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Transcript: Patriots Conference Calls 11/21

HEAD COACH BILL BELICHICK

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Q: We talked to Dion Lewis throughout the spring and summer and he mentioned there was still some residual soreness from the injury he sustained in 2015. How did you know he has gotten past that and do you think his running now is comparable to how it was before the injury?

BB: Well, I think he's had a pretty good year. He did a lot of good things for us in training camp. We gave him a significant amount of play time in the preseason games including kickoff returns, so I think he's done a pretty good job all year. How he feels, I mean, obviously he can answer that better than I can, exactly how it feels compared to some other point in time. He's out there. He's doing everything. I think he's done well.

Q: He has said that he is small but does not consider himself little. Does the combination of speed and power that he runs with allow him to be more effective between the tackles than just a traditional 250-pound running back?

BB: Yeah, I agree with that. I think there are a lot of backs that go into that category that are short, but they're not small guys. They have good lower body strength. They can take contact, and run through arm tackles and can run through contact. I would definitely put him in that category. He's got good balance, good lower body strength and good vision. When guys get a shot at him he's able to maintain his balance and get through a lot of those hits. I think that's a credit to his strength, and his power and his balance. He's short but he's not a little guy. I agree with that.

Q: Who are some of the backs that come to mind when you think of smaller backs that still had the power and strength to run between the tackles?

BB: Well, I mean, there's a lot of guys that could go into that category. When I was with the Giants we had Joe Morris. Joe was 5' 7", like 205 [pounds]. Again, short but not little. 

Q: Will the fact that you are going to see Miami again two weeks later affect the game plan or even the calls in game at all?

BB: I think you prepare for this game the best you can and give yourself the best opportunity to perform well and win, and then worry about next week, next week.

Q: There seemed to be frustration earlier in the season from the players about how they were performing given the fact it was not up to their standards. How have you harnessed some of that frustration to help the team and eventually turn things around like you've done the past few weeks?

BB: Well, look, we all work hard and anything you work hard at you want to do well at. If it doesn't go quite how you want it to go, then you want to try and improve and do better. I think that's pretty straight forward.

Q: I guess what I'm asking is if there is a way to make sure early in the season that the frustration doesn't become a negative mentality?

BB: I don't know that I quite see it the way you saw it, but regardless, I think in the end whatever problem you have, whatever degree it is, it's still the same process. You analyze it, figure out what you need to do to correct it and then work hard to make those changes. No matter what you're looking at you've got to figure out what's wrong. Then you have to figure out what you need to do to make it better. Then you have to work hard to improve the area that you've identified that you need to address. I think that's, honestly, what we try to do in every phase of the game every week on everything. Some things may not be as good as others or may be better than others, but it still gets back to the same process. If you want to improve it, you've got to identify it and work hard and dedicate yourself to making progress there.

Q: What have you seen from the linebacker group? It seems like guys are in place more and around the ball to make the right play with an example being Elandon Roberts' coverage on the wheel route where the ball hit him in the back of the head.

BB: Well, I think that's a very competitive group of players on our team, and we have a lot of players and a lot of groups like that. So again, just trying to work on our fundamentals, and individual techniques, and try to work each week on our opponent, and their tendencies, the way they do things to match it up against. Those guys work hard at both of those areas. Again, as our other players do in their positions, as well. That's, hopefully, the key to improving and being more successful.

Q: What have you seen from Dolphins running back, Damien Williams? How difficult will it be to try and slow a guy like him down?

BB: Yeah, he's doing a good job for them. So is [Kenyan] Drake - those two guys now kind of are splitting the majority of, I'd say, the work at that position, both running the ball and throwing it. Damien has good vision, is good in space, handles the ball well, catches it well, runs hard, gets extra yards off contact. Both of those guys are very hard to stop and they play on all three downs. They can really be on the field at any time and be productive. We've got our work cut out for us with those guys because they're great. They're a great complement to their skill players, their tight ends and their receivers. They have great players at those positions and the backs do a great job of running the ball, and breaking tackles, and creating space in the passing game and making plays with the ball in their hands when they get into that space. It's a hard offense to stop. They've got a lot of great players, two outstanding quarterbacks. Coach [Adam] Gase has a good system. It's hard to defend. They do a good job of getting into good plays or getting out of bad plays depending on what the defensive look is. They put a lot of pressure on you in a lot of different areas. It's a very hard team to prepare for.

Q: What have you seen from Nate Solder as of late or even the whole offensive line in general? Do you feel that group has stepped up its performance at all?

BB: Yeah, well, that group is a collective group and Dante [Scarnecchia] and the offensive linemen all have, obviously, a very important job. It's important that they all work together on it with the quarterback and to some degree the tight end and the fullback [so that] we can execute things well together as a group. Of course, the individual matchups are key along the way, but there are so many combination blocks. There's so much communication, and identification of different looks and being able to handle movement after the snap with all of the linemen that it's a real credit to the way they've worked together. As we've talked about this past week, but for the last couple of weeks with LA [LaAdrian Waddle] and then this past week with Ted [Karras] in at center, that's changed a couple of the pieces of that line and they've continued to work hard and be able to operate efficiently. That'll be a big challenge for us this week with the front that the Dolphins have. They basically play all of those guys. They have a lot of talent, a lot of depth and they roll them in there all the way through the game. It's a hard group to handle. 

