The first question was on whether or not it’s performance-related, and that one was sidestepped.
“What the starting lineup is usually a reflection of is what the personnel matchups are on that particular play,” Belichick said. “Put in whoever you want on the first play and you’ll probably get a different combination of people based on who that is and who the matchups are.
“I mean, you saw that the whole game. Whatever the first play is, whoever matches up on that, then if they want to call them the starters, then they’re the starters.”
The problem with that logic: The Patriots started in their base defense and the guys who weren’t out there included a corner who’s been a starter since last November, a safety who played in the Pro Bowl in February, and a veteran who was given a sizable extension and plays a position (outside linebacker) where the club is not particularly strong. Since Banta-Cain and Meriweather played extensively, and Butler did not, the next question was on whether the second-year corner’s absence for most of the game was performance-related.
Belichick answered: “I’d just say every week we try to put the team out there that we feel gives us the best chance to win and a lot of things can be factored into that.”
Could the coach have been sending a message to the whole team? Well, actually …
“I think there are a lot of different ways to handle players and playing time,” he said. “I think there are a lot of different ways to do it. That could be one of them.”
And finally, to finish on the topic, Belichick was asked about the affect these kinds of tactics could have on a young player’s confidence.
“The players’ roles in the game change from game to game,” Belichick said. “We talk to them individually, collectively, however we do it, we talk to the player about their role in the game. Do I sit down and have a meeting with every single player on the team about his role in the game? No. Do I talk to players during the course of the week? Yes, but I don’t have 50 meetings every week.
“But each player has a role. Each player has certain specific jobs that we feel are real important for him this particular week and that is identified early in the week. It’s reinforced later in the week and heading into the game. Depending on how the game goes, that either becomes greater or sometimes lesser of a priority depending on what happened during the game.
“Sometimes things are different in the game than what you planed for. Sometimes they’re not. There’re usually some elements that carry over, but each game has its own dynamics and you have to sometimes adjust to that in the game. And everybody has to be ready to do everything; just because a player has a certain role, that doesn’t mean that with an injury or equipment problem or whatever it is, that somebody else couldn’t be in there and have to do it. So that’s part of it, too.”
Suddenly, who’s starting and who isn’t has become a pretty significant storyline going into Miami. Stay tuned.