JM: Well, certainly you want to stay balanced on something like that, as much as you can, and I know that some of the situations that come up in the game certainly skew those numbers. We had had two two-minute situations there in the second quarter and then a few situations certainly towards the end of the game where we’re in much more of a pass mode. But our intention is never to really get out of whack in terms of run/pass ratio on any of those things, and certainly that’s something that I will always try to maintain a good balance on. If I ever get out of balance, I definitely want to try to bring it back to as close to 50/50 or somewhere near there as I can.
Q: When you guys take these shots 15-20 yards downfield on first down, is there a risk-reward factor to that? Because when you can’t make it, it seems like a tough bind.
JM: Yeah, I mean every time you make an effort to try to throw the ball down the field or run some type of a gadget play or take a shot and change field position or try to score the ball, there’s always the risk that you come up with a no gain or potentially even worse. If you’re willing to take the risk then you’ve got to live with sometimes the downside to that too, which is some second-and-10s in a game. But you’ve got to be aggressive. I mean, you can’t just continue to dink and dunk the ball and try to protect second down every series of the game. You have to be aggressive and make them defend the entire length of the field, and hopefully that’s something that we can do and do better as we go forward.
Q: What do you see on the film from the Saints defense, and how much different are they under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan now?
JM: We’ve watched a little bit of tape just in terms of their personnel from last season, but they’re an aggressive group. Rob has an aggressive style, there’s always a game plan element to what he does each week. He’s a really good coach. I know the players love playing for him; you can see that on the tape. They don’t give up many big plays; they certainly haven’t given up many points this year. They do a good job. I know they place a strong emphasis on getting to the quarterback and creating turnovers, and so far that’s been a very positive strength to their team. Something that we’re going to have to do a great job of on Sunday is taking care of the football and protecting our quarterback, because they do that almost as well as anybody in football on defense. They make you work for it. They’re disciplined, they will take some risks and some chances at times, but I think this is a strong group from front to back. They’ve got a really good pass rush that really can get after the quarterback without pressuring. They’ll have some kind of a unique blitz package ready to go for us that we’re going to have to handle on Sunday that we probably haven’t seen before, and I think they have very capable players. The linebacking corps, [they’ve] got a young safety [Kenny Vaccaro] that’s making a lot of plays, got some veteran players – [Roman] Harper and [Malcolm] Jenkins and [Jabari] Greer, [Keenan] Lewis in the secondary – that have really stood out and made it difficult for teams to create a lot of big plays against them. It’s a great challenge for us, and we’re looking forward to getting started tomorrow in our preparation.
JM: I think that any time that you start – certainly where you start with the ball can definitely impact what you, one, what you can do, and two, what you want to do based on what you really need to accomplish with the first few plays of the series. If you ever start inside your own one, two, three-yard line, I think you’re definitely trying to make sure you give the punter some room, and if you obviously can gain a first down and get the ball out of your own end, that’s definitely a goal. You also have to do a great job of taking care of the football and making sure that your head’s up for a lot of different things that they could do on defense as well. When your field position is – you get the ball across the 50-yard line or what have you, then you certainly don’t have to deal with concerning yourself with trying to improve field position for punting and those types of things, but you have more things available to you, maybe than what you would if you’re backed up. Look, our focus and our job on offense is to go out there and move the ball, take care of it, and score points on every drive regardless of how much or how little rest we have on the bench, on the sideline. Our defense has done a great job of giving us the ball back all year, and our mindset and our attitude really can’t change regardless of time of possession, whether it’s skewed in our favor or not. Our responsibility on offense is to go out there and score, and we can’t concern ourselves and don’t concern ourselves with the things that we can’t control.
Q: This will be the third straight opponent that you’ve faced that’s getting a lot of production out of its tight ends. For obvious reasons, you guys haven’t gotten that this year. How much of a hindrance has that been, and does it feel like you’re kind of operating with one hand tied behind your back because of all of those guys you don’t have?
