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Bill Belichick Q&A, 11/23

11.23.09 at 4:55 pm ET
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Thanks to the Patriots’ PR staff, here’s the full transcript of Bill Belichick’s Q&A with the media today at Gillette Stadium:

BB: We came out of here with a split with the Jets after the first game. The players had a good week of practice that showed up in the game. I thought there were a lot of things that we did better in the game [and] definitely better than the last time we played them. The Jets still gave us some problems on a lot of things, but I thought the players adjusted well to them. We made our share of plays, they made a few. We were fortunate to make a few more than they did. [We have a] big challenge coming up this week in New Orleans. I’ve seen a little bit of the Saints and they’re a real good football team, they are good at everything. They’re good on special teams, good on offense, good on defense. They are at the top of the league in just about every statistical category. They are very impressive on film watching them. It’s not a team we are very familiar with. We’re really going to have to do our homework here on these guys, they are pretty good. It’s good to have gotten that one out of the way.

Q: You touched a little bit after the game that you were down to five defensive linemen. If it came to it in the second half, what would have been the contingency if you only had one healthy tackle to play?
BB: We would have taken five linemen and put them in there. And then next contingency is you would have had to put a tight end in the tackle. It’s not where you want to be, but I’d say the way the roster is every week just about every team has seven offensive linemen active, occasionally eight, but it’s usually seven. It’s two guys for five spots. You would like to have more than that but you get caught somewhere else if you keep extra guys there.

Q: Was that Rich Ohrnberger’s first regular-season game action yesterday?
BB: I believe it was, yeah. He got his letter.

Q: Is there any indication how Stephen Neal and Sebastian Vollmer are doing?
BB: Well Steve [Neal] didn’t play yesterday, but he’s doing better. Sebastian came back and finished the game.

Q: Were Matt Light and Sammy Morris game-time decisions or were they roster decisions?
BB: I’d say a combination of both. Both guys came back and practiced a little bit last week. They are close, but in making the final game day roster we decided to activate other players. They are getting better. They are certainly a lot closer this week than they were last week. We’ll give it another week and see what happens.

Q: Did Sam Aiken fall into that category, too?
BB: Yes, absolutely.

Q: Where is Sam Aiken on the punt?
BB: He’s been the personal protector.

Q: So he would have been involved where the block happened? The block came up the middle, right?
BB: Not right up the middle.

Q: I’m just trying to figure out if Sam Aiken being in would have made a difference?
BB: You know, I’ll just say this. I thought that Patrick [Chung] and Julian [Edelman] — they both played the personal protector. They both played it. Julian played it after Patrick went out. I thought both of those guys did a good job yesterday. The Jets gave us some different rush looks, which they are at good rush looks [and] they are a good rush team. They rushed us six times down there in the first game, so we worked on the punt rush. But they are a good rush team. We just didn’t do a good job. I’ve got to coach it better, we have to block it better. We have to execute the snap kick operation better. We just have to do a better job.

Q: With Wes Welker, do you remember your reaction the first time you saw him play?
BB: He killed us in Miami. I remember it. We had someone double 83 [Welker] down there, when he was playing in the slot in Miami and he we still couldn’t cover him. He caught nine for 110 – whatever it was – and then he returned a punt 70 yards down to the one-yard line against us. He killed us. The next time we played him, we doubled him, but we still had trouble with him.

Q: So you traded for him?
BB: You got it. That’s it. If you can’t beat him, join him. If you can’t stop him, then try to get him on your team. That’s basically the philosophy.

