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Transcripts: Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Bret Bielema Conference Calls 12/30

HEAD COACH BILL BELICHICK

Conference Call
Monday, December 30, 2019

Q: Tom Brady said that the team had unforced errors that were preventable yesterday. Did you see the same thing on film? How do you balance correcting those errors and preparing for Tennessee on a short week?

BB: Yeah, it's kind of the same thing every week, Mike [Petraglia]. You know, we'll just stay with our process and correct the errors that we had in the game, reinforce the things that we felt like we did well, and then move on to Tennessee. So, it'll be obviously like – we've been in this situation before where it's a shorter week, and we'll just have to do the best we can with the time that we have allocated.

Q: What stands out to you about the Titans that makes them a formidable opponent?

BB: Well, they do everything well – well-balanced offense, lead the league in rushing, or has the rushing leader, have an outstanding group of receivers, quarterback is playing well. Good on defense, good up front, good secondary, good scheme. Probably the best punter in the league, so they do a lot of things well. They play hard, they're disciplined, they're well-coached. They're a good football team.

Q: How relevant would any of the practice tapes from your preseason joint practices with the Titans be in preparing this week?

BB: Yeah, sure. We'll look at them. But, there's a lot of water under the bridge since then. So, I think a lot of things are more relevant as we look at the more recent games and the season that's gone on. But, yeah, there's certainly some – those are worth looking at. Those are the matchups, so it'll be a part of it. 

Q: Does this make the game unique, having that at your disposal for a playoff game?

BB: Yeah, I mean, I don't think it's that big of a deal. It's kind of the same situation we had with Jacksonville a couple years ago. I mean, I don't think it's a huge deal, but it is what it is. It happened, so it happened.

Q: What have you seen from Ryan Tannehill with the Titans as opposed to his time with the Dolphins? What are the Titans doing differently that's allowing him to have more success?

BB: Well, I think he's been a good quarterback throughout his career. He's an athletic guy, he's very smart, can handle things at the line of scrimmage and make adjustments and so forth. He's athletic, has a good arm. He's played well for the Titans, but played well in Miami, too.

Q: Mohamed Sanu had a big game against Baltimore but has been quieter since then. What has determined the difference in production for him?

BB: Yeah, it's the same question you ask every week. So, again, we just – the plays that are called depends on what the defense is in, how it plays out, where the ball goes. It's not like we're trying to throw a certain number of passes to a certain player or anything like that. That's never really been the case.

Q: And you feel like he's clicking with the offense?

BB: I think there's a lot of things we need to do, we can do, better. Certainly yesterday was not one of our better performances in any phase of the game. So, we'll try to improve on that.

Q: What are the unique challenges in defending Derrick Henry, given his size and speed?

BB: Yeah, he's tough. He really does everything well as a runner. He's got good vision. For his size, he sees things well. He has good quickness, he can get into space quickly and make the right cuts. He's elusive in the open field, but he's also very strong and powerful, and he can run through tackles and he has the speed to make long runs. So, he's got a good stiff arm, he's got good lower-body strength. He's a very hard man to tackle, but he's got excellent quickness, vision and speed for his size. So, he's not just a one-dimensional runner at all. He's the best back we've seen this year. He's having a great year and he's a tough player to handle.

Q: What are your impressions on A.J. Brown and Corey Davis? Brown has 1,000 yards as a rookie and Davis is a big receiver who's had big games against the Patriots.

BB: Yeah, they're both very good receivers. Again, as you said, big, physical, fast players. They do a good job in the running game. They block well, and that complements the running game and the play-action passes. So, you've got to be aggressive to come up and support the run with them, but then they do a good job of combining those with play-action passes. Those guys can get free, but they're fast, they're hard to tackle, and they're big targets and the quarterback's done a good job of putting it on them and hitting them. But, when you combine their running game with their passing game that looks like the running game, it's obviously hard to defend, and basically every team that they've played has had trouble with that.

Q: What is the fine-line on scheme versus execution? How much new information do you install on a short week and how much do you just focus on executing your fundamentals better?

