Could you talk about what T Duane Brown means not to just your passing game but the running game too?
“Let’s start with what he means to our team. He’s one of the definite leaders of this team. He’s a captain, he’s a guy that when he came back from an injury that’s very difficult to come back from at that stage of your career, when he came back we were able to basically improve our running game instantly and our pass protection. Look, the guy is very tough. Just personally, I have a lot of respect for Duane and I’m just really glad that he’s back where he’s at and playing at the level that’s he’s playing at.”
When you look at OLB Whitney Mercilus, a lot of guys play well in clutch moments, but what is it about him as a pass rusher and his personality that raises his game in the playoffs?
“Whitney (Mercilus), I don’t even know where to start with Whitney. Whitney is a very hardworking guy. He’s a guy that’s – he’s very regimented in how he approaches the game, meaning he’s in here at 6 a.m. no matter what the schedule is. He’s watching tape, he’s working out, he’ll go in the weight room and work on different techniques that maybe (Mike) Vrabel has asked him to work on or Romeo (Crennel). The guy is very meticulous about how he prepares, and he’s been that way since we got here. We were pretty tough on Whitney when we first came here because we saw a lot of potential with the guy, and he took the hard coaching, he took it to heart, and now he’s obviously one of our best players. He affects the game, he’s a disruptive guy, he’s a guy that we move around quite a bit, and he’s done a nice job for us.”
What has Patriots TE Martellus Bennett meant to that offense, especially since he’s had to step up with TE Rob Gronkowski out?
“Yeah he’s a great player. He’s a big guy, I think he’s a 6’7”, 270-pound guy that can run, athletic, big time catch radius, he’s got great hands, good route runner, he can block, he’s a big weapon for them, and a huge challenge for our defense because they move him around, they don’t just line him up in the core. He’s lining up as a wide receiver, he’s lining up in the slot. They do a lot of different things with him, so it’s a big challenge and he’s a big part of their offense.”
Earlier in the conference call, Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said about you, “He’s one of the top coaches I’ve ever been around, period. You’re not going to do much better than him,” referring to you. What does that praise feel like and what was that relationship like when you were there?
“I appreciate that. Coming from Bill (Belichick), that means a lot to – anybody that gets that type of praise from Bill, it’s obvious that it means a lot to me and to whoever he praises like that. I know he has a lot of respect for us and we have a ton of respect for him. The relationship when I was there was a good one, we worked very hard and he was a great mentor to me – he still is – and also a great friend. Appreciate the kind words. Appreciate it.”
After the game you mentioned DE Jadeveon Clowney’s instincts. How have you seen him learn how to apply that innate skill and talent he has at the NFL level as the years have gone on?
“The great example of that and I think the specific reason I said that was, in that game on that interception, that was a really instinctive play. That wasn’t like we could all take credit for coaching that, but that was a great instinctive play. The back came at him, he understood what was coming at him, he saw the quarterback through the back, he basically backpedaled to get in the throwing lane, tipped the ball to himself. He did several things on that play to really change the game at that point. That was something that just overall, we noticed when we were watching him at South Carolina, and then obviously since he’s been here. The thing with JD is like I’ve said thousands of times, when he first came here he dealt with a lot of injuries. You go from knee to concussion to shoulder to elbow, whatever, ankle, whatever it is. And this year, and coming in to this year, he’s been healthy for the most part. He’s banged up like everybody else, but he’s generally healthy relative to this time of the year. He’s able to be out there at practice, he’s able to get the coaching on the practice field, not just in the meeting room. He’s playing at a high level and he’s having fun. You see his personality - this is who he is. He’s a fun guy, he’s a great teammate, and he plays the game very, very hard.”
How has your relationship with DE Jadeveon Clowney grown? Were you hard on him early too?
“I think that’s probably a better question for him. Personally, I’ve been hard on JD at times when he was a younger player in his first and second year only for the reason that I just knew what he could be. Look, I think that I have respect for him and he has respect for me but it hasn’t always been a bed of roses. I’m sure several players would tell you the same thing about me. But I think that he just has done a nice job of being healthy and taking care of his body and being able to be out there at practice. That’s why he’s playing the way he’s playing.”
Can you talk about the matchup of WR DeAndre Hopkins and Patriots CB Malcom Butler?
“Malcolm is a very unique player. Just kind of watching him over the last few days here, he’s a very unique player. What I mean by that is if you look at the prototypical – whatever that is – corner and you look at height, weight and speed, maybe he doesn’t fit into that total category. But when you throw the film on, you quickly see that he is one of the best corners in the league. There’s a lot of reasons for that. He’s very strong. He’s very tough. He’s very instinctive. He’s got really good hands. He’s got a great knack for knocking the ball out. He’s very well coached, as their whole team is, and he’s a very competitive, tough player. So he’s a difficult challenge, whether it’s (DeAndre) Hop(kins), (Will) Fuller (V), (Keith) Mumph(ery), whoever is running routes on this guy. It’s going to be a big time challenge. You’re going to have to run a great route to get open.”
With a bigger running back like Patriots RB LaGarrette Blount, how do you not let him wear your defense out?
“Look, I think the big key is just the basics of stopping the run that we have, you know, making sure that we do a good job of setting the edge and build a wall. When you let a big back like that, like Blount or Latavius Murray, when you let those guys get through the first line of defense, it’s kind of like the train rolling down the tracks. You’re going to have a hard time tackling the guy. Not only is he big, but he’s athletic. He’s got a lot of RAC yards. He doesn’t go down with the first contact very often. You have to square him up. You have to wrap him up. He’s a big challenge. He’ll be a big challenge for our defense.”
Do you look at previous games where Patriots QB Tom Brady struggled like when he faced the N.Y. Giants and the way they used their defensive line’?
“I would just tell you that when you’re in the playoffs, no matter what side of the ball you’re looking at, I will tell you that you look at every – you don’t leave any stone unturned. You know what I mean? So you’re going to go back and look at – it doesn’t matter who you’re looking at - offense, defense, and special teams. You’ve got to go back - especially with your quality control guys, our guys here do a great job of working hard at like, not only just the games themselves over time but also the situations that have come up in different games and how the Patriots have handled those things this year or maybe year’s past, whatever it is. It’s just a lot of grind. A lot of grinding of film so it doesn’t matter what side of the ball you’re looking at, you really have to take the model that you’re not going to leave any stone unturned.”
What do you think about Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick saying he learned a lot from you and what all did you learn from him?
“I mean, I think he’s a good friend like I said and I appreciate his words. When you’re fortunate enough to work there as a coach, as a personnel guy or whatever your role is there. If you’re smart and you take advantage of knowing that you’re working in a great place and it is a little bit of classroom, especially when you’re working for him. There’s a lot you can learn. You can learn about obviously X’s and O’s but I think it goes a lot deeper than X’s and O’s. You learn about motivation. You learn about personnel evaluation. You learn about putting a roster together and putting a team together. Just a lot of different things that help you in your career, whether it’s – wherever you coach after that. So all of us that have worked for him owe him a debt of gratitude for all the things that he taught us.”
A lot of people look at that Patriots loss to Seattle in November. What have you seen from the Patriots over the last few weeks of the season when they’ve been the best scoring defense in the NFL?
“First of all, these games are tough. Coming under fire for losing to Seattle, that tells you all about the Patriots and the level that they’re at. What I would say is, with their defense, it’s a very unique defense. When I was there, it was a different scheme. It was totally different. So now you look at them this year, it’s even different in some ways then it was last year. That’s the thing about their defense. It evolves over time based on the type of players that they have. You’ve got to be ready for something that you haven’t seen. You have to be ready for what they’ve done in the past that has obviously hurt you, which is a lot for us. They shut us out the first time we played them this year. I think it’s a matter of great coaching and then really the combination of that with the great players that they have. They have very tough players, very competitive players. Guys that really understand how to play their positions and how to play their roles. That’s the big thing with us, we have to be very prepared and very focused and be ready to execute on a play-to-play basis.”
What were you like as a kid? What did you want to be when you grew up? Did you ever imagine this?
“Look, when I was growing up, I grew up in a great sports town. I grew up 20 minutes outside of Boston. I was a suburban kid. Somebody asked me the other day if I was from Dorchester. I was born in Dorchester. I was there for probably about five minutes then I lived in the suburbs. I grew up in a great sports town. We loved playing sports and coaching. When you’re young, you don’t ever really think that you’re going to be an NFL head coach in the playoffs and things like that. So look, it’s a great feeling. But at the same time, it’s also about making sure you do the best job you can for your team. Making sure that you’re very prepared this week. Every day when they come in, you have a purpose to every meeting. What are we talking about today? What are we talking about tomorrow? What are we teaching and making sure that they understand how we want to play the game. That’s the biggest thing. The other stuff you can reflect on really later.”