Q: Was that the first time he was on your radar?
BB: No, we scouted him coming out of college. He wasn’t drafted. He was signed by San Diego. San Diego released him and then he ended up in Miami. And like I said, he killed us. He killed us on punt returns, he killed us in the slot. The year he came out was the year we drafted [Kliff] Kingsbury. We got the wrong guy. I did a pretty bad job on that, too. He was definitely on our radar, but you look at him and he doesn’t have great time speed, he doesn’t have great size. But he’s quick, he catches the ball. They ran a lot of tear screens and stuff like that down there at [Texas] Tech, so it wasn’t like you see him running a lot of perimeter routes. He kind of did what he does here, he did down there and it was sort of hard to project that — like it was with Troy Brown, there is another guy. It’s not like he was a No. 1 draft choice. Sometimes those guys, you sort of lose sight of those slot receivers, and how good they are and how big of an impact they have. And there’re a lot of slot receivers that get drafted in the second, third, fourth round of the draft that aren’t playing football either that probably didn’t have 20 catches in their career. It’s not the easiest position to evaluate. You know where they play, you know what it is, you just don’t know exactly how good it is relative to the type of players that are going to be covering him. He’s a guy that kind of slid by for a little while, but he was no secret in Miami.

Q: Was that offense at Texas Tech a good training ground for what he does for you here?
BB: Again, at Tech a lot of those … No, I would say that our pass offense is a more down-field passing offense than theirs. Not that they didn’t run down field, we have more intermediate routes, more variety of routes, but a lot of his plays were crossing routes, seams, and catch-and-run plays, like bubble screens, and tear screens and stuff like that. And he was good, don’t get me wrong. He was productive and so was Kliff [Kingsbury]. Kliff was slugging it around down there, they had good production. We were running a lot of spread offense and we kind of projected that. But again their spread offense is different than ours, as most colleges are.

Q: You said Welker killed you. Does it make it a bigger impact on you when a player who becomes available does it against you rather than doing it against someone else?
BB: I think when it’s in your division it does because that’s twice you don’t have to deal with him. It’s one thing to acquire a player, it’s another to acquire a player that you don’t have to play against twice a year. If you get the right guy, then you’re adding one onto your team, but you’re also taking him off a team that you have to play twice a year. There’s definitely something to be said for that.

Q: When you get to this point in the season, you’ve talked before about worrying yourself with the playoff situation. Do you find yourself looking ahead to the future?
BB: No, not really. We don’t really care about that. Right now, we’re just thinking about New Orleans. That’s the only thing we can do anything about. Every week, we come in here and there will be a surprise for us, like there has been in the last 11 games in the season, that will happen every week. One week, we are cheering for one team to win and the next week we’ll be cheering for the same team to lose the next week because the standings will change and things will happen. Really, I don’t get caught up in that too much. I don’t think our team does. Right now, what we need to focus on is what we’re doing, the team we are playing, New Orleans. I don’t think there is any better team in football than New Orleans. That’s a plate full right there. Let everybody else worry about their own problems. We’ve got enough of ours.

Q: How happy are you with the way your defensive line is playing and particularly the depth?
BB: I think those guys have been very competitive. I think they play well. And we’ve been able, with Vince [Wilfork], moving him from inside to outside, he certainly gives us a level of flexibility that is valuable. Myron [Pryor] can play inside as well, he gives us some snaps in there at the nose and so has Mike [Wright]. I think we’ve gone up against some good offensive lines, we are going up against another one this week. So we’ve got challenges every week, but I think those guys are working hard. They are competitive. They work well together. They have pretty good continuity. Jerod [Mayo] missed a couple games there early in the season. We’ve had pretty good continuity at linebacker with Gary [Guyton] and Jerod, and I think that’s helped our overall run defense and the consistency of the same guys, playing behind those defensive linemen. So they get a feel for them and the defensive system with their reads and so forth. The Jets are a good running team. They lead the league in rushing. I thought we did a competitive job against them. They got some yards there at the end of the game in their two-minute drive on some hand offs, but up to that point I thought we were competitive in the running game.

Q: Is this the best offensive team you will face this year and, if so, why?
BB: They are real good. They are real good. Indianapolis is pretty good, too. We have Indianapolis leading the league in passing. New Orleans, I would say, is a little more balanced, but they are both pretty good. But New Orleans is real good on defense and they’re real good in the kicking game. They have no weaknesses that I can see and they are averaging 40 points a game. They beat everybody and they beat a lot of teams pretty soundly. They look pretty good to me.

