New England coach talks about Sunday's game vs. the Bengals
**Q: With the 3-4 and gap responsibility, playing the run in particular, what are some of the attributes that a guy needs to have in order to be an effective lineman?
I think it depends on the scheme that you're in with the 3-4. If you're in a moving scheme, a stunting scheme, then I think quickness is very important. If you're not stunting as much, then probably playing strength and technique, [which] is always important no matter what you are doing, but playing strength is more important because you have more people coming at you. A lot of times two people start off on you and then one guy bumps up to the linebacker and being able to not get moved back into the linebackers and stay on the line of scrimmage, playing strength and stoutness in the running game is important. Whereas when you're stunting, that isn't that important because you are on the move and you're in the gaps and [trying] to play with a low pod level and penetrate the line of scrimmage. So, it's a little different style. Pittsburgh stunts their 3-4 a lot more than we do. Some players can play in any system if they have the right set of skills. Other players are more suited towards one style than another.
**Q: The week leading up to the Pittsburgh game, you praised Aaron Smith. He has eight sacks right now. Given all that he is responsible for, are you surprised by that considering the system they play?
Well, he is a good player. I think that Aaron is a good player. I'm not sure where those numbers are from. A lot of times that eight sacks could be three sacks and 20 pressures. It could be eight sacks and three pressures. He is a good player. He has all of the attributes I think you look for in a defensive lineman. He's quick. He has good playing strength. He runs well. He has some height and some arm length and that helps him in the pass rush. He's a good technique player. He's got a good motor. He plays in all situations. Some 3-4 linemen come out of the game in passing situations and the linebackers move into more rush positions. Smith in particular moves from end to tackle where he plays on the guard, so he is really an every down player and a good one. He's a natural 3-4 defensive end and he is a really good player.
**Q: Does your system have more subbing in passing situations because, I think, there is an emphasis on the big, run-stuffing linemen that naturally have to come off on third down, maybe a Ted Washington or a Bobby Hamilton?
Well, Ted was big. Bobby is probably 270. I think it just depends on, not only who is in the game, but who you are bringing in. If you have somebody that you can bring in that you feel is going to be a better situational player than who is in there, then that is an advantage to bring them in. If you don't, then you probably wouldn't feel like you need to sub it. I'm sure Pittsburgh with [James] Farrior is another guy. Farrior never comes off the field. Farrior is really more of a 4-3 Will linebacker who has moved inside as a 3-4 Mike in their system, again, because they do stunt a lot and he really ends up playing more of a Will linebacker position than a traditional 3-4 Mike and he never comes off the field. So, he is a third down sub linebacker too. If you have a player with that kind of set of skills or an Aaron Smith, that type of guy, you don't need to take him off the field because their skills transcend on first down, second down and third down, all of those situations. Other players, the Ted Washingtons, are obviously more suited to one particular situation rather than an every down player.
**Q: How do you expect Corey Dillon to react going into this game, emotionally? With all of the years he spent in Cincinnati, it has to be an emotional game for him.
I would expect him to approach it, really, just like any other game. He's got a job to do. He's got assignments to carryout. When the ball is snapped, I expect him to the best he can to those. I'm sure he'll have a little bit more familiarity with some of the guys on the other side of the ball than maybe other teams that he has played, although he's played against Baltimore and Cleveland and teams like that who we've played recently. I think whatever his assignment is, he is going to try to carry out that assignment. You can't worry about all of that when the game starts. What are you going to do? You can't sit there and think about, 'Well, six years ago this,' or, 'Four years ago that.' You have a linebacker to block, you block him. You have a hole to run through, you read your key and you run through it. I don't think you can think about, 'four years ago I was sitting in a meeting.'
**Q: Isn't a little bit of it human nature though?
Maybe you think a little bit about it before the game. I've been involved in those games where you are coaching against a team you used to be at. When the game starts you're thinking about the situation. You're thinking about your job, what you have to do, and you're trying to do it. When the game is over, maybe you reflect back on something, but I didn't really ever feel that way during the game. If I did, it was very seldom. You're just too caught up in what you have to do and what your responsibilities are."
**Q: Have you come up with any contingencies in terms of the offensive coordinator situation with Charlie [Weis]?
No. Charlie is here. Charlie is working hard. Charlie, I expect, will continue to be here and carry out his responsibilities through the season.