Did you want to play professional sports as a kid?
“I realized my athletic ability pretty early on and that I wasn’t going to be playing for many pro teams. I really knew when I was young that I wanted to be a coach. I played for some really good guys when I was young that I enjoyed playing for. I love the strategy of the game. Love reading the sports pages and things like that when I was growing up. I love sports and I always knew I wanted to be a coach.”
Will you be able to see your parents and your family this weekend? How do you handle that?
“If you know anything about my family, my parents are in Florida right now. They’re revved up about the game but they’re not going to get on a plane and leave Florida. They love their son but they’d probably rather watch it on T.V. in Florida. My oldest brother lives in Dallas so I don’t think he’ll be heading out to the game. My middle brother lives in Lexington, Mass. So he’ll probably be at the game. I haven’t talked to him about how many tickets he needs but I probably should make that call pretty soon. There won’t be a lot of time for seeing family. It’s all about – you get there and you’re meeting, you’re getting ready. There’s plenty of time to see family in the summertime.”
Is there anything about Patriots QB Tom Brady when you first started to work with him that jumped off the page and made you realize why he was so great?
“That’s a good question. One of the things – I’ve said this over and over again when I’m asked that type of question – obviously the talent and the competiveness, even the little things like the mechanics and all those things. The guy is at the top of his game. But what I knew about him was – when I found out and learned about him – was a couple things just as far as leadership. Excellent leader. Really approaches practice like a game every single day. Then I thought that he had just a fantastic memory. He could remember plays that – it was 2010 when I was coaching him – and he could remember a play that happened 7-8 years ago at that point. That was always pretty amazing to me, his memory and his ability to process that information and use it for a game that is taking place eight years later. He’s a very intelligent guy. He’s a guy that’s very well-prepared. He’s seen it all. I think it’s important for us to just make sure we know what we’re doing, execute our game plan and make sure we’re doing our job.”
CB A.J. BOUYE
Can you talk about going up against Patriots QB Tom Brady and the Patriots offense?
“It’s a great opportunity going against in my opinion the greatest quarterback of all time. You got to be prepared, at your best because we already know that’s what he’s going to be at and he has great weapons around him.”
When you look at teams that have beaten the Patriots, what sticks out to you about those teams?
“It gives us confidence going into it because we know that’s how we play, but at the same time they’re a game plan offense and they’re going to see stuff that’s beaten us throughout the season. We already know they’ve been preparing. They had an extra week to prepare just in case they were playing us, so we got to expect what beats us, but we also just got to go out there and play and compete.”
Can you talk about some of the other competitors and great players the Patriots have at wide receiver to go along with QB Tom Brady?
“They’re scrappy guys. At the end of the day, they’re a good fit for that team. They compete just like we compete, so it’s going to be fun going out there – war against them, so we’re just going to have to take advantage of the plays that we have an opportunity on.”
You’ve played against some of the best receivers in the game. What gives you the confidence to do that?
“It gives me a lot of confidence, but at the end of the day I don’t treat any receiver differently because they could get you on your best day, get you on your worst day, so you always got to stay locked in. That’s the main thing.”
Do you use the fact that the Patriots are favored by 16 points as motivation?
“I think it fuels everybody. At the end of the day, like I said, this game is about respect from the opponent across the line and either way it goes you know you see things like that. I try to stay away from it, but it motivates you when you see it and you just go harder and keep going harder and at the end of the day like coach told us today it’s going to get harder with each round and we have the number one seed this round and we have to be at our best.”
What do you think about Patriots CB Malcolm Butler?
“I just remember watching him – was it his rookie year in the Super Bowl when he made the play – and before he even made a play I was like man this guy competes. He plays hard. He plays with a chip on his shoulder because he was undrafted. As far as against us, I mean I don’t think I’ve seen him against (DeAndre) Hopkins. I think he was following (Will) Fuller (V). I remember the year before he was following Nate (Washington), so I guess they have a game plan for Hop, but at the end of the day he makes plays and he competes and it shows on film and in stats.”
When you see undrafted guys, does it remind you of the success you can reach no matter how you got here?
“Yeah I believe it does remind you, but at the end of the day it shows that you’ve always had a long road to go to and sometimes, like not at the time when it happens, but now looking back on it I kind of appreciate it because it made me grind that much harder. I believe anybody else that was undrafted could say the same about it because we’re not going to get the same treatment as other players do and we have to be on our best and we have to do extra work on our own.”
What does it mean to have guys in this locker room like CB Johnathan Joseph and CB Kareem Jackson?
“It means a lot. J-Jo and K-Jack since I first came in with (Gary) Kubiak – they were always helping me with everything. I tell everybody, like J-Jo was one of my favorite corners especially when he was at Cincinnati, so I used to always watch him and Leon Hall and just to be in the same locker room with him. I remember the first day I saw him I was like ‘oh man, I’m here with Johnathan Joseph.’ I didn’t call him J-Jo then. But then you have Kareem. I saw what he did the year before I got here and he was making a lot of plays and he’s still doing. Just for them to still encourage me and everything with everything that has happened here. Just stay with me and make sure I became a better player, that helped out a lot.”
What type of leader was Dolphins Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph when he was here?
“He was a great leader in the room. That’s why we say our DB coach now and him – they both you can tell love the game. They do extra in the film room, do extra on their own and show us what they see and one thing about Vance – he was real big on technique and individual workouts and stuff like that, so we were always good with our feet. Like I said, both of them have a great approach to the game.”
Did you have moment last year when you saw Patriots QB Tom Brady on the field for the first time?
“I guess it was different because I didn’t play defense that game. I was just special teams, but everybody talks about it. One of my best friends is an Aaron Rodgers fan and a Tom Brady fan because he played quarterback in high school and college and he’s just like, ‘man I’m telling you right now you’re going to go out there and see No. 12 run out there and you’re just going to be that more ready’ because like I said you know you’re going against the best and it’s a big opportunity because you want to be at your best and try to make a play against him and at the end of the day it all comes down to winning and changing the game on defense and getting the ball in our offense’s hands.”
Are you excited to get a shot at Patriots QB Tom Brady?
“Definitely. We’re all excited. We got past the first, the Wild Card. Now we got a divisional round against the No. 1 seed. We’re just going to have to be at our best, preparation on and off the field, extra with treatment, film study – we’ve already started that. So like I said we know what we’re getting in to we just got to get ready for it.”
During film study, have you seen plays where you wonder how Patriots QB Tom Brady pulled it off?
“I mean, you’ve seen it throughout his whole career. At the end of the day one thing – I like to read and I read articles and one thing they say about Tom Brady everywhere is like he’s probably the hardest working player to ever do it. That comes from him having his own facility near the stadium and how he approaches everything through diet and I look at things like that and I’m like that’s the sacrifice that it takes to be at that level. You see that he does it. You see where he’s at and like I said he’s going to go down as the greatest quarterback of all time and just to have the opportunity to play against him, you want to take advantage of it.”
T DUANE BROWN
Can you talk about how hard is was for you to be out with injury and how tough it was to have to watch from the sideline?
“To answer your first question, it’s always tough to not be able to compete. I give a lot to this game and I love being out there with my teammates. Being on the road in that game, watching that from the sidelines just the kind of game it was – it was very, very tough to deal with. Just tried to do my part being as vocal as I could as a leader. So being back and being able to contribute now and go up there means a lot to me. What I bring to the game I think just from a leadership standpoint just having a lot of experience especially in these kinds of games. Being able to rally the guys, keep guys in it for four quarters. I think the kind of intensity that I play with helps out in the run game. Just trying to set the tone up front for our guys. From a run standpoint, I think just being aggressive, kind of knowing what to see and kind of being able to anticipate stuff and communicate it to the other guys. I think just a combination of those things is what helps us out.”
Can you talk about OLB Whitney Mercilus’ improvement?
“Whitney’s really improved a lot over his career here. He has a great arsenal of moves, plays a great leverage, great speed off of the ball. He’s really improved with his handwork and keeping your hands off of him, being able to dip around a corner and not think. Once you start to play for his speed too much, he has some surprising strength. He’s able to knock guys off their feet a little bit.”
Can you talk about the importance of aggressive and physical play against the Patriots?
“Being aggressive is a big, very instrumental in trying to defeat this team. Starting fast. Again like I said setting the tone. You don’t want to come out against this team and kind of feel your way through it or kind of overthink things and what they may bring because then you start to play a little hesitant and that’s when they take advantage of you. From an offensive standpoint, being able to run the ball and convert third downs, staying on the field as much as possible, keeping their offense off the field. You get in the red zone – not settling for field goals, being able to get in there and get seven. I think all those things will really be big for us this weekend.”