BB: Yeah, right, Mike [Petraglia]. That's really the question of the week every week is how to balance those things, and each week's a different challenge, and each team presents a little different scheme and the player matchups are different. And so, I think you always find some things that you want to try to attack, and if it's something that fits easily into what you have or what you do, then it's pretty easy to put that play in the game plan. If it's something that would cause a little bit of new teaching, or new learning, or new timing, so forth, then you have to decide which of those plays, and how many of those plays and which players they would involve, especially if it requires multiple adjustments to be made on a play – you know, how much time you want to, or can, invest in that. And that's the same question every week, and it's the one that the coaches have to answer because there is only so much time, so many plays, and you may see some opportunities on film, but it's just not something that you do and you just don't have the time to commit to it to do it as well as one of the other teams that's executing it on film. Then sometimes you just have to let that go if you don't have that particular scheme in your plan. So, I think with our offense, we have a pretty good variety of plays, and defensively, too, have some versatility in what we can do. And so, a lot of times we can find ways to match those things up if we want to, but again, in the end, it comes down to time. You only have so many plays you can run in practice and so many things you can get ready. And you're only going to run, call it 65 plays a game anyways, so you try to find that right balance. But, that's a challenge for every coaching staff every week, and that's a great question. That's really the heart of the coach's job – one of them, anyway – is to make those determinations and figure it out.

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR JOSH MCDANIELS

Conference Call
Monday, December 30, 2019

Q: There are reports that a couple of teams, specifically the Cleveland Browns, are going to be requesting permission to speak with you about their head coaching vacancy. With this being a shortened week, how do you manage the responsibilities of your own career versus trying to get the offense ready for Saturday?

JM: I'm 100 percent fully invested in getting ready for Tennessee and trying to put our best performance of the season out there on Saturday night. We have a lot of work to do and that's really where my focus will be, that's where it's at now and it will stay there. That's the best thing for our team; that's the best thing for me. We're one of 12 teams that have an opportunity to compete in the postseason and that's the only way I'll ever do it.  

Q: Because you've been through this so often, does that make it easier to deal with this?

JM: With all due respect to the question, I'm not even aware of any of that stuff at this point. When that stuff is presented to me or discussed with me or whatever, then we'll deal with it appropriately. Honestly, it's pretty easy for me in terms of my formula. I'm the offensive coordinator of the Patriots. We have a lot of work to do, we can improve in a lot of areas to try to get ready for this week – our biggest game of the year against, certainly, the best team we've played since a postseason game. Our players deserve that, our coaches deserve that, and that's what they're going to get from me. 

Q: It seems like receivers have varying usage every week, similar with target share. How do you decide that? What is it like managing the work loads of that position?

JM: Each week we try to figure out the best way for us to approach each opponent and every team is different. Matchups each week are different, the personnel groupings that we use or the way that those are going to be defended by the opponent are different. We're still working hard in practice evaluating the things we're doing well and the things we have confidence in, and then we try to do those in the game. There's still an element of seeing how it's done in practice and then going out there and making it go in the game. At times, things change in the game, too. Last week, Julian [Edelman] goes down, Jakobi [Meyers] comes in and does some things and is productive in his opportunities. Generally speaking, we have confidence in all our guys to go out there and make plays. The different guys have different strengths and weaknesses and play different positions, and that's a good thing. And the target shares, here's what the term is – target shares, how the defense plays us and where we're supposed to go with the ball and that's it. Yesterday, for a really good chunk of the game, they chose to double-team Julian, so certainly, to try to throw the ball into double coverage for a majority of the day is not a good formula, so his targets were certainly limited in that regard. We don't get to pick, necessarily, where everything is going to go. You put the design in and you hope that it's a well-designed idea against the things that you've seen them do the most of, and then we try to read it out and throw it to the guy that has the best chance for success on each play. If we do that well, generally speaking, the ball will get shared quite a bit and that's what we're attempting to do.

Q: At the end of the first half yesterday, why weren't you more aggressive on offense?

JM: I think that's always a situation that's played with a lot of different factors that are considered. I never question Coach's [Bill Belichick] intuition on any of those things because he's damn near always right on everything like that. If we're going to try to go ahead and run the ball a couple of times, we get a first down, you call a timeout then you try to go ahead and use the last time out or two that you have to try to get into field goal range. We've done that plenty of times as well. We always go out there with the intent of moving the ball forward and trying to get ourselves an opportunity to score points. To me, what I look at is the execution. If we execute and we get a first down and we gain 15 yards on a couple plays, maybe we have an opportunity to use the timeout and go ahead and finish the situation, attempting to move it into their area to try to score some points. I don't worry about those other factors; we're just trying to complement what we're doing and sometimes it's best not to do that. Certainly, there's a lot of factors that go into those decisions, and Bill always takes everything into account. We still had an opportunity to run a couple good plays there and put ourselves in better position, and we certainly had an opportunity coming out of half time to do the same thing, and we didn't get much done in either situation. My job is to worry about the execution and focus on what we can do better to try to be more productive and we need to do that better.

