Head Coach Joe Judge
Q: With regard to Daniel (Jones) and the turnovers, I know he's gone to great lengths in the offseason to try to improve that, yet it's still kind of rearing its head this year. Are you seeing any common denominators there in what's going on? What kind of things can you do to prevent it?
A: We have to do a better job as coaches putting our players in situations to really be successful on the field. Every player right now just has to do a better job elevating our level of play in the game and executing. Specific to any one player, there are always reasons. It's never just one guy. We have to string some things together. We have a lot of confidence in Daniel and excited to get him on the grass going forward.
Q: How do you plan to handle the west coast travel? Anything different? I know you talked about the hydration for Chicago. This is an even longer flight now.
A: To be honest with you, we're going to kind of take a page out of a couple different teams' books, along with the place I was. We're going to go out there early Saturday. A lot of teams travel on Friday, kind of reset that circadian rhythm. We're going to go out there Saturday. We're going to get out there early, get our guys in the sunlight for a little bit, kind of get them in the UV rays, which should help reset their body clocks a little bit. Being as though it's not a primetime game at night, it's less than 24 hours of a trip for us. It shouldn't affect us overly in terms of that window we're going in there. We're going to go ahead and stay in east coast time as much as we can, and wake up the next day ready to play. The one thing I think that stands out that we're going to do a little bit differently, like several teams have done lately, is we're going to stay out there after the game on Sunday. Instead of returning back immediately afterwards, we're going to stay out and make sure the guys get a good night's sleep. We'll get the film graded that night, watch with the players the next morning and get that all cleaned up. We'll fly back, give us an opportunity as coaches to work on the next opponent going forward, give the players a good amount of time between Monday night getting home and Tuesday as the off day. We're really looking to avoid some of that jetlag time coming back and trying to keep the players as fresh as possible. This is something we talked about in the offseason when the schedule came out with a lot of coaches around the league and things they've done in the past. It was something that we thought could really help our players, not just for this week, but also with next week's trip back to Texas.
Q: So you're flying back Monday afternoon or are you going to leave Monday morning?
A: We're going to leave Monday around lunch time west coast time. Should get us back here to the Quest building somewhere around 8-8:30 p.m.
Q: With the Rams, obviously, they have to make game plan adjustments to attack what you guys do on defense. But their offense, is it something with them that they're just able to run what they run because they run it so well, more than other teams? Or do they change a lot week to week?
A: I think it's a combination of both. Their identity is really a strong identity, and they do it extremely well. They run that zone run game. They can change it up and run the gap, runs inside with the pulls and all. But they're very effective in their run game. (Aaron) Kromer does a great job of stringing that together. In the pass game, they really set you up off the run, whether it's the play actions, the boots or the third down passing game where they're dropping back and (Jared) Goff can sit back there and pick you apart. They do a great job of that. That being said, Sean (McVay) doesn't just hammer in the same playbook over and over. He's going to find things that showed up on tape that you leave as a weakness, and he's going to find a way to put that in the game plan and look to expose you.
Q: Now that it's official, can you talk a little bit about what you liked from Madre Harper and how that process went for you guys?
A: He's a guy we've known about for some time now, to be honest with you. Obviously, there's no preseason games, so the exposure early on at the 53 cut was a little bit limited. He ended up staying in Las Vegas being a part of the practice squad. But he's a guy we've had our eye on. He's a good athlete. He's a long, rangy guy with good speed. He's definitely a developing player. I like the competitiveness he plays with. He's definitely somebody that we're anxious to get on the grass and start moving forward with him. Because of protocols, we just got him in the building today and got everything official. We'll see where he goes in terms of his involvement for this week. Getting someone on Thursday, we'll see how much we can kind of get him going and get him caught up on, and if there's a role or not in this week's game plan. But we'll probably take that up to the wire and decide what we're going to do with him this week. But we're excited to have him in the building and get working with him.
Q: How does that process work just in terms of, is it a heavy scouting thing? We just happened to be talking to Jerome (Henderson) when I guess you had just told him that you guys were signing Harper. How does that process work? Is it really a heavy scouting thing?
A: Yeah, it really is. It's our job to know everybody coming out of college into the draft. It's our job to know everybody in the league of who's where, and that's who's on certain practice squads, who's been getting tried out at different clubs, who's been elevated and protected with these new practice squad rules. We're looking around the league all the time trying to learn who's out there. We have college grades on people. Obviously, we haven't been able to put a pro grade on this guy yet because he didn't play any preseason games, so you're really, with all these rookies, relying on your college evaluation of him. But you just have to have a good feeling of what you're looking at right there and the skillset to develop. But between the personnel department, Dave (Gettleman), myself, we've gone through a number of players. He's obviously one of them. We thought this was a good opportunity to get him in here and get working with him.
