Q: Your thoughts on covering Jeremy Shockey.
A: Jeremy? They have a lot of other quality receivers as well. Obviously Jeremy is a marquee player in the NFL. You have to be disguise every single coverage and every single blitz because you are going to have single guys trying to cover him when you pressure the quarterback. And that is the predicament that guys like him put you in. But we have to mix up our pressures and our coverages and make sure that we have him leveraged both on top and underneath as well. Because he can catch the ball way up the field and he is a very good intermediate route runner. And he obviously has fantastic hands and always has had great hands.
Q: A team like this that is constantly changing personnel groups and formations – nothing is the same from one play to the next. Is it more difficult to prepare for a team like this?
A: I’m not sure it is more difficult to prepare. But when you get into the game it is a pain in the neck, for sure. Because we try to match personnel like everybody does. The thing they do a good job of is they orchestrate their personnel changes. And it is usually multiple changes, not just a one for one swap, which is easier to get from the press box. But they do a good job of having multiple personnel changes on a down to down basis. And of course we usually try to match that. The rules allow you to match it. But it is still – when you get into the game and it is up tempo like they always do to start the games off, it is hard to simulate that in practice. We have done that and tried to do that but it is not going to be quite the same as them actually doing it to the speed that they are going to do it early in the game. But yeah, it is a pain in the neck for sure.
Q: Do they ever keep the same people on the field two plays in a row?
A: But even if they do that they are going to switch guys. They will keep the same personnel group we refer to it as, but they are going to put different people in it. So in your mind they are changing personnel but really they have just switched guys and kept the same personnel in name. So they do that as well. Which, you still have to wait for it to see what the final distribution of the people is to make your call. So they do a real clever job with that; a lot more than a lot of teams.
Q: How about their balance? They have been pass heavy in the past. Drew Brees got all of those records. Now they seem to really have a pretty good running game. Talk about their balance and their ability to run the ball.
A: That is the most difficult thing when you play a team that can and does do both. And in my mind they have done a fantastic job of running the ball. Their production is excellent and like you said, their run/pass percentage is so balanced, especially on first and second down. And they are even willing to run the ball on third down. And they have converted on third down runs. You get a lot of teams that won’t even try to do that. But I think, and our guys have already recognized that, I think they are an outstanding rushing offense. They are very clever in the run game and very, very productive. They have a good offensive line and they have several tailbacks that can play. Everybody recognizes Reggie Bush but their other tailbacks are excellent runners as well. So, yeah, they are a very legitimate rushing offense. And our players recognize that.
Q: What are some of the ways they use Reggie Bush?
A: The thing about it is in some of the groupings he really represents a wide receiver and he lines up on the perimeter. And so even though in your mind you are playing against maybe a two-back personnel group but they come out and line up like a three-wide receiver grouping. And at least his talent is like the majority of the wide receivers in the league and you have to account for him that way. So your decision is whether or not you are going to substitute and play nickel people. But then they can get in the two backs and run it or you can try to play base people and adjust a linebacker on the perimeter and maybe get matched up on him or a wide receiver on the perimeter. And that is why they do it. Matter of fact, when we introduced him to our players this week we said running back/wide receiver. Because in some of their groupings he just lines up as a wide receiver right out of the huddle. And they treat him just like a wide-out and run wide receiver routes with him. He can do all of that stuff.
Q: Does Brees have a favorite receiver or go-to guy or is it just who is open?
A: He does a good job of spreading it around. You look at their stats. Obviously Shockey and Bush have a lot of catches but between their other two and three wide receivers they all get the ball. It is not like you can say, ‘Hey, we are going to double this guy on every third down,’ because he doesn’t do that. He spreads the ball around on all of the downs. We look at those stats and try to get some tendencies to see who is he really going to on the different third-down situations. But he does a great job of spreading the ball around. And I think he, like most good quarterbacks, he takes what the coverage gives him. But no, there is not just one or two guys. He is too smart for that.
Q: All of those fumbles you had the other day, how often do you work on that?
A: We work on it all of the time. And really that is a credit to Tom because he insists that we do that. So we do that daily. We do turnover drills daily. And so it is just a point of emphasis. And you can’t really simulate like you do in a game because you are just going against each other and you are doing kind of mock strip and turnover drills. But it is just a point of emphasis and so our guys are thinking like that when they are in the games.
Q: When the other team’s top receiver comes in here and doesn’t do much, it is a big testament to Corey? I know it is everybody but is it a big testament to what Corey is doing?
A: Yes. And really the other corners have played well, too. Obviously we try to match up Corey to the best guy or away from the roll of the coverage regularly. And people know that when they watch film on us. But really our other corners are playing well, too. Terrell Thomas is having a hell of a year. Bruce Johnson stepped in and did a great job. We know Dock is going to play well and has played well. But yeah, Corey has had a solid year. The number of catches against wide receivers, as you know, has been really good for us. Our guys have done a great job of really – no wide receiver has really torn it up against us, an individual guy who had an eight or 10 catch game against us. So, yeah, Corey has done a great job but our other corners have played well, too. Pete Giunta has done a great job with those guys.