Q: This will be the second straight week where you have to go against a staff that has a base of institutional knowledge with Patriot ties. What makes Tennessee's defense unique? Is there some carryover or anything you can learn from these games you've played, including Sunday, in terms of developing a game plan?

JM: They have an understanding of what we do, but it's been a long time since those guys have – we've been together on that stuff. They do what they do; they do it really well. This is a really well-coached football team. They're very disciplined. They make you deal with a lot of different things. This is not a team that's going to play a couple coverages – they're going to spin the wheel on you. They play zone, they play man, they play blitz zone, they play blitz man, they drop eight in the coverage, they play different fronts, they blitz a lot of different people and they do it all pretty doggone well. I think their formula is – they have to be confident because the way they're playing, they've got a lot of good players, they're very physical up front, they're tough to block, they play extremely hard. And it's different, the scheme is different than what we just got done playing. Miami's scheme is an apple and this one's more of an orange. Dean [Pees] definitely has his own – Dean and Mike [Vrabel] have definitely put their own spin on everything that they do. They certainly had our number last year, which we've seen that game already and now we have an opportunity to get ready and play our best game against them. It's a great challenge. They're certainly going to make it difficult. They do a lot and they do a lot with a lot of good players. We need to do a really good job of preparing on a short week, similar to what we did a week ago when we got ready for Buffalo. I know our players and coaches are already hard at work getting ready to do that. It's a great challenge, looking forward to it, excited about the opportunity. 

Q: It seems like the number of touches given to N'Keal Harry each game has capped out at around four. Could you see a situation where a young player like him could take on a bigger role in the playoffs?

JM: Sure, sure. N'Keal has been in the game much more as we've moved forward here in the last so many weeks. He's improved every week, he's practiced well and he's made plays when he's had his opportunities and almost made a spectacular catch there in the red zone yesterday, too. We certainly don't discriminate when it gets to this time of the year about what we want to do and where we want to do it, who we want to do it with. At this time of the year, I don't really think – I don't really look at playoff experience or all the rest of that stuff as being as important as how we perform and what we do on Saturday night. I don't really care about age and all the rest of that stuff. Whether it's a younger player, a player with a lot of experience, what we need is a great week of preparation and practice and go out there and we need to perform, because trying doesn't matter, experience doesn't matter – what matters is results. The guys are going to work really hard to put themselves in position to go out there and do good things on Saturday night, and we're going to try to do it the best we can with everybody that's active for the game on Saturday.

DEFENSIVE LINE COACH BRET BIELEMA

Conference Call
Monday, December 30, 2019

Q: What stands out to you about the Titans ability to run the ball?

BB: Well, Derrick Henry stands out. But, I would say in addition to him, the offensive line. They have a lot of good players up front, veteran players from [Taylor] Lewan to [Ben] Jones in the middle, to [Rodger] Saffold to obviously they have [Nate] Davis in there, who's a rookie. But, I mean, there's just a lot of continuity there with that group that I think does a lot of things that allow Henry to get started, and when he gets going, he's a tough man to tackle.

Q: What has allowed Lawrence Guy to be so consistent and make special plays?

BB: You know, I've been very impressed with L.G. Ironically, I played against him when he was in college at Arizona State when I was the head coach at Wisconsin. So, to see the development from when he was a player to where he is today – he is an extremely intelligent player, a great football I.Q. So, as an interior defensive lineman, he has a great understanding of what an offense is trying to do, how they align, what they're doing. He also, if you remember back to a play earlier this year when he kind of jumped the snap and made an interception of all things – you don't see that a lot of times for a defensive lineman – that was all kind of an instinct-reaction. He plays with really good leverage, he has extremely strong hands. I would say all of those things coupled with a high football I.Q. and a good motor make him very tough to block, and he's probably one of the more prideful guys, too, in his preparation. I'm truly blessed to have him in our room. He does a great job with the rookies, he does great with the guys that come into the room for the first time, and just a really good role model. Bill [Belichick] always kind of stresses smart, tough, dependable, and he's the epitome of that. 

Q: What are the coaching points that need to be enforced when dealing with a physical running back like Derrick Henry?

