PATRIOTS HEAD COACH BILL BELICHICK
December 4, 2018
Q: I'd like to go back to a play call early in the third quarter where a screen play was called and Tom Brady opted to throw it at the feet of James White. Could you go over the mechanics of that play? Was it a matter of there possibly being an illegal man down the field?
BB: Yeah, Mike [Petraglia], I mean, we've moved on. Look, we can sit here and talk about each play. It'd be 20 minutes on every play. They played it well and we didn't really have anything, so that was it.
Q: How would you characterize your short passing game and how it has fared this year, particularly the screen game?
BB: Well, look, screen passes – they're plays that are designed to go to one guy, so if it goes to that player and it goes the way it's designed, it could be a good play. If it doesn't, then you kind of have nothing. So, a little bit of a feast or famine play. I think in the end, you've got to look at the composite of all of them. It's hard to get too high or low on one play. Any one could be a good one or you could have an incomplete pass if the defense does a good job of reading it or your screen guys can't get out or whatever it is. We've had both. We've had some that have gone well and some that basically are incomplete passes. It's just a different way of really running the ball. The ball is behind the line of scrimmage and basically only one guy can get the ball, so it's about the same as a run.
Q: What has it been like to coach Kyle Van Noy over the past few years? What stands out to you about how he has grown in your system?
BB: Yeah, Kyle's been great. He's got a lot of good skills. He's got good size, can run, is physical, can tackle, pretty good in pass defense, pretty good blitzer, does a lot of things well, a smart player that handles a lot of different jobs for us and versatility. He's a pleasure to have on our team and to coach.
Q: Does anything stand out to you about how he may have adapted to the culture here in this locker room?
BB: No, I've never had a problem with Kyle. He's always ready to go, well prepared, works hard, wants to understand the information that we give him and can process it and execute it.
Q: He seems to be playing a little bit more on the line of scrimmage this season. Do you view that role in a similar category as some of the past linebackers like Mike Vrabel or Rob Ninkovich?
BB: Somewhat. I don't think Vrabel and Ninkovich ever played the role of the coverage linebacker in sub that I can remember, or not much anyway.
Q: Does anyone else come to mind with Kyle from the past?
BB: Well, again Mike [Reiss], every year is different. Every game plan is different. It depends on what we need him to do but Kyle's done a lot of different things for us and he's done them well. He's certainly one of our more versatile players, so when you put together different schemes, having somebody like that that can adjust and execute those things, Kyle's a good guy to have.
Q: Could you give your impressions of the play-calling and the designed pressure that you've been able to get on opposing quarterbacks over the past few weeks?
BB: Yeah, well, all defenses in the passing game are a combination of rush and coverage. So, the more guys you send, the fewer guys you have in coverage. The more guys you have in coverage, the fewer guys you rush. But ultimately, it needs to fit together and depending on the type of pass and formation and personnel that the offense is using and what your call is and how it's executed, I mean each play has its own characteristics. It's hard to lump them all in together. The rush is contingent on the coverage. The coverage is dependent on the rush. The better both of them are, the more successful it will be. If one's good without the other then you really don't have much to show for it.
Q: How have you seen the Dolphins evolve since your Week 4 matchup with them, and why are they so difficult to play down there in their home stadium?
BB: Yeah, the Dolphins are a good football team. They have a lot of talented players. They're well-coached. Coach [Adam] Gase does a great job of utilizing his personnel and putting together schemes and making adjustments in the game and in game plans. They attack defenses consistently very well. He's always given us a hard time. I'm sure it'll be tough against Miami, like it always is. Wherever we play them, it's hard. They did a great job against us down there last year in the second game. It's going to be a big challenge for us.
Q: What have you seen from Xavien Howard that makes him such a difficult cornerback to face?
