HEAD COACH BILL O'BRIEN
How has the secondary stayed together and played well even though so many different guys have missed a game or two this year?
“Well, I think it’s a credit to those players, the guys that have stepped up, whether it’s Robert Nelson or last week, Denzel (Rice) coming in there and doing a good job. It’s a credit to the coaching. John Butler does a real good job with those guys, so I think it’s a combination and most of the credit should go to those players.”
OLB Whitney Mercilus has shown a knack this year for jumping on fumbles and being on the spot. What is it about his awareness that has helped him do that?
“He’s definitely one of those guys that has a knack for getting to the football, whether it’s a strip-sack or recovering the fumble on Sunday after (Jadeveon) Clowney’s strip-sack. That was a great fumble recovery. That ball was loose on the ground. Whitney just has a knack for it. He does a good job of that. He plays very hard, he’s always around the ball because of how hard he plays, he’s got good instincts. He’s just got a knack for getting to the ball.”
What has been the key to CB A.J. Bouye becoming one of the best cornerbacks in the league this year?
“He’s one of the most improved players we’ve had over the three years that we’ve been here. He’s improved his skillset, he’s improved his body type, he’s gained more lean mass, if that makes sense. He’s done a great job of coming back here in great shape, he’s – knock on wood – he’s stayed healthy for the most part, and he’s just been into it. He’s been into it every day in practice, in games he’s playing with a lot of confidence. It’s a credit to A.J. that he’s been able to play that way this year.”
Do you see that confidence on film this year?
“No question. No question. When we first got here that was a little bit up and down with him, but since his first year here with us he’s played with a lot of confidence. This year he’s playing with a lot of confidence. He’s making plays for us, he understands our defense. He covers (DeAndre) Hopkins a lot in practice. I think that gives him confidence, to be able to go against one of the best and (Will) Fuller (V) and Hopkins. So, I think he’s playing at a good level.”
Does OLB Whitney Mercilus lead by example more than being a talker?
“Yeah, he’s definitely a leader by example but he definitely leads that way. He’s not a big talker. He’s got a great sense of humor, he has a great spirit, a great energy about him but I’d say the biggest thing about him is the work ethic. This is a guy that’s in the building very early every day. No matter what, if I say we’re starting tomorrow at 8:30 or starting tomorrow at 9:00 or whatever it is, he’s still here at 6 a.m. getting treatment, lifting, watching tape. He just loves the grind of it, and I think that in and of itself shows great leadership.”
A lot of your guys find time to do things in the community this time of year even though it’s the most important time of the season. Can you just reflect a little bit on what that says about who they are and what they mean to the city?
“Absolutely. I think these guys, you go right down the list of guys that do so many things for so many different causes in this city, especially during this time of the year. Thanksgiving, Christmas, our guys are out in the city whether it’s buying gifts for underprivileged kids or throwing Christmas parties for people that really need help around the city. I think that shows, again, what this organization is all about. It starts at the top with Bob (McNair). Bob really emphasizes that. You look at the McNairs themselves, they’ve done so much for this city and I think that trickles down to everybody, all the way through the organization and then obviously our players. They love Houston and they love the fans and they try to do everything they can for the city.”
What have you seen from Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey?
“He’s a very talented guy. Has got great length, he’s got very good instincts, good ball skills, tough guy, versatile player – can play corner, I think he can play safety. Does a lot of different things for them. Good tackler, competitive player, plays on special teams. He’s a dangerous player. You have to know where he is on every play and it’s a big challenge for us.”
How do you keep guys focused on the Jaguars given their record?
“Absolutely no problem at all keeping their heads focused. None at all. This is a big game. They watch the tape. Jacksonville’s been in a ton of close games. They’ve been in one-score games, they’ve been in field goal games. Just happens to be that they’ve ended up on the wrong side of it a number of times, but they’re a competitive team. They’ve got really good speed, a lot of good players, a really good young quarterback, an excellent coaching staff. I know some of those guys real well. Doug Marrone is one of my closest friends. So, this is going to be a big, big challenge for us. There’s absolutely no problem keeping our guys focused. They went out there today, had a good practice. Guys were flying around, very focused on the Jaguars.”
