Bill Belichick Q&A, 12/22

Posted on December 22, 2008 
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Here’s the Q&A from Bill Belichick today at Gillette Stadium, courtesy of the Patriots’ PR staff:

BB: Quick turnaround here. That was a real good performance by our specialists, all the guys that handled the ball, starting with our special teams guys: Chris [Hanson] on the punts, holding them to field goals, Steve [Gostkowski] kicking in those conditions, Wes [Welker] on the returns, and all of our skill players on offense from Dan [Koppen] on the snaps to Matt [Cassel] and the receivers and backs. I thought it was real impressive the way they handled the ball and played with their feet under them. They made a lot of positive plays, gained some extra yards after contact and stuff like that. Our team, as I said yesterday, came out ready to play early. We got a couple of breaks early in the game we were able to take advantage of, take advantage of the field position, score, get ahead and play from ahead. That’s a good way to play on a day like that. It’s certainly a lot easier to play from ahead than to play from behind in those kinds of conditions. It’s good to win. Like I said, [we have a] quick turnaround here. We are going to practice tomorrow and Wednesday and take Thursday off for Christmas. We have to get on Buffalo quick. I wasn’t at all surprised by the way they played yesterday against Denver with another good performance. They we were close to beating the Jets and several other games recently. We know it’s always tough against Buffalo and tough in this division. I am sure it will be tough up there in Buffalo playing Sunday in December. As I said, we have a lot of work to do here. We have to turn things around quick. We have to get off the Arizona game and get onto Buffalo. It’s good to win. We are looking forward to going up there on Sunday.

Q: Matthew Slater and Russ Hochstein played in more positions than they normally do. Can you address their contributions?
BB: I thought Russ did a great job for us. It was an outstanding performance, stepping in and playing some spots at tight end and fullback. We put in several of those plays on Friday and then Saturday as the forecast deteriorated at the end of the week. We thought we would be in some bigger personnel groupings and Russ really did an outstanding job for us. We ran several of those plays behind him, again, playing at the end of the line, playing in the backfield, plays where he normally doesn’t get a lot of playing time. I thought he made those adjustments nicely. We were productive in our two or three tight end sets. Slater, this was a week where he worked in all three phases of the game: his normal duties at special teams, his snaps at receiver and at safety. He got a lot of snaps this week at safety. Once the score got to where it was, we felt like it would be good to get him in there and give him some experience playing in that position and he had a lot of practice time there. I thought that it was a good learning experience for him. He did some things well and obviously there are some other things that we need to talk about and correct a little bit. But, for the most part, he was in the right spot.

Q: On the play Brandon Meriweather got the strip-sack was Matthew Slater the decoy?
BB: The way they blocked it, their five linemen took our five linemen and the one back in the backfield took one safety. He ended up taking the safety to his side, which was Slater, and Meriweather was free on the other side. I think if the safeties would have been reversed he would have still blocked the guy to his side.

Q: You said plenty of times that your game plan changes week to week and you said that you implemented those plays for Hochstein on Friday and Saturday.
BB: Maybe I said that, but let me rephrase it. At the end of the week, we put in plays that were more oriented to the type of day we actually have out there on Sunday. When we started to put the game plan in on Tuesday or Wednesday, we weren’t as committed to playing in the snow, precipitation, that kind of a game where we felt like the close formations might give us some advantages. We gravitated to that by the end of the week by Friday, even the Saturday walkthroughs and Sunday morning with a little bit more emphasis on that. But some of those plays were plays that we didn’t put in until Friday or Saturday. I don’t know if I said that but that’s what I meant to say.

Q: So with those two players, or any player in particular who has more than one position to prepare for does his preparation change week to week based on a new set of plays?
BB: Sure, that is true for a lot of players. Sometimes there’s more emphasis at X , Z, strong safety, free safety, right corner, or left corner. It depends on how the other team plays their formations. You might be covering the Z more than you are covering the X, or vice versa. That is fairly common that one thing is more of an emphasis than something else. We try to identify that for the players. You are going to be playing a little more at the nickel. Somebody else is going to be playing a little bit more in our regular situations, but we have to be willing to do both because your each other’s depth and you don’t know which formation they are going to use more of. That kind of thing, but that is pretty common.

