New England Patriots Talk Dallas Cowboys Matchup

3 of 3

(Bill Belichick transcript)

Bill Belichick 

BB: Alright, well we’ve spent a lot of time since the last time we were together obviously going through Dallas and all the things that they do well. It’s a really explosive football team that seems to start every game from ahead with drives and defensive plays, blocked kicks or close to it. They have a really aggressive attitude. They’ve got a lot of clutch players. They’re very good on both sides of the line of scrimmage, a lot of good players, a lot of depth, a lot of size, a lot of power. They do a real good job there, run the ball well, very active defensively, create a lot of negative plays, good in the kicking game with really good kickers. They’ve made a lot of clutch plays. Again, certainly the kicker is a part of that, but a lot of clutch plays in critical situations in the last year and a half. A team we don’t know very well here that we’ve got to do a lot of work on in the next few days and try to zero in. I’ve been very impressed watching them. They’ve done a very good job putting the roster together, a lot of guys who weren’t drafted or were drafted late that didn’t have a real high profile or didn’t come into the league with a real high profile in terms of draft status or things like that that are making a strong impact on the team. It’s impressive. They’ve done a good job in their scouting department and personnel department, and I have a lot of respect for the coaching staff with obviously Jason [Garrett], Scott Linehan, Rod Marinelli. That’s a really good group.

Q: What kind of impact have you seen from Greg Hardy?

BB: He’s a dynamic player. We know him from Carolina. He’s a handful.

Q: How much can you look at the Carolina film to study him?

BB: That’s a good question. Well, you can see him in the preseason, so there is definitely something to work with there. He is who he is. He’d got his height, his athletic ability, so certainly that’s going to carry over at that position a little bit. But the scheme is different and some of the things that he does are a little different, and we can see some of those in preseason.

Q: When you go to a stadium you’ve never played at before, what do you do pregame to prepare?

BB: I’d say each player’s position is a little bit different, but from my standpoint, it’s just a familiarity of the 40-second clock, the scoreboard, the location of where things are on the field, like the communication system. We had a game – I want to say it was the New Orleans game – where instead of being located right between the benches, it was all the way down to one side. So, just to kind of remind yourself of those things so when it comes up during a game, you save a few seconds or you’re more comfortable looking at the right plays, going to the right plays, doing the right thing.

Q: Is that the type of thing that you’ll give yourself a little extra time on Sunday to familiarize yourself with?

BB: You do it all the time, check the wind, check the sun conditions, the lights, whatever is applicable to that game, and then the players the same thing, whether it’s footing, again the 40-second clock, especially the 40-second clock location because that varies from stadium to stadium. Whatever the conditions are, a lot of times the wind is different at the middle of the field than it is in the end zone or the corners of the field or that kind of thing. So, the players do that. Sometimes the surfaces are a little bit different depending on the specifics of the field and the time of year that you play there. But it’s all part of the regular routine, just to check it out even if you’ve been there before, even if you’ve played there 100 times just to re-familiarize yourself with it because you haven’t been there in probably at least a year. But in this case it’s new. We went through it last year when we played Minnesota. That was a new venue, too. It comes up from time to time.

Q: Is there a way to guard against letting down when a team has lost as many key players as Dallas has?

BB: Yeah, they have [Rolando] McClain and Hardy coming back. They’re a good football team – best offensive line in the league, they have a really good defensive front, a lot of good skill players, Witten is as good as they come, [Joseph] Randle has done a great job for them, [Darren] McFadden, he’s an outstanding player, [Gavin] Escobar, [Terrance] Williams, [Cole] Beasley, they’ve got a great kicker and a good punter, the defensive front is a problem, the linebackers are good, plus now they have McClain in that group. [Morris] Claiborne was the fifth pick in the draft or whatever he was. The corners are good. The safeties are good. They play all those guys. Put [Byron] Jones in there safety, corner, nickel. So, there are a lot of good football players on that team. [Danny] McCray leads that special teams unit, [Jeff] Heath, the linebackers run well and they’re fast and active in the kicking game. They took Atlanta down to the wire, overtime against New Orleans, beat Philadelphia, beat the Giants – not bad.