What do you most appreciate about NT Vince Wilfork at this stage of his career?
“There’s a lot of things I appreciate about Vince. Starting with football, to play that long, that position, that’s a very, very difficult thing to do when you think about it. You play on the interior of the line, you’re getting hit from all angles for 12, 13 years. That’s tough to do. He’s out there every day. He practices every day. We were in pads today, he’s out there in pads. Appreciate that about him. I appreciate the fact he came up big for us last week. A lot of times – when I’ve been around Vince he plays his best football in December, and that’s what we need from him. Appreciate him and his family and what they do for the city of Houston. Obviously what they did up in Boston and New England. I know the fans love them. They do a lot for all different types of people in cities that they’ve lived in and I think that says a lot about the Wilforks. Appreciate that about him, too.”
This is your third year with CB Kareem Jackson and CB Johnathan Joseph and their sixth year together overall. What do they bring to your defense?
“Those guys, they’re good pros, that’s number one. They show up every day. Right now J-Jo is working back from an injury, doing everything he can to be back out there and help us. They’re very competitive in practice. They both love to practice. Sometimes when I lighten the load in practice, those two guys always come up to me and they’re the ones that, ‘Hey, can we get something more going in practice here?’ You know, they love to practice, they’re good with their teammates, they’re great in the locker room, great senses of humor, they sit next to each other in the meetings, give me a hard time quite a bit. Just fun guys to coach and good football players. You know, both of them have different skillsets but they’re both really good football players. That’s what they are. J-Jo is a very talented guy that’s a really good cover guy, very good instincts, very smart guy. Kareem’s a very smart guy, very good tackler, does a lot of different things for us. He’s played safety, he’s played nickel, he’s played corner. Very versatile player. So, both of them bring a lot to the table.”
When you were coaching in college for all those years, did you ever hear of somebody from a team offering you information?
“Let me preface this first by just saying that I just heard about this this morning. We’re kind of into the Jacksonville game but I did hear something about it this morning. I never experienced anything like that in my life. I think that’s – I don’t know if they’re allegations. Whatever they are, I guess they’ve been proven, but I think it’s terrible. There’s something about this game that is sacred. One of the things that is sacred about this game is game planning and the challenge of going up against another team knowing that everybody’s doing it above board, and I think when you take the field you always assume, just like it’s always been in any game that I’ve coached, that everybody is above board. So, for that to happen at Wake Forest, I feel bad for Dave Clawson. I think he’s an excellent coach. That’s just a terrible thing.”
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR ROMEO CRENNEL
Can you talk about how you still rank high in pass defense even though you have had every guy in your secondary out for at least one game this season?
“Well you know what I think that says a little bit about the players in the room that they’re paying attention even though many of them are backups that when they get an opportunity to go in they’ve paid enough attention, got enough work in practice that they can go into the game and execute and so we’ve been able to get that done and so I think that, you know, that the guys and their coaches for one have done a good job of giving them the information, teaching them the technique. Then when they go into the game, that allows them to use the technique and that knowledge to make plays.”
Can you talk about how DE Jadeveon Clowney has been able to establish himself this year and what he can still get better at?
“Well you know what ever since he’s been relatively healthy, he’s been able to make plays and we knew that. That’s why he was drafted, because he has that kind of ability. In the first two years, he’s banged up a little bit and so we weren’t able to see it. Now that he’s been on the field, we’re able to see his explosion, his length, his effort to the football, his playmaking ability and that all helps. We’re glad that we have it.”
In terms of DE Jadeveon Clowney getting better, can his pass rush improve?
“Sure. I think probably he can do some things better. Maybe develop a few more counter moves, something like that, but he is able to win one-on-one on lineman a lot of times. Sometime if it’s not broke, you don’t necessarily need to fix it.”
NT Vince Wilfork has been in this league for a long time. What can you tell us about the Vince you see behind the scenes that we don’t have the opportunity to see and what do you appreciate about him?
