Why Bill Belichick isn’t taking 6-9 Buffalo lightly
|12.24.13 at 3:00 pm ET|
There’s good reason for that, too.
The Bills just dealt the Dolphins a potentially devastating blow in a 19-0 win at Ralph Wilson Stadium. After wishing everyone Happy Holidays, Belichick began to detail just why his Patriots better be ready for Buffalo’s best under first-year coach Doug Marrone.
“Well, it seems like a long time since we opened the season with Buffalo,” Belichick said, referencing New England’s 23-21 Houdini act in Week 1 in Western New York. “I guess that’s because it was. I’m really impressed with the way they’ve been playing, obviously the way they played last week against Miami. It’s a good football team; explosive offensively, second leading team on the ground in the league, doing a good job. They’ve got a lot of explosive players. We know about [C.J.] Spiller and Stevie Johnson, those guys, [Scott] Chandler; a good complementary group. Defensively a very strong unit up front, a lot of disruptive players: rush the passer, turn the ball over, second in the league in interceptions, first in the league in sacks. It’s been a highly productive group.
“Obviously they know our division well from Mike [Pettine] being down there with the Jets and all that. [They’ve] played well in the division: lost to us on the last play, lost to the Jets on the last possession, won three games in the division. I think it’s a good football team that’s played hard, that’s playing well and they’re tough, they’re well coached. I think Doug [Marrone] has done a really good job with them fundamentally. They don’t make a lot of mistakes, you have to go out there and beat them. When you make mistakes, they take advantage of them. We can’t afford to make too many.”
The Bills also have two defensive weapons they didn’t have in Week 1, defensive backs Stephon Gilmore and Jairus Byrd.
“I think the big thing for them has really been the whole quarterback situation. They’ve had transition at that position multiple times. I think their offensive line has played well. They got [Doug] Legursky back around the fourth, fifth week of the season. That group has had a lot of continuity and consistency, I’d say, relative to in the past. They’ve been pretty ‘ other than the quarterback position ‘ pretty healthy, I would say, offensively. Defensively, obviously they lost [Alex] Carrington but they have a very disruptive front. [Jerry] Hughes is playing great for them, [Marcell] Dareus, Kyle Williams, Mario Williams and [Kiko] Alonso has had a good year for them. They’ve gotten back two significant players in the secondary that we didn’t see in Gilmore and Jairus Byrd.
“Aaron Williams has done a nice job for them. He had to go out and play some corner for them earlier in the year. Once they got to the midseason spot, the New Orleans game, seventh, eight week, whatever it was, they got Gilmore back, they got Byrd back. I think that really solidified their secondary. They’re able to play Williams in there at strong safety with Byrd and that’s been a good combination for them. Even though [Jim] Leonhard and [Da’Norris] Searcy have come in there and given them good snaps as well. Certainly a big surprise has been the nickel corner [Nickell] Robey. He’s done a real good job for them. Kind of came out of nowhere and had a good preseason. He’s played all year there. He had two sacks last week. Explosive player off the edge; he’s played well for them too. They’re young in the kicking game, got a lot of young guys but they’re aggressive, they’re athletic. I think things have come together for them all the way around, to tell you the truth, in all three areas of the game. I’m sure they’d like to have more continuity at quarterback. I’m sure they’ve had to juggle a couple situations there, even at the beginning of the season. Here we are at the end of the season, I’m not sure that that’s 100 percent set for them but other than that, they’ve gotten guys back and they’ve gotten pretty consistent.”
Belichick remembers two years ago when, on the way to the Super Bowl, the Bills jumped out to a 21-0 first half lead before the Patriots scored 49 unanswered points in a 49-21 season-ending win that propelled them into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed. The same is at stake this week if the Patriots take care of business and the Raiders upset the Broncos in Oakland.
Here is the remainder of Belichick’s press conference from Tuesday at Gillette Stadium.
Q: Skill set wise, are EJ Manuel and Thad Lewis pretty similar?
BB: Yeah, I mean, obviously Manuel is a lot taller and lankier and Lewis is a little more compact, but they both have good run skills and they’re both smart, both dangerous in the pocket and out of the pocket. Lewis has been impressive with not a lot of time in the system. He’s played well. He’s efficient and he’s a smart guy, makes good decisions. We certainly have to do a good job with them in the running game, in terms of scrambling and I wouldn’t put them in Cam Newton‘s category yet but that type of element to the offense.
