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Bill Belichick on The Big Show: Dolphins ‘a lot to get ready for’

09.27.10 at 10:02 pm ET
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Patriots coach Bill Belichick joined The Big Show on Monday to discuss Sunday’s victory over the Bills and the forthcoming Monday night tilt against the Dolphins.

Belichick said that the communication and technique of the team’s young defense is still a work in progress, but he isn’t making any excuses for the group’s youth. The coach also praised BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, two of the players who stepped up on Sunday in Kevin Faulk’s absence.

Following is a transcript of the conversation. To hear the interview, visit The Big Show audio on demand page.

Let’s get to the game. Some good things, some things not so good. How do you evaluate when you get a chance today to look back at it a little more up close and personal?

I think that sums it up. There were some things that we did well, and we did some things that we didn’t do so well or could do better. So we correct those and learn from them and hope that we can get better next week. There was some definite improvement from last week and the Jet game, we just still have a lot of things that we can work on and keep improving.

Should we expect that the progress is going to be slower on the defensive side of the ball? In that their is less experience and it seems like you’re experimenting a little bit more with people on that side of the ball. Do you expect that to take a bit longer? I mean, the offense has been around a lot of the same people.

My expectations are to go out there and improve every day. So that’s what practice and meetings are for and hopefully we’ll play better each week. We’ve got experienced guys on both sides of the ball, we’ve got inexperienced guys on both sides of the ball so from a team concept we just need to come together and execute as a unit.

How long does it take for a defensive back, new guys coming in to understand the concepts? What are the extremes you can go to make sure they understand what they should do?

Well I’d like to think that everybody has a pretty good understanding of it by the time they come out of training camp. That’s what the expectations are that you go through the spring practices and the OTAs and in training camp you work those things in camp and preseason games. You’d like to think everybody at that point would have a pretty good understanding of the offense, defense, special teams, whatever it happens to be.

Well. I understand that, but sometimes it’s more difficult to apply that  under pressure. It’s one thing when you’re told not to bite on something or not to leave the position and play fundamentally sound football.

Sure, of course. The end of training camp is 35 practices, and that’s only about a third of the season practice-wise and four games. So, there’€™s a lot of football left after that, but I think at that point everybody should have a pretty good understanding of what we’re doing what their responsibilities are. They’ve had a chance to run it in practice and run it in some preseason games, so as your team works more together as a unit, whichever the players are that work together in that unit, or even their substitutes, you limit the number of players and hopefully the execution get better.

But so do the opponents, so I think everyone’s on an equal track there. We’re improving week to week, so is everyone else so we just have to work hard and make sure our rate of improvement is a little greater than our opponents.

Considering those opponents that you speak of that are coming in, how much concern is it that a basically journeyman quarterback like [Ryan] Fitzpatrick could come in and do as well as he did against the defense?

Well, again, there’s certainly things we can improve on defensively. This is a pretty good group of skilled receivers that Buffalo has and they’ve got good backs, good receivers. They’re tough to defend and we’€™ll have challenges every week. Each week it’ll be a little bit different every week, offensively and defensively no matter who we play against. Hopefully we’€™ll do a better job the next time we play Buffalo. But those backs and those receivers are pretty good.

How much more difficult was it playing [Ryan] Fitzpatrick the first game because the other kid [Trent] Edwards, who just got cut today, came out? So you didn’t have as much film on him. And there’s little adjustments to what he does and what he reads and how he gets rid of the ball, and obviously the Buffalo Bills offense wasn’t doing anything and he came in and ignited him. Was there a little more difficult first time playing, not having him on film?

Well, you know, we played against him last year in Buffalo. He was the quarterback there, we’ve seen him but he made a couple of throws, the receivers broke some tackles, backs broke some tackles and made some yards running with the ball in their hands. I don’t think that’s any excuse or any reason. We played against that quarterback before. I don’t think it was that. We just have to do a better job as a team executing our defense and our plays and tackling. We have some missed tackles in the game, which everybody does against Buffalo. Those guys are hard to tackle, we probably did a better job in the first two games then we did in this one.

A lot was made last week about how you would replace the third-down production of Kevin Faulk. It looks like you used a lot of people doing a lot of different things. Did you change up anything this week or was this stuff that you already had?

