Head Coach Bill O’Brien
Defensive Coordinator Mike Vrabel
OLB/DE Jadeveon Clowney
RB D’Onta Foreman
WR DeAndre Hopkins
OLB Whitney Mercilus
ILB Benardrick McKinney
HEAD COACH BILL O’BRIEN
What is the first thing you need to do against Patriots QB Tom Brady to set everything else in motion?
“You better be lined up. They’re going to go fast, go at a good tempo whether they’re huddled or no-huddle. They just have a really efficient, fast tempo. Not out of control, very efficient, very sharp and you have to make sure, whatever personnel grouping you’re in, whatever the call is, that you’re lined up and that you know what your responsibility is. It’s basically at the snap of a finger because the ball’s going to be snapped very quickly.”
What do you see in Patriots WR Chris Hogan?
“Big guy, good speed, good hands. Obviously a go-to guy for them, a guy that’s made a lot of plays for them since he’s been there. Made a bunch of plays last year for them in the playoffs, Super Bowl, the whole thing. I mean, the guy’s a good player. We saw it at The Greenbrier. They’ve got a lot of weapons on that side of the ball.”
Do you remember anything specific you worked on with Patriots QB Tom Brady when you were together and how do you approach working with such an accomplished player?
“I think coaching a player, doesn’t matter who the player is, there’s certain things that are base fundamentals to coaching whatever position you’re coaching. But at the same time, then it’s important to understand the player and where the player is in his career. There were different styles of coaching that he had been accustomed to before I was his coach and then we got to know each other pretty well. We spent a lot of time together, but I was the coach and he was the player and we both did the best we could to put the best unit out on the field. And that’s basically what coaching is. Coaching’s teaching. It doesn’t matter who you’re coaching. At the end of the day, you’re a teacher and then when it does matter, when you’re looking at who you’re coaching, that’s when you have to think about, OK, what is my teaching style? What am I teaching this player? But coaching is teaching, and that’s why coaching is such an important part of the whole deal here in the NFL.”
What has your coaching style been with QB Deshaun Watson?
“I don’t know. You’d have to ask him.”
How much of an adjustment is it going from a veteran quarterback to a rookie quarterback based on what you’re trying to do on a daily basis?
“I think there’s a big difference. I think relative to, let’s just say, in the running game. This might be a play that Deshaun’s (Watson) hearing for the first time whereas Tom (Savage) ran the play a thousand times. So, you still have to maybe go over it with the veteran player, but with Deshaun, you’re actually teaching the whole history of the play, the ins and outs of the play. There’s a big difference. That’s what I mean by there’s some basic fundamentals to every position that you coach, basic coaching fundamentals, basic theories and philosophies that you have to cover. But then it becomes, OK, where is this guys in his career and how are we coaching him relative to what we need to do to get this game plan in.”
Has there been a moment in the first two games or just since DE J.J. Watt’s been back that you felt that this was the J.J. that you’ve seen in the past?
“Look, I think any player that misses time, I said this last week, any player that misses time – he hadn’t played since September of last year. It’s not like you can just snap a finger and you’re just back in to the way you were, but with a player like him, it’s clear that he’s getting back to where he was. I mean, you can see the improvement from Week 1 to Week 2 and I’m sure you’ll see improvement from Week 2 to Week 3. I mean, he’s a great player. He hasn’t lost a step at all. It’s just a matter of having not played football with pads on and a helmet on and taking on blocks and playing ten plays in a row. It’s a whole lot different than even practice and it’s definitely different than conditioning and working out in the weight room and running on the field. So, I think you’ll see him get better and better. He played really well for us on Thursday night and he’ll play well for us again.”
What do you think about K Ka’imi Fairbairn’s performance so far, especially in his first clutch situation last Thursday?
“I think he’s a good kicker. I really do. I think he’s a good, young kicker. I think he’s got a strong leg. I think he can do a lot of different things kicking, as far as directing the ball on the kickoffs, as far as his range on field goals, doesn’t matter what hash it’s on. I think the guy’s doing a good job right now. Again, that was a big kick because that forced Cincinnati to have to drive for a touchdown instead of a field goal. I think that was an important kick for him early on in his career and hopefully he can build on it.”
How much of a challenge is the Patriots’ running game, with a variety of different backs and all that?
“Very challenging. The way that they use their backs is, really you can’t compare it to anyone else. They do a great job of – whether it’s James White, all the way to (Mike) Gillislee. They all have different skillsets. (Rex) Burkhead, Dion Lewis – they all do something a little bit different and they use them in different ways and you better make sure you know which one of them is in the game. Sometimes they’re in the game together and then when (James) Develin’s in the game, it’s a whole different ballgame. So, I think that’s a big part of our players doing a good job of understanding their personnel and who’s in the game and what they can do, what their skillsets are, what they’re able to do. That’s a challenging part of the game plan.”
