FOXBORO — Before sending his team out onto the practice field for a full pads practice on Thursday, Bill Belichick  touched on exactly what it is he wants his team to focus on during their bye.
“It’s our one chance this week to work on some things that we feel like we can improve on,” Belichick said. “I would say that’s really the theme for us as a staff this week and as a team is to try to identify and have a plan to work on things that we feel like we can improve on, whether that’s situations, techniques, plays, maybe changing a scheme or whatever it happens to be.
“Obviously we’re not going to get it all done [in one day]. We can do some things [Thursday] but also have a plan going forward and a little bit longer week of practice next week and in the coming weeks on things that if we improve on can help our football team. There are certainly a number of those. That’s kind of what we’re working on this week as well as of course, turning our attention to Buffalo and getting ready for the Bills. Hopefully his will be a productive week for us. I think we can use it.”
When the Patriots come back from the bye, they’ll be getting ready for the Bills with a new cornerback, after completing a trade with Tampa Bay  for the talented but troubled 6-foot-1 corner Aqib Talib  at the trade deadline on Thursday.
Anyone who has been paying attention to the Patriots secondary knows they’ve given up more big plays than any defense in the NFL, surrendering 42 plays of 20 yards or more. Belichick – while quick to acknowledge the issue going into the second half of the season – also was careful not to throw his secondary entirely under the bus.
“Sure, defensively that would be a big area for us, is to limit the number of big plays,” Belichick said. “That’s a whole team defensive thing. It’s not one thing. Anytime they throw the ball deep down the field, that involves pass rush, it involves pass coverage, it involves possibly scheme depending on how you’re playing it. But yeah, we can improve in every area. We can improve our third down, red area, our consistency offensively in the run game, our consistency defensively in the passing game, our return game, kicking game.
“Again, when you have a whole football team, there’s something for each guy and each unit to improve on. I don’t think you walk in there and say, ‘These four units are fine, you guys don’t need to do anything. These three units, these are areas you have to improve in.’ There are areas that we can improve in at every position, with every player, in every aspect of the game. We identify those, we talk to the units or the players individually about them and try to have a plan or a course of action that we’ll produce better results. The players are receptive to that, they want to do well, they want to improve. We highlight those things and work on them and hopefully we’ll see better results.”
Here is the rest of Bill Belichick’s Thursday Q and A with reporters at Gillette Stadium :
Q: Where have you guys improved the most since Week 1?
BB: I think we’ve improved in every area. I think we just need to improve the rate of improvement. We’re doing a lot of things better than we were doing then, but so are our opponents, they’ve improved, too. That’s why we practice every day. Techniques, schemes, timing, all those things, there are good things and there’s room for improvement. Our opponents are getting better. That’s really the challenge, to get better at a faster rate than they do.
Q: Are you satisfied with the rate of improvement?
BB: No, we’re working to get better. That’s what this week is about, is to get it better.
Q: Can you talk about what you saw in Nate Ebner in college that made you think he could play in his role here?
BB: He performed in some of these roles in college in the kicking game. Nate runs well, he has good playing strength, he’s a tough kid and he has good instincts in the kicking game. We couldn’t really evaluate his instincts defensively but we saw him in the kicking game. He understands leverage and taking on blockers relative to the ball carrier and blocking relative to the design of the returns, being able to stay with his man in the open field, single blocks out in space which is not an easy thing to do. It’s all those things in the kicking game at Ohio State and he’s shown that here. That’s why we drafted him.
Q: Traditionally November and December have been outstanding months for you team. Why is that?
BB: I don’t know. We just take it one game at a time and right now we’re just trying to get ready for Buffalo. I’m not really worried about the whole second half of the season. We’ll just try to take Buffalo and see if we can do a good job against them. Each year is different; each team we play is different. I’m not sure there’s a big picture answer to that.
Q: The bye week for you guys is right in the middle of the season but for rookies who have now played 12 games with the preseason included, which is pretty much a college season, is it key for them to pace themselves knowing there’s still half of an NFL season to go?
BB: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s a big adjustment for a first-year player coming into this league is the length of the season, the intensity of the season. Certainly they’re playing against good players every day in practice, every week on the field whereas in college, they were probably the best player on their team or one of the best players on their team. The other teams might have had some good players but it wasn’t this level of competition on a daily or weekly basis and there’s a lot more of it, it’s a lot longer. I think those are challenges and certainly mentally it’s a big challenge in terms of the amount of scheme and the plays and the adjustments and all that at this level. I think all those things combined, that’s all part of the big challenge for those first-year guys absolutely.
Q: How crucial is it for players to get the adequate rest this week, especially those players who have had a couple more weeks off due to injury?
