Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison
Monday, January 1, 2018
Q: For a fair amount of players on this roster, there isn’t playoff experience. As someone who has been in the playoffs, what is kind of your overriding message to at least the guys on offense this week in terms of getting ready for this?
A: Well, we have some guys on the staff that have been to the playoffs too. I think, generally, you’ve been successful so you need to prepare like you do. Have the excitement of playoffs, have the excitement of getting the chance to extend your season, but still understand you prepare the same way you have all year. You try to keep a level head about that. I think our guys are mature enough in that regard. They’ll prepare and they’ll get ready, but know it’s a thrill and it’s an honor for us to have an extra game.
Q: What is the challenge of, knowing it ramps up the intensity when you get to playoff football, but you’re at the end of the year. You’ve got a lot of beat up bodies. It’s not like you can replicate the intensity that goes up in a playoff game. How do you kind of prep for that over the course of practice?
A: Well, I think you pretty much referenced the difference between preseason football and regular season football. It goes up another level now and I understand the intensity that we had the last few weeks. We had to do some things to get in so they understand the pressure and the intensity, but it’s also something that they can really enjoy and sit back and soak in, too.
Q: What was your early impression of this defense you’re going up against?
A: They’re very talented. Obviously, we had Marcell [Dareus] here. Malik [Jackson] was in Denver with me for one year and we played him last year when I was in Denver so I know they’re a very talented defense. They all run and they can put a lot of pressure on the quarterback. The corners are good, real good football players. It’s certainly a big challenge, but I think our guys will take to the challenge and we’ll try and find our creases, do what we can, make some first downs and get some points on the board.
Q: What did it mean to you to be able to call that play for Kyle [Williams]?
A: Well, I certainly have a great deal of respect for [him] as a football player [and] as a man. I think he’s done tremendous things, not just being here for this year but looking at it from a far. I’ve always admired how he played. Like I said a couple of weeks ago, I was trying to use all of our resources and he certainly is a no-nonsense guy and that’s what we wanted them to go on. No-nonsense guy, get the ball in the end zone.
Q: When you see him arrive at the airport and see all the fans chanting “We Want Kyle,” do you get even more appreciative of what he means to this community?
A: I don’t think I could get any more appreciation just watching him practice. I mean, he’s a good football player, a really good football player, that works his tail off day in and day out. A great teammate.
Q: You never let him carry in practice –
A: That’s not true.
Q: – Before this week, right?
A: Well, yeah, this week. Yeah. Right. You go out there and watch him play before practice, throw the football around, throw a softball up – he’s a great athlete. I have no problem with him. Like I said, I’ve got a great deal of respect for him.
Q: What did you identify in Marcus Murphy that allowed you to put him on the practice squad in the first place and then feel confident enough to elevate him?
A: Well, we saw he has a great burst, good acceleration, good ball skills, things you look for in a back and prepare, and then just watching him as he was on practice squad. Running cards, really giving the defense a great look picture. When the opportunity arises and 39 [Travaris Cadet] went down, let’s elevate him and see what he could do because he has practiced, he’s done very well and he’s picked up the scheme. Kelly [Skipper] has done a great job with him, working with him extra. He did some really good things in the game. Obviously, he has a couple of things he could learn from but so does everybody else.
Q: What challenges do you face if LeSean [McCoy] can’t go?
A: Well, I think we’ll wait and see on that. I don’t know where that goes. That’s up to Shone Gipson and he’ll do all he can. But everybody will step up, just like – we did it a lot in the game. Guys stepped up. Mike [Tolbert] did a good job, a really good job when he was in there and certainly Marcus did too. Everybody will elevate their game and do what we can.
Q: What have you made of the way that Tyrod [Taylor] has responded since getting benched before the L.A. game and then to have the couple months that he did to close out the season?
A: I think, I’ve always thought that he believes in himself. He prepares very, very well. Works hard, he’s got the same attitude every day. Always looking for something else to get better at. I didn’t have any problem with how he would respond. I think he’s done a very good job obviously, and his skill set makes it easy for him to make some plays when they’re not right there so I think that’s what he’s done. Obviously, he continues to do that. We all know that.
Q: How did Seantrel [Henderson] fare? I know he had to spell Jordan [Mills] for a while there.
A: Yeah, I think he did a good job. I think he did a really good job. Missed some time early in the year and has responded to that. Obviously, it’s another guy that, you watch him practice and see how he prepares in practice and feel good about throwing him in the game, which we did. Size and his athletic ability for that size is [impressive]. He did a good job.
Q: How much of a challenge has it been dealing with all of the changes that this offense has gone through, going from Sammy [Watkins and] losing Robert Woods, putting in Jordan Matthews who got hurt to bringing in Kelvin Benjamin – all the changes that have taken place, what does the perseverance that the unit has showed say, to at least get to this point?