Q: Sean McVay said yesterday that it's a real pain to prepare to play your defense. Is that just blowing smoke? What do you think he means by that? Also, Patrick Graham just said, he says often, he said it a lot today about it's on him, 'it's on me, I have to take a hard look at myself.' What's the balance with a coach between saying 'look, it's on me' or saying 'look, it's on me but it's also on them. I give them the plan, they have to do it'?
A: I think as coaches, we have to be very self-critical. When I watch the tape, there are things that players have to correct. But I always look at myself in the mirror first. As coaches, I think that's how you have to be. Am I doing everything possible to teach these guys the best way? Am I doing everything possible to paint that mental image that they can go out there and execute on the grass? Am I putting them in the ideal situations to play to their strengths? As a coaching staff, we have to ask ourselves that on a daily basis through practice, on a weekly basis through the games. If you're not self-critical as a coach, I don't think you're a very good coach. If you're someone who wants to simply look at players and say 'well, he has to play better. He has to do this,' what did you do to put him in that position? To me, for our staff, we have to be a group of guys that watch the tape and we see ourselves in the performance of the players, and we have to make sure we're doing everything possible to help elevate their level of play.
Q: Do you think your defense is a pain to play against?
A: I think we bring a lot of elements teams have to prepare for. That being said right now, that offense we're going to see this week is tremendous. You talk about them on early downs running the ball, their play action pass, talking about on third down with the efficiency of extending drives. You talk about Goff's completion percentage, their success in the red zone. This team right here, they're more than a pain. This is really one of the top teams in the league. Definitely one of the top offenses in the league. Sean does a great job of identifying what the defense is doing, making adjustments not only within the specific play through the quarterback communication, but throughout the game in terms of seeing what you're doing and making any adjustments. You can't be stagnant in your game plan. You have to go through the game and understand the chess pieces that are moving around and anticipate what you have to do next as well.
Q: In the first three weeks, do you see any common thread in what's going wrong in these end of first half drives for your defense, maybe just not finishing a half?
A: You know what, they've all been unique situations. But the emphasis is we have to finish better. That's something we're working on as a team. That's something we've been working on as a team. We have to do a better job of setting up the practice scenarios as coaches. We made some adjustments in practice in things we're doing. I have to do a better job as the head coach emphasizing that aspect of the game and putting our players in a position to practice that and have the success in practice that carries over to the game. On that end, we've given up touchdowns at the end of each half. That's not acceptable. That can't happen. But we have to do a better job right now in making sure that we're preparing for that the absolute best way.
Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham
Q: One of the things that's come up and Logan Ryan talked about it and Joe Judge talked about it as well is how good the Rams are at masking what they're doing. Everything looks the same and they have a bunch of different plays off of that. What is the challenge of going against an offense like that?
A: First, it starts off with the coaching and the players. Coach McVay and those guys do a great job, O'Connell and Shane Waldron, Kromer, the run game, pass game coordinator, the head coach and the offense, they do a great job. There's an obvious effort by them to give the defense multiple looks. Okay, this look, here's a run, here's a pass, here's a drop back, here's a play action. It's hard, the main thing you're trying to do is get our defensive players' eyes in the right place and go through their progression. If you're too simple and you go, okay, we're going to play two calls against these guys, by the second series he might have you carved up. As you add multiples to it, you try to attack their weaknesses, it's about putting the guys' eyes in the right place.
Q: I know every team game plans for their opponent. Do they, more than some teams, run what they run because they're so good at it?
A: I won't say that. I know this, they attack your weaknesses. If you haven't fixed stuff, they are going to expose it. I wouldn't say that, I can't speak for those guys, but they definitely have a scheme that they run. You will find that with most teams. Most teams, they are going to be a stretch run team, they're a gap scheme run team. They have a definite mode of how they want to operate. There's definitely some game planning going on. The best thing they do is adjust within the game. You have to make sure you are ready for that.
Q: I'm curious about Markus Golden. His snaps have gone way down since last year. Obviously, you guys weren't here last year. He was playing about 80 percent of the snaps, now he's playing about 30 percent. Is it because he was late to training camp and fell behind, he didn't have OTA's? Is he not in shape, is he not the right fit for what you're trying to run? Why are his snaps so way down from what Giants fans are used to seeing?
