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Transcript: Coaches Conference Calls 12/26

New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick, Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels, and Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia address the media during their conference calls on Tuesday, December 26, 2017.



Q: Has Rob Gronkowski elevated the level of his run blocking this year, or has he always performed that task at a high level?

BB: I think Rob takes a lot of pride in his run blocking. I think, like anything else, there is always room for improvement. A lot of that is working with different combinations, so it could be sometimes with the tackle, sometimes with another tight end, sometimes with the fullback, sometimes with a receiver and we see a lot of nickel defense. So, sometimes we're blocking linebackers, sometimes we're blocking defensive backs, defensive ends, different combinations there. A lot of it is identification, and recognition and technique. There's a lot of moving parts there at the tight end positon and as it relates to the perimeter there on the edge of the defense. There are multiple alignments and, again, a lot of times that involves two or three of us blocking two or three of them, so it's not just straight one-on-one blocking. That's I don't want to say the easy part, but there's certainly a lot less moving parts to that. It's the combination stuff, the perimeter stuff. Rob works hard on that. Like I said, there's some tough looks there and we've just got to keep working on it.

Q: Is it possible that Rob has even extended his catch radius this season?

BB: It's certainly been good this year. I think it's always been pretty good. Rob gets to a lot of balls, and he catches a lot of balls and he makes a lot of tough catches. I don't know if I could differentiate between this year, last year, some particular game. We see him catch a lot of balls in practice and not miss too many; very few. He makes some remarkable catches on the practice field as well as in game situations. He does a pretty good job on all that.

Q: Tom Brady has now thrown an interception in each of the past five games and they have all come on third down. Is there anything to that or something that you can pinpoint as the reason for that?

BB: No, I don't think we want to throw interceptions on any down. I don't think Tom wants to throw them on any down. I think we just have to do a better job of coaching and executing the plays, making our reads and throwing the ball. We all need to do a better job on those plays. That's not what we're looking for. We're not making excuses for why they happened. We just didn't do a good enough job.

Q: Has Dion Lewis improved his vision out of the backfield when waiting on the blocking schemes to unfold?

BB: I think Dion has really good vision. Has it improved? I don't know. I think it's been pretty good. He's done a real good job. He was an explosive player for us pretty much ever since we got him and his vision is good. His run skills are good. He's hard to tackle. He's very strong for his size. I think all of those have been in place for a while. I think those are all qualities that Mike [Lombardi] talked about when he had him at Cleveland when we signed him.

Q: How important is that vision when he is returning kicks?

BB: Yeah, very important. Vision is part of it. Setting up blockers or setting up blocks is a big part of it, too. In this league you can't just get the ball and run. There's too many good players. You have to help your blockers make the blocks. You have to set up blocks in order to get into space. Once you get into space then the back's instincts can take over, but getting there is not always that easy. Sometimes the backs have to have good vision on the play. Sometimes they have to take the defenders and put them where the blockers can block them and set those plays up. That comes with experience, and working together, and blockers and the runner being on the same page in certain blocking relationships.

Q: What have you noticed from Malcom Brown in his play this year and just his overall development compared to where he has been in the past?

BB: Malcom's worked hard this year. He, unfortunately, missed a couple of weeks there in the middle of the season as he was, I think, really kind of getting into a good weekly groove, and then had to take a little break before he was able to get back to that. I'd say it happened relatively quickly but, still, there's a process of playing after having not played which he had to work out and go through. He's done a good job of that. He's stayed very involved with the team, with the game plan, knowing what we're doing even in the games that he didn't play, so he's really showed a lot of leadership and continued to work on the things he could work on even though there were some things he couldn't work on. He did a good job of that.



Q: What have you seen from Rob Gronkowski this season in terms of his run blocking and catch radius? Have you noticed any facets of his game that have improved from previous years?

JM: Well, Rob, he works really hard at all the areas of his game. That position, as we've talked about before, requires a lot of those players because they're used in so many different roles and have so many different things that they're responsible for. He definitely has tried to improve as a run blocker. I mean, he's always been a pretty good run blocker because he wants to do it, he enjoys the challenge of it and understands that there's always going to be good matchups on the edge and that he's got to really rise to the occasion at times and play against good outside linebackers or defensive ends. That's something that he's always been excited to try to do. I don't really think I see any difference in his catch radius. It's always been huge. He's such a big guy with such a big wingspan and he's got really good hands and he's a really good athlete. That gives him the ability to catch the ball away from his frame at his size. Rob was in protection the other day a little bit, also. Like I said, we've asked the tight end position to do so many things here, and Rob works hard each week to try to understand his role in the game plan, improve in the techniques that he can use in whatever aspect of the game that he's being used in, and that's a credit to him. 

