Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride
Q: What did you think of the way they were able to shake off the rusty start on Monday?
A: I thought it was tremendous. There was never a sense on the sidelines that we can't come back or that we've created too big of a hole for ourselves. I think that there was anger and disappointment at the way we started, the mistakes we made, but it was rather than turn into despair it kind of turned into resolve and they just came back out and did the things that we were hopeful of. After those first two catastrophes, then we came back with an 11-play drive for a touchdown, drove it a little bit, punted, then touchdown, touchdown, field goal, touchdown, touchdown, which was unbelievable against what I think is one of the better defenses in the league.
Q: That has happened a few times over the last few years – sputtering at the start and then finally getting it going. Do you think that that helped, having gone through that before?
A: I think the more success you have, not that it means anything on that individual basis, but it gives you a reserve of confidence because you have experienced it before. Last time we went down there, we started off like a ball of fire – we took the opening drive – our problem there was that we were stalling in the red zone. What's nice to see is that until the last drive where we decided to play conservative and decided to kick the field goal, we were 10 for 10 over the last 10 times in the green zone, which is phenomenal, so hopefully we can continue with that and just straighten out our beginning.
Q: Is this a team that can play looser – more big plays, but more turnovers – and still be successful?
A: That's a great question. My experience has been that in the long run you're going to get bitten if you do that. It's nice to have that explosiveness, that big play capability. It's nice to know that when you fall behind you can still come back and win. I think that those are all pluses and a great foundation, but bottom line, it's hard to win when you make as many mistakes as we made in that game. Again, it's a great tribute to them that we came back and we played as well and made as many big plays. We had 14 big plays, which is almost unheard of – it's off the charts – to be able to do that in a game and then physically, to be as physically dominant as we were, which is terrific. I just think that in the long run, it's hard to fathom winning consistently like that, so we've got to be much more careful with the ball.
Q: How does it feel to have the leading rusher in the league?
A: Good. I mean, my stance has been pretty consistent. I've always thought that Ahmad could be a very good runner for us and the key has been – we've thrown the ball very well, people have to defend and honor that, and it's opened up some running game possibilities for him and he's going to take advantage of them. He's an explosive back and he's kind of representative of what we're talking about – he's one of those explosive guys, we've just got to curtail the miscues, but in terms of toughness, determination, a guy that is going to give you everything on every play, he is certainly emblematic of what you're looking for.
Q: When he was made the number one guy, were you concerned that he's not that big and he has been hurt?
A: The size is not a problem. The injury concern is certainly something that had to be taken into account, there's no question. It's still there. He's as tough as they come to overcome the problems that he's had with the two surgeries on his ankles and his feet from last year. I'm still holding my breath hopefully that he's going to be able to last the entire year. Right now, knock on wood, he's playing great football for us. Again, I think he gives you an inspirational quality because of how hard he plays – he blocks hard, he runs hard, everything he does is with great determination and effort, so I think that it's hard for his teammates to look at him and not be affected in a positive way, so that's a good thing. That's not to disparage the other guy because the other guy has gotten better and better and has played very good football for us and showed some of the speed that you don't expect a big man to have – when he turned that counter play for a touchdown for us. That was a huge play in the last game. He's played very well. I just think that in the long run it's nice to have two guys that you can count on because history has shown that one of them has been banged up and missed time, so it's nice to have both of them.
Q: With those ankle problems, do you have to watch how many times you give him the ball or do you just keep holding your breath and give it to him?
A: I mean, we're going to call our game and if that means that it looks like schematically that the run game potential is there and they're giving us a chance to run the ball, we're going to give it to him until something says that we can't, whether it's scheme or injury or what have you. I don't think it's going to be the carries. I think he's just got a history of those lower extremity problems. It's just a matter of how long he can hold up. It's not from the game – it's from the practices, the games, and just the wear and tear on him, but keep our fingers crossed. The good thing is that the other guy is going to be there to pick up any slack when it's needed.
Q: Is there any thought to giving Brandon more now so that Ahmad has more later on?
A: Yeah, I mean, I don't think that that has any bearing on it. I think it's just running around between practice and…we'll see. Right now it's working, so until something alters that, that causes us to modify what we're doing, I don't see us…we're going to ride the horse right now as long as he's galloping pretty good.
Q: Are you still looking for DJ Ware to step up and come in?