BB: Yeah, he does a very good job, really, in all areas of pass defense. He's good at the line of scrimmage. He's disruptive. He does a good job of getting his hands on the receivers and making it hard for them to get into the route cleanly. He's got good length. He's good down the field. He has quickness to match routes and has good vision. He's been able to make some plays this year where he's gotten a real good break on the ball, or in some cases even come off the man that he was guarding when the ball was in the air to get to somebody else. He's got real good ball skills. He's had a couple of outstanding interceptions this year where he's either seen the ball late or had to make an acrobatic catch to intercept it. It's usually the kind of plays you see from a receiver more than a defensive back. He's got good instincts. He's around the ball. He's got good hands. If the ball is errant, he can come up with it and turn it into an interception as opposed to just being a foul ball and he's a hard guy to get away from at the line of scrimmage when he gets up there and presses and keeps the core of the offense from having a well-timed route with the quarterbacks and the receivers. He's disruptive.
PATRIOTS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR
December 4, 2018
Q: How do you feel the screen passing game has come along this year? How effective a tool is it and how important is it to your play-calling?
JM: I think screens are an interesting scheme when you consider them each week. You certainly want to take into consideration the style of play that the defense uses in terms of their rush and their ability to feel the screen and play the screen the way they want to. Certain teams are better to use them against than others. There’s a lot of different reasons for trying to use some of those things. But, I think we’ve worked hard on those. We’ve always tried to work hard at that part of our game here. I think Dante [Scarnecchia] does a tremendous job of working and coaching the linemen to do the things that we need to do to get out – same thing with Ivan [Fears] and the backs. When we have an opportunity to do that, there’s a lot of little things that go into the back getting out on a screen play and helping it be successful, and then certainly the quarterback. There’s an element of deception and you try to not give away your intentions as much as you can. Some weeks are better than others to use them, and not all of them are called. Sometimes they get checked into based on specific looks and those types of things. And screen plays have always been, to some degree, a little bit of outhouse or castle because, by the nature of the design and the call, you’re throwing the ball to one player. There’s only one option on the play. You’re limited in terms of what you can do if, for some reason, the screen player is covered or doesn’t get out or what have you. You’ve certainly got to be selective with how you use them, who you use them against and what you do. I think we have good screen players, both in terms of the runners and receivers that catch those, and then we have good screen linemen. And, we’re going to continue to work at it to try to get better at that part of our game like we do the rest of it.
Q: Is the screen game usually something that is in response to what the defense is showing, or do you ever call a screen no matter what?
JM: Well, I think you certainly could. We’ve done that. But, at the same time, look, I’d say the foundation of our offensive system is to try to eliminate bad plays and move the ball forward each time we snap it. So, if we have an obvious bad look or some kind of structure on the defense that is telling us we’re going to have a very slim chance of having success, then we usually try to avoid those as best we can. But, there’s definitely some that you call and some that you have as part of a package or what have you. There’s a lot of ways to call.
Q: On Sunday, would you say Josh Gordon’s lack of targets early was a game-flow thing or was there more of a game plan to save some of those until later in the game?
JM: Josh is doing well, working hard, improving each week in practice. Any time we go into a game, there’s no predetermined target on each play. We have a lot of guys that are out in each pattern. Sometimes the coverage takes away certain parts of the play and the ball goes somewhere else. Sometimes we have multiple people open on a play, but the ball can only go to one of them. So, like I said, I don’t worry too much about those types of things as long as we’re doing the right things and following the process that we want to follow in the passing game, which is to protect the quarterback. Tommy [Brady] reads the play out based on the different coverage looks that we get and then goes to the right place with it, which he almost every time does, which is a great strength of ours. Sometimes guys get targeted and there’s a flurry of them, sometimes there’s a little bit of a lull, but you’re just trying to make sure that we’re moving the ball forward. Like I said, most of our pass game, we have multiple people out in the pattern and a lot of it is based on what the defense does. The other night, they chose to play a lot of split-safety zone and take away some things on the outside of the field that opened up some other things, and then they changed some of that up and played some other coverages that gave us some other things. That’s what happens when you play a good defense, and I thought he was very patient, did his job and waited for his opportunities and made the most of them when he got them.
