Head Coach Robert Saleh, 10.4
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Rich Cimini, ESPN: Robert, can you go down injury wise, from the game, and specifically, with Elijah (Moore) and Jeff Smith?
Yeah. Jeff Smith is still going through the protocol. Elijah Moore looks like he’s coming out of it. So, they’re both going to be day-to-day. Same thing with (Brandin) Echols, and then those are the biggest concerns. Everyone else is looking good for Sunday.
Brian Costello, New York Post: Robert, what’s the challenge of this week like? You guys are creatures of havoc, coaches and players, with your schedules and obviously, this is going to be an unusual week with the travel.
It’s a tricky week but fortunately, I’ve been a part of this game three times when I was in Jacksonville when we went three consecutive years. In my three years, we tried it once leaving right after our Sunday game, we tried it once leaving on a Monday and then we left on a Thursday. So, we have a really good, we feel like we have a really good plan, travel plan, going in. So, to keep it as normal as possible for our guys and just a matter of getting in there, getting acclimated to the time change and playing on Sunday.
Brian Costello, New York Post: Robert, what’s been the key for this defensive line and pass rush in general. I think when we were in Green Bay and Carl (Lawson) went down, and all of us were kind of like the pass rush might not be there. What’s been the key for them rushing like they have?
For one, I’d like to talk about Aaron Whitecotton. He’s our defensive line coach. I think he does a phenomenal job with regards to technique and helping these guys get ready to play ball. But at the same time, the veteran leadership in that group and the mindset and the drive and all that has been up there. They’re just about as good as anybody in football in terms of how cool that room is built. But we talk about it all the time with rush and coverage. We’ve got a young secondary back there who is doing everything they can to buy the d-line a hitch on the quarterback and if that quarterback hitches, our d-line is taking a lot of pride in making sure that he gets hit. So, it’s really a team game and if our back end wasn’t covering the way they were, our d-line, doesn’t matter how good they are, they never get home. So, I think it’s a significant compliment of rushing coverage and obviously the mindset of the d-line to get home and make them pay as quickly as they can.
(follow up) After Carl went down, I remember a few other guys talking about he said to them, “The standard doesn’t change,” and kind of spoke to them. Did you feel them kind of galvanize there that, I think everyone expected such a big year from Carl that those guys knew then, okay, everyone needs to step it up?
I don’t know if everyone felt the need to step up more than they were, I think those guys always try to bring their best every single day and they’ve really taken ownership. I’m very vocal, and our defense is very vocal, our defense is very vocal, (Jeff) Ulbrich’s very vocal, with the fact that we win or lose based on our d-line on that side of the ball. They’re the heartbeat of that side of the ball and they take ownership in that. Obviously, it’s still a team game and the young guys in the back end are doing a phenomenal job giving them the time to get home, but that d-line takes pride in what they represent for this team and they’re a bunch of dogs and they play their butts off and it shows every Sunday.
Dennis Waszak, AP: Robert, when you mentioned the guys in the back end, and I think I asked you this a couple weeks ago about those young guys that you talked up during camp, that maybe outside the facility, didn’t really know their names and that kind of thing. How have they played? Yesterday, it seemed that for the most part, they all played pretty well in that secondary.
They’re getting better every day, that’s the best part about it. They’re going to continue to get challenged. Our system, I guess, we get very, very aggressive and they’re out on an island. So, you saw yesterday a lot of one-on-one opportunities on deep and at the same time, it’s our job as coaches to make sure we kind of disguise that, but they’re going to get tested. There’s going to be times where they get caught and they’ve got to go win those one-on-one battles. It’s like we’ve talked about all along, this game of football is about winning one-on-ones and third down and two-minute, at all levels of football, whether you’re offense or defense, and those guys right now are doing a really nice job in those situations.
Rich Cimini, ESPN: With regards to Zach (Wilson), we tend to focus on the splash plays, but from a coaching perspective watching it again today or last night, what are some of the maybe the subtle nuance things that you saw in his game that were improved over last week?
