HEAD COACH BILL O’BRIEN
When you turned around your run defense, what players have stood out against the run?
“There’s a lot that goes into that. I mean I don’t know. It’d be hard to pick out individual players. I just think that the coaches and players worked hard at it. Worked hard to improve it and it’s been good. Our run defense, just like our pass defense, it’s really predicated on really good team defense if that makes sense. Outside backers setting the edge. Inside guys building a wall. Linebackers making a tackle. So it’d be hard for me to just say one or two players have improved. I think a lot of guys have done a good job and it’s good team defense.”
How much does playing smarter, harder and with more control have to do with improved play against the run?
“One thing that we’ve talked to our players about is just a simple phrase - this is on all three phases. We talk to them about ‘do simple better.’ Like just do your job better. Keep it, keep your eye on the target and understand that, hey look, this is what I’m supposed to do to on this play and I’m going to execute it at the highest level and I think defensively those guys have really done a nice job of that.”
Can you talk about ILB Benardrick McKinney and the improvements he has made all-around in terms of pass coverage and also being a natural pass-rusher?
“He’s a very instinctive player, so I think that it was only a matter of time before he was going to be playing at a high level. Going all the way back to last year. I remember the very first game he played here – a regular season game. I mean he was almost, he was like out of breath, you know, everything was happening so fast but he calmed down and he got used to the game very quickly and he’s really playing at a great level. As it relates to the different things that he does, pass defense he’s instinctive. He’s got length. He understands what he’s seen during the week. His preparation has been good and then he’s been a good blitzer for us. He’s been a guy that obviously with his numbers from that spot, he’s done a good job of rushing the passer and on the edge, inside and I think it’s, you know, I give those coaches a lot of credit. Mike (Vrabel) has done a good job with him and he’s playing really well.”
What do you like about what CB A.J. Bouye has done for you this season?
“I mean I’m not sure where to start on that one. From the time we got here, he’s one of the more improved players that we’ve had. I mean he works very hard on his own. He’s worked hard to change his body. He’s worked hard to become quicker. He’s worked hard to become smarter at the game. He’s improved his ball skills. He’s a guy that has managed to, for the most part, stay healthy. He’s done a great job in the offseason coming back here in shape, being ready to go and he’s playing with a lot of confidence and I think that’s one of the keys out there at that position. You look at Johnathan Joseph. When you’re playing with confidence, you’re going to have a chance to be pretty good and he’s playing with a lot of confidence.”
Can you give us an explanation on why you have incorporated the tight ends so much this season and how much it has to do with the quarterback?
“I think we’ve always tried to incorporate the tight ends. I give the tight ends themselves in the passing game a lot of credit. They worked very hard. John (Perry) has done a great job with those guys - coaching them. They’ve worked extremely hard to get better at their route running whether it’s man or zone. There’s a lot that goes in to route running at that position. That position, other than quarterback, is probably the most difficult position to play in our offense because you’re involved in so many different areas of the offense. Run-blocking, route running, pass blocking, hots (reads) and protection. Sometimes if they blitz, they overload blitz, you’re the hot, you know, there’s so many things that you’re involved in and those guys have really improved and it’s really good to see the types of years, especially C.J. (Fiedorowicz) and Ryan (Griffin), the type of years that they’ve had.”
Do some of the things you have said about route running and what the tight ends have done apply to WR Will Fuller V? Is he a better player that knows more now?
“Yeah I think so. I mean he was more productive probably earlier in the season. I think he’s dealt with some injuries over the second half of the season and I think a lot of these rookies learn in their rookie year how important the offseason is going to be for them. You come into your rookie year and all you’ve been doing is getting ready for a modeling job, you know, the combine and running 40-yard dashes and you’re not really getting ready to play football and so I think that a guy like Will Fuller will learn, he’s a very, very smart guy, that he’s got to have a great offseason. He’s got a chance to go out there and be stronger and all those things and we’re not there yet obviously, but I think that his injury has held him back a little bit from the production. As far as route-running, he’s one of our better route-runners. He’s a very good route runner. He’s smart. He’s instinctive. He’s in the right spot. We do a lot of different things with him and (DeAndre) Hopkins and I think that obviously Will and Hopkins together, they have bright futures.”
Was there a point in time where you and the defensive coaches thought NT D.J. Reader can do some good things for the Texans this year?