Well, I think our offense is our offense. Each week you have a couple of new plays, game-plan plays for that particular team, but for the most part we’€™re running things that we’€™ve been running all year. I think we’ll continue to do that. I think it’s hard to put in an offense for one guy, or if you don’t have one player, to change a whole offense or defense, that’s very hard to do.

So, you run what you can run, and if 10 guys know it well and one guys doesn’t know it as well, then you try to catch that one person up as much as you can to speed with everybody else. But I don’t think you want to set up your offense for one guy and then make 10 other guys adjust to it. I just don’€™t think that’€™s efficient.

Does it help Woodhead that he’s at the waist of the linemen so they can’t see him?

He’€™s a little bit hard to find back there. Just working against him in practice you can lose him in the pile behind the line,  but he showed his quickness and his speed, and he’s got pretty good vision and I think he can run, he can catch. I think he did a pretty good job for us in the kicking game as well. So for a kid who hasn’t played much, he got ready in a hurry and did a pretty good job.

You’ve been very high on the tight ends all throughout training camp and the first few weeks. How much have your offense have you adjusted because of their skill level or because of what they bring to the table?

We’€™ve added some plays in that area from where we were last year, maybe the last couple of years because of some of the skills that they have and the fact that we have more of them. The majority of last year we didn’€™t even have three tight ends on our roster, so the fact that we have three, we can put them all in the game together. They’re active for the game because of the quality of the players.

It gives us some formations that we didn’t use last year or we had to use with another offensive lineman as that third tight end, which of course limits you in the passing game and things like that. I’d say that’s probably been the one area that we’ve made some additions maybe 5 percent of our offense or maybe not even that much. But they’re have been a few things that we’ve added this year that we haven’t had the past two years.

And they’re all good blockers. You can go into a run formation, you can spread them out and pass the ball. It gives you a lot of nice options.

Right, well, as you know, the more versatile a player is the more that you can do with him. Running backs and tight ends that can block and catch, or block, run and catch, the more things you can do with them and the more playmaking ability they have. It’s nice to have that, it really is nice to have that.

Aaron Hernandez has great running skills for a tight end and great awareness for where he is, which is pretty remarkable for a rookie that quick.

Aaron has real good run skills and I think you could see those in college. Florida, they used him on a lot of catch-and-run type plays, middle screens and under routes, the [tight end] screens, things like that in college just thing where they would run for him each game just to get the ball in his hands and let him go. So he showed his run ability in college an he showed it on some catch-and-run plays already through the course of the season. He’s very good at that, he’s quick and he has good vision.

The offensive line so far has let up only two sacks in a hundred pass plays through three games. Is this been exactly what you’ve been looking for this early in the season because it looks like Brady getting tremendous protection back there?

I think they’€™ve done a good job. I think the protection has been good. But again that’s a combination of route running, quarterback receiver timing and pass protection, its all related. There are a lot of plays where the ball has gone out of there quickly and a lot of times to an open receiver. The fact that the receivers are getting open quickly, the quarterback is getting the ball out, you don’€™t have to block very long.

There are other times where you block longer and the quarterback has been able to hold the ball and Tom’s had time to scan the field and maybe come to a second or third option on the play, but again I think its a combination of things. If your receivers are open and the ball’s coming out on time you don’t have to block as long, there’s some times that that doesn’t happen, or you want to go deep and need better protection, we’ve had that, too.

When the offense is working efficiently in all areas it’s tough on the defense, tough on the pass rush. If the ball is coming out quick, you’re trying to rush one way, and if the quarterback is holding the ball longer thae you have the opportunity to work in different games and use different techniques. But those are no good if the ball is out of there, so keeping the defense off balance is always the best way to go.

Much better second half then you’ve had in the first two weeks. Were you planning on that balanced attack or was that just a factor of keeping the Bills offense off the field?

