Nobody that we've seen. We're so used to getting so much Cover 2 and 2-high coverage, and they like to play a lot of man and leave a safety in the middle of the field. It's a defense that we haven't faced. It's a great pass rush, fast physical linebackers, and these corners are probably two of the best corners we've seen so far. It's a great challenge for us, especially at this point in the season when it's easy to slack off and say we've got a team coming in that's 2-7 or 2-9 or whatever they are. It's a great challenge to stay focused. We've got to worry about the Oakland Raiders and only the Oakland Raiders right now. Our defense, we're going to expect them to come out and play well, and offensively, we've got to put points up on the board against the No. 3-ranked defense.
Q: Do you think Kansas City was looking past Cleveland this past week?CP:
There's no question. They came in against Cleveland and were probably looking ahead of them. It's a big challenge for us not to do that. We've got a very good football team coming in here, a team a lot better than its record and that has some turmoil going on a little bit. We've got to come out and play some great football in order to get a win.
Q: Was that similar to what happened at Tampa Bay this year?CP:
We've been here and done this before, losing at our place to an opponent we expect to beat. It's a lot like Buffalo last year. We expected to beat Buffalo and ended up getting a loss at the end of the game. We need to come out and play great football and not worry about who we have left. We need to worry about the Oakland Raiders right now.
Q: Do you guys prefer to face a man-to-man team?CP:
Somewhat. The reason a lot of people don't play man-to-man is because they can't, and these guys can. If you have two physical, fast corners like they do and a pass rush, it makes it tough offensively. We like to see man-to-man. We rarely get to face it. Teams like Denver do it a little bit. But it's not going to be easy on us. We've still got our hands full. They've got Warren Sapp and Derrick Burgess. It's a great pass rush. They're good at coming off of blocks and getting to the quarterback and playing fast. When you've got guys that can cover for three or four seconds, you've got your hands full offensively. We're not overlooking these guys at all. We're coming into this game knowing it's a must-win for us and a game we can win.
Q: What was your impression of Ben Wilkerson?CP:
I thought he did great. You keep waiting for him to get his shot. I remember watching him at LSU, thinking he was a good player then. You hope he gets a shot and you're waiting for him to get an opportunity. You hope you don't want to get to the point where you have to use your third-string center, but he has to be the best third-string center around. He came in and nothing changed offensively. We didn't get less aggressive or take anything out of our game plan. He kept playing and did a great job.
Q: Did someone else have to take over making line calls?CP:
Not with Ben. Ben is an aware, smart guy. He's been there. He's played in a lot of big games in college, understands this offense and understands his role. Nothing changed for us offensively. He made the calls, made the adjustments, recognized the defense and we went on from there.
Q: Are you amazed how the offensive line has played given so many untested backups?CP:
It is amazing, and it says an awful lot about what we do personnel-wise around here in drafting Stacy and getting Ben in free agency. Obviously we got them for a reason, because they can play. They're physical. They look the part, and the next step for them was to get in and see how they react to live situations in games on national television. Both of them have done a phenomenal job so far. It says a lot about our scouting department and what we've done to get guys here and finding talent in case you're starting five – Levi and Richie – go down, we've got guys to come in and fill those spots.
Q: Since the line has been playing well, what are you going to do when the starters are healthy?CP:
I'm not sure. Personally to me it doesn't matter who is going to be in there. I know those guys are going to block, fight and scratch. They will get us going in the run game and give me time to throw the ball. They're all very capable, and some have more experience than others, but that's the coach's job to decide who plays.
Q: The Raiders have the top-ranked pass defense in the league, but other teams run the ball against them, which skews the stats a lot. Is that part of the reason they're ranked so high in pass defense?CP:
It might have something to do with that. They've struggled offensively a lot this year, and teams have gotten ahead on them and kind of sat on the ball in the second half. So you can look at it that way. But once you look at them on film, people aren't throwing the ball over their heads at all. They're not giving up big plays. They're covering guys downfield. Their safeties are coming up and making tackles once they do get completions. The statistics might be skewed a little bit, but once you go and watch these guys on film, these guys can play. If their offense was playing better, who knows what their record would be. It would be a lot better than it is. You can't take them lightly. Watching them on film, they look as good on defense as we've seen this year.
Q: With all the adversity, are you a different team than when you stumbled down the stretch last year?CP:
We've had some adversity. I think last year, we were at a different point. We had more wins, and our backs weren't against the wall. Now, our backs are against the wall just to get that wild card spot. Last year at this time, we were talking about tying up the division and hopefully getting home-field advantage in the playoffs and talking about those things. So it is a different year, as far as that's concerned. But when you really look at it, you've got to win every game anyway. Our backs are a little bit more against the wall. It's just a new year. Every year in the NFL's different.
