Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Belichick chatty at today's presser.

It's the most wonderful time of the year... with kids jingle belling and  with the New England Patriots sitting in the #2 seed and owners of yet another first round bye. Perhaps it's that, or the week off, or the holiday, who the hell knows, but Bill Belichick was unusually chatty today in his Wednesday press conference.

Belichick was asked about special teams, and if yards were harder to come by, compared to when Hoodie was a special teams coach. The Coach delivered more than a grunt, a snort, "three phases of the game" and an "it is what it is" response.  "I think it kind of evens out." Belichick started. "Their punters are better, our punters are better; their kickers are better, our kickers are better. I think it's all relative. But yeah, certainly there's a lot more coaching technique, I'd say, sophistication in the kicking game than what there was 15, 20, 25 years ago, no question, or 35 years ago when I was coaching special teams. A lot of it is the same, but a lot of it is different. Some of the rules have affected it. Also just the evolution of seeing things work, seeing schemes evolve and for lack of a better word, copycatting them. As we've talked about before, when I came into the league, as an example, there was no spread punt. Nobody would spread and if they did, the first thing anybody would do was rush them. That was because the snappers weren't involved in the protection so you were a guy short. Now every team's snapper is involved in the protection. Every team spread punts, even against rushes. That really, I would say, started when [Steve] DeOssie went to Dallas and they did it with Steve. Other people saw it and found guys and started teaching it and got comfortable with it. That's a scheme and a thing that's involved – I'm not saying that the snappers are that much better now than they were in the ‘70s or in the early ‘80s but once Steve and once that became – Cardinals did it, there were two or three teams doing it – once that was effective then everyone was looking at it saying, ‘We should be able to find somebody who can do that. Give us an opportunity to have two split guys and not get them held up from a tight position on the line of scrimmage.' I think there are other things like that, other aspects of the game that have schematically evolved, just like we've seen on offense or defense whether it be blitz-zone schemes or multiple receiver sets and so forth and so on. That's a little bit of an evolution and sophistication of the game."

This was just the beginning. He was asked if he thought the post season games could come down to the kicking games.  Again, he was lengthy in his answer. "Well, who knows what the difference in a game in a close game is going to be. But certainly the kicking game is always an important part of every game and any close game, especially when you have points involved, which we have with the field goals but potentially in a return game or blocked kick or that type of thing. Those are kind of bonus points. I don't think you ever go into the game thinking, ‘We're going to get seven points from our punt return team or we're going to get seven points from our kickoff coverage team to recover a fumble and run back for a touchdown.' Those are kind of bonus points you don't really count on. You hope you get a couple of them over the course of the year but statistically that's about what it's going to be. So, a big play in that area is a huge play really because it's like bonus points. I mean really I've always had a great appreciation for the kicking game. I think that I was fortunate when I grew up when Coach [Wayne] Hardin was the coach at Navy, he emphasized the kicking game a lot. Plays like the quick kick and some plays in the return game and so forth that kind of caught my eye as a kid and always sort of stayed interested in. I had an opportunity to coach it and I think it's one of the great things about football is it brings that third element to the game besides offense and defense. It adds the kicking game, the specialists, all the different rules and strategical situations that can occur on kickoffs, punts and field goals and fakes and all those kind of things, field position plays. I think that's an integral part of the game. Of course, back when the game was invented and even back into the, let's say the ‘30s and the ‘40s, [Robert] Neyland at Tennessee and a lot of his disciples followed the old rule of thumb on field position: inside your 10, punt on first down, inside your 20, punt on second down, inside your 30, punt on third down. You didn't punt on fourth down until you got the ball outside of the 40-yard line, until you got close to midfield. You played defense, you played field position. Of course, we see a lot less kicking now than we saw back then and of course we see the specialists now that we didn't see back then too. So you had the Sammy Baughs of the world, or all the single-wing tailbacks for that matter, that were punters first, runners second and passers third. The game, I would say, has gradually taken the emphasis off of that part of the game but it's still a significant part of the game. I personally would love to see the kicking game remain as a very integral part of the game so that the kickoffs are returned and so that extra points are not over 99 percent converted because that's not what extra points were when they were initially put into the game back 80 years ago, whatever it was."

