Considering the fact that some of us have seemingly been unable to talk about anything but the New England Patriots for the past 11 months, there seems to be less Patriots talk than one might have anticipated heading into their late-season showdown, which has set up as big a stage as anybody could have predicted.
So let’s work toward fixing that. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick held his pre-game press conference yesterday in preparation for Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and while discussing their players, certainly made them out to be a Super Bowl team. They would have been last year if they were able to get through New England.
One player with him he has been particularly impressed this season, and whom he did not have to gameplan for a year ago in the Patriots’ victory over Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship game, is seventh-year defensive end Cameron Heyward.
He pointed out that Heyward’s injury last year hurt the defense, and added that he believes he’s playing the best football of his career. “He’s having an outstanding year”, he said. “He’s a good football player”.
But his praise wasn’t reserved just for Heyward, who leads the team with nine sacks, the third-most by a defensive lineman in team history. He talked about Stephon Tuitt paired with Heyward and said that “those guys give them two very good players at end”. He also complimented Javon Hargrave, calling him “very disruptive inside”.
But the most telling comment was the praise that he gave the Steelers’ defensive line coach, John Mitchell. “He has all of those guys playing well, as he always does”, Belichick said. “They use their hands well. They play with good power. They play with good discipline. They’re physical and they pursue very well”.
And that last comment was the sticking point—also something that we talk about frequently.
“This is one of the best pursuing defensive lines that we ever play against”, the Patriots’ head coach said of the Steelers’ front. “They’re never out of the play”.
Also throwing in the outside linebackers as a four- or five-man front, depending on the package, he said that “those guys, they’re a factor in every play. Not just the plays at them or the plays that are at the point of attack, but they show up on plays 50 yards away. Coach Mitchell does a great job with that”.
Comments such as these, in my opinion, just show what kind of football mind Belichick has. Even his most ardent opponents cannot deny that he is a true student of the game and a master of details. He knows his opponents as well as anybody and how to plan to attack or defend them.