**Q: In your 30 years in the NFL, have you had guys been offered college jobs while the NFL season was still going on?
Sure. Nick [Saban] took the Michigan State job when I was in Cleveland. [Rod] Dowhower went to Vanderbilt.
**Q: In 1994, you basically released Nick from the end of his contract to go take the Michigan State job?
Released him from his contract?
**Q: Well, his contract probably ran through the end of NFL season.
Well, he was the defensive coordinator for the Browns through the end of the '94 season. There was a time period in there where he also was head coach at Michigan State and did some things with them and split a little bit of time between the two. Then, when the season was over, then he went to Michigan State.
**Q: So, he was your defensive coordinator and was also head coach at Michigan State?
Right. Yes, that's right.
**Q: What was that like? Was he able to balance the two as a head coach?
Yes. I think Nick did a good job. I think he handled the situation well. Nick and I talked about it. We had a good relationship. We talked about it before he interviewed for the job. We talked about it after he was offered the job. We talked about it after he accepted the job and then we worked our way through it. I don't think it was a problem.
**Q: Did he actually go on recruiting trips?
I don't really know what he did at Michigan State. You would have to ask him that.
**Q: Right, but he was your defensive coordinator for that time period.
Right, but I didn't follow him around. The things he had to do for Michigan State, he said 'Look, I need this amount of time to do this.' So, we worked it out. He took that time, I don't know what he did. He might have recruited. He might have hired coaches. He might have rearranged his office. I don't really know. I am just saying, I don't know what he did. But, whatever he did were things that he felt like he needed to do and he prioritized them.
**Q: Did [Tom] Coughlin have a similar situation in 1990 with you guys? Didn't he go to Boston College?
When did he take that job?
**Q: I thought he got it before...
Before the end of the season?
**Q: I think you had won the Super Bowl already.
I don't remember that. Maybe I blew it, but I don't remember it that way. It could have happened that way. I don't know. I might be wrong.
**Q: Did Notre Dame contact you at all to talk to Charlie?
I don't have anything to say about the Notre Dame situation or any other college situation or any other pro situation. Anything with regard to any other team, college or pro, other than the New England Patriots you would have to talk to whoever that group is.
**Q: In general, in your experience, that is a situation [taking a college head coaching job while the NFL season is still in progress] that is doable.
Well, you asked me if I was involved in an experience like that and I said that I was with Nick and I was.
**Q: Theoretically, if one of your coaches...
Well, I'm not getting into theoreticals I don't know. I'm just trying to prepare the team for Cincinnati. We're just trying to win a game.
**Q: Could you foresee doing that with Notre Dame and Charlie?
I'm just trying to concentrate on the Cincinnati game. I don't have any comment on anything else other than the Bengals. That's it.
**Q: So, you expect Charlie to be here through the end of the season?
**Q: Getting back to Corey for one moment. Obviously you've coached against him for several years before he got here. Did you marvel at how productive he was able to be considering they were playing from behind a lot and they may not have had a lot of balance on their offense? Did you marvel at how productive he was still able to be given those circumstances?
Well, sure. He's had a lot of production through his entire career even though he has had some big games, like the Denver game three years ago. But, he's had production in consecutive seasons and pretty much on an average per carry basis from the time he has come into the league. You're right. There were some games that the attempts and the carries were limited due to the score situation or whatever, but I think his production overall through his career has been very good and we were well aware of that.
**Q: The idea that guys around Corey's age start to slow, it seems like he is a different type of guy. Does it look like Corey has a good three or four years left in him to play because of how he keeps his body?
I don't know. I'm always reluctant to try to predict the future. I don't think that's really a good policy anyway. I can't compare Corey to where he was seven years ago. Where he is now, I think he's in good condition. He has good skills for his position. He runs well. He's strong. He's got good quickness. He catches the ball well. He blocks well. That being said, that's where it is. How long could that last? Two years, five years, 10 years? I'm not really sure. But, that's where it is now. Hopefully it will stay at that level moving forward. Obviously, at some point it's not going to. But I can't, right now, predict, or would even try, when that would be. Guys like Otis [Smith] and [Roman] Phifer, they just kind of seem to keep playing. Other players don't play quite that long. It varies from player to player.