A: Challenges are opportunities. Either one, whatever [way] you look at it, the guys have stepped up that had a chance to get a chance to go in the game and I think the mental toughness is kind of sometimes overlooked. I think the guys have done a really good job saying ‘this is our lot, this is what we have, this is what we’re going to do’ and they go out and grind.
Q: They don’t always have to go that way. Some people will just go, ‘oh, well it was us.’
A: Correct, and end up 5-11 like some people predicted. But we did not. Certainly, we could’ve won a couple more games along the road but we kept sticking in there. Even the ups and downs, you know, when you have some bad days, go back to the drawing board and get it together and work together.
Q: You got another play out of Deonte [Thompson] downfield with the interference call. He’s had a couple now over the past few weeks. Do you feel like you’ve shown [the deep ball] more, that defenses have to be a little worried about it?
A: Well, I think they know that we’ll try and go over their head every now and then, which will always help. 13 [Kelvin Benjamin] has gone deep, even if it’s a back shoulder. We’re not afraid to make sure that they don’t press us all the time. We’ll go a little bit deeper.
Q: They play a lot of man, right?
A: They’ll match up in man. It’s more zone than anything but they’ll match up outside, as far as I’ve seen. I’m not done studying or anything but they’re all very talented. I think their team speed is the thing that’s pretty impressive. There’s a lot of guys around the ball.
Q: They have a low number of pass attempts against. Do you think people just want to try and avoid that pass rush?
A: Well, I can’t be in anybody else’s meetings but we’ll see what works for us.
Q: Is there a sense that this offense has finally found a rhythm of sorts? I mean, the way Tyrod [Taylor] was moving the ball in the first half finding Charles [Clay] and – is there maybe a semblance of something going on here?
A: Oh, I don’t know. I think there’s a little bit of evening out of consistency. That’s the thing I seem to say every week. You’re probably getting tired of me saying that, but I think we’re getting a little bit more consistent in what we’re trying to do [with] understanding concepts and making sure everybody’s on the same page.
Q: How do you see Nick O’Leary – what do you notice most about how he has developed from the start of the summer to now?
A: I think the thing you see with Nick is he does a lot of things. He doesn’t have very many deficiencies. I should say that. He can do a lot of things well. He kind of blends in. Sometimes you don’t notice him, which is also a good thing. If you throw the ball his way, he’ll make a play on it. That’s for sure. We feel comfortable with him if the play is meant for him, to make a play through the progression, he’ll make that play.
Defensive Coordinator Leslie Frazier
Monday, January 1, 2018
Opening Statement: Good afternoon. Exciting time for us here in Orchard Park. When we got home last night, to see our fans there in the low temperatures, making all the noise, it was an awesome sight for myself, all of our players, our coaches. Just a terrific scene. There’s a lot of excitement, and we’re looking forward to this challenge that we have coming up on Sunday against Jacksonville. I think our guys are going to be really excited when they get back into the building on Wednesday to begin the preparation for what’s going to be an outstanding game.
Q: Coach, you have a lot of playoff experience yourself and so does a lot of members of the [coaching] staff. A lot of the players here don’t. What’s the overriding message from you when you’re in that defensive meeting room this week?
A: I’d probably say the big thing is not to get caught up in trying to anything more than what they’ve done up to this point. There’s a tendency, sometimes, when you get to the playoffs – and it is in a lot of ways a new season – but you don’t have to reinvent yourself. Some of the things you’ve done really well, continue to build on those; those things you haven’t done as well, you still work to improve on those. I think if you take that approach, you have a chance to stay within yourself and not try to do more than you actually are capable of doing.
Q: I asked Coach [Rick] Dennison about how the intensity in playoff football turns up another notch on the field. Normally, you have a lot of guys beat up at this time of the year, and you only have one practice where you’re putting shells on, how do you prepare for the extra intensity knowing you’re kind of limited in the practice sense?
A: You talk about it, but that’s still not the same. It’s almost like going from the preseason to the regular season in some ways. The intensity, the speed of the game, the atmosphere, it’s a totally different environment when you talk about the playoffs. But, I think you go back to the same message. You don’t all of a sudden become something that you’re not. Our guys have done a great job throughout the year of staying within themselves, and doing a great job of preparation. Then, you just trust the process. Don’t make it bigger than it actually is. If we can get that point across, I think we’ll go out and play good football.
Q: Worried you might lose some snaps from Kyle Williams to some offensive snaps now?
A: [Laughs] That was great to see, Kyle getting that handoff and score. But, I don’t think we’re too worried. He’ll be getting the majority of the snaps on our side of the ball.
Q: You look at these offensive rankings, it’s like you’re 26th [in one category], 29th in yards. But, you go back to the points allowed – and there are some blowouts of course – you’ve limited a lot of teams to under 17 points. What do you make of this defense and how it has kept you in a lot more games than it hasn’t?
