Patriots

Bill Belichick: 'Incomprehensible' to think Patriots would pick up from where they left off last season

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Bill Belichick: 'Incomprehensible' to think Patriots would pick up from where they left off last season

Bill Belichick knows that people outside his organization expected big things from his team this season, but he gave a long explanation for how those expectations should have been tempered headed into 2017. 

Belichick was asked during a conference call on Monday how he balances week-to-week adjustments with the foundation of the system his team installed before the season began. What resulted was a 789-word response on how teams have to come together early in the year -- and why it's difficult for things to look like they're running smoothly through the few weeks of the regular season. 

It felt like Belichick had something he was itching to share on the topic, so here is Belichick's response in full . . . 

"Well, I’ll just say that when you start the season, you have, let’s call it 20 practices, not including the spring. So let’s call it 20 practices and some preseason games, and during that time you’re trying to evaluate your team, work on a lot of basic and fundamental things and I’ll say basically get your team ready to play not only on the opening day, but for getting conditioned and build your fundamentals and all that so that you can compete in the 16-game regular season.

"In those 20 practices and however many preseason games certain players play in – two, three, four, whatever it is – against other teams that are doing the same thing, so you’re not getting schemed, you’re not getting game planned, you’re not getting some of the more sophisticated and the higher degree of difficulty things in any phase of the game. You’re in more of an evaluation mode and a fundamental mode. That’s where you’re at, and then as you get into the season, you build on that and you have things that attack certain schemes or you have to use to address certain issues that your opponent is trying to pressure you with.

"Maybe you just sit in your base, whatever it is, to handle it. Maybe your basics handle it, but maybe you need to go a little bit beyond that or maybe you see opportunities to create a play that you might install on a weekly game plan basis, and then all that accumulates. So, when you go from 20 practices to, let’s call it 60 practices over halfway through the season, maybe 80 practices at the end of the season, you’re going to have a lot more in with 80 practices and you could probably triple the number of meetings on that and everything else then where you’re going to have after a relatively short period in training camp. So, along those same lines, I mean, if we keep running the same play all year, the same ones that you put in in training camp and keep running those same plays all year, it’s not that difficult in this league to figure out what those few things are and game plan accordingly.

"So, if you don’t increase the volume of your scheme on offense, defense and special teams, then every week, your opponent’s just looking at a handful of things and probably most of them they’ve seen before. So, I don’t know how much problem, how much stress you’re really putting on your opponent if that’s the way that you do it. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing because you can play your basic stuff, and if it’s working well and if you’re doing well with it and people can’t handle it, then there’s no reason to change it. But I don’t know how many teams in the league fall into that category. I wouldn’t say it’s an exceedingly high number and it never really has been, based on my experience in the league. Although, I’m not saying that can’t happen, but I would certainly say that’s not the most common way that teams evolve throughout the course of the year. 

"So, you do what you need to do each week to try to win. You put in the plays, make the adjustments, you don’t want to overload things – I mean, nobody’s talking about putting in a new offense every week. That’s not it at all, but are there some modifications you can make? Sure, and as you rep those and you use them and if those situations come up again, then maybe you can fall back to that same type of scheme. But to think realistically, which it’s incomprehensible to me, but, I mean, I don’t know. 

"Maybe I just can’t figure it out, but it’s incomprehensible to me how anybody could think that a team that’s practiced for six months and played 19 regular-season and postseason games and had triple-digit practices, five months later, after not playing a game, after having a fraction of that type of experience, could be anywhere close to the level of execution that they were five months before that after all of the things that I just listed. I mean, it’s impossible in my view. So, each year, you start all over again. You start that process all over again. You build your team over the course of the year though practice repetitions, through preseason to regular season games, through the evolving of your scheme, and that’s why each year is different and unique. But, I understand I’m in the minority and most other people don’t see it that way, which is OK, but that’s the way I see it."

