Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano addresses the New England media during his conference call on Wednesday, November 04, 2009.
Q: What are some of your impressions of this Patriots offense that has scored 94 points in the last two games?
TS: My impressions are that they are very explosive. They have a lot of playmakers, a lot of weapons - of course, all driven by a quarterback. They have a fine offensive line; Those guys do a great job up front. They've been together for a long time. Randy Moss, Wes Welker [are] outstanding players; They really do a great job there. They can run the ball, too, and again, Tom Brady seems to be having an outstanding year right now. [He's a] heck of a player.