Q: What has allowed the offense to improve in the screen game in the last couple of weeks?

JM: Well, I think, there's a few things. Screens are team plays, for sure. You need a lot of people to do their job properly on a screen play in order to have it be productive, and the screen is rarely scripted in terms of you're going to get this look, and he's going to be in this spot, you've got to block him there. There's a lot of different things that can happen on screen plays because it's a reaction play for the defense. They may start one way and then all of a sudden go somewhere else, so our people that are out in front trying to block for the screen have to react, as well. Our runners do the same thing - based on where the blockers are or where the defenders are, [they] may have to run a little different spot on the field. And then, obviously, you're hoping for the defense to rush on those particular plays because anytime you call a screen, you usually only have one option, and that's the guy you're throwing it to. You know, there's a little luck involved. Sometimes it can be hit and miss, but I think the effort on our offensive group as far as to try to improve our productivity when we have a good opportunity has really been there and our guys have put in a lot of extra time and work in practice to try to make those things go. They care about that part of our offense, just like they care about every other one, and we did have a few productive ones the other day in the game. 

Q: Tom Brady has thrown an interception in five straight games. What do you see going on there?

JM: Well, I think interceptions, and in many cases turnovers in general, there's usually a lot that goes into one of those plays. Our execution, regardless of the outcome, is really what we're focused on whenever we do something that gives the defense a chance to take the ball away. So, it can go from protection breakdowns, to route technique, to coverage reads, to ultimately the final decision, and our focus is just strictly going to be on trying to see if we can't prepare our guys and really execute a little cleaner in all areas so that we can eliminate the opportunity for the defense to touch the ball. It shows up as a quarterback statistic. I think of it more as a team statistic, and we're just going to try to coach that better, starting with me, and trying to make good plays and put our guys in position to do their job properly and keep the ball moving forward and keep possession of the ball most importantly. 

Q: How do you coach a player on this, especially Brady who has been playing for 18 years? Does he know what he needs to correct, or are there still teaching moments?

JM: Nobody protects the ball better than he does. He knows what to do on every play that he's out there running. Like I said, sometimes there are little things here or there where we can maybe help eliminate the opportunity for a defender to touch the ball. Like I said, really it's a team play. There's plenty of things that go into those plays being turnovers, and it's certainly not just the quarterback, so we'll coach all of our guys as well as we can to try to avoid those situations from coming up because there's nothing we want to do more on every play than take good care of the football. 

Q: Have you had a chance to see how Jimmy Garoppolo is doing in San Francisco?

JM: I haven't really seen any of the - you know, maybe a clip or two on TV, but I haven't been able to watch the games, obviously. But, happy for him. He's obviously doing a good job for them in making the most of his opportunities. I would imagine everybody that knows Jimmy is really happy for him and his success.

Q: Garoppolo has been executing a lot of situation football, like two-minute drills and game-winning drives. Does it warm your heart to see him executing like that?

JM: Like I said, I haven't really seen a lot of that. But, you know, I'm happy for any and all success that he's having. 

Q: Having gone through the process of head coaching interviews last year, what is your mindset on that process this year? Also, given the time since you last saw the Jets in October, what stands out to you about their defensive unit?

JM: Well, the Jets - this is always a difficult challenge. One, we've played them before during the course of the season, so it's the second time of a division rivalry that we'll have an opportunity to play against them. They're a physical group. They play an aggressive style. They're blitzing a little bit more than they were in the first part of the season, which doesn't surprise me. They're putting pressure on the quarterback and really there's a lot of things that they do well - turning the ball over, third down. I mean, there are significant challenges here. Their front seven is physical. Their inside linebackers are very fast, as fast as a twosome as we'll see all year, and the outside linebackers do a good job of setting the edge in the running game, forcing you to run kind of in a small space. They have a very disruptive defensive line. The two young safeties, I think, are getting better and better each week. I think they're going to be really good players. They ask a lot of them, whether it's to blitz, cover in man coverage, defend the deep part of the field, disguise, play different spots in sub-defense, dime, money and those types of things. And then the corners, they ask them to play a decent chunk of man-to-man, which they do a good job of, and forced us to turn the ball over in the first game doing some of that. It's always a big challenge to play these guys. Their style is similar to what ours is. They know us pretty good. We know them pretty good, and it will be a tough, hard-fought division game, I'm sure, that will come down to who executes better and who plays better in situational football, who takes care of the football better. So, excited to get an opportunity to start our preparation tomorrow with our guys. The first part of your question, we'll just see what happens, like always. Like you said, it's happened in the past, and that's something that will take care of itself once the season is over. I'm really focused and excited about our preparation for the Jets.

