When you hired Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel early on, was he an integral part of what you were trying to build?
“Absolutely. He had been a former head coach, had great success as a defensive coordinator in a similar system in pro football that I was familiar with, and I knew that having a guy like him on our staff with all of the different experiences that he’s had in football both on and off the field – forget about the X’s and O’s – just all the other things he’s had to deal with, I knew that he’d be a valuable member of the staff. I think he’s been a very good member of the staff as it relates to the guys that work for him – (Mike) Vrabel, (John) Butler, (Anthony) Weaver, (Anthony) Midget, (Will) Lawing, (Shane) Bowen – those guys to be in a room with Romeo (Crennel), I think that’s a good thing for younger coaches too. It’s been good all the way around.”
How has your relationship with Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel developed over three years?
“Good, we have a good relationship. He loves football, I love football, we talk about a lot of different things as it relates to things that he’s had to deal with in his career, even when he was a head coach. You can bounce things off of him - he’s had a great amount of experience. We have a really good relationship.”
What are the challenges of coaching against someone you’ve coached with even if it’s been a while?
“I think it’s more about – it doesn’t really matter about the fact that I coached there or several other guys on our staff coached there. It’s more about the teams right now, the 2016 Patriots versus the 2016 Texans. That’s the most important thing, it’s about what they’re doing right now, what we’re doing. It’s going to come down to the team that executes the best and is able to adjust the fastest – we know that - and that’s what we’re prepared for.”
How much of a factor can P Shane Lechler be in this game?
“I think (Shane) Lech(ler) is a big factor in every game that we play. When we’ve won, we’ve usually won the field position battle. A lot of that has to do with his punting, his ability to pin a team inside the 20-yard line, making it very difficult to drive the ball 90 yards, 85 yards on our defense. Lech(ler) has improved his game actually in many ways as his career has gone on because now not only does he have a really strong leg, but he has the touch to be able to put it inside the 20 (yard line) which he’s done throughout the year. He’s been a big weapon for us.”
What was your mentality when you first got to the Patriots?
“I was the lowest guy on the totem pole. I just went in there and basically broke film down, did whatever was asked of me. I ran the scout team, did different projects for different coaches, helped out with different positions, and just really worked and observed – I observed a lot how the team was run, in team meetings, staff meetings – I was able to observe and learn a lot - that was my main role. The following year is when I became a position coach – I was a receiver coach in 2008 – obviously a lot more coaching came in to play then, but the first year was more about learning the pro game and just doing whatever they asked me to do.”
Patriots QB Tom Brady was telling some old stories yesterday about giving you a teapot. Do you know where the teapot is?
“I don’t know. It was more like a – I don’t even know if it was a teapot, it looked more like they had made it into a trophy with the lines and things like that. A lot of that stuff was made up too - the stuff they wrote on there - so you can’t believe everything they write. I don’t know where that it is, I’m not sure where that it is.”
Most coaches don’t take pay cuts. Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick talked about the leap of faith you took joining them. What was it like when you told your wife what you wanted to do?
“We were at Duke, we were coaching in college. Look, I had been in contact with Bill (Belichick) over the years, and he had a spot that he felt I was a good fit for it. He called and offered it to me. The money didn’t quite match up with what my salary was at the time. I think with Colleen and I, we always make decisions together and we both felt like that was the best decision for our family at the time, and that’s what we decided to do. We dealt with the pay cut and things like that knowing that we had the chance to go work for an organization that was a great one, and one that we could learn a lot in. So that was kind of the decision, but it took a few conversations. It took a few conversations.”
You mentioned Linebackers Coach Mike Vrabel’s ability to take his playing experience and translate it to players – how has he been able to do that so well as a coach?
“That’s a good point, he definitely has a great way of communicating things that he probably saw as a player, ways that he prepared as a player. Obviously, he communicates how he wants those guys to play, teaches the defense, teaches the front. He’s involved with a lot of different areas of the defense – the coverage, the rush, stopping the run – and he does a great job. I’m sure that the fact that he played 14 years, many of those experiences help him teach too. I’m sure the players – they obviously have a ton of respect for that, his playing career. Most importantly, they have a lot of respect for him as a coach, how he teaches, and how he communicates.”
How does your game plan evolve from the time you guys meet as coaches on Monday to the point you’re printing your game sheet and getting ready to play football?
‘I think that – look, we strive for perfection in practice – we’re not going out there and dipping our toe in the water. We want to make sure that we have great execution in practice – it doesn’t always turn out that way – then we go back and we watch the film as a staff and figure out what went wrong and if we need that play, no doubt about it. I think also, we talk to the players a lot about the plays they’re comfortable with – it’s not a dictatorship – it’s more about, ‘Hey look, do you like this play? Do you like this throw? Do you like this route? Do you like this blitz? Is this something you think will work?’ - especially the veteran players. But when we go out to practice, we want a high level of execution, and I think we had that this week. We had a good week of practice, so we’ll see what happens.”
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR ROMEO CRENNEL
Can you talk about what DE Jadeveon Clowney did in the game vs. Oakland?
“Well, I think it helped us win the game and that was important. We need those kind of plays from him again this week if we are going to win. So I’m excited about the possibility.”
Do you try and be even more aggressive when you face Patriots QB Tom Brady to try and get to him as much as possible?
“I think if you can get to any quarterback, you impact him. Some are harder to get to than others. He’s not playing as long as he has with as much success as he’s had because people have been getting to him a lot. So you have to pick and choose your spots and try to impact him at some point during the game.”
What sold you on joining the Texans three years ago when they reached out?
“Like I’ve mentioned before, it was important at that stage of my career to work with good people and I had heard some good things about Bill (O’Brien). I had a chance to sit down and talk to him. I knew some of the people that he was thinking about bringing with him. I had met Rick (Smith) over the course of time, so I just felt like the people here were good people that I wanted to work with.”
As you look back at some of the playoff games the Patriots have lost at Gillette Stadium, what did you see from the opposing teams with their mindset and aggressiveness?
“The teams that won, they’ve gone in with an aggressive attitude, were able to make plays, able to get ahead and make those guys play from behind, because one of the things they pride themselves in is getting ahead in the game and staying ahead. If you can get ahead in the game, I think you put a little bit more pressure on them that they might have to do some things that they don’t want to do. That can help a team win.”
What are some of the challenges of coaching against someone you have coached with?
“Probably the biggest challenge is your coaching against a coach and a team that’s a high-percentage winning team. We know that we have to be at our best if we are going to win the game and go up there and play our best football so that’s what we’ve been concentrating on and getting ready to go do.”
With Patriots QB Tom Brady at quarterback, is it more important to get internal pass rush?
“I think a lot of quarterbacks if you can get internal rush you impact them because they aren’t able to step up in the pocket and deliver the ball. I don’t think Brady is any different as far as that goes. If you can get internal pressure, I think that can be helpful, but external pressure, if you can get him on the ground is helpful, too.”
Do you treat this week the same as a normal work week or is it different?
“Well, you kind of have to do what you’ve been doing, but this is the playoffs and you know it carries more weight and it’s one and done. You want to try and put that best foot forward to give yourself the best chance to play next week.”
How key is having interchangeable pieces been to having the No. 1 defense in the NFL despite all the injuries?
“What we do is we try to put the best players on the field and put them in positions that they can make plays. If that means moving them around if they have the ability to do that, if they can make sure they can pick up on everything we are doing from different positions, then we will do that to try to help us. We’ve been able to do that this year, moving some people around and bringing some people in and like I’ve said before, that’s a credit to the players because they stayed focused in the meetings, focused on the practice field and then they try to execute the game plan and it’s worked this year.”
Patriots QB Tom Brady has seen everything. Is it important to try to come up with something that he hasn’t seen for this game?
“I think that you kind of know what you’re going to get, so you try to defend that the best you can. I don’t know that trying to devise things - because you don’t have the time, you don’t have the time needed to come up with too many ideas, but you might come up with one wrinkle that you think might impact them and try to use that and see if it works.”
When QB Drew Bledsoe got hurt and Patriots QB Tom Brady became the starter, what did you think of him at first?
“I liked him because he was able to win games for us. I saw him grow and develop as a quarterback and he’s done very well since he took over. I know that when he took over, there was a deal when the other quarterback was ready to come back, what are we going to do? So, there was some decision time there about that. Drew (Bledsoe) didn’t like it, but we decided to stay with Tom (Brady) and Tom has proved his worth by continuing to win, having a tremendous career and so that’s the way it happens in this league sometimes. Just one play can make a difference. With Drew, boom, he gets hurt and then Tom has an opportunity, he takes advantage of it and really hasn’t looked back since.”
Is there a specific play that Tom Brady made in the first year where you kind of realized that he was going to be special?
“Yeah, it was the very first play of that Super Bowl, our first Super Bowl up there, 2001. No timeouts and we are backed up and he drops back to pass and didn’t realize it at the time, but if you go look at that tape, a defensive linemen rushing was millimeters away from hitting his arm and if his arm had gotten hit, he doesn’t complete the ball to the running back who runs out of bounds and then gets that drive going so that we can go down and kick the field goal. Then when you look at that play, you say, ‘Boom, that’s some composure.’ He knows what to do. He takes what the defense gives him and he was able to win a pretty big game for us.”
TE C.J. FIEDOROWICZ
Can you talk about how everything has started to click for you this season?
“I think as a group we’ve done a good job listening to the coaching and really learning the coverages in the NFL. It’s not just a couple, you got to know 20-30 coverages and just being able to react fast and see it before it happens. Just study film, there’s a certain way to study film, there’s so much more to NFL football than it was in college. I think we’re picking it up pretty well.”
How excited are you about this opportunity to face the Patriots?
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We’re all going to make the best of it. We’ve all been getting good work in and just staying focused in practice and getting good practices in. Taking care of ourselves and getting ready to go for Saturday.”
How much does the loss to the Patriots in Week 3 motivate you?
“We had a bad showing. That definitely wasn’t our best game. We’re playing well right now. That game really doesn’t mean anything to us. If we put it together like we did last week, I think we’ll be just fine.”
What the relationship between you and QB Brock Osweiler like?
“We have a good relationship. Since day one when he got here, he was throwing to the tight ends. Whether it was watching extra film or doing extra routes after practice, from day one like I said, we’ve had a good relationship.”
Did you expect to be more involved in the offense this year once he arrived?
“I had no idea. I didn’t know. I kind of heard things about him throwing to his tight ends when he was playing over in Denver. At the end of the day, you have to prove that you’re going to catch the ball and we’ve been doing it since OTAs. As a group, I think we’ve made a lot of strides.”
Do you feel like you’re more of an option in the passing game because you’re comfortable and familiar with the offense?
“It makes us what to work harder too, knowing that we’re going to get a couple passes in the game. I was a blocker my first two years, I’m not afraid to admit it. I had a lot to learn and I’ve really put the time in.”
WR DeANDRE HOPKINS
How is your knee feeling?
Can you talk about Patriots CB Malcolm Butler and what you think about him as a corner?
“As long as I’ve been playing the Patriots, Malcolm Butler lined up against me zero times, so I really can’t tell you much for me against him, but I can tell you studying film what he does against other players. He’s a very competitive guy. He makes plays on the ball. Very instinctive. But he hasn’t guarded me since I played the Patriots in all three years.”
Do you think Patriots CB Malcolm Butler might matchup against you since he has emerged now?
“It could, but the last two years I’ve played them they had the same kind of scheme against me and they won the game. So I’m not sure they would change that scheme.”
What kind of scheme do the Patriots use against you?
“They would put Logan Ryan in front of me – right directly on top of me and then the safety on top of him.”
Do they single up Patriots CB Malcolm Butler on someone else?
“Yeah, yeah. They do that a lot with other teams as well.”
What were you doing on Monday night?
“Monday night? Oh man. I was getting some rest to come here and get my body ready for this week honestly. Definitely called my fellow Clemson teammates and enjoyed the victory. I’m from Clemson, so it’s more than the college to me. I’ve been there my whole life going to games since I was five years old. So that was a big win for the city.”
You almost picked the score last week. Can you talk about that?
“Yeah man and everybody looked at me crazy.”
We won’t ask you to pick the score on this game.
“Don’t. Just listen to Vegas like y’all always do.”
Can you talk about the opportunity you have as a team?
“We have a tremendous chance to make a big statement not just for us but for the league in general because we know the type of team we have. We don’t make excuses. We just go out there and get the job done.”
Is there a key to beating their scheme with two people covering you?
“No. It’s just more really effort. There’s not a certain route that you can go draw down to beat two guys doubling you. You just got to go out there and play football. It’s not easy, but a lot of guys get double teamed - Antonio Brown, Julio Jones. I just watch film on those guys to see what they’re doing, some things, because there’s not a certain route that you can draw up to beat it.”
Do you use not having a lot of luck against the Patriots as motivation?
“No. Not really. They haven’t knocked me out of the playoffs, but I am winless against those guys. But this is playoff football. This is totally different football. I haven’t played them in the playoffs.”
What’s your mentality going into this game?
“Our mentality is the same mentality as every game. You know, go out and win however we have to do that and stick to our keys. Stick to what we know. Don’t try to do too much. We know we have a good football team. We know we matchup against anybody, so just go out and play our game. That’s our game plan.”