Aug 15, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia on the sideline as they take on the Philadelphia Eagles in the first half during the preseason game at Gillette Stadium. The New England Patriots defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 42-35. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Q: Who would you compare Matt Forte to in terms of drawing up a game plan against him because of the way he can beat you as a pass catcher as well as a rusher?
MP: Obviously, [he’s] a huge part of their offense in both the run and passing game. We have to do a great job to stop him in the run game first and foremost. He does an excellent job of burst and explosion through the line of scrimmage. He has incredibly quick feet and some good quickness to get to the edge and has edge ability. Really a struggle across the board in the run as far as being able to attack you inside and outside or plays that are designed to go inside that then bounce outside. So, certainly an issue as far as the run game is concerned first and foremost and then obviously in the passing game. Really does a great job of getting into his routes, getting away from defenders, working off of leverage and being a really good utility tool for the quarterback to get the ball to in tight situations. Certainly they’ve also extended him out a little bit and put him in different positions where they can now feature him and give him the ball out in space. Just a quality, quality player for them in their offense that they utilize in both the run and pass game. Like I said, try to get the matchups that they look for in the pass game to take advantage of the look.
Q: Looking back over the last decade since you’ve been here, the Patriots have always been off the charts in their ability to win close games. Can you talk a little bit about Coach Bill Belichick and what he instills in both the staff and players in terms of being ready to win these close games and how you think a team can consistently do that over such a long span?
MP: I think, obviously, each game is individually different. We try to do a good job of putting the emphasis on enough situations that might come up and really to give the players the tools and the ability to make good decisions in those situations. It’s one of the things – I think all of the teams in the league work on. And certainly we try to do a good job of working on that also as far as understanding the different situations of a football game that can come up, whether it’s the end of the game or the beginning of the game or before the half, whatever the particular situation is that presents itself and to give the players the tools to go out and execute and recognize and understand the situations that present themselves. I think it’s something that’s just part of the game. Something Coach Belichick does a great job of teaching on a daily basis to the team when those situations arise and certainly something that we have to keep up on and keep working at.
Q: Vince Wilfork has played a large percentage of the defensive snaps so far this season. How do you as a staff balance an immediate need versus the long-term look and how a player may feel for December and January when you get into that part of the season? How do you strike a balance there between what you need do and what you might need later on down the road?
MP: The first thing is, obviously, Vince is a tremendous leader for us. He does a great job every day with his approach to the game both through practice, through meetings and then obviously on game day. He’s a tremendous leader that our players can look up to, just really a hard-working individual that brings his lunch pail to work every day as far as getting in there and grinding it out and really trying to understand what our opponents are doing. Obviously, we look to him in that capacity from a very strong leadership aspect and I think for anything that we do on defense here as a team, we’re just trying to put the best players out there in the best position possible to win the game. It’s really all about that particular game that week and obviously turning it around to Chicago is going to be another important week for us to be able to put our best players out on the field and put them in the best position possible to win the game. Certainly with the different offensive weapons and dynamic ability that Chicago has, we have to do a great job of getting that offense stopped.
Q: The Jets traded for Percy Harvin on Friday. I’m curious if you have any impressions of how much more difficult they might be to defend in a couple months.
MP: My focus is fully on the Chicago Bears right now. We have a huge challenge ahead of us this weekend. Coach [Marc] Trestman has done a great job with the offensive personnel out there. Certainly with [Brandon] Marshall and [Josh] Morgan and [Alshon] Jeffery, I have my hands full, and [Santonio] Holmes, I have my hands full with the wide receiver for the Bears. [Martellus] Bennett and [Dante] Rosario in that category along with the production that Forte has had, I’m totally focused right there.
Q: Where does this Bears defense create some stress for you as you begin your preparations for them?
JM: They’re a pretty sound group. They obviously rank highly in a lot of statistical categories, deservedly so. They historically have always been one of the all-time great teams at stripping and raking the ball away from runners. Going years back, we played them I think back in 2006, and we talked about the same thing, and it was being taught then, and they got it off of us then, and they continue to take the ball away from people today. It’s just something that’s a great, conscious effort on their part. They obviously coach it and teach it very well, and their players do a great job of looking for those opportunities. They can rush the passer. I think one of the key areas they do a good job in [is] playing first-down defense, which creates more third-and-longs than you’d like to have against them. They do a good job of capitalizing on those opportunities and trying to get after the quarterback. And they do a really good job … It’s mostly a zone-coverage defense that will read the quarterback, and they read the quarterback very well, and you’ve got to be disciplined and do a good job of throwing and catching the football because there are so many people looking at the quarterback on every play that if you make a mistake usually it ends up in their hands. [They’re] also very good on third down and one of the best red zone teams that we’re going to play. They create a lot of challenges for us. Certainly we don’t know them as well as we know some of the other teams we’ve played. We’re trying to take advantage of a little bit of this extra time this week to really get into them and know their personnel and their scheme and hopefully have a great week of practice this week.