Q: What is it about the offense?
BB: It’s everything. It’s wherever you want to start – running backs, quarterback, tight ends, receivers, offensive line, the scheme, all the different things that they do [and] that Sean [Payton] does offensively. You’ve got to defend a lot of scheme, a lot of players. They score a lot on defense. They’ve got a whole bunch of turnovers. It seems like every game you watch they are running one or two interceptions back for a touchdown. I bet they’ve had two or three of them called back that they’ve run back for touchdowns. I don’t know how many they’ve had, but it’s a lot. Usually, you’ve seen one or two of those a year from a team and these guys got one every week. They are pretty dangerous. Kickoff returns for touchdowns, interception returns for touchdowns, strip sacks, and pick up and run them in for touchdowns. You’ve got to try not to let them score when we have the ball.

Q: On the second challenge, when you miss a challenge, how do you evaluate yourself?
BB: Both of those plays were turnovers. Those were the kind of plays that change a game. If you feel like you’ve got a shot at it, or even I’d say if it’s a little less than a 50-50, those are the kinds of plays that I would challenge. If I was sure it wasn’t going to get turned over, then there’s no point in doing it. But if you feel like you’ve got a shot at it … Laurence’s [Maroney] play was a close play. I saw the play on the sideline and I really can’t tell from the coaches’ film but I really think that ball was out. That’s what I saw and Pepper [Johnson] was standing right there. And we both looked at each other and said, ‘That ball’s out.’ Maybe the way we saw it because I’m sure there wasn’t a camera at the angle we were looking at, which was right down the sideline. Maybe our angle was different than a different angle that their TV cameras had — I’m not saying they were wrong — I’m just saying I saw the play and I thought the ball was out. I didn’t think it was down, so that’s why I challenged it. There’s very few of those to be honest with you. Most of the time, you don’t feel like you get a better look at the play than the officials or the TV cameras. Usually, you don’t get that good a look at it. That was right on the sideline, and [Brandon] McGowan hit him and I thought the ball was coming out as he was on his way down. And then it stayed there in bounds. I thought it was a good play. Like I said, Jeff [Triplette] doesn’t overturn many calls, so I knew that going in, but I thought it was worth it. I was obviously wrong — 0 for 2. The other option on that I just say is, ‘Do you want to keep the challenges?’ Yeah, you do. But the other hand to be there at the end of the game and say we didn’t challenge anything, you don’t get any points for that either. They don’t carry over into the next game. If you feel like you’ve got something worth it, then you might as well in my mind take a shot at it rather than save them for next week because that doesn’t do you any good.

