FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Dean Pees and Bill Belichick go way back. The two worked together for years in New England. They won a Super Bowl together. Pees has said on a few occasions that his career is marked with Belichick's influence, amongst a long list of other coaches, too, but Belichick is always on said list.
Pees said in the lead up to Thursday night's matchup with the Patriots that Belichick is someone he has tremendous respect for, and someone he knows will have his team ready to play come Thursday.
"If he's not the best football coach ever in the NFL," Pees said, "he's certainly among the top couple."
When it comes to facing any Belichick team, Pees - and Arthur Smith, too - both discussed the physicality of which a Belichick team always plays with. They're always two things: Physical and evolving.
"I think the one thing they don't get enough credit for is how physical they are," Smith said. "... They're physical, they're going to jam you. It's going to be a good pro football game. That's why you can see that's what most of his teams have. They improved as the season goes on and that's what they're doing right now."
With extensive knowledge of the long-time Patriots coach, Pees said there's been one message he's let reverberate through the team in preparation this week: Don't get too comfortable in planning. Belichick can change any thing in a matter of plays.
"He can beat you so many different ways," Pees said.
He explained he's seen first hand how he's done it, too. He's seen Belichick send out an offense with an empty back field for an entire quarter, going no-huddle and moving down the field with speed.
Now, he sees this Patriots team attack meticulously on the ground, running out of a two-back formation that the Falcons haven't seen.
"But I said don't be surprised because he can come out and throw the ball every down for the first 10 downs," Pees said. "They can change overnight."
When talking about the physicality of which Smith spoke on, Pees used the example of New England's running backs. He said they're as downhill runners as they come. They don't avoid contact. They welcome it. And he knows that mentality and teaching comes from the man at the helm.
This offensive attack can be a grinder, Pees said.
"They tell those guys that they aren't trying to get a touchdown. They are, but they are trying to get a first down," Pees said. "You ever watch them, they don't jump cut. They don't take a six-yard gain and try to turn it into a 30-yard gain. They take a six-yard gain and try to turn it into a nine- or 10-yard gain, and some times that will turn into a bigger gain."
Pees continued with the example of the New England backfield, saying it's almost a dare: "You're going to have to tackle me and get me down," the defensive coordinator said.
He noted that mentality is seen across the board with this Patriots team finding itself on quite the tear, winning their last four. The Falcons have their work cut out for them on Thursday, and that physicality is a big reason why.
"If you watch them on film that's exactly how they play," Pees concluded. "It's physical."