We sit here today coming off what was hopefully a restfull weekend for us because this week's challenges are significant. Quickly, a health update for us: Santonio Holmes sustained a concussion in the football game. Indications are that he's fine and will be able to play for us. Of course, like we always do in these cases, we'll continue to test him throughout the week, but we expect him to be fine. Brett Keisel has an MCL sprain and he'll be out this week and, of course, a couple of weeks to follow. We'll take it week to week with him. Bryant McFadden practiced at the end of the week last week and he'll do the same again this week. Hopefully, we can have him. He's questionable at this point. Willie Parker has some knee inflammation from the game. We'll see where he is. He's questionable at this point. Deshea Townsend is still recovering from his hamstring. He's doubtful as we sit here today. And Marvel Smith's back situation is status quo.
Quickly talking about New England, of course they're a good football team; well coached; rock solid in all three phases. Offensively, (Matt) Cassell is doing an awesome job. He's thrown for 400 yards in the last couple of weeks. He's spreading the football around to a variety of receivers and doing a nice job of running their offense in its many forms. The linemen up front do a nice job picking up games. They get hats on hats. They don't make mistakes. they're very good in the screen game. They stay on their feet and get on people on the perimeter. They're excellent. Of course, Randy Moss is the big-play guy. If you get single safety coverages, if he gets matched up one-on-one downfield with defenders, it's problems. It has been for 11 years that he's been in the league and nothing has changed. Wes Welker is the guy that makes plays for them underneath. They get him open receiver sets and match him up with linebackers and so forth underneath and he's just too quick for most people. He catches two or three-yard passes and turns them into 20 or 30-yard gains, or 60-yard gains like he did last Sunday that broke open a close football game. (Ben) Watson is a very capable tight end that can block and stretch the field vertically. (Jabar) Gaffney is a good complimentary receiver. Defensively, it starts up front. We talked about it last year when we were preparing to play these guys. No question it starts up front. Richard Seymour is an all-star-caliber player. He's got seven sacks. He's a former first-round draft pick. (Vince) Wilfork on the nose, is very similar, a Pro Bowl-caliber player and former first-round draft pick. And Ty Warren at the other end spot - similar things; a former first-round draft pick, Pro Bowl-caliber player. On the second level, (Tedy) Bruschi is a very heady, crafty linebacker. Outside, (Mike) Vrabel is very aware, makes splash plays for them, ends up with the ball in his hands a lot. In the secondary, (Brandon) Merriweather is playing good football for them, a former first-round pick out of the University of Miami. He's a young guy who's emerging given an opportunity and taking advantage of it. He leads them in interceptions. Ellis Hobbs is a very dangerous corner man. In the teams game, they're very solid both kicking and punting. The return men, punt return, Wes Welker is 11 yards a return. Ellis Hobbs also returns kicks in addition to being a solid corner, and he's averaging 27, 28 yards a return in that facet of the game. Needless to say, we've got our hands full. We're preparing. We'll get the guys back in this afternoon at 2 o'clock and start the process with them. We're looking forward to going to New England and pitting our skills versus a very good football team.
Are they running Cassell a lot out of the spread or is he taking what's there?
I don't know how they administer it with him, but it's obvious they're capable of moving the ball with him both passing and running. I think you can get enamored with the fact that they've thrown the ball 400 yards with this guy the past two games and miss the fact that they're seventh in the league in rushing. They average 130 yards per game rushing. They've got a committee of backs, led by Kevin Faulk, a jack of all trades master for those guys. They've got 1,400 yards rushing. They're capable of passing the football up and down the field against you. But if you get preoccupied with that, you could end up on the bad end of a 150 or 200-yard rushing day.
Why bring back Mitch Berger?
Mitch, when we made the decision to go to Paul, I characterized it as not up to snuff. Obviously, not up to snuff is relative. We're glad to have Mitch back. The reason you go back to him is continuity. Jeff (Reed) is having an awesome season, has been very consistent for us. When you bring in a guy like Mitch, who's got experience with him in the holding category, it weighs into your decision. Hopefully, it continues to be an effective element of our game. I'm talking about placekicking and Mitch will be a big part of that. We'll need Mitch to do a quality job punting as well.
Are his hamstrings better?
I just go with the bottom line and the punting wasn't up to snuff.
How many games will you look at with Cassell as quarterback?
We look at every single game. We'll look at every single game he's played this year. What we put into the computer in terms of breakdown is another story. But we'll look at every tape he's put out there.