A: We'd love to see it. Between injuries and not necessarily always capitalizing on all of his opportunities, he hasn't really earned that chance, but unfortunately, history shows that we're going to need the third guy, so I think that we all feel that he has the physical potential that if the opportunity comes his way, he can do it. Hopefully if it does come his way, he can do it.
Q: He talked about the mental part of the game.
A: It's a lot of different things that just have not gone his way, whether it's an injury or a mistake or a lack of focus…it's just not played out for him the way he would have hoped or we would have liked, but we'll see.
Q: What is the line doing in run blocking that we haven't seen in a while?
A: They were maybe as physical Monday night as we've been in a long, long time, which is great and an integral part of that has been the addition of Shawn Andrews – that has given us a whole other dimension. It's like a glorified tight end, but it's a big linemen. That gives us a matchup that, in terms of the run game, comes heavily in our favor. It really gives us a distinct advantage. It kind of goes unnoticed, but Kevin Boss was outstanding in the game because we motioned him and we put a lot of our focus on whether or not he could handle Ware and you're not dominating DeMarcus Ware, but he neutralized him enough that we were able to get some fairly consistent success in the run game. Between the line, Shawn Andrews, what Kevin did, it was a good performance and I thought the runners ran hard.
Q: Have you seen anything from Duke Calhoun on Ramses Barden to get them on the field?
A: Again, it comes down to the packages that we're using. Right now I think that we're most effective with the three guys. I think that when we've asked them to do something, they've done it. Ramses made a nice play – we kind of motioned down, created an in and out and he made the catch for us. That was a big 22-yard gain and so it's not that they haven't done well, they've done reasonably well. Duke made a great block on the crack for that 22-yard gain in the last drive we had, so we're kind of weaving them in little by little and hopefully they'll continue to play well, but right now our more consistent packages have been our three wides as opposed to using four wides.
Q: Do you feel that Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks are the best one-two receivers in the entire league?
A: It's hard for me to say. It's like bragging on your own children. It's hard for me to do it, but I'm very proud of them. Hakeem has gotten better and better and has given us a great one on one threat that if people go to that scheme to either to stop the run or to double Steve – Steve is encountering a lot of doubling – he's won for us consisteny and that's what that position has to do. Steve has been playing great football and sometimes it doesn't always show up, like we talked about when Plax was there, the double coverage opens up the run game and opens up the receiving opportunities for other people. Steve is getting doubled a lot and that's opening up opportunities for both Hakeem and Mario and both of those guys are taking advantage of it. Steve's toughness and his work inside is outstanding. He had over 100 yards Monday night and he had two catches called back for another 50 yards, plus he blocked well in the running game. He's a big part of the run game success. He had a terrific game.
Q: What does he do with his body so well?
A: He's a great student of the game. He is as professional as anybody we have in terms of studying, how can he improve himself with his technique, with his ability to use – whether it's a stand or whether it's the speed or the change of speeds to get himself some separation. He does a tremendous job. He's a craftsman.
Quaterbacks Coach Mike Sullivan
Q: Given your recent history as a receivers coach, what do you tell your quarterbacks after they have an interception that is tipped off of a receiver's hands?
A: Every interception, whether it's a result of a breakdown in protection, a ball that can be caught, a poor throw, a poor position, I think of a bad metaphor we all know. They all happen, they all stink. Every interception counts and they're all bad. It doesn't matter what the result is or why they keep on throwing badly. What we're focusing on is continuing to do the various drills and knowing the strike zones with certain guys and going up and getting a little bit more to put in an accurate position under duress because it's not a world of seven-on-seven out there. There are big guys coming on the pass rush and trying to find spaces in the pocket. You have to reinforce also that when our defense is playing as well as they've been, which they've just been phenomenal, and we're fortunate to have games well in hand like in Houston and Dallas, that even if the play breaks down, it's not the coverage you were expecting, or there is an issue in protection, or whatever reason, as competitive as he (Eli) is. The greatest competitive play that he may have made in the Super Bowl was trying to make something happen when it's not there. In those situations, we may have to just punt it and then play again. A punt isn't all bad.
Q: With Eli, it seems that when a guy has a drop, he goes right back to that receiver the next play. Is that by design?