Can you talk about the point spread between the Texans and Patriots and what it means to you?
“Yeah I mean, the kind of season that they’ve had, the players that they have, the coach that they have, the kind of things that we’ve gone through this year. There’s not many people that’s expecting us to go in there and compete and win this game, but we don’t really care about that that much. We know we’re here for a reason. We know we have a big opportunity heading into this weekend. We know it’ll be very tough. We know the kind of challenge that they bring, but our team is very confident. We really believe in each other. We have a lot of unity and I think we really played that way last week and we’re going to keep that going this week.”
Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick called you one of the best left tackles in the league. Can you talk about what that means to you?
“That’s high praise and I’m humbled and very appreciative of that coming from one of the greatest coaches of all time and a certified Hall of Fame coach. It really means a lot to me. It’s coaches like him that make me really work at my craft and try to compete against those guys, so I’m very thankful of that.”
Can you talk about how you have seen DE Jadeveon Clowney mature on and off of the football field?
“On the field, he’s just been trying to get better and he’s been able to be out there, been able to play through the injuries. You could just see him getting more used to the feel for the game, more use to his abilities and being more confident in his abilities. Very strong player, very disruptive player. I think mentally and off the field he’s really matured a lot. Just having more fun. And he’s always had a good head on his shoulders. He has his stuff together I think, but the frustrations of the injuries kind of just did whatever to him mentally, but now he’s able to be out there. He’s a great guy to have in the locker room. Everyone on the team loves him. He’s having fun, you know what I mean? He’s a huge part of our success, so I’m very happy for him.”
How difficult is it to prepare for a Bill Belichick defense?
“It’s pretty difficult. They’re kind of a game plan defense where they show a lot of different looks throughout the year, so it’s hard to pick one game to watch and kind of know what’s going to happen because you don’t quite know what they’ll line up in. So you have to prepare for a lot of different looks, but we have the coaching staff to do it. They’ve seen it all and know what to prepare us for. It’s all about communication and being on the road, it’s difficult to do that. They do a good job of adjusting at the last minute and things like that so you have to really be tuned in to what’s going on, but we have a good game plan in place, but communication is key to have any kind of success against them.”
What makes the Patriots defense able to change what they do week in and week out?
“It starts at the top with their coach. (Bill) Belichick has been doing that a long time. He’s played against every offense you can think of in this league. He kind of gets a feel for what works. They have a great group of players, smart players that are able to buy into that system and play well together and communicate everything they need to. So like I said with that being said, you have to be able to match that communication, be on the same page and once the ball’s snapped be as physical as possible because you know once you get into them shifting around and them moving and kind of being slow in your progression that’s when you get to take advantage of you. So just being physical, being aggressive. After all of that it’s what’s going to help us.”
The point spread in the game this Saturday is one of the largest in the last 40 years. Does that both you guys as a team?
“We don’t give it much thought. I mean obviously as competitors, you hate to see that you know what I mean. We have a lot of talent on this team, but we know what it is and we’re going to prepare to go in there and win. That’s what you have to do. Like I said, we have a lot of respect for that group and for the challenge that they bring, but we’re very confident. So we don’t really give that too much thought. We just go in there to take care of business.”
When you were injured, did you ever wonder if your career was over?
“I was never in doubt that I’d be back. It was a very hard injury to come back from, but I knew I’d be back. In my mind just getting back to the level that I’m accustomed to playing at was the main thing and I was able to do that rather quickly. I felt pretty good my first game back. It was just about getting back to doing the small things the same just being consistent in my movements, trusting my leg and I think I was able to do that after maybe the second game back – third game back.”
DE JADEVEON CLOWNEY
What does it mean to you have the kind of game you did in front of a national audience?
“It was a good game. I think the defense as a whole, great game plan coming into the game. We went out there and executed and did what we came out to do, stop the run and make turnovers and get the ball to our offense and win the game.”
What about you personally, especially getting your first interception in the NFL?
“I was happy, man. I was very excited about the play I made. Put us in great field position to score a touchdown. That was the best thing about the play. And we won.”
What is that the mentality and the feel in that locker room when no one else expects you to win this game but obviously you guys do?
“That’s all that matters. It’s on us. We have to go in there, execute the game plan this week and just give our all and go out there and try to win every game like we do all season, compete at a high level and try to come out with a win.”
What about when you hear you’re 16-point underdogs?
“That kind of boosts us up a little bit. ‘OK, we’re going to show them.’ One of the mentalities this week going into this game is we’re the underdogs, always been underdogs all season and let’s go out there and prove to them why we’re here in this second round now. So, it’s time to go out here and compete.”
Your first 2.0-sack game came against the Patriots here two years ago. Any thoughts on why that happened?
“Hopefully I can have another game like that. We were just getting after him, man. We were just getting after them up front. We were hitting him the whole game. It was a tight game until like the third, fourth quarter – one of them got away from us. It’s going to be another good one. We have to get out here and compete. We’re a way better team than we were Week 3, I think. It’s going to be a good game.”
Is there anything you saw in Patriots QB Tom Brady in that game?
“I just think the guy’s the most poised quarterback in the NFL. Playing him, he doesn’t get rattled at all most of the time. He just keeps staying calm, and that’s what makes him so good. He just stays calm back there. Even when you do get the pressure, he steps up and makes the best pass.”
How does that feel to look across the line of scrimmage and see that?
“You got to get after him. We just have to go in there, execute our game plan and try to force him into some bad throws and some turnovers. Try to get away with a win.”
What did it mean for you to have people say you deserved to be the No. 1 pick for maybe the first time in a while?
“I didn’t care. The guys in the locker room have seen me doing it all season. They’re like, ‘Just keep making plays for us and just keep trying to put us in situations to win games. Just try to go out there and makes plays.’ That’s what we’ve been doing. I think Whitney (Mercilus) had a great game too, also. He made a bunch of plays for us in the last game. I told him after this last week, I said, ‘We got to keep doing this as long as we’re going to keep winning these games. We have to go out here and make plays.’ He was like, ‘I know, man, I know.’ This week I told him it’s going to be on us again. We have to go in there and fight and try to put them in good situations.”
DE J.J. Watt seemed very happy for your success. What has he been telling you and what has that interaction been like since he’s been back?
“Since he’s been back on the sideline, he’s kind of picked the defense up. He’s been supporting us and telling us it’s on us, it’s on us. Got to move the crowd, keep the crowd into it and we got to go out here and make plays, even when things aren’t going our way don’t let the other guys on the team see us down or see us frustrated. Just go out there and keep playing hard and making plays. To have him out there, he’s still a leader to our team. For him to be out there is great support.”
What have you learned from OLB Whitney Mercilus as a pass rusher?
“Nothing really, man. He has his own technique. We’re two different players. We play totally different. That’s what makes us so good together, playing together. He has a different game plan how he rushes. I rush a little different. When we flip-flop sides, it gives tackle a problem because we both give them something different. To have him out there on the field with me, it’s a big thing. It’s good for me.”
Is there one player on the team that has helped you with your play and helped you off the field?
“On the field, I’m going to say Vince (Wilfork), on the field. Off the field, probably Johnathan Joseph. He’s been there since I’ve been here and since I stepped foot on the Texans. But on the field Vince has taught me so much. Even when I moved inside to play to being outside. He’s a smart player. One of the smartest defensive players I think I’ve played with. He knows what’s going on. He knows what to look for when he sees certain formations. To have him in the room with me and learning from him, it’s big. Vince helps me on the field, and Johnathan Joseph just stays on me all the time about every little thing. He’s like a big brother to me. Those two right there are on me all the time.”
CB KAREEM JACKSON
What’s the biggest challenge of trying to slow Patriots QB Tom Brady down?
“The biggest challenge is probably trying to get to him. They definitely do a great job of protecting him. Like you said, he’s Tom Brady. He definitely will be one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. For us, it’s all about going out there and executing the game plan. Coach (Romeo Crennel) will give us some great stuff to go out there and be successful with. For us, we just have to go out there and do what we do.”
When you look at their wide receiver corps, what do you see from some of the younger guys?
“They made a ton of plays as well all year. Even with (Michael) Floyd, when he was in Arizona, he was definitely a big time talent there. For us, we just have to be close in coverage. We have to be close and make some plays on the ball.”
Is it frustrating that people keep calling you underdogs?
“I wouldn’t say frustrating. At this point, it is what it is. The only thing that matters is what the guys in this locker room think. So, at the end of the day, me personally, I could care less what everyone else says. You’re not in this locker room. You aren’t wearing the same colors as me. It really doesn’t matter what you say.”