A: That’s a really good question.
Q: Is it underrated in some ways?
A: I don’t know about that, but I’m going to answer your question. I think yesterday was a good indicator in some ways of who we are as a defense. You look at the yards, but you look at the points allowed. At the end of the day, that’s the big deal – points allowed; and are you good on third down and are you good in the red zone. Those usually correlate to points allowed. When you can hold a team to under 17 – really in our league, under 23 now is the average because you expect to score at least 24 on offense – but our goal is to hold teams under 17, or less. When you can do that, you know you have a high percentage chance of winning. We’ve been able to get that done a number of times this season. Then, being able to take the football away as well. So, you have to know what ingredients really determine how you win in the National Football League; taking the football away; points allowed; third down; red zone defense – all kind of correlate. If you get too wrapped up in yards, you’re probably going to coach a little bit different. Yesterday, when things kind of got out of hand, I think we were three scores up late in the third, second half of the third; you can do some things differently, but you also have to know who you are as well. You can’t get caught up in the yards, points is a big deal.
Q: Late in the third quarter, when it gets to that point in the game, if you just prevent a quicker score, you’re probably going to win the game, if nothing crazy happens. You’ve done a great job of not allowing big pass plays, what do you contribute that to?
A: Philosophically, that’s what we talk about on defense: minimizing the number of explosive passes that a team gets. Even though a team may get some rushing yards, it’s still a passing league for the most part. You have to do a really good job of not giving up those explosive [plays] over the top of your defense. We’ve been relatively good at that for the most part, we can still improve which we expect to. Those usually lead to points when you give up explosive [plays]. Look at the two PI’s we got in the New England game, and how it led to points. It’s a big deal, it’s something we talk about all the time; not giving up the explosive [plays] in the passing game. We don’t want to give up explosive [plays] in the run game either, something we talk about all the time, in minimizing those. We feel like we have a chance to be in the ball game in the fourth quarter, [and] to have a chance to win the game, if you could minimize those explosive [plays].
Q: Is there a secret to emphasizing or creating turnovers in the fourth quarter because that seems to be – I haven’t done a breakdown of it – but it seems that’s where you’re getting the majority of them, or at least the ones that are most memorable?
A: I don’t know if there’s a secret; it’s something we emphasize all the time. When we go in at halftime, if we haven’t gotten any – which we even emphasize if we have them at halftime – but there have been times where we made it a point going into the second half that we need to get a takeaway to help our team, and score on defense. There have been times, Atlanta being one of them, where we come right back out, start of the third quarter, takeaway for a touchdown. Credit to our guys; it’s something we emphasize. But as you guys know in this room, sometimes they come in bunches. You’re talking about it every week, and you may have a dry spot here or there, but you can’t give up on trying to punch the ball in practice; trying to strip the football in practice; as the ball’s in the air, making sure guys are concentrating on the football and catching it, securing it, and tucking it away. So, you’re always emphasizing those things, and hope when a guy gets into position like Jordan Poyer was yesterday, that he makes the play. He did, and that’s why you emphasize it.
Q: You were Marvin’s [Lewis] defensive coordinator his first two years in Cincinnati. You also worked with Coach [John] Harbaugh last year. On a personal level, what was it like watching that yesterday all unfold in front of you?
A: Well, each one of those guys you mentioned, they’re great friends. You kind of pull in different directions. Obviously, I want us to be in the playoffs. You see those two teams battling, you know what it’s going to feel like when one them loses. But, the jubilation that I felt, along with everybody else in our organization, and it’s hard to surpass that. I feel for those guys, they’re great friends. I’ve been in that situation before, we lost a home playoff game, it’s a bad feeling, bad feeling. But, it happens. It created an opportunity for us, and now we have to go out and take advantage of it.
Q: What if this was Marvin’s [Lewis] last game? It’s still undetermined, but just your thoughts on what kind of person and coach he is.
A: Well, he’s done a terrific job there in Cincinnati. I know people hit him hard on not winning a playoff game, but if you remember what the organization was prior to his arrival, I think he’s done a heck of a job over the course of time he’s been there. If this, I don’t know – has there been an announcement?
Q: No, they said that they’re going to take some time to decide.
A: So, if for some reason he ends up leaving, I think there will be a big void to fill. He’s been a class act throughout his time there. He’s really put Cincinnati football back on the map and made it more relevant than it was prior to his arrival. Hopefully it’ll work out if he wants to come back there and be there, but if he has other things he wants to take care of, I wish him nothing but the best.
Q: The Jaguars are number one in rushing. Just how would you characterize their running philosophy?
