Q: Do you see the identity of this team changing almost on a weekly basis now that the defense has moved to the forefront recently with some strong performances against top offenses?
Mariucci: As the development of this team goes, it's important that our defense starts feeling really good about themselves. Holding two of the best offensive groups in the league to well below their average, well below their norm, and finishing the (Kansas City) game strong, I think it's good for the confidence level, it's good for the sake of the team. I don't think we have any one phase or any one thing that we do that's been carrying us, really. I think this is a team effort, including the kicking game. But right now, I think our defense is feeling better about themselves and more confident. You know, we finished last year very strong with a few shutouts and we played very well on defense. And I think we're getting that feeling back a little bit.
Q: Does it feel this season like you're facing one of the NFL's best running backs practically every single week?
Mariucci: It's like every week, here comes another back. Who have we faced already this year? Our defense, our front seven. Marshall Faulk, right? Stephen Davis. Deuce McAllister. Charlie Garner. Priest Holmes. Now LaDainian Tomlinson. There's some great backs in this league, and we seem to be facing them week after week. And now (Tomlinson) is leading the league in rushing, because (Holmes) only got 51 yards against us. And now this guy's leading the league. So here we go again. It's a very talented league in the running back position, it really is. We've got a couple of good ones ourselves.
Q: How have you been able to do so well stopping so many of these premier backs?
Mariucci: Part of the reason is because our front seven is doing a nice job stopping the run. Sometimes we include an eighth guy with a safety in the box. Not all of that is seven and eight in the box. A lot of that has to do when they spread you out and you play your nickel and dime defenses, too, stopping the run. We're tackling pretty well, we're getting good run support from our corners, which you don't always count on. But when we play two-deep zone Jason (Webster) and Ahmed Plummer are squeezing the runs from outside in and forcing it back to the pursuit. That's been good.
Q: How much has it helped that you've been able to keep the ball out several of those backs hands, too?
Mariucci: The Chiefs were on the field for 50 snaps, so Priest Holmes is not going to have 30 carries because they're not on the field quite as much. Same with (Garner), and that sort of thing. The Rams got behind and they started to have to throw the ball and that type of thing. So, playing good, sound run defense, yes, is one thing. And then limiting the number of snaps and opportunities for that guy, of course, is another.
Q: How good is it to have a three-game lead in the NFC West with the defending division champion Rams now getting it back together and apparently on the rise?
Mariucci: They are galloping, all right. We know they're a good team. And we know that even without Kurt Warner, they've been moving the ball, throwing it well. Whether it's Trent Green over there, or Kurt Warner, or now Marc Bulger, he's got quite a supporting cast, he really does. Not just Marshall Faulk. They've got a group of receivers that are very good and very explosive. So they're going to fight their way right back into this thing.
Q: Is that a good thing?
Mariucci: I don't know that our team necessarily looks over their shoulder at the Rams breathing down or throat, or any of that sort of thing. I think we concentrate mostly on the game at hand. We are in control of our own destiny, so we've got to take care of business each week and really not worry about anybody else.
Q: Are you surprised at all that your injury problems don't seem to be holding the team back as much as they could be?
Mariucci: We've had more injuries this year than I can remember. We were pretty lucky last year with a short injury list. Eventually, we're going to get some of these injured guys back. They're coming back. Sooner or later, they're going to help us, and we're going to need it down the stretch. Yeah, you'd love to have them all year round, but that's just not the case. So, we just patch it up, and the backups do a job – and they have been – and you play on.
Q: Has J.J. Stokes lost his starting job?
Mariucci: What I need to do for the sake of this football team… In general terms, a starter with an ankle (injury), comes back and he continues to start. That's typical of what would happen, when a starter gets injured he would come back as a starter. But other factors go into the decision-making process. You have to consider that starter's health when he returns, how close to being 100 percent is he? You have to also consider the progress being made by the backup, and how well he's playing. And then you could try to balance the two and decide what's best for the football team, what's best for the individual players, what's best for your overall scheme. If you look back at it, Garrison Hearst was a starter and Pro Bowler when he got hurt, and when he came back, all of a sudden he's alternating with Kevan Barlow. Sometimes, those things change as you return that starter and you develop other people in that position.
Q: What factors are going into that decision with Stokes right now?
Mariucci: You have a general rule as a coach, but you've got to take each one independently in its own situation. So we've got to decide what's best to play each week. (Against Kansas City) we wanted (Stokes) to be the third wide receiver and play more, and that was good for him. And it was good for us to keep Tai where he is. So we just have to decide how we're going to play the next game. There's a lot of things a head coach has to consider when deciding how you're going to play each game and what's best for the team.