BB: You know, the fundamentals of defensive football never really change, right? You've got to be able to defend the block first. You know, as a defensive lineman, linebacker, outside linebacker, nobody's going to just let you run free to the ball. So, you have to take on the block, you have to defend it and get off it. And after you get to do all of that, you get to tackle one of the best in the NFL. It's a tough task, but I think the fundamental is the pad level, and being very smart about how you disengage a blocker and being able to use the right leverage to make sure the ball is funneled in the right direction to our defense. Kind of makes it all go together, but it's going to basically get up into how well we can tackle this guy – obviously, a very strong, very talented. He has great speed with great power, and that in conjunction with all of the other they have on the perimeter with the receivers and the way that [Ryan] Tannehill's been able to deliver the ball to them, that makes it a very difficult challenge for a defense.

Q: Rotations along the defensive line have been a strength for the defense all season. Will you change the rotation during the playoffs to have the best guys out there, or will you try to balance that with having more guys out there?

BB: You know, I really stress it to our group. For most of the people that walk through the door, we have guys that are in the 300-pound club and up, and their rotation and reps changes. It's different than 190-pound DBs. So, those big guys up front, it's a matter of how well they play but also how fresh they are. So, the magic number for each guy is a little bit different. L.G. and Danny [Shelton] obviously play a lot of early downs for us, Adam Butler plays a lot of sub-packages, Deatrich [Wise Jr.] kind of subs in in a variety of different roles. I've had a couple guys that have been active for the game during the course of the year, but it's really been those four guys for the most part. And Coach has allowed me to kind of free-willingly put those guys in, and I really try to keep the number of consecutive plays that somebody puts together on a long drive – I really try to rotate those guys through because I know they know they're fresh. I've seen L.G., in particular, make some really big plays, big moments when he has to accelerate and cover a lot of ground, and when he does that it's obviously a lot of skill-work, but it's also he's fresh and ready for that play. Danny's had I think career numbers now during his time as an NFL player this year with total tackles and pressures and sacks, and a lot of that is his technique, but he's also fresh. I think that's a very big part of being an NFL defensive lineman. So, we'll kind of do standard-normal mode of operation for us. We don't have a lot of options; we have small numbers which makes it easy. 

Q: In Tennessee's offense, how has Ryan Tannehill improved their play-action or R.P.O.'s [run-pass-options], things that will challenge your defense on Saturday?

BB: What I see in Tennessee from where we were a year ago when we played them in the regular season, and obviously we had the preseason with them, is with Tannehill they've had a blending of really everything. What you're mentioning from run to play-action, but also just the specific looks that they're giving that is very easy for Tannehill. You can see the confidence in the way he's executing the runs, the run-games, the checks at the line of scrimmage, but also how he ties that into the passing game. Play-action or drop-back, he's just got a lot of options around him. They're playing very well, and again, everything starts up front. I think this offensive line in particular has really shown to me that they're the best group that we've played to this point, just from tackle-to-tackle and everywhere in between. They're a very solid group, play extremely hard, play with a little bit of edge to them, and it's really a fun group to prepare for. Everybody gets uneasy with adversity, obviously with us having a loss yesterday, but I think that's when the true competitor in everybody comes out. And I know we've got a building full of them, and I know that the preparation for this game will be a lot of fun this week, and then we'll get to Saturday night and see where it goes.

Q: How does Ben Jones' experience show itself on film?

BB: Well, Ben's in charge. You can see he does a lot of communication; he's in communication with Tannehill and the rest of the offensive line. Plays with a really, really good pad level. You know, he's a center that has great core strength. He's got the ability to turn you, flip you, run you, but he's good in pass protection and just really kind of a savvy player. A really intriguing guy to watch on film, and I know we've got a task cut out for us on Saturday night.

Q: What do you remember about coaching against Derrick Henry in college, and were you surprised he lasted until the middle of the second round?

BB: He was very – I don't remember a lot about those games, I think I got concussed as a head coach on some of those 'Bama games – but, he's a very, very talented player. The thing that stands out to you is he has the ability to get what's in front of him, but also a little bit more. He's got great power. As intriguing as he was as just a physical talent, he really plays the game the right way. You see him, in my opinion, compete for extra yardage. Down on the goal line, he can smell the goal line and really does a good job of trying to convert himself into the end zone. A very talented player, and as is the case with any player, anybody that gets the momentum and confidence that he's obviously playing with right now – and leading the National Football League is no small task. I think to have a 1,500-yard rusher and to average over five yards a carry speaks volumes about what he is.

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