At one point against you last year, (Tom) Brady threw 35-straight times. Are they willing to do that with Cassell?
I think it's obvious they've got a great deal of confidence in what this young man is doing for them and yes, they're willing to do whatever it is they deem necessary for them to win. He threw quite a few times last week, over 400 yards. I think his numbers speak for themselves. He's got a plus-90 quarterback rating. He's shown that he's a player in this league at that position. Good for them.
What does he do well?
He's surprisingly mobile. You've seen the highlights, you know that he can make many of the throws on the field. He's doing a good nice job of communicating, identifying the potential hots and running their offense. The added element that he brings is his ability to buy time and create as plays lag on or as pockets break down. He was their leading rusher against the Jets. He's got 200 yards rushing on the season. He's a big reason they're seventh in the league in rushing. His escapability is an issue and it's an issue that you don't have to deal with historically preparing to play New England.
Are you surprised a guy who hadn't started since high school has been able to do what he has done?
I'm not surprised. Nothing surprises me in this league, truth be known. I was part of a team that won a world championship with a guy that didn't start in college at quarterback by the name of Brad Johnson who's 40 and still playing in the National Football League. It is what it is.
Has their running game become the change-of-pace with the passing game being their fastball?
You could say that. It would be a fair assessment to say that their running game works off of their passing game. The bottom line is that they racked up 500-plus yards of offense the past two weeks and they're ringing up scoreboards. However they choose to do it is up to them. Our issue is trying to limit that.
Did you send guys off with any mandates to work out?
No. For the guys that needed to rest, it's a great opportunity to get healthy. For the guys that didn't, there have been guys in and out of the building getting workouts. These guys are professionals. They know what's at stake. They know where we are. It's getting to the rubber meeting the road, that time of season. No, there wasn't a bunch of talk about where we are. I think they know where we are.
essential is Ryan Clark to your secondary?
Ryan, first and foremost, is having a heck of a season for us. I don't want to devalue the plays that he makes because he is making quality plays for us and playing good football. The added bonus is that he does a nice job of communicating with others and making sure that people are on the same page; exhibiting leadership qualities that you desire from a guy who stands in the middle of the field. Because of those reasons, he is well respected by his teammates and by the coaching staff. At the same time, I don't want to devalue the plays that he makes by talking about some of the things that he does to help other people out.
What does it say about Bill Belichick that they are playing well and winning without Tom Brady?
I don't think that anybody in this industry thinks that Coach Belichick is not a great coach; injuries are a big part of it. They are dealing with injury and this is not the first time that they have been successful while dealing with injuries. Anybody that is going to be successful has to be able to do that.
What are your thoughts on Ben's running?
Anything that moves the chains and rings up the scoreboard; we need plays; he is capable of providing them. Those two plays that you mentioned were critical in terms of turning the tide in our favor.
Did you talk to him about that?
No. Ben is a competitor; if it is there, he is going to take it. There is no doubt about that.
Is that a sign that his shoulder is feeling better?
I don't know that he was not running because of his shoulder. I just think that people know Ben's reputation and they go to great lengths to keep him in the pocket and not get out of the pocket. People have been doing a nice job of that this year.
If Willie can't go, can you play with just three running backs?
We have done that when he hasn't gone in recent weeks. At this point, that would be the plan.
What about New England's defense?
They're getting quality play from guys like (Jerod) Mayo of course. (Adalius) Thomas went down with an injury and Pierre Woods has stepped up and giving them some quality play. They're finding their cohesion as they mix in some of those young guys, but the cause in the machine that are consistent are those big men up front. (Tedy) Bruschi and (Mike) Vrabel are doing a nice job, (James) Sanders at safety is playing rock solid ball not only this year, but the last several years for them. I like where they are defensively. They've been in some shootouts, but we all get in those from time to time. They're a quality defensive outfit. They can play any brand of football you want to play. If you want to spread them out they can play that game, they got nice sub packages. If you want to grind it out and play tough guy football of course they're capable of that.
Does New England run a lot of pick plays?
They do it and there's 31 other teams that do it as well and it's been around for quite some time. I don't know what has stimulated the discussion about it here of late, but it's been a part of offensive football in this league as long as I've been in it.
How hard is that for a referee to call?
I don't comment on officiating or what it takes for them to do their job. They have tough jobs.
Talk about these four weeks of the schedule?