Q: When you are putting your game plan together, how much does depth at a particular position in terms of the number of healthy guys available factor in to how much that position is part of the game plan?
BB: It’s a really hard decision to make and that’s one of the toughest questions we face as a coaching staff every week. It’s not only the depth of that position in the game, but it’s also the depth at that position for practice. If you’re sitting in there on Wednesday and Thursday saying, ‘We think these guys are going to be able to play in the game, but they are not going to be able to practice.’ Well, then who practices it? You’re putting stuff that guys who aren’t in … Let’s say you’ve got a tight end, so now you’re going to run a two tight end play. So who’s practicing the play? Even if you think you’re going to have that player for the game, but if you’re not certain if you’re going to have that player for the game, and you’ve got only two tight ends and you’re working on two tight end plays, now you’re saying we might not even have a tight end or somebody else is going to have to learn. Or you say, ‘Look, even if that player isn’t there, then so and so is going to have to learn how to do this.’ We’re going to move an offensive linemen — or whatever you are going to do — or we are going to replace that player with a back, or however you are going to run the play and say if he’s not there, then this is how we’re going to do it. But it’s a tough decision and it’s a tough decision in practice, too. [It] is how much time do you want to waste in practice on a play without the players who are actually going to be playing? Is it still worth it for the other 10 guys to see it? Or is it really, you’re running a route that a receivers going to run but that receiver isn’t practicing. So do we run the play so everybody can see how the play’s going to work without the guy who’s going to do it? Or is it not worth running it because the guy running it isn’t even going to be practicing? And you go through that a lot. It’s no different than on defense. You put in your dime defense, so you’ve got six defensive backs out there or nickel — five defensive backs — whatever it is. And so in the game if this player was out, then that guy would replace him, and this guy would replace him and we’d put another guy in here. Alright, so do we practice like that in practice? And then we come to the game, and then this player’s here, and now we’ve practiced in one position, and then we played a game and everybody’s playing a different position. Or do you practice with what you have, and you just take somebody on the practice squad? And say you practice that position because so and so is out and everybody else stays where they are because we think this guy’s going to hopefully be ready to play in the game. And now again, you are practicing with a guy that’s not even going to play, and if in fact he doesn’t play, then you’re going to have to move them around anyway. Absolutely, and we go through this every single week and so does every other team. We go through that every single week — game-planning, practicing. And honestly, there are not many practice players. It’s not like college where you have a freshman team to run 75 plays a day, it’s not like that. Our offense runs plays for our defense [and] our defense runs plays for our offense. You get 30 plays in practice a day and you whiff on 10 of them, it’s this — this player’s out, that player’s out, the guy on the other side of the look team screws the play up, so you didn’t get a good look at it. You could lose a whole practice if you’re not careful just on stuff like that. Then, pretty soon you go into the game and you’ve had really 75 percent efficiency in practice instead of a possible 100 percent, so those plays in practice are important and how that gets distributed … Same thing in a game plan, you work on a certain percentage of your game plan and the personnel doesn’t matchup to it by game time and now you’ve wasted a lot of time on that. Those are tough decisions, they’re tough decisions. It’s not something that you can really talk about with the press, the media and that kind of thing. It’s all things that go into those meetings, planning, practices and all that. There are some hidden costs there, some hidden opportunities.

Q: How difficult has this been with the three running backs?
BB: I’d say of all the positions, running back is probably one of the easiest positions to tell you the truth because somebody’s going to be in there at running back, whichever guy it is, then he does it. If you want to take a defensive back, one of the practice squad backs, for example, and make them a running back during the defensive carry that’s really not a problem. You could take guys like [Kyle] Arrington from the practice squad, somebody like that, and put them in there at running back and let them run plays. And it isn’t a big deal. It’s a lot tougher to do it at the interior positions: line, linebacker, tight end. It’s hard to take a running back, stick him over there and say, ‘OK, you play linebacker.’ Or take a linebacker over there and say, ‘OK, you play tight end.’ It’s a lot hard to do. That’s definitely a big challenge though. It’s a challenge for every team. It’s a challenge for every coaching staff that makes up the game plans. It’s a challenge for the position coaches who coach that position on how to divide those things up and really the assistant coaches, which I’ll tell you — I’m not trying to over dramatize it or anything, but I’m saying if you’re an assistant coach, there’s no way for a head coach to be able to manage all the decisions that an assistant coach has to make. For example, if you’re running a play, which guy do you put in to run the play? Do you put Kevin Faulk in to run it? Let’s say it’s primarily a play that he’s going to be in there for, so you want him to be able to run that play, but now what if he’s not in there and you have to put somebody else in. Now, do you put that other player in to have him run it to make sure he knows what to do? This is the second time you’ve run the play now and it’s a little bit of a different look. Or do you put Kevin in there? And now if he’s not in there, then now what happens when you put the next guy in? He’s never run the play before in practice, so now what do you think of the chances of that being a good play are? But those are decisions the assistant coaches have to make every single day in practice. Here’s how many plays we have and it’s not an infinite number. Here’s how many plays we have. Here’s how many guys we’ve got to divide them up in between. Here’s how many looks we can see. A team like the Jets, they run this blitz, they run that blitz, they run another blitz, they run this coverage, they run that coverage. Well, you’re not going to see it against all that, so you have to decide what do you want to see this play against. And who do you want in there running it? What if we have to make a substitution? How does all that work? That’s where Ivan [Fears], Dante [Scarnecchia], Matt [Patricia], Pepper [Johnson], Scott O’Brien, and all those guys do a great job of managing that on a staff-wide basis. Scott O’Brien, you lose one guy and he’s on six teams, five teams. A guy like Sam Aiken or a guy like Chung — somebody like that — is in there on five or six teams. You are not replacing one guy; it’s one guy on this team, one guy on that team. So when you think about your depth chart and how you’re going to place all those guys, that’s one of the things you have to consider. Well, if this guy’s out, I have to move four guys on this team. I’ve got to move three guys on that team. I have to move four guys on that. Or can I just take one guy and say, ‘OK, you replace Sam Aiken on this team, this team, this team and that team,’ or however you are going to do it. That’s what assistant coaches … That’s where a lot of those guys make their money right there, is all those decisions as well as developing players at their positions. There’s no way to minimize that and there’s no way for me to give it due credit either.