Q: How good is Tom Brady at remaining patient and not forcing the ball downfield?
JM: He’s excellent. Obviously, Tom’s really good in a lot of areas. That’s certainly one that he’s always prided himself on. Look, in our league, the defenses, the personnel on defense, the coaches on the other side, they’re all pretty damn good each week and they have a plan. They want to try to take certain things away from you based on what they call each play, and one of the biggest mistakes you can make is not really concerning yourself with those things and just trying to force the ball into different places. We try to be disciplined and read it out each time. We have a lot of guys that can make plays in the passing game. Many times, we’re at our best when we just distribute the ball to the right guy and he does his job and gets open and then he does something good with the football. The other night, I thought Tommy did a good job of that.
Q: Now that you have a quarterback with 1,000 career rushing yards, does it sort of start to enter your line of thinking?
JM: Yeah, now we’ve got to make sure we don’t go backwards. He finally got his milestone and now we’ve just got to make sure we don’t have to continue to cross the threshold down the road. That was kind of cool, we’ve been talking about that – that’s kind of been an inside joke in the quarterback room for a while. We’ve realized how close he was, and amazingly enough, as much as he doesn’t get heralded as a runner, his production as a runner has been really, really remarkable – not only in sneaking the ball in short-yardage situations or goal line or what have you, but also in terms of being able to step up and make some timely runs. It took a while, but I’m sure he would tell you that all of those runs and each one of those yards was probably pretty doggone important to the series that we were in.
Q: Where do you see the Dolphins stressing you guys? And what are you seeing from Rob Gronkowski upon his return the last couple games after missing some time?
JM: Well, the Dolphins – it’s a big challenge down there. One, this is a team that plays extremely well at home. We haven’t played well down there, coached well down there – I can speak for myself on that – and we have a big challenge to go down there and try to change that trend. They’re an aggressive, penetrating front. They mix their defensive calls and coverages quite a bit. There’s a lot of spin the dial. You’re going to deal with zone, you’re going to deal with pressure, you’re going to deal with man coverage, you’re going to deal with post-safety, split-safety, secondary blitzers, linebacker pressures – there’s a lot to deal with in this scheme. The big thing that really stands out is I think they’re third in the league in takeaways and they’re averaging over two turnovers a game on defense. When you do that, you create a lot of extra possessions for your offense and they got us a couple times in our first game. So, there’s a lot of scheme challenges that go along with this group. Certainly, we have a tremendous amount of respect for [Cameron] Wake. We’ve played against him a number of times and he’s had a lot of success against us down there. Robert Quinn’s playing well, [Davon] Godchaux, [Akeem] Spence is probably playing as well as he’s played, to me, that I’ve seen. They have fast linebackers. We didn’t see Reshad Jones in the first game, we know what a tremendous player he is. [Xavien] Howard’s having a Pro Bowl year at corner and we didn’t see [Minkah] Fitzpatrick at corner in the first game. There’s a lot of changes relative to the personnel that we see now that didn’t see in the first game against them, and certainly it’s a tremendous, tremendous challenge to go down there and play them in Miami where they’re 5-1 this year and have historically been very difficult to deal with down there in South Florida. Relative to Gronk, it’s great to have him back out there. Certainly coming back and working back into it, he’s practicing hard. He has a great attitude and approach, he’s unselfish and does whatever – ran-block pretty well the other night and does some things too that don’t necessarily get noticed or don’t show up on the stat sheet but helps us do a lot of different things and also takes a tremendous amount of coverage. Sometimes they put a lot of attention to him and the ball goes somewhere else, and that kind of goes hand-in-hand with what we talked about earlier about the quarterback reading the coverage out and trying to go to the right spot each coverage, each play and give ourselves a chance to have some success each time we go back and throw it. I think he’s in a good place, continues to work hard and he’s always patient and unselfish and he’s a great teammate. We’re better when he’s on the field.