I don’t think you guys need any more motivation, but could it be a rallying cry?
“Honestly, we are self-motivated. It’s the playoffs. You don’t need outside sources to motivate you at this point. I think every guy in this locker room knows the opportunity we have, so we will put together a great week of practice and we will go out there and take care of business.”
How much you do relish the challenge of this weekend?
“It’s always a great feeling in any situation. Of course, you definitely want to play at home, but you go on the road to get a chance to play against the big dogs. It will be a great challenge for us. We definitely are looking forward to it.”
Are you personally excited every time you go out on the field?
“Definitely. You have to be. As a competitor, you have to be excited about it. You get a chance to play against a quarterback like Tom Brady and the New England organization. You know you have to definitely come with you’re A-game. If not, they will do it to you. At the end of the day, like you said, it will be a great challenge for us. We are looking forward to it.”
Patriots QB Tom Brady has only thrown two interceptions this year. What’s made him so accurate or is it a combination of him and the receivers doing a good job?
“Probably a combination of both. They definitely do some great things on offense. I’m sure they all expect to go out and be successful every Sunday with the things that they do. For us, we have to be close in coverage. That’s the only way we can go out and be successful as a secondary. To be close in coverage and let the guys up front take care of rushing.”
Are you amazed Patriots QB Tom Brady has been playing as long as he has?
“It’s just the work that he’s put in over the years. His hard work he has put in is definitely amazing to see a guy be this successful for this long. Like I said, it’s just a testament to the work he’s put in.”
OLB WHITNEY MERCILUS
Everyone talks about raising their game and playing better but you’ve already accomplished that and have good production.
“I’ve been doing it for the last two years, especially whenever I had my breakout season last year. Just elevated my game each and every time, just getting better as to understanding the game a lot better. That’s just about it.”
What’s better about your moves and overall game this year?
“Just looking at new moves to add to my arsenal, watching all the different players at my position, see what they do and see if I can emulate that. Practice it out there on the field, whether it works or not, it doesn’t hurt.”
How proud are you of what you and DE Jadeveon Clowney have accomplished this year without DE J.J. Watt playing?
“Yeah, we’ve accomplished a great deal, but we couldn’t do that without our teammates or anything like that. It’s no ‘I’ in team or anything like that. It’s always the group, the DB’s holding off the receivers, giving us an extra minute to get there to the rush. The d-linemen, the interior linemen grinding it out in the middle, allowing for the linebackers and outside linebackers to get up in there and make the tackles on the edges.”
How much is it a chess match between you and the Patriots offensive line?
“It’s always a chess match, no matter who you go against. It’s a mental game, plus it’s a hand game and it’s a physical battle on top of that. We’ll be going back and forth. We’ve got to be able to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, offense and defense.”
A lot has been said about the Patriots being a heavy favorite this week. That doesn’t mean anything in this locker room, does it?
“No, not really. We understand that all across the board, everyone’s going to say that. We’re not occupied with any of that talk or anything like that. We understand what we have in this locker room. We’ll prepare the best we can this week and go out there and play hard.”
What does Patriots QB Tom Brady do that others don’t?
“For one, he’s a great quarterback who understands the game, understands how to read defenses. He knows where to go with the ball. He knows all the playmakers that he has around him, their skillsets and everything. Also, he knows how to get into the right call, especially being out there in the moment and everything. He does a really good job at that.”
How have you been able to elevate your intensity in the playoffs with five sacks over your last two games?
“It’s always a new season. Regular season is over. Everybody starts at 0-0 when the postseason comes around. We understand what’s at stake. Everybody’s intensity has to be raised that much higher because it’s all or nothing. Whoever loses is going home.”
The teams that have beaten New England in the past have been very physical and aggressive. How much is that a blueprint for how to attack them?
“Of course you have to be physical. You have to be able to tackle, stay on top of them early. If you allow them to start fast, it’s going to be a long day.”
What does Linebackers Coach Mike Vrabel do so well with you personally that gives him opportunities to interview for other positions?
“I can’t speak on that. Right now, I’m just getting ready for a playoff game. But Vrabel as a coach, great, great coach. Played in the league for 14 years. Understands the game fully. Understands everything about the game. He’s brought that knowledge here to the linebacker group, and also to other guys that draw their knowledge from him. He’s done a wonderful job.”
Does it get frustrating that people call you underdogs each week? What do you have to do to prove that you’re not?
“It’s okay if we’re called the underdogs, I kind of like it. Definitely get to shock a whole lot of people, so we’re looking forward to that.”
Head Coach Bill O’Brien said he was hard on you when he first got here. Is that how you recall it in your first few months with him?
“Yeah, I would say so. Our coaching staff is real hard. They expect nothing but the best and they want to draw the best out of each player. I’m always on a routine. I always do everything the same. Anytime anybody challenges me, I always look forward to that challenge so that I can prove to them and my peers that I’m great at what I do.”
What was the hardest part about that whole adjustment period for you as a player?
“I would say just understanding the game, really. Understanding the concepts that we had on defense and progressing my knowledge to understanding the concepts of offensive schemes, things like that, just little things.”
How much has eating healthy been a big deal for you the past few years?
“Huge. It allows me to be efficient. My body is running at a higher rate, you would say, kind of like a Ferrari. You’ve got to fuel. You are what you eat, I think. Just eating healthy, I’ve been able to play a lot faster and go longer.”
What’s the challenge of facing a guy like Patriots QB Tom Brady?
“When I’ve faced him, he’s very decisive with where he wants to go with the ball, so that’s very challenging. Also, if you give him a lot of time back there in the pocket, he can definitely dissect you a lot. We’ve got to be able to stay on top of him. First of all, what we have to do is stop the run. That’s the biggest thing. If you don’t stop the run, you can’t play the pass and ultimately, you lose the game.”
RB LAMAR MILLER
Do you feel like you need to have an aggressive game plan against New England?
“With them, you have to be aggressive. They have a good run defense. I think they are No. 3. We have to do a great job of just being physical, doing a great job getting first downs, try to put ourselves in manageable third downs to keep the chains moving.”
Have you had a chance to watch the Seattle vs Patriots game from earlier in the season?
“No, I haven’t seen the Seattle game. I just watched the game when we played them and I watched the last game when they played the Dolphins.”
What do you remember from your experience when you were with the Dolphins?
“It’s tough to beat them at home. We just have to do a great job of just doing our assignments. They are a great team at home. We just have to go out there, play fast and do what we have to do.”
Do you know that the Texans are heavy underdogs?
“Of course. I know some people pay attention to that, but I really don’t pay attention to that. We just have to go out there and play football. At the end of the day, we still have to go out there and play a game. On Saturday, that will determine everything.”
Are you still knocking off rust from the time you missed?
“This past game, I felt like I would try to make a big play at times. I was kind of rusty for not playing the last two weeks. I’m just trying to get comfortable with everything. This week, I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
NT VINCE WILFORK
Is this game anymore special for you because it’s New England and it’s where you became who you are after you left college?
“No, it’s not special. This is going to be my third time playing them as a Texan. The first time is different and the second game is a little different just because it was my first time on the road going back there. Now, I’ve been gone for two years. It’s all about football now. I’m not thinking about anything but what it’s going to take to go to Foxborough and win a ball game. We have a chance today to start preparing well on the practice field. I’m looking forward to the game, a playoff game. You have to be excited about the playoffs because you give yourself a chance.”
Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said a lot of nice things about you. What does that mean to you?
“When Bill drafted me as a penetrator, a four-three guy out of the University of Miami, when I got to New England, he turned me into a nose tackle and I had no clue what I was doing. He threw me in the fire early. I had to learn early. It wasn’t no give him a couple of games and practice squad. It was the first game of my career playing against Peyton Manning at home. I think I had like six or seven tackles and a fumble recovery in the end zone. I was just playing football. I look back now, 13 years later, six tackles was a lot. Now, I’m lucky to have six tackles in 10 games. It taught me over the course of my career how tough the position as a nose tackle is because you don’t get a lot of recognition, you do a lot of dirty work, but you have to be tough. Mentally and physically you take a beating day in and day out working at that position, you get hit from all angles. You are reading basically the whole offensive line, the backfield. You are reading so much and things happen quickly. I think a lot of guys, I had the privilege to play end and nose tackle. I’m going to tell you what, at the defense end in a three-four defense, it’s a lot easier being an end than a nose because it’s slower. That’s something that I learned just being able to play those positions. The last two years I haven’t played end, just strictly nose. That’s what it called for. In my career now, that’s who I am. I’m a true nose tackle. I don’t get moved around like I have in the past and I’m OK with that. Anybody that’s coming to this game that’s a nose tackle that’s looking for all the glory, it’s the wrong business. I’m very grateful for my career. I don’t regret anything, not at all. I had a chance to win some big games. I lost some big games. I’ve been on both sides of the coin and losing sucks. I don’t care if it’s playoffs or a preseason or regular season or Super Bowl, it sucks. Being a competitor, you always want to win every game that you’re on the field for. I’ve done a lot. I’ve done a lot of winning so hopefully I can continue and we can continue to win especially at this point of the season. Like I said, you play to have a chance. We are in a prime position to have a chance. We gave ourselves a chance.”