We try to change it up on them a little bit and we felt like we did that through the course of the game, where we mixed our personnel up and then we kind of up tempo’d the offense a little bit in the third quarter. Just trying to keep them off balance and trying to change the pace of the game, change the formations, the personnel groups and make them work to match up with us and not just get into one thing. And we kind of forced them to adjust to us and still be able to play at a good tempo.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a nice day. He doesn’t pitter-patter, he hits the hole, gets through it and then looks to cut. Is he improved dramatically from last year? He just seems to know where he’s going initially and explodes through the hole.

Well, I think he’€™s always been able to do that as a running back. In college, even his rookie year in the preseason with the opportunities he got to play, I thought he ran the ball well, he runs forward, he gets positive yardage, he falls forward, he runs with a low center of gravity and has good momentum on his runs, plays with his pads down.

I’€™d say the area where Benny has really improved has been pass protection and blitz pickup. And not that it was ever bad, but its gotten better and he’s worked hard on it and I think that the coaches and quarterback have a lot of confidence in him on that. As we know that part of the game probably affects the running back’s playing time more than his actual running ability because you can’€™t have the ball on every single play.

So, when you’re throwing the ball you have to have somebody dependable in there that can block and can catch. And if a player can do all three, which Benny certainly has shown he can do and has gotten better at, that increases the play-time opportunity and the chances for him to run the ball. It kind of works backwards, but that’s about the way it is.

Is that what you call him Benny instead of BenJarvus Green-Ellis?

Yeah, we shortened it down to Benny.

You warned us last week that you can’t give seven up their on the board for special teams against Buffalo. C.J. Spiller, they had Roscoe Parrish before him, now Spiller. What happened it looked like there were a couple of opportunities to get Spiller and it just didn’t happen?

Well, first of all, we just created too much space in the return game. We lost leverage and didn’t have good lane coverage and he got up the field in way too much space. We had a couple of shots, we had a shot at midfield and we didn’t get him and of course he’s fast, he outran us. There were a number of problems on the play.

Overall, our kick coverage has been pretty good this year, both punt and kickoff, and it was a bad play for us yesterday. A couple of breakdowns on the play, and you just can’t let those happen because good returners will make you pay. And he did yesterday.

Were there blocks in the back? They played it back and it looked like two guys got blocked in the black right in front of him?

They were close. Whether they are or not I don’€™t even care about that. Its more just making sure that we have proper leverage in the hole and that are lanes are covered and that we just don’€™t give up that much space. If we give up any kind of return spacing like that, it’s going to be trouble against any good returner, too. We’ve just got to do a better job in our leverage and the way that we play technique on the blockers so that we squeeze those lanes down. That was the biggest problem.

Your point of emphasis this week was on the offense in the second half and they did great. What is going to be your point of emphasis with the defense, with the secondary in particular this week?

Well, I think the second half is an emphasis for our entire team. Defensively it’s always kind of the same story against Miami, you have to stop the run. They’ve got two outstanding backs, they’ve got a couple of home run hitters there with [Brian] Hartline and certainly [Brandon] Marshall, and they’re a good move-the-chains kind of team, too. They can drive the ball 70, 80, 90 yards just like they showed last night against the Jets.

With their running game, their play-action passes, their ability to convert the ball on third down with [Davone] Bess and their other receivers, they hit you in a lot of areas. They can run the ball, they can throw it deep, they can kind of possession-pass it, they can catch-and-run it and they have a big offensive line. Those guys are big, they’re physical, they’ll try to wear you down in the running game.

They give you a lot to get ready for. We’ll have to do a good job all the way around. I don’t think there’s one thing you can stop with them. You’ve got to play good team defense all the way across the board.

Cameron Wake seems to give them now a starter a little bit of a different look off the edge. What do you think about him?

I think they have good edge rushers Wake, Koa Misi, they’ve got some guys who are big, they’re athletic on the edge.They’€™ve got big corners with Vontae Davis and Jason Allen or Sean Smith, whoever they’ve got in there. They’€™re a big, physical football team.

What has Carlos Dansby done for their defense?

I think he’s added a more athletic player to their group. Their inside linebackers last year Remi Ayodele and Channing Crowder were big physical guys in the box and Dansby is a good all around player. He can play outside the box, is a good coverage player, maybe not quite as big and physical as those guys, but complements them with his speed and athleticism.