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR MIKE VRABEL
What do you think it says about the defense that you guys have gone 31 games in a row without giving up a 300-yard passer?
“I had no idea, but I know we have good players (and) we have good coaches. We try to give them the best plan we can. They play hard. When you talk about the passing game, everybody’s like ‘Oh, we need more rush, we need better coverage.’ You really have to combine both of them. You have to have a great pass rush with a good plan and then you have to mix coverages and our guys are able to do that and they’re able to get on them tight. When you get tight coverage and a good rush, it’s usually been successful. And a good rush isn’t always a sack. It’s not always just based by sacks, and I think if you look at that, we try to do a good job of disrupting what the quarterback’s strengths are. Same thing in the secondary.”
Does it give you any advantage that you know Patriots QB Tom Brady as well as you do?
“I think that they rely on precision, they rely on the operation, the timing, the comfort level of the receivers and where they’re supposed to be. The backs – they get the backs involved. They have great backs. Obviously, we know what Gronk (Rob Gronkowski) can do. And then working the speed guys in with (Brandin) Cooks and (Phillip) Dorsett and then (Chris) Hogan and then (Danny) Amendola coming back. So, that’s a huge challenge. We know that he’s got a lot of comfort in most of those guys.”
What do you think ILB Zach Cunningham learned in the preseason game and how much is that going to help him in this game?
“I think with Zach (Cunningham) – most young players, the more they play and the more they see things and the way they practice and the better we can coach them, they start to make improvements. And I think that you saw that the play that he made against the Bengals and the other plays that he made, those are huge plays for us. I think that’s what we expected when we drafted him, was that he could make those tackles – that’s a great tackle in space on a good third-down back. So, hopefully, he can learn the splits and try to see things or the running back and his release and how the guy’s releasing, what the alignment is and all those types of things.”
What have you seen from ILB Benardrick McKinney’s development?
“I think that the overall thing, the biggest thing, has just been his leadership, his demeanor out there on the field, his communication, his understanding. It’s not easy going from one position inside to another. It’s a completely different look, completely different side, different calls, different checks. He’s embraced it. But, being a young player, looking at him over the past couple years, his leadership has really skyrocketed and his communication.”
Has there been a moment in either of the past two games where you felt that DE J.J. Watt was back?
“Well, I think J.J. (Watt) has been back for a while. I think that he’s working his way back in, not only just to our defense, but him. He’s out of football for a year. So, he plays just as hard as I remember and he’s being just as disruptive. I think that any time you look at guys that have sack numbers, it’s, ‘When are you getting sacks?’ There’s a lot that goes into it other than that. There’s a lot of times where (Andy) Dalton had two-and-a-half seconds to throw and he’s launching it out of bounds and we win. That’s not a sack, but to me – you look at the last play of the game, nobody got a sack, but he also dropped back and threw it in about two seconds and threw it out of bounds. So, to me, that was just as good a pass rush as anything else that we could possibly get.”
DE J.J. Watt said he felt a difference between Week 1 and Week 2. Did you see that?
“I mean, I try to watch the whole defense. I’m trying to watch and see where guys are in our defense – where we can put guys the best to make plays and help us. And J.J. (Watt) knows better than anybody. I think that’s a great point, is to ask J.J. how he’s feeling because he’s the one that knows probably when he wasn’t right last year, when he wasn’t right with the back and how it feels. And so, if he’s feeling good, then we’re feeling good.”
How is OLB/DE Jadeveon Clowney fitting in this year?
“Yeah, he’s fitting in fine. He’s out there and he played in the first two games. He’s getting a lot of reps, got opportunities. Had a great practice yesterday. JD knows we expect a lot from him. Put him in different spots, whether it’s outside linebacker, down inside, wherever it may be, he puts a lot into it. He had a good practice yesterday and we’ll need another good practice today to get ready for Sunday.”
Why does he move around so much?
“Well, you try to put disruptive players in places to be disruptive and to help us and help themselves. That’s all that we’re trying to do, every week.”
Is ILB Benardrick McKinney the player with the green dot now?
“(Yes). And he has been. He has been. He started the season with that.”
How tough is replacing ILB Brian Cushing and what he brought?
“His toughness, leadership, physical player inside. You don’t really ever try to replace guys, you try to get the best guys out there each week to win the game. And so, we never looked at it as we’re trying to replace Brian (Cushing), we try to look at it as what happens is we move (Benardrick) McKinney over, you put (Zach) Cunningham in, (Dylan) Cole plays a little bit. That’s what we do.”
