to make it back.
Q: His signing, what was sort of the hope or the vision that you thought Riley might have been able to add to the team this year?
BB: He's a player that has a lot of flexibility. There's a lot to like about him. Unfortunately, he's just had three setbacks here. It's just unfortunate.
Q: With Rhamondre's injury, how do you envision the running back group coming together for Thursday?
BB: We have depth at that position. We'll see how it all plays out, but it's good to have the players that we have there. I feel confident in that group.
Q: Kevin Harris, on the practice squad, I just include him in there – what type of year has he had on the practice squad?
BB: All of the guys on the practice squad have worked hard. I've really been impressed with the group, just coming to work every day, giving a good look on the scout teams and taking advantage of their opportunities that they have gotten. We've elevated quite a few players, and there have been a lot of other ones that have been close and that we've talked about. So, those guys have done a good job.
Q: I wanted to ask about Demario Douglas, is he in a situation that when he clears concussion protocol, he'll be able to play again? I only ask because he's had multiple concussions this year, so I didn't know if it was a situation where you guys might even potentially shut him down just because of the future and the head injuries.
BB: Yeah, all the injuries are handled through our medical department. Those aren't coaching decisions. Those are medical decisions.
Q: So, if he does clear, you're saying it's possible he plays again this year?
BB: Medical decisions are medical decisions.
Q: I saw that your run defense is actually playing at the best level that a lot of defenses have played over the past decade. I was wondering, what are you seeing from those guys, because I feel like that shows a lot of toughness and resiliency from them, and what have been the keys to success in your eyes?
BB: Well, good defense is always team defense. So, one player can't stop a running game. It's got to be the guys on the end of the line of scrimmage – ball can't get outside. The guys on the inside of the line of scrimmage have to deal with combination blocks, double-team blocks, and things like that, linebackers and good tackling. So, it's good team defense. It's good individual play by the individual players, but good coordination of team defense by everybody doing their assignment and being where they're supposed to be and working together on that. So, it's multiple guys. I can't single out one guy, but coaching staff, front seven, even the safeties that are involved in the running force and running game, and tackling, not allowing any short runs to be missed tackles that turn into long runs. So, I mean, it's all about team defense, really, and everybody doing their part.
Q: Malik Cunningham, or just rookie players in general. What type of mastery of the system or just what type of place do they have to be in, in order for you to feel comfortable that they're going to be able to execute their job and limit, obviously, mistakes?
BB: Yeah, really, every player falls into the same category. Being able to, first of all, show that they know what to do and they're dependable to do it. So, they don't put any of our teammates or our team at risk. And then show the ability they have to do that on the practice field to get an opportunity to do it more often and do it in games and then show that they can do things that they're asked to do in the games. So, it's really the same for everybody. You earn your opportunities, and then when you get them, the more productive you are with them, the more successful you are with them, then the more will be coming your way and vice versa.
Q: You've obviously matched up a lot with Mike Tomlin over the years. What do you respect about him? And as you go against different coaches, is he up there in terms of guys that you maybe not enjoy matching up with, but have a degree of respect for what he does?
BB: Yeah, a ton of respect for Mike and the Steelers program. They've been very consistent, you know, through the years. I mean, they're pretty good every year. Sometimes great, sometimes just pretty good. Here they're again this year. They're right there. They're a good, solid team. They don't make a lot of mistakes. They're not a heavily penalized team. They don't turn the ball over a lot. They do a good job of taking the ball away. They're a good, fundamental team. You've got to go out there and play a good football game to beat them. For the most part, they very seldom make bad plays and mistakes that just cost their team the game. You've got to go out there and play really well to beat them. They do a good job of that. They've got a really good field goal kicker. They've been in a lot of close games. They've won most of them this year. That's a sign of, you know, a team that's well-balanced and can make the plays they need to make in critical situations to win.
Q: What makes T.J. Watt such a dangerous player in your eyes?