Q: Growing up, what were your thoughts about the Raiders?CP:
Playing at the Coliseum where the Raiders used to play in Los Angeles, you hear a lot about them. There are a lot of pictures on the wall. You hear a lot about their fans and different things. I think when I was coming out, they were playing in the Super Bowl and Rich Gannon was their quarterback. I thought they were a good team. I had the usual stereotypes that everybody has about the Raiders -- a nasty football team, an aggressive football team, and nasty fans. But like I said, we can't take these guys lightly because they're better than what their record says.
Q: Did you root for the Raiders?CP:
No. They're up in northern California. Not that I was rooting for the Chargers, who were a lot closer. But I never really was much of a Raiders fan.
Q: As it gets colder and field conditions become worse, does Rudi Johnson's role become more important?CP:
I don't think so. Field conditions at home are always the same, whether it's 85 degrees outside or 60, 40, 20, whatever it may be. Whether it's wet or not, it really doesn't matter playing on turf. And the colder it gets, it really doesn't matter to us as an offense because we can still throw the ball no matter how hot or how cold it is. So I don't think his importance changes, but he's one of the most important players we have in this offense and on this team. We rely on him a lot. We expect a lot out of him, and that doesn't change from early September to late January.
Q: Do you prefer having your back against the wall as opposed to resting guys like you did against the Chiefs last season?CP:
I don't think so either way. Coach Lewis always says every game's a big game, and he's right. Whether you're leading the division or at the middle of the pack in the division and fighting for a playoff spot, every game's big, and especially when you get to this time of the year. Even if you're in the same situation we were in last year where we pretty much had the thing wrapped up and we didn't really need to win that last game, I think you're better off being in a position where you're rolling at the end of the year and you don't come off two losses like we did to Buffalo and Kansas City. I'd like to go into the playoffs with a win against Pittsburgh at home and a win at Denver and have that momentum and that confidence just rolling through the playoffs.
Q: Going back to that game against Buffalo last year, does this seem like an older team than it was a year ago?CP:
Not so much. Every year, you get new guys in, and you get guys out. We did add a little bit of leadership and some veteran guys like Sam Adams and Dexter Jackson, but you get your rookie class coming in. You get a couple of young free agents and a couple of older free agents. But the majority of the guys have been here, been through what we went through last year and understand how important those games at the end of the year are. So, I don't know. It seems to me like we're the same guys, year-in and year-out.
Q: Do you think this team's maturity level is better this year to make a run in the playoffs?CP:
I think so. I think when your quarterback has more experience, like I have another year beneath my belt, we have another year of experience playing together offensively. We've got a couple of new guys defensively, and like I say, we got some veterans, some older guys around here. Looking back, Chris Henry was a rookie last year. He's got a lot of experience. Some of the younger guys on defense have experience going through this stretch at the end of the year, when you've played 10-11-12-13 games and you're tired. Your body's worn down and you're banged up and bruised. You understand how to practice late in the year. You understand how to get ready for games. You understand how to take care of your body. So with the guys that were here last year and went through this late stretch at the end of the year, those guys are definitely more experienced and understand how to handle the situation a little bit better.
Q: How much of going downfield more in the last four games is the result of a philosophy shift and how much is the result of a change in game plans?CP:
I'm up for going downfield at any point in a game during the season. Some of it is opportunity. We've had more opportunity to throw the ball over people's heads. Some of it is changing our game plans a little bit. But like I said, I'd like to go down the field every single time and throw the ball over people's heads every play, but you can't do that.
Q: It's not just throwing the ball over people's heads, it's also the 15-yard pass down the middle, the kind of throw you need to step into:CP:
Yeah, I feel more and more comfortable every game I play. I feel more confident. I'm stepping into throws and moving around, and I'm getting healthier as the season goes, so you can attribute a little bit to that. But mainly, it's opportunity. Offensively, you don't want to try to force the ball down people's throats. You don't want to try to force the ball into certain holes. You want to do a good job taking advantage of what the defense gives you. We just offensively have had more opportunities to throw the ball downfield.
Q: How are you coping with the USC loss?CP:
It was tough. We had a long weekend off, so I had a chance to get over it. I'm not worried. We get another chance to beat up on a different Big 10 team. We'll handle Michigan.
Q: What would have happened if USC played Ohio State?CP:
It would have been a great game, but I know my guys would have pulled that off.