Q: How difficult is it to find the Will linebacker and related to that do you feel like Adalius Thomas and Tully Banta-Cain are interchangeable at the Will and Sam?
BB: I think for most teams, the outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense is probably if not the most important quality, one of the two most important qualities he needs is to be able to rush the passer. Just schematically it’s hard to get great pass rush on a 3-4 from your three interior people. They just don’t have enough leverage — based on where they are lined up — to really attack the pocket. They are in front of the blockers, they’re not on the edge. A lot of times, they are the contained rusher so they are kind of working from the inside out instead from the outside in. It’s just schematically those players are not in a great position in that defense to rush the passer, whereas the outside linebackers are. So that’s a big part of that. That’s a big part of that job, unless you’re playing a 3-4 where those guys have a lot of coverage responsibilities. If that is the case, then I’d just say you better find your pass rush from somebody else because [with] most teams it’s the [James] Harrison’s, it’s the Joey Porter’s, the Jason Taylor’s, guys like that that are the Lawrence Taylor’s of the world. Those [Shawne] Merriman’s and all the guys you think of as outside linebackers that are really probably college defensive ends or 4-3 defensive ends, if you’re playing a 4-3 defense. That’s a big part of it. To me, it doesn’t matter if you play strong side or weak side, if you can rush the passer, then you can play in a 3-4 defense. Now you have to decide, ‘OK, how much coverage responsibility do you want to give those players?’ And some do more than others, and some are better than others and sometimes that versatility offsets their pass rush. So if you’ve got it, yeah. But an outside linebacker to kind of do everything, then there is a lot of value to that. If you have a guy who’s a really good pass rusher, then there’s a lot of value to that, so you just find that balance of those different skills that an outside linebacker has. Again, when you have a 3-4 team, most of the time those 3-4 linebackers are your defensive ends in sub and that’s true of almost every team. To look at a team like Miami with [Joey] Porter, Jason Taylor, [Matt] Roth, [Cameron] Wake and [Charlie] Anderson, those guys all play outside linebacker, they all rush off the edge. That’s kind of what that position entails. I don’t know if I answered your question or not, but I would say Tully and Adalius and Pierre Woods and Rob Ninkovich, all those guys to a certain degree are interchangeable. And you kind of have to be because if you just motion to the tight end or flip them like all teams do or use two tight ends and one back, which we see almost every week, then both guys are playing the Sam, both guys are playing the Will – however you want to look at it. You’ve got to be pretty interchangeable. And if they’re not then you can expect to see a team make you change them. They will make the Sam the Will and they will make the Will the Sam formationally as much as they can because they see that your players are pretty imbalanced there — one guy does one thing and the other guy does the other thing. Well, let’s reverse it for them and make them try to work to get their guy to do the thing they want him to do.

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