Belichick and McDaniels Q&A, 11/25

Posted on November 25, 2008 
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Thanks to the Patriots’ PR staff, here are the transcripts of Bill Belichick’s and Josh McDaniels’ Q&A with the media from earlier today:

Bill Belichick
BB: Watching the Steelers, they are a pretty impressive football team. They certainly do a lot of things well. You see their defense ranked at the top of the league in just about everything: rushing, passing, points, third down, red area. Nobody has gotten 300 yards against them and about half of their possessions are three and out. They are really solid across the board. It is no one man band. They are good at everything. The front, the linebackers, the secondary – they mix it up on you quite a bit. They are very good. Offensively, they have a lot of good players – very skilled players at the wide receiver position [and] an excellent tight end with Miller. The backs are tough. Roethlisberger brings a dimension of the game not just passing but running and staying alive in the pocket with his size and vision to go down field with scrambles. They are an excellent coverage team – they lead the league in kickoff coverage, third in punt coverage, five yards of punt return. So, they do a good job with field position and putting their defense in a good situation. Defensively, they usually hold up their end of the bargain too. It is a big challenge for us this week. There’s a lot to get ready for in all three phases of the game. The Steelers are really sound. They are well coached, they are tough and they are a hard team to beat. You have to go out there and play well and do things well against them. They are not going to make too many mistakes and make it easy for you. You are going to have to work for everything you get.

Q: How consistently are the Steelers blitzing this season?
BB: It varies, but I would say overall not as much as last year.

Q: In turn with your offensive line it seemed like you were in a lot of five man protections against the Dolphins. How do you feel the line did in protections in that passing game?
BB: I think for the most part we were ok considering the number of times we threw the ball. We mix our protections up so there is a little of everything. Sometimes we are in five-man, sometimes six-man, which there are a lot of different varieties of, and some seven man too. We use them all like most teams do, like the Steelers do. I don’t think you want to stay in one protection the whole time. Our tight ends and backs are going to be important in blitz pickup. They have been and they will continue to be, not just individually but in conjunction with everyone working together in unison so we get all the guys blocked that we are supposed to get blocked and if there are any free ones we know who they are and we account for them between the quarterback and whatever receivers are involved. That is a tough thing to get everything right on. That will be a challenge for us this week to work on all aspects of not only the communication but actually physically blocking them.

Q: You mentioned the Steelers rank first in pretty much everything defensively. How challenging is it to even find a weakness to exploit?
BB: You are going to have to work for everything. You are going to have to execute whatever play you run whether it is run, pass or play action. Whatever it is, it is just going to have to be well executed and if it’s not then you are probably not going to get much out of it. If it is sloppy you will probably turn the ball over. We’re going to have to have a real good game of execution offensively, whatever the plays are.

Q: What makes James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley so tough?
BB: They are both very athletic. They are fast and they play with good power, so they match up well against different types of blockers. They are more physical than most of the smaller guys they encounter and when they are up against bigger guys they use their quickness and athleticism to win against some of the offensive linemen they face, particularly the tackles. The scheme creates some problems too – getting the right guys on them or getting them blocked period. They bring all four of them, so you have to account for all four of them. Sometimes they spring guys free on that too. But, they are good rushers with their athleticism, their power and their quickness.

Q: With the Thursday night games becoming more prevalent in the league, is having extra time to prepare the next week an advantage?
BB: I think for most teams with the coaching staff it is an advantage because you have a little more time to not only look at the most recent games that you have broken down but the whole season and study with a little more detail. I think for the players, most teams use the extra time. We are into the season 10, 11, 12 games whenever they hit. I think most teams would use that time to try to give the players a couple extra days to heal up their bumps and bruises and get ready for the remaining games you have left with as healthy a team as you can. As compared to playing early in the season or having a bye week early in the season where you might take advantage of some extra practice time when your team is healthy and fresh. I think at this point there is not a lot of that. We had a very light practice on Friday of last week, probably closer to a Saturday practice than a Friday practice. Even though we had extra time for the Miami game and we had more meeting time, we didn’t do a whole lot more on the field than we would in a normal Sunday to Sunday week. I think from some of the other coaches I have talked to in the league that is closer to the norm than practicing five days instead of three.

Q: Does Dick LeBeau get his due credit for what he has meant to this league?
BB: Dick should. I think his respect in the league from everybody that I know is immense. He was a great player in this league and he has been a great defensive coach for a long time, whether it’s been an assistant or the head coach. I think he is as well respected as anybody in the game defensively. His overall career accomplishments – I can’t imagine there be more than a handful of people that would really be able to compare with what he has done in the National Football League throughout his entire career. He has had a great track record and has had an awesome career. It wouldn’t be overlooked by me. I don’t know who else would be grading it but it is pretty impressive to me.