Q: Is there one area with Nickell Robey ‘ maybe his size ‘ that caused him to fall off draft boards?
BB: I’m sure his size. If he was 5-11, 195 pounds, I don’t think he probably would have gone undrafted. But we’ve seen guys like that, similar to [Isaiah] Trufant with the Jets. Trufant is probably a little faster, but that kind of ‘ but he’s a tough kid. You see him in the running game, he can weave his way through blockers. He’s aggressive, he’s an aggressive tackler. For a guy that’s really kind of come out of nowhere and had a good preseason, really kind of beat out, in the end, [Justin] Rogers as the star. They were playing Rogers a little bit outside because of the injuries but I think that’s probably the reason they released him is because they felt better about Robey. [Leodis] McKelvin has had a good year for them and they got Gilmore back and they have [Ron] Brooks out there. I think they were probably planning on playing Rogers inside and Robey just kind of came through for them.
Q: Mike Pettine is known for pressure, but it seems like their personnel could generate pressure no matter the scheme. You’ve faced good rushers this season, but is this one of the more unique challenges?
BB: Yeah. They definitely keep you honest because they’ll bring different guys. But it’s not all pressure. They get a lot of pressure without bringing anybody, just letting those guys rush. They have good depth up there. They kind of roll six guys through; they’re all pretty good, they’re all productive. You have to be able to block the four guys and then they have more guys in coverage and they play a lot of different combinations of coverage ‘ some man, zone, combination man. Then they’ll bring five, sometimes six and sometimes they’ll bring seven or key blitz and they’ll peel and stuff like that. They give you the overloads, all the things that we’ve seen from the Jets, they have those in their system and they mix them in there along with their regular four-man rush coverages. They do a good job mixing it up. You just can’t say, ‘Well, they’re going to blitz us every play.’ They’re not going to do that but you can’t say they’re not going to blitz you either because they do. [It] keeps you honest and I think that’s why they’re having a lot of success and they’re also having a lot of success with the coverage end of it. Quarterbacks can’t hold the ball and Williams and obviously Byrd in particular are getting a good jump and they’re anticipating things and making plays. Leonhard has four interceptions. He hasn’t really played that much ‘ well, he played earlier in the year and he played last week against Miami but he hasn’t played all that much in the last couple months but I’m just saying you see a lot of guys getting their hands on the ball.
Q: What kind of impression has Kiko Alonso made on you?
BB: Good. He’s done a good job for them. He’s a fast guy. He’s got good size ‘ he’s 245ish, something like that but runs well, makes a lot of plays on the sideline. He’s done a decent job for them in coverage. For a rookie, playing that spot where you’re kind of in the middle of the storm on every play, you’re the middle linebacker, there are no plays off. It’s not like any play you’re not a main factor in the play. He’s done a good job for them. He’s been durable, he’s been tough. He’s a good tackler. Again, he has good speed, good range, makes a lot of plays to the sideline, makes some plays in coverage. He’s been a productive tackler. Again, he’s got good guys playing in front of him too, so sometimes they eat up some blocks and give him some good opportunities ‘ he’s taken advantage of those. He’s done a good job.
Q: It seems like speed has been big for them on offense. Does it seem like their offense is built around speed?
BB: When they drafted [Marquise] Goodwin, I’m sure that was part of it. Spiller was already there. I think they have a good complement. Fred Jackson is a very powerful back; he breaks a lot of tackles. He’s a tough runner. Stevie Johnson is very quick, good with the ball in his hands. [Robert] Woods has been kind of a good route runner, good dependable player for them. They certainly have an element of speed with Spiller and Goodwin, those kind of guys. But you look at guys like Chandler and Woods, Stevie Johnson, Fred Jackson, I wouldn’t say those guys are in the elite speed category but they’re good football players and they have other good qualities whether it be quickness or playing strength or vision or they’re just good football players. I think they have a good complement of weapons offensively, with certainly an element of speed. You watch Spiller in the Atlanta game, ripping off 80-yard runs, 50-yard runs. He gets a little bit of space and he can do a lot of damage. Goodwin has had three or four touchdowns just running past the defense, plus a couple pass interference calls they’ve gotten on those type of plays. You definitely have to respect it.