Q: Regarding Danny Amendola’s touchdown catch, he said that you guys practice the scramble drill so they know how to get open when the play breaks down. How do you teach that, and what do you tell your receivers to do when Tom Brady is scrambling outside the pocket?
JM: There is no real robotic, systematic way to teach the scramble drill because there are so many different variations of where people could be on a given pass play that it’s not necessarily simple to say, ‘Hey, well you’re always going to be in this spot, so when he scrambles do this,’ because it could be any number of players on any number of plays that that could be. I think the big key for us is to try to always come back to the ball or come towards the quarterback – the direction that he’s scrambling – because throwing away from where the quarterback is going is always a difficult proposition. So, we try to teach them to be friendly to the quarterback in terms of trying to give him an opportunity to make a throw that he can make. And then the guys that are deep, certainly if you’re deep and you go deeper you might get out of his range, so the deep guys may end up coming a little bit shorter, and in this case, Danny was the short guy. And again, you have two choices, you could either kind of try to get away from your guy going towards the direction the quarterback is rolling to or running, or in the case of what Danny did, he turned and went in the other direction because he was a short receiver that ended up turning his route into a deeper play. Again, it’s not a perfect science, but what we do try to tell them is, ‘Look, you can’t stand there and be covered, and you don’t want to run out of the quarterback’s potential window to throw you the ball.’ So, they want to stay active, they want to try to mirror the quarterback as best as we can and try to create some separation from the defender that’s closest to you. I thought Danny did a great job – we had a couple guys do a really good job on that play – and Danny ended up with the ball on it.
Q: After the Jets game, I did some research and found that the Patriots under Bill Belichick have been historically great in games decided by three or fewer points. Having coached there with him and also elsewhere, what is it about a Bill Belichick team that makes them so good in close games?
JM: The credit would go to the players and their ability to execute, obviously under pressure, because if you’re in a close game there are a lot of pressure situations that you’re going to need to execute and perform well in. So, the players certainly deserve the credit there. I think the best you can do as a coaching staff is to try to educate your players on the potential situations or critical plays that may come up in a given game and try to give them a game plan for how we’re going to try to win those plays. And again, it would then go back to the players’ ability to execute in those pressure situations. I think whenever you know what you’re trying to do in a situation like that, I think that always takes a little pressure off of you when you’re trying to execute with crowd noise and it’s a make-or-break play in a game. Hopefully you find yourself more comforted by the fact that at least I know the play we’re going to call or I know what the intent is and I know what we’re expecting the other team to potentially do. Preparation is always a great asset in those kinds of situations, and we just try to do the best we can and let the players go out there and hopefully do a great job of executing in those situations.
Q: When I asked Bill Belichick that question, two things he mentioned were Tom Brady and having two great kickers over that span. Could you talk about Tom Brady and how your approach as a play caller changes knowing that you have such a reliable field goal kicker?
JM: Tom has always been incredibly well prepared, and I think that’s a great starting point for having to deal with pressure situations and those one-play scenarios that may come up in the game because you feel comfortable that he knows what to expect from the defense or at least has an idea, and then has a real good idea of how he wants whatever the play is to be executed. And he makes sure that he’s in that place each week, that we feel good about that. Whoever has kicked the ball, I’ve always trusted that they’re going to make it. I’ve never thought twice about that. Whatever Coach tells us the range is on that given day or night based on the wind conditions or whatever it may be, if he says we need to get inside the 30 or the 35 or the 40, then our job is to try to get it as close to the goal line if we’re going to kick a field goal as we possibly can so that they can make the kick. But we’ve been very fortunate to have both of those guys here for the majority of my time here, and obviously they’ve come through in a lot of critical situations.
Q: So there sounds like there is a lot of trust between the coaches and everybody on the team. Everyone seems to trust that everyone knows what they’re doing and they’re doing the right thing.
JM: I think preparation is the key component, for us at least. You prepare hard, you study hard. They do a great job of learning the material. And a lot of the situations may be the same each week, at least the way you go about them, because they may not come up that many times over the course of a season. The more prepared you are, I think the more comfortable and trusting you are in those kinds of situations, and I would say that extends throughout the organization and certainly for us on game day.
Q: Jonas Gray was promoted from the practice squad last week. What are your impressions of him, and what might he be able to bring to the offense?
JM: Jonas works really hard. He’s been well prepared and done a great job for us on the scout team since he’s been here and certainly I think made the most of his opportunities in the preseason and just continues to prepare like he’s playing each week and had an opportunity last week to come up and help us out, and I thought he did a good job in his role. He played – I think it was 11 total plays if I’m correct on that – but again, did a good job of running hard and runs behind his pads, stays low, not the easiest guy in the world to bring to the ground because he’s a thick guy with the ball. He stepped in there and picked up the blitz a couple times the other night. So, just a young guy who’s eager to do whatever is asked of him, and we’ll continue to work with him and see if we can’t continue to build on what we did the other night with him.