HEAD COACH BILL BELICHICK
Q: What has impressed you about Antonio Gates over the years and what have you noticed about the connection he has with Philip Rivers?
BB: Well, I think Gates - he's got a very deceptive style of route running. He's big and he's athletic and he's got great hands, so he makes a lot of outstanding catches. But, he has a very deceptive and very patient style of route running, so he's kind of subtle and then explosive at coming out of the break or to get the ball at the right time. So, he's got that ability, so that really probably gives him a connection with any quarterback, especially one like Rivers who's thrown to him for so long that it's hard to - probably if you weren't working with him all the time, you might not have quite as much appreciation for what he does to get open. Again, with the background that he and Rivers have together, I'm sure that Philip has a lot of confidence in Gates' ability to make that sudden move at the last second to create some separation and then put the ball there.
Q: When you think about some of the great quarterback-tight end combinations, does the Rivers-Gates connection jump out to you?
BB: Yeah, I mean, there's a lot of them, but you certainly have to put those two guys up there. They've had a ton of production together and in different systems, different offenses, so you can see them making different throws, running different routes. But, Gates is a hard guy to defend and it's not by the book. He's got a very unique way of doing it but very, very effective. So, yeah, he's still a dangerous player.
Q: What's the challenge for a reserve player to prepare each week as if he is a starter, especially when it comes to on-the-field reps?
BB: Well, the players that work on the scout teams get as high quality of work as anybody because they're working against - like our scout team defensive players are working against our offense, which is our best players doing the things that those players are best at, and we're asking the scout team players to cover them. When you're on the scout teams, and all of our players take reps on the scout teams for that very reason - to keep that sharpness - so that's a great opportunity on the scout team to work on your techniques. You don't have to work on calls and adjustments and things like that because those are usually on a card or they're pretty standard. So, that's not the challenging part for the scout team guys. The opportunity for those players is to work on their fundamentals and techniques without having to worry about a lot of calls and adjustments and things like that. I think that's an opportunity for every player - again, very few players would take, call it more than 50 percent of the reps in practice, maybe 55 at the most, but nobody's taking 100 percent of the reps. So, when they're on offense or scout team offense, either one of those are quality reps - either running our offense or running against our defense and vice versa. So, players get plenty of snaps in practice, and the ones they get they can take advantage of to work on the things that they can work on. And, the things that they aren't able to work on, then we have to find another way to be able to prepare the players for those, and that's meetings and walk-throughs and other things like that.
Q: Entering Week 7 last season, your defense was No. 1 in allowing the fewest yards after catch. According to one stat service, your defense was averaging about two yards higher this year going into the Atlanta game. Has there been an added emphasis on that, and what did you think of your team's performance in that regard on Sunday night?
BB: I think the emphasis has been the same, which is high. That's a very important thing for our defense and we work on it, stress it a lot, so that's very important. We can always get better at it, and that's playing with better leverage and tackling in the open field, either individually or with our teammate, using the leverage of a teammate to funnel the runner to one or another. But, yeah, that's very important for us.
Q: For players who excel as gunners on special teams, is there a correlation between the ability to make a special teams tackle after a downfield sprint and being a good open-field tackler on defense?
BB: Yeah, there's certainly some carryover. It's a little bit different, though. On special teams, on punt and kickoff coverage, you're running, usually, quite a ways to get to the runner. Generally on defense, you're not running quite that far - maybe a free safety coming up to the line of scrimmage, call it 15 yards or so, plus the lateral distance that he covers - but it's usually not the same or not as frequent. You maybe have one or two of those plays a game defensively, hopefully. Hopefully, you don't have any, but those kind of tackles that you're talking about that occur in the kicking game aren't that common on defense. They do occur, but they're not that common. But, regardless, we work many, many different tackling drills. They have many different components to tackling. A lot of it is leverage and position and getting to the right spot relative to your angle on the runner and your proximity to another defender or sideline and things like that. And then there's the whole technique of actually tackling - of wrapping up and getting the runner on the ground and dealing with things that runners do to try to break tackles, like stiff arms and spinning out of contact and lowering their shoulder and things like that. So, there are a lot of variables between a runner and the final tackle, but we try to work on all those things.