**Q: Your receiving corps has the reputation as being guys who are interchangeable out there [on the field]. Do you see it that way or do you think there are specific skills that the different guys bring?
I think they bring some different skills, but to a certain degree they have had the versatility to play in different spots on offense—outside positions, inside positions, X, Z. [They can] run different patterns depending on where they are located and also the versatility that they have shown to do those things. I think overall it is a pretty versatile group. I don't know—you have to be interchangeable. Sometimes you are forced to be interchangeable, whether you want to be or not. Other times you can interchange players based on just making that decision without being forced to do it. So, those are two different things. There have been, I think, elements of both through the last three years with those guys, or two years including Bethel [Johnson].
**Q: With the nature of the position [being what it is], are there some things where you would say, 'This is a Bethel play' going downfield, and then David [Givens] is our bigger [receiver]?
Yeah, I think there are a couple things like that that you have in y our offensive system, but I don't think you can be too far out on the plank on that or [it becomes], 'We have to have this guy in for that guy and that guy in for this play and this guy in for another play.' That is impossible, to call plays like that. At some point you just have to be able to put a team out there and run an offense. Yeah, 'Do you want to run this play to have this player in to do that for you?' You can manage that substitution. But, to do it every play, if you were going to call this play, 'Oh, but now they are in a different defense. Now we have to change the play. We have the wrong guy in there.' I have been down that road before and it's not one you want to be on. There is an element of that. I think that is true of every position—your running backs, your tight ends, your receivers, some of your defensive players. Situationally, yeah, you might rather have one guy in there than another, and there is a place for that; but, the more important thing is to have some continuity in your team so that you can basically do what you need to do when the situation calls for it and not be into a matchup situation on every single play.
**Q: Do you require them to learn all the different spots?
It depends. Sometimes. I don't think everybody needs to know everything, but you have to cover your bases on it. We talk about that at the beginning of the week. That is one of the first things we talk about. When we get to Tuesday we say, 'Okay, here is the game. Here is the game plan, all right. Now, where is our personnel going to be? Okay, [Player 'x'], you have been doing this. This week you need to learn that.' Tell the next guy, '[Player 'y'], you've been doing this. This is where you are going to be this week. On goal line, you are going to have to learn something else. When we go to four wide receivers, Troy [Brown], in addition to learning Y, you are also going to have to learn X this week, even though you haven't been playing over there because of whatever the receiver situation is.' So, that does occur and that is something we go through every week with all the players. 'Here's what you are responsible for' at the beginning of the week, because you don't want to throw it on them Saturday night. 'By the way, if this happens you are going to have to jump over here.' You tell them at the beginning of the week, 'We don't really anticipate using you here, but if something were to happen, you could conceivably end up in this spot, so make sure you know what to on these plays or maybe on all the plays, if that's what it is.
**Q: If you were going to describe how the five guys differentiate—as you mentioned, they have different skills—what would those five things be that separate them?
One word? Troy would be experience. David Givens, probably size, relative to that group. Deion [Branch], versatility. David [Patten], speed. Bethel, speed. Not that the other guys can't run, but those guys can run.
**Q: How has your blitz pickup been this year, not only with the addition of Corey [Dillon], but having Daniel Graham back there?
For the most part, our pickup has been okay. We haven't had a lot of what we call runaway rushers, where the guys are just coming in there clean on the quarterback and nobody blocks them. Occasionally, on your protection, if you have six-man protection and they bring seven, if you have five-man protection and they bring six, if you have seven-man protection and they bring eight, they're going to have a free guy. What's really a problem though is when you have six guys blocking and they bring six and somebody's free. That is your runaway rusher situation.
I think for the most part we've been able to stay out of most of those and that is more of an assignment thing, making sure that everybody—we six have those six, so we all have to be on the same page on it, regardless of physical skills or the talent and all that. It is just more of a communication and assignment thing, to make sure that the right six people are blocking their right six people and we don't miss somebody when they stunt or shoot into a gap or that kind of thing and that has to do with the quarterback.