Q: Do you notice a difference in their scheme with Brandon Weeden versus Tony Romo?

BB: I don’t think they’ve changed their scheme a lot. They’re a game plan team, so they change a little bit from week to week regardless of who the quarterback is. No, it looks like I’d say Weeden has a lot of talent, can make all the throws. I don’t think that’s an issue. Again, they have good skill players at tight end, at running back and at receiver. They have a lot of depth – Escobar is like having another receiver. He’s a big guy that can get the ball down the field. He’s a receiving tight end, but he’s a good one. They have a lot of weapons, and I think their offense is pretty much their offense. They’re balanced. They run, play action, spread you out, run some empty, run some one-back sets, four-open-type sets. There is also plenty of three tight ends, two tight ends with the fullback in there. Coach Linehan has always done that. He’s always had a good variety of plays, formations, personnel groupings, mixes them up, keeps you honest. You can’t spend too much time worrying about what they did last week because you’ll get some of it, but you’re not going to get all of it. You’re going to get some things that are specific to you. We’ll have to do a good job on our in-game adjustments. Once we see kind of how they’re attacking us and what they’re trying to do, I’m sure we’ll have to adjust to some things that we’re not working on this week because they’ll give you some different looks.

Q: What makes Sean Lee such a dominant force at linebacker?

BB: Really, Sean is probably one of the most instinctive linebackers in the league – maybe as instinctive as probably anybody I could think of. He’s got a great nose for the ball, has a good anticipation in both the running game and the passing game, shows up in the right place at the right time, just really knows what’s happening a lot of times before it occurs. The interception he had against Philadelphia is one of the best plays you’ll see, trying to just turn around, find the guy, go to him, make the interception, but he’s made those plays throughout his career. He’s got whatever it is – 12 or something like that career interceptions. That’s a lot for a linebacker, especially given the number of games he’s played. He’s a kid that came up and visited us when I was in Cleveland – Pittsburgh – I remember him when he was just a little guy. He’s a heck of a football player, really smart, really instinctive and very productive. It seems like he makes 10 tackles every game. I mean, I don’t know what the numbers are, but he’s in on a lot of plays and he’s got his hands on a lot of balls.

Q: With all the injuries they’ve had, it seems like they compete.

BB: This is a good football team. They’ve got a lot of depth. They’ve got a lot of good players. They’ve got a lot of running backs, just traded for another one. Good depth at receiver, good depth at tight end, [Ronald] Leary was out on the offensive line but had a couple guys fill in for them. That’s a solid group. They’ve got a lot of defensive linemen, they all play, they all contribute, they’re all good. They played all their linebackers last week. They play all the defensive backs. [Jeff] Heath has got a role, [Tyler] Patmon has got a role. [Barry] Church and [J.J.] Wilcox, starting corners, [Corey] White has got a role. I mean, those guys are all in there. It’s not like they just play four or five guys in the secondary or a couple linebackers. They play five, six linebackers, eight, nine guys, 10 guys in the secondary, eight or nine defensive linemen, well more than that probably, including all the games, not in any one game because they have to inactivate some guys. But some of the inactive guys, sometimes they play, sometimes they don’t, so there are a lot of people. And they use their depth; they use it throughout the course of the game. It looks like they try to wear you down a little bit and they have the depth to do it.

Q: How quickly has Akiem Hicks been able to get up to speed and learn the playbook?

BB: He’s worked really hard. I mean, he’s a sharp guy. He’s been in the league, so he’s got a familiarity. And Rob [Ryan]’s defense, I‘d say there is probably some carryover from what he did in New Orleans to what we do here. I’m not saying it’s the same, but there is some part of the family of each of those that’s connected. But yeah, it’s just kind of learning our words and our terms and relating them to things he’s done in the past. I don’t think we’re going to be asking him to do things he’s never done before. I think he’s working hard to pick it up. We’ll see how quickly it all comes together. I’d say he’s making good progress. Having a few extra days, that’s helped, too.

Q: What goes into the decision to name a guy practice player of the week?