“I think it was early on. I don’t think he was playing as much. The guy was showing up to practice every day. He was very difficult to block in practice especially early on when we were doing a lot of ones against ones. It was just hard to move him. I remember a particular practice we were working a double team drill and we couldn’t budge the guy and it was soon thereafter that we started playing him more and I think he’s another young player that’s really stepped up and played well and needs to continue because, you know, he not only obviously plays the run well, but I think he can give us some pass-rush from inside. He’s that type of player. He’s done a good job this year.”
You mentioned the option look that Cincinnati gave you is an example of some of your staffers doing a great job. Can you walk us through the process of where it goes from there, looking at tape to out on the field and the players executing?
“Great question. I mean it’s a long process. The quality control guys, when we start at the beginning of the week on let’s just say Tennessee, they know more about Tennessee than we do as the position coaches and head coach because they’re a week ahead and so they’ve put together things for me and the coaches. I’ll just talk about myself. I’ll let Romeo (Crennel) and George (Godsey) talk about theirs if you want to ask them, but for me they put together different keys to the game whether it’s situationally or different players that they think we need to stop, pay real close attention to and then from there the information goes to the assistant coaches and everything goes into that. How do you draw the card to get the right look? Those guys take the scout teams out early and they walk through the plays that they’re going to run against the offense, defense and the special teams. That’s huge because you have to get a good look from your scout team during the season because you don’t have – it’s not like college where you run 150 plays in practice. We’ll have at the most 30-35 reps in practice, so every rep has to be basically exact. We’ve got to get the right look and that’s where the credit goes there is to our quality control guys that do an excellent job with all that information and being able to go out there on the practice field and do it. Hopefully that leads to winning on Sundays.”
How do you determine which one of your quality control guys scouts whom when you have multiple teams to scout?
“Yeah, that’s tough. I would say that they do more than one. We don’t really assign one team. It’s been a long week for those guys. They’ve been in here late working. They’ve worked on the potential opponents. We try to look at it as maybe two out of the three are more likely that we would play and we’ll work a lot on those two but we’ll work on all three potential opponents and those guys have been working real hard this week to do that.”
Going back to the tight ends, was it a matter of TE Ryan Griffin staying healthy after last season and when did you see that TE C.J. Fiedorowicz could have a season like he has?
“Health is big with Griff. If Griff can be healthy, he’s a very productive player. He’s shown that. He’s a guy that has a lot of range. He’s very athletic. He’s a really hard worker in practice and that’s been the key. When he’s been able to be out there, he’s improved and that’s what you see because he’s been out there quite a bit this year in practice. C.J., we had a real good idea about C.J. We targeted him when we all decided to draft him three years ago because we knew he was a really good blocker. We liked where he came from. Iowa with Kirk (Ferentz). We knew that maybe he was a little bit inexperienced in the passing game, you know Iowa runs the ball a lot. They’re not throwing to their tight ends every snap. We knew that that was going to be a work in progress and the kid has worked very, very hard to get better at that and he’s got really good hands. He’s got big hands, big catch radius. He’s a reliable pass-catcher. We’re shocked when he drops one. We think that he can catch anything that’s in his vicinity and, for the most part, he’s done that this year.”
How much better can TE C.J. Fiedorowicz get?
“Look, I think every player can improve, every coach can improve, so you know me on that. I really think there’s a lot of different things C.J. can do and that he will do to try to improve but I think now where he’s at he can probably pick out two or three things to work at. Maybe some of it’s in the weight room. Something to improve this area of his game. It might not all be out on the field, but I’m sure he’ll figure out a couple things to try to improve on.”
Tennessee wants to win really badly and everything is predicated on the run. What do you think about their running game and what they’ve been able to do?
“It’s tough. We want to win real bad too. I mean, we both want to win and I think it’s going to be a very, very physical game. Their running game, you know, it’s amazing to me how they get it all practiced as much as they do. It’s a credit to Mike Mularkey and Terry Robiskie and their staff. I mean their line coach. They do a great job because they have probably between 15 to 20 different schemes out of their big packages, their sub-packages. It’s very difficult to prepare for. It’s hard to key in on one or two things because they keep it moving on you. It’s not like you can really locate a bunch of tendencies so it’s tough. It’s smash-mouth football and it’s going to be a very physical football game.”
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR ROMEO CRENNEL
As a coordinator, have you ever had a defense that finished ranked No. 1?
“Not that I can recall. I’ve been a part of some good defenses, but I would have to go back and look at all the stats to know for sure.”
What would it mean to you to have a defense that finished ranked No. 1?
“Well, it would mean that the players have picked up on the system. They give good effort. They learn the game plan. They execute the game plan. And, that would be special. I don’t know if this has been done here before or not, but if we can finish No. 1 and we are the ones in the history of the franchise that can get it done, that would be pretty special.”
