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Transcripts: Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels and Jerod Mayo Conference Calls 12/16

HEAD COACH BILL BELICHICK

CONFERENCE CALL
December 16, 2019

Q: Do you see the way Stephon Gilmore is playing as having a domino effect on the other players in the secondary? In terms of depth, how important was it for Gilmore to step up when Jonathan Jones exited the game?

BB: Yeah, thanks, Mike [Petraglia]. I mean, look, that's a very competitive group. Those guys work hard, they push each other and bring the best out of each other, whether it's preparation, or training, conditioning, on-the-field play. So, it's really a great group to work with and I think they all – as I said – they all really push each other. I don't think it's one guy. They're all really playing well, having a good year, working well together, and that's the group where – sort of like the offensive line – that if there's one mistake in communication or having the call right, then everything looks bad. And so, it's really incumbent on all of them to work well together and work good as a unit, and that's something they've done well all year. But, certainly Steph's playing at a high level. J.C.'s [Jackson] given us a lot of high-quality plays, so has J-Mac [Jason McCourty], Jon Jones. So, we're fortunate to have a good group back there, plus the same thing with the safeties, with Devin [McCourty], Pat [Chung], Duron [Harmon], T. [Terrence] Brooks. You know, those guys have all contributed and played well for us. 

Q: How comfortable is the coaching staff with having players take on different roles at different positions, given the experience level in the secondary?

BB: Yeah, well, I don't know that there's a lot of new roles, but I'd say that those guys have a lot of freedom within the defense to do what they think is the best thing to do in certain calls and certain situations, and I think they've done a great job of that all year. It's really, probably, been one of the best things that we've done in the secondary is let those guys see what the formation looks like, where the threats are lined up and how to deal with them, and they've done an excellent job of putting themselves in good positions to make plays.

Q: Does N'Keal Harry's touchdown and the adjustments he made on that play signify growth in a young player in terms of how to keep a play going?

BB: Yeah, it was really an extended play where he – we had a combination route on the strong side with Julian [Edelman], Mo [Mohamed Sanu] and Ben Watson. And he was on the backside – really ran like a corner pattern, and then protection was great and the play extended a little bit. And so N'Keal did a really good job of not getting shoved out of bounds, out of the back of the end zone, which is what the defensive back was trying to do – which is the smart play, obviously, on their part. It's what any good defensive back would try to do, is to knock the receiver out. And so N'Keal did a really good job of keeping his balance, staying in the field of play, and then just came flat down the end-line and kind of beat [B.W.] Webb back inside on an extended play. So, those red area extended plays and scrambles are something that you always work on, and this one – really, the work on the practice field, and the technique and the fundamentals of doing things right really paid off, as did the other guys. I mean, because everybody – on the scramble, everybody kind of went in a different direction, so we didn't run into each other. We created space for N'Keal to come back inside. He found that space, but I think one of the best parts of the play was N'Keal's awareness and his strength to stay in the field of play and not get shoved out.  

Q: How impressed have you been with J.C. Jackson's development as a second-year player?

BB: Good, good. J.C. is way ahead of where he was last year. And, you know, it's tough coming from any college program to some of the things that we have to deal with at this level. So, he was very productive for us last year and made a lot of big plays, and we used him in some of our four-corner packages – like, for example, in the Kansas City Championship Game on [Travis] Kelce. And then this year, he's really built on his awareness on his overall fundamentals and techniques. Those two plays he made on the ball were both extremely good plays. But yeah, he's done a really good job in his growth and development and improvement on the little fundamental things of his game. He was getting some penalties early in the year and he's really worked hard to eliminate those penalties and some of the unnecessary grabbing that made it a little bit of a problem for him earlier in the year. But, he's done an excellent job of playing good coverage without grabbing the receiver and getting a penalty, so that's been huge for us. 

Q: How would you describe how he and Jason McCourty have shared that No. 2 corner role this year?

BB: Well, really, we've rotated all of our corners. We've played multiple corners. When they're all healthy, we've played them all in each game. So, Steph's been a part of that rotation, Jason, Jon Jones – they've all rotated through there. You know, we have confidence in all of them. They all have worked together; I think that's paid off for us in a couple of the more recent weeks. Jason played some last week against Kansas City, but in the games that he's missed, the communication that was built up earlier in the year between that group with Jon, J.C., Steph and the safeties has probably helped us out.

Q: Is Stephon Gilmore's sustained run of excellent play at the corner position reminiscent of any players you've coached through the course of your career? The run is going on two years of play that you don't really see too often.