Q: What kind of influence has Andre Carter brought to the team?
BB: I think Andre Carter has a great work ethic. He’s very professional. He’s the first one in the meeting, sitting in the front row, has his notebook open before anybody ‘ you would think he’s a rookie free agent. He’s always ready to go. He trains very hard, he’s a very well-conditioned athlete both from a stamina standpoint but the strength and his overall body composition. He works very hard at the physical training, the mental training, he’s on top of his assignments and he works well with his teammates. He communicates well and he’s very willing to help them out, watch film with them, all those kind of things. If you never said a word to him and just watched what he does, he’d be a great example and a great role model. You can see why he’s played 13 years in the league. Like if you were an offensive player or something like that where you weren’t that involved with him, but if you played a similar position or an adjacent position and worked with him, you’d get a lot out of that too. He does a good job and as I said, you can see why he’s had such a good career in this league because he’s so committed to it. He’s a smart guy, he works hard and he really cares. I think that’s certainly been a good influence on our team ‘ at the position he plays and all the other ones. It’s good for the coaches too. He’s just a good guy to have on your team, good guy to be around.
Q: When you have Steve Gregory and Devin McCourty in there, it seems like Devin is more free safety and Steve is more of a down safety who will in the box. When you put Duron Harmon in there and Devin came out, do the roles shift at all or are they almost left-right safeties or does Duron take over the role Devin played and Steve sticks to what he does?
BB: I think the way it’s going now in the NFL, the teams do so much formationing and if they see that you have a pattern, that you want to be strong and free, then they just make you go the other way. They move the tight end or they put you in the slot. However they do it ‘ however you do it then they figure out a way to make you do it the other way around. We’ve gone from day one kind of teaching them left and right and then we flip them so that you play right and left but if you’re playing left and right, you’re playing strong and free and so there’s an interchangeability there. Sometimes in a game, we might have one guy do a little more of the other but we can’t count on that. We can’t count on, ‘Well, this guy is going to be doing this and that guy is going to be doing that,’ because if they did different formations, we’d have to make some kind of adjustment. Sometimes if you check a defense, you go from one thing to another, well you’re in one thing and then if you check it, I don’t want to say out of position but you have to flip responsibilities. I think those guys are all comfortable with that. They’ve done each other’s jobs. As you said, it may turn out with one guy doing a little more of one thing than another, but in the end they have to be able to do both. I think they’re comfortable with that, I think we’re comfortable with that.
Q: How difficult is it to lose a day of preparation and how much easier is it, if any, to prepare for a team in the division you know well?
BB: Well, I think there’s always advantages to playing teams that you’re more familiar with. Of course, the more you know, the more you know, the more you know and you have to prepare for. We’re looking at literally 15 regular season games from Buffalo plus we did a ton of work on them for the opener from the preseason and even going back offensively to Syracuse and going back defensively to the Jets defense. We have way more information than we would be able to use in this game or they would be able to use in this game. We’re looking at a couple thousand plays and there’s going to be 60 to 70 on each side of the ball. It’s an advantage and it’s a curse. The opener is the same thing. You look at so much for the opener and you go into the opener and again, it’s whittled down to whatever the game plan is for that game. But your preparation has extended well beyond that. We have a lot of information. We’ll have to try to put our chips on certain numbers and play the percentages and know that there’s also other things that they can do and they have done that we can’t ignore but we can’t prepare for everything. We just have to wait and see how the game plays out. If something becomes more of a featured thing, then we’ll obviously have to adjust to it. I’d say for the most part, when you get to this point in the season, there aren’t too many things that are going to come up that you haven’t dealt with already during the year. I’d be surprised if they could throw a lot out there that we would say, ‘Oh my God, we’ve never seen that before.’ But I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s not like, ‘OK, we’ll handle this the same way we handled it with some other team or some other situation.’ Same thing offensively, the thing that I’d say is a little bit different about them is just their tempo. Like Baltimore was a no-huddle team but they weren’t a fast no-huddle team. Buffalo is much more of a fast no-huddle team, similar to what we saw in training camp against Philadelphia. But again, we’ve seen that before. Obviously we played them once earlier but that’s a little bit of a challenge and that’s not the easiest thing to simulate in practice because sometimes when you’re running their plays, it’s hard for your offense who is running their plays to do it at the tempo that they do it at. That’s not the easiest thing to simulate. So our communication, our ability to get plays called, get them in, get them communicated, get them run properly, that will be a challenge for us. We’ll work on it the best we can in practice but I’m sure it will be faster in the game than what we’ll be able to do in practice. But I would say those are some of the things we have to be able to deal with.
