"Good morning. We got back to work yesterday after our bye and it was an abbreviated day in terms of meetings and practice. The players responded very well and appear to be very fresh and quick and excited about going back to work. First time we've had all our wide receivers on a practice field at the same time, healthy and practicing, since the third day of training camp. Now, if we can stay that way the rest of the week it'll be the first time we've played a ball game with everybody 100% which would be nice. Now, we're never a 100% because we don't have Boerigter. Other than that, it's sort of exciting and it gives our practice a little lift. We're able to work more receivers within the starting unit and not wear them down at the tempo that we work.
We've got a great deal of respect for Jacksonville. Why shouldn't we? They've won three games, beaten two playoff teams within those three wins, both very strong wins. When they've won they've given up very, very few points. "They're one of three teams that have faced three playoff teams within the first four games of their schedule and they beat two of them. We and Indianapolis are the other two teams that have done that and we only beat one of them. Indianapolis beat two of them. So, Jacksonville has started out with a tough schedule.
Right now, their strength has been their defense. They're led by two great big defensive tackles in Henderson and Stroud. In their wins they've only given up 34 points in those three wins. You know they can play. In their two losses the last two weeks they've given up 58 points to Indianapolis who is probably the best offensive team in football and then to San Diego on the road this weekend.
But when you look at their team in general you know they have skill people. We all know what Smith can do – most of you do – he's averaging over 18 yards a catch right now, he's number four all time receiver. He's going to go to the Hall of Fame and we just don't want to make him a Hall of Famer this Sunday in Jacksonville. He has had great games against the Chiefs in the past.
Freddie Taylor is a very skilled running back who has four seasons over 1200 yards and had over 1500 yards last year. Got over 300 right now. He's a quality player. So they have a talented football team. Yes, they're very young at quarterback and they have missed Kyle Brady, the very big strong – probably the best overall blocking tight end in football as a starter. We'd like to think Jason Dunn ranks right up there with the best but he's not normally in a starting unit unless we start out with two tight ends.
"(Byron) Leftwich in his second year has started out real strong. He came out of a situation in college where they threw the ball all the time – a lot of it out of the shotgun which he's very poised and polished in right now. Last year he threw 12 touchdowns, 14 interceptions. Right now he's ahead in touchdowns over interceptions. His quarterback efficiency rating is up over 80 already and was 73 last year. He's completing 63% of his passes.
Strong armed guy. I mean he can throw it, like they say, through a car wash without getting it wet. When he bears down to throw that thing it whistles. You can see it on the video tape. There is velocity there and sometimes the balls are dropped because they're traveling so fast and so hard. But I think he's got a chance to be something special. We're going to have to play a very good game against him to prevent that from happening. You don't see many guys that strong. Of course, he's so big. It seems like the college quarterback coming out is the big strong guy.
I think we're improving in everything we're doing. I'd like to believe that except kick and punt coverage. I think our problems are defined and I think we can improve. At least we'd better or we won't meet expectations or our desires from here on out.
Offensively, we're off 10 points after four games than last year, though we're averaging exactly the same in total yards in offense (340.8 yards a game). Exactly the same. Our running game is up almost 10 yards a game on average. We're second in the NFL in running the ball. Atlanta is number one.
We're down in pass offense in yards per game but equal in touchdowns. We've got to get more production out of our passing game, especially on first down and especially on passes going beyond 20 yards or more. Hopefully, with Eddie Kennison coming back and Al (Saunders) feeling comfortable with the things we do we can start creating more plays down field.
We were plus eight last time and this time are plus two. We're off a little bit in giveaway-takeaway but better to be plus than minus, believe me. I think that will gradually change as we keep playing smart. We had the opportunity to recover seven fumbles and only recovered one of them. The odds should sooner or later start going in our favor.
Defensively, we've really improved in the last two weeks. We've given up 14.5 points fewer a game over the last two weeks, three fewer pass touchdowns, two fewer rushing touchdowns, 16 fewer first downs, 134 total yards per game less, 109 yards a game rushing less over the last two from the first two (games). And, we have played in Baltimore a really fine running team and Houston is ranked pretty high offensively, too. We've got five more sacks over the last two games than we got the first two.
We're number two in the NFL in first down efficiency on defense. We're number one in opponent's average yards to go on second down. We're number one in forcing third and six plus situations. What we're not doing a good job defensively is once we get ‘em in third and six plus we're not doing a good job in defensing that situation. But it does define our areas for improvement and we plan and practice.
I am very much aware that some of the improvement could be due to we played two very different teams than we played over the first two. We played the Denver Broncos in Denver and we played a Super Bowl team in Carolina. But Houston is ranked seventh in total offense overall. Baltimore is one of the top two running teams. So, we've taken on some good competition and shown improvement. Hopefully, it's not just a glimmer.
We haven't been able to break Dante (Hall) on a TD return. Right now after four games he's only returned four punts. He's a marked man. But with patience and consistent work they eventually will come. Last year this time he had two kickoff returns for touchdowns. He had 11 return attempts last year and 11 this year. People are doing a better job of defensing Dante Hall. He has a lot of credibility and prestige in the league and in preparation during the week (the opposition) is hearing about Dante and it makes it a little bit tougher. That means we have to continue to do a better job.
Will the returns come? I think they will. Will we get four in a row? No. It's only happened one other time. But I do believe we'll get a return (for a TD) before it's all over.
I break the season down quarter by quarter. As we enter the second quarter I believe we can continue to grow as a team. First off, our first quarter based on last year's performance by our opponents is the toughest phase of our schedule. We played three playoff teams and based on last year's performance we don't face that kind of schedule in any quarter of the remaining part of the season. That doesn't mean some of those teams that weren't playoff teams last year won't start playing like playoff teams this year, ala Jacksonville which is 3-2 and Atlanta who has only lost one ball game. Things change as the season goes on, but as you evaluate a schedule as you get going and plan…we knew going into the season and based on last year that those first four games would create a real challenge for us and we didn't do a great job of handling that challenge.
By only winning one game I think we've left ourselves very little room for error. As I told the team yesterday, if we're going to end up being one of the seven teams that have gone from 1-3 into the playoffs and to a Super Bowl and AFC championship game then we're going to have to play like the team that played (last) Monday night consistently starting in Jacksonville. We won't be able to take a weekend off. If we're going to get beat we're going to have to get beat playing our best football against a very good football team.
If we can think about nothing other than in winning this coming ballgame and prepare accordingly then we'll have a shot. If we can't do it and aren't disciplined or coached well enough to do it then we won't get it done. You hear those clichés: ‘one week at a time,' but when you put yourself down 1-3 and have aspirations and believe you're a pretty good football team but only proved it once you'd better stop talking and start playing. That's the position we're in right now."