Bill Belichick continues to back Jermaine Cunningham
|09.11.12 at 4:09 pm ET|
Patriots defensive end Jermaine Cunningham continued to build on a positive stretch with a three-tackle, one-sack performance in New England’s regular-season opener against the Titans on Sunday. One of the defensive surprises for the Patriots in their win over Tennessee was the sight of Cunningham dropped into the interior of the defensive line. New England coach Bill Belichick said the chance to get Cunningham into a favorable matchup was one of the reasons for the switch,
“When you move players around, you create different match-ups. [You] just create a different match-up, get one of our productive players on the field, and fortunately he was able to make a couple big plays for us,” Belichick said on a conference call with reporters. “The holding penalty he got on the quarterback draw was a big play, he knocked the quarterback down, got a couple pressures, made a couple plays at end. Try to get our productive players on the field and create some different match-ups for the offense to worry about.”
At the start of his third full season in the NFL, Cunningham was clearly affected by last year’s lockout. He struggled over the course of the 2011 season before going on IR in December.
“I think one of the things that affected Jermaine, like it did a lot of players, is not really having the offseason that he had this year,” Belichick said. “He didn’t have that opportunity prior to the ‘11 season, and after the ‘10 season, at the end of the season, he had surgery on his shoulder, and that limited his offseason that year too.
“One of the things that’s really helped Jermaine this year was right from the beginning, leaving at the end of last year when he was on IR, he trained very hard, he worked hard on all the aspects of his physical conditioning, strength, explosion, flexibility, all that. He had a real good offseason, had a good spring, that offseason led into a good spring, a good spring led into a good training camp, good training camp led into some production in the preseason and the first regular season game.”
Here are a few other highlights from Belichick’s conference call:
How about Larry Fitzgerald? It seems like there aren’t too many things he doesn’t do well. Can you assess what he brings to the table?
“Yeah, he does everything well. He’s a great, great receiver; will go down as one of the all-time greats and might end up being the best one ever, I don’t know. He has size, quickness, ability to separate and gets open, exceptional hands. He’s good short, deep, with the ball in his hands after the catch; strong, very smart, sets up his routes well. They move him around, they put him in a lot of different spots, it’s hard to even find [him]; you have no idea where he’s going to line up from play to play. He has a very big route tree; he runs all the routes with double moves off of them and complementary moves so one route sets up another. It’s very hard to defend him. It’s very hard to find him and then it’s very hard to defend him. Again, he’s just as dangerous going down the field as he is taking a shorter pass and running with it so that’s not really the answer either – just letting him catch it in front of you and not give up any big plays because he can make plays there too. Try to keep the ball out of his hands but that’s not easy.”
You’re always talking about how things can be better. What kind of qualms can you have with your run defense after Sunday’s performance?
“Well, like anything, when sometimes plays happen…it’s like when you run the ball, only one guy has to make the tackle so you could have several good blocks and one bad one and gain no yards. In Tennessee’s case, there were times where we could have played plays better. The production ended up being OK because we made the tackle and they didn’t gain any yards but there were other parts of the play that we didn’t do as well that were breakdowns that eventually when a team is able to get to those spots, that will show up. From a production standpoint, it was great but all the parts of the play didn’t necessarily always equal the final production. Like I said, eventually those things are going to show up.”
Could you talk about the field position you had because of the work of your special teams on Sunday?
“Our kickers and our coverage units did a real good job. The field position was exceptional. They were always going 80 yards-plus to the goal-line. Defensively you can’t ask for more than that – to be playing on a long field all day. It’s a team thing. Our specialists did a good job and our kicking coverage units did a good job but also our offense did a good job of at times when we didn’t have good field position of being able to move the ball into the midfield area so when we did punt it, we were able to keep Tennessee on a long field. It’s hard to have good field position when you’re punting from your 10-yard line, nobody can kick and cover it that far consistently but when you’re punting from midfield or in that area and you have a chance to get the ball up in the air and cover it and pin them up. Part of that is the offense putting the special teams in a position where they can create that field positions and then the other part of it is the special teams doing their job and maintaining the field position. That was a big factor in the game.”
Can you highlight what you’ve seen from Patrick Peterson so far, on defense and as a returner?
“Very dangerous on punt returns, that goes without saying. Big guy, has good length, good speed so hard guy to throw over in the secondary, excellent ball skills. If he gets his hands on the ball, you’re looking at a lot of trouble, not just interceptions but probably run back for touchdowns too, it would be like a punt return. He and [Adrian] Wilson are two outstanding players back there. Of course, Kerry Rhodes and [William] Gay, [Jamell] Fleming, those guys – it’s a good group. Peterson has exceptional ability and exceptional size for the position with real good ball skills.”
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