Q: What have you seen from Alan Branch since working him back into the lineup over the last couple of weeks?
BB: Well, I think, again, each game's going to have a different challenge and different responsibilities for each player. So, it's just going to be continuous for all of us. Every coach and every player, it's just going to be a continuous challenge each week to recognize what our opponents are doing, what we need to do to, in this case, defend it, how we need to play, and then go out there and be able to execute it on Sunday against the players and the scheme and the combination of things that they do offensively that give you problems. It's just a week-to-week challenge and especially for players that haven't played consistently for the last several weeks, in terms of a high number of snaps in every game and things like that. I think the challenge is a little bit greater, just because the number of reps and plays are fewer.
Q: When you sign a player like Johnson Bademosi, who has not played much on defense in his previous stops, how do you know what to expect when he gets an opportunity on your team? If he keeps playing well, is this something that maybe you stick with?
BB: Right, well, I mean, first of all, a player like Bademosi who played in Cleveland - I mean, there's enough defensive film on him to see him play. This isn't a player that hasn't taken any snaps on the defensive side of the ball. But, regardless, you get players, you play them in preseason, you play them in training camp, you play them in the spring, and everybody gets an evaluation. The guys that play the best play the most. The guys that don't play as well continue to keep working until their performance either moves ahead of somebody else's or they get an opportunity because of circumstances. I mean, it's pretty fundamental the way it works. When the players get that opportunity, then it's up to them to perform in that situation that they're called to play on. Depending on how the performance goes, then that will probably either lead to less or more playing time eventually once it declares itself. So, that's up to each individual player. Not every player can control the opportunities that he gets. Sometimes, I mean, those are coaches' decisions, and sometimes those opportunities become available through the unavailability of other players. So, in other words, a guy doesn't necessarily go out there and beat somebody out in training camp competition, but because of circumstances, an opportunity arises and then the player does whatever he does with the opportunity. That's up to each individual player. That's why each player needs to always be prepared, always be ready, so that when that opportunity comes, he's able to take advantage of it and not miss the opportunity and then that will hurt his chances the next time, but also he loses the chance to improve his value to the team. All players want to be valuable to the team, all players want to contribute, all players want to play, all players want to increase their role, but it's a very competitive situation. This league's very competitive, and we know we're all judged on our performance and our production, so when those opportunities come, you've got to take advantage of them.
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR JOSH MCDANIELS
Q: You have a pretty dynamic duo of a quarterback and tight end coming in this weekend with Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates. With that in mind, what kind of a connection do you think Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have as players in your offense and how have you seen them grow in their time together?
JM: Well, I think the key in any good relationship in really any area in life, but in our game, is trust and understanding one another and what you expect the other person to do and then seeing them do it over and over and over again through many practice repetitions and then also game experience. You just have such a good feeling when whatever the play is that's called, whatever the route is that's called. I'm sure that Philip and Antonio kind of know what they're looking for from the other guy, what they expect on the route versus the coverage that they're seeing. That only comes through a number of years, practice, hard work, a lot of repetitions against a lot of different looks that you see. Through those things you grow and you start to develop that chemistry and trust where when it happens under pressure in the middle of a game you know what to expect from the other guy and then you're able to do it at a high level and hopefully have it result in success.
Q: With Gus Bradley being a disciple of the Seattle defensive system, how similar does this Chargers defense look to that now with him as their defensive coordinator? Is it similar to the defense you saw from Dan Quinn with Atlanta last week?