A: Training camp starting, not a good fit, I don't think that has anything to do with it. Each player, whether it's Markus, whether it's Blake Martinez, what we're trying to do is put the best players for the situations out there. Again, the thing is, Markus does a great job, he works really hard at practice and he's been productive for us for the plays he's been out there. It's just all based on game plan how we use guys. We have a long season here to go. I don't think it has anything to do with what happened in the spring or what have you like that. I don't want to jump the gun, it's three games in and we have a long way to go. Markus has been a very productive player in this league. He's a smart football player, has some savviness to him and has been productive and has a skillset. I have to find ways to use him more. We'll get going as the season goes on. Jump the gun on that one, if that makes sense. I'm real bad at sayings so if I'm using the wrong saying, bear with me.
Q: Statistically your defense is not bad in certain areas across the board, not great but not bad even though the team is 0-3. When you look at them, how much do you analyze those numbers. What do you like about what you're doing? Conversely, what are you looking at statistically and say, no good, this has got to get much better?
A: I keep it real simple. The first thing I look at is the record. Obviously, it's not good enough. To give more detail, I look at the situational stuff and the stuff we want to be defined by. Stopping the run, stopping the run, I've told you that before. Stopping the run when you know they're going to run the ball. I'm not living in the past, but we have to do a better job of that, period, point blank. It starts with me. Then you go to situational football. In this league, games are won on third down, red area and two-minute. I would say this, statistically from the naked eye, that's the stuff we're working on today. We have to do a better job. I have to do a better job of coaching that. I don't know if I'm looking at a stat book per se, but I know I have to do a better job of coaching that stuff and that's what we're going to work on today. In terms of what I look at, it's our win-loss record, that's first and foremost and how we could have affected that. Especially myself, and how I can coach better and make sure I'm putting them in the right spot. It goes down to how we want to be defined by our toughness, stopping the run and stopping the run when we know they want to run the ball. Then situational football because that's how games are won in this league. The last part of it is turnovers, we need more turnovers. Again, we're going to work on it today in practice. That's the only way I know how to attack it. Identify the weaknesses, work on the weaknesses and try to be better tomorrow than we are today at those things. Right now, at the beginning of the season, it's a lot to work out. I'm hard on myself, the players are hard on themselves, the coaches are hard on themselves. Joe is hard on us, but that's how you want it, it's the NFL. There's only 32 of these jobs, you have to figure it out.
Q: Sean McVay said yesterday this is a hard defense to prepare for because they do so much stuff. You think that's just a coach being nice midweek, or do you think you are a hard defense to play against?
A: I can't speak for coach McVay, but we have good players. Any time you're dealing with good players, whether you're dealing with James Bradberry, you're dealing with Julian Love, Logan Ryan, you have Blake Martinez, you have Dalvin Tomlinson, you have Dexter Lawrence. We have good players on the field. If I were in an offensive coach's shoes, yeah, it's hard to deal with. It's hard to deal with those good players. I don't know exactly what he meant, I can't speak for him. There's a lot of good players on the field, we have to find a way to string it together and finish and see what we can do there. We're working on that for today.
Q: I wanted to ask you about Darnay Holmes. The mindset coming into this week. Watching the game last week, it seemed pretty obvious that the 49ers identified who they wanted to go after. I would imagine that as a rookie, you're going to see that, expect that as a coaching staff. Coming into this week, have you taken some time to talk to Darnay about where he's at mentally, what you're expecting, maybe what mistakes, how he's going about correcting some of the mistakes he's had? Obviously the penalty stands out from last week. I'm just curious of your thoughts on that.
A: Any rookie that we have in a position playing…let me not even say rookie, young player, inexperienced player. The league is about people. It's not a surprise who they go attack or what have you. Again, you try to bring that to people's attention. In terms of how Darnay handles it, you have to speak to him. What I've seen as a coach, he comes in with this great energy in the morning and at practice ready to go and improve. The questions he's asking, you can see the maturity as he's maturing through the process right now and learning how to be an NFL football player. Great at college football, but learning to be a NFL football player, the right questions he's asking. Today is a third down, two-minute day. He's asking the right questions where maybe three weeks ago we weren't getting those questions, 'speak up Pat, go over that again.' I like that because there's some interaction we need in there, we're co-workers. I need that interaction. I can't speak for college, I haven't been there in so long but I can see him growing there. Have I seen a change? He's a young player, he's learning and we're there to support him. I told these guys and it's no different if it's an older player, there are 11 guys out there playing defense. It's not just you, just so they understand that. Whether it's a run game or passing, it's not just you. I try to tell those guys 'listen, we're here to help you.' The coverage is here to help everybody. Play our leverage, make sure we take away their targets. It's not just him, it's not just anybody else. We have to play better together as a group to finish if that makes sense. His energy level, his demeanor, I love the kid. He works hard, does everything we're asking him to do and he's just tying to get better every day.