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

When the Patriots signed Stephon Gilmore in the offseason and then managed to keep Malcolm Butler around, the consensus was not only might this be the best 1-2 punch at cornerback the team has ever had, but maybe, just maybe, it was the best duo in the NFL this season. 

Newsflash: it hasn’t been. Not even close. 

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The latest example comes from Sunday night in Denver. Gilmore returned from a three-game absence (concussion) to play well against Demaryius Thomas in that 41-16 win. The same can’t be said of Butler. He spent much of his day playing man-to-man versus Emmanuel Sanders and struggled mightily.

Butler’s issues started on the very first play. He got lost along the sidelines and surrendered a 31-yard catch. Butler initially had Sanders blanketed. The two were lined up outside the numbers along the left sideline. Based on the formation, and the alignment of safety Devin McCourty, it was pretty clear Butler was alone on an island. Sanders initially drove inside before straightening out his route. Then he cut sharply, working speedily to the flat. Butler had a good beat on the play but unwisely peeked into the backfield. That’s when Sanders turned up and found nothing but green grass.

“I would just say I’d just tip my hat to him,” said Butler. “It was a great route. He steered me in. Then he went up then went out then went back up so I thought that was it. It was a little more than I expected. You gotta learn from it and play it better next time.”

On the same drive, he was beaten again by Sanders, this time for 13 yards. The Pats defense tightened up and held Denver to a field goal but a pattern had already been established between the Patriots' 27-year-old cornerback and Sanders.

The next big play Butler coughed up came with 4:13 to play in the second quarter. Broncos QB Brock Osweiler summoned Sanders to come across the formation via motion but then sent him back as the wideout approached the tackle box. Butler overreacted, trying to jump out ahead of the motion while simultaneously looking into the backfield. It was then he realized Sanders had done an about-face. To his credit, Butler recovered and jumped on Sanders shortly after the snap of the ball, actually shoving the receivers’ right shoulder in an attempt to disrupt the pattern. 

As Sanders turned upfield, he appeared well-covered by Butler. But then another old habit that’s been hard for Butler to break appeared. He lost track of the ball once it took flight. Sanders slapped on the brakes and high-pointed the football while Butler watched, helplessly flat-footed. Chalk up another 23-yard gain.

“I would just say he underthrew it and I got pushed by,” said Butler. “I probably burst because I was expected the ball to come too. You just got to play it the best way you can. Things happen. He just made a great play. I was in good position but not good enough.”

Sanders caught one more pass on the drive, and should have had a touchdown in the second quarter, streaking past Butler toward the end zone. But Osweiler made a terrible throw, unable to even keep it in the field of play. Hence another field goal instead of a touchdown. Bullet dodged - and there were a few.

“You can’t win with three all day,” said Butler of the defense’s red-zone efficiency. “They’re very hard on us on protecting the red area and not giving up touchdowns in the red area. Bend but don’t break. That’s been the motto.”

The Patriots would break later and Sanders beating Butler was a part of it. The play coming about five minutes into the third quarter on Denver's only TD-scoring drive. The Broncos came out in trips, employing a bunch formation that had plagued the Patriots so often the first month of the season. Unlike then, the Pats handled communication perfectly and as Sanders worked toward the seam, Butler had good position and help toward the post, with safety Duron Harmon eyeballing Sanders the entire way. So did Butler do? He gave up outside leverage, with Sanders breaking hard to the flag. Butler’s footwork was a mess - he got spun around like he was auditioning for "Dancing With the Stars" - and was unable to recover until Sanders had picked up another 23 yards.

“Another good route,” said Butler. “He got me thinking inside and broke out. He’s a good player. A great receiver.”

There’s no denying Sanders’ talent, but Butler has got to be better and more consistent. He’s too often been lost in coverage or gotten caught gambling, eyeballing a big play that’s rarely come in 2017. With their issues up front, it’s the Pats secondary that’s going to have to lead the way. The corners have only occasionally played to the level expected of them. The clock is ticking. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: this is when the Patriots want to be playing their best football. About time Butler answered the call.