Do you recognize ILB Benardrick McKinney’s teammates trusting him to lead them?
“I think so. He’s pretty much started since he’s been healthy as a rookie. He had a great year last year, we expect a lot out of him, just like we do all our players.”
The Patriots always have so much success passing to their backs. Do they look for receiving backs to bring in or do they develop them?
“I think they have a certain guy that they like. They got a sub-back and they go and the scouts look for this type of guy and it’s been all the way back to Kevin Faulk. It’s like, here’s Kevin Faulk, here’s (Danny) Woodhead, here’s the next guy, here’s (Dion) Lewis, here’s (James) White, here’s (Rex) Burkhead and right on down the line. That’s what they’ve done over the course of the last 15 years, going back to Kevin Faulk. When things weren’t great, I knew they were throwing to Troy Brown and Kevin Faulk. That continued with (Danny) Woodhead and (Wes) Welker and on down now to (Julian) Edelman, (Danny) Amendola, those guys in the slot, and the receiving backs.”
Did the close loss to the Patriots last postseason help you guys mentally?
“I think you show them how close we were at times. I think that you look back at the way we ended the first half last year, goal-line stand, opened the second half with a three-and-out. Those are the things you look at and you try to show them. You try to show them how we practiced against them in the summer when we lined up against them. You try to show them those things as how close we are, and if we could just get a turnover here, we can get another three-and-out and make them punt, (and) keep giving the offense a chance, that’s how you build confidence for them.”
As a defensive coordinator, how would you prepare to play a mobile quarterback, who have given the Patriots trouble at times?
“We’re not. We’re playing Tom Brady. He’s going to be seven-and-a-half yards behind the center. I can promise you. He won’t leave unless somehow we force him to. He’ll stand back there and he’ll keep his feet square and he’ll point his left shoulder to wherever he’s throwing, just like he tells all the young quarterbacks, ‘Stand there and you want to throw accurate, point your left shoulder to the target, keep your feet square and throw the ball.’ But, that’s the great thing is I don’t have to worry about trying to defend a mobile quarterback this week. We will down the road.”
When going against a team like the Patriots with QB Tom Brady, it’s so much about execution. Even if you guys know what’s coming, is there ever a challenge that it doesn’t matter, they just execute anyway?
“I think that’s always the case. That’s why you play. You try to win one-on-one matchups. This league is all about it. They’re going to have a receiver on a DB, they’re going to have a back on a linebacker, we’re going to have a defensive lineman on an offensive lineman. Who can win those one-on-one matchups? Can we rush? Can we cover? Can we stop the run? All those types of things. I think they’re going to try to run their offense, we’re going to try to run our defense. This game just mostly comes down to one-on-one matchups and we have to win more than they do.”
OLB/DE JADEVEON CLOWNEY
What would it mean for this organization to get its first win in New England?
“It’d be great. It’d be big. We need it. We went up there last time and got a little closer than we did before, but this time we hope we go up there and hope that changes.”
Does it help that you came so close to beating the Patriots last postseason?
“Oh yeah, it’s a confidence builder for the team and the guys on the team. I think this time’s going to be a little different. Different team, different guys in the locker room. We got to go out and put it together. Go out there and perform.”
How do you make Patriots QB Tom Brady uncomfortable?
“We got to create some pressure up front. It’s going to come down to the D-line up front getting pressure and hopefully he’ll got off his spot and make some bad passes. He doesn’t do that a lot.”
How do you work around a quarterback who does not beat himself?
“You just got to get to him. The front we have, I think we’re going to create some pressure. We have to move around and try to get to him and the guys on the back end do their job, play tight coverage and probably get our job done.”
Is that what you all did to the Patriots in the playoff game?
“Yeah, we played great coverage and everybody was doing their job. We were getting pressure, creating a lot of pressure and turnovers on him.”
Does everybody quarterback get frustrated as to whether they can overcome pressure?
“I think if you can hit him, if you can get some hits on the quarterback, all of them get frustrated. If you make some tipped passes or turn the ball over, it frustrates them early in the game. You have to do it early in the game, though, so it leads on later in the game.”
Are you comfortable dropping into coverage like you are rushing?
“Yeah, I’m cool with it. Whatever they ask me to do, I try to get my job done. I’m not complaining about anything, so I’m looking forward to whatever the game plan is this week.”
What have you thought about what you’ve been able to do so far this season?