BB: Yeah, well, as I said, Steph works extremely hard, but I think he'd be the first one to tell you that at the position he plays, you're only as good as your last play or your last game. So, whatever did or didn't happen some other week or in the past is really meaningless for this game, and it's about this week's matchup, and that can turn in a hurry. So, I'm sure he'll do the same thing that he's always done, and that's just continuing to prepare and work hard, and be happy with the Cincinnati game, but put it behind him and get ready for Buffalo. And I think that's really the key to the sustained success is that mentality of starting all over again and not resting on any laurels or accolades that have come in the past, but being focused on the next challenge and knowing that your opponents are going to work extra hard to try to find a weakness in your game. And if you are satisfied and don't continue to improve and work on things that'll continue to present problems for the opponent, then they're eventually going to catch up to you and get you. So, that's really a credit to him, and his work ethic and preparation and doing that week after week to even, I'd say, a little bit higher and more intense level than the week before. 

Q: As a coach, do you appreciate hearing him say after a game like yesterday that he wasn't happy that he had two interceptions because he wishes he had three or four interceptions?

BB: Yeah, well, again, he's a very competitive guy and that's a great thing. I think we all can feel good about a few good plays that we make or are involved in, but then there's always a couple that you know you could have done a little bit better, and you have to learn from those and try to correct those mistakes going forward. Again, we're playing another good team this week. Buffalo's a very well-coached team, and they'll look at this game and other games and try to find our weaknesses and attack them. So, if we don't address them and don't fix them, then I'm sure they'll be a problem for us. So, we have to constantly go through that process. 

Q: What were your takeaways from the onside kick the Bengals attempted at the end of the game? It seemed like your guys were well-versed in staying away from the ball when it only went 5 yards.

BB: Well, it's a play that we've seen before. I think that with the new rules in terms of alignment that it's hard to gain an advantage on the onside kicks. And so, the kick that Cincinnati was trying was a kick that doesn't go right to the 10-yard restraining line. It goes short of the restraining line and then the intent is for it to spin and get the full 10 yards, and obviously this particular kick didn't make it that far. But by kicking it that way, it gives the kicking team an opportunity to get down the field and play the ball, as opposed to driving it into the ground and sometimes it goes out of bounds, or it just goes through to the sideline. So, I think that was the strategy of the kick. You can kind of tell by the way that the Bengals covered it that they looped around from the inside-out, and they anticipated that there would be a little more time for them to get in position to fight for the ball. So, again, these types of kicks, you see them, probably one every week somewhere out [inaudible] through the league. It's a little different than what teams have done in the past, because with the old rules, you were able to overload the formation. Now you can't do that. You try to find other ways to create kind of an equal opportunity to get the ball. The concept of the kick is good, it just didn't go quite the way they wanted to hit it. But, good strategy at what they were doing. But yeah, our guys were alert not to try to handle the ball. They could tell by the way the ball was going that it wasn't going to gain the full yardage, so they backed off of it. But, sometimes kicks like that look like – depending on the way the ball is spinning – they look like they're not going to go 10 yards, and then kind of at the end they hook. They catch that spin at the end and then they hook over and get the full 10 yards. So, you've got to make a good play on the ball.

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR JOSH MCDANIELS

Conference Call
Monday, December 16

Q: What did you see from N'Keal Harry yesterday? What kind of progress have you seen from him?

JM: N'Keal had a good week of practice last week and played a lot of different roles for us yesterday, aligned in a lot of different places in the formation which was a little bit of a change for him, but it was good so that he could do some things that suit him and that fit what we do on offense. I thought he ran hard when he had the ball in his hands, made a few good plays in that regard – converted a third down, had another third down conversion, had a great catch on the sideline there down the field that was called back because we had the penalty, but I thought that was a great effort, a great play in a one-on-one type situation. And then certainly made a really good play in the red area keeping the play alive, not getting pushed out of bounds once the play was extended and continuing to work and find space for the quarterback to find him there. He also blocked pretty well, did some different things in the – impacted us in a couple of the screen game plays that we were able to make. He's just continuing to get better and he works really hard, all our guys work really hard, and he certainly wants to help in any way that he can. He's got a great attitude. Like I said, it all starts with a good week of practice, and we're going to need to have another good week of practice this week.  

Q: Has his ability to separate a run without the ball as the play breaks down been something that he has worked on this season?

JM: Yeah, we do a little bit of that. Really and truly, sometimes those are hard to work on extensively. You teach them rules, and generally speaking, we have a philosophy when the ball is held or when the play breaks down, in terms of what to do, but each play kind of is a little different based on what the route is. Generally speaking, you want to try to stay in motion and move to find open space and help the quarterback, and I thought he did a good job on that play in the red zone.