Q: When you’re trying to decide where to put down the chips, does self-scouting help?
BB: Yeah, sure, if there’s something we’ve had a problem with and it’s something that they do, then that’s easy. Why would they not do it? They have it, we’ve been hurt with it. I think the real question is, you’ve been hurt with something and they don’t do it, you’re saying, ‘OK, do you think they would put this in? Because it’s not something they would normally do.’ You could be defending a ghost because they haven’t done it, but on the other hand if you’ve been hurt with it, it’s hard to ignore it and say, ‘Well, why would they not try to do the same that somebody else was successful with?’ So, that self-scouting certainly plays a role into that. On the other hand, I don’t think any team at this point in the year is going to have been working on everything they’ve worked on all the way through the year and just junk it. They’re going to do what they do and what they’re familiar with. We have to be able to stop that but certainly anything that we’ve been hurt with that we know is a core part of what they do, I’m sure we’re going to get that. It’s just a question of what they want to add on to that. A lot of times, it will be complementary play. They’re running the stretch play, running the stretch play and now’s the time for the reverse, which maybe hasn’t been shown a lot, things like that. We have to be ready for complementary plays to go with it: the boots, the reverses, the misdirection plays, the double moves, the things like that that will come off a lot of their core plays. They’ve shown some of those anyway but I think that’s definitely a part of it too. The more you do something, whatever it is in your offense, you run outs, you runs outs, you have to start thinking sooner or later somebody is going to jump this, it’s time to get the out-and-up.
Q: Why do you think your defense has been targeted so often on deep passes? It seems like it’s more than most teams.
BB: It’s a lot less than it was last year, I can tell you that. You should ask the other teams about that, I don’t know.
Q: Your defense has also been good against those deep passes. Why do you think that might be?
BB: We’ve certainly put a lot of time and work into it. It could definitely be better but it hasn’t been anywhere close to the issue it was last year. So, thank God. I mean obviously the players are doing a good job. But we’ve spent a lot of time on it and we’ve spent a lot of time on the deep part of the field because it’s so critical. Hopefully we can continue to play fairly well back there because it’s just so important. When it all happens in one play ‘ there’s nothing else you can do. There’s no chance of stopping in the red area. It takes a lot of other people out of the game too. There’s nothing a nose guard can do about a go-pattern. There’s nothing the inside linebacker ‘ those plays are so far beyond them that it kind of takes them out of the game. When you’re giving those up, that’s below the line. Our below the line comments from last week ‘ we just can’t play like that. Those guys have worked hard. Our safeties have good range back there, our corners have played the ball pretty well. We haven’t had a lot of pass interference calls. Even the ones we’ve had, like the one in the Baltimore game ‘ it’s a tough call. There are some that are just obvious, they’re flagrant. Then there are other ones that you’re like, ‘That’s a tough call.’ They had one too, so that’s kind of the way it goes. I think overall our decision-making and playing the ball in the secondary has been obviously a lot better than it was last year. Not that that would take a lot, but it has been better.
Q: You’re of the Red Ryder BB gun era. Did you ever ask for a BB gun?
BB: No, I was never a big gun guy.
Q: What was the one thing you had to have?
BB: Just more sports stuff ‘ new ball, new glove, new bat.
Q: Scouting projector?
BB: That was back in the pre-projector days. When my dad started breaking down film, there was no projector, it was just a viewer. The film went through the viewer and you wound it by hand and watched the film as it passed through the viewer. There was no projector. The projector was actually a big step. And the 16 millimeter was a big step too, because the eight millimeter, which there’s some like high school film and home movies and stuff like that, which the film would break every two plays. It was ridiculous. You’d spend more time fixing the film than you did watching it. The viewer, that was it until you actually had the projector. Then it never failed, as soon as you start the projector up, you start the team meeting, ‘Here we go fellas, let’s start watching film.’ Then the night before the game, there goes the bulb. So, ‘Alright, hold on.’ Or the film breaks. Whatever it is ‘ film breaks, bulb goes out, projector freezes [and] ‘Alright, not so fast.’