As a coach preparing for a playoff game, can your team and coaching staff enjoy the playoffs, the situation and the moment?
“Absolutely, I just said that to the team. It’s a new season. Twelve teams qualified – everybody starts with a clean slate. I heard several coaches over the last few days describe what it is. It’s the second season, it’s a new season. You definitely have to embrace the moment. Younger players, I tell them all the time, don’t take this for granted. You got a shot, you’re in a tournament, and you’re in a tournament to win a championship. It’s a great opportunity for every team involved.”
What would you say to people who say the Texans have no chance to get to the Super Bowl because of their offense?
“If I lived by what other people said, what’s the point? We feel very good about where we’re at. We play the game a certain way. We’re in the playoffs – we’re one of 12 teams. Don’t really care about what anybody outside this building thinks with all due respect.”
What are your thoughts on what S Quintin Demps has contributed and how he’s playing right now?
“He’s playing at a high level. He means a lot to our defense, he means a lot to the backend. He’s done a really good job of tackling. He’s made a lot of plays on the football obviously with his interceptions, but he’s made other plays. He’s done a really good job of blitzing when we’ve asked him to do that. He’s just a good, solid football player. He’s a leader back there, he was a captain for us last week, and he’s had a good year for us.”
After what happened in the fourth quarter the last time you played the Raiders, what can you tell your defense or what can you focus on to finish the game strong?
“Finish, that’s it. Finish. Everybody do a good job in the fourth quarter of finishing everything. Finish tackles, finish blocks, finish catches, finish throws – finish is a big word in the playoffs. You got to make sure that you get off to a good start, no doubt about it. But you also have to make sure that you do a good job of finishing the game, play every play, right to the last second.”
Anybody else lobbying to play some fullback like G Xavier Sua-Filo did this past game?
“Oh yeah, (Vince) Wilfork always lobbies to play fullback, no question about it. There’s several other guys that think they have fantastic fullback skills that are larger than most fullbacks. We’ll stick with (Jay) Prosch, he’ll be ready to go.”
Are you worried a rookie quarterback who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know could come out and just sling it all over the place?
“First of all, I don’t really use the word ‘worried’ at all. I just use the word ‘prepared,’ I use the word ‘focus,’ ‘energy,’ making sure that our players understand how we want to play the game, and then very early on try to see how the game is being played by the Oakland Raiders. That’s part of the fun and part of the challenge of every game in the NFL, especially in the playoffs, is to try to really - after the first three or four series of the game – really have an idea of how the game is being played. The guy can throw it, I scouted this guy coming out of college. He won the Big Ten championship, I think, at least once, probably twice. The guy can throw the ball. I’m sure they have a ton of confidence in him to be able to do that. They’ve got great receivers in Amari Cooper and (Michael) Crabtree. A big offensive line that can protect. We’ve got to be ready for anything.”
Is there an update on OLB John Simon?
“John will be out for the game.”
Good coaches don’t wait until halftime to make adjustments. When do you start making your halftime adjustments?
“You really can’t wait until halftime because a lot of times it can be too late. What you have to do, to me, not to give you too long of a longwinded answer, the game is kind of divided up into three parts – the first quarter is where you really have to see how the game is being played and be ready to adjust during the first quarter. Basically, the second and third quarters are a lot about those adjustments that you made in the first quarter and how that’s going – is the game still being played that way? The fourth quarter is all about situational football, your best plays in the most critical situations of the game. That’s kind of how we view the game, we break the game up into three areas. It’s important to make sure you’re on top of how you think, how you feel the game is being played early on.”
You talked about the playoffs being the second season. How is this week different for you managing the locker room and preparing?
“It’s a short week, so we got right to work on the plane back from Tennessee to try to give our players enough information right away. We kind of backed the schedule up from a normal week, gave them 36 hours off, but it also gave our coaches time to be able when the guys came in right away that we had a lot of good information for them. We weren’t saying to them, ‘Hey look, we’ll get this to you tomorrow.’ We were able to get it to them right away, so that’s kind of the big thing with me as the head coach – is to make sure that everybody is pointing in the right direction, coaches and players, and that we’re all on the same page with how we want to approach the game.”
What are the challenges of getting the quarterback and offensive line on the same page with protections, and then getting your offensive line back to the level where they were earlier in the year when they were playing good football?
“I think when our offensive line is playing good football together, communicating together, everybody is on the same page, we can do some really good things. Offensive line play is not easy - it will not be easy on Saturday with Oakland’s front - but I think these guys take a lot of pride in what they do. They know that they can play at a better level than what they’ve played recently. They’re led by Duane Brown who’s playing at a very high level himself, and I expect these guys to come out and play well.”
Did playing so many close games in the regular season help your team deal with the pressure of the playoffs?
“I think that playing in games that are decided in the fourth quarter, especially when you win them, those go a long way to helping you in the playoffs. They go a long way to helping your team overall because most of these games come down to the fourth quarter, so when you can end up on the winning end because you’ve stopped them on third down, or you’ve kept the chains moving on third down, or you’ve had a real good two-minute drive, or you’ve held them in the red area to a field goal on defense, those situations that come up in the fourth quarter when you succeed and you win, I think it does a lot of good for your team.”
Talk about K Nick Novak and P Shane Lechler and you’re kicking game overall.
“First of all, Shane has had a really good year. He and I spent some time together in the offseason talking about some things he could do to help our team. He’s gone out there and done them. He’s done a nice job with plus-50 kicking, he’s done a nice job when we really needed a big kick late in the game with hang-time and distance. He’s done a really nice job. It’s really good to see that from a veteran player who’s been around a long time so that the younger players can see how you can improve even when you are 17 or 18 years into the game. Novak has done a really good job of obviously coming up with some big kicks for us as it relates to field goals. He’s made some big field goals for us. He’s placed the ball pretty well on kickoffs – he’s always working on that to be as consistent as he can on that. I think both guys have had a good year for us.”
What would it mean to you and the Texans organization to win the team’s first playoff game since 2012?
“It’s important. It’s important. Playoffs are a great opportunity for everybody. Great opportunity for the organization. We know that the city is excited about it. We know that it’s going to be an electric atmosphere on Saturday afternoon. We’re all looking forward to it. We’re all motivated to win the game. We know that it’s a very tough opponent. We know it’s going to be a battle. But wining a playoff game is a great accomplishment. I’ve been around a few of them and it’s a great feeling. It’s a lot different than a regular season win. There’s a lot more on the line. It’s an exciting time.”
Can you feel the intensity turned up a notch this week since it’s the playoffs?
“I think so. I feel like there’s a lot of good energy at practice. Guys are flying around. Guys are having fun. I think that the coaches are locked in on coaching the details of every play, what to expect, what happened on the play in all three phases. I think the coaches have put a lot of time into this thing and they’ve worked hard to try to put these players in a good position to go out there and play well. We feel good about where we’re at right now.”
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR ROMEO CRENNEL
What can you do to throw rookie Raiders QB Connor Cook off balance?
“Well I think that one of the things they’re going to try and do is try to run the ball because they’ve got good runners. They got a big offensive line and if they can run the ball that’ll take some of the pressure off the quarterback. So we have to stop the run primarily and if we can do a good job stopping the run then that’ll put more pressure on him (Connor Cook) to make some throws and have to drop back and throw so I mean that’s kind of the way we approach every game a little bit is to be able to stop the run.”
In regards to their running backs, you guys had some issues when it came to who was matching up where and linebackers staying with guys. Can you talk about that?
“Well yeah. That poses some problems and so might have to try to put a DB on some of those backs instead of linebacker. If a linebacker has to cover him, he’s got to use good leverage and technique and if he’s gotten help he’s got to use his help and I know that they’ll go out there and do the best they can.”
When you watch the film of the fourth quarter when you played the Raiders earlier this season, what are some things you saw that you guys could do better?
“Not give up two touchdowns. And if we don’t give up the touchdowns, we’re in the ball game.”
What was the key to not having the two touchdowns in the fourth quarter of the game against the Raiders earlier this season?
“Yeah, one of them was a long touchdown and sometimes guys see something and they react to it and a guy was left open and so they scored a touchdown. Then the other one they just kind of ran it down our throats on that one. We got to do a better job in both areas.”
Where do you keep your five Super Bowl rings and do you still get as fired up about the playoffs as you did earlier in your career?
“They’re in a safe except for I do have one with me. I think it’s the second New England one. Not for any particular reason. That was the one that was closest to me when I came down. The others are in a safe, but yes you get excited about the playoffs because you know what the playoffs may lead to or can lead to and so if you can make it to the playoffs, like I tell them, you got your invitation to the dance and so now once you get in the door at the dance then see how far you can dance and so you got to play them one at a time and so that’s what we’ve been focusing on and the one Saturday is the biggest game of the year and we have to play our best and whether it’s a rookie quarterback or veteran quarterback – it really doesn’t make any difference. We have to beat the Raiders to be able to move on. And so that’s been the focus.”
Have you or any of the other coaches and players brought out past Super Bowl rings and shown the players this season?
“It’s too early. I mean this month is a hard month for the playoff teams and nothing is easy and I think we got to win a couple games before we start talking about rings and bringing them out.”
Who sticks out to you at running back for the Raiders in the game plan for this Saturday’s Wild Card playoff?
“They all have different abilities, you know, like (Latavius) Murray is the better runner and they have some guys that can catch some passes like we saw the last time. So we have to be cognizant of who’s in the game and how they’re using the backs that are in the game and they use several backs during the course of a game, so us knowing who’s in the game and then how we need to defend that particular back makes a difference. But then they got some receivers also who can catch the football. They’ve got a good team and that’s why they’re where they are. It’s unfortunate for them that they lost the quarterback, but hey it was unfortunate for us losing J.J. Watt. So you got to line up and you got to go play.”
What have you learned about Raiders QB Connor Cook this week?
“Well he’s starting his first game. He went in last week and it didn’t look too big for him. He knew their system and he made a couple throws and it looked like he ran the offense OK. I think the big deal is how much they’re going to put on his shoulders, how much of the offense that they’re going to give him because they have a lot of offense, a lot of personnel groups and they do a lot of things and so how much will they expect him to be able to do? I think that’s the big question.”
Since there is so little tape on QB Connor Cook in an actual NFL game, is there any uneasiness getting ready for him?
“Well you can go back and you can look at preseason. You can go back and look at him in college and you can still tell a little bit about him. That he’s got some running ability. He throws a pretty good ball. The thing that you don’t know in the NFL is how he’s going to react to NFL-type pressure and so we’ll find out.”
What have you learned about the Texans defense without DE J.J. Watt?
“Well what I’ve told them all year is that we have to play as a unit and everybody on the unit has to pick their game up to try to make up for the plays that J.J. provides because J.J. provides a lot of dynamic plays. Sometimes you’re not able to get those type of plays from one guy other than J.J. So the whole unit has to pick up their game and so we’ve been preaching that to them and I think that they’ve kind of listened to the message and when they play well together we are pretty good.”
Your defense has carried your offense this season. Do you think your players play better knowing that every play is so crucial?
“I don’t talk to them about pressure on them. I talk to them about playing defense. Whenever we go on the field, no matter where it is that we go on the field, it’s our job to play defense and if we play defense good, they don’t score and then we don’t lose because if they don’t score generally it’s going to be a 0-0 tie. I mean, there’s some circumstances that that might not be the case, but it’s the defenses job to keep them from scoring and getting on the board and so that’s what we talk to them about.”
Considering how well you played overall, how disappointing was it for you to lose the Raiders game in Mexico City?
“Well anytime you lose it’s disappointing. It was a hard fought game, but we lost it. We didn’t do enough to win the game, so we’re going to try to do it enough to win this one.”
Can your defensive unit thrive against Raiders rookie QB Connor Cook?
“What I’ve told them is he’s a professional football player. He gets paid and he’s got talent and got ability and we’ve got to beat him. That’s what I’ve told them. I mean hey you look at the young quarterback (Dak Prescott) down in Dallas. He’s done pretty good so you don’t know until you get out there on that field.”
S QUINTIN DEMPS
Did you know that you’re only the eighth player in the history of this franchise to win AFC Defensive Player of the Month?
“No, I didn’t know that.”
It doesn’t come around too often.
“You definitely have to earn it, too. You definitely have to earn it, too.”
What has this week been like for you guys?
“We’re just full of energy, just excited. It’s a new season for us, a fresh start. We’re playing somebody that we played before so we’re just looking forward to the challenge and we know we have to rise to the challenge for sure.”
What was it like winning AFC Defensive Player of the Month?
“It was good. It’s a great feeling, man. Just like I was telling him, it’s been a long coming for me, you know what I’m saying? It’s the road less traveled being a journeyman. Been on one-year deals the last five years, so to get an award like that, it definitely means a lot to me.”
What’s been different about you this year?
“I’m just on a mission, man. I’ve just been on a mission since last offseason to get some respect in this league for sure and win some ballgames.”
How’d you find out you won AFC Defensive Player of the Month?
“Amy (Palcic), of course.”
Who was your first call to?
“My lady, for sure.”
WR WILL FULLER V
What do you feel like you’ve learned this year as you’ve gone through the regular season?
“Just overall, I know the offense a lot better than I did when I first got here of course, and just from watching so much film, just overall structure of defenses as well.”
Head Coach Bill O’Brien said he likes your route-running and you’ve picked up the offense well. Do you feel like you have a good knowledge of at this point?
“Yeah. Just running a lot of the same routes the whole year, you’re just going to get a better feel for it and how coach wants it done.”
Do you feel like being banged up early in the year held you back a little bit?
“Oh, yeah. Like they said, the NFL is a long season so you have to stay on top of that. I learned that pretty quick, you have to stay in the treatment room.”
What can you do during the offseason to make sure you stay healthy next year?
“I don’t know. This is going to be my first offseason so I’m going to see what I’m going to do. I have a lot of options I can choose from, but I’m probably going to stay here and get some work around the facility.”
Head Coach Bill O’Brien said it would be help if you could get stronger without hurting your speed.
“I think the most I’ve ever weighed is probably about 190, and I felt pretty good. That was around the combine. If I can get to that weight and keep my speed, that would be perfect.”
What has this week of preparation been like?
“Not too different. Same getting ready for a team to play. Nothing too different. Just locked in. Everybody’s locked in and ready for the Raiders.”
What have you seen strength-wise out of their secondary?
“They have some big cornerbacks. I think one of their cornerbacks is a bout six-foot-three. I played them in the first game and they just have some big cornerbacks.”
How exciting is it to make the postseason as a rookie?
“Coach OB (Bill O’Brien) said don’t take it for granted, this doesn’t happen every year. So, I’m really excited for it. I can’t wait to get it going.”
How important is the ‘GRIT’ message on the t-shirts for you guys?
“It’s really important. I feel like that’s how our team - we took that in. A lot of injuries on the team but we never made any excuses, so grit is a big part of our team.”
OLB WHITNEY MERCILUS
Your thoughts on this playoff game and playing a rookie quarterback. What are you going to try to do to rattle a less experienced quarterback?
“Just put pressure in his face. As you get the pressure in his face, you hope for him to make some quick throws and he makes some mistakes off of them.”
Do you think if you stop the run, you can put yourself in position to try to get him in pressure situations?
“Yeah, exactly. What they like to do is really run the ball. They got some great backs that can make some plays happen. That’s exactly what they are probably going to do coming in here and playing this playoff game. Just have to be able to stop the run and get in to position. Put the game in the quarterback’s hands essentially.”
What’s the improvement of your run defense been like over the second half of the year?
“It’s been really good. Guys just really grinding it out, making plays, making some havoc in the backfield. JD (Jadeveon Clowney) out there, Benardrick McKinney, (Brian) Cushing, guys like that. Vince (Wilfork), just make sure we don’t give up any long plays or anything like that and get into some great third down situations.”
With Raiders QB Connor Cook being a rookie, how do you balance being aggressive but respecting the fact he’s a pro?
“Of course they are going to get him to be able to play a full game as a great quarterback, no doubt. Of course, but he’s still a rookie so he hasn’t had much experience as other quarterbacks have had. Honestly, we have to be able to take advantage of that fact, force him to make some quick throws, force him to make some bad decisions, but essentially, we have to stop the run first though.”
There have been a bunch of games where you have needed to finish. Some games you have, some you haven’t. Is it no difference than the regular season?
“Of course, like you said, we have to finish the game. It all goes down to all four quarters. In the last minutes of the game, there have been some times where we have not finished out the game despite playing three great quarters. We understand that fact going into this game, we have to play all four quarters. We understand what’s on the line. Definitely we want to get to that big dance in the end.”
What challenges do the Raiders skill players present?
“Honestly, we have to be great up front rushing the quarterback, first of all. Then our DBs have to do a great job shutting down those receivers essentially. If we get a combination of both, we will be in good shape.”
Does it surprise you that Raiders WR Armari Cooper hasn’t been targeted lately given his talent and what he can do?
“If he’s injured a little bit, if he’s nicked up or so, that could play a role in it, no doubt. All the same, we can’t fall asleep or anything like that. We have to be able to defend him and just play our game.”
What is the importance of having grit?
“You see all the shirts around here. The importance to having grit honestly is having a really tough football team, just understanding there’s going to be tough situations, some adverse situations, some mistakes that happen out there. That grit is what carries you through to overcome all those adverse situations.”