Q: You haven't seen any evidence that his confidence has waned at all the last couple of weeks?
A: Have you met him? I have no worries that his confidence (is gone). He's a defensive back. How many defensive backs have you seen (without confidence)? He's a starting defensive back at this level. If he didn't have confidence, we would have trouble. They get paid to play too, he's fine. My confidence isn't swaying in him. I know he's a playmaker. I'm excited to see him practice today and I'm excited to see him get ready Friday and we'll see what happens on Sunday.
Q: Assuming Jabrill can't play, Julian Love, Logan Ryan are both converted cornerbacks. I know you like interchangeable safeties but their more natural probably free safeties right. What does that change for you as a coach? Are you alright with that pairing of those two guys?
A: The good thing about those guys is they both can tackle. There's a willingness to be involved in the run game. They can still be interchangeable to a certain degree. The great benefit of it is the man to man coverage skills. Now you're working with something right there. You're dealing with the Rams where these guys are all over the place. Their shift motioning here goes the missile motion and stuff like that. Now you have guys, oh he can play this coverage, he can play that coverage. You feel a little bit more comfortable if you're going with all the man stuff. It gives you so more flexibility with stuff like that. Not saying we couldn't have done that with Pep or other guys. You're talking about true cornerback skills, that's a positive right there.
Q: What is going wrong consistently in your opinion with these end of first half touchdown drives? Including the fact that they're getting in from 10, 13, 15 yards out.
A: The first thing, it's not cliché, it's a hard looks at myself. I'm the one out there calling the defense. Deploying these guys, I'm supposed to be putting them in the right spot. I have to do a better job of making calls and I have to do a better job of coaching during the week to get them to understand what's going to be happening to them. We have to get that done. Until last week, it wasn't run game that got us. We were at least forcing them to third down. So last week they ran the ball in. I honestly believe it starts with me doing a better job of calling it, better job of explaining the situations to the fellas. I'm not the guy to put the blame on them. I don't think it's on them. We're playing good defense and then all of the sudden they run the ball in. We're forcing the third down and then they score on third down like the other week. I have to do better job; I have to do a better job. Took a hard look at it and we're studying it and we're going to work on it today and work on it tomorrow and try to get it better. The number one culprit, I'll put it on me. Put it right on me, that's how I see it. I have to be better, have to be better. Week 4 of the season, I have to be better.
Q: With as dominant as James Bradberry has been. What are you guys missing from that other outside cornerback spot? What do some of the younger guys need to show to kind of step up and solidify it there?
A: When you're dealing with young players and this is my experience over 11 or 12 years whatever it's been, when you're dealing with young players, hey let's play for this. In this situation let's play for this. When they get out there on the field and all of the sudden it's something else and they're not sure, or they think it's something else, I'm like if I tell you to play for something, if it's something else then it's on me. When you're a young player and you don't have as many years of experience or plays in this league, I'm asking them to trust me. Obviously, you go through not having a spring, a shortened training camp or no games. It's a process to learn that trust. I'm not saying the guys are out there like I don't trust Pat. Just as a young player it's natural that you're thinking about all the variables. I'm saying listen, I'm anticipating this variable right here, you play for that. If something else happens, it's on me. I think as young players when they start believing in that and again, I have to be right or they have to be right and we have to have some success with it. They ask Jerome [Henderson], they ask Blev [Anthony Blevins] or Mike Treier, how did you get to that conclusion. Once they figure that out, then they start looking for it then they start trusting themselves to identify that stuff. It works out pretty well.
Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett
Q: You had a young quarterback down in Dallas, obviously, with Dak (Prescott). He went through his struggles at times. Now you come here and you have another young quarterback with Daniel (Jones), and he struggles at times, too. He's obviously coming off a game I'm sure he'd like to have a few throws back and all that. My question, I'm curious how do you keep a young quarterback's confidence up going into the next game, in this instance the Rams?
A: That idea applies to all of your players. One of the things that's part of the NFL is adversity. The guys on the other side are good. You're going to be challenged every snap. Regardless of what position you're playing, playing with the confidence that you're going to have success on this particular down is critical. You want to do that with all of your guys, and you certainly want to do that with your quarterback. The quarterback has the ball in his hands every play. Things aren't going to go perfectly, so you have to be able to handle the adversity of the game and just keep going. That's one of the things we really like about Daniel. He just has that mindset mentality of a competitor. Whether he has success or failure or adversity on a previous play, he's going to keep coming back. He's demonstrated that over the course of the first three weeks.