“I’ve been all right with it. I started off a little rusty after not playing much in the preseason, but I think it’s coming along. The defense, we keep playing together because we really didn’t play that much together in the preseason. If we keep playing along, I feel like we’re going to grow a lot as a unit.”
RB D’ONTA FOREMAN
How special was it to get more touches last game, just like Head Coach Bill O’Brien said you would?
“I was very excited about that. He stuck to his word and I appreciate that. Somebody that tells you that you’re going to play more and they actually play you more, like I said, I went out there and tried to do the best I could do. I left some yards on the field, but hopefully I correct that this week.”
What’s it like to go play the Patriots in their backyard?
“It’s amazing to be able to play against people you watched growing up all your life. Tom Brady, he’s a great quarterback. One of the best to ever do it, if not the best. Like I said, going up there, we’re just trying to get a win and I feel like we have a good team. We can do that.”
Although you’re not a part of it, this team has never won in New England. What do you feel about that?
“That’s in the past. Right now, we’re looking into the future and we have a good team right here. Like I said, (if) we prepare the rest of the week like we’ve prepared this week so far, then I feel like we can go up there and get a win.”
How do you try to make sure you don’t leave any yards on the field?
“Just got to make them miss in the open field. That’s something that I’m capable of doing. I’m confident in making people miss in the open field, I just have to make it happen. I got tackled, I was very upset about that, as you all could see. As soon I got up I was hot, but like I said, just correct it and try to find a way to be better.”
How much fun is it to play for an offense where you’re going to have to run it between the tackles?
“I mean, it’s wonderful. That’s why I’m here, to run the ball and do what they ask me to do. I’m excited. I love to run the ball. I feel like I can make some yards when they call my number, so I’m just looking forward to it (and) trying to build on this week.”
What did you think about what your brother, University of Texas WR Armanti Foreman, did last weekend?
“That was great. I was so proud of him. Just the things that he’s been going through, to go out there and have a game like that was wonderful. I’m rooting for him. I’m praying for him to be able to be here. Whatever team he’s able to go to next season, I’m looking forward to that. But right now, he’s just focused on his season and what they do at Texas. I’m proud of him.”
Can you talk about the one-two punch that you and RB Lamar Miller combine for?
“I feel like we’re two different backs. I’m bigger than Lamar, but, I mean, he’s a great mentor to me. He’s been able to help me out with things and when he comes off the field, we communicate about a lot of stuff on the field. By the time I go in, I’m ready and I kind of already know what the feeling’s like when you get in there. I appreciate him for everything and like I said, we just kind of go off each other.”
What are your thoughts on the Patriots defense?
“Its’ a great football team. Super Bowl Champions. You just never know what to expect, so you just got to go out there and play hard. They’re a great team. You know they’re going to make plays on both sides of the ball but you just got to go out there and try to find a way to win.”
What did it mean to you to deliver last game and know you can deliver at this level?
“I don’t know. It’s a process. I can’t get too high off one game, can’t get low off one game. It’s a process. It’s something that I’ve got to keep building on and I feel like I can. We’ve got great coaches, great teammates and they help me each and each and every day. I just keep building and hopefully I can improve this week.”
WR DEANDRE HOPKINS
How does it change things for you when opposing teams know you’re going to get the ball often but you still have to get open?
“It really doesn’t change anything the way I play. More so me just trying to get open because I know there are going to be at least four eyes on me, more than likely. Just trusting my quarterback to get me the ball and trying to get open best I can.”
It seems like you’re able to draw a lot of pass interference penalties on defenders. Is that just because of how physical your game is?
“I guess so. You could say that. Or, DBs know sometimes they’d rather take a penalty than a touchdown or a big play, which is smart. If I was playing DB and I knew I could give up a touchdown – the league, penalties, the spot of the foul is at the spot of the foul. It’s not beyond, so sometimes it’s smart for DBs to take the penalty instead of a bigger play.”
How does it feel knowing that you’re the focus of the defense?
“Just go out there and do my job. Penalties are just as big as first-down catches. Extending the play, doing my job, however I can help.”
Do you talk to QB Deshaun Watson throughout the course of a game to make sure you’re seeing the same things?
“He’s a young quarterback so I don’t want to sit there and be in his ear the whole game because he has a lot going on right now, just the offense and the defensive schemes. The coaches, they do a good job when he comes on the sideline making sure he has everything together or what we can correct.”
Have you noticed that he gets a lot of feedback from QB Tom Savage during the game?
“Of course. Tom does a great job of helping him out on the sideline. That’s Tom. That’s who he is. His leadership. He wants to be on a winning team, so however he can and however he can help, he’s going to do that. Having Tom out there right beside him to be able to help him, show him what he can work on or what he can’t see, is big. Also, Billy O (Bill O’Brien) and Sean, they do a great job of that.”