I didn't care about the schedule in March. I don't care about the schedule now. I really don't. We play New England this week and that's where we're at. And that's where our attention needs to be. I can care less what's going to happen in the upcoming month or the subsequent weeks. That's never been our mentality and won't be.
Do you have to stress record/tiebreaker?
Hey, our guys know about New England.
Do you take comfort with having veterans for the stretch run?
I don't know if comfort is the correct word. It's good to have a veteran football team, one that understands what this time of year is about and what we're trying to do. But at the same time as a coach you don't take that for granted. You talk about what's required this time a year; you talk about what's necessary for us to continue to move in the direction that we're moving.
Evaluate (Travis) Kirschke and (Nick) Eason. Backups filling in for (Brett) Keisel. Expectations don't change?
No and they won't. Those guys have proven to us so far this year that they're capable of holding the standard. Travis has been great when called upon, Nick Eason and Orpheus Roye as well. It will be business as usual in regards to those situations and we expect those guys to play winning football for us.
Why has Kevin Faulk done so well for so long?
He's their offensive version of Tedy Bruschi. What I mean is; boy he's very talented, but his above the neck game is just as impressive or more impressive than his physical talents. Boy he's an awesome guy, he can catch the ball, he's very aware, spatially aware. He can find open areas in the screen game. His blitz pick up is exceptional. He can cut you, he can fake cut you, hit you in the mouth. He's a great draw runner, great counter runner. He has a very well rounded game physically and mentally and those are the guys you covet. That's why he's been the kind of guy he's been up there for so long and why we respect them.
Can you assign a linebacker to him?
He's going to find ways to win one-on-one battles and that's the reality of it. You better be prepared to get a bunch of people to the football. Not only when you're dealing with him, but when you're dealing with guys like Wes Welker and guys like Randy Moss. Those kinds of guys, you know they win their share of one on one battles. So we got to play team defense, we got to play defense with 11 bodies and we have to get to the football. That's what we've done to this point this year and that's what's going to be required for us to be successful against this outfit.
Has Randy Moss helped the quarterback develop?
(Randy) Moss has done a nice job over his career of making quarterbacks look really good. And all you got to do is throw the ball in a general area and that's not devaluating what (Matt) Cassel has done, it's just the facts. If you have Randy Moss one on one with somebody you can just throw the ball in the general area. It doesn't require a great deal of accuracy or touch. He comes back with the football and he's done that for 11 years. This year's no different.
Does (Matt) Cassel mask his inexperience?
Well, he's a four-year guy. He's been up there four years and he's been in the system. Of course this is the first opportunity to play in regular-season football, but he doesn't look like a rookie by any stretch. You can tell that the time spent on the practice field and in meetings up there for four years have been beneficial to him and you can tell he's really an intelligent guy because it takes one to learn from mental reps and classroom reps. And it's obvious that he's done that.
What type of pressure packages does New England bring?
Well, if the past is any indication, we should expect the unexpected. They're going to Rolodex things. They're going to test the water, they always do. They'll jump from three-down fronts to four-down fronts. They'll drop people on third-down and rush two or three. They'll bring people and they'll do all those things early in the football game to kind of test the waters and then they'll proceed from there.
Did what (Bill) Belichick say about your team last year affect your opinion of him?
Not at all. Like I said a year ago, what he said in regards to my football team is irrelevant to me. What he says of course is relevant to a lot of people in this industry because he is who he is, but for me personally when he's talking about my team, irrelevant.
Did that game affect Anthony Smith's career?
You'd have to ask Anthony that. I'm not going to use that game as a turning point or bench mark for anyone or anybody. His career is his career.
Does it surprise you that they're still good with the injuries especially the loss of Tom Brady?
No, part of you would like to hope that if we'd sustain that kind of injury that we'd be capable of what they're doing. That's what good teams do. And that's why they're good teams.
Evaluate your offense's ability to run screen passes.
I don't know if I'd say I was very happy. It's ok. We did alright. It takes a lot to be a very good screen team and that's something that we desire to be and we're a work in progress in that regard. But it's timing as linemen get out front, stand on their feet and identify people getting people blocked. Its backs catching the football. It's backs and quarterbacks finding the alley which to deliver the ball. It's a lot of those things and it looks like we're potentially coming into form in that regard based on last week's performance, but this is a new week. We got new issues, new problems, but hopefully our screen game this week is part of the solution.