It hasn’t been done here.
Over the last eight games, you have given up 68 yards in rushing and two rushing touchdowns. Is it fun as a coach to go up against a team that is old-fashioned football that runs as much as they do?
“If you can stop them, it is. When your guys are able to execute the game plan and have success, then that’s when it’s the most fun. They have made a commitment to running the football and like you said, the last time it was a 130-something yards. We are going to have to do a lot better than we did the last time against them and I’m sure that they will feel like that they will be able to run since they did in the last time. We are going to have to go out there and see what we can get done. Hopefully, we can continue on what we have been doing lately and then I think that’ll help us trying to win the game.”
How much pride do you take in the defense being ranked No. 1 despite all the injuries you have had, no DE J.J. Watt, just everything you have had to deal with throughout the season?
“I’m not a stat guy. The only stat that is really important is the won-loss stat and making the playoffs. That’s really important. Now, if you are No. 1 and don’t make the playoffs, what good does it do you? I know that stats, some portion of the stats, can help your team. If you can get off the field on third down; if you can stop the run; if you can pressure the quarterback – things like that are important. You talk to the guys about trying to do those things. I’ve mentioned it once that we are the No. 1 unit in the NFL right now. When I mentioned it, I mentioned it in reference to an 86-yard touchdown, you know, a 5-yard pass that turned into an 86-yard touchdown. That shouldn’t happen to a No. 1 defense. So, that’s the only time that I’ve ever mentioned it. I don’t know what they think about it because I’ve never asked them about it. We are just preparing to try and win a game. That’s the way that I see it and that’s the way I look at it.”
Do you take a little bit extra pride that you have been able to do this without DE J.J. Watt as well as all the injuries that you guys have had to deal with this year?
“I tell you, they don’t care. It’s did you win or did you lose? They don’t put an asterisk beside it that says ‘Watt didn’t play this game’ or ‘Watt didn’t play that game’ or ‘They had three injuries this game.’ They don’t do that. They say did you win or did you lose? If you win, you give yourself a chance to win the division and go to the playoffs. That’s been our goal all year is to try and win the division and make it to the playoffs and see what we can do there.”
You said the Titans made a commitment to run. Did you make a commitment to stop the run after that Denver game?
“Well sure, we had to. I made a commitment all year to stop the run, just didn’t do it very well early on. As we talked in here, I think that the key is understanding the system better, they understand their responsibilities within the scheme; they are more cognizant about the gap responsibilities. We have been tackling better than we did early on. All of those things have helped us stop the run.”
How did you turn around the run defense so fast?
“It’s a thin line in this business. It’s a thin line between good and bad. Sometimes if one guy makes a mistake, it impacts the unit because if the guy hits the right hole, he’s going to gain yards. Sometimes a guy makes a mistake and other guys can cover it up. If they cover it up, then a run might be a three-yard gain rather than a 15-yard gain. I think all of those things have happened during the course of this year. Early on because we had new people, they didn’t know the system, didn’t know exactly where they fit – it hurt us but now we have gotten better, technique is better, knowledge of responsibilities are better and we are playing better.”
With already being locked into playoff position, do you have to guard against any kind of letdown or anything on the defensive end?
“Well, I hope not, but human nature says sometimes you might want to relax, but we can’t let them relax. We’ve been on them about winning the game, preparing hard, doing what you have to do to win so that we can have a 10-win season so that we can be undefeated in the division and all of those things. Just remind them of the importance of the game and that it counts and means something.”
Could you talk about S Quintin Demps’ performance and what he means to your defense?
“He’s an important piece in the unit because the safety position, you have to make adjustments, you have to communicate, get everybody on the same page. Quintin (Demps) has been able to do that for us. Not only that, he’s been a solid tackler from his position. I think that has made him a more important piece to the puzzle. He relates well to the guys on the unit. They appreciate him for what he brings to the table and he’s been good for us this year.”
Does S Quintin Demps have time do what he’s supposed to do and help the younger players in the backfield?
“He’s been able to. I don’t think he’s been overburden with trying to help them come along. I think those other guys have tried to work to make his job easier so that they don’t have to count on him as much because if they know what to do, then it’s just ‘OK’ or ‘We check marked this adjustment’ and ‘We check marked that adjustment.’ He doesn’t have to tell people ‘You take that guy because I’m here’ or ‘You go to this part of the field.’ He doesn’t have to do as much of that.”
Are S Quintin Demps’ interceptions him being in the right place at the right time or does he put himself in those situations?