It has to do with the communication on the offensive line. It has to do with the communication between the tight end and the back and the offensive line. They are not really a part of that unit, but they are a part of that unit. Anytime you have a player of f the ball along with a player on the ball, that really heightens the communication issue. If you have five linemen, they are all on the bal standing right next to each other, so it is kind of easy—not easy, but in relative terms it is sort of easy for them to sort the defense out and get five on five.
We put a guy at the second level and now you have six on six, but he is at a different level now so guys cross and stunts happen and things like that, them being able to sort that out on two levels, that is a little bit harder. So, if the tight end is on the line and you have six on six just straight across the board, then to a degree that is fairly straightforward. Once you back them off the line or put them in motion or do things like that, then that adds a degree of difficulty to some of the things that you have to pick up in terms of blitzes.
**Q: You mentioned Wednesday that they have a lot of that in their system.
Oh definitely. Right, they run a lot of blitzes. They do a lot of stunting. Safety blitz-wise, they are probably right there with Philadelphia, which is what you expect with Leslie Frazier coming from Philadelphia, there is a lot of carryover from the Philadelphia package. So, there is a lot of safety blitzing. They also do a fair amount, a good amount, of linebacker blitzing and stunting with their front, which is also something that Philadelphia does some, but it's Marvin [Lewis] going back to his background at Pittsburgh and then at Baltimore and what he took to Washington and now in Cincinnati, a lot of those blitz zone schemes are in his background and part of his package, so it's kind of a combination of the Pittsburgh blitz zone package and the Philadelphia blitz package. You have a lot of blitzes there.
**Q: Did Baltimore give you some of that stuff?
Baltimore, they are a little bit of a pressure team too, and they blitz against everybody. They blitzed against us. [There were] a couple things they hit us on, yeah.
**Q: What about those runaway rushers you talked about?
Again, to me the runaway rushers are, us five have those five, but somebody comes free. You should have that picked up. 'The five of us have these five, but here comes somebody else who we don't really haven't accounted for,' that is their scheme matching up well against our scheme on that particular play. I think that is probably more what happened in the Baltimore game was they got in positions and they came from spots where we really didn't have them. They caught us in protections going one way and they hit it on the other side, or a couple of times on the running game they brought people that we just couldn't account for. A lot of times you have your receivers blocking the safeties and the defensive backs, so the guy comes back and blitzes off the corner and the receiver is out there wide, he can't get him. So, you have to account for that. A couple of times they hit us on it, [Ed] Reed and [Will] Demps and those guys did a good job disguising the coverages and a couple times they came clean.
**Q: How does Baltimore run this 3-4 compared to the Patriots and the Steelers?
I would say closer to us than Pittsburgh, whereas Houston with Dom Capers, Houston's 3-4 is probably closer to Pittsburgh's. [Kelly] Gregg's a good two-gap nose, [Anthony] Weaver, [Adalius] Thomas, good two-gap ends. They stunt, but they are good two-gap players. [Terrell] Suggs and [Peter] Boulware, not that he has played this year, but Thomas, [Marques] Douglas are both good outside linebacker rushers, edge setters, play the run, so I think there are a lot of elements in what they ask their defensive linemen, their front seven to do that are similar type responsibilities to what we have.
**Q: I'm trying to figure out the difference in—can you stunt and still be a two-gap scheme?
**Q: Can you do both?
You can do both, but if you are stunting you're not playing two-gap. If you're playing two-gap you're not stunting. If you're playing two-gap you're playing square on the blocker and you're not moving. If you move, then you work to one gap, but somebody else has to account for the other gap.
**Q: Pittsburgh does both.
Yes. Yes, but they probably stunt more than they two-gap and I would say Baltimore and New England probably two-gap more than they stunt, although again, you are going to, at some point, find elements of both. You take a guy like Ted Washington, he doesn't stunt very much. You probably don't want him stunting very much. When you have players that are very good stunt players, very good on the move, have a lot of quickness, have trouble with some bigger people when they just get covered up by them.
**Q: There are some teams in the league it seems that, even without their starting running back, they are still able to run the ball very effectively. How do you explain that? Is that a product of the offensive line?
Sure, it's a product of the offensive line. It's a product of the team's depth at running back. We've talked about a couple teams this year that have had the type of depth at running back, say a team like Buffalo that has two running backs that have started in this league and they've both been very productive in the league in [Travis] Henry and [Willis] McGahee. There aren't a lot of teams that can say that. There are other teams that have very good offensive lines, Pittsburgh for one has a real good offensive line. A couple of Pro Bowl guys, everybody is solid, they've played together for along time.
