We're looking forward to the challenge on Monday night.
How important is this game?
I'm not looking to measure. I think right now you'd better be playing your best football. Barometers are things you take a look at earlier in the season, middle of the season, to try to see where you are. We know what's at stake. We're playing a top football team. We know all the ramifications of the game. To me, this game, like last week, they all take on kind of a playoff atmosphere and that's what this will be like. We all know that on any given day, anything can happen, but we're going to have to play our best football. We're going to have to play better than we did last week if we expect to go down there and beat this football team.
What sets them apart?
They have not beaten themselves. I think they have the fewest turnovers in the National Football League. You couple that with a good defense and you're going to win a lot of games. They've got a strong kicking game. I don't know how many their kicker has made. There's really no holes in their team. They've stayed fairly healthy throughout the season; the quarterback's playing well; their defense speaks for itself. Year-in and year-out it's been one of the top defenses in the league. They're 11-3 and could be 12-2 when Freddie Mac blocked a punt in the end zone. They're playing well. The biggest thing is they're not turning the ball over. They're playing mistake-free football.
How much do you stress homefield advantage?
With this game, I don't think you even want to talk about anything other than the game. We've been stressing the big picture for a while. But in a game like this, there's no need to worry about the big picture. We're going down and playing the team a lot of people pick as the best team in the National Football League, on a Monday night. That in itself creates whatever incentive you want and that in itself makes the setting to find out where we are. Call it a barometer or whatever you want to call it, this is an opportunity to go down there and see if we can play with the big boys.
Is this a must-win game since you probably want to avoid a must-win game next week?
No, I mean the must-wins come when you don't play the following week if you lose. This is a great opportunity for us. Like I said, I can't say it too many different ways. We're playing the best team in football and we'll find out where we stand.
What about Tampa's offense?
Brad (Johnson)'s playing very well. They're getting very comfortable with this offense Jon (Gruden) brought down to Tampa with him. They have some of the bunch formations. They spread you out. They throw quick. It's a quick-throwing offense. I think getting Keenan McCardell opposite Keyshawn (Johnson), those two have complemented each other very well. Adding a Ken Dilger, a Pro Bowl tight end, I mean, you look at them and this team is more comfortable in this offense each week. (Brad)'s a guy who makes good decisions. When you're throwing the ball short, throwing it underneath, running the routes they run, you'd better have a guy to make good decisions and quick decisions. He had that with Rich Gannon in Oakland and I think he has that as well with Brad in Tampa.
Is there a set plan against a defense with that kind of speed?
Sure you have all kind of great plans and formulas coming in but it doesn't always unfold that way. We'll have to mix it up on them. You've got to be able to run the football, there's no question. They're going to bring the eighth defender down there and Warren Sapp's having as good a year as I can remember him having, just playing consistent football week in and week out. And Simeon Rice has really played well coming off the corner. We've just got to be patient against them. There's going to be some three and outs and we can't get discouraged by that. They've done that to a lot of people. We're going to have to keep them off balance with the run and pass but it's going to be a big, stiff challenge for us.
Has Kenyatta Walker's game improved?
Yeah I think they've improved just with the offense that they run. They spread you out pretty good. He doesn't hold the ball for an extended period of time. I think the offense is catered more to Brad's style as a quarterback than what they were in before.
Will they attack you the same way the Raiders did?
Possibly. Again, what they've been doing is pretty good. They're 11-3 right now so I don't know how much they'll deviate but there's a chance they could. We've seen it all pretty much right now. We got a little bit of it again this past week. People want to spread it out and go no-huddle and all those things; one thing we can go back on is a little bit of experience. So we'll see what happens.
Do they have the personnel to do that?
Oh yeah. They've got the personnel they've shown it in the one-minute and two-minute situations. Pittman's a good back out of the backfield and Alstott's a guy who can get back there. He can block; he can run. They'll spread you out. Maybe that's how they'll want to do it. Brad's a smart quarterback. It's hard to say. They've been playing efficiently the last few weeks just doing what they've been doing. They seem like they're getting a little bit better. There's no saying they won't try to spread it out against us and throw it.