A: Yes, he's been excellent. He was when I was receivers coach, and I'm saying the same thing now. Excellent is a strong word that I can say in terms of his coaching, support, reinforcement to the receivers both from a standpoint of 'Hey, I'm expecting this type of break' or 'I'm anticipating this read with this look.' Also, when a guy drops a ball and Hakeem Nicks comes to mind, he'll go right back after him. He has that way about him that he has quiet confidence and poise, and he's a leader that he looks at them, and he doesn't have to say a lot of words, but he still has faith and hasn't lost confidence in him. So, he goes back and gives him another shot. He knows that he'll go back and make some plays. The Steve Smith catch was phenomenal on Monday night, that was tremendous. In terms of a throw, he was like 'Thank you, Steve!' I think he knows those guys are going to step up for him, so he needs to support and stand behind them.
Q: It seems with quarterbacks around the league that some guys don't think that a punt isn't that bad of a thing, so they make bad decisions which result in turnovers:
A: It's a fine line. It really is a fine line. I think you're exactly right. The aggressiveness and confidence, the belief in your teammates and yourself and that you can make the play. That always has to be there, and it can't be shaken because of a bad throw or a sack, or an interception. One of the things that Eli has been tremendous about this year through seven games is that through seven games, he has great resolve and great consistency. When you look at the Indianapolis game or a similar situation, when something bad has happened, he's had consistent focus. There haven't been any valleys or any of those situations where maybe it looked like he was overly flustered. He has to continue to have that resolve. I think that as long as our defense is outstanding this year, we have been in situations this year where we have it hand, it is a situation where you don't want to lose all your aggressiveness and lose your confidence. In that situation, if it's not there, then take what you can get. There's no question that the coaches don't ever want to take away that fire or that confidence to make plays.
Q: In the preseason, you said you didn't want Eli to have those peaks and valleys. Has he been effective doing that?
A: I'm very pleased with where he's at in terms of avoiding all the valleys. You look at regardless of how things have gone in games this year, whether we won or lost the game or he is facing a lot of duress and pressure. You go back to the Indianapolis game, which was certainly a rough start, and he finished strong and kept playing. You go to the Houston game where he started off fast, had a couple things not go our way, and then he finished strong. Certainly look at Monday night, I couldn't have been more proud of him in that place and against that defense and that crowd. He started off the first six plays with two interceptions, and he comes right back in an attack mode. He is very poised, confident, and there is a spirit and energy about him that is one that is just a great equanimity in how he approaches things, and I'm sure you've seen that. There is a steadiness, a resolve. I have been pleased to see that he has that same level-headed focus. We talked a little about having that same expression. I don't care whether or not it's a touchdown pass or an interception, it's that same type of focus. Kind of like Cain Velasquez walking into the octagon vs. Brock Lesnar: same expression, same focus. That's where we are.
Running Backs Coach Jerald Ingram
Q: Are you at all surprised with what Ahmad has been able to do this season?
A: No, stats are stats. I think what we've seen out of Ahmad is what we've always continued to see out of him. He's hard running, tough, determined. He's always been a hard runner, even when he was a rookie down the road during that Super Bowl period right then, he was probably one of the leading rushers at that time. The things that he has progressed on is learning how to protect the quarterback, being on the same page as Eli and those kinds of situations and areas. We always knew he had the potential, and the more carries you get as a running back, the better you are. He just now took it to a point to where he wants to be fed. He wants that on his back, and he wants to be the guy that makes a difference in what he does and he wants to win. That shows in how hard he runs. How is able to put all the other pieces together and how he can focus on everything and focus on holding onto the ball while he runs hard because he's so determined, that's the area where he's progressive. Targeting the anger into being even more focused. He runs mean and angry and he's ready to fight everybody off with his hands and whoever is in the way. Now, he has to learn how to be smarter but still be the same guy. It's a learning process that when you've had enough, now you have to do something. We have the tools for you, and we have another individual who was here before that he has to be the playmaker and everything they do has to be that play, but when you don't have the ball in your hands, it doesn't matter anyway. It's all there for him, it's just when is that energy going to come together and say, "Hey, that's an area that I really, really have to focus on."
Q: How sure are you that Ahmad can handle the responsibilities and all those carries associated with being the number one back on this team?
A: After what he has already experienced a year ago, I don't know many more tougher individuals than him physically. Let me tell you something, with this guy, when it comes to that point, your bottom fell out. The guy played every game last year with what he had, which most individuals couldn't do, and he did it every single week. There aren't many people around or on this team as tough as that. He'll do whatever it takes to be out there, to win and help the team. My worries with him are him progressing and getting to that point of saying that enough is enough, and I have to focus on a little more than that. Just like when we told Tiki, we did a three year study when he first came here of how he held onto the ball and what he had to do. He really had to put his energy towards "Hey, I can really run with my legs and my legs are strong enough, I don't need to fight with my hands." So once he gets to the point where he can believe that, and just really believe it all the time, he will have reached where we want him to be. All the other things, I don't think about his toughness and what he can handle and what's too much and all that. He will go as far as you can take him.