JM: I think our focus, honestly – and every week it’s the same and over the course of the year it really hasn’t changed – our focus has to be on doing the things that you feel like can really give you the best chance to move the ball and score points with the players that you have. Our tight ends have done a nice job doing what we’ve asked them to do so far this season, and our receivers and the backs and some of the other guys have taken maybe a little bit more of the responsibility in the passing game because we designed it that way. I think that if you have players at a certain position, whatever that may be, if you have a back that’s a good pass-receiving back then they’ll get plenty of opportunities to do that in the game, and hopefully you can put him in a position to be successful, same thing with the tight end position and same thing with the receivers. We all go through times of the year where our roster is continually in flux, and that’s every team in the league and we’re absolutely no different. I mean, everybody goes through injuries, everybody goes through periods of time where a player or two may miss time, and does it affect the entire balance of your offense? At times it does, but that’s what 32 teams have to figure out how to do every week. This is business; business is being done, and you’ve got to try to do everything you can with the group that you have. We’re very happy with the guys we’ve got, and, like I said, we’re going to try to get production from everybody that dresses on Sunday.
Q: It seems like the Saints do a good job defensively generating or bringing pressure with secondary players. Do you think that’s accurate, and what sort of challenges does that present your offense if that’s the case?
JM: They definitely will use their secondary defenders to try to pressure the quarterback, that’s something that most teams do. Rob has always done that very well and he’s been very successful doing it, one of the best in the league at it. I think that the things that we need to make sure we’re prepared for is the things we don’t see on tape, and I know that sounds kind of strange, but some of the things you see against Chicago, you didn’t see against Atlanta, or you didn’t see it against Miami, and I think that speaks to the game plan element of this defense that we’re going to face. They definitely don’t have to blitz in order to create pressure on the quarterback, that’s been obvious over the course of the first five games. I mean, they’re like fifth or sixth in the league in sacks. Some of those are attributed to their pressure package, which includes their secondary, and most of them aren’t, so they don’t have to do it to create problems in your backfield, but they definitely have it in their package and I’m sure we’re going to have to deal with it on Sunday.
Q: How have you been able to deal the uncertainty of not knowing whether
JM: Well, we try to design a plan that’s balanced, that gives each position an opportunity to contribute both in the running game, passing game, third down, red zone, whatever the situation may be. And again, I think we’ve really just tried to focus on the defense that we’re playing, how the best way to attack them is, and understanding that maybe an element that, are we certain, are we uncertain – I have really tried to focus on just trying to get the guys to practice as well as they can. If Rob [Gronkowski] happened to be playing, then maybe we would tweak a few things, maybe we wouldn’t. I know he’s practiced and been a part of our practices, which has been great, and he’s taken his share of reps, and I think really our focus hasn’t changed and we haven’t dramatically had to shift anything. You just kind of do the best things that you can against the defense you’re playing, and if there’s a different player that’s available to you on Sunday, we deal with that every week. I mean, there’s unknowns as you go through the week many times, and if you have to make a slight adjustment or two towards the end, then that’s what you do, and I think the players are kind of used to that as well. They don’t usually flinch when you make an adjustment on Friday, or Saturday night, or whatever it may be, that you think may be the best interest of playing the game.
Q: I know the weather contributed to it, but any concern over the number of dropped passes over the course of the year?
JM: I think that our overall execution in the passing game on Sunday wasn’t what we wanted it to be. We had some throws that were a little off, and we had some guys that tried to make some tough catches and didn’t come up with them, and that’s football. We certainly don’t accept it and we’re not going to just stand there and not try to improve and get better at it every week, which we do work extremely hard at that, the guys are doing the same thing. It’s something that we can do our work during the course of the week and try to improve each individual player’s ability to do that, whether it’s throwing or catching the ball, and that’s really the way you go about trying to improve the execution in the passing game. There’s no magic potion or formula you use, and you certainly try to give them every opportunity during the course of the week to practice the things that they’re going to do on Sunday, and then hopefully those happen to carry over.