He's done a good job. Their line's done a good job. They've run the ball efficiently. They've got good balance right now. The numbers aren't great but I think the one thing you look at is the way they've played the last 4 or 5 weeks. I think it's been more indicative of how productive they've been than if you looked at the overall picture or where they may be statistically for the whole season.
Does the health of Kendrell make it difficult to spread you guys?
A healthy Kendrell gives us a presence on the field. It's good to have everybody healthy.
Who will returns punts?
It'll be Hank (Poteat) or Antwaan (Randle El).
What's wrong with Josh?
It's his shoulder. It's been chronic. I don't think it was anything that happened. It's been ongoing.
Does Lee Flowers' criticism of Tampa Bay bother you?
There's talk that's going to be brought up. I don't know if it was a re-iteration or more a comment relative to what was stated last year. This game will be played on the field on Monday night. It's a football team we have a tremendous amount of respect for. Certainly their record speaks for itself.
Against this pass rush, should your QB possess quick thinking or quick legs?
It's a little bit of both. We've got to make sure we don't put ourselves in situations where they know we have to pass and they can tee off. We've got to stay in short-yardage situations and try to keep them off balance with the run and pass. While they've got Sapp inside, Simeon Rice on a crowded and loud night like that can be dangerous coming off the corner. A big key for us is to keep them off-balance and stay out of long yardage situations on third down.
Have you seen progress in the trust aspect of the passing game? And was Plax's catch on third down an example?
Yeah I think so. I was watching the game last year and Plax was in his infancy stage in that game last year. He's come a long way. Our offense has come a long way since that game and Plax has been a big part of that.
What did you think of Plax's tackle?
I thought that was very impressive. Here's a guy who was on the ground after a good throw by Tommy. It was a good read. The guy caught it running. Plax was on the ground, he got up and took a great angle, got him out of bounds, and I think that says a lot. It says a lot about where he is at this stage as opposed to where he was a year ago. That was very indicative of where he is right now in his career.
Was Ward lobbying to get back in?
He knew how he felt at that point. It was the end of the first half, no-huddle situation, and it was important to have him the second half of that game. He feels a lot better this week than he was last week. He was hurting last week. You could see it through the course of the week. He didn't practice until Friday. I really don't think he got loosened up until the second half of the game on Sunday. You've got to trust your players at this time of the year, especially the guys you've been around and have a feel for. Certainly, if he didn't feel it would benefit us to be out there, um, he has a good feel for that. He's got a good feel for the game. If he can be out there in any way, shape or form, Hines will be out there.
Do you point out hustle plays when watching film?
Oh, there's no question. To me, plays like that say a lot about a team. When you see linemen making blocks down the field after a guy's caught a ball for 20 yards. That says a lot. When you see our guys finish blocks down the field -- you hear those comments when other coaches are talking - those are the things you watch when you watch a team. On defense, how many guys are in the picture when it's coming to an end? Watching guys finish blocks, finish runs, finish routes. How's a guy running a route when he's not the main guy? Those are the little things you point out to your team and you re-affirm to your team. That's where you can see the separation of teams, I think, when you're watching them on tape. Those are the little things and habits. Those are the little things that are hard to turn on in the game, the habits. If you have to think about them, it's too late. Those are the little things you're trying to preach at this time of the year.
Brett Keisel has played well on special teams. Is it tough to activate him because of the numbers thing?
I had to go to Kendrick Clancy a couple weeks ago. We always carry five defensive linemen and I had to explain to him that this is not an indictment of his play, but we had to get Brett Keisel on the field for the kicking game. Now if something happens to Casey (Hampton), Kimo (von Oelhoffen) goes to nose, so we have to give Kimo some reps at the nose position. But he's a kid that, when we had some injuries, we brought him on because we had an extra spot. For whatever reason, it was a week we had so many guys hurt. He was one of the healthy guys who could get on. We put him on.
