MR: I think they play extremely physical. I think that’s one of the things when you turn on the film and you watch them, their front seven has been extremely physical. Their linebackers specifically have been really good in terms of their blitz scheme. They use a lot of single-man blitzes with their backers, but they’re so strong and so physical that they do a great job of creating pressure with that, as well as in the run game, shedding blocks and being able to make tackles one-on-one. I’ve been really impressed with their front seven and the way that they play.
Q: You guys are 1-2 and a lot of people think there’s something wrong right now with what’s going on in Atlanta. Do you feel like everything is OK?
MR: Yeah. Obviously we’re not where we want to be three games into it, but we know it’s a long season. There are ups and downs, and each season shakes out differently. I think the biggest focus for us has to be on our preparation, making sure that we’re doing everything right during the course of our work week to get ourselves ready to go on Sunday. We’ve been close in the two games that we’ve lost, but we haven’t made plays that decide the games, and we haven’t been able to close out those games. We need to do a better job of that moving forward.
Q: Considering you’re 1-2 and it is a home game, there has to be perhaps some extra pressure on you guys this week.
MR: I think you have to have that mindset every week, that you have to go out there and produce and you have to go out there and perform and you have to go out and get a win, regardless of what happened the week before, regardless of what happened the last three weeks. We have to have that mindset week in and week out, and I feel like one of the reasons we’ve been successful the last five years is we’ve taken that approach week to week. So I don’t think we need to add any additional pressure on ourselves or anything like that, we just need to focus and to prepare as best we can like we always do, and go out there and try to play our best football on Sunday.
Q: What in particular have you seen from
MR: We don’t watch a lot of film on the Patriots defense just because we don’t play them all that often –every four years – but we know Aqib really well from his time in Tampa in division for us and having gone against him twice [a year]. We know he’s a really good player. I think what I’ve seen from him with the Patriots early on is that he’s been physical. He’s playing at a really high level. We know he’s confident, we know he has a lot of trust in his own ability and has really good ball skills. I mean, he made a really good interception last week right before the half where he undercut and high-pointed the ball and made a great play. So we know he’s a good player, and I think he’s really helped their defensive backfield, for sure.
Q: Would you say he’s more physical as a Patriot than with the Buccaneers? Has that been a difference?
MR: He was very physical in Tampa as well. He’s a bigger guy and has always been good at using his hands off the line of scrimmage. We have bigger wide receivers, and he’s always matched up well with them just in terms of being physical off the ball. I think he’s playing as good now as he ever has, but he’s always been a really good player.
Q: What about your receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White and what they bring to the team?
MR: I think both those guys are dynamic players, and both at different times have carried our football team. Depending on how teams choose to match up against us, one of those guys usually finds single coverage, and we feel like with those guys that we match up well week in and week out when they face single coverage. Roddy has been around doing it for a long time – perennial Pro Bowler and one of the better players in the league, certainly one of the best receivers in the league, and Julio I think is a guy that’s coming into his own as a player. He’s playing at an extremely high level, incredibly gifted physically, certainly plays the ball really well, has a knack for making big plays, so I’m lucky to have both of those guys around me.
Q: Is Julio Jones the type of receiver where even if he is covered, whether it’s single coverage or you have safety help over the top down the field, you’re not afraid to put it up there and let him try to make a play?
MR: Yeah, I think we have a handful of guys like that. I have confidence in Julio doing that, Roddy White doing that, Tony Gonzalez. You have to trust these guys that they’re going to make plays, sometimes even when you don’t think they’re open. They’re those kinds of players, and as a quarterback it takes time to learn that and to adjust to that and to have confidence in doing that, but I think we’re at a place that I feel comfortable doing that with all three of those guys.
Q: The Patriots first three games were against similar types of quarterbacks, guys that are considered more mobile, scrambling-type quarterbacks. When you watch their film, can you get a pretty good idea of how you think they’re going to attack, or because you might be a different quarterback you’re not really sure how the Patriots are going to approach you guys?
MR: Yeah, I think I probably won’t see as much spy stuff as some of the other quarterbacks do, but I know that going into it. But from what they do up front and what they do in the back end, I think we’ll see some similar stuff. Certainly we’ll adjust to anything different that we haven’t seen, but we always expect a few wrinkles in each game plan and we try and adjust as quickly as we can.
Q: There was a lot of talk last year of Tony Gonzalez retiring but he came back this year. Did you actively try to get him to come back, and what does it mean to have him come back another year?
MR: I think it’s huge to have him back. He’s certainly a great player, but he’s also an unbelievable fit in our locker room. He’s got a great work ethic, and I think he brings a lot to our football team and teaches young guys how you’re supposed to work and how you’re supposed to prepare. As far as actively pursuing him, I kind of left him to himself after the season. I think he’s a player and certainly a person that kind of deserved his privacy and deserved the respect from all of us to let him make the decision for himself. He certainly knew that I wanted him back and that I loved playing with him, I never shied away from telling him that. But I think everybody gave him the space to make the decision for himself.
Q: Can you comment on your time in Boston and playing at Boston College?
MR: I loved it. Certainly the five years I spent up there were some of the best of my life, and it’s a great town, great sports town. I like the weather a little bit better here in Atlanta, but it’s a great place to be and certainly some place that I always enjoy visiting and going back to see a lot of friends and people that I played with and met while I was at BC. I always enjoy going back and seeing them.
Q: Situational football is such a big part of what the Patriots do, such as red zone defense and third down defense. How do you feel you guys have fared thus far in those categories offensively?
MR: We’d like to be a little bit better in our red zone production. I think that’s one of the things that we’ve been good at in the past, and we haven’t been as good as we need to be early on this year, so that’s something we’ll work hard on. Third down efficiency, we weren’t really good at that our first week, but percentage-wise we were decent the last two weeks. We’d like to improve in both of those areas, and that’s something that we’ll work hard on.
Q: What’s been the issue in the red zone? You have two big targets on the outside and a big one over the middle.
MR: I think it’s been a lack of execution. We’ve had opportunities across the board to make plays, and collectively as a unit we haven’t gotten it done. I think we need to execute a little bit better and take advantage of those targets like you mentioned. But in order to do that, all 11 guys have to be on the same page and we haven’t done a good enough job of that yet.
Q: What has Steven Jackson brought to you guys and what did you miss from him last week?
MR: He’s a great player, he really is, and you certainly miss a guy like that when he’s not in the lineup. But I think he’ll bring a lot to our football team throughout the year. Hopefully we can get him as healthy as he can be as fast as possible so that he can be out there for us. I think he brings a powerful running style as well as the versatility to be able to get out of the backfield and catch the ball and make some plays in space. So he’s one of the few guys at the running back position that’s a three-down back. I mean, the stuff he does on first and second down, he’s just as effective doing the stuff on third down, and that’s rare to see.