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR JOSH MCDANIELS

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Q: Do you feel like Dion Lewis is back to the player he was in 2015 before his knee injury?

JM: Yeah, I don't know if there's like a - there isn't a specific moment where you kind of realize that a player coming back off of an injury has resumed a previous form or percentage or what have you. I just think we've been trying to give him opportunity to work back in over the last two years and do the things that he does well. Really, that's up to Dion to tell us where he's at, how he feels and what he's capable of doing. He's done a great job of not only working back from an injury, but also just communicating, working hard, practices well and does a lot of things to try to get better. So, that's a great example of what we would love for our guys to do coming off of an injury. He deserves all the credit for all the work he's put in. Again, I don't know where he's at relative to what he was. That's really nobody's concern. He's playing well and he's got a good, solid role on our team, and he does whatever we ask him to do to try to help us win each week. 

Q: Lewis said recently that he's small but not little. Does his strength, even as a shorter back, translate to the way he runs and the success he's had between the tackles?

JM: Dion's not thin, that's for sure. Yeah, I mean, he's got power, he's got quickness, he's got speed. He does a lot of things well. Sometimes he can be difficult to find back there from the defense's perspective. We're very happy with how hard he runs and taking care of the ball, doing a good job with ball security and gaining extra yards after contact and making people miss in space. Those are things we like all our backs to do, and right now we've got guys that are doing that and Dion's certainly one of them.

Q: What has Rex Burkhead brought to the team in the last few weeks? How do you think he's fitting into the offense?

JM: Rex does a lot of things for our team. He certainly plays a lot of different roles offensively. I know he plays and contributes in the kicking game. Rex - he's got a skillset that allows him to do a lot of different things, whether that's run the ball, pick up the blitz, catch the ball out of the backfield, extend from the formation and catch the ball and be productive. I think Rex is like a lot of guys - he's got skills that allow him to do multiple things, and however he fits into the game plan, he works very hard at learning his role each week and then goes out there and executes his job. [He is] a very unselfish, productive player for us in a lot of different ways.

Q: With so many running backs on the team, when one makes a mistake and turns the ball over, how do you manage their work load after that?

JM: Again, all our guys try to protect the football at all times. Look, things happen in this game. We know how important ball security is to winning and losing, so it's a critical aspect of what we do. We also understand that things do happen and we have confidence in all our guys. He went back in there, carried the ball again and he will continue to do that. You look at all those things as they come and try to make the best decision for the team, and Coach [Bill Belichick] will always do that.

Q: Does Lewis remind you of other backs around the league? It seems like his physical makeup is unique and not commonplace in the NFL.

JM: I mean, we haven't talked about anybody in specific. I think this guy is just a unique player with a unique skillset that we enjoy having around here. He does a lot of things that you can take advantage of offensively, and anybody with that type of versatility and flexibility is of interest to us because of the multiple different ways you can use the player. I think Dion has proven over time that he can do and contribute in a lot of different areas. Again, we've seen him do it as a kickoff returner. We see him do it as a running back getting the ball handed to him. We've seen him do it as a blitz pick-up guy on third down. We've seen him do it catching the ball out of the backfield like he did the other day, and we've seen him extended from the formation. And, he's smart and he's tough and he cares about playing hard and doing whatever we ask him to do to help the team win. All of those things are great qualities for us to have, great qualities for any teammate to have on our team, and he's a guy that we're fortunate to have. He's a unique guy, does a lot of different things for our football team and we're excited to have him and to see where we can take it this year. 

Q: You play Miami on Sunday and again in two weeks. As you start your game planning process, how are you going to navigate this? Do you have to consciously hold some things back in this game?

JM: I mean, we're aware of the schedule, certainly, but I would say that our focus offensively is going to be on what we need to do to try to put together the best plan we can to help us win this weekend. If there's something else we need to do down the road to adjust or protect ourselves from something that we've done before, then I think you worry about that at that time. I don't think you can get too caught up in trying to worry about something that's down the road and in the future because, believe me, they're going to give us as much as we can handle on Sunday relative to the things they do, the players they have and the scheme that they use, and they've always done that. It's always been a difficult preparation. It's always been a difficult competition on game day, whether we're here or down there, and we've got to do everything we can to put everything into it this week and see if we can't play really well on Sunday, give ourselves an opportunity to win this game and then worry about down the road down the road.

Q: In your experience, have you found it's any more challenging to get young linemen prepared to play in the NFL based on the offensive systems a lot of players are coming from at the college level?