BB: That he did a good job.

Q: Is it specifically imitating a player?

BB: That might be part of it. Doing what he’s asked to do and doing it well.

Q: When forming your practice squad, how much do you weigh a player’s ability to imitate a certain opposing player in an upcoming matchup versus just depth at a position?

BB: I don’t think we’ve ever talked about having a player on the practice squad to imitate somebody else.

Q: It’s been a while since you last faced a Rod Marinelli defense. Will you go back to that game to scout how he’s planning to defend you?

BB: One thing about Rod, I don’t think you’re going to see much different. I think he’ll be the first to tell you that he believes in what he’s doing, he’s not going to change a lot. He’s had a lot of success – probably no reason to change it. Will there be a couple of game plan things for us – I’m sure obviously there will – but overall they believe in what they’re doing, they do it well, they’ve had a lot of success with it. I mean, I can’t imagine him putting in a new defense this week. That would be so out of character for them. They don’t need to do that. I don’t think they believe in that. But they have a lot of variety in what they do in terms of the front. They don’t run a million different coverages, but they run them well. They’re sound, they make you beat them. They don’t give you a lot of easy plays. You’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to block them, you’ve got to get open, you’ve got to protect, you’ve got to have enough to beat the scheme, and they play hard and they know what they’re doing. That’s what it’s always been. I can’t imagine it’s going to be much different than that.

Q: There’s a connection with Gus Bradley and Monte Kiffin having similar coaching roots. Are there similarities between Jacksonville’s defense and Dallas’ defense?

BB: There are probably some similarities. But I’d say they’re different. Rod, he does what he does. I would say Gus, Pete [Carroll], Dan Quinn, that whole family of … Now there is a Kiffin root system there, but I’d say that those two, they are similar, but they’re different – I’d say particularly in the front. Rod’s fronts, there is a lot of movement, they have a lot of quickness, they stunt a lot. I’d say they move a lot more than some of those other teams – not that the other teams don’t move, but Dallas moves a lot. They’re a very quick, explosive group and when they stunt, they cover a lot of ground quickly.

Q: What does the return of Ryan Wendell mean for the offensive line?

BB: I don’t know. We’ll see how it goes. It’s good to have him back out there. He’s been out there for a day, so we’ll see how it goes. But always good to have more healthy players on the field, so that’s always a good thing.

Q: How do you decide when he’s ready to be brought back into a game situation?

BB: We’ll evaluate it. That’s what practice is for. That’s what preparation is for.

Q: When you draft a player that goes on to play elsewhere, do you follow his career a little more closely to see how he develops compared to what your expectation was? For example, do you follow a guy like Jeremy Mincey?

BB: We pretty much track every player. You probably track the ones that you’ve had a little more closely, yeah, I’d say that. Mincey is a good example of a player that fit a couple other systems better than he fit ours at that particular point in time. He would probably be a better fit in our system now than he was when we drafted him. He’s a defensive end, he plays down. He’s not in coverage much. He had to at that point, at the point that we had him, he had more coverage responsibility and in the end, we had other players that did those things better than he did. As just a defensive end, he’s gone on to have the kind of career that I’d say performance-wise we probably expected, but the coverage part of it didn’t really work out the way we projected that it might or hoped that it might I should say, not through any lack or fault of anybody’s. It just didn’t turn out that way. It’s the way he was in college. He’s a tough, physical guy that plays hard for 60 minutes. You can’t wear him out. He’s got a high motor. He’s tough. He’s got really good playing strength. I wouldn’t say that he’s changed a lot. I’d say the systems that he’s played in fit him better than the one we had, that’s for sure. But he was a good football player, and I’d say the things he did well for us are the things he still does well. He’s just asked to do them on a more regular basis.

Q: Did I hear you right that you said Sean Lee visited you as a kid in Cleveland or did I miss that?

BB: Yeah. What, were you on Snapface there when we were talking about it? He’s a Pittsburgh guy – friend of a friend kind of thing. He came out to practices a couple times. He wasn’t the star that he is now.

Q: You were on him early in the pre-Snapface days?

BB: Not really.