Stevan Ridley was benched Sunday against Houston after his fumble led to a first quarter Broncos TD. (AP)
FOXBORO — After quickly dismissing the question in his post-game comments Sunday after a 34-31 win over the Texans, Bill Belichick was somewhat more effusive and forthcoming about his decision to sit Stevan Ridley Sunday after his three-game bout with fumblelitis.
Belichick was asked Monday in his conference call about the decision to bench Ridley when Julian Edelman has fumbled five times this season (including twice on one punt against Denver), recovering three of them. Ridley has four fumbles this season and hasn’t recovered a single one. Ridley has nine fumbles over three seasons.
How do Belichick determine when a player sits after fumbling and when he doesn’t?
“Well, that’s easy,” Belichick said. “We always do what we feel is best for the team in every situation. That’s the way it’s always been and that’s the way it will always be as long as I’m here. I have to do what I feel like is best with any decision, in any situation, with what I feel is the overall best decision for the football team. That’s what drives every decision I make, on everything: plays, players, you name it. I have to do what I feel like is best for the team.”
So, it’s never about sending a message?
“If I have a message to send to somebody, I’ll just sit down and talk to them and tell them what it is,” Belichick said. “I can have a conversation and do have a conversation with anybody on the team that I need to have a conversation with. That’s not a problem. There’s no sending a message. You sit down and talk to somebody man-to-man and talk about the situation so that we’re all on the same page as to whatever it happens to be and what the direction is going forward. That’s easy. There’s not sending a message. You just have a conversation with somebody. This isn’t cryptic. We’re just trying to win a football game, that’s all.”
Did Ridley specifically not play on Sunday because of his fumble issues?
“The inactive players every week are based on, in part injuries and ultimately what we feel like for that particular game is the best decision for the football team in that game to try to win,” Belichick said. “Along with every other decision on the team that I make, it’s made with what gives our team, in our opinion, the best opportunity to win on Sundays. That’s what all decisions are based on.”
Belichick was also asked whether he read the comments of Houston defensive lineman Antonio Smith, who was very suspicious of the adjustments the Patriots made to Houston’s defense after trailing at halftime Sunday, 17-7.
“Yeah, I saw them. I don’t have any comment on them. I think that’s a league matter,” Belichick said.
Here is the remainder of Belichick’s conference call from Monday:
BB: I think after going through the tape, we really have to give a lot of credit to our guys up on the offensive line. I thought they did a real good job yesterday. Not that the Texans didn’t have a few plays there, where they gave us problems – they give everybody problems – but I thought overall those guys really hung in there and battled. We were able to punch out a few runs and threw the ball over 40 times. They did a good job competing against them. As I said last night, I thought that the players just made a lot of key plays at critical points in the game from the middle of the fourth quarter: driving for the field goal, making the kick, touchback, stop on defense, get the ball back, driving down there, making another good kick, another good kickoff, getting the ball back, stopping them on downs, taking the time off the clock, a good punt, putting them a long way from the goal line [with] no timeouts. There were just another of plays there sequentially that all went about the way that would have been pretty much the best case scenario for us. So it was a good job by the team executing at critical situations in the game. Hopefully we can continue to do that.
Q: Is there any more clarity on what you thought went right in the second half, especially your first three offensive drives, compared to where you were in the first half?
BB: Again, I just think overall we – look, Josh [McDaniels] did a great job and Tom [Brady] did a good job making some checks there at the line; those type of things. We had a 50-yard pass on the first drive so that put us in good position. Then we got a third-down stop, got the ball back. We had a couple chunk plays there to [Danny] Amendola and [Julian] Edelman [to] get the ball down in the red area. They didn’t really cover [Shane] Vereen down there on the first drive. I think he was open, got the ball down to the one, second drive he was uncovered, walked into the end zone. Those were a couple big red area scores that, I think it was good plays on our part but also plays that looked like they didn’t have defended the way that they wanted to, for whatever reason. But we were able to take advantage of some opportunities and like I said, those chunk plays, those 50-yarders and a couple 20-yarders, you need those plays. The success rate when you have those plays in a drive leading to points is so much higher than having to four, five, six-yard it every play for a lot more plays. That was good, but obviously getting the third-down stop, getting the ball back and being able to kind of go right back at them, like I said, I don’t know whether they had a chance to get to that play in the red area, but I know defensively sometimes that happens. You give up a touchdown drive and then you go over there and you come right back out on a three-and-out or turnover or something like that and you don’t get everything fixed. Sometimes those plays reappear in the next drive and hurt you again. Overall it was probably a combination of some of those factors.
Q: It was the first start for Will Svitek, second game playing the majority of the reps at right tackle. What did you see from him after looking at the film?