Q: How will this week’s schedule differ, if at all, with the Thanksgiving holiday?
BB: Not too much. We are going to try to stay on a normal schedule and maybe move things up a little bit earlier on Thursday. We will try to do a couple of things in practice on Wednesday and a couple of things in practice on Friday that we would normally do on Thursday. We will just shorten it down a little bit, not too much. We still have to do what we have to do to get ready for the game. I think if we just push things up a little, everyone will have time to have a good day with their families on Thursday – I think that is important too. We can get done what we need to get done Thursday morning and break things down earlier than we normally do.

Q: Have you heard any follow-up from the league on the Matt Light and Channing Crowder situation?
BB: I don’t have anything to add on it.

Q: What are some of the attributes that separate Troy Polamalu from other safeties in the league?
BB: He is a very instinctive player. He has good skills. He is very fast, quick, is a tough guy, good tackler, very aggressive and is very instinctive. He really has a nose for the ball. He has a good level of anticipation on what is going to happen. Either before the ball is snapped or sometimes immediately right after it is snapped, so he is heading in the direction in a hurry. I would say that he is a guy that whenever he is on the field you have to be aware of him from an offensive standpoint. Whenever he is on the field he is moving to the ball pretty fast. He might be 50 yards away, he might be 5 yards away but he’s coming and he’s coming in a hurry. It won’t be too long before he gets there. Sometimes other guys get there first but he won’t be too far behind.

Q: Does he remind you of the vintage Rodney Harrison at all?
BB: I think there are some similarities between the players, yes. They make plays in every aspect of the game. They blitz. They tackle. They cover. They knock balls down. They intercept them. They play with great emotion, competitiveness and toughness. They take on anybody – guards, tackles – it doesn’t matter who it is. They will hit anybody, whoever is there. They will hit them just as hard it doesn’t make a difference of how big they are or what number they are wearing. I think there are a number of similarities in those two players.

Josh McDaniels
Q: How difficult is it to find areas you can exploit against the Pittsburgh Steelers when they are the NFL’s top-ranked defense?
JM: It is a huge challenge. Obviously, there aren’t a lot of weaknesses. There really aren’t any. It is a team that the scheme itself has been in place for a long time, a number of years. They have had a lot of the same players in that scheme for a long time. They really know how to play the defense. They execute it extremely well. They are very physical. They pressure you. They cover well and they try to force you into turnovers and negative plays. They have a number of very, very good players. The challenge is to try and find ways to move the ball against them and eliminate all the negative plays that they cause to disrupt you and get you in those long yardage situations where it is really hard to convert and stay on the field.

Q: What are some of the hallmarks of Dick LeBeau’s Zone-Blitzing scheme?
JM: The one thing, whenever they blitz they have good blitzers. It is not like they change all their blitzes every week. They run a lot of the same blitzes over and over. They have people that can, even if you have a guy there assigned to block, the guy that is actually coming you still have to stand in there and block him. They are not going to stop. They run through you. They run around you. They have a number of different linebackers that make multiple moves. They have secondary players like [Troy] Polamalu that come from the outside and come from the inside. It is not just about identifying who is coming; it is about actually sustaining your protection. They get a number of sacks when you actually have enough people to block them but you just can’t block them long enough. The way they rush, how physical they are and the speed with which they do it are all hallmarks of what they do and that is why they are so good at it.

Q: How do you feel the offensive line did with pass protection against the Dolphins?
JM: We did a decent job. That is an area that we are improving at and one that we are trying to improve in constantly throughout the course of this season. We emptied out the backfield a number of times on Sunday. When you do that, there are five guys to block the four our five that are coming. They really have to do a great job of identifying the fronts, who the blitzers are, who the rushers are going to be and they gave us plenty of time to throw. Matt [Cassel] had time to look and often times to go from the first to the second read and at times even further than that. It is not perfect and never is but I think that that group as a whole did a pretty good job. I think we had 45 or 46 pass attempts and didn’t allow too much pressure on him. Anytime you can do that that says a lot about the guys that are up front with how they are doing and how they are performing on a weekly basis.

Q: Was quarterback Matt Cassel’s touchdown run against the Dolphins last week a designed run?
JM: [laughter] We have multiple options on most plays and they gave us a particular look where it was a good decision to go ahead and do that. Matt made the smart play there. They were in a coverage mode on the play and were really trying to make sure the receivers were covered and we were in an empty backfield so most of their attention was being paid to the receivers. It could have gone either way and he made a good choice on it and scored.

Q: You laughed when I asked the question…
JM: It’s just that he has done it a number of times during the course of the season on his own and has had some good results with running with the football and that one actually paid off for seven points.