Q: How does calling a screen pass work into the rhythm of play calling? Do you get a feel for it, or is it something specific on the field that you see?

JM: I think you use your tape study during the course of the week to try to boil down what you really think has a shot to be productive in that area of the game or any area of the game. You've got to use what you've seen; you've got to trust the film work you've put in to believe that you have a shot to make those plays work, because whenever you're calling a screen, it's generally a one-man play and there's not a lot of options on the play. We always tell our players, any time we're going to limit the number of options that are available in the pass game on a play like that, it really boils down to our execution, because you're trading in three, four, five options for just a singular option, so we'd better do a good job of executing it. The players really did a good job. I thought the line got out in front of a couple of those screens yesterday, did a nice job. Like I said, the receivers blocked down the field and then the backs certainly made some good runs in space once they got the ball in their hands. There's a lot of things that have to go right on a screen play. I think we have guys that are willing to do those tough things well when we call them. You can't over-use screens, I think you've got to be careful with that. If you feel like there's a couple situations based on your film study that you can use them and be productive, then you work on them during the course of the week and try to give them a shot during the game. Like I said, the players really deserve any and all credit on those plays because we needed to execute really well to have production, and I thought they did that yesterday. 

Q: How important is it to the offense to have someone in the run game like N'Keal Harry who can do the speed or jet sweep, given his size and ability to be illusive and physical in the open field?

JM: It's certainly something that a lot of teams have used to give the defense a change up and get the ball to the perimeter if they can. I think N'Keal did a good job with his opportunity. Last week, he caught the little play behind the line of scrimmage and made a really good play with the ball in his hands, and then this week, he had a couple chances to run with it. He's a big guy that can move pretty well and is not easy to tackle and get to the ground. Any opportunities you have to do that with players like that, they're good because you have a chance to be productive. I would just say that you've got to be smart. Those are plays that you can run if they're well-scouted and you have a specific look in mind that you're looking for, but you've also got to be careful of not overdoing that stuff because, again, it's similar to the screen. You're putting all your eggs in one basket, and if the defense over-plays it or plays it well, there's not other options on the play. It comes down to our execution. I thought our guys did a good job of executing and giving him an opportunity to get started, and then he made a good run. We blocked well on the edge and gave him a chance to get into the defense and get around the corner, and that's always important on those plays.

Q: Last night during the Bills vs. Steelers broadcast, they noted that Tremaine Edmunds has become more aggressive in the blitz for the Bills. Have you seen his evolution in their defense this year? What kind of an impact might that make?

JM: Certainly, he's a really good player and he's in his second year and he's already – he's improved tremendously, each time I watch him. He's big, he's fast, he's long, he's disruptive in coverage, he's hard to get a handle on at the second level in the running game. You've really got to do a good job of getting ahead on him, and he's a good blitzer. They send him in different spots in different downs and distances. I think Leslie [Frazier] and Sean [McDermott] do a tremendous job with their entire defensive unit. This is the best defense that we play, and the challenge is incredible. We've gotten to see them once this year, and now we have another opportunity to prepare and play an incredibly important game to our season this week. They're well-coached at all three levels. Edmunds does a tremendous job in the middle – plays every play, very disruptive guy. We're going to have to do a good job of preparing for him and knowing where he's at on every snap.

Q: Have you seen Shaq Lawson on the field getting more reps, and what problems does he present?

JM: Their entire front is disruptive. Shaq definitely – they move him around, he plays end, he plays inside sometimes in passing situations. He can play on either side of the line, so everybody has to block him – disruptive guy, certainly has grown into his role in their defensive scheme. He can beat you inside, he can beat you outside, he plays hard, he's got a good motor, got a good skill set. It complements all their other guys. [Jerry] Hughes is very disruptive; we've played a lot against him. [Jordan] Phillips has been really, really a disruptive guy in terms of tackles for loss, sacks, getting people in the back field this year. [Trent] Murphy, we've played against him quite a few times. He's a good player on the edge – long, a little different skill set, but nonetheless very disruptive. [Ed] Oliver has stepped in and done some really good things for them. They're deep up front. Their whole defense really plays off of the disruptive plays that their front makes, and they do a really good job. Lawson definitely fits in really well. They use him in a lot of different roles, and he's another guy we've got to know where he's at on every play.

Q: Does the fact that you have already played against the Bills help make preparation easier on a short week? Over the past few weeks, it seems their defense has ascended into one that is hard to fool and they seem to be in the right place at the right time more than not.