So, we say this thing about boring football and we’re not looking for “Charlie Checkdown,” that’s for sure, right? We still want him to be aggressive like we said, but we also want him to be smart with the ball and what gets lost in the excitement of the explosive plays that he generated was at 14, I think it was 14 of his 18 completions were (thrown) for seven yards or less. He didn’t get hit, there were balls getting in and out of his hands, he had, I don’t have a QB rating in front of me or anything, but I know he was very efficient, and he can play that style of ball. And there was even more to be had in those situations, as we’re all aware that third down to close out the game, the shallow cross to (Ryan) Griff(in) to close out the game, there are opportunities for even more, which he’ll get better at. But at the same time, everyone saw the creativity and the off-schedule stuff that is getting all the attention, but that represented four of his completions. He’s in really good head space, his mindsets in the right spot in terms of he knows he can be even better and those are things he’ll continue to grow on.
Brian Costello, New York Post: Robert, I asked you about screen plays a few weeks ago and you said it’s going to be a constant and it was yesterday, too. What did you tell your defense about defending the screens after yesterday’s game?
There was a, I’ll try to explain this the right way, so on a couple occasions you really have to trigger, especially if you’re one of the underneath defenders. You’re sitting in zone, you got a trigger, your d-line’s getting off the field. On one of them, it felt like we were in a really good position. Two of them didn’t work out the way we wanted, but I do know that as the game went on, I believe Quincy (Williams) had a big shot on a screen that resulted in a TFL, I think it was on a tight end, I’m forgetting. It’s always going to be a constant occurrence, Brian. You’re going to be able to ask me this question every single week. Now, we don’t want to give up explosives in the screen game, that third-and-21 that they were able to get out of was inexcusable, I don’t care what type of defense you are. We got to be better in those situations, for sure. Those are going to be things that we’re always talking about and we’ll continue to work on. We’ll always preach but they’re about efforts, setting edges, d-line getting out of the stack and it’s 11 people hunting to the ball, taking proper angles, being disciplined, turning things back so people in pursuit can catch up. So, when you really dive into those screen plays, you’ll see guys pressing to try to make a play, rather than do your job and make sure that you didn’t get to the person who needs to make the play because if one person slips the gap, it slips out and now it’s too far away. So, it’s a combination of just do your job, run your tail off to the ball and the screen will take care of itself. We’ll get better at it as the year goes on, but it’s always going to be something that we get, especially with our d-line hunting the way it is and people see it on tape, the better your pass rush, the more screens your’re going to see, that’s just going to be forever and a day.
Connor Hughes, The Athletic: Robert, is there a player on offense or defense that maybe we haven’t talked about or isn’t maybe getting as much attention because of statistics or anything like that that has stood out to you? Whether it was through training camp or now the first month of the season.
I’m not sure, I’m trying to think. I’m not sure who you guys are pumping up, I’ll be honest. (laughter) I’m trying to think if there’s an unsung hero on offense, defense. It’s collective, I think they’re all taking turns. You get recognized in wins, obviously everyone’s going to, to the victor goes the spoils, right? And so, a lot of guys are being recognize for all their work. I think Bryce Huff has done a phenomenal job coming in for Carl Lawson. Obviously, I can go through the entire d-line, they’re all doing fantastic. I think Quincy Williams, I think Joe Douglas did a great job picking him up off waivers. And you see Quincy’s been getting better every week. He still has a lot of stuff to get better at, but you saw the splash plays and the explosiveness and the speed and length that fits our defense. You see the young corners playing the level they are, and then on the flip side, Corey (Davis) had a bad string of a few quarters and he came to life there in the second half and was just absolutely dominant. The backs, Michael Carter, had his first touchdown. And then the o-line, I thought the o-line protected their tails off yesterday. I think the quarterback took one sack, and just overall I though the entire group just fought their tails off. There’s a lot of people to talk about. (Thomas Morstead) stepping in for our injured punter (Braden Mann). (Morstead) has been doing a phenomenal job. So, there’s a lot of praise to go around, Connor.
Rich Cimini, ESPN: Robert, on the third-and-one play, the one Zach took the loss at the goal line. What exactly was the play call? Because it didn’t look like he had many options there, I think there might’ve been only one receiver on that side of the field, so how was that drawn up?