Q: Matt Cassel made some nice throws on the run against the Dolphins last week. What does it say about a quarterback that is able to throw on the run and how has he grown in that area?
JM: Matt is doing a good job of not necessarily escaping the pocket but at times, maybe it is a step or two in one direction or another to avoid a rush. He’s improving in that area. Then there are certain times where it is required of you to leave the pocket because the protection or the rush forces you to do that. First of all, recognizing when it is time to leave and when it is not necessary is an important factor in that. The second thing, when you are moving out of the pocket your mechanics can’t change all that much. You have to still try to have some of the base fundamentals that you use when you are in the pocket. You still have to have those when you are out of the pocket – with your shoulders being square, two hands on the ball, finishing your throws and we work on that every week. He is doing better at that. He definitely made some big-important plays when he was moving around the pocket or out of the pocket on Sunday.

Q: How patient are you going to have to be against the Steelers since they do well at limiting long pass plays?
JM: They lead the league in almost every category. In most of the top categories they are at the top of the league. That is why they are rated as the No. 1 defense in the league. They do a number of things very well, not only patience but execution in every phase of our game – taking care of the ball and you have to take your opportunities when they give them to you, whatever they may be. Whether that means to run the ball, throw it short, throw it in the immediate area or even at times to take an opportunity to go down the field. They are very sound in what they do so you have to be just as sound offensively when you play against them or else you end up making mistakes. They are capitalizing on a lot of those. You have to avoid those situations. You have to make the most of your opportunities when you get them.

Q: With Ike Taylor, the Steelers have a guy that could follow wide receiver Randy Moss around. Do they use single coverage on their receivers a lot or is there safety help? How do they approach that?
JM: They play a lot of different coverage schemes. They will play with some single safety and for the most part let the corners play one on one on the outside with the receivers. They will also roll over the top of one or both receivers at the same time. You just have to do a great job of reading the coverage once the ball is snapped and identifying where you need to go with the football. There are going to be times where they want you to go outside with it because they are trying to take away some things away inside. You have to make those situations positive for you. There are other times where they are going to try to take away those outside throws and you have to do a good job of reading everything after the snap because the safeties do a great job of trying to disguise and hold their rotation until the ball is snapped.

Q: When they are single safety high, how often is that safety Troy Polamalu? Does his range make it seem like there is more than one safety back there?
JM: He is back there at times. He is down plenty near the line of scrimmage but he is also in the deep part of the field. You can’t ever necessarily count on one or the other. He is a great player and has great range. [He has] extremely good instincts and really reads the quarterback well. He makes a lot of plays that maybe some other players might not get to or might not be as close to making because of how well he reads the pattern or the play itself. He gets to the area where he thinks the ball is going to. He is there to capitalize on those opportunities if he has read the play right. A lot of times he does. He has great instincts. He is a great player and certainly has great speed.

Q: After the success Randy Moss had Dolphins last week, is there any chance he sees single coverage this week?
JM: We played this team last year and their scheme for the most part is the same. They did a decent job of single covering him [Randy Moss] when they chose to do that last year. They are going to play their defense. They are No. 1 in the league in defense. I don’t think they are going to change necessarily what they do or how they want to attack us just because. They were fairly willing to do some of those things last year. They have done it to very good receivers this year. We will see what they do and how they chose to play us. I would expect them to play their defense because they are very good at doing it. As we have mentioned a number of times ‘why change when you have something really good going?’

Q: You guys had wide receiver Matthew Slater in on offense for a play against the Miami Dolphins last week. Are you guys integrating him a little bit more into the offense?
JM: Matt and all the rest of the receivers for that matter take repetitions during the course of the week and they are all ready to play. [Sam] Aiken played a number of snaps. Slater played that one snap. They are all ready to go and at times you may end up needing to sub people in and out because of a play that just happened. Somebody runs a longer pattern so you send in a fresher receiver at times. Slater works hard and he is getting better every week. We don’t mind having him in the game. That was just one play. One shot of evidence of it. You could see him starting to get in the mix here in a little bit. We don’t have any fear in playing any of those guys. They are all productive players and they work really hard during practice.

Q: When you guys are in a three-wide receiver set, it is normally Ben Watson in at the tight end in that package. What is it about him that you want him in on that package?
JM: Ben [Watson] gives us a lot of things. He has done a good job in terms of his run blocking in that offensive grouping. The week before [vs. New York Jets] he caught a number of balls and was open. He has the ability to do that on a consistent basis. He has been a decent run blocker on that edge and has improved in his protection. We feel like he gives us a solid presence on the edge. He has been here for a number of years and knows what to do, not that David [Thomas] doesn’t. David has been in the game also in certain situations. Ben is that guy most of the time when we are in those three-receiver sets.

Q: I am wondering when you guys are going to stop ‘babying’ Matt Cassel and let him throw for 500 yards?
JM: [laughter]Whatever works. Whatever is the best way to try and win, that is what we are all for. We are trying to figure that out right now for Pittsburgh.

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