BB: I think it’s important for all of us to use whatever time we have efficiently. Whether that’s a regular week or a bye week, we have so many hours in the day, so many days in the week leading up to the game and those are all opportunities. Each day, each hour, they’re all opportunities to do the right thing whether it be preparation or physical rehab or rest or nutrition or whatever it happens to be. We try to make the most out of each of those opportunities, all of us ‘ players, coaches, rookies, veterans, long weeks, short weeks, off days, work days, whatever they are, we just try to get the most out of each day. That’s how we approach it, is day to day. How do we get the most out of each day? It’s important, of course it’s important, every day is important.
Q: How valuable is this time for the coaching staff? A break to break things down as a coaching staff, how important is that to you?
BB: Like I said, it’s an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for us to use this time as efficiently as we can. There are a lot of things we can work on relative to our team, relative to our opponents. We try to take a look at those and prioritize them because you can’t do it all anyway. You come up with a lot of ideas and a lot of great thoughts but there are only so many practices, only so much time in the day, only so much meeting time that you can devote to whatever it is; you have to prioritize how you want to do that. I think that’s a big part of what we’re doing right now. We’re looking at a lot of things; we have a few of balls in the air. When they come down, we’ll have to figure out what the information is and what’s the most important thing and how do we best utilize our time, our practice reps, our preparation time. How do we get the most out of that? It’s still part of the process for this week. We’ve done some of it but there’s definitely more to go and we continue to prepare for Buffalo. That’s all part of it too.
Q: When you self-scout or evaluate coaches what are some things you look at? You have a much better vantage point of how all the coaches are doing their jobs. What are some things you look at?
BB: First of all, I think it’s an ongoing process. I don’t think you do nothing until you get a bye week and all of the sudden here comes a big self-analysis. We do that on a weekly basis. We look at plays we’ve run, we look at the production we’re having or not having and things that stand out one way or the other that are especially good or the results aren’t what we want and we try to find a reason for that and correct it, whatever that happens to be. They are all individual analyses. At the same time, if we’re doing a lot of one particular thing, then the evaluation of the production on that is, ‘We’re doing a lot of that, is that good? Are we getting a lot out of it? Or should we be doing a lot of something else and a little less of whatever this happens to be.’ That involves a lot of things. It’s plays, it’s techniques, its schemes, it’s maybe style of play, if you will, so personnel groups, all those kind of things so we try to stay on top of all that. But I think what you really look for are things that once you have enough opportunities to evaluate it ‘ it’s hard to evaluate a play whether it’s good or bad if you only run it one time. It was good, that’s good, does that mean it’s going to be good the next time? Or if it was bad, if something went wrong, does that mean the next time that same thing is going to go wrong or do you believe in the play and you’re going to get it right? After you’ve had a number of opportunities to observe it, you’ve run it multiple times then you have a fair evaluation. You say, ‘OK, we’ve run this play a bunch of times, these same problems keep coming up. Or this is the issue in this play, we have to change this.’ Not that we haven’t had experience with those plays before, but again it just gives you sometimes a chance to study it in a little bit more detail.
Q: How would you assess the first half of the season for Stevan Ridley?
BB: I think he’s done some good things. I think there are certainly a lot of things he can improve on. There have been times when he’s had really good blocking and times when he’s produced yards on his own. There are have been other times when things haven’t gone as well. I think there are lot of things he can work on. He’s still a young, improving player that does some things well. He has some areas that can be better.
Q: He runs with power and speed and elusiveness. Is that a nice package to work with?
BB: Sure. I think we saw that last year.
Q: You worked out some guys in the kicking related game yesterday. Are you happy with what you have with Stephen Gostkowski , Zoltan Mesko and Danny Aiken?
BB: Yeah, but I think again, there are things that they need to work on too.
Q: Anything in particular?
BB: Sure, yeah we talk to them about that every week, absolutely; definitely.
Q: The trade deadline is coming up here in a couple hours. It does not seem like there is much activity around the league but behind the scenes for you, how much work is it for you as you approach the deadline?
BB: I think there are always a few conversations and a few phone calls. I think that’s kind of normal.
Q: Is there a reason why there aren’t a lot of deals that get made at the deadline?
BB: Evidently two teams can’t agree on either the compensation or the trade or there’s not a motivation to do it.
Q: How much will you get away this weekend? Will you put everything down for a day or two?
BB: We’ll see how it goes. Right now we’re just trying to have a good day here today, take advantage of our day on the field with the players. We have some things that we definitely need to clean up after they leave going forward. We’ll just kind of take it day to day here and see how it goes.