Q: When you face a player like Aaron Donald who does so many things well, is it feasible to use some of the things that he does well against him when you game plan for him?
A: Yeah, he's a great player. He's one of those players that probably every week in every game that he's played throughout his career, he's gotten special attention from the opposing offense. Whatever that attention is, a chip, a double team, the way they slide protections, putting a back up there, and he always, somehow someway, finds a way to show up in the game, both in the run game as a run defender and pressure on the quarterback. He's just one of those rare, unique players. To a certain extent, you like to use his aggressiveness against him, but his productivity week in and week out over the course of his career speaks for itself. He's a great football player. It'll be a great challenge for our team this week.
Q: What did you see from Devonta (Freeman) in his first game? What do you expect to see from him moving forward? Then if I can get a quick one too about you added Alfred Morris. You had him last year I think in Dallas. How are you going to use him? He's on the practice squad now.
A: It was good to see Devonta come in here last week and do as well as he did with the work that he got, both in practice and the snaps he got in the game. He's been a really good football player in this league for a number of years. It's great to have him on board. He's learning more and more every day, and getting better and better and more and more comfortable with our systems. You'll continue to see more of him going forward. Then Alfred has just been a really good player. A 1,000-yard rusher three times in this league. We had him in Dallas as one our backups to Zeke (Elliott). He was one of those guys when Zeke was out and couldn't play in a game for whatever reason, Alfred went in and was very productive. He's a great person, he keeps himself in great shape, he had a good practice yesterday so it's great to have him on board as well.
Q: Is it strange to have a 31-year-old running back on the practice squad?
A: The practice squads are a little bit different this year. We have more guys. That designation is probably being used a little bit differently than it has been in the past. It's just great to have him on our team.
Q: What do you think when somebody says to you you're averaging 12.7 points per game at this point? Then in order to score points, what do you view as the things that this offense needs to do to be able to get that done?
A: We just need to play better across the board offensively. Obviously, we've faced some good defenses in Pittsburgh, Chicago and San Francisco, so great respect for them. But we haven't done anything well enough up to this point. It starts with controlling the line of scrimmage and running the football. We haven't done that on a consistent basis. You have to be efficient both running it and throwing it. You have to be able to make explosive plays both in the run game and in the pass game. We haven't been able to do that. At different times, we've done a good job sustaining drives. We've had some long drives in each of the games. We have to do that more consistently, but we have to make some explosive plays. Explosive plays typically give you great opportunities to score on those drives. We haven't done a good enough job of that. Across the board, we just have to do a better job.
Q: If I can just follow up on that real quick, what's going wrong in the running game? Daniel led you guys in rushing two games. I know you don't have Saquon (Barkley) back there to kind of mask some of the issues up front with a big run, but what are some of the issues that are causing the running game to struggle so much and how do you fix it?
A: It's across the board like I just said. It starts with the guys up front, but everybody is a part of the running game. The offensive linemen, the tight ends, the receivers, the backs, us as coaches putting them in a great position, calling the right stuff at the right time. We just haven't consistently blocked them well enough and run well enough across the board. We have to find ways to do that to become a balanced attack, to be able to attack both in the run game and the pass game. We'll continue to work on that as we go forward.
Q: Is your guys' inability to run the ball affecting how often you run play action?
A: We've run a lot of play action, or a decent amount of play action, over the first few weeks. Obviously, sometimes you get into games and you're behind, you're in a two-minute drill before the half or two-minute drill at the end of the game or you're down a couple scores and you get yourself into a different mode. I think it's probably less about that, about the inability to run the football, than it is about game type situations. Even in games where we didn't run the ball particularly well, the play action stuff was actually pretty good for us. We'll continue to do that. Again, the goal is to attack defenses different ways, starting with run and pass, but then the varieties you use within that, the play action game, the run action game, the movement game are all things we strive to do each week.
Q: So it's more about being behind in games than whatever is happening in the run game pretty much?
A: Yeah, sometimes you get into those numbers where you throw it a ton in a game because you throw it the last 12, 14 snaps of the game because the game is a little bit out of hand. That's certainly what happened last week. We want to be balanced. The biggest thing we have to do is take advantage of our opportunities. If you look at that game last week against San Francisco, we had 18 plays in the first half prior to the two-minute drive. Three six-play drives, we kick field goals on two of them, and the other one we had the fumble on the around play. The biggest thing we have to do is when we get opportunities, take advantage of it to keep drives alive, to break through the fringe part of the field and get down to the red zone, give us some opportunities to score some touchdowns. We have to do our part in taking advantage of our ops. Again, run the football, throw the football, be more efficient, don't turn the ball over. Those are all things that are a part of doing that.