What stood out for you when you first went against Patriots QB Tom Brady in New England?
“You have to remember, I was coming from a program where we were used to winning. Even when I won my first Super Bowl, it was like OK I can get used to this, not a big deal. I won a National Championship. I won a state shot put. I’ve won my whole career. As a rookie, I thought it was easy. It was a piece of cake. It took about six years to get back there and when I got back there, I lost. After that you kind of say, ‘man, the NFL is a little different. It’s not college. You aren’t just going to roll out there and play these D1-AA and D2 schools. Every team is tough.’ I had to learn how grateful I am to be around people that I was around and play with some top, quality football players, play with some Hall of Famers. It was a pleasure. I understand that over time, you have to take it in and soak it in. I think at the end of my career I will probably look back and realize out of all the people I played with, who I played with, the fun we had and how privileged I was to have played with those guys. Because I have played with a lot of great guys. I have some great guys in here that I play with that I love to death and are like my little brothers. There are a bunch of them in here. They kind of make my job easier because one thing with locker rooms is you have to have fun. At the end of the day, we play a game for a living. When you can actually take the field and play it as a game and have fun, you’re successful.”
DE Jadeveon Clowney said that you have meant more to his game than anyone else in this locker room. How does that make you feel?
“You know what, because I think everybody saw the type of player he was in college. I saw potential. Sometimes, you have to figure out the way, how you can get greatness out of people. He was one of the ones where when I came here, they were like, ‘Hey, make sure you that you are leaning on him, talking to him, teaching him.’ From Day 1, before I even signed I walked into the training room and he was in there doing rehab and I said, ‘I’m not coming here unless you are committed to being the best.’ He said, ‘I am.’ I said, ‘OK,’ and then I signed here. I held him accountable. The biggest thing with JD is he grew up and matured. He understood what it means to be a professional. You come to work as a professional. I think nowadays with young guys and even some older guys, when you don’t have a lot of success as a team or as individuals, it’s easy to sit back and say why me or why am I not doing this instead of trying to figure out what you need to do to be the best. I think he figured that out. I think he figured out how much he means to this team. He’s been rolling. A Pro Bowler this year, making plays like we always knew he could do. But, sometimes you need some time to grow up. Some people come in the game already matured. Some people take time. He was one of those ones were you saw the potential. He was just raw. He needed to understand how to be a professional and what it’s going to take to be at his best. I think at this point in his career, he understands that. He can’t take a step back now. We’ve seen it. He proved it to us. I expect for him to be more and more and more productive throughout his career because he just got it.”
Were you happy to see what DE Jadeveon Clowney was able to do on Saturday in front of a national audience?
“They understand how good he’s been. Trust me on that. You know what, to play the way he played on the national audience and a lot of people watching, people understand how tough he is. He is a matchup disaster. Anybody lining up with him, you have to game plan. You have to account for him with different formations, different blocking reads and stuff like that. And, as he grows and as he continues to play the game, he’ll have to understand how teams are going to have to attack, not just going to line up and try to block him one on one anymore. He probably got away with it this year, but next year it won’t be that easy. When it gets that, now you have to take your game to another level. You have to start being more detailed. I think he’s learning the right way right now with our coaches and the leaders around him and him watching film. He understands that. I’m just happy to see him grow up. When you have young players that you know have the potential, you want to see them grow and he has grown. He’s grown a lot. I think with that being said, I think he’ll be a good ball player for years to come. I think you will see a lot more plays being made. I mean some good plays. Last week was a huge play he made. Just shows how athletic he is and how he read that play. That was a tough play to defend, playing the cut block, quarterback rolling away from him. He dropped back and recognize it was a screen, got his hands up with his cast and picked the ball off. You are going to need plays like that from your top players. You are going to need plays like that at this level of the season in the playoffs to have a chance. At this point in the game, you have little errors. You don’t have a lot of miscues because the teams that are playing now are pretty good teams. The deeper you get, more and more opportunities you don’t have. When you have opportunities, you have to take advantage of them. If you don’t’ take advantage of them, that can cost you a game. Looking back, it can come in the first minute of the game, or in overtime. You are going to look back and say, ‘If I could have done that or if I could have read that.’ You are going to see it. Like I said, we are in a good spot. We are excited to have a chance. You have to be excited. There’s a lot of teams that are sitting back right now wishing that they were in our position. We aren’t feeling sorry for nothing. We don’t care if we’re the last seed – we don’t care about that. It’s a new season. I have seen teams be where we are win it all. That’s motivation. That is motivation. Last week was a good start for us. Every week we have to get better from here on out.”
CONFERENCE CALL WITH PATRIOTS HEAD COACH BILL BELICHICK (Transcribed by Patriots PR)
Q: With Duane Brown back for the Texans, how does that change their offense compared to what you saw from them in Week 3?
BB: Well, he’s an outstanding player, both run and pass. He does a great job in pass protection; big, athletic, long, but also really helps them in the running game. He makes a big difference on all plays, particularly those outside plays that [Lamar] Miller does such a great job on, and [Alfred] Blue. He’s a big addition to that group and an outstanding player. He’s one of the best left tackles in the league.
Q: What have you seen in Jadeveon Clowney’s development this season?
BB: Yeah. He’s had a great year. He’s been healthy. He’s a major force; run and pass, long, athletic, very disruptive, hard to block, really a good player. He’s done a great job. Romeo [Crennel] does a great job moving him around, so you don’t always know exactly where he’s going to be or what the rest of the front is going to be, so getting help to block him, or getting a matchup with somebody else looking for him, or helping on him is not that easy to do because of the way that Romeo and their defensive staff place him and place the people around him. They do a real good job of creating good matchups and they have great players.
Q: Does Jadeveon Clowney remind you of anyone you’ve coached or coached against?
BB: I don’t know. He’s pretty good.
Q: What have you seen from Bill O’Brien as a coach and the job that he has done improving this team over the course of the season?
BB: Billy [O’Brien] is a great coach. He’s one of the best coaches in this league, one of the best coaches in football. We saw that at Penn State, too. He’s got a great football mind, does a great job of motivating the players. He’s one of the top coaches I’ve been around, period. You’re not going to do much better than him. He’s solid day-to-day, week-in and week-out. Again, he does an excellent job with personnel motivation, scheme, building a good team attitude and chemistry. He really does a good job. He’s an excellent coach and I’m very fortunate that I had the opportunity to have him on my staff. We had a great working relationship. I learned a lot from him. I think he’s an outstanding coach.
Q: When you had Mike Vrabel as a player on your team did you ever envision him becoming a coach after his playing career ended?
BB: Yeah, we talked about that several times during his career. Mike [Vrabel] does a tremendous job. As a player he was very astute. Not only had a great understanding of his positon and techniques and knowledge on how to play his spot and the corresponding positions, but also from an overall standpoint he had a very good grasp of the overall defensive concepts and offensive concepts and how they would attack us in different fronts or different pre-snap looks and so forth. Yeah, we talked about that. Of course, I never worked with Mike as a coach, but as a player he certainly showed those qualities. But more importantly than that, there are a lot of players that understand the game well and have good awareness and understanding of how the game is being played and Mike has great leadership. He’s a good communicator. He’s direct. He gets along with everybody. He has a good way of working with people and he’s got good leadership skills. I think those things are very important when you talk about the question you just asked. I think that’s probably more relevant than the X’s and O’s, although I don’t want to understate that either.
Q: Do you remember what it was like when Bill O’Brien first joined your staff and how you found him and came to the decision to bring him to the Patriots? He has said before he kind of took a leap of faith in joining the organization at a low level.
BB: Yeah, I remember it. I mean, I’m not that old. You know, Bill [O’Brien] and I had talked through the years, and we talked about him joining our organization at different points in time but that was kind of the right one. He and I stayed in contact for years, several years before that. I’d say it was definitely a leap of faith. He went from probably the second highest positon on a staff, offensive coordinator, to a quality control positon. But he did a great job of working with everybody, learning not only the offense, but learning an entire system and then he got an opportunity to run the offense and to be in control and he was certainly ready to do that. He had a lot of coaching experience from his other positions in college and really what he needed was just a little bit of time to become familiar with our offensive system and the things that are – the way that we do them. Again, he’s very smart, adapted very quickly, figured it out in a hurry and was a great asset to all of the staff members. He was a big asset to me and then he took over the offense.
