Patriots coach Bill Belichick: Steelers a 'huge challenge for us'
Bill Belichick's deadpan delivery is the opposite of Mike Tomlin telling his team to embrace of the “fireworks,” but the New England Patriots coach on Wednesday morning called Sunday's game against the Steelers a “huge challenge for us, as good as they are.”
“We're doing everything we can to prepare for the game and to compete on Sunday,” Belichick said in a conference call with the Pittsburgh media.
The Patriots (10-3), who had their eight-game winning streak snapped Monday night in a 27-20 loss at the Miami Dolphins, will play the Steelers (11-2) at 4:25 p.m. at Heinz Field. The winner will be positioned for the top seed and home-field advantage for the AFC playoffs.
New England beat the Steelers, 36-17, in the AFC championship game last January in Foxboro. The Steelers lost running back Le'Veon Bell to a groin injury in the second quarter, so the Patriots will have to stop not only the NFL's leading rusher, at 1,105 yards, but also its top receiver in Antonio Brown, who has 99 receptions for 1,509 yards.
“He's almost impossible to stop. He does everything well, runs well, with power and quickness, vision, an excellent receiver who's hard to tackle. The guy's a great player,” Belichick said of Bell. “Brown, those two guys are as good as anybody we see and then they've got a lot of great guys to go with them. It's a very talented group. And of course the quarterback and their offensive line, it's an outstanding team with a lot of weapons and good balance.”
Belichick also is impressed with Roethlisberger, who was named AFC offensive player of the week following his 506-yard passing performance against the Baltimore Ravens.
“He looks pretty good to me all the time,” Belichick said. “He's got great toughness, can stand in the pocket, has great vision, can find receivers. A lot of times, he finds outlet receivers when you think you've about got him. He hits the open guys down the field and under pressure, he makes great decisions and has great vision to get the ball to guys that you kind of start to fall off of as the play extends. Really, really good player. Tough, durable and can make all the throws and all of the plays to beat you.”
Here are some other Belichick takes:
On whether Brown deserves consideration for the NFL's MVP, which no receiver has ever won: “Absolutely. He's a great player. Give it to Bell, too. Give it to Roethlisberger, too, if you want to. They're all really good. They excel at their position. They excel every week, even though everybody knows that they're the best guy and you've got to target those players in the running game, the passing game, Bell's yards from scrimmage. They do it every week and, honestly, have been doing it for several years now. When you get that kind of attention and continue to have the extraordinary production that all three of those players have, it's so unusual to have players of that caliber all on the same team. But they're all great players. They're all very deserving of whatever recognition they get. I wouldn't argue with any of that.”
On who to prioritize in stopping Bell and Brown: “They're all good – and you can add a lot of other guys to that list, too. It's not about stopping one guy. You've got to stop the entire offense, including the offensive line and all of the positions. It's a big challenge for us, and we'll do the best we can to compete against all of them. They're very good.”
On if the Steelers are playing more man-to-man coverage on defense this season: “I don't know. It's about the same. They play a lot of match-zone, so in some of their zones as soon as the route declares it turns into man-to-man. So you can call it whatever you want. Either way, they're a very good defensive team. They put a lot of pressure on you. They mix it up. There's certainly some man, some match-zone – which you can call man, if you want to – and there's some different varieties of zone and blitz-zone. They really give you a lot to things to get ready for. They're a hard defense to prepare for.”
On Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's ability to bounce back from a loss: “Tom competes well every week. If you just watch Tom compete during the week, I don't think you would know what the result was from the game before. He's consistent and works extremely hard and competes well on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis, regardless of what did or didn't happen at some other point in time.”
On the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was suspended last week for his concussion-causing shot on the Buffalo Bills' Tre'Davious White after the whistle: “Well, it's always good to have all of our players back, so we look forward to any and all players we can get back, always.”
On whether he was disappointed in Gronkowski, a Woodland Hills graduate, for the apparent cheap shot: “We've moved past everything. We're getting ready for the Steelers. All the rest of it, that's in the past.”