Q: Real quick. Why Cooper Rush out and Clayton Thorson in? I know Cooper's a guy you brought here who you have a lot of faith in.
A: Yeah, we like Coop. Coop did a really good job for us. He was in the practice squad role. We just thought, we brought Clayton in for a workout. Clayton was with us in Dallas last year as well. Gave him an opportunity to come in and see what he can do learning our system. But [I] like both those guys a lot. Both of those guys are good, young quarterbacks who can play in this league.
Q: With regard to Daniel, obviously, you just had him three games here, but your familiarity with him is pretty good from playing against him. With regard to the turnovers which seem to continue to happen for him, can you put your finger on what's going on there? What are the things you're trying to do to curve that?
A: It's about the ball for everybody. Everybody has a responsibility to the ball. It starts with coaches, but the guys up front, tight ends, receivers, running backs, and certainly the quarterback when he has the ball in his hand. That's a big point of emphasis for us. We just have to continue to focus on protecting it better, continue to focus on our decision-making, continue to focus on putting the players in a good environment where they can protect the football, and understanding the place that the ball has in the game. Last week, we had just over 50 plays in the game, but three of those plays were turnovers, and they were significant plays in the game for us. We all have a piece of it, we all have a responsibility for it. It's important for us to continue to emphasize it and take that practice emphasis to the game.
Q: If I can just follow up a little bit, being more specific to Daniel, is there a common denominator with some of this stuff that you've seen with him?
A: I don't know if there's a common denominator. I think if you look at the turnovers this year, they've happened in different ways. Sometimes it's been a sack in the pocket, it's been a pitch on an around play, it might be a fumble here, an interception there for different reasons. I think if you look back at last year, you'd probably see them the same way. I've been around young players before, we've had issues turning the ball over. You just keep emphasizing it and you keep trying to put them in an environment where the ball is not at risk. Having said that, when you play that position, you have to make plays in this league, too. You're always balancing those things. We never want to take the edge or the stinger off the player. But at the same time, I've seen it done where you can make plays and also take care of the football. That's what we're striving for with him and for everybody on our team.
Q: There have been some quarterbacks that have not been able to shed that habit. Is there any concern that he's going to continue to do this?
A: Daniel has a chance to be a really good player. He has all the physical tools, he has all the intangibles you want. He loves it, he works hard at it, he's tough, physically and mentally, and I think this is just something that the more he plays, hopefully the better he gets at it. I don't think it's a rare thing for young players who play quarterback to have these issues. We just have to keep working on it and hopefully he'll continue to grow week by week.
Q: It seems like your receivers are having a hard time gaining separation from the defensive backs. I'm wondering if, as a play caller, there's anything you can do to help them artificially gain some separation. The guy I'm really thinking of here is Golden Tate, who's so good at yards after the catch but doesn't seem to have any open space to run it.
A: Yeah, I think that's an important thing. Receivers' jobs are to get open and catch the football for you. You have to win one on ones in this league. But at the same time, we as coaches are always trying to put them in a great position where they have some advantages to do that. Whether that's our formation use or how they align, whether you're using motion, putting them in different spots, you're always looking for ways to do that to help your guys. The guys are working hard. I do think they're getting better and better and better. We have to continue to work in that area because making some plays in the passing game, just simply beating our guys, is a critical part of having some success and being efficient in that area of our team.
Special Teams Coordinator Thomas McGaughey
Q: When you have a kick returner, whose call is it to take it out of the endzone? Is that totally up to him? Is that totally up to you guys or maybe some mix of the two.
A: No, we give them instructions prior to going out into the field. During the course of a game stuff happens, players make mistakes. It just happens sometimes. Corey [Ballentine] is a young player and he made a mistake. It is what it is. It's not something that we're going to kill ourselves about. It's just make sure you're learning from that mistake and not being a repeat offender.
Q: [Head Coach] Joe [Judge] was talking a lot about how he looks at [Johnny] Hekker as a quarterback at punter. Do you have to have your vice guys extra on guard?
A: Absolutely. You look at the history of this guy, their fake history is extensive. It's just the way he plays the game. You always have to be alert for that, that's our job as coaches. To make sure we put our players in the best position to where they can succeed. Obviously, Johnny Hekker is a heck of a player and an outstanding athlete.
Q: It seemed like you came close to blocking a couple of their kicks last week. Was that something you saw that you wanted to take advantage of or it just kind of developed like that?
