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Conference call: Belichick and Brady
HEAD COACH BILL BELICHICK
I’ve seen a lot of hype on the NFL Network series about you. Would you mind talking about how it came about?
It was something that NFL Films, Steve Sabol and Ken Rodgers approached the team with when it was the Patriots’ 50th-anniversary season and it was my 35th year in the National Football League. They asked if they could historically record that season. We gave them some access to things that we do, meetings and practice and all that, and they didn’t really know what they were going to do with it. Evidently that is this new series that they’re running. They decided to use the footage for that.
Were you comfortable doing it?
NFL Films, they do a pretty good job. You don’t really know they’re there. There were a couple scenes they shot at my home and they were on a boat with me. Obviously I knew they were there then, but as far as around the facilities, the meetings and practices, they were pretty discreet. I don’t think really anybody paid much attention to them having a camera over in the corner somewhere.
Tom Brady just threw for 517 yards against the Dolphins. Is there anything you see in the Chargers that makes them more of a challenge than Miami?
They’re good. They did a real good job on us last year. We had a hard time last year moving the ball period, running or passing. They did a real good job on third down. I think they’re excellent on defense. They’re well-coached. They have a good front and a good pass rush. They cover well. They have a good secondary. Their linebackers are active. They’re smart. They give you enough things you definitely have to worry about. (Eric) Weddle’s a ball-hawking guy in the secondary. They have good pass rushers. Good depth. They’re a very good defense.
They have had a change in personalities at defensive coordinator. Can you see change from the group that played Minnesota and the ones that played you last year?
I think that (Dante) Hughes has come in and done a real good job for them in the nickel. We played against (Donald) Strickland (last year). They’ve acquired (Takeo) Spikes and (Travis) LaBoy. Both of them have played well. (Corey) Liuget is a good defensive lineman. We really liked him coming out of the draft. He’s an explosive player that’s strong at the point, athletic and can rush the passer. Bob Sanders is a very good addition and a strong football player. A playmaker. A big hitter. A fast guy. Very active. I think they’ve added some very good players to an already-good group. Greg (Manusky)’s done a good job with their defense. We played against him when he was at San Francisco and he did a good job there. Of course he was there back in San Diego a few years ago before he went to San Francisco so I’m sure he’s very familiar with the players and the scheme and I’m sure he’s added his own touches to it, but they look very good and sound in everything they’re doing. They do a good job of mixing man, zone and pressure. (They) change the front up, so they give you a lot to worry about and they have a lot of good players.
You guys have your super rivalries in the division but you keep running into the Chargers. Where do these guys fit in?
It’s like a division game. I feel like I see Norv every year and we’re working on the Chargers every year. We’ve had some great games with them. They’re a very good football team. I think Norv does a great job. They’re very well coached. They’ve got a lot of good players and they give you a lot of problems on both sides of the ball. To lead the league in offense and defense last year, that’s pretty remarkable, really. We know from our game out there, we had a few turnovers that we were very fortunate to get. I don’t know if you can count on getting those very often again. We’re going to have to play a lot better than we played against them last year if we expect to win. I think that they’ve certainly improved in the kicking game. Defensively and offensively they’re very formidable with a lot of good players, and they’re well-coached. It’s a big challenge for us this week coming off a short week and going up against one of the best teams in the AFC. It’s a great rivalry. They’re a hard team to play because they’re so good but I have all the respect in the world for the job that (Head Coach) Norv (Turner) and (General Manager) A.J. (Smith) have done with this football team. They’re tough every single year.
What is the real challenge in facing Turner and his offense?