Q: Does Dion Lewis' vision help him when he might see a small crease and hit it very quickly to make something out of nothing?

JM: Yeah, there's a lot of things Dion does well. You know, his vision is certainly one aspect of that. He's got good burst through the hole, he's tough to tackle, he's got a low center of gravity, so there's a lot of things that I think he possesses that help him be a productive runner. I think the guys up front - the tight ends, the fullback - have done a nice job of giving him an opportunity to have an entry point into the defense. They've opened up some good holes for him to run through. So, the running game, when it works, there's a lot of factors that go into that to make it successful, but certainly Dion has taken advantage of his opportunities, been a really productive player for us and hopefully we can continue to do that as we go throughout the season.



Q: The other day Devin McCourty was talking about the urgency in the red area defense after allowing some big plays. What about your unit comes through in red area defense? What's the key to success with red area defense?

MP: I think Devin made some excellent points there. I think for us we've just got to understand when the ball gets down in the red area, however it happens, it's usually probably something not good that happened before that. So the biggest mindset we've got to have at that point is just to kind of move on to the next play and make sure we focus on the situation that has come up. However the ball got there it got there and we've got to go out and perform that next play to the highest level of our ability. That's one of the biggest keys for us is that if we can make sure that we're dialed in on that particular play, that particular situation, you don't let a bad play or something maybe previously that happened distract you or interrupt you from focusing on the situation that is now currently at hand. That's when you can lead to another bad play. I think for us we're just - obviously any time the ball is on the field we're trying to stop them and particularly in the red area we're trying to keep them out of the end zone. Make sure we're trying to execute whatever the call is at a high level with everybody on the same page. I'll just say this again for our players, and Devin McCourty's a great example of someone who's an extremely strong and great leader for us, and certainly in that situation down there where those guys have a lot of different things they have to recognize and communicate and get everybody on the same page with. Those guys, him and Duron Harmon and Pat Chung from the safety standpoint, down into our linebackers, Kyle Van Noy when he's out there certainly and Elandon Roberts. Those guys have to really tie everything together from the coverage to the front, from the run game to the pass game and that's critically important for us down there. 
Q: For a defense that plays a lot of different things on a week-to-week basis, it seems like Malcom Brown's versatility makes it easier for you when deciding how you want to attack each week. Does that seem right to you? As a coordinator, how much do you value putting together those plans every week?

MP: Yeah, I would say, again, with Malcom, he's certainly someone who's kind of been here for a little bit now and understands what we're trying to do week in week out. I think he's someone that works really hard at what we do and understanding full concepts of it. Him being able to understand it and move into different positions certainly does give us some flexibility there. All of our guys kind of, they have to have that in front and in the back end so all of them do have to be able to play in different roles and different positions based on whatever the offense puts out there or whatever our game plan is for that particular week. Malcom, in general, I would say is someone that really studies hard, works hard, tries to understand the opponent. [He's] a guy that has really improved throughout the course of the season. I think Coach [Bill Belichick] had mentioned he got a little dinged up but is someone that even though may not necessarily been on the game field every day was very involved and active with game plans and studying and opponent review and technique work and things like that and trying to help his teammates get better. From that standpoint, when you've got a guy like that that's really kind of dialed in every single day to what you're doing, you know that he's going to improve. You can put a lot on him. You can trust him to really understand what you're trying to do that week and he'll go out there and try to execute it to the best of his ability. It may not be a great, ideal situation for him. He understands that if he's got to go into a different position, but he's going to go out there and give you everything he's got. In particular for him, when a guy demonstrates that ability to really try to take ownership for what you're doing and understand that even when you're not even in the situation where he can play, that's when you really trust a guy to go out there and execute it when he does have the opportunity to play.