Q: What kind of progress have you seen from cornerback A.J. Bouye since the last time you faced him?
BB: He’s done a great job for them. They have a lot of good players there in the secondary. Losing [Kevin] Johnson, I know that was tough, but [A.J.] Bouye has stepped in and done a great job. [Kareem] Jackson playing inside, [Johnathan] Joseph on the perimeter, [Robert] Nelson has given them a lot of good plays in the last month or so where he’s played. [Quintin] Demps has had a great year with the turnovers and interceptions, so they have good depth at the safety positon with [Andre] Hal and [Corey] Moore and Demps. They obviously have a lot of depth at corner. They’ve done a great job there. Bouye has stepped in and been very productive for them. [Eddie] Pleasant plays for them in the dime situations, so they have a lot of good coverage players. It doesn’t seem to really matter which guy is getting thrown on. They all make plays. They’re all very close to the ball and they get a lot of interceptions and get interceptions off of tipped balls, because the coverage is there and the quarterback tries to throw it in there and it gets batted around and somebody picks it off. On top of that the pass rush is good, so there’s not a lot of time for the receivers or the quarterback to extend plays or do a lot of multiple moves. You’ve got to be decisive. You have to get open quickly and it’s hard for the quarterback to hold the ball against this pass rush. It really gets down to team defense. Romeo [Crennel] and his staff have done a great job in coverage, in pass rush, running game, third-down, red-area. They do a good job of everything. They’re very well-coached. They have good techniques. They play good fundamentals. They tackle well. They cover well. They can rush. They can stop the run. They play good situational football. That’s why they’re one of the top defenses in the league in just about every category.
Q: As Vince Wilfork contemplates retirement at the end of this season, what are your thoughts on the kind of career he’s had and the kind of person he is?
BB: I have all the respect in the world for Vince [Wilfork]. He and Bianca [Wilfork] and his family have been great assets to this organization and I thoroughly enjoyed the time that I had to coach Vince from when he came into the league and his time here and the great success that he had and we had together. He’s a great player, he was a great attribute to this football organization. I know he’s respected from the top to the bottom and everywhere in between. He and Bianca did a great job of having player groups, defensive line, defense, whoever it happened to be at their house and kind of off-the-field functions that built team chemistry and things like that. I just can’t say enough about Vince and how professional he is, what a great athlete, how light on his feet he is for his size and the kind of balance and quickness [he has]. We know he’s a strong, explosive player; the interceptions that he’s had through his career and things like that and just athletic plays that he probably doesn’t get recognized for, but when you coach him day to day, you have a great appreciation for him. But all that being said, the focus of this game is really the Texans and us trying to just get ourselves to the best point that we can on Saturday night to be competitive. That’s really what it’s all about for us now.
Q: What are your thoughts on Brock Osweiler after struggling earlier in the season and now being back in the starting role?
BB: Yeah, again, Billy [Bill O’Brien] has done a great job with this football team. He’s used a lot of different players. They used multiple backs, multiple tight ends, multiple receivers. They lost [Braxton] Miller and lost [J.J.] Watt, lost [Kevin] Johnson, and you know, lost some really good football players. He’s played with different guys, won with them. They’ve showed that they can win with both quarterbacks with the players they have on defense, players they have on offense, players they have in the kicking game. That group has shifted around a little bit but Billy and his staff continues to win and find ways to win and I think that’s a credit to the great coaching and the depth that they have on their roster, an outstanding group of players, and how hard and how well they play. They play very good, situational football. They’ve won a lot of close games. [Nick] Novak’s a very good kicker. In critical situations, those games that just come down to a couple of points, they’ve been able to get them. Again, when you have good players and you’re well-coached like they are, that explains a lot of the winning that’s happened with that organization since Billy has got there. He’s done a great job of turning things around with the Texans. He took them from a place that wasn’t very good to consistently winning. I have all the respect in the world for Billy and that football team.
Q: What are your impressions of Martellus Bennett and how he’s developed for you?
BB: Yeah, Marty [Martellus Bennett] has had a good year for us. He’s come in and worked very hard. Our system is a bit different from a couple of the other ones that he’s played in, but he’s a very smart player with a lot of experience so he’s able to adapt quickly and has done all the things that we’ve asked him to do this year – run, block, third down, red area, some route variations, things that we do a little bit differently from, as I said, some of the other teams that he’s been on. But he’s a very athletic guy that has great size and again, very smart, has a good understanding. You only have to tell him once how you want it done and he’s got it. He’s got very good understanding of passing game concepts and how it all fits together. He’s a good pass protector. He’s been a valuable player for us this year so I’m glad we have him.
Q: What does it mean to you to be the head coach and general manager of a team and be in charges of all matters personnel-wise?
BB: Yeah, well, again, that’s not really the focus of this week for me. We’re trying to get ready to play a Texans team that’s won a playoff game and that’s going to come in here with a lot of confidence, as they should. It takes a lot of people to run an organization. There are a lot of people – there’s no one person that could do all the jobs that need to be done on any level. It takes a full team and that’s what we have. Again, just as it relates to Billy [O’Brien], when he got there, [the Texans] were the worst team in the league. They had the first pick in the draft, right? Wasn’t [Jadeveon] Clowney the first pick in the draft?
BB: Yeah, so that’s the worst team in the league. That means where they were and where they are and the impact that he and his staff have had on that organization – I mean, there are some other people that were the same and there are obviously a lot of new people that are there, but since they were the worst team in the league when he got there and what they’ve done since, and what he’s been able to accomplish with his staff [and] with his development of players I think is pretty impressive, although not surprising, because like I said, I think he’s one of the best players I’ve had the opportunity to work with. I learned a lot from being with him and he’s done a great job wherever he’s been.
HEAD COACH BILL O’BRIEN’S CONFERENCE CALL WITH NEW ENGLAND MEDIA
What are your thoughts on the challenge ahead for your team facing the Patriots this weekend?
“It’s a big challenge. It’s a team that has done it year in and year out. Last week was only this organization’s third playoff win. We’ve got a big challenge ahead of us. We’ve got a bunch of good guys in our locker room that are looking forward to the challenge. We know that the Patriots are a great football team. We feel like if we go up there and we practice well – we have a good week of practice – we go up there and show up and play hard for 60 minutes, you know, we’ll see what happens.”
What has NT Vince Wilfork brought to the Texans the last two years and how much do you think he has left?
“Look, he’s brought leadership. He’s played well. He’s played well late in seasons. He’s been there. He’s been in these type of games obviously many, many times. He’s a good football player. He’s still playing at a good level. He’s done a good job for us.”
What makes Linebackers Coach Mike Vrabel a potential head coaching candidate?
“I think it’s a combination of things. I think that obviously his career – he had a 14-year career where he was just an excellent team player, captain for a great organization in New England. Then he got into coaching after he retired and did a nice job at Ohio State obviously. Then I was able to hire him here and he’s done a great job with our linebackers. I think that people around the league recognize his knowledge, his leadership capabilities and the type of guy that he is. He’s a guy that really cares about people. He cares about football. He’s a great dad, great husband. He’s got all the qualities to be a future head coach.”
What have you see from the Patriots run defense as the season has progressed?
“Yeah, it’s tough. It’s tough. They’re obviously a team that lines up in different fronts. They challenge you with - not only their players, which their players are very, very good. You got (Alan) Branch and (Dont’a) Hightower and (Rob) Ninkovich and (Jabaal) Sheard and Malcolm Brown. You have a bunch of really tough, hard-nosed players that are very, very well-coached so their scheme presents a problem too. Like I said earlier, we’re going to have to have a great week of practice. We’re going to have to be very focused on every single play, limit mistakes, really communicate really well because they’re a tough team, run or pass, to go against.”
Since you know Patriots QB Tom Brady, is this week a bit of a ‘cat and mouse’ game or is it just about executing what you need to execute?
“I think it’s more about execution. We’re not going to show him anything that he hasn’t already seen. He’s been doing it for years, 17 years or whatever it is. I mean, that’s part of what makes him who he is. He’s seen it all. He’s very well-prepared. He’s played against a lot of these players. He’s played against this scheme. We just need to kind of do what we do and execute and play every play. Be very focused on every single play, I think that’s big for us.”
How would you describe the way Texans QB Brock Osweiler has handled the last couple weeks after getting benched and do you think he’s gained confidence since being named the starter again?