He has a very good scheme. He has a lot of different ways to attack you and he knows how to attack defenses. He doesn’t attack them all the same. He specifically goes after what your weaknesses are and it’s easy to see when he’s calling plays how he’s trying to get at you and it’s very disconcerting because you know that he’s after an area that you’re vulnerable in. His formations are good. He forces you to make a lot of tough adjustments and forces your players to play out of their comfort zone and do things they’re not used to doing or do things they really don’t want to do that you don’t want to do scheme-wise. His formations, his utilization of the personnel, the way he moves guys around, his play-calling is very tough because he keeps you off balance. The bottom line is they execute well. They know what they’re doing. They know how to run the ball. They know how to throw it. They know how to pass-protect. They run different route combinations that put a lot of stress on your coverage matchups. They get the ball down the field. They beat you with screens and check-downs and crossing routes. You’ve got to defend everything. It’s hard. They’re a good team. Even when it’s third-and-20, you don’t feel very good about San Diego. Third-and-20, third-and-3, they can pick up anything. That’s very dangerous, too. There’s not too many teams in the league you say that about, but it doesn’t matter if they need one yard or a quarter of the football field, it seems like that’s easily within their reach.
When you prepare for a team like San Diego, can you try to shut down the entire offense or pick one element and try to eliminate that?
Defensively, nobody ever wants to give it up in one play. They’re a good offense. They’re going to hit some plays. There’s no question about that. You never want to give it all up in one play. You want to stay on the field and worst-case scenario, make them drive it through the red area and fight to keep them out of the end zone. I think that’s one of the strengths of their offense and of (Philip) Rivers and the skill players that he has to work with. If you take one thing away, they’ll hit you somewhere else. If you want to play deep they’ll throw short. If you want to play short they’ll throw deep. If you want to play man coverage they can beat you in man routes. If you want to play zone coverage they can spread the zones and work you that way. They do a real good job of running patterns and protections that are the right ones and hard ones. They do a real good job of understanding the defense they’re playing against and how to attack them. Norv does a great job of that and obviously Rivers has a good understanding of it and executes it well.
It seems that you and A.J. Smith have a philosophical similarity. Do you pay attention at all to what he does?
Absolutely. He’s one of the best in the league. I have great respect for the way this team’s been built and how consistently they win. How they continue to bring young players into their system and be productive. We all have to replace guys eventually. That’s part of the game, but I think he’s done a great job of drafting and bringing players into the organization, whether they’re rookies or veteran signings like LaBoy or Bob Sanders or whoever it happens to be, Hughes, that have a role and come in and contribute to the team and make them a stronger team. I think A.J. does a tremendous job and I think Norv does as well of using the players in the roles that they’re brought in for. I think they’re very good at what they do. I think they have a very strong team. It’s not just the front line guys but the guys that are behind them. The backup players and the 52nd and 53rd guys on the roster, they look pretty good too, and you can see why they have the players that they have and what their roles are. They’re good. They have great depth at receiver, on the offensive line, the defensive front. They have good depth in the secondary with (Marcus) Gilchrist and (Shareece) Wright and (Steve) Gregory, guys like that. That’s a lot of guys to have at one position. It’s hard to acquire that, but that’s part of the team building that they’ve done and they’re very good.
What do you see in Tom Brady that you’ve never seen before?
I love having Tom as our quarterback. There’s nobody I’d rather have. Tom’s well-prepared. He has good throwing mechanics. He’s got a lot of poise and he’s got good experience. He makes good decisions with the ball and can throw it accurately. That’s really what good quarterbacking is.
When did you first see that?
I thought that he showed good decision-making at Michigan his senior year. As he gained more experience, the first season he played was his second season in the league, the ’01 season, but he showed very good decision-making and game management skills. That season we were in a lot of close games at the end of the year and he made some key plays and obviously made some big plays in those championship seasons that helped us win. He’s improved every year. He works hard at the game. He really studies and takes the game experience or preparation experience that he gathers from one week and he’s able to continue to stockpile it into his information bank and somewhere later on along the line he’ll be able to use that in some way. That’s the kind of player he is. He’s smart. He’s got good football instincts and good awareness out there. He knows how to play the game and he’s able to accumulate a lot of information, process it very quickly and make good decisions for the most part.
This was one of the craziest weeks ever in the NFL. There were eight kicks returned for touchdowns, 10 quarterbacks that threw for 300-plus. You guys even gave up a ton of yards. Is it the lockout? How did you come away from that game feeling?