Q: Elandon Robert plays at a million miles per hour and sometimes he has some incredible hits and tackles in the run game, but sometimes he might over run the play. Is it hard to teach a player not to run 100% flying down the field on every play but rather to sometimes to play more within himself?

MP: I would say in general as a defensive football player I think it's all going to be the same no matter who you are. Elandon plays extremely hard. You love his aggressiveness, his hustle, his pursuit, the way that he steps on the field and really - I mean the idea is to go get the guy with the ball and you're trying to get there as fast as you can and probably in a thousand different ways, especially as a linebacker. That particular position you're not necessarily in different contact with anybody right now but you might have somebody up on you quickly where you've got to make contact with them and get off and run and find the ball and run to the sideline or come downhill or drop into coverage and then break down towards the ball if it's thrown short or break deep if it's thrown deeper. So you're angles are completely different on every single play. Your contact points are completely different on every single play. You've got to really have a skill set that's unique. Something that you can find that ability to transition to drive on a ball carrier when you think you can go quickly to tempo the ball when you think you've got to slow it down. E-Rob does a great job of just kind of studying opponents, understanding their strengths and their weaknesses. Sometimes you're going to have some good, clean angles or hits where there's nobody in your way and sometimes you're not and that can throw you off balance a little bit and you might miss something here or there. We're always going to try to prevent that. We're going to try to make sure we always take good and proper angles, especially tackling and when we're in pursuit. It could be coverage also. It's all the same. It's all related into fundamentals, skill sets and understanding your opponent. Sometimes those guys, you've got to give credit. Those guys across the ball, they're pretty talented players. They're very quick, very fast, very elusive and sometimes you've got to make a decision to take a shot and try to get them quick and sometimes you've got to try to take a good angle and slow it down and make sure you've got a good wrap up and a good hit. But that's all a part of being on the field and trying to understand the tempo the game is being played at. We're certainly going to try to make every tackle that we can and we're going to try to be as close to them as possible and get everybody to the ball. Certainly when you have everybody hustling to the ball it gives you a little bit more freedom to try to take some of those shots when you can. 
Q: How would you characterize Trey Flowers' ability to adapt to what teams are trying to do to him during the game?

MP: Yeah, sure. I mean Trey works really hard. Those are two totally different plays that you're talking about right there so two different situations for him. Both of which, like you said, one particular play we didn't play well as a defense and the other one was really a good complementary play all across the ball. I think the second play you were talking about Eric Lee was involved. It's just kind of a different look defensively, a different play offensively. In general, I think the more Trey has developed and played and studied film, you get more adaptive to some of those different looks that you see, different blocking combinations. Certainly for a guy like Trey Flowers who might be in a numerous bunch of different positions, he's got to understand what are the attack points that might come after me in that particular position. So it could be different than just, 'Hey these are the blocks I'm going to see this week,' or 'These are the blocks I'm going to see in this alignment. These are the blocks I'm going to see in this alignment. This is the different plays they run in this situation. This might be passing situations that are also a couple of run situations that come up in that.' [Give] credit to him as far as his work habit, his ability to study, his way that he approaches and attacks the game. I think when you see guys on the field that perform at a high level on a Sunday that play a couple different things well or maybe get better or see something early in the game, they don't play it so well and they improve it the next time they see it out on the field when that repeats, you go back to the week. You go back to the study. You go back to earlier in the week whether maybe it's a Wednesday practice or a Thursday or maybe film study on Monday or Tuesday. They saw something that then clicks and says, 'Okay, hey that's in the package this week. They're going to run that play. Next time it comes up I'll be more aware, I'll be more alert and I'll be able to play it better.' I think all of that goes into the preparation. I would say Trey Flowers does an excellent job of preparing week in week out because we ask him to do quite a few different things for us. He's a tough guy, he's a smart guy and he's a work hard guy so that's a great place to start.

Q: What have you seen from Patrick Chung over his career and the way that he has worked on his ability to cover the passing game?

