Tuesday was a scheduled day off for players but that did not prevent the New England Patriots’ coaching staff from readying its game plan for Sunday’s season opener in Tennessee.
“We’ve gotten off to a start here on Tennessee and [Tuesday’s] a good day with the players not in here to kind of go back over everything in our game plans and some corrections from practice on Friday and Sunday and Monday and just try to tighten things up a little bit,” said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick in a press conference Tuesday. “We’ve got a few new people on the roster; it will give us a chance to catch up with some of them assignment-wise and terminology and things like that. We’re moving along, looking forward to getting back out there [Wednesday] and putting finishing touches on and being ready to go on Sunday.”
The Patriots will spend plenty of time on defense this week preparing for Titans’ All-Pro running back Chris Johnson and trying to contain his big play ability.
“[Chris Johnson is] a huge challenge,” Belichick said. “His production speaks for itself. He’s really an outstanding player with the ball in his hands – in the passing game, in the running game, inside runs, outside runs, draws, screens. Everybody is at the point of attack because he has the speed to start one way and go the other to get back to the cutback backside of the defense or bounce out in either direction. Really everybody is at the point of attack when he has the ball. It’s a big challenge for our defense. He’s very dangerous. He’s had like four touchdowns over 75 yards, something like that. Whenever he gets the ball anywhere on the field, he’s just one play away from the end zone. Everybody has to be ready and do their job and make sure that no matter where he hits it, we have to defend it because he can attack anywhere on the field.”
Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia agreed with his head coach but added his defense can’t focus on stopping one player if it is going to be successful Sunday.
“I think obviously this is a real challenge for us here to go against the Titans,” said Patricia. “They have a lot of different weapons they can use offensively along with obviously a great coaching staff to utilize all those players. So, we’ve got to just really pay attention to all of them, make sure we understand who’s out on the field and make sure we understand what packages they're running in the game. I don’t really think you want to single anybody out; they obviously have great players at every position. Chris Johnson and all the ability that he brings; [Jake] Locker, the quarterback, obviously, everything he can do; the wide receivers, you could name them all: [Nate] Washington, [Kendall] Wright. The tight ends: [Craig] Stevens, [Jared] Cook, I mean, all of them, along with a really solid offensive line that does a great job within their system.”
As for the Patriots rookies on defense, most notably first round picks Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower, Patricia said he’s seen positive strides throughout the preseason but there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
“We’re trying to make sure [they] improve every day and learn the system every day to get better,” Patricia said. “I would say those guys, all three of them and really the defense as a whole, I would say comes into work every day. [We’re] very blessed to have great guys that like to come to work, like to work hard, study, work together, and just really love football, which is what you're looking for. So, [we’re] just really lucky to have all these guys on defense that will come in and work hard to get better every day. That’s kind of our focus.”
On offense, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels says his unit is preparing for an “aggressive” defense Sunday.
“I’ve had a chance to coach against Jerry Gray’s defenses before and he always does a great job of having his group prepared,” McDaniels said. “They have a front that’s pretty disruptive. They’ve certainly added [Kamerion] Wimbley and the group that they have coming back from last year was a group that made quite a few negative plays upfront. There are definitely some things that you’ve got to be concerned with upfront. They do have some very interesting pressure packages that he’s always planned for certain teams that we’re going to have to be ready for. They’ve got good players. I mean this is a group that has really good players at all levels of their defense and can apply pressure with their front four. Their linebackers get involved with the blitz game, I think Colin McCarthy has really kind of stood out to me and some of the things you see this guy do on film, he’s a really disruptive pass defender for a Mike linebacker. Then their secondary is young, but very talented. Michael Griffin certainly made a lot plays over the course of his career; [Jason] McCourty. They’ve got some really good players at all three levels of their defense. I know he’s going to have them prepared and we also know that we’re going to see some different things on opening day that you couldn’t necessarily prepare for, as happens most years. [It’s] a great challenge for us and a tough place to play and certainly a lot of excitement for opening day.”
One thing McDaniels knows he will see on the field Sunday is a prepared and focused quarterback in Tom Brady.
“I think Tom has gotten better every year,” McDaniels said. “I wouldn’t say it’s dramatically different for Tom in terms of the way he prepares. He studies and prepares so well for each team and puts in so much hard work and does a great job of demonstrating how to get ready for each game. I see the same things from him. It’s a great example for our younger players to see how he goes about trying to prepare for this opening game. I see a guy that’s determined, that’s working extremely hard, that wants to play his best football and he’s trying to do everything that he can to make sure that happens this year.”
The Patriots and Titans kick-off in Tennessee Sunday at 1 p.m.
Below is the transcript from Belichick’s press conference Tuesday, courtesy of the Patriots Media Relations Department.