Q: Did you expect Arizona to run the ball as much as they did?
BB: It didn’t surprise me that they tried to run the ball some early in the game. I think, the conditions being what they were, that would be natural. We did that, too. I think there is a little bit of a misnomer with the number of runs Arizona runs. People say they don’t run the ball. I don’t think that is really true. I think they have plays where they check against what the defense is doing and, when the defense has a lot of guys up close to the line of scrimmage, they throw it. Minnesota is the type of team that plays a lot of guys close to the line of scrimmage. When we played them a couple years ago, we had the same numbers against that type of defense. Sometimes they have runs called and the quarterback — Warner —will rise up and throw it to a receiver. If the corners are backed off, those are running plays, but the defense is so light on the receivers that they take a pass on it. I just think those numbers are a little bit deceptive. I know what the stats are. I don’t really see it quite that way. We played our corners up on their receivers quite a bit and that really wasn’t an option for them. The quarterback couldn’t rise up and throw out there with the guy standing right on top of the receiver. Some of those plays that would have been runs in other situations and might have been runs against Minnesota that ended up being passes were runs against us. I think that was a little bit of a function of what we did on defense — not so much that they wouldn’t call them. I don’t mean to get over technical, but the way the numbers are I just don’t see the numbers that way. Again, Arizona is a team that uses their backs a lot in the passing game. [Tim] Hightower, [J.J.] Arrington and [Edgerrin] James are all good receivers. They throw those guys the ball a lot. Some of those are just extensions of their running game. They threw some screens yesterday. Those are plays that we worked hard on because that is an extension of their running game. They are passes, but when you are getting the ball back behind the line of scrimmage it is a little different than throwing the ball down the field in the passing game.

Q: Were the wind conditions not quite as difficult as you anticipated going into the game?
BB: I don’t think the wind was a factor at all in the game. In fact, we talked about it before the game and I didn’t really have much of a preference as to which goal to defend. We ended up making a choice on that, but sometimes it is pretty obvious on what you need to do. The wind conditions that were forecast, they were a lot less of a factor in the game then what I thought they were going to be, or what the forecast was. But I would say that’s not uncommon. The forecast usually isn’t exactly what it is anyway. Sometimes it’s close, but sometimes it really isn’t.

Q: I know you practiced all week in the snow, but did you expect Matt Cassel to play as well as he did being his first game in the snow?
BB: We do. That’s our job. We want to play well and we expect to play well. But we have been in inclement weather the last three weeks. We had three rain games in a row. In a lot of respects I think rain is harder for a quarterback to play in than snow is. I think Matt handled it very well in Seattle and in Oakland. We’ve had some flurries, rain and bad weather in practice. I think that we have dealt with it. Whatever it is, we have to play in it. I think that we’ve executed and Matt’s shown that he can execute in any conditions and how to use those conditions to the best of our advantage. I think we did a little bit of that yesterday. We threw some screens and some underneath routes that were a lower degree of difficulty. On the deep balls, I thought he hit those comebacks to [Jabar] Gaffney. He hit a couple in-cuts to Gaffney. I thought he put the ball right on the money on the post pattern to Moss. I thought he threw the ball well in all situations short, medium and long.

Q: Standings wise, you got some help last night but your approach really doesn’t change.
BB: Yeah. Our major focus is just to get ready to play in Buffalo. Again, based on what Buffalo did yesterday on the road in Denver, I think that right there tells you how they’re going to play. They are a good football team. We have a lot of respect for them. We are always happy to see teams in our division lose. I was really happy for Mike Holmgren. Mike’s had a tremendous career. He is one of the real greats in our profession. I have a lot of respect for Mike so I was happy that it worked out for him in his last home game. I think, rather than being a fan here and a cheerleader, the best thing we can do is go out there and play good football on Sunday in Buffalo. Without that, nothing else will matter.

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