“Look, he handled it like a pro. I mean, it’s a tough league. It’s a league where you face adversity as a player and as a coach. You have to be able to handle it the right way. I thought Brock did. He went in there in the Tennessee game in the last game of the year and moved the ball for us. We scored. We hadn’t scored up to that point until he went in there. We scored. Didn’t win the game obviously but we were able to move the ball offensively. Then I thought against Oakland he came out and he executed the game plan and did what we coached him to do and took care of the ball. I think that’s big. I think he’s handled it well.”
Obviously, you understand how difficult it is to grasp the Patriots offense. How impressed were you with how Patriots WR Michael Floyd was able to play in Week 17?
“He’s a smart player. He’s been around and I think playing for (Bruce) Arians in Arizona then coming to the Patriots, it’s a different system, but there’s obviously an ability to learn fast. You can see that with him. That’s the thing about the Patriots. When I worked there, that was one of the many, many things that always impressed me was the ability to bring a guy in late in the season, middle of the week, whatever, and get that guy ready to play. That was something that Bill (Belichick) preached. Those coaches do a great job of getting those guys ready to play no matter when they arrive on the scene.”
What do you think the key to that is?
“I think the key is basically the philosophical alignment that they know, that’s how they operate. There’s going to be a certain turning of the roster or maybe we bring a guy in late in the season that helps us as a team and we have to be ready to teach that guy. We have to understand how to teach that guy. We can’t throw the kitchen sink at them. We just have to do a really good job of - what’s the information we need to give to them that applies to the game coming up or the practice coming up. I think that’s something that their coaching staff does a great job of.”
What has been the key to your defense playing so well since Texans DE J.J. Watt went down with an injury?
“I think losing J.J. (Watt), obviously, that’s not easy. You have a guy that’s one of the best - in my opinion, the best defensive player in the league, three-time player of the year on defense. I think one of the keys to us is we have a lot of good players on defense. It’s a team defense and I think that we have guys like obviously (Jadeveon) Clowney, (Whitney) Mercilus, Brian Cushing, Benardrick McKinney has had a really good year for us, Quintin Demps, A.J. Bouye, Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson – those guys have all played well for us. D.J. Reader, a young defensive linemen for us playing well. A lot of guys stepped up. I think Romeo (Crennel) and the defensive staff did an excellent job in getting guys ready on a week-to-week basis. Those guys have played well.”
What have you seen from the Patriots defense since the last time you saw them in Week 3? Has it gotten better?
“I just think that - obviously, they shut us out back then, so I don’t know how much better they can get than that against us. They shut us out. I would say that the difference is I don’t think (Dont’a) Hightower played against us the first game. Obviously, Jamie Collins was in there and now you have (Elandon) Roberts there. You’ve got Hightower going to be in there. I think that there are a lot of really good players on their defense and they are very, very well coached and very tough, very physical. They are good tacklers. They change from week-to-week. They give you a lot of different things to think about. What we see on tape right now may not what we see on Saturday night. We have to understand that and how important how ability to follow our own rules is going to be, follow the rules of our offense. Matt (Patricia) and Bill (Belichick), those guys do a great job and they have a lot of good players.”
In Week 3, special teams played a huge role. What improvements have you seen in that area from your team since then?
“I think we have gotten better on special teams. I don’t think it’s been perfect. I think that we need to keep continuing to improve every day especially this week. I think the big thing is ball security in the playoffs. We have to take care of the ball. We did that on offense last week. We didn’t do that great on special teams. We had a couple of punt muffs, some miss hit punts. We muffed the catch, but we’ve had some good punt returns this year. I think the big thing for us is overall our coverage units have to do a great job and our return units have to do a good job especially in the ball security area.”
What have you seen from Patriots CB Malcolm Butler?
“I think he’s a very unique player. We all have a lot of respect for him. He’s a very strong player and a very competitive player. He does a really good job of being able to basically affect the football. He makes plays. He can test the ball. He’s got really good hands. He’s very well-coached. And, I think you have to run excellent routes against him when it’s man-to-man coverage. I think he’s a good tackler. He’s just a very strong, strong player that understands the game and has been very well coached.”
Is Patriots CB Malcolm Butler unique because of his size and strength?
“When you look at him and you look at his whatever you want to call it – height, weight, speed – maybe it’s not exactly like some other corner on some other team. When you put the film on, you see a guy that’s playing, in my opinion, as one of the best cornerbacks in the league. He’s very, very difficult to go against because he’s smart. He’s got great playing strength. He has very strong hands. He’s got a very strong way of playing the game. We think he’s an excellent player.”
We’ve seen guys get hired away from the Patriots. Is there a sense of pride in coming from this Patriots fraternity and what’s your reaction when you see guys that you worked with get opportunities elsewhere?
“I think all of us that worked there - either working there now or have worked there - we all have a great amount of pride in the fact that we were a part of that. We are all so very thankful to Bill Belichick and Mr. (Robert) Kraft for that organization and our ability to work there. We are very grateful to the players that we coached there. It’s all about the players. Players made a lot of plays for us when we were there. When I see those guys, Bob Quinn and J-Rob (Jon Robinson), Josh (McDaniels), Matt (Patricia), Nick Caserio – those guys are great coaches, great personnel guys. I learned a lot from those guys. To me, they’ll make great head coaches. Bob and John have obviously made a big difference in their organizations already. So, I think it’s a testament to those guys but also a testament to the fact that we were a part of something pretty special there in New England.”
What do you remember about Patriots Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio when you worked with him at the Patriots?
“Nick’s a very close friend of mine. He’s a guy that I spent a lot of time with there. I’ve learned a lot from Nick. I learned a lot about the NFL. I learned a lot about coaching and evaluations. Nick does everything there. He’s a very loyal guy. I think that’s one of the things about Nick that is really something that I admire is his loyalty to his friends, his loyalty to that organization. He’s just a great guy and he’s very smart. He’s a very hardworking guy and that year was a memorable year for me because that was my first year in the NFL and I was learning from obviously Bill Belichick, but also Josh McDaniels, Dante Scarnecchia, Nick Caserio, Ivan Fears. That was a really excellent coaching staff and it was a great year for me.”
You’ve been a part of some not-so-successful teams in the early part of your college coaching career, but that didn’t deter you from coaching. Can you talk about that?
“Do we have to go down this road? Do we have to go down this road? I’ll tell you what, they’re (Brown University) a lot better since I graduated. They’ve won a lot more games. When James Develin was there, they were winning. I know that. Obviously I’m a much better coach than I was as a player. I think that I was able to learn from some really good guys regardless of the success. We’ve got a guy on the staff here that coached me at Brown – Jimmy Bernhardt – that does some things for me here and I just always loved coaching even when I was growing up. It was long before Brown that I knew that I really wanted to be a coach. But I appreciate you – please don’t look up that overall record from the years that I played at Brown. It wasn’t very good.”
The Patriots running backs have been very successful this year. What do you see from that group and are they as impressive of a group as you have seen in the past for them?
“Yeah I mean I think so. I just think again they’ve done a great job of bringing in a very diverse group of running backs. When you look at (LeGarrette) Blount, Blount is a just a very, very big guy, but he’s got really good athleticism. He’s very difficult to tackle. He never stops his legs. He’s always churning for extra yards. You have to square him up in the hole. You’re not going to be able to get him down with a glancing blow from the side and he’s really been a productive player for them. Tough, tough guy and then you have guys like Dion Lewis and James White who are totally different than LeGarrette Blount and the way that they use them - whether it’s in the passing game or even in the running game - it’s a very, very difficult challenge for us and it’s a difficult challenge for anybody that goes against them because of that group of guys. They’re all very good at what they do.”
NT VINCE WILFORK’S CONFERENCE CALL WITH NEW ENGLAND MEDIA
What are your thoughts about coming back to New England to play a big game?
“Well, this one obviously means a lot more than the previous time we went up there. This time around, you lose, you go home. We all understand that. We know it’s going to be a tough game going on the road in the playoffs against the hottest team in the NFL, against the greatest quarterback in the NFL – probably of all time. We have a really good football team we have to go face. We understand we have to play probably the best game of the season to actually be able to hang with them. We all understand that. Like I said, this is for a chance to move on in the playoffs, something for this organization that they haven’t done here, to move on to be able to play in the AFC Championship if we can get there this week. So, we understand we have to put all the marbles we have in one basket and go up to Foxborough and play against a tough football team.”
You mentioned to Houston reporters that you’ve thought about retiring after the season. Where does that stand right now?