JM: I think there's definitely some similarities. They're not all the same. There's enough variables and enough things that they choose to do differently based on their personnel that it's certainly not a carbon copy of either scheme, whichever one you want to discuss and talk about. So, this team, the way they utilize their fronts, some of the things they do with their personnel is definitely different than what we've seen last week or what we've seen from that style of defense in the past. They're aggressive. They know exactly what they want to do on every snap. They rarely make a defensive miscue. They don't give up many big plays and it's all about taking the ball away and they've done that very well over the last two years even before Gus was there. I know that's a huge point of emphasis for them. They're very active and aggressive. I mean, look, they're in the top ten in points allowed, red zone defense, passing defense, third-and-long defense, turnovers, sacks. They know how to take the ball away. They know how to disrupt the offense and they don't give up big plays, so they force you to drive the ball a long way and execute a lot of different plays while they're trying to create negative situations and get off the field. [They're a] really well coached unit, got a lot of good players at all three levels. They've got a lot of young players and this is a team that we really don't know. We've played a few of these guys before but most of these players we've never played and certainly we haven't played them in a few years. We're really working hard to try and get familiar with all of their personnel and how they play and what they do and what Coach Bradley is doing with them this year.
Q: What do you see from Chris McCain on their defense and how has he changed since you saw him playing in Miami?
JM: Yeah, we do have some familiarity with him before. He rotates in there with their two defensive ends that are exceptional players. He's created negative plays. He's gotten to the quarterback. He's put significant pressure on the passer. He's just a young player. He's long. He's got good get-off and good speed, plays hard and he fits in very well with their group, so he's obviously developed and grown and improved in his short career. He comes in there and tries to complement [Melvin] Ingram and [Joey] Bosa who are exceptional players at their positions; probably two of the best players on the same team that we're going to play all year.
Q: What impresses you about Joey Bosa and what makes him unique from some other high-level pass rushers you've seen?
JM: Well, there's not much that doesn't impress me. The guy plays with tremendous effort. He gets off on the snap. He can play with speed or power. He's a very good run player, a disruptive guy who can knock back the line of scrimmage, set a good edge, create negative plays in the running game. He's involved when they run their stunts and games. He can do a good job of disrupting the pocket with those types of plays, also. He's incredibly competitive and you're going to have to play every play until the whistle blows with him. For a young player it's not all just one thing. Sometimes it takes guys a little time to develop a repertoire of rush moves in our league that enable them to have success and I would say this guy is really - for a guy that hasn't played multiple, multiple seasons in the NFL he's got a lot of different things to him as a pass rusher that you've got to get ready for. A really, really good player both in the running game and in the passing game. Tough, physical, explosive, capable of creating game-changing plays on every snap, so we're going to have to do a great job of getting familiar with him as well as the rest of their guys on defense. Obviously, Ingram's a tremendous player, also. [Casey] Hayward - they've got a lot of them, so we've got to do a good job of getting familiar with these guys quickly, having a good week of preparation and practice and being ready to handle a different challenge on Sunday.
Q: Going back to last Sunday, what did you see on the play where Tom Brady threw an interception that was negated by an Atlanta penalty? What did you think of the decision Tom made on that play?
JM: Yeah, obviously we never intend on giving the defense an opportunity to take the ball away from us. He got flushed out of the pocket and I wasn't sure that he saw the guy that ended up making the play. It is what it is. It got called back. We've kind of addressed it. As a team we want to always try and protect the football. That's the most important thing that we can do when we go out there along with scoring points. We've got to take care of the ball and we've got to try and score points and convert our opportunities, which really goes hand in hand. It was fortunate that it didn't end up in a turnover and we were able to, I believe, capitalize on that drive, also. Historically, he's been tremendous at taking care of the ball. We count on him to do that every week and he does a great job of it.
Q: Throughout a week of preparation, how much time do you guys spend on third-and-long situations?
JM: Just as much on third-and-long as we do on the rest of those situations. You're obviously hoping to experience that situation less, but you need to be prepared, one, for what you want to do in that situation if it comes up in the game in a critical situation, and also be familiar with what the defense chooses to do in those situations, as well. I would say this week we're playing the best team in the league on third-down and ten-plus. They do a tremendous job of getting off the field, creative negative plays on third-and-long when they get the offense in that situation, which even makes the situation worse. So, it's going to be imperative for us to try and avoid that situation if we can and play good football on first and second down to keep it out of third-and-long and if we do find ourselves in that situation we've got to have a good plan and execute whatever it is we're doing to make sure that we, one, take care of the ball, and two, you give yourself an opportunity to either improve field position, which could improve the punt or potentially get a first down in that situation, also. Third-and-long is directly correlated to what you do on the first two plays of the series. If you're doing OK and moving the ball towards the goal line, moving it forward, then hopefully you can try and avoid a whole bunch of those in the game. You definitely have to put effort towards that situation during each week of practice in preparation for the opponent that you're playing. This week will be a huge challenge if we find ourselves in that situation.