“Generally, if you’re in the right spot or put yourself close to the right spot, you are doing what you are supposed to do. Then sometimes the ball is going to come to you just like the interception the other day. It got tipped and he was there. He was able to make the play. Anytime we can intercept it or get a turnover, that’s good for us. I’m telling you the truth, whether he’s in the right spot or not, I appreciate the turnover and if he’s not in the right spot, then we correct him afterwards.”
You started 20 different players on defense and 14 lineup combinations. You’ve played without DE J.J. Watt and CB Kevin Johnson. What does it say about the guys you put out on the field and the coaches that you are able to be No. 1 despite all of that?
“I think the coaches are a very good group of coaches. They are conscientious, they are hardworking. They relate well to the players and they get their players to play. Likewise, the players listen and pay attention and then try to do what they have been coached to do. As a result of it, when we put a guy in there, I tell them all the time, ‘When you go into the game, you are a starter and you are expected to know what to do, expected to perform like a starter because the whole unit depends on it.’ So, those guys have taken that to heart and when they go in, they perform. They do the best they can and so far it’s been pretty good for us.”
T DUANE BROWN
The offensive line struggled some against Cincinnati. How can you clean that up and what can you do to fix any issues going forward?
“Being more consistent in the run game. We’ve been pretty good this year, but we took a step back in our run game that week. And just winning our individual battles in pass protection, giving Tom (Savage) more time to operate back there. A combination of those two. It just wasn’t the best night or best outing. But a lot to build from heading into this week.”
Is it important to this team to win 10 games since it’s only happened two times in franchise history?
“We don’t really think about what’s happened in the past. We’re just focused on what we can accomplish this year. A 10-win season is hard to come by, it’s hard to accomplish, especially considering everything we went through this year, the ups and downs, the adversity we’ve faced. To be able to get 10 wins and to be able to finish the season undefeated in our division, it means a lot. We’re aiming to do that.”
How did QB Tom Savage handle the pressure he was facing vs. the Bengals?
“Very even-keeled. Got up whenever he got hit. Didn’t complain. Got back in the huddle. That’s just a part of what makes him a good quarterback and a good teammate. Just kind of the attitude he has every play. Never gets too high, never gets too low. So we’re just trying to, up front, give him time to operate. We know he can do some great things when he has that.”
How does that attitude from QB Tom Savage translate in pressure moments?
“Backs against the wall and – I was talking to somebody about that – we have to channel the energy on all our drives. When you have your back against the wall, you know you have to have a big drive. You have to go down and answer a touchdown or go take the lead. We did that. We were very good in our execution, picking up blocks, guys making plays. We have to find a way to channel that when we’re not in those situations. When we start the game or even when we’re ahead, being able to put our foot on the pedal and keep going. Being able to execute and fire on all cylinders consistently throughout the game.”
WR DEANDRE HOPKINS
T Duane Brown talked about how the offense looked so good on the touchdown drive you had to have against Cincinnati. How can a little bit better focus help you do that more often?
“Really just going out there and executing, executing everything to perfection. There’s a lot of things other teams do that sometimes you don’t practice for. But we have a lot of smart guys on this offense that can pick it up. Just going out and executing better. We feel good about our game plan going into every game, but it’s on us as players.”
How did QB Tom Savage handle getting knocked around a little bit and how did that impress you?
“I run my route, so I really don’t see what’s going on when he’s under pressure and things like that until after it happens. But watching film, a lot of stuff, some things he can’t control. I’m not really in the quarterback room to speak on that too heavily.”
How did he handle it in the huddle as the Bengals were getting after him? He seemed to stay even-keeled.
“Oh, yeah. That’s one thing about him that you have to love. He’s always even-keeled throughout. Even when he was getting sacked he would come back to the sideline he was the same guy: ‘Let’s go out and do better next drive.’ I didn’t see him get frustrated, and I don’t think anybody saw him get frustrated during that.”
How much do you like the approach that the starters are playing and you guys are going to Tennessee to win?
“This is big, a big game for us. This is a division game. Even though we already made it to the playoffs, we still want to show our dominance in this division. To go undefeated in this division for two years I think – something like that – that’s special.”
How is your communication with QB Tom Savage?
“It’s been good. I’ve been knowing Tom since he got here. Even when he wasn’t out there on the field he was still my buddy, still talking, still talking about football and things in general. Nothing’s changed.”
Even though he’s starting and playing now, is QB Tom Savage still the same guy as when he got here?
“Yeah, yeah. Always. That’s what you got to love about Tom. He has a bit of sarcasm to him. A lot of people wouldn’t think he does.”