“His experience. Vince is a pro. He’s been in the game a while. He know schemes. He knows players. He knows how to defeat some things, you know, blocks and what he needs to do to win at the line of scrimmage and then I think he’s able to impart some of that information to the young guys that we have on this team and so I think that he helps them in that way. Having been in the league for the amount of time he’s been in, he’s seen a lot. Different organizations even though he’s been primarily with one, but players talk to each other and they find out things and so I think that information that he’s gathered helps him and then can help some other guys as well. I think probably Vince’s first year when he came from Miami and they were a one-gap team and came to us and we were a two-gap team and he decided at that time he was going to be a two-gap player to get on the field. That let me know right then that he had the kind of focus that he needed to make it and he’s still playing.”
A lot of people judge DE Jadeveon Clowney based on sacks. Why is it traditionally the right defensive end in a 3-4 that cannot get a lot of sacks?
“Generally, that position, in our scheme a lot of times he is, we call it a grinder. He has to grind a little bit on the block. When you have to grind, you line up a little bit tighter to the guy so when a pass shows, then you got to get to the edge. One edge or the other. That fraction of a second that it takes to get to the edge can slow you down. Whereas some guys are able to rush when the ball is snapped and then that fraction of a second they don’t have to get on the edge. They’re already on the edge and if they got the kind of ability they need they can get to the quarterback and make a play. A lot of times in a 3-4, the end, the right end is the one who does generate some pressure but might not be able to get all the sacks whereas if he were just coming off air or coming off the edge or already lined up on the edge he could potentially get more sacks.”
You addressed NT Vince Wilfork the football player, but can you address him as a person, off the field?
“I haven’t been with Vince the amount of time that he’s been here. Early and late, you know, and I think that in between, what he’s learned in between in his life experiences has made him the person that he is. I think that he’s genuinely a good person. Has a family and he’s a good family guy and he tries to help in the community, do the things that try to help other people. I think that’s kind of who he is and has made him what he is.”
Do you like seeing it when your players understand the full picture on and off the field?
“Sure. We like to see it in everybody. Any person that wants to help somebody else, particularly if you’ve gotten a little bit more. Then if you can give back and help somebody else, generally you’re a pretty good person then.”
When you have so many backup playing, do you have to adjust your play-calling?
“You have to kind of look and see what your guys can do. We try to figure it out in practice a little bit. What kind of mistakes they make in practice? What kind of matchups do we anticipate over the course of the game? Then, you have to adjust your calls if you got a guy who you don’t think can hold up and then you try to help him by playing a different type of coverage or calling a different type of rush.”
CB A.J. BOUYE
What kind of matchup are the Jaguars and is it hard to focus when they are just 2-11?
“We don’t really worry about the record because we see them on film and they’re a very athletic team. Even though they have more losses, if you look at all the games, they’ve all been close and they all came down to the last drive in the fourth quarter. So it’s not like they’re just getting dominated or anything. Like I said, they have great players on both sides of the ball and on special teams.”
So do you just throw the record out and worry about what you see on the field?
“Yeah, because every game is important and they’re just as good as we are. That’s how we look at it. You have to always stay on your toes and be alert.”
What do you see from Jaguars QB Blake Bortles?
“He’s an athletic guy. He has a great arm. He has the turnovers, but at the same time, he also makes good throws that impress you. You just have to be on your toes and stay ready because he can make those same throws.”
Why do you think the Texans secondary has continued to play well despite injuries?
“Just sticking together and coaching. Just taking the coaching and paying attention in meetings. Just like we approach the game, that’s how we approach meetings, that’s how we approach practice. So we’re locked in first thing in the morning. That’s one thing about us, we’re always talking in the meeting room and we’re taking coaching. We carry it over to practice and then we practice like it’s a game. We take pride in all that. We just go out there and compete like we always do.”
How do you guys stay sharp with open-field tackling despite not a lot of contact at practices?