A: It was a combination of both. We have a lot of confidence in our guys. Leonard [Williams], Dex [Dexter Lawrence II] and Dalvin [Tomlinson] and Lorenzo [Carter] and Corey, all those guys do a great job. They play hard from start to finish. They're the right kind of people. We're just playing football; we're out there trying to make a play for our team. They rushed hard from the very first one to the very last. It really tells you a lot about who they are as people and as competitors.
Q: Are they using Hekker any differently now that they switched coordinators? They still have pretty much the same arsenal with him.
A: We've only played a couple games. I'm sure throughout the season it will show up because that guy is a weapon. He's a guy that can throw it, he can make all the throws at any point in time on the field. I'm sure at some point in time it's going to show up.
Q: With Jabrill [Peppers], who is your next up as a punt returner and did you see anything on the play where he got injured unusual that happened?
A: I don't see anything unusual that happened. Just kind of a freak deal. We have a few guys back there that have been practicing. We have options there. You guys have been around this program for the last three or four years, you know we're always going to have a guy back there that's capable of doing it and be ready to go. I didn't see anything crazy with Jabrill's injury. It was kind of one of those deals, but he'll be back. He's a tough guy, he'll be back.
Q: On Jabrill, how much does he play into your special teams? Obviously, punt returner but how big of a job is it replacing him?
A: Any time you have a player of Jabrill's caliber that you have to replace, obviously it's going to take a few guys to replace him because he did a bunch of different jobs. He meant a lot to our football team and he means a lot to our football team that's why he has a C on his chest. It's hard to replace that guy but you just do the best you can, and the guys are going to step up. These young guys are going to step up and fill some of those roles and we're going to keep plugging. We'll see what happens. Those young guys will step up and they will do a good job.
Q: Aside from Golden [Tate], who else are your options and punt returner at this point? Obviously Shep's [Sterling Shepard] not there, Jabrill may not be there.
A: I can't give you all my secrets. We have a couple other options. C.J. [Board] is back there, Darius Slayton is back there. We have a bunch of other options. Guys that have been out there that's been catching punts every day since training camp. We have full confidence in those guys and whoever we put in the game; they will do a good job.
Q: Do you think [Levine] Toilolo is a willing blocker? A couple kick returns last week where I don't know if he didn't know who he was supposed to block or what was going on. You have a lot of young guys; you can't afford veterans not to do their job right?
A: You said it right, he didn't know who he was supposed to block. Keep doing your job. He's a more than willing blocker. We had a couple mistakes up front that he had to make up for. He has to be very cautious in how he approaches a front line because the rule is you cannot engage from back line player, I can't engage with a front line blocker because it's an illegal double team. He has to make sure that he has the ability to avoid at any point in time. If I make any contact either incidental contact or on purpose I can be flagged. He's a more than willing blocker. He does a good job; we have to do a better job.
Q: If the first guy down the field is already being blocked, he has to avoid that? He has to wait and see if he's going to be free because then he can block him.
A: Absolutely. That particular play, he was supposed to block someone else and that guy just showed up in his face. That's his rule, he's not going to ever let opposite color cross his face. He knows in that situation, that guy shows up, he's the most dangerous guy, he's right in front of me so I have to block him. If I let him go, his unabated to the runner. That's the rule.
Defensive Lineman Dexter Lawrence
Q: I know it's not your position group, but what do you lose as a defense when Jabrill (Peppers) is not on the field?
A: Honestly, he's the energy guy. He brings a lot of energy to the group, positivity, motor, things like that. Now you have to fill that void. Obviously, he's an amazing player and we'd obviously love to have him play. But now it's someone else's time to take on that role and have that responsibility just to be that guy. That's why you have second team or you have backup guys that can fill that role.
Q: Can you do the, obviously you're not going to play safety, or maybe you can, but can you do the energy stuff?
A: Definitely. I try to bring it all the time. Like I said in previous times, the d-line tries to be those guys who set the tone every day, who bring the energy, who try to lead everybody from effort and running to the ball and things like that.
Q: Last year was a rough year. This year, you're now sitting at 0-3. I'm wondering what's the mental state of the team in your opinion, and how are you viewing the 0-3 at this point?
A: The mental state, obviously, we want to win, So, the mental state is trying to get a win in any way necessary. No one is beating themselves up about it. We're just taking these as lessons we have to learn from and see how we can improve every week. We can't do anything about the past or the past games. We can only do something about who we play this week, which is the Rams. That's kind of the mindset that we need to have and that we do have. We've been having a good week of practice. Just see where it goes from there.