BB: You know, he's a very – he's an instinctive player. He's very quick off the ball. He has a good edge pass rush. He's got really good lower body strength and balance. He does a very good job of closing to the quarterback and rarely gets knocked off balance. He might get hit, but he's able to play through contact and stay on his track. He really does a good job of condensing the pocket even when he doesn't hit the quarterback. He forces the quarterback into a smaller space that helps everybody else who's rushing, [Alex] Highsmith or whoever the other edge player is and the guys inside. He's a very good pursuit player. He makes a lot of plays from the backside or makes plays where you think he's blocked. You think that, you know, he's out of the play and he's able to cross face the block, get back in the play and has enough speed. And desire, I would say, motor to get to some of those plays from the backside when you think that he should be a non-factor. And, you know, he ends up making a play for a six, seven-yard gain. Sometimes those are some of the biggest plays in the game because if he doesn't make it, it might, you know, might go for 40. So, yeah, all those things. He's got good ball awareness. He knocks down a lot of balls because of his awareness of sometimes the route that the back runs. So, he can sort of anticipate where the ball is going to be thrown. But also, he gets in close proximity to the quarterback so that if he gets his hand in the throwing lane, he's able to either affect the throw or possibly get his hand on the ball. He's got that really good reach move with his left hand. He's got a lot of strip sacks on that through the years where he's engaged with the blocker and still is able to knock the ball out of the quarterback's hand with that left arm reach. So, I'd say that's kind of his patented move. And he's really, really good at it.
Q: Just looking at the numbers, the Steelers only have two more touchdowns than you guys do. They average around the same amount of yards-per-game. To me, the difference seems like between their record and yours is turnovers. Is that too simple of a way to put it or is there more that goes into that?
BB: Well, turnovers are a big part of it. Again, each game's a little bit different. It's its own unique circumstances at the end of the game, whatever it is. But again, I think that's where the balance of the team. Sometimes you have to stop them. Sometimes you have to score. Sometimes you have to make a kick. Sometimes you have to block your kick. So, they're all a little bit different. There's a series or two that leads up to that final series as well that can also be very important to the outcome. So, I'd just say on balance, they've done a really good job in critical situations of making the plays they need to make, whether those are defensive stops, kicks, offensive production to get the ball either into the end zone or into field goal range. They play really good situational football. And [Chris] Boswell is one of the best kickers in the game. So, that's a weapon for them. In those close games, it's important to have that player perform on the game-winning plays a lot of times. So, those are some of the things they do really well.
Q: Hey Bill, in describing TJ Watt, the initial thing you mentioned was instinct. Is that the most important categoristic that separates maybe good players from great players, where the greats just have kind of an instinct for the game? How would you kind of rate that particular categoristic?
BB: Like we've talked about before, I think that's great rating a player is a little bit like a jigsaw puzzle, and there's a lot of pieces that go in there. You know, I could have really good instincts, but I'm sure I'd be a terrible player at that position. So, what good is it, right? A player like Lawrence Taylor, who was, you know, a rare athlete combined with elite instincts, well, then you have a Hall of Fame player. Maybe the greatest player that ever played on defense. So, it's a combination of things. They're all important. They all fit together differently for different players and their skill sets. But I would say that Watt's, the instincts are important, but his get off, his, I would say, contact balance and ability to leverage and turn the corner, even on much bigger and very athletic tackles, is a very highly skilled talent that he has. So, yeah, instincts are important. Speed is important. Strength and balance is important. You know, coordination of the hand and footwork that he, you know, the hand slap, the hand swipe, the dip, the way he, you know, does everything right at the point of contact with the tackle at the junction point is very, very good. And he's very hard to block. He knows what he's doing and he knows how to give the tackle a very small surface to hit. And he's not the biggest guy, but he has enough balance and power to work through contact and not get rerouted and thrown off of his rush lane or his rush path, I should say. It's hard to get him off his rush path. It's really hard. He does a really good job of that. And again, that helps everybody else. There's a lot of plays where he himself doesn't get the statistic for it, but his play leads to disruption by somebody else, either inside or it could be [Alex] Highsmith on the other side or it could be a blitzing linebacker or whatever. He really restricts the width of the pocket and doesn't go scramble plays in doing that. It's really good.