The Jets were able to move the ball and Miami needs to get pressure, but a lot of their defense is predicated on getting pressure on the quarterback and getting up field and getting after it.

Well I think that Mike Nolan is kind of known for that. He’€™ll mix in some blitzes and they’ll be some game-plan blitzes ‘€” some new ones, ones that you haven’€™t been working on or that you haven’t seen. And [they] try to keep the offense off balance with the change of pace, with some pressure and some coverage and just kind of mixing it up, that’€™s sort of what Mike does.

Last night they filled in sod in the infield but it only had like five days to actually root. I’m not sure if they’re going to do it next week because they have the Marlins playing a couple of days before that. But how different is playing on that dirt? Do you try to work around it? Or do you just ignore it?

Well, I think that its the same for both teams, of course. So I don’€™t know that it has a great advantage for one side or the other. For the linemen, it may be a little harder to get good traction and move on the dirt. In the past, the running game hasn’t been great in the dirt or if it gets wet, which we’ve seen that a couple times early in September, too, in the mud.

But I think the thing you have to be careful of is the kicking. All of the things being equal, you’d probably want to kick on the grass away from the infield end vs. spotting the ball on the dirt or going from grass to dirt or dirt to grass, its a mess with the steps and the kick.

Do you change your strategy during the course of the game?

I don’€™t think it’s enough for that. I think its just something you have to be aware of. There’s always been a little decent breeze down there. Not 50 miles an hour, but enough where it’€™s a factor and it affects which way you want to go and probably affects the field goal range five yards in either direction depending on which way its going. Certainly the field is a little bit different, there’s fewer of those now. It used to be it seemed like you played on a baseball field pretty much every year one way or the other. There’€™s not many of them now, so it is a little different.

How many fields have the natural stuff now? Denver, right? Is it a slower track?

Not down there. It’€™s a fast track. It’s a fast Bermuda grass, its short, and that’€™s probably about as fast a surface as we’€™ll play on. Its just about as fast as the turf ones. When I came into the league with the Colts, we had a baseball field at Memorial Stadium. One of the problems was, when we first moved in there in October we couldn’t practice on the field because it was being sodded, so by the middle of November there was all dirt in the outfield and the sod held up fairly good because no one was on it. Cleveland, of course, Green Bay, Minnesota, those were infields. So it seemed like there was a lot of them.

What do you make of Brandon Marshall?

I think Marshall, one of the best things he does is put the ball in his hands and run with it. Catch-and-run plays or underneath routes, hitches, catch-and-run screens, he can take a 2-, 3-yard pass and turn it into a long play with his running ability. He’s big, he looks like a tight end and he’s a hard guy to tackle and he’s a big target down the field. So they can throw it up to him and he can go up and out-jump most guys for it. So he’s a threat both ways, but definitely with the ball in his hands, running after the catch, that’€™s a tough matchup.

Talking about tight ends, Anthony Fasano did a number on you last year in one of those games. What is the threat that he brings, especially in that middle of the field?

Well, I think Fasano is a good all-around player, he’s a solid blocker and a solid receiver, probably not the best receiving tight end in the league but a good, solid guy that has all the dimensions. He can block, he can catch and he can run after the catch a little bit. And  he’s a guy that you can’t leave track of, you’ve got a lot of guys to stop in the running game, their perimeter receivers there with Bess and Marshall and Hartline, sometimes you have a tendency to lose Fasano out there and he can definitely nail you.

Just on your preliminary film work, has [Chad] Henne progressed as a  quarterback from last year?

I think he did a pretty good job last year, he certainly did against us. I think he’€™s a good quarterback. He’€™s shown that he can handle the team, I don’t think there’s any problems there. He’s a solid guy and I’m sure they have a lot of confidence in him and they should.

The wildcat, how predictable is it for when its coming in?

Well the only time you know its coming in is when they take the quarterback out of the game, which they don’t do all that much. A lot of times Ricky [Williams] and Ronnie [Brown] are in the game, which they’re not in the game all that often when its not wildcat. You don’€™t really know for sure is until break the huddle and the quarterback’€™s not in.

