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Spags Speaks: End on a high note


Spags Speaks,'s exclusive weekly interview with interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo:

Q: People outside of the building probably think there is little difference between two and three wins, but I would imagine to you, to the players, to finish the season with a victory would be a lot. Do you agree?

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Spagnuolo: "It's funny, as hard as this season's been, a win would make a difference and just one win does carry you through the offseason, believe it or not. In 1999, I was with the Philadelphia Eagles and we finished 5-11. We won the last two games, and I just remember the feeling of that last win lasting for a while. I think we would all like to have that feeling. If your last game is a win, you can enjoy it for a whole offseason in some ways. The disappointment will still be there, but certainly that's what we're chasing."

Q: You're obviously disappointed in the results and it's not over yet, but have you enjoyed being a head coach again?

Spagnuolo: "I have. There have been a lot of moments of enjoyment. There have been moments of toughness and stress and some hurdles to get over because of the situation we're in, but I'm very grateful to everyone in the building. That part I'll always cherish. And then I just think the way the players, for the most part, have handled a really difficult situation, I'm impressed with them and grateful to them that they handled it the way they did."

Q: I know it's hard to look at stats when you lose 23-0, but last week you held the Cardinals to 2.7 yards a carry and under 30 total yards. Did you come out of the game thinking the defense played pretty well?

Spagnuolo: "We played well on third down, we played the run real well, tackled well, yards after catch was really good. The only thing where we failed a little bit and needed to be a little bit better to keep the points down even lower, our goal was 17. So we kept them to 16 (Arizona also scored a defensive touchdown), but where we needed to knock off a couple more points was in the red zone. They got down there three times and scored twice, two touchdowns, and we really need to make that only one, if not none. But look, the game went the way it did. I was proud of the defense, the way they fought in there right to the end. That's the way those guys are built and I'm proud of what they do."

Q: On the flip side, the offense converted only one of 14 third-down opportunities. Is that a perfect example of if you struggle on third down, you're going to have difficulty moving the ball?

Spagnuolo: "It is difficult. And the one thing about those third downs is there were a number of them that were third and less than three or less than four, and you have to convert those particular third downs for a lot of reasons. It keeps drives alive, it gives you an opportunity to score points, it keeps the defense on the sideline, which keeps them rested. But we weren't able to do that for some reason, and we had been really good at that, I believe, in the prior two games. I know the Philadelphia game we were excellent at it, something like 50 percent, (actually, 56), but for some reason it didn't work quite that well in Arizona."

Q: You just announced that Davis Webb will be the number two quarterback on Sunday. In the short time that you've been the head coach, what are your impressions of his work ethic and knowledge, the way he goes about his business?

Spagnuolo: "The whole season I've seen him down there (studying in the quarterbacks room) when everybody else is gone. The guy is what we call a gym rat and a football junky. His dad is a football coach, and I'm impressed with that. Now whether that converts to on the field or not, we don't know. But as far as the makings within the building, very impressed."

Q: Landon Collins has started every game since you came back two years ago. Will it be noticeable to you when he's not on the field on Sunday (because he was placed on injured reserve with a fractured forearm)?

Spagnuolo: "You're right. It would be the first time venturing out there with our defense trying to stop an opponent without Landon, without number 21. We've lost him at times during the season, during a game, but it will be different."

Q: The flip side to the Eli Apple story is that Brandon Dixon has come in here off the street, hadn't played in a regular season game in three years and he's played well. What are your impressions of him?

Spagnuolo: "I think he's an ultimate competitor, and I think he's had some real valuable snaps for us. Now he struggled a couple times last week, but that's going to happen to every corner. There are a couple of things I think I could have done in the game plan better to help him. But I've been impressed with him and with Ross Cockrell on the outside. I think those guys have gone above and beyond what we expected, and we need to hopefully get another performance like that out of the both of them."

Q: You had to shut B.J. Goodson down. He had such a good start to the season. I imagine you feel badly for the young player.

Spagnuolo: "I do. After that Dallas game (in which Goodson had 18 tackles), he missed two games, and then he's back a couple, then misses a couple - he never got in a groove, he was never healthy. These high ankle sprains that guys are getting in this league nowadays seem to linger. Some guys play through them and they're able to do it because of whatever the injury is, some guys can't because they're too painful, and B.J.'s was such that he couldn't do it. So we had to shut him down. I'm just looking forward to him getting healthy and being a good football player in this league going forward."

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Q: Antonio Pierce (who has been a consultant with the Giants this season) was named the linebackers coach at Arizona State. You've known him for 10 years. What kind of coach do you think he's going to be?

Spagnuolo: "Antonio Pierce, he put himself in the coaching field five, six years ago when he was coaching high school in California. We had stayed in touch a lot. He came here this past year and I knew it, but I saw it with my own eyes what a great teacher he is and he's great around the men. Just his expertise and experience as a player and the way he sees the game will convert really, really well to being a great coach. I'll miss working with him, but I know this, you'll see Antonio Pierce back in the NFL. He'll be a very successful football coach in this league."

*Q: The first time you played the Redskins, (Samaje) Perine and (Jameson) Crowder had big games for their offense. Do you have to do a better job of shutting those guys down? *

Spagnuolo: "What I remember about Perine is we did a really nice job against him in the first half. And then it was the second half we had some issues, some gap issues, and he had some downhill runs and punctured some holes in our defense and got it going a little bit. There were four in particular there that I think gave him 44 out of his however many yards (100). But he's a threat. And they have another young guy that plays third down for them, this (Kapri) Bibbs that's tricky to cover, too. And Crowder has been doing that to everybody all year long. He's really an elite player. I don't think people talk about him enough. And yet when you talk about those two guys, there is still a tight end to worry about, even though Jordan Reed is hurt, Vernon Davis is still a quality player in this league. So in addition to all of that, they have one of the best quarterbacks, I think, in the NFC. Kirk Cousins is, to me, one of the top quarterbacks in the league with the way he runs an offense and how he gives you problems, because he's one of those guys when he's got the last say on a play, he's usually right because he can get his team in and out of a bad play."

Q: How aware do you have to be at all times where their pass rushers, Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith, are?

Spagnuolo: "They're disruptive and they are in different spots. It's not like we can always identify where they're going to be and because there are two of them, not one of them, you can't spend time doubling two guys. You don't have anybody going out for a route on a pass play, so we'll have to pick our spots. We have to know where those two guys are on every play. Every blocker has to be aware of it. The quarterback certainly has to be aware of it and we have to make sure they don't wreck the football game."

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