Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan addresses the New England media during his conference call on Wednesday, October 15, 2008.
Q: Normally we are used to seeing the Broncos with a high-powered running game but this year you guys have had a high-powered passing game. How do you see the offense changing from what we have seen in the past?
MS: By the end of the year I think it will be more balanced than the way you look at it right now from a statistical standpoint. Early on teams were taking away the run, then some teams are taking away the pass. I don't think we will ever change our philosophy but as you mentioned we have thrown the ball more than we normally do.
Q: How would you describe quarterback Jay Cutler's performance this season?
MS: I think he [Jay Cutler] has done an excellent job coming into his third year. With the two losses we have had seven turnovers. You can't win games, as we all know, when you turn the football over. We have to get better in that area with fumbles and INTs [interceptions]. I have been pleased with his progress this year. We have thrown a lot at him relative to the playbook and he has handled it quite well.
Q: Quarterback Jay Cutler said earlier that your team's drop in scoring is mostly due to turnovers. Would you agree with that?
MS: Obviously, turnovers and ball security. I think against Kansas City [Chiefs] we had four [turnovers] and gained nearly 450 yards but when you turn the ball over down there [red zone] you don't get points. I think we had three [turnovers] against Jacksonville [Jaguars] and the same thing. We had the ball at the five or six-yard line and regardless of how much you move the football you are not going to score points. Against Tampa Bay [Buccaneers] we played a little bit better and won the game. We won the turnover battle. It was a low scoring game and that is going to happen some times. You just have to protect the ball. New England has been great through the years – unbelievable. I look at the stats and if they win the turnover ratio, they win. If you don't then you lose. It is petty indicative with most teams especially against a team that plays great defense.
Q: How much does Jay Cutler's arm strength go into what plays you call?
MS: I think sometimes arm strength is overrated. A lot of these quarterbacks have really good arm strength and can make all the throws. I have been around a lot of quarterbacks that have great arms but can't play the game. It takes a lot more than arm strength to be a great quarterback in this league.
Q: With that said, besides his arm strength what most do you like about Jay Cutler?
MS: He [Jay Cutler] reads coverages extremely well. He focuses down field not at the rush. He is very competitive. He plays with a lot of confidence. He has some speed and can make plays, if people are covered, with his legs. It is kind of what I look for in a quarterback.
Q: Are you surprised that running back Laurence Maroney hasn't put up the big year that people expected him to have routinely?
MS: Yeah but you just don't know from an injury standpoint. A lot of times you will like a guy coming out of the draft but for one reason or another a guy gets banged up or injured so they are not as productive as you thought they would be but mainly it is because of injury. I don't know [Laurence] Maroney's situation as well as you guys [media] do because we don't play each other every year. When I first saw him you could see the talent that he had but I guess he has been hampered with injuries.
Q: Was how Laurence Maroney played in college at Minnesota similar to what you guys do with running backs?
MS: Yeah, it was very similar to what we look for in a running back.
Q: How is tight end Daniel Graham doing so far?
MS: He has been great for us. He is a natural team leader. He is a great worker. He can dominate at the point of attack in the running game and in pass protection. He does a good job receiving when you have to account for him. Not too often can you leave a tight end on a defensive end and not worry about it but Daniel has that type of ability in pas protection. At 250-something pounds he can block the best of the outside linebackers in the league. He has good hands and we really like what we got. He has been a real leader for us on and off the field. It is good to have him back in Colorado.
Q: How is wide receiver Eddie Royal doing so far?
MS: We thought as a staff that there wasn't anybody close relative to bump coverage and that is the first thing we look for is the ability to get away from bump and separate yourself but you don't know the other things. He [Eddie Royal] only caught 34 balls. You don't know how consistent they are at catching the ball. You are not sure how long it takes someone to learn what they are doing. Is the game too big for them? Does it take two, three or four years for them to feel comfortable with the pro game? Eddie was a guy that came and after the first three or four days you knew he was going to be your starting wide receiver with just the way he handles himself - his strength, his explosion and ability to catch the ball. The game wasn't too big. He is a very intelligent guy. He picks up the playbook very quickly. He loves to compete.
Q: I know you were aware of wide receiver Josh Morgan who played with Eddie Royal at Virginia Tech and now for the San Francisco 49ers. Is there a reason why that offense at Virginia Tech wasn't better than what it was with those two receivers?
MS: You could see that if they both had been in different systems, that were passing-type schools, things would have been a lot different. A lot of times you do what your quarterback can do. I think that is what they did. They were more concerned with winning games than making their wide receivers look good. I am sure if they had a naturally throwing quarterback then the stats would have been a lot different. Had he been at Florida I think obviously with the quarterback they have [Tim Tebow] they would have been a lot more productive.
Q: What do you see from the Patriots offense since quarterback Matt Cassel took over for Tom Brady?
MS: We all know what Tom Brady has done and what he has meant to the Patriots and the National Football League in general. [Facing] Tom, you could never make the right call. Tom would get you in protections with the long counts. No matter what blitz you had he would be able to redirect the offensive line to the right blitzer. If you did get a guy free, he would know where his third or fourth wide receiver was. That just takes some time. One of the reasons he is arguably the best in the game is just how he has played and how many games he has won. It takes quarterbacks time. That just doesn't happen over night. Matt [Cassel] will just keep on getting better and better as he experiences the offense. I am just hoping he doesn't do it Monday night.
Q: Could you talk about the difficulties of a quarterback taking over for a franchise icon like you had with John Elway. Matt Cassel is in a different situation but how difficult is it to always be compared to a franchise icon?