Has QB Tom Savage’s positive reaction to the quarterback change helped both QB Deshaun Watson and the offense?
“Of course. Everybody knows Tom’s mentality. Everybody knows that’s how Tom would respond to that.”
You guys were so close in the playoff game at New England last year. Does that help you at all?
“No. It really doesn’t matter. It’s a new year, new team. They have new players, we have new players.”
What are your impressions of Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore?
“He’s a good corner.”
How much do you like challenging yourself against New England time after time?
“This is a test. Of course this team won a championship last year. They came out last week and put up impressive stats. They did a good job against the Saints, who are a good team as well. So, we know what we’re going to get. We know the team that’s going to come out and battle us Sunday.”
What has your rapport been like with QB Deshaun Watson?
“It’s getting better and better every day. At practice, I’ve seen a difference from when we first started throwing together until yesterday. We’re growing, we’re getting to know each other, and it’s getting better, I can say.”
What is QB Deshaun Watson like in the huddle?
“He’s confident. He’s always smiling. He doesn’t look nervous. Even from his first snap out there, he looked confident like he belonged out there, like he’d been there before. Just the way he was talking to everybody, joking and commanding things from us as wideouts and offensive line.”
Did it surprise you a little bit that he was so comfortable?
“Not at all. I’ve been knowing him since he was at Clemson. Every game that he’s had, he’s never seemed nervous or like he was under pressure. He embraces it.”
OLB WHITNEY MERCILUS
What do you guys have to do to disrupt Patriots QB Tom Brady?
“Just getting to the pocket on him, get him off the spot because if you let him just sit there and be comfortable all day, I mean, he’s going to pick you apart all day.”
It seems like he stays comfortable under pressure.
“Yeah, he’s calm, cool and collected. He’s been doing this for some time. He knows exactly what to expect as far as from himself, from his team and everything. Also, how people play them as far as getting into the pocket, one-on-one matchups, the man matchups and things like that, that they look for.”
Did the close loss to the Patriots last postseason help you guys mentally?
“Yeah. As far as helping us, yeah, because we understand what we have on this team as far as great players, good players, role players that do to the best of their ability, their job and things like that. New year of course, and new team each year. So, going up there to Foxborough, we’ve got to play our best.”
Do things still stay simple when you’re playing the Patriots?
“Yeah, it goes into each game, and it’s just doing your job, honestly. Winning your one-on-one matchups, doing your job as far as being disciplined within the pass game, the run game, things of that nature. We’re doing a better job with that and that’s how we’re preparing this week.”
How does the film from the playoff game help for this week?
“The playoff game doesn’t really matter. It’s a new team, honestly, and we’ve practiced against them at The Greenbrier for two days. They’re a new team and also they’ve lost some pieces and things like that, so they’re doing different things. Matchups are going to be key, understanding exactly what we have to do on our side of the ball and understanding exactly what they’re doing.”
ILB BENARDRICK MCKINNEY
Do you ever feel underrated as far as attention you might not get around the league?
“To be honest, me being the player I am, being like a two-star recruit coming from nothing, one scholarship, I mean, I really don’t look into that. As long as I’m playing good for the team, as long as the coaches are satisfied with me, I’m happy with that.”
How tough is it to cover the Patriots’ running backs?
“They’re a great offense. They scheme well, they have a lot of fast, athletic backs. I’m just going to do my job. Wherever coach puts me or wants me to do, cover the back, tight end, whatever, I’m just going to do it.”
What does it mean to hear that Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick praised you?
“Like I said, he’s a great coach. He’s done a lot of great things for the Patriots. It feels good hearing it from any coach, to know that you’re doing a good job helping the Texans play defense.”
You’re low-key talking to the media, but are you more vocal on the field?
“I feel kind of uncomfortable right now (with the media) but on the field, it’s just something I like to do, something I enjoy doing. It’s second nature to me to just go out there and just have fun and talk and talk a lot of noise and just have fun.”
Do you feel more pressure to be a bigger leader this season?
“I mean, we have a lot of great older guys on this team. It’s not just me, it’s guys like JD (Jadeveon Clowney), J.J. (Watt), Whit (Whitney Mercilus). We pitch in together. We understand the defense and it’s not just me just trying to get everybody lined up, all the guys know the game plan, know what to do. I contribute on getting everybody lined up, getting the play call in. I’m just doing my role. Like I said, whatever coach wants me to do, getting the play call in, getting everybody lined up, then I do it.”