“Well, I know after practice I stay after probably about 15 minutes and I’ll work on tackling. Some guys have been working with me after, like Corey Moore, Dre (Hal) will come out there sometimes, Q.D. (Quintin Demps), so we have a couple guys, we do that. But at the end of the day, this offseason there was an emphasis on vice tackling and knowing where your help is at when you’re tackling instead of just shooting your shot. That’s one thing the coaches did, was gave us a cut-up and showed us what all we need to work on.”
Do you guys emphasize tackling despite the fact you will give up a few catches during a game?
“Yeah, definitely. We don’t want to give up catches, but at the end of the day, when we give them up, we have to minimize the damage, tackle and play the next play because you might give up a play this play but next one might be a turnover or a key play in the game, so you just have to always look for the next play when one happens and just stay in the moment.”
How great is it to be playing meaningful football is games at home in December?
“It’s very great. We got to start off fast, give our fans a show and just have them in it from the beginning. That’s maybe getting a three and out, making a play on special teams, making a play on offense, and just get our fans in it. Because once our fans get into it, it gets us going and that’s when we play even harder. We’re always going to play hard but when you have the fans behind you and things like that, it just gets you excited to make a play for them.”
What do you think is the key for these final games?
“Main thing, like coach said, is just finishing. There’s been plenty of teams who haven’t played well in December and November but they always finish strong at the end of the season and the momentum carries over into the playoffs. Anything can happen. It’s the NFL. Even though we don’t have key players that have been out from injury, next guy up and we’ve all shown that. We just have to finish strong. Start fast and finish strong, that’s it.”
Do you think the Colts victory is something you can build off of?
“Yeah, but we don’t try to dwell on it because at the end of the day we have Jacksonville, who is a great team and then we have Cincinnati who has weapons too. Tennessee, you see what they’re doing. Not all these games are going to be easy. We don’t go in there thinking that. We know what we have to do and the coaches emphasize that too.”
NT VINCE WILFORK
Can you take us through that last play of the Colts game when you pressured QB Andrew Luck. What did you know that allowed you to get where you got?
“We’ve moved forward, man. That’s in the past. I don’t want to talk about it. The game’s too important right now to go backwards. We can always go backwards. Not going to do that this week. This is a meaningful game for us right now.”
Can you talk about the team needing to focus this week despite the Jaguars being just 2-11?
“This team’s been in some very close games all year. It can easily be switched. They’ve played great football through the whole season. When you watch them on film, they play hard. It’s just little plays here and there that they get behind the eight ball. Sometimes it just gets too hard to get away from it. I think that’s where they’re at but we know for sure that we can’t look past this team. They’ve shown that they’re capable of playing with anybody. They’ve shown it all year. Especially being a division game, they know us and we know them. It’s going to be a good game, so we have to be ready to play this week.”
Do you think you can build off your win against the Colts last week?
“Most important thing right now is to win. In December, you have to play your best football. That’s the way it is in this league. If you can’t win in December, you’ll have a hard time in January if you get a chance to play in January. We understand that. It’s just a stepping stone of moving forward. That’s one of the things that we try to focus on this week, is just letting everything that happened already this season, it’s done. We learn from it and move on, the good and the bad. It starts this week against Jacksonville. We have to put everything we have into this game to walk away with a W playing at home in front of our crowd. The crowd will give us some juice. We need our juice. It’s going to be exciting playing at home, so we have to figure out how we can continue to win and play better. That’s what you have to do at this point of the season.”
How meaningful is it to you that you get to play important games in December?
“I mean, we all play this game for one reason. We put ourselves in a pretty good situation, pretty good spot to do what we want to do. We have to understand that. There’s a lot of teams that are fighting but this is football. This is NFL football. At this point in the season, there’s a lot of teams that are fighting for position, fighting for divisions, fighting for a spot to move forward. We’re just lucky and privileged to be where we’re at. All that being said, we just have to cherish what we have and understand where we’re at. Understand how important it is to win, no matter how you win, it’s to win. That’s the main thing, to find a way to get W’s at this point in the season to get to where you want to be. It’s just a starting point for us right now.”