Q: Patrick (Graham) was talking to us today, and we were asking him about things like getting off the field on third down and miscommunications at times. He kept on saying 'It's on me, it's on me, it's on me.' He never threw anybody under the bus. Do players like that, or would you rather some guy say 'hey, he screwed up' or whatever?
A: I believe it's on all of us. We're all in it together. It shows the kind of person he is, taking it for the team. But in my eyes, it's on all of us. We just need to have that attitude that we're getting off no matter what. That's just how we have to approach every third down. That's how the attitude has been in practice and that's how we have to carry it over to the game and that's how we get off on third down. We don't want to be last in the league in whatever the statistic says. Our goal is just to do everything we can to get off on that down.
Q: A couple things. First, there was the screen pass against the 49ers and then there was the end around touchdown against the 49ers. It seemed like they had you with some misdirection. Was there a problem with you guys in maybe identifying some stuff? Why did you guys have some trouble in open space touchdowns there?
A: That was good on their part setting those plays up. Obviously, it takes all 11 on defense to stop the ball. One guy out of his gap or out of leverage could lead to things like that. It's just what we have to find out the next day how that happened and don't let it happen again.
Q: Then on the other side, I know you won't be going against him but as a guy who plays defensive line, did you grow up watching a lot of Aaron Donald? Were you an Aaron Donald fan? Have you taken anything from his game?
A: Obviously, he's an amazing player. Everybody watches him if you play his position. Our game is a little different. Obviously, there are some things that he does well that I can't put in my game. But I grew up watching him and a lot of other guys. But Sunday, I'll be going against him. It'll be fun.
Q: You're obviously a guy who plays inside. When you play a team like the Rams who run so much outside, how do you still make a big impact on the run game?
A: Just get a knock back, being disruptive, not letting them out-leverage me or attack me and me being the attacker. That's been the mindset of the whole d-line this week. That's how we're going to have to play. Set the edges and make the ball come back inside.
Offensive Tackle Cameron Fleming
Q: You've been on some winning teams. What's the mood of the locker room like right now?
A: I think the mood is good. We know we have to work harder and do better to pull out some of these wins. I don't think anything is going to get us down. I think we're together as a team and we're just ready to go out there and work some more.
Q: Do you as a veteran monitor that with the young guys? Do you keep tabs and check in on people to make sure their heads are on right at 0-3?
A: No, I think there's a pretty good consensus around that we're all keeping our heads up and trying to go out there and work. I think this is just a very work-focused team and we know we have to do a little bit better, do a little bit more to bring it all together. I don't think there's a need to just monitor anybody.
Q: How much responsibility does the offensive line take for the way the offense is struggling? There's that old saying that whenever things go well, the offensive line doesn't get enough credit. Well, this is the opposite side. Do you feel like you're getting too much blame or you guys deserve the blame?
A: Us as an offensive line, we'll take all the blame, we'll take all the things that are being said. I think we truly believe that as we go, the team goes. We're willing to take all the pressure on us, all the burden on us. We know if we do what we need to do, then we're going to see success as an offense.
Q: We focus so much on Aaron Donald. How good are the Rams off the edges, where it's the guys you'll have to go against?
A: They have a lot of talent everywhere. They're a talented team. Obviously, Aaron Donald is a very special player. Leonard Floyd and Ebukam both are really good on the edge. We have to hold up our end of the bargain as tackles, for sure.
Q: Obviously the running game has struggled gravely early in the season. What's your assessment on why?
A: I think we just need to execute better as a team, especially as an O-line. We need to be a little bit more dominant and execute.
Q: What's the message that the coaches are sending to you if you're just saying it's execution? How do they sort of get that out of you guys then?
A: The coaches, obviously, it's their job to get it out of us, but I think it's something we need to take up on our own. To just put a more physical mentality or, I guess, physical picture out there on tape or on the field.
Q: You said the mood of the team is good. Are you curious to see how the team does respond this week? Obviously last week was a rough one.
A: I'm not curious at all. I know what this team is made of, I know what we're capable of. I'm excited more than curious, I guess. I'm excited to see how we go out there and play versus the Rams.
Q: You think this game will tell something about the makeup of this team?
A: I wouldn't say that. Every game tells the makeup of this team. We just have to keep pushing forward.
Q: Coaches talk about offensive lines gelling. You guys have three new guys in that group. Is it realistic to expect you guys to be gelling at this point or is that something that will take time?
A: I think it's extremely realistic. I'm definitely one of those new guys on the offensive line. I like to think that the offensive line is forming. I don't think it's a time thing. I think if everybody is doing their job, then we'll gel. I think gelling is a little bit more of a myth in my opinion.
View rare photos of the history between the New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams.