Defensive backs & turning for ball

Based on submissions to this week's Patriots mailbag, as well as tweets, one of the primary areas of frustration for followers is technique breakdowns with Devin McCourty and the team's defensive backs. Why aren't they consistently turning to look for the ball?

Bill Belichick was asked about this during his weekly appearance on sports radio WEEI (hat tip to host Glenn Ordway for broaching the subject), and here was the Q&A:

Q: On the pass interference calls when it doesn’t look like McCourty is turning his head back to look at the ball, do you believe that’s why the officials are throwing those flags?

A: What the rule is, is that if you’re looking at the ball and there is contact, it’s not a foul, unless you’re grabbing the guy or obviously flagrantly doing something. If you’re not looking at the ball, and there is contact, then it is a foul. The rule is pretty cut and dried.

Q: It seems to have happened a few times with McCourty. Is that something? It seems like he’s stride for stride with his guy, hip to hip, and then he just doesn’t turn on it. There have been some negative plays. Is that something he has to do right now – turn on that ball?

A: Well, you have to be careful. It’s fine if the ball is in the air and you turn. That’s great. But if the ball is not in the air, and you turn, and then the receiver sees you turn and goes in the other direction and uncovers, then you don’t have the guy covered. It’s a technique thing. There are different situations that the right thing to do sometimes is to look for the ball and sometimes it isn’t to look for the ball.

Q: How do you guys teach it?

A: There’s a lot of different situations. We talk about those. It isn’t about looking or not looking for the ball. If you don’t look at the ball, then you have to play the receiver’s hands and knock the ball out when the receiver tries to catch it. If you’re looking at the ball, then you play the ball -- and hopefully the ball is in the air when you look at it. Because if you’re looking at it and the ball isn’t in the air, a good receiver will just uncover. As soon as you turn your back on him, he just goes in the other direction.