Q: When you have a game when you have nine different players catch passes and seven players run the ball, is that sort of the ideal game plan from a play-calling standpoint? How much better does it make the offense when so many different players are touching the ball?
JM: I think that speaks more to the players executing and doing their jobs well. And then our quarterback and our line – one, distributing the ball and two, giving those guys an opportunity to run with it, than it does one type of a specific design or hope that I had going into the game plan. Sometimes those numbers will be dramatically impacted by what the defense chooses to take away and how they chose to play. I just think it speaks to the depth that we have in terms of some of our skill positions and the guys that go in there and they’re doing their job. They try to do it as well as they can every play. When the ball comes to them, they try to make the most of their opportunities, which is a great feeling offensively when there’s a lot of people contributing to the overall success of the unit. It certainly can make you more difficult to defend, but if some teams force the ball somewhere and somebody ended up with 12 or 13 targets, then that’s one thing. If the ball gets spread around like that, it usually is a good thing also. So I think it says a lot about our guys and how hard they work and how patient they are and they’re ready for their opportunities when they get them and make the most of them and celebrate their teammates’ success when the ball is going somewhere else.
Q: There are some vacancies in the NFL and your name has been brought up. I’m just curious of your thoughts on your future but more importantly, how do you balance doing your job but also keeping your eye on the future?
JM: I don’t really worry about the future and honestly, each week is a tremendous challenge and we try to stay in the moment and focus on the task at hand, which this week is obviously considerable considering that we haven’t had a lot of success down there. This is a big challenge for us. I didn’t do nearly well enough in my role and my job last year when we went down there to Miami, so there’s a lot for us to look at and a great defense for us to go there and face where they play extremely well at home. All the other stuff is just, it is what it is and don’t really pay too much attention to it. I love what we do here in terms of working hard to try to come up with the best plan for our players each week and that’s where my focus is going to remain.
Q: Your future goal hasn’t changed though? You still want to be a head coach again someday?
JM: If that’s in the cards for me, then that’s great. I’ve said that before. But again, I’m not worried about that right now.
PATRIOTS LINEBACKER COACH BRIAN FLORES
December 4, 2018
Q: What kind of progress have you seen from Elandon Roberts in coverage from a mental standpoint? He mentioned that he really worked over the offseason on watching film on that kind of stuff.
BF: I think E-Rob has really grown as a player, I would say, this being his third year. Obviously, I’ve spent a lot of time with him. This guy, he works extremely hard. I would say nobody studies more film or works harder in practice. I mean, he’s up there with anyone else on the team as far as that’s concerned. So, he’s really improved as a player in all areas – run game, pass game, how he studies. How he watches film has changed during his time here. I think he’s really done a tremendous job that way. He provides leadership for us and he’s as tough and physical a player we have. So, we’re lucky to have him. He’s definitely improved a great deal over the past three years.
Q: What stands out to you from what Kyle Van Noy brings to the defense but also how he’s grown in the system and in the team culture?
BF: I think he brings a great deal of energy to the group. I guess he comes off as a quiet guy at times, but he’s got a lot of energy, he’s got a great spirit about him, people gravitate to him, he’s smart, he’s versatile, he does a good job with the younger players. He’s just a really good teammate. I would say that would be first and foremost. That’s what I’d say about it. Then he’s, obviously, very talented, good size, good strength – you know, all the measurables. But, the big thing for me is he’s a great teammate, he’s selfless, he’ll do whatever we ask him to do, winning’s important to him. Those are things we covet here, and he embodies a lot of those. He has a lot of those qualities.
Q: On Sunday, the defense seemed to have one its best games tackling, especially in the open field. With the rules restricting contact during the preseason and practices during the year, is tackling something that sort of improves and develops as the year goes on as players get more in-game reps, especially compared to years past?
BF: I would say tackling is, obviously, the most important or one of the most important fundamentals in the game. It’s something we talk about every day. It’s something we try to practice every day. The rules are what they are. We abide by them, but we obviously place a great emphasis on tackling in space, in line. We’ve got a myriad of tackling drills where we throw obstacles in front of them, we make them defeat blocks, cut tackles, heel tackles – I mean, we’re all over the place as far as the different ways you can get a guy down, but they’re all important. I thought the guys did a good job of taking what we practice on the field and trying to execute it in games as a total unit. Now, it wasn’t all perfect, I’ll tell you that. There’s a couple misses in there, but for the most part, I think guys understand how important it is to limit yards after contact. Every yard counts in this league, and if we can hold them to one less, that could be the game-winning yard.
Q: I wanted to ask you about J.C. Jackson and young cornerbacks in general in the NFL. With the complexities of the coverages and the different techniques they have to learn in this league, as well as the way games are officiated, how would you describe the process of making the jump from college football?
BF: I think playing corner in this league is one of the hardest things to do. Obviously, some of the most talented athletes in the world are playing receiver in this league. I think J.C., he’s come in, he’s worked extremely hard on the field, in the classroom trying to learn our scheme, and I think he’s picked it up well. I think Josh Boyer, our corners coach, has done a great job spending a lot of time with him on his technique, on fundamentals, on learning the game and understanding how we want to play certain opponents, whether it’s a double-team or single or off-coverage versus press coverage or whatever it happens to be for that week. So, Josh does a great job. Our entire coaching staff does a great job individually with their players. But, that position specifically, because you’re out there on an island and you’re out there with another great athlete, everything’s got to be right. So, we try to spend as much time with them fine-tuning the technique so that when that situation presents itself, which it will, that they’re in the best position to try to make a play and help the team win. So, I think J.C.’s done a good job of that and all of our young corners have improved this year.
Q: With three rookie cornerbacks, have you as a staff had to spend extra time this year as teachers getting back to the fundamentals on technique and developing those young players? How challenging has it been?
BF: Well, I mean, yeah, absolutely. It’s not just the three rookie corners. Any rookie who comes in here, you’ve got to spend a lot of time with them, but that’s our role as teachers. I mean, we’re coaches, but inevitably, we’re teachers. We try to teach the game – how to study the game, how to play the game – and that’s kind of how I view myself as a coach. I’m a teacher, I just teach football. So, we spend a lot of time with that group, that corner group. You know, we’ve got a couple young linebackers, a couple young D-linemen, and offensively it’s the same. It’s hard to come into this league and there’s a lot to learn, there’s great players here and we’re lucky to have a good, young group. They come in here and they’re in here early, they stay late, they’re trying to improve, they’re trying to get better. It’s actually a joy to be around them and I love teaching and so does the rest of the staff, so it’s good for all of us.
Q: I asked Bill Belichick yesterday about the trust a player like J.C. Jackson has to gain from the veterans in the secondary, especially the safeties like Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon and Patrick Chung. How significant would you say those veterans are to a guy like J.C. or Jonathan Jones in the past when they don’t have much experience but they trust them out on the corner?
BF: I think players have got to earn the trust of their teammates on the practice field. So, J.C., Keion [Crossen], Duke [Dawson], Ja’Whaun Bentley, any young player – that starts really in the film room and then on the practice field. So, I think J.C.’s done that, and it takes time. It definitely takes time. It takes time to learn it. It takes time to get comfortable. I would say our veteran players, they do a really good job of working with the young players, helping them improve, helping them understand why we’re doing this, why we’re not doing this, why we’re not doing that, etcetera. So, whether it’s Devin to Jason [McCourty] to Duron to Chung to [Dont’a] Hightower to Van Noy to Roberts, they all do a really good job of helping those young guys because they were young once and they had an older player help them out, so I think they all understand that. It’s something we try to preach to them as veteran players: ‘Hey, remember when you were young? I do. You weren’t very smart then, so help these guys out.’ I think they embrace that, and we’ve got a good group of veteran players who understand that, and it’s not just defensively. It’s really across the team. So, we’re lucky to have that. They kind of take on a coaching role that way, and we try to help all these young guys earn the trust of their teammates and us as coaches, as well.