MS: Yeah and it is impossible to do. Especially with the three Super Bowls and how he [Tom Brady] has played and how many games New England won in a row. Anytime you play behind a legend it is almost impossible. At least with the interviews I have seen with Matt [Cassel] he seems like he handles it really well. Tom has helped him. You have to understand you have to forget about the critics and just concentrate on the job at hand and that is what he is doing.
Q: You have two offensive tackles [Ryan Clady, Ryan Harris] that are in their first year of starting. How surprising has it been that you guys have only allowed two sacks this season?
MS: Yeah, we have two young guys that really stepped up and played well with Ryan Clady, a rookie, and Ryan Harris out of Notre Dame, our third round draft choice the year before, who had back surgery shortly after he came. Both guys have been playing well. They are young guys with bright futures and hopefully they can play like that the whole year.
Q: Did you like it when quarterback Jay Cutler called out wide receiver Brandon Marshall earlier this year? How do you think Brandon has responded to that?
MS: Jay [Cutler] is pretty honest. Jay spent a lot of time with Brandon [Marshall] in Atlanta. They hang around together. Anytime you are really good friends you can call a guy out that normally if you are not very close to him you can't do – especially as a quarterback. They care a lot about each other and spend a lot of time [together]. Jay thought Brandon made a mistake and it was a silly mistake. He was kind of expressing his feelings toward it. Brandon has done a great job since then about handling himself the right way. He has been a leader on the field as well as off it with dealing with kids and trying to really represent our organization well and do things that can help kids, especially underprivileged kids. He has also been doing a good job on the field.
Q: Do you like it when a guy like wide receiver Brandon Marshall puts it out there that he wants to catch 140 passes?
MS: I think what happened is a guy gets more mature and he understands the most important thing is to win football games. If you win football games then good things happen to everybody. I think that sometimes he is a guy that has individual goals that he wants to meet. He is not afraid to share those goals. Some people look at him as very selfish but he is not a selfish guy because you will watch him block and you will watch him do things that a lot of receivers won't do.
Q: What is your view on the coin toss and the option of deferring your turn to get the ball to the second half?
MS: I always want the ball. I have always had that mindset from an offensive mindset. If you don't want the ball then you don't have a lot of confidence in your offense. That is the way I operate. It may change depending on the weather or the wind. If I thought there was a strategic advantage because it was too windy or something like that then maybe I would defer it to the second half.
Q: What is your opinion on the defense using a head set for play calling this year?
MS: I think it is working out pretty good. I don't think it is foolproof yet. Sometimes they go out. I think it helps. You don't spend as much time singling. You still have to get ready for it. It seems a little bit smoother.
Q: Is defensive end Elvis Dumervil's injury hampering him in the pass rush?
MS: It has. I think last week he was pretty close back to normal. This week he is feeling a little bit better. I think it did hamper him the first four games having his fingers taped together and not being able to use his hand the way he wanted or the fingers the way he wanted. He is close to having full use now so hopefully we will see him in the second half of the season playing at the level he played at last year.
Q: Is he wearing a cast or is it taped up?
MS: It is kind of taped up with two fingers. I think it is like a soft cast but nothing like it was in the first four weeks.
Q: When you played the San Diego Chargers earlier this year did you see a difference in quarterback Philip Rivers? Other people had said he was releasing the ball quicker…
MS: Yeah, he [Philip Rivers] reads coverages extremely well. He is what you look for in a quarterback. He is going to throw it to the right guy and makes very few mistakes. You can see his growth as a quarterback over the last two years. He was very fortunate early in his career. He got to sit on the bench behind Drew [Brees] and got a lot of mental reps. He is getting to be one of the best in the NFL.
Q: Is the AFC as wide open as it has been in a while?
MS: I think so. I think a lot of teams are close. A lot has to do with injuries. Teams can't stay healthy down the stretch. I don't think there is a team like New England was all last year that I see where you say 'They may not lose.' I know Tennessee [Titans] has an excellent defense and they are playing well right now. I don't see anybody in New England's territory from a year ago.
Q: Teams have had a high completion percentage against you. What do you think is wrong there and how are you working to improve that?
MS: Anytime somebody is completing over 70 percent of their passes…. that is hard to do when there is no defense out there, so hopefully we get a little bit better. That is something we are working on but obviously not working hard enough. Hopefully we will get better in the second half of the season. We are definitely working on it though. Do you think that New England will ever run with that percentage?
Q: We will ask Bill Belichick about that…
MS: I am sure he will share that with me.
Q: Obviously there is local interest here with center Tom Nalen [Foxborough, Mass. native]. He is out for the year and his contract is up at the end of the year. Is the door still open for him to come back?
MS: Yeah, that door is still open. I told Tom [Nalen] 'Just take your time and decide what you want to do. Tom is the type of guy that is going to play hurt and going to play with a lot of pain. For him not to be able to play with the knee like it is, is not a good sign. It is hard to keep a guy like that out. Just taking a look at the x-rays it does not look good at this time. You never know what happens. If he decides to get a micro facture or maybe it just gets better. You just really don't know. I don't want to count him out. Boy, he has been a warrior for us and you are talking about a guy that has helped us win a lot of games.
Q: You have had great success against the Patriots since coach Bill Belichick has been here. Is there a common thread with those games?
MS: We have had some great games. I just know what type of coach he [Bill Belichick] is and how good he is. You know you have to be at your best. You can't give the game away. If you do lose the turnover battle or if you make a mistake here or there you are going to get beat. Our football team knows that and we have a lot of respect for their organization and what they have accomplished. We know we have to give them our best shot to have a chance.