MP: Pat Chung does a lot of things for us well [in the] passing game, but I wouldn't want to speak about Pat and not mention also the run game. I think he's a guy that has some tough assignments week in and week out. He really does. I think he does a good job of understanding the multiple positions he's going to play, getting lined up in some different positions. We have different assignments for him week in week out. I think he does a really good job of understanding that and trying to really master the game plan that week and go out and try to execute it to the best of his ability. Sometimes he's going to be in a position where he can make some plays and sometimes he's going to be in a position where he's kind of out there by himself and he's got to come up and hopefully hold up in a situation. It's not all perfect by any means but he plays really hard and he really tries to execute at a high ability. I just think it's a combination of his ability to play both the run and the pass game that really needs to be noted in particular. I think that's someone that through the course of his career I think Pat really understands what we're trying to do, what we're trying to accomplish situationally, game plan wise, and I think he tries to really go out and give us everything he can in those situations. We ask him, like I said, to do some tough assignments and he has to step up to that challenge every week. [He's] another guy who works hard during the week to prepare and study and learn and a very prideful guy. It's good to have those guys in the room. They work hard. They understand that you're relying on them and they're going to try to do everything they can to follow through on that.
Q: Having gone through the head coaching interview process last year, what is you mindset on that this year?

MP: Yeah, there's nothing really there to even discuss. Right now it's all about the Jets. I think for me it's we've got a big challenge for us this week to kind of turn the page after last week. We wanted to play well a second time against Buffalo and obviously that was a huge challenge for us coming off of a short week with Pittsburgh. Right now my full focus is always our opponent and who we're playing and trying to do everything I can to help this team win and this defense prepare to win week in week out. That's my 100 percent commitment to these guys. I think anything else is not justified, thoughts or conversation, because I think that we really need to make sure that we're doing everything we can to get ready to beat the Jets this weekend.

Q: What do you see from the Jets offense in terms of challenges and differences from the first time you played them this season?

MP: Yeah, it's really been a unique situation, I would say, here over the last several weeks with two division games or two division opponents [with] both of the games being so close together. I think that's been a pretty interesting kind of scheduling, kind of situation for us. This kind of goes back to what we're used to is you see a team earlier in the year that you're familiar with, the Jets, obviously a division team, and then come back and it's been a little bit of time here since we've played them last. I think we've changed a little bit. They've changed a little bit. Personnel-wise is where you're always going to start and you're going to take a look. The quarterback position with [Bryce] Petty in there - really a guy they obviously trust to run their offense and the system that they have in place right now at a high level. I think the biggest thing is, again, Petty comes in and he's obviously a guy that they trust to put in place here to run the system that they have. I think for the Jets, they obviously are trying to get the ball here in the run game and make sure that they get [Bilal] Powell going, use their receivers now with Robby Anderson really kind of emerging as one of their big play guys. [He's] extremely fast, extremely quick player that can be explosive and create dynamic plays right away. [Jermaine] Kearse kind of is moving around a little bit more. [He's] another guy that is very dangerous. We know a lot about him from playing him in the past. Then [Chad] Hansen really now kind of stepping into that third wide receiver role. I'd say the other big part of it is they really kind of settled into the tight end situation here with [Austin] Seferian-Jenkins being a big factor in the passing game. He's obviously a big guy in general so he can be out there in the run game, big catch radius, very difficult to tackle. Someone who Coach [John] Morton, the offensive coordinator, does a good job of getting him the ball in those situations. Then [Eric] Tomlinson coming into the Y spot there, the tight end, the blocking guy. He's another big guy that you've got to deal with. So I think they're settled into those roles maybe a little bit better than what we saw the first time we saw them and trying to exploit those guys and put them in the best position to succeed. Obviously very explosive, Powell in the run game, those guys that can break small plays into big plays. That will be the first challenge for us there. [Matt] Forte coming in who gives them another element in the passing game, who's dangerous in space along with the receivers that I mentioned and obviously the tight end situation. I think the whole thing for Coach Morton and the system that they have with Petty now in there is to just try to get into a good play offensively that's going to gain positive yards, take their chances downfield when they see fit, push the ball, get some big plays, control the game with the run game and mix the personnel and keep it moving. One of the things they do a great job of is just kind of the overall operation of their offense from a procedural standpoint. They're in and out of the huddle, they're at the line of scrimmage quick, they have the plays ready to go, they know what they want to run. There is little big of an element at the line of scrimmage where they can change some plays and try to get into a particular better play if they see something defensively that they don't like and kind of play that smart football game. That certainly will be big part of it for us in trying to stop them.

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