JM: They're tough no matter if it's a long week, a short week. Any week, they're going to be a difficult preparation. We're familiar with their players and how they played and how they've played before, but we're deep into our study of going back through what they did in our first game and what they've done since then. This is as good a group as we see. They don't give up, they don't make mistakes because they're extremely well-coached. They're very good at all three levels, they've got really good players at all three levels. They do not give up big plays, they make you drive the ball. They're very good on third down and in the red zone. They create long-yardage situations with penetration and disruptive plays by their front and their pressures are difficult to handle, and they do a good job of calling them at the right time. They're fast, they're very disruptive up front, their linebackers are fast, their secondary is extremely good when the ball is in the air. You've got to be very careful. You can't make mistakes around them. [Micah] Hyde, [Jordan] Poyer, [Tre'Davious] White, [Levi] Wallace, all these guys, if you make a mistake, they're going to catch it. They have great vision on the ball and they do a good job in man coverage when they play man coverage, too. Like I said, Coach McDermott and Coach Frazier do a great job. I've got a tremendous amount of respect for what they do with this group and how hard they make it every single week. This is going to be a great challenge for us.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS COACH JEROD MAYO

Conference Call
Monday, December 16, 2019

Q: Is it accurate or an overstatement to say that a play like the fourth-and-inches stop in the second quarter can turn a game around for the entire team?

JM: I definitely think it's accurate. You know, the guys – when they came to the sideline after that fourth-down stop, you look at that like a turnover. So, after an interception, after a fumble recovery, it always brings energy and hopefully swings momentum. A turnover-on-downs like that is a huge play, huge momentum swing, and you could definitely feel the energy rise on the sidelines.

Q: Did guys take note of the play that Danny Shelton made against the guard on that stop? It was hard to miss.

JM: Oh, for sure. Anytime those guys up front play physical and play vertical, the guys at the second-level definitely appreciate that. They see it. Especially after a play like that, you look up at the jumbotron to see what exactly happened, and those guys have all year – Danny, and Lawrence [Guy] and all of those guys up front – all year have made huge plays that don't show up on the stat sheet but definitely pay huge dividends to the team.

Q: What would you describe as the most valuable assets of Stephon Gilmore? What makes him the corner he's become?

JM: I would just say, first of all, his overall work ethic. You see him in practice, this is a guy no matter what the drill is, no matter what the situation is, he's always out there competing, trying to get better, working on his craft. And it definitely trickles down to the rest of the guys. If I had to say one thing, I would say just his overall work ethic. 

Q: Is he comparable to the great players you've been around? Is that something that they all share?

JM: Absolutely, absolutely. When I first came in, when I was first drafted here, you had guys like Mike Vrabel or Rodney Harrison, all those guys. They were on the show-teams, giving looks to Tom [Brady] and the offense, trying to work on their craft and at the same time, trying to get the rest of the team better. And even while being on the show-team, those guys – they didn't want to lose, and I think that tenacity, that competitiveness definitely helped the team, and Stephon does the same thing now. You know, he's a guy that goes out there, one-on-one's and all that stuff. Doesn't want to lose a rep, and that's something you see in all the great players. 

Q: How does the depth at secondary compare to when you were a player and the depth was maybe a bit more shallow, and you were putting Matthew Slater and Julian Edelman back there?

JM: Well, the good old days of having to tell Julian and Slater what to do on every play. No, in all seriousness, it's been great. It's been great. You look at even the younger guys, Joejuan [Williams] and J.C. [Jackson] and those guys, they definitely have talent. In saying that, they have a lot to work on, but that room – you know, you look at the safeties, you look at just the spread, as far as age is concerned. You have Devin [McCourty], who's played a lot of football, you have Jason [McCourty], who's played a lot of football. You have Steph playing at a high level. You just look across that room and you have a good spread of guys, a good spread as far as age is concerned, experience is concerned, and they definitely feed off of each other. So, it's great to have that depth, especially at this time of the season. 

Q: What impresses you about the ageless Frank Gore, and what keeps him going at the level he's at?

JM: You know, Frank's been doing it for a long time, and honestly I'm not sure. He must be on that TB12 diet. He's still running hard, still running hard between the tackles, and that's always tough for a running back. You know, some of these backs that play a long time, they're more of a third-down back or something like that. But the thing about Frank, I mean, he's an every-down guy. I know right now they have [Devin] Singletary carrying the load, but he's still playing well, still running hard, doesn't shy away from contact. I wish I could tell you.

Q: Speaking of Singletary, last night the Steelers successfully punched the ball free a couple times? When you're teaching that, is there a fine line between trying to strip the ball and trying to make the tackle?

JM: Yeah. We always talk about second-man: second-man strip or second-man punch. The first person that gets there, definitely their primary goal is to secure the tackle and get the guy on the ground. If you can hold him up and another guy can come in and strip the ball, that's definitely a bonus.

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