That was a run/pass option. You’re selling hard on the power, see if you can capture the edge, if you capture the edge, run. But there’s supposed to be someone running a corner route right there, the nearside tight end. You could see him coming in late, when you guys get the all-22, he kind of got caught up in the pile and he couldn’t get out. Zach thought he could turn the corner, probably should have just thrown it away and given us a chance on fourth-and-goal from the one. Glad it worked out the way it did, it worked out pretty good.
Brian Costello, New York Post: Robert, I know you try to stay steady, win, lose, no matter what happens. Is there a different feeling in the building today?
Yeah, it’s always better to win, right? Because it’s easier to have conversations, people aren’t as sensitive to hard conversations. There’s an old saying that you go harder when you win, but the reality is, you just do it the same. You treat both imposters the same, whether you win or you lose. It’s a rollercoaster of football. You lose, it’s the apocalypse. It’s the end of the world, it’s Armageddon. You win and everyone wants to shower you with champagne and stuff. You just got to stay in the moment and understand that there’s ways to get better. There are things that you can learn off of. It’s easier to have a conversation with a young man who’s less sensitive in victory, but in loss, everyone’s a little more sensitive, everyone’s a little bit more defensive. So, the conversations are easier, but their just as important.
Dennis Waszak, Associated Press: Did it mean anything for you to get your first win and did you hear from a lot of people in your life about it?
I was texting with my cousin last night, and he said, “You know, I didn’t want to bother you the last few weeks and just know we’re there cheering for you.” And I said, ‘Nobody wants to text the loser, don’t kid yourself.’ (joking) It’s cool, I just remember 2017 with Kyle (Shanahan) and we were sitting there 0-9 and we were like, ‘Oh my God.’ Just so far into the season and so, he gave me a cool text this morning and said, “Hey, at least you didn’t have to wait until as long as we did.” Glad it’s over and now we can just get to work.
Al Iannazzone, Newsday: Robert, we’ve talked about C.J. (Mosley) and his impact, but now that he’s gotten accustom playing differently than what he’s used to, what have you seen in terms of his growth and what he’s been able to do for you guys?
You guys know me, with my infatuation for the man, I think he’s phenomenal. So, I’ll give you guys one. He did something we’ve never had a linebacker do in our system. It was a sack, and if you listen to the TV copy and you guys see him, he demonstrative and it looks like he’s making a play call, like he’s changing the defense, which he is, which we don’t do. Once a call goes in and we’re rolling. He saw something that he didn’t like, he got us into another defense, and the entire sideline, all of us coaches were like, “Rutey (Mike Rutenberg), what is he doing?” Just yelling at the linebacker coach. And he got us into the perfect play call, and we got a sack, because the quarterback hitched. And I was like, ‘Well, that’s why he’s an All-Pro.’ So, good job, C.J. He was pumped and proud of that moment, and deservedly so. He studies a lot of tape and he knew exactly what we needed to be in, he fixed the call, and we got off the field on the third down.
Connor Hughes, The Athletic: Will he have more freedom to do that in the future, now, Robert?
I don’t about that one. Because there’s a rhyme or reason for why we call those. I mean we were on the field for so many plays, I think we were on our 15th or 17th, usually you get 12-15 third downs, we were approaching 20, and by then that’s where I talk about in the first quarter, it’s the game plan, the second quarter is feeling each other out, the third quarter is the adjustments, the fourth quarter everything’s on the table, it’s over. And it’s who’s going to flinch first? Who’s going to execute at the highest level and who’s going to flinch? Because there’s no more secrets and it happened in the fourth quarter, and there’s no more secrets. The players know the checks, they know all the verbiage, they know exactly what’s happening, and he made an executive decision, and I’m glad he did.
Rich Cimini, ESPN: What does it say about his mindset, Robert? Because he knows he’s not supposed to change it, but he goes ahead and do it anyway. It must’ve been a strong conviction that he had. How did that conversation go with him afterward?
There’s not much conversation there. It goes back, he got to taste a little bit of what coaching is. He made a check, it worked, you’re a genius. If it wouldn’t’ve worked, we wouldn’t be talking about this, I wouldn’t tell you guys about it, but it would’ve been one of those, ‘Hey dude, you can’t do that.’ But it worked. It shows that he is like a cheat code, his mind plays at a different level, he’s playing a different game. And he knew exactly what we needed to get into, and he made the right call.