BB: Again, I think Will really hung in there. Again, that’s a good front. He ended up at the tackle position. He and Nate [Solder] both ended up on the defensive ends – [Antonio] Smith and [J.J.] Watt – plenty of times but also on the outside linebackers, on [Whitney] Mercilus and [Brooks] Reed quite a bit too in their sub defenses and also in the 3-4 when they brought those guys off the edge. Whichever one of those four guys either one of the tackles is facing because they of course flip-flop their line in regular situations, with Watt on the strong side, Smith on the weak side. It’s a lot of matchups against good football players. I thought he did a good job hanging in there and battling. Obviously they made a few plays but not too many. The same thing with Nate on the other side, so it was a good job by both those guys against real good competition.
Q: In the second half, you used a lot more ‘regular personnel’ with the fullback, running back, tight end and two receivers. What prompted that move, as it was more frequent that we were accustomed to and what did it allow you to do?
BB: As the game went on, we were able to see how Houston was going to match up to our different personnel groups and we had several groups that we used yesterday. I think Josh [McDaniels] did a good job of mixing the groups. Let’s say defensively when you’re facing a team that uses a lot of personnel groups, it’s hard to have a lot of things ready for a lot of different groups. It’s just hard to have a game plan where you have eight or nine different calls against seven, eight groups. You just run out of time to practice it and time to work on it. So, I think Josh was able to get a good handle on how they were matching our different personnel groups and what they were trying to do against them. When you get it down to two or three things and Tom [Brady] can recognize by formations what the defenses are, that can get you into a good play or give you a quick indication of where to go with the ball, so we didn’t have to hold it, we could get it out there quick and find the receivers that had the best matchups. Again, kind of a combination of all those factors. The different personnel groups I think ended up being helpful for us in terms of getting good plays, or plays that we felt comfortable with, matched up against what the Texans were doing.
Q: How difficult is it for a defense to deal with the different skill sets of your running backs and not knowing who will be the feature back from game to game?
BB: I think we’ve seen that from different teams over the past few years. It’s kind of interesting how, again, and Houston is a good example but we saw with Denver, we saw with other teams that try to match you on defense, sometimes it takes a little while to figure out how they’re going to match you. It’s a lot easier when you go to three receivers, one tight end and a back to get that matchup. It’s the ones in-between where there are two tight ends and who is the back and we’ve found in years past and even this year, sometimes a team would match a sub defense against a certain player. It could be a back, it could be [Danny] Woodhead or [Kevin] Faulk or [Shane] Vereen. It didn’t matter who else was in the game. Sometimes they would match it based on what combination of tight ends were in there. When you’re shuffling a lot of people in and out, it’s hard to, I think, defensively it’s hard to get it all figured out. Sometimes that why I’m saying it’s just predicated on one guy. Like going back, there were times when teams, as soon as they saw Kevin Faulk come in the game, they would go sub just in anticipation of whoever the other people were, it was more of a passing-type of down. Then hopefully when you see that, you would try to put him in there with a group that you feel like could give you a good running matchup against a team. We hit a couple sub runs on Houston yesterday in that situation. Again, that’s a little bit of a chess game sometimes. If a team is trying to match you, what’s triggering the match? Is it a certain guy? Is it multiple receivers? Will they match multiple tight ends if a certain tight end is the trigger guy? Is it a guy? Sometimes it’s just down and distance. Sometimes you’ll see a team that will just send their sub group on there if it’s second-and-8, it doesn’t matter who you have in the game. Sometimes figuring that out, when you use different personnel groups offensively, takes a little bit. Shane’s a guy that dependent on how a team feels about their coverage situation, he may or may not dictate a matchup. It’s something that we’re aware of, but we don’t know how everybody is going to treat us until we actually get in the game and play them.
Q: This is the second straight week the players have had Monday off. Is part of the motivation in giving the players off in being able to turn the page faster to your next opponent?
BB: Yeah, I think that’s a little bit of it. I just think that, look, we’ve played a lot of football, we’ve had a lot of meetings. We’ve spent a lot of time together. I think that the corrections from the game are important and that we will definitely find time during the week to address things that came up in the game. There are bad things that happened that we need to correct. There are good things that happened that we need to point out and emphasize, that this is the way we want to do them and this is how we want to handle this situation the next time it comes up. We’ll continue to do that. It’s not like that is going to be ignored. We’ll just have to take the time that we would do that on Monday and budget that into time during the rest of the week. At some point during the week, it will not only be about Cleveland, but it will also be about something that happened in the game that we need to either fix or reinforce as a positive way of doing it. I think the circumstances at the end of the season vary. Given the Monday night game in Carolina then the late Sunday game last week, now the travel from Houston, that, again, in the best interest of the team, I just felt like today would be a good day for everybody to get their rest, get their treatment, continue to do their postgame workouts. But for us as a staff to be ready for the players to come in here, to be mentally ready to absorb all the information that we need to give them today, if we could even get it all to a good presentation for them, that I’m not sure that would be the most efficient way to do it, so we’re not doing it.