Q: Do you marvel at what he was able to do last year?
A: Yeah. Like I said, it's unbelievable…he's a testimony of what one individual can handle because I know I couldn't handle it. I know 95 percent of this team probably couldn't do it. He had that kind of pain threshold, and when he plays on game day, he may hurt during practice and he may look like he can't walk or run, but on game day, he's a totally different beast. He's one of those guys that, hey, if I have to go in a back alley with, you're the first guy I'd ask. The first, without a question. The guy has no conscience. When Jessie played here, Jessie played here with no conscience and a direction to win and compete. That's what you love about this kid, you really love the way he plays. How he progresses in lines? That's what you do as coach and that's my fault. I have to get him there, okay, that'll be my fault.
Q: Does he go through the hole that he's designed to go through, and what happens when he makes something out of nothing?
A: If you study most running backs, there is no hole you're designed to go through. If the defense gives you it, because they get paid, too. If they take that hole away, you have to go to the next hole. If there is nothing, you're hoping you have a guy that can make magic. There are times there when he's making magic happen out there. We wish you can picture and draw where things are supposed to happen but that's what makes him special and that's what makes a lot of great running backs special. They can turn nothing into something.
Q: When you look at film, do you find yourself agreeing with his decisions?
A: I'd say 95 percent of the time, he's where he needs to be and then he's trying to find something after that.
Q: When he was hurt, he didn't practice, and now he is practicing. What difference does that make?
A: Oh, I think it makes a difference on his confidence, knowing his job and how to pass protect and where the blitzes are coming from and all the tips and pointers. You can talk about it in the class room, but it's one thing to actually do it. In our position, most of the guys are doers. Once you get to a certain point, you do it over and over and over, repetition. Now, they can actually talk about what actually happens out there and they can see it. Instinctively, he missed a lot of that during the week and he'd see it, but it's not the same as actually doing it.
Q: Were there times last year when you thought that he wouldn't be able to go?
A: No, no. When he got hurt and everybody got hurt in that first game of the year, and they turned to me and they said "I don't know if Ahmad can go," I turned to him and said, "Ahmad, you don't have a choice." There was a period in that Washington game where they were all hurt, and one of the trainers said he's got to go and I said, "All these people here don't want to see me play right now, so you don't have a choice and get back out there." He did. From then on, no problem. You maintenance him, you take care of him, you give him what he needs. Ronnie Barnes did a phenomenal job working with him, but his heart, toughness. He's the last person I'd have to worry about on game days. Tom might worry about him sometimes and say "He's in a lot of pain." The first hit, he's ready to go.
Q: Is he dealing with physical issues from being hurt last year to the extent that he was?
A: He's fine. I don't think so, his thing is just getting his mind ready to play.
Q: Do you think getting his mind ready to play means getting used to being the number one back?
A: No, just focusing on his job. Protecting, running, and looking. As a runner, you're always looking for that one run to make the difference, and you want to be the difference whether it's a pass or a run. It's also being a complete running back and being a great blocker. So, he has a lot to focus on. We help the offensive line chip, we pick up the blitzes, serve as a receiver out of the backfield. There are times when Eli will say "I need you out, I know you're protecting but I need you out in the route to open a pattern up" or "I need to get the ball off to you because of the speed of the rush." So, he was fragmented a year ago and he would say "I'm going to protect Eli and I'm going to stay in," and Eli would say "No, I need you out on this." One of those types of things.
Tight Ends Coach Mike Pope
Q: How has Bear Pascoe handled his new role in the offense?
A: Bear is a real smart guy and he has adapted to it very well. He is still coming on because it's a little bit different running up the A-gap to block the linebacker than it is blocking on the end line of scrimmage. He's a good, hard-working old cowboy and he's done a good job.
Q: How much do you still work with him, or does he go to Jerald Ingram's meetings with the running backs?
A: No, he stayed in my meetings and Jerald and I both advise him on the field. He goes into them on Thursdays with quarterback protection, but most of the time he's in mine.
Q: You're still telling him what his responsibilities are?
A: I say "Hey, there's 51, he's your guy."