I remember a guy named Dean Prater back when I was playing with the Buffalo Bills. He used to play R5 and run down the railroad tracks - the hashes - and the guy in his way was cringing if you had to block the guy because there's no way you block this guy. He's 270 and going fast. I used to envision Brett being that way and the next thing you know he's out there and he's running over people and he's getting down there as fast as some of our running backs and linebackers. He's down there ahead of them on kickoff coverage and he's just become a force. Then we put him on punts and he's down there and recovers a fumble the other day. We put him on punt returns. Now he's on kickoff returns. Maybe it's good. He's a young guy that's just starting to play and maybe he has only four or five games left in him, the way he's playing. We'll try to get it all out of him, what he has left. He is throwing his body around right now. He's given us an energy in the kicking game, in our coverage teams.
Do you have any other punters?
Well, it depends on the extent of (Miller's injury) would be. Jeff would be our backup punter if anything were to happen in the game. I guess Jerame Tuman has punted. He's kind of the multi-purpose punter/long snapper. He does all that stuff. He's a pretty good athlete. But right now, if something were to happen, Jeff Reed would be our emergency punter.
Have you ever seen an offense use as many gadget plays as yours?
I remember Coach Reeves having gimmicks in all the time. That's the guy I always talk about with those types of plays. What it does, I know last week they were sitting back waiting for reverses and those ends weren't even chasing. So we were kind of cutting the reverses up and yeah they were only 6 or 7 yards, but they're 6 or 7 yards. It's not a bad play. Sometimes they're better than others. Antwaan had the toss to Amos. I thought he could've kept it a little longer but I guess he hasn't run the option in a while. But I think those teams are good. Fast teams have to be disciplined and if you get a guy to hesitate you've accomplished what you've wanted to accomplish.
They lead the NFL in interceptions. Is that a product of pass rush?
Their secondary works very well together. It's a veteran secondary. But I don't think there's any question that what they're able to generate with a 4-man rush is what a lot of people generate with a 5-man rush. A lot of people need to blitz to create the type of pressure they can with just four guys. When you can get an extra guy to drop into coverage (there's) less room to operate to throw the football. I think it's a combination of the two.
How impressive is Jason Gildon's career sacks total?
Jason's not one of those flashy guys. He does his thing and he's a worker. And he practices the same way he plays. Jason Gildon is a self-made individual. I can remember when he came here and was sitting behind Kevin Greene and we were talking about him, grooming him to take Kevin's job. No one really knew what you were getting and I don't think anyone could've foreseen the career he's had. He's developed into a true professional, a student of the game. It's kind of fun to watch players grow like that. He's come a long way as a player and a person. He is definitely a consummate pro.
We ask him to do a lot. A lot of times we've used him as a cover guy and rushed DBs. We do a lot of things with our defense and sometimes he's not rushing as much as he'd like to but you never hear him complaining. We move him around. Sometimes he's hurt by some of the things we do because we're not always rushing him. We're dropping him and using him more as a decoy than anything. But he's a smart player.
He went through a bit of a struggle there early. I don't think it was him struggling; it was our defense. He's been very solid. He's had a solid year and I thought he had a solid year last year. I think he's had just as good a year. I think he's been just as productive and consistent as he was a year ago. Sometimes it just doesn't unfold your way, the opportunities that you get based on what they're doing and what we end up doing with them. But he's had a very, very solid year.
What about Aaron Smith?
Oh, I think Aaron's played well all year. The defensive linemen, you just cannot measure what they do in this defense just by sacks. I was just as shocked as anybody that Casey got a sack the other day. Casey Hampton. You want to go find a 3-4 nose tackle? You want to know what the perfect nose tackle would be? Casey Hampton. And Aaron Smith, he made some plays the other day, a couple plays on screens, in the running game, in the passing game. He's been solid. Kimo's playing solid. Those three guys, then Rodney Bailey comes in and has been playing very well. Those four guys have played as well as a defensive line as any defensive line has played since I've been here.