The thing they do with the wildcat is they run a different version of it every week. So, unbalanced line, and last night for example they ran it with Marshall, the sweep instead of Williams. Each time is a little different, its really hard to prepare for because they change it up each week. Maybe it looks the same to the fans, but it puts the defense in different positions and they run a similar group of plays but it’s a little different than the way you try to practice against it.

So how do you practice for it then? If they’re putting a little wrinkle into it, your guys are going to see  something that looks different from what they saw during the week.

You have a basic set of rules and they have a basic set of plays. Its not like they run all new plays, they just disguise them and mask them differently. They are harder to recognize for the players because of motion or unbalanced line or that kind of thing. So, you’re not lined up the way you were the way you practiced it. I’d say that’s how you do it, it’€™s the same plays, the fundamentals are the same. You just have to defensively follow your rules, recognize the play, but it’s not quite as obvious as what you’€™re looking at on film. You see it a little bit differently on film.

So the advantage is you get an extra man to block because the quarterback’s out or an extra running back?

Yeah, instead of the quarterback handing the ball off, they make that guy a blocker and run the same plays.

What do the young cornerbacks in Devin McCourty and Darius Butler need to reach their full potential?

I think the two key things for cornerbacks, No. 1 is the length of the play. Defensive linemen, offensive linemen, those guys line up a few inches away from each other and then they’re engaged in the play and it all happens pretty quickly. Whereas if you’re on the perimeter,  you can be in good position, you can be in good position, you can be in good position and the guy can catch it in the end. Or vice versa, you cannot be in good position and at the end of the play if you play the receiver properly you can knock it down.

It really extends the length of the play, and the cornerbacks coming into college they were just much better athletes than the guy they covered in college. Now they’re up against athletes who are just as good as they are, so it comes down to technique and just playing proper leverage and using your help and those kinds of things.

And the other key is the communication, getting the calls and understanding where your help is and kind of what technique we’€™re playing. That again is different from college because in college teams don’t see as much passing game as we see here. So I don’t think in this league you want to sit in the same thing all day, but in colleges some defenses do. In the NFL it’s a lot harder to do that. If you sit in the same defense all day, a good quarterback and a good receiver will take what you give them.

So those are the the two big adjustments, just A) the communication and understanding where everybody is on different route concepts, and B) the technique and the length of the play. To jam at the line of scrimmage, re-route the position, playing the ball in the air, receivers being good with putting up late hands, like Randy Moss does. He doesn’t put his hands up, you’re waiting for him to catch the ball and it’s in his hands, or back shoulder. And also how physical the receivers are, [they] slap you to get leverage and that kind of thing.

Is this an ongoing process?

Well, I think that it’s definitely improving. And we can always make it better, that is something that you work on hard in practice and in the preseason and the regular season games that we’ve had that’s definitely a point of emphasis. In general, we want to get all 11 players on the exact same page of what the defense is, what the run force is, what the coverage is, what our formation adjustments are.

That’€™s what defense is, getting everybody to know the right thing and then play the proper technique and do the right things against all the variety of plays the offense runs. We’€™re working on that, at times we’€™ve missed them, at other times we’ve handled tough situations. I think that the players have done a good job, they’re working on it, they’re aware of it. I think that it’s improving, but it’s a continuous process.

What different problems does this offense present than the Buffalo offense?

I think the big thing about Miami’s offense is just the diversity ‘€” all the different things they do and they do them in an unconventional way. Sometimes on longer yardage they’ll have two tight ends and two backs in the game, the wildcat package, they change up their formations a lot from week to week and their personnel groups. Whatever they decide to go with, they’ll give you a dose of it, and it’s not like they’re going to run it for just one play, they’ll run it for quite a few plays.

That will be a definite part of their game plan, and they have so many of them that it will be hard to prepare for of them. And you’re not going to get all of them, you’€™re only going to get a few of them, but you don’t know which few they are. That’s the hardest part about the Miami offense, along with, of course, the players. The running backs, they’ve got big receivers, the quarterback, they’ve got a real big offensive line. So you still have to ‘€” no matter what the play is, even if you know it ‘€” you still have to defeat the blockers and make the tackle, or cover the receivers. So, that’s a challenge. They’ve got good players.

Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Bill Belichick, Danny Woodhead,
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