I don’t really know about the rest of the league. The only game I was at was our game. It was a very competitive game in Miami like it always is with the Dolphins. Fortunately we were able to make a few more plays than they were and come out on top, but it’s a tough division game on the road and we’re happy to win. Now it’s time to move on to San Diego and we know this is going to be a big challenge, too. They’re a real good football team. I’m trying to get ready for the Chargers and that’s taking all my time this week.
QUARTERBACK TOM BRADY
If you woke up Tuesday morning and saw that Philip Rivers threw for 517 yards and four touchdowns, what would your first thought be?
It wouldn’t surprise me with Philip. He’s a hell of a quarterback. They’ve had a great passing game since Norv Turner’s been there. Our defense has a big challenge ahead. I’ve always enjoyed watching Philip play. He’s a great leader at that position also.
What grade would you give your offensive performance Monday against Miami?
We did some good things. I don’t think we were perfect by any stretch. There’s plenty of things that we need to improve on. We had a good day of practice today. We’re trying to move on from Miami and focus on a huge game for us. A huge home game, our home opener against a damn good football team. They’ve got a talented team in all phases. On defense there’s great players at every position, whether that’s Takeo Spikes, who really leads that defense, Bob Sanders and Eric Weddle, who’s been there. Quentin Jammer, I’ve played against him a bunch. (Antoine) Cason, we played him last year. Great front. The way they started the game last week was pretty impressive on that interception by (Shaun) Phillips. We’ve had some battles against them so we know them pretty well. We played them last year and didn’t do much on offense, so hopefully we can play better this year.
What did you take from that game last year?
We didn’t play well. We really didn’t do anything well. We didn’t run the ball well. We didn’t throw it. We had a hard time protecting. We couldn’t make any real critical situations. We were pretty poor in the red area. I think we were just the beneficiaries of getting some turnovers by our defense and being opportunistic at times. We only had 200 yards of offensive production. It was just all-around a pretty poor effort by all of us. With the new coordinator in there, even though some of the scheme is similar, there’s quite a bit that’s different and we’re going to try to figure out what we need to do to try to attack them and hopefully we’ll go out and execute well, better than last year.
How rare is it for the Patriots to have a game like that where not much seems to be working and what were the Chargers doing to create some of those problems?
They’re very talented. They have some very good players. There were some times when I had time to throw and we had a hard time getting open. There were other times we were open and didn’t have time to throw. There were times we were open and I missed passes. I missed reads. It was one of those days where we didn’t really complement each other on offense very well. I gave them a lot of credit for playing tough and physical and getting after the quarterback. That’s what they did. It was a long, hard day out there. That was one of our toughest games all season last year.
Do you see a big difference in the Chargers’ defense with a new coordinator and new players?
There’s quite a few similarities and there’s a twist that Coach Manusky has that Ron Rivera didn’t have. He’s a very experienced coach. He’s been a coordinator in San Francisco and we played him in 2008 even though I wasn’t playing. It’s a physical defense. It’s an aggressive defense. They definitely like to get after the quarterback and they blitz about half the time, so that’s something that’s quite a bit different. We have to be ready for all the different pressures that they bring.
What’s the twist that you see that Manusky has brought?
There’s some different pressure packages that we see. Some of the base coverages are similar but a lot of their pressure, and he has his own style to calling the defense, too. We’re going to have to adjust, see what he’s trying to do to us to stop us and it’ll be a game of adjustments as it always is against the Chargers.
On facing Bob Sanders again, this time with San Diego
I’ve played plenty of games against Bob also. He’s a physical presence out there on the field. When he lines someone up, he can bring it as well as anybody in the league. I think he’s very underrated in his pass defense. He’s a very good pass defender. He’s quick. He has great speed. The way he ran down Adrian Peterson last week on that breakaway run was pretty impressive. He’s got the whole package. He’s got a great skill set. He’s smart. He’s experienced. He’s tough. He’s just battled injuries over the course of his career, but it looks like he’s healthy and ready to go now.