Q: How long before Visanthe Shiancoe will be able to be an active participant?
BB: We’re just taking it day to day.
Q: Do you have any plans of making a move with the IR exemption rule kicking in today?
BB: Whenever we make any roster moves, we’ll make sure that you get that release as quickly as we make them, like we always do.
Q: With [Chris Johnson’s] unique speed and cutback ability, is this a week that you’re reminding your guys to stay home even if they’re away from the play?
BB: Yeah, absolutely. Just what we just said, everybody is at the point of attack and all 11 guys have to be ready to defend him when he’s got the ball because he’s capable of getting anywhere. Even if we’re there, we still have to tackle him. Not only is he a fast back, but he’s elusive and shifty with good vision; big-time home run threat every time he touches the ball.
Q: Does Greg Salas have any experience on special teams outside of returning punts?
BB: It’s been limited but he’s got good size. Physically he’s got a good makeup to be able to compete in the kicking game from a size, speed, athletic standpoint. As you mentioned, he’s had some experience in the return game. We’ll see how it goes there.
Q: Is that something you look for when you’re getting into third, fourth or fifth receivers – someone who gives you value on special teams units as well?
BB: Of course it’s always a plus. The more versatility the player has, the more things he can do, the more value he has to our football team and to himself in terms of roster spot, playing time and so forth. That’s always good to have it. Some players don’t have it and they’re good at the position that they play or the things that they do and that’s great because we need that too. Players that have versatility and can do multiple things and particularly do them at a good level add a lot of value to our team and to themselves.
Q: What challenges does Michael Griffin present back there at safety?
BB: I think Griffin is one of the better safeties in the league; has been very consistent back there and dependable. He’s very athletic for a safety, runs well, has good quickness, can match up in man-coverage, has range and can cover a lot of ground in the deep part of the field in zone coverage. He’s smart, he anticipates things well: route combinations and things like that. He’s been used both in the deep part of the field as a free safety and then this year they’ve played him more in the strong safety type position, but again, sometimes he’s back, sometimes he’s close to the line – he’ll do both and has done both from either spot. You never know exactly where he’s going to be but he’s one of those versatile guys that can play well away from the line of scrimmage and play well close to the line in terms of run support, matching tight ends in coverage and then reading the quarterback on the underneath combination routes and zone coverage and so forth. He’s a very good player, versatile player and he’s done it now for awhile. He’s experienced but is still a fairly young guy. He’s kind of right there at the prime of his career. He’s a good player; one of the better safeties in the league.
Q: What are your thoughts on Kendall Wright and what he adds to the Titans?
BB: He was a very productive player in college. He was used in different ways, they moved him around some. He played a lot outside but they also used him in the slot as well. He’s good got speed; he can get down the field vertically on seam routes, go routes, things like that. They also threw him a lot of slip screens in college, catch and run type plays; he’s had some of those with the Titans as well. He has good ball skills, good ability to run after the catch. He’s a 200-pound guy, he’s a pretty solid guy that’s big, that can run, not big, big but he’s got good size, he can run, he can make plays with the ball in his hands after the catch and he’s been a very productive player. He’s already had good production in preseason and he had good production in college so he finds a way to get open. Obviously quarterbacks have confidence in him in terms of getting him the ball and the coaches do in some of the plays they’ve designed for him. I’m sure they’re happy with him; he’s been a good addition to their team. He looks like a good football player.
Q: What do you see from Colin McCarthy? It seems like he’s quickly emerged into a leadership role and full-time role there?
BB: I’d say he’s definitely a full-time guy for them. Again, he does a lot of things for them. He plays a decent amount in the deep part of the field in their 2-Tampa scheme as the middle linebacker where he’s running deep with those vertical routes down the middle and things like that. Of course, he’s involved in the running game at the line of scrimmage, mixing it up inside, taking on centers and guards and fullbacks and all that. He’s got a good set of skills. I think he’s very instinctive and adept at pass coverage. He seems to have a real good feel for route combinations, recognizing where the quarterback is trying to go with the ball. He anticipates well, he gets a good break on the ball, he’s had his hands on a number of balls, interceptions – ran one back for a touchdown against Arizona. He definitely on film looks like he’s the leader of the defense in terms of signal callers and making adjustments and checks and that kind of thing. You can kind of see the other guys looking to him. You also see him taking control of the situation. He’s a guy that’s really come on quickly and has done a good job in all phases of the game: the running game, zone defense, man-to-man defense, he makes plays inside against big people in the middle of the line and he can get to the sideline and get outside on the perimeter plays and be a factor on those and the screen passes and wide routes outside, he can run well and gets outside into the play. He’s a real good football player. He’s coming on quickly and looks like he’s a real good middle linebacker.