You put any kind of quality back back there, which [Duce] Staley is, which [Jerome] Bettis is, it's not surprising to me that any kind of quality back could have a decent degree of success because they are playing with a good offensive line in a scheme that they have run for thirteen years. It's not like it's a new offense or anything and they are pretty adept at handling a lot of different situations, so I think it is a combination of both. Certainly depth at the running back position, that's an important thing, but consistency on the offensive line, that's important too.
**Q: With the Bengals, is that basically what happened with Corey and Rudi Johnson?
Well, yeah. I think there's no question that Rudi is more than a legitimate starting running back in the NFL. He is going to approach some of the single-season rushing marks at Cincinnati. He's a good running back. He's powerful. He has vision. He's durable. He's a good runner. He runs hard. He makes a lot of yards. You can say the same thing about Dillon. So, [when] there are teams that have depth at that position, you should get production from both guys.
**Q: I'm curious, from your thirty years in the league, running backs that just didn't fumble the ball, who comes to mind?
Running backs? Curtis [Martin] doesn't fumble much. Are we talking about current guys? I don't know. I'll just put it this way on the fumbling, ok: the most impressive guy to me in terms of fumbling and the standard that I've always held it to, is Ozzie Newsome. Ozzie Newsome fumbled his rookie year and then he handled the ball 625 times or some ridiculous number of times, and never fumbled after that. So, for a tight end to handle the ball 625 times, or whatever the number was, okay, but it is a lot, and not fumble, to me that is the standard.
When you are running back, you get the ball and the defense is in front of you. Okay, so that's one thing. As a tight end, you get the ball, your back is to the defense, you're reaching out for it, you're turning, you don't know where everybody is when you get the ball. You're running and you're looking back and guys are coming at you when you're running down the seam and stuff like that, I'm not saying those are fumble plays, but you don't have control over the ball when the defense is in front of you like a running back has. And so, to me, for Ozzie to handle the ball that many times and not fumble it at that position is exceptional.
In talking to Ozzie about it, as usual, it's just really a matter of concentration. It's technique, ok, but it's concentration and it's making that a priority, and that's a priority that, to me, every player who handles the ball should make it. There's nothing more important than the ball. That's what we play with. If you don't have it, you're not going to score. If you have it, you have a chance to make positive yardage. So, carry the ball like it's your first-born. Take care of it. And I'm sure every back has fumbled. I'm sure every quarterback has thrown an interception.
Some guys have more than others. Emmitt Smith is a guy who doesn't fumble very much. He's had a million carries, but I think as a coach what you try to do is you have your players do everything they can to prevent turning the ball over and prevent the fumbling. Occasionally, there are going to be some plays that the player does everything he can. He does everything right. He does everything you've coached him to do and there's going to be contact in a certain way and there's going to be pressure on the ball and it's going to come out. But, I think you want to minimize those situations and carry the ball in a way and carry the ball with a body lean in such ah way that you absolutely minimize those situation as best as you can.
Inevitably, if you handle it enough something's probably going to happen that's just going to be hard to prevent. But, going back to Ozzie, to handle the ball that many times at the position he handled it in, that was pretty impressive. Quarterbacks are obviously the most vulnerable because a lot of times they don't see the guy hitting them as they are trying to throw the ball or move in the pocket, whereas it's more unusual for a back not to see. Occasionally they get run down from behind, but most of the time they can see the people that are coming after them.
**Q: If the Patriots end up in the Super Bowl this year, do you expect Charlie Weis to be your offensive coordinator in that game?
Right. Long term for me is Sunday against Cincinnati, okay? So, that's where my focus is. That's where Charlie's focus is. That's where the team's focus is. And that's as far as I'm going. Sunday. Cincinnati.
**Q: Does that mean you can't speculate on that?
Absolutely. I'm not talking about anything but Cincinnati because that's all there is right now. What's going to happen two months from now, two years from now, who knows? We're just trying to beat Cincinnati. The last team we played them we got beat 31-0 at the half, all right? So, that's all I'm worried about. That's all Charlie's worried about. That's all the team's worried about.