And, the inevitable follow up:

"I would be in favor of not seeing it be an over 99 percent conversion rate. It's virtually automatic. That's just not the way the extra point was put into the game. It was an extra point that you actually had to execute and it was executed by players who were not specialists, they were position players. It was a lot harder for them to do. The Gino Cappellettis of the world and so forth and they were very good. It's not like it is now where it's well over 99 percent. I don't think that's really a very exciting play because it's so automatic. I don't know how much excitement there is for the fans in a touchback. It's one thing if it's a great kick, it's another thing when, let's just say for example, over half the kicks are out of the end zone, then I wouldn't really say it's a great kick. It's kind of almost a normal part of the game. I personally would love to see those plays be the impact plays that they've been. As you mentioned, where would last year's Super Bowl have been without the 108-yard kickoff return. The play that that added to the game was a spectacular play. I mean forget about who you're rooting for, but just as a fan of the game, it was a spectacular play in the game that I think all fans – unless you're a 49er fan, but you know – that all fans objectively love to see those plays as part of the game." Belichick said.

When asked if he could help shape the game, the more abrupt Belichick showed up : "Right now I'm just trying to help our football team prepare for the playoffs. I'm not here to solve the world's problems. I'm just trying to win a football game."

He went on and on about the kicking game for some time, before getting to Tom Brady and his ability to carry out a well executed play fake to set up play action, and how that changes the defensive plans. Belichick explained "I would say, some defensive play-calling is just based on whether or not you think they're going to run, even if they don't run, if you think they're going to run, that makes you vulnerable to some aspects of the passing game. I would say that most defensive players get their keys from the offensive line and the tight end. Now, unless there's no fake at all, which sometimes you see a quarterback fake this way and the back go the other way and you're like, ‘What's the point?' But if there's any kind of legitimate mesh at all, I would say that the bigger key to the play is the action of the offensive line and the tight end more so than the quarterback and the back. Although the quarterback and the back can certainly help the play, I'm not saying that, but no matter what they do, if it's not tied in with the line of scrimmage: the pad level of the offensive linemen, the aggressive nature like it would be in a running play then I think that the two just don't mesh and a good defensive player will be able to recognize that. It's a combination of all those things. Part of play-action is throwing the ball when you think they're going to run it, when they think you're going to run it. Part of it is the companion of the play-action to the running game. Part of it is the execution of the offensive line/tight ends with the run blocking and part of it is the quarterback-running back mesh, action, whatever you want to call it. I think all those things come into play. You could have the best run-action in the world on second-and-20 and I don't know how many defensive players are going to go flying up in there. You could have not very good action on fourth-and-inches and you probably get a lot of guys even if it isn't a great fake. I think there are a lot of different variables on that. I think one of the key things on play-action that's a critical part of the play is just who you're trying to fake. Who are you trying to fake? Are you trying to stop the pass rush? Or are you trying to get a particular player – a safety or linebacker or a deep field player, like on a flea-flicker as an example – are you trying to get somebody there to react and then you have a complementary part of the pattern that attacks that area of the defense. I think if you're trying to stop the pass rush by play-action then that's one thing. If you're trying to affect a linebacker or a safety to come up then you want to have maybe the type of fake that you think will get him to react based on what he's seen on film or based on a play that you're running that marries up with that action. Then you run some type of complementary route to try to take advantage of that reaction that you hope that you get. Then there's all the misdirection plays where you try to get everybody to go this way so somebody goes back the other way, whether that's an over-route or a crossing route or a fake crossing route that comes back the other way or some kind of bootleg or whatever it happens to be but it's kind of a little bit of the same. So, again, what it comes down to on play-action, I think for me and the game planning is, ‘OK, what are we trying to do here? What's the purpose of the play? Are we trying to affect this guy, affect that guy, affect the pass rush, trying to get him to flow? What are we trying to get out of it?' Depending on what you're trying to get, I think that determines what type of play you want to design."

It's going to be interesting to see how the rest of the next two weeks go.

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