Q: You guys have had some success in that area this season. What has led to that? Does it make you confident that you're never truly out of an offensive series even if you are facing a third-and-long?
JM: Yeah, we've had more than I would like, which is a focus for us to try and eliminate penalties offensively and any kind of negative situations that put us in those situations. No matter what it is, it's not a good play for the offense. Again, I think it goes down to two things - trying to avoid it if you can but playing well on early downs and if you get in that situation on third-down-and-long and you're going to try and convert the play then you either have to protect long enough for the routes to develop or you have to get the ball to somebody and allow them to potentially run for the first down if you're not going to use some type of a run play in that situation either. There's a couple of different ways to look at it, a couple of different tactics to take if you wanted to choose one or the other. No matter what you do you've got to have good execution on that play to give yourself an opportunity because third-down-and-long in our league is not easy to convert.
Q: When you have all four of your main running backs at your disposal, how do you decide who comes in and out when? Do you have a rotation or is it all based on the down and distance?
JM: I would say there's a lot of variables in that. They're all capable of making good plays and they're all capable of helping us move the ball and that's the most important thing that we feel about our group of backs. There's some that are maybe down and distance related. There's others that are maybe packages that certain guys practice more than others during the course of the week and then at times you just let a guy try to take a series and get himself into a rhythm. A lot of that is based on how the game goes and what happens during that series of downs, what kind of down and distance situations you find yourself in and then the type of success that you're having with what you're doing. It's not as cut and dry as just divvying it up equally or 'This series it's this guy only,' or what have you. I mean, there's a lot of different things that could go into that. Ivan [Fears] has them all prepared for each situation and each role and they all do a tremendous job of backing one another up because we always have more than one guy that's capable of going in there and playing a different role, whatever that role might be. They all practice hard at that. They prepare well and it's a really hard-working group that you have a lot of trust and faith in to go in there and either run the ball, pass protect, catch the ball out of the backfield and ultimately just help us move the ball down the field and try to score points. I thought their ball security was good the other night. They all ran hard. We had a few blitz pickup situations that were done well. We had some guys catch the ball out of the backfield. As a group I thought they really played well. They complemented one another well and they all went in there and did their job. They're all unselfish. They don't care who gets the credit. They're just willing to go in there and when it's their turn they do the best that they can to help us in the role that we ask them to. I'm happy with what they did and looking forward to trying to improve that whole group as we move through the season.
Q: Is it an advantage that you can always throw somebody fresh at the defense?
JM: I think that certainly if you have a guy that needs a break or something that he can come out. They know that they can come out and they're going to end up going back into the game at some point. If they're tired they can do that. I don't think that came up a whole bunch the other night. If we can continue to, look, all of the guys that go to the game we hope that we can play them and help our group collectively stay fresh, whatever the position is. We had the tight end and the fullback; they played and helped one another kind of stay fresh in a little rotation there. The receivers; same thing with the backs. We try to do that as much as we can with our skill group so that we don't overburden one guy or one position group. They're all in good condition. They all work hard during the week to be in good condition so that they can play as many snaps as they need to. If they need a break then hopefully there will be a fresh guy to go in there and be ready to do his job and do it as well as he can.
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR MATT PATRICIA
Q: What stands out to you about the connection between Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates? Do you see much on tape that suggests that they have been playing together for a long time?
MP: Yeah, first off, a lot of respect to both of those guys who have done a great job for multiple years here of playing together in different systems and being so productive and competitive and really difficult to defend. I think when you play the game with another guy for a long time you start to see the game through the same set of eyes which obviously they do. There's certain situations where it might be a breakdown in a route, breakdown in coverage, breakdown in a play where those guys are just on the same page or they might see a pre-snap look that to them is advantageous to running a certain play and they can just kind of get on the same page with a lot of - basically effortlessly and turn it into a really big situation for them. Just two great players and I'm sure they're fortunate to be playing together still and have that continuity with each other but [it's] very difficult to defend both of those guys.