“That still stands, what I said last week. At this point in my career, that’s something I’ll think heavy about once the season ends to see what I really want to do. It’s hard to walk away from something that you love and you’ve been playing for so long, but we can’t play the game forever. That’s a decision I’ll make at the end of the season and give it some time and some thought and I’ll weigh different things and go from there. But whenever I make that decision I’m full-fledged making the decision. I won’t be one of those ones that calls it quits and says no, I’m not retiring, I’m coming back. None of that game. When it’s time to hang my cleats up, I’m going to hang them up for good. That’s something at the end of the season I’ll take a look at it and weigh my options and see how I feel about it.”
What does it mean to you to be in the playoffs all but one year of your career?
“That’s a blessing, and it’s rare. My 13-year career, 12 years I’ve been in the postseason and the one year I didn’t make it, we were 11-5, having a chance at the last game of the season where certain guys going in had all of the different scenarios to have a chance to be in the postseason. I’ve played a lot of football in my career and I don’t regret anything I’ve done. I had a great career. Even if I do call it quits, I’ve had a great career. I’m happy with my career. I’m happy with the route I went in my 13-year career. That’s something I will always cherish and that’s probably something a lot of people can’t say, saying they’ve been in the situation that I am. To me, that’s what I’ve made of it. It always feels good to play football going into January and hopefully into February because that means you’ve been doing something well, your ball club’s been doing something well and you’re playing towards one goal, and that’s to win the Super Bowl. I’ve been on both sides where I won it and I’ve lost it, so I know both feelings and I know what it takes to get to that. Hopefully we can rally our troops down here and make sure everybody’s minds right.”
What are your thoughts on Patriots RBs LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis and James White and does that unit remind you of any running backs groups you played with in New England?
“I think the backfield they have now is very, very, very explosive. You have three or four backs that can really get going and get the game started in all directions – in the pass game and in the running game. They’re very dynamic when they’re all in there and you just have to understand how you can be attacked, and with those backs you can be attacked in all different kinds of ways. I think that’s one of the hardest things for a defense to prepare for, when you have multiple backs that can go in the game and be fresh going into a game. It’s a handful. It’s a handful. It’s not like you’re getting a guy that’s running the ball 25-30 times. So, it keeps the backs fresh and that’s a positive that New England has, where they can get guys in the backfield or on the field. Give you different looks and still be explosive and still be playing relatively fresh. We understand the importance of understanding how we have to attack them and what’s the possibility of them attacking us a certain way in the pass game, in the run game. We just have to be able to do a really good job of executing, and that’s what it’s going to come down to.”
What differences have you noticed in the Patriots offensive line this year versus last year and what do you recall about practicing against Patriots Offensive Line Coach Dante Scarnecchia’s group every day?
“Well, I know he’s going to have those guys ready to play. Between ‘Scar’ and (Tom) Brady and Bill (Belichick), they’re going to have that bunch ready to play. When you have a quarterback of that caliber, he’s going to demand a lot from his offense and from his team, but especially his offense. I think they’re done a really good job of keeping him clean and giving him pockets to throw the ball, giving the running backs lanes to run the ball, sometimes two and three holes that they can hit. I think that group has done a real good job over the course of the year, no matter who is playing. They always seem to get guys and get smart guys that understand the game plan, they understand what they’re trying to accomplish. No matter who you see up front, they’re going to always be ready to play. From last year even to now, the bunch has shuffled around a little bit. You lose guys, guys come in and step in and then they do their job, they get the job done. It doesn’t matter who we face. They’re going to always be ready to play football.”
When you left here, did you leave with the mindset of wanting to prove anything, and do you feel like over the last two seasons in Houston that you have proven whatever it was you wanted to?
“I don’t think I needed to prove anything to anyone. My career speaks for itself. We have some positive things down here in Houston. This organization is kind of young. This organization hasn’t been around for a long time. This organization has actually done some pretty good things the last couple years. My thing was always wanting to play football, no matter where it was. I would have loved to continue to play up there but it didn’t happen. It didn’t put me in a certain state of mind. I just knew I’m a football player. Wherever I was going to play I was going to play and give it my all, and that’s what I did. I never looked back, and like I said, I never regret any decision I make in my career, and I won’t regret anything. At the end of the day, I’ll hang my cleats up and hang my hat up understanding and knowing that when I played this game I played it with everything I had. My teammates understand that.”
What’s the year been like for you? Do you still have the joy for the game like you did in New England or has it been more workmanlike this year?
“I’ll always have joy playing this game. That’s why I will continue to play when I have joy for the game and passion for the game. That’s one of the things I really have to look at because I still have those. I still have the passion, I still have the love, I still have the joy. I enjoy coming to work every day with my guys and laughing, going on the practice field and all that stuff. I enjoy all of that stuff. That’s why it’s tough to walk away from this game when you still feel like you still have a lot left in the tank. If I do call it quits it’s not because my body’s tired or anything like that or I’m beat down because my whole career I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve played with nicks and bruises, but everybody does. I’ve been very blessed and lucky to have only one major injury in my career, and that’s all the way from Little League to now. So, I still enjoy it and I’m coming to work playing well, having fun. I still enjoy that stuff. Mondays now after the game are no different from Mondays in year five or six. I still feel the same way. It feels like you’ve been in a train wreck, but as the week goes on you get better and better and you get ready to rock and roll toward the end of the week when it’s game time.
What do you think about Texans Linebackers Coach Mike Vrabel having a team reach out to him to be a head coach?
“It’s amazing. Playing with Mike, you could tell he always had that niche in the way of a player’s coach. On the field playing the game, he knew the game so well. One of the things is he’s very smart and he understands the game from all aspects, not just defensively. I think one day he will be and it probably will be soon when he will be a head coach. I think he deserves it and I think he’s ready to be it. So, whoever will give him a shot, give him a chance, I think they will be happy with what they have. Just being around him as a player and now being around him as a coach, he has everything it takes to be a head coach at this level. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with his post-career in football and now into coaching to see how he’s going to handle everything. I think he’s going to handle it well.”
I know you still have close relationships with players and coaches on the team here and the Kraft Family. Will you give yourself a moment to savor the moment when you are here on Saturday or if you are focused 100 percent on the game and task at hand?
“I have a lot of relationships still back there. I will see a lot of guys that I played with and I will see a lot of guys that coached while I was there. I will always show them love and they will do the same with me, no matter if it was down here or up there. It won’t be any different, but at the end of the day, they know I’m a competitor, I’m going to do everything I possibly can to win a ball game. I have friends over there still. At the end of the day, there is a game to play. I will say hello and everything before the game, but once the game kicks off, they are my enemies and I’m pretty sure I’m their enemies. That’s how the game should be played. It’s no buddy-buddy between the lines. You do all that outside of the lines.”
What impact have you had on the younger players on the Texans defense?
“It’s all leadership. Sometimes you have to understand how to get the best out of everyone. Sometimes coaches can struggle with that because they have so much of a bigger picture. They have to run a team. They have to figure out 53-man, practice squad and all that. They can’t put the quality of time in individuals like they want to and I think that’s when you have your leaders step in and deliver that message on the field and off the field. Being able to get together, have dinner, have lunch, sit down and watch film. That’s one of the things that I try to bring that leadership quality here at this facility. Making sure some of these young guys understand what it takes to be a professional. Sometimes you might want to be, but sometimes you might not want to be a professional. Just being able to get through to them on the big picture of being a professional. I think these big guys like (Jadeveon) Clowney and Whitney (Mercilus) and the young guys like D.J. Reader and guys like that, I think they are playing their role very well. Now we have a lot of guys and without Clowney the past two seasons and now he’s doing everything that everybody wanted to see. That’s why he was the No. 1 pick a couple years ago. He’s showcasing. When guys play well, their confidence level rises. They actually see the bigger outlook on the effect they have on their teammates and coaches. Clowney is a Pro Bowler this year, and he deserves to be. I think the whole league understands why he was No. 1 now the past couple of years.”
How do the Texans view being such underdogs in this game?
“I think last night we saw the game between Alabama and Clemson where these so-called experts had Clemson as underdogs. In 2007, those experts had the New York Giants as underdogs and both of those teams went on to win the Super Bowl and the National Championship. So, it goes to show you what these experts know. One of the things is we don’t pay attention to outside, what people have to say about us or how good or how bad we are. I think this team is a close-knit group. We play well together and we keep everything as a family. We approach every game the same, win or lose. We win as a team, we lose as a team. I don’t think anything outside this building should have any impact on how we feel as a team for one another. At this level, you have to be a tight-knit group in crunch time in critical situations. We’re in it right now. We’re in the playoffs. We have a shot. We gave ourselves a shot, we gave ourselves a chance to play for the big dance. We’re in that spot. It’s going to have no bearing on how we’ll go up there and how we feel because of what someone else said. We’re going to go in and play our tails off.”