Bill Belichick said the Chargers have almost become a division opponent because you play so often. What do the Patriots feel about playing the Chargers?
We play them so often. We know them very well. It seems like we play them every year. We know how tough it is to beat these guys. Every single time we play them it’s a battle, whether it was the ’06 AFC Divisional playoffs, we played them in ’07 the first game of the year and I think we caught them off guard, we played them again in the AFC Championship and they kind of kicked our butt that day on offense. We had three turnovers that day. They beat us up in ’08 pretty bad. We didn’t play them in ’09. Last year was a very tough game. It’s a lot of the same players. It’s a physical style of defense. We know we’ve got our work cut out for us. We’re playing on a short week so everyone has to really buckle down this week and figure out what they’re trying to do to us and go out there and try to play a physical game against them. We know it’s going to be physical on their end.
I heard you petitioned your fans to get loud on Sunday and do some drinking. What are you hoping to see in the stands?
I was just trying to tell them to be hydrated and drink lots of water. Keep their fluids up, because it’s been hot out here and I don’t want anyone dehydrated.
On how he can get better from Monday night’s game
If you look at that game, we threw 48 passes and 15 or 16 incompletions. Look, we’re not doing the right thing on every play. We made some big plays that really skewed some things, but our execution needs to be better. We need to be more crisp in my reads and my throws and there’s things that I probably could’ve taken better advantage of the other night seeing them on the field. We can all make improvements. By no means are we peaking here in Week 1. We’ve got a long season. It’s going to be one of the most challenging games all season for us and we’re going to have to go out here and play with great effort and great toughness against a football team that is very well-coached and plays us very tough.
Your offense leans a bit on the tight ends. Is creating mismatches the reason there?
They’ve been good players for us since the day they walked into the door. I think the thing that makes them good is that they can do both. They’re good in the pass game and they’re damn good run blockers too. Look, we’re trying to stay balanced out there. We’re trying to always have the defense defend multiple things whether it’s multiple players in pass routes or defend the run and the pass. You don’t want to get into a situation where it’s first-and-10, second-and-10, third-and-8 against the Chargers all day. That’s the kind of game they want to get you in. We’ve got to really make sure that we’re staying balanced and stay on track and negative plays, penalties, turnovers, things that really hurt us last game against the Dolphins, those are things we’ve got to try to eliminate against a team that really feeds off those.
You ran some no-huddle on Monday night. Is that a part of what you guys rely on?
We do some of it. I like it when it works. When it doesn’t work I don’t like it very much. It’s all about our execution and whether we go fast or we huddle or do kind of a quick huddle, it doesn’t matter as long as we don’t execute. There are things that we need to execute better in that system that we’re using. Both defenses get tired out there when the offense is going fast. Our defense, their defense, every defense. We get tired too when we don’t execute and we don’t communicate well. The other night we had three, three-and-outs. That was the result of us not doing the right thing and executing properly.
Do you play that much different than four or five years ago with the experience factor?
It helps. Every year helps. You get more games under your belt. You have more recollection of things that have happened in the past and how to correct mistakes on the field, mistakes in your technique. Hopefully you can make corrections quickly whether it’s a game day or on the practice field. If you’re not throwing the ball the right way you can go back to your basics with your technique and feel pretty good about the way you’re throwing the ball. Same thing if defenses scheme some things up. We’ve had a lot of experience with a lot of schemes over the years, so we can try to figure those things out so we can make changes throughout the game rather than just wait until a year later when we play them the next time. We’ve got to be able to make adjustments especially when you play a team like San Diego that runs quite a few things on defense. We’ve got to be able to adjust quickly out there.
Do you have a relationship with Philip Rivers? I know you guys both went to the Pro Bowl this year.
You know what, I haven’t had a chance to be around Phillip much, but I’ve always admired him from a distance. We’re on the other side of the country and I always enjoy watching their games even when we’re not playing them just to see their offense and see the different things that they do because they have a very dynamic passing attack and some great receivers and great design and schemes from Coach Turner. It’s always an offense that I enjoy watching.