Q: What do you see from this Chargers offense?
MP: Yeah, I mean this is certainly a very hot team right now. An offense that is doing everything they can to win the game, put their team in position to win, control the game. Certainly I think the run game, Coach [Ken] Whisenhunt, obviously Coach [Anthony] Lynn has brought his philosophy of running the ball and trying to control the game from that aspect and wearing out the defense. Melvin Gordon is an extremely strong runner, a very powerful guy, kind of a work horse sort of running back. So being able to run the ball inside and outside with him, he's got great balance, burst, vision, very good stiff arm. This guy is really hard to tackle on first contact so with that kind of constant pounding that he can provide they've been able to really kind of establish the run from a number of just handing the ball off, handling the ball off and just repeatedly coming after the defense from that standpoint. [Austin] Ekeler, who has been in there more recently here, is a real good change up back for them. Both of these guys are also involved in the passing game but [in terms of] speed and quickness he's definitely a guy that's a different type of runner but also very, very productive. His run average is extremely high. Those two guys and then use them in the run game and then combine them into the passing game is kind of really where they've started with this offense. Then you push into the tight ends which we just talked about [Antonio] Gates and how great he is and then really Hunter Henry who's another guy who is coming on very strong for them. I think another guy in the tight end position that the quarterback has a lot of trust in, has really started to feature a little bit in the passing game also. They do a good job, the offense, Coach Whisenhunt, Coach Lynn do a good job with mixing the personnel and the formations. That's one of the hardest things is the formations and the motions that they give you. There's a lot of adjustments that have to go on. Then they create angles in both the run game and then leverage in the passing game. So that's something that they've done an excellent job with. Then when you get through all that you've got to try to deal with the wide receivers. Obviously, Keenan Allen who's an excellent, excellent wide receiver. He's got great hands, he's a big guy, he can get open, he's a great route runner, does all of the things that you want from that standpoint. Then you mix with [Travis] Benjamin and [Tyrell] Williams, guys that have been able to push the ball vertically or just get explosive plays. I mean obviously you can see the speed of Benjamin there the other day [with] how fast he is. They can take those what might look like small plays or small gains or short completion or whatever the case may be, a reverse and then turn it into just a huge play with their ability to get into space and make people miss and in some cases just run away from people. So it's a huge challenge. I'll tell you up front too, you know, I think the offensive line - a little bit of a change there for them coming in with [Matt] Slauson going out but really just being solid up front, playing smart, doing a good job with the adjustments. Philip Rivers still has control of the offense from the 2at the line of scrimmage standpoint. [It's a] 'check with me' system where he can change plays and the offensive line is right there with him. I think the group is really kind of all on the same page right now. They're clicking very well together from the standpoint of what they're trying to do by game plan so that will be a big challenge for us.
Q: What have you seen from Alan Branch since reinserting him into the lineup after the sit down a couple weeks ago?
MP: Yeah, I mean I think Coach [Bill Belichick] did it pretty well. Alan [Branch] is a guy that has done a great job for us around here. He's worked hard to really try to do everything that we've asked him to do and I think every game is different from that standpoint. So I definitely see some things that he's doing well in some of the looks that we're trying to get him to play. It's just about consistency for us. It always is and I think going back through a couple weeks now of conversations and just trying to get everybody in the front, so Alan or whoever it is, Malcom [Brown] or Lawrence [Guy], everybody just to play consistently and I think that's out biggest thing right now is just trying to stay consistent [and] trying to improve every week, trying to get our hands inside, trying to keep our pad level low and do all of those good fundamental things that we teach. I think Alan is working in the right direction with it and I think all those guys in the front are. We're certainly not there by any means. We're certainly trying to just get better. The run game this week will be, like I just was talking about, it'll be another big challenge so I think all those guys up front have really got to do another great job of it. I think Alan, he does all the things we ask him to do. He's really trying to improve his technique too. We all kind of start over every year and that's kind of where we are in the season right now and just trying to get back to that point where we're playing consistently well.