A: They are persistent in trying to run the football; they’re not going to let you deter them by putting eight guys in the box to discourage them from running the football. They’re going to continue to give Leonard Fournette the football and they’ve got some good offensive lineman, good wide receivers as well, but their whole deal is, ‘we’re going to run the football, you know we’re going to run it, now you stop it.’ We’ve got to find a way to slow them down. That’s really the strength of their offense without question. It’s a good run game obviously and we’ll have our hands full trying to get them stopped.
Q: Leslie, when you’re going into a game when you’re facing such a dominant defense, I know you’re not going to go against them, but do you almost feel like this is going to be defense versus defense? They get a lot of turnovers, you guys do as well.
A: Well, I know with the way their defense is played over the course of the year, and we’ve had some games where we’ve seen their defense going against some of the coming opponents. I know we’re going to have to play at a high level on Sunday. They played well throughout the year, and that’s going to require that we play at a high level as well, which we intend to. We’ve got to offset some of the things they do by doing what you just mentioned: taking the football away. That will be an emphasis throughout the week, along with stopping the run. We need to come in and play a really good game on defense.
Q: Leslie, you’ve heard questions about the 17-year playoff drought and all of this over, probably, the course of the season. You were aware of it probably even before you got here, I’m not sure, but when the plane taxis in on the tarmac last night at the airport, and whether you look out the window or you’re coming off – de-boarding the plane, did you come to appreciate what that drought meant to fans and what ending that drought even more meant to them?
A: The emotions that I felt, and I’m sure the players and other coaches as well too – we couldn’t see the fans when we were de-planing, but once we walked a little bit further – you could hear them, but we couldn’t see them. As we walked a little bit further, you could see how many people were out there at one, one-thirty in the morning with the temperatures being what they were, we were like, ‘this is incredible’. It just kind of brings home what this means to Buffalo, to western New York. I think for everybody that’s involved, all our players, all our coaches, it just pushes you on to want to keep it going and just show them how much we appreciate their support. As much as they are proud of us, what they have shown really urges us on and really makes us want to be on task in our preparation for this ballgame so it doesn’t end this coming weekend.
Q: I’m sure you have more studying to do, but what have you seen in Blake Bortles’ growth this season?
A: We’re just getting into the initial phases of studying them, but in the little bit of tape I’ve had a chance to look at, you can see [that] he’s making better decisions, he’s showing a little more poise in the pocket and that run game has really helped him as a quarterback, and that’s usually the case. He’s a little but more well-rounded; he’s always been a really good scrambler, has a strong arm, good mobility. His decision making is much better and what they’ve done with the run game has really made their offense a whole lot better.
Q: How much different is Leonard Fournette than any other running back you guys have seen this year?
A: We’ll, we’ve faced some pretty good ones along the way, but the combination of power and speed is a rare combination. His ability to be able to break tackles, you know, it’s rare that one guy brings him down. When you come to tackle him, you better come ready to tackle him, because he will deliver a blow himself. That combination of speed and power, it makes you buckle your chinstrap up and be ready to play. He’s a good back and he has the ability to catch the football out of the backfield as well. Just watching him on some of the screens that he’s run and some of the things he’s done, he’s an all-around back. He provides quite a challenge for any defense.
Q: Without diminishing what making the playoffs and all that stuff, but the expectations: there were no expectations back in April, or May, or even August, or when Marcel [Dareus] got traded. Do you think this is all gravy in some ways? [That] you’re playing with house money at this point?
A: Well, there may not have been any expectations from outside our locker room, but there were expectations in our locker room and in our meeting rooms with the players. We had some goals in mind [and] this was one of our goals to be a playoff team. It was talked about from the day that Sean [McDermott] arrived; being playoff caliber in everything that we do with the goal of becoming a playoff team. There were some steps that needed to be taken along the way; it was a process. We’ve always had this as a goal as a team, and there would have been a lot of disappointment if we had not gotten to this point, regardless of some of the things that were said back in August outside of the locker room. Our expectations were to get to this point and that’s part of our goal. If you talk to our players, you’ll find out [that] they’re not satisfied with just getting to this point. They want more.
Q: I get that, but there have been, I don’t know, eight different coaches that preceded Sean that had the same goal and never got that goal. There were hundreds of players who had the same expectation and were left disappointed. This just seemed to be almost far-fetched. We’ve heard all this stuff before, but for this to happen seems almost, I don’t know, mythical or magical. Maybe I’m making too much of it.
A: Yeah. Well, I think it speaks to the people. There have been a lot of people and coaches that have come through, different teammates that have come through over the years, but as you know, each year is its own. This group is a unique group and I think you take a look at the character of the players, the character of the coaching staff, and that in itself can give you a window into ‘why this year, why is it different this time around’. Just the way things are done and the people that are involved, it has a lot to do with it. At the end of the day, it’s still about people, you know? We’ve got some really, really good people in that locker room and Sean did a heck of a job putting together a coaching staff.