Q: As the second tight end though, as a wing or a move guy, how does he have the same guy?
A: We run the same type plays where Kevin Boss would block 51 or Kevin would block 56 like in Dallas. We move those guys across the backfield quite often, and we lead block them up in there. The approach is a little different, and you're not in a three point stance, which is different. Blocking assignment, protection-wise, there is a tremendous amount of carry over.
Q: That seems like a different job, though:
A: It is a little bit different, but we do that with Boss, too. He was on the move the other night quite a bit to block 94. It was the same move, blocking 93. It's a little different when you're deeper in the backfield and you have to read. For instance, if the defense slants, you have to read around the down lineman but that's not really not all that hard to watch one guy. If he pinches, you go behind him. It's not that different. The impact, now, is a little bit more intense. That's the good thing, Bear did a good job doing it the last two weeks.
Q: Usually it takes him one-two blocks and then he gets into it better:
A: Probably not, because you always know exactly what the defense is going to do. The teams play us one way and play everyone else different. Some of the things we see from the Cowboys, they don't do very much of except for when they play us. They have the little wrinkles that they do coverage wise and those things that they do. They spend the winter studying us just like we spend the winter studying them.
Q: Have they consistently done that?
A: Pretty much, yeah. They have a few change-ups a little bit, but a high percentage of what they do is a repetitive kind of thing. They have good enough players that they can do it. It's one thing to be in the 100-yard dash, and another thing to win it. We always try to scout ourselves, and we gave them some things. Setting Kevin Boss all the way outside as the number one receiver instead of being inside as the number three, that got some guys open and that's a little bit difficult. They have all these multiple coverages and teams are trying to double Steve Smith a little bit more, but when you take the tight end outside of that now, they're pointing to each other and unbelievably, the noise that's created to try and cause our offense problems causes their defense twice as many problems. They can't hear on defense, it's the same noise. They have to communicate and watch their guy that they're trying to cover and they're using hand signals but you're all hand signaling and nobody is watching who is covering who. They turn guys free and this happens, everybody does. So that noise is a little bit more effective as you're moving, as long as you don't get the penalties, it's always an advantage for the offense. I'm sure the defensive coaches would like to tell the stands to be quiet so we can hear but it's not going to work that way.
Special Teams Coordinator Tom Quinn
Q: It looks like Lawrence Tynes is fully healed from that sprain:
A: It was a freak thing that happened, a scary thing. He was all wrapped up, stomped, and all of the sudden he just went down. It was his last rep. Just, snap. On tape, it looked really bad. He recovered well from it. I think it also helped his kickoffs because it slowed him down a little bit. So, he kind of stayed in sequence as opposed to getting aggressive.
Q: Does he have an extra layer of tape or anything, and does that help him?
A: It gives him a little bit of support. He doesn't like it because it's tight and he can't come up and through. He got that fixed during the week.
Q: Has it helped him that he has Sage holding for him now?
A: Yeah, he sees the ball a little bit longer and a little bit better. Confidence is a big thing with these guys, obviously.
Q: Talk about Matt Dodge's first punt to Dez Bryant that he ran back:
A: You don't get excited when you see the bomb because you know you have to cover it. I was happy with his consistency, and he has started to put some practices back-to-back which he didn't do earlier in the year. That was a good punt, but obviously we have to cover a heck of a lot better. It had hang, it had distance, it had location. It wasn't kicked down the middle of the field. We have to do a better job of taking advantage of what he can bring to the table. That next punt of his was probably one of the finer ones I've seen: 65 yards, out of bounds, knowing that you can't let that guy touch it again because they were so hot right then. He really did a good job with that.
Q: Duke Calhoun was there on the Bryant return and some of other guys had a shot on that one:
A: Yeah, yeah, I mean we have to make plays. Obviously, you don't want to outkick the coverage, you do want some hang with it. Guys are paid to go down and make plays, and I'm paid to put them in position to make plays, and we have to do a better job of that.
Q: When he kicks it like that, do you say to him that you don't want them as long?
A: Yeah, you want to hang it up there more. Against the returners we're going to face, you have to have great placement, it has to be close to the sidelines, it has to have the hang time, and we have to get down and cover it.
Q: You made the return man turn his back and catch it over his shoulder:
A: Yeah, that's like the relative hang. He didn't catch it and come running at us, he had to catch it, regroup. Those longer punts, you're never going to get the hang and distance like we always talk about. Once they get beyond 55, it's really hard to get that hang.