Q: Would you say that Alan Branch's short-area quickness is kind of unique for a man of his physical size?
MP: I mean I think it is if you're talking about general population, it's absolutely unique. But these guys are NFL football players. They're all big. I mean 2I stand next to them every day and sometimes you forget how big they are until you're around everybody else. These guys are big, they're long, they're strong, they're way more athletic than you and I. Unfortunately, you get desensitized to how athletic they are.
Q: It appeared the Falcons had a number of chances to make plays during Sunday's game and they didn't. When you go back to the film room, do you chalk that up to them having a chance to make a play and they didn't or are you harping on the defense that we've got to get better at this, taking into account that these guys have to move on quickly anyways even if they make a mistake?
MP: Yeah, I mean kind of to the best I can to answer the question. You can probably ask any one of my guys or my players, I'm going to harp on every single thing that I can find to harp on. We're always trying to get the guys in the best position possible. We're obviously trying not to have any separation between ourselves and the man when we're in that situation. We always want to have good, tight coverage. The other part of the coin is that you're talking about two outstanding wide receivers that we're trying to cover for 60 minutes of a game. Sometimes they're going to have some good plays in there too. You just try to minimize as many of those as possible and hopefully you're in good position where everything in the game works together. There's 11 guys out there on defense trying to all work in the same direction. There's a lot of plays through the course of football that it may not be great coverage but it's a great rush. It may not be a great rush but it's a great coverage. You might have a play where you'd got neither a rush or coverage. Those are usually catastrophic or you have a play where you have great rush and coverage in passing situations. We're going to coach all of it up as hard as we can. We're going to try to make it as tight as we can, as best as we can to get those guys going. I think during the game, to answer the other question, is obviously you want to get it corrected, you want to get it coached up but you certainly are moving on to make sure you get other things adjusted or corrected or whatever part of the game may be coming up situationally that you have to address. It's fast paced. You're trying to coach it as fast as you can. Those guys are making corrections as fast as they can. Sometimes those guys do such a good job of actually making the correction on the field before they even get to you so that it doesn't happen within the same drive. That's when you really have a really good unit working together is when they can recognize stuff out on the field and self-correct and get themselves in the right position so that if the play repeats they don't have the same problem.
Q: Are you seeing any of those self-corrections from this group right now?
MP: Yeah. I mean we always see - those guys are, they work really hard. I mean I wish I could even project to you guys how extremely hard they work throughout the course of the week. A lot of those corrections you see during the week where those guys are talking about plays, a lot of it happens during the game. For the most part I think those guys are trying to get it corrected before they've got to come over and deal with me on the sideline but those guys do. They work really hard to get that done. Sometimes there's just looks where it happens to fast and we've got to go look at the picture and get it fixed at that point too. So it's just kind of a combination of all of that. It might be pass game. It might be run game. It's just all different looks so it comes up in different facets - run, front, back end, things like that.
Q: Has Philip Rivers become a different kind of quarterback at different periods in his career? Even in not, how impressive is the body of work he has had for a decade and a half playing for as many different coaches as he has?
MP: Yeah, it's extremely impressive to me. Like I mentioned before, I have the utmost respect for him and all that he's done throughout his career. Every single time that we've had to play him it's been an absolute battle. So this guy has done an unbelievable job to learn, he's obviously very smart, puts himself in great situations throughout the game, controls a lot from the game standpoint and really just a phenomenal guy. Look, I still remember him coming out here and his knee was all banged up, it was the AFC Championship Game and that guy played as tough as anyone I've ever seen. I have the most respect for him, absolutely.
Q: What are your thoughts on Russell Okung? He seems to be one of the transformative offensive tackles in the NFL.
MP: Yeah, he's playing well. He's playing really well right now. This is a guy that we've obviously seen a couple times in a couple of different places. [He's] really playing using his length very well. He's got good agility. He's doing a good job of finishing his run blocks, does a good job in his pass sets and latching on and not letting guys get around him or by him. I think he's really playing at a high level right now. He'll be a big challenge for us. That's a good observation. He's playing well.