JM: I think our process is the same. I would say this: all the players we get, whether it's offensive linemen or another position, they're coming from different backgrounds and different experiences, and none of them have really been subjected to all the things that they're going to be subjected to here. None of them have probably been asked to do all the things that we're going to ask them to do to help us win and to play their position and fulfill their role here. So, where some guys might be a little ahead because they played in a system that asked them to do a few more things like we do it, or something maybe totally opposite of that where they didn't do much - like Shaq Mason didn't do a whole lot of this stuff at Georgia Tech - the process is the same. You take the player and we try to create a foundation - Dante [Scarnecchia] does a tremendous job with the offensive line of doing that, obviously - and then you try to build on the foundation and the techniques and the fundamentals that we need to do anything well at our level. I mean, every good play is going to incorporate good fundamentals and good techniques or else it's not going to be a good play. So, our focus is trying to build up that base, teach them the skills, techniques and fundamentals we think that they need to be successful and then try to work on incorporating those things into the schemes that we may need to use based on the team that we're playing. Again, where everybody starts and where everybody's coming from and what exposure and how much experience they had, we can't control that variable anyway. What we can control is teaching them what we feel like they need to know and how they need to do it and trying to continue to work diligently to help them build up that base and that foundation that will last them and serve them well during their time as a Patriot or during their time in the NFL. 

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR MATT PATRICIA
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Q: How does playing the same team twice in two weeks effect your game planning or play calling?

MP: It's obviously an interesting situation to be able to have an opponent that you're going to play so closely together here but really for us and our focus it's going to be very much the same as Josh [McDaniels]. We're going to go and just try to make sure that we're doing everything we can to win this week. This is the most important week we have is going out and trying to improve from last week, get better and certainly try to do a good job against a very talented Dolphins team. For us it's going to be just focused on trying to make sure we're doing everything we can to win this week. Certainly I'm sure we'll see things in the game that'll play a part into the next one but we've got to make sure that we're just handling our business for the current one.

Q: Jarvis Landry's production speaks for itself. What makes him so difficult to defend?

MP: Yeah, he is an extremely good player. [He's a] very versatile guy. They'll move him all around. He has extremely strong hands, great run after catch, very elusive, quickness and he's very savvy. So he's just a guy that they can put in a lot of different positions, a guy they can put in a lot of different roles and expect him to produce at a very high level. I think there's a large trust factor with him and the quarterbacks that have played with him. It's a guy obviously that understands the game plan week in week out. [He's] someone we have tremendous respect for and his ability to just read defenses, read coverage. He's seen a lot of different coverages. He's seen a lot of different ways that people play him in particular and he's been able to adjust so that he keeps his production at a high level. That's kind of the reason why he's so versatile in that standpoint and so valuable to an offense for Coach [Adam] Gase and Coach [Clyde] Christensen.

Q: What have you seen from your linebackers and their ability to perform well in coverage over the last handful of weeks? We saw an example of Elandon Roberts running stride for stride with one of the Raiders running backs on a wheel route. It seems like they've come around as a unit in that regard.

MP: It's certainly a good observation. It's something that, like we mention all the time, we're trying to improve our play, our techniques, our production across the board week in week out in all areas. I think Elandon [Roberts] in particular is a guy who works very hard at understanding our zone and man coverage concepts and along with the run game. [He's] someone that works really hard to know where his help is in both situations whether it's leveraging a run play or leveraging a pass play. He's really trying to learn and understand that at a much higher level which he's really trying to do a good job of. So that's part of the process as you go through the year and understanding your opponents and what they like to do from the standpoint of plays. So certainly on that particular play where it might be a situation where they're trying to pick him or get him in a bad coverage matchup and he did a good job of getting through it. Those are certainly positives. We're obviously going to look at the other aspect of it too and say "well this is where we think we need to improve and this is where we think we need to make sure that we have this tightened up because this showed up." Whether or not - it could be a bad situation for us whether it's just a - maybe it's a particular look that offense gives us or a particular defensive call.

Q: What do Adam Gase and Clyde Christensen do that puts stress on opposing defenses?

MP: Yeah, good question. I mean obviously extremely smart coordinators, head coach. Adam [Gase] does a great job of understanding a defense, how to break them down, how to attack them. So he's going to give you a lot of different looks. There's going to be a couple different personnel groups. He's going to throw a new scheme or a new play that you haven't seen before that you have to be able to react to and handle at a high level. The problem is that they have extremely dangerous skill players. [Kenny] Stills and [DeVante] Parker and [Jarvis] Landry, obviously, and the addition of Julius Thomas at the tight end position just gives you another threat that you have to prepare for. Coach Gase will do a great job too of utilizing the backs, getting them out of the backfield into space and also allowing the quarterbacks to go to the line of scrimmage and to adjust the plays and check into different plays that he sees based on the defense and the coverage and the front. They pose a lot of problems and I think you can see even just going through their games and obviously the latest game but their ability to strike quickly, their ability to put up a big play. You really have to be paying attention, you really have to be understanding of what they're trying to do from a scheme standpoint, a formation standpoint and particularly a player standpoint because of their big-play ability. It makes it very difficult to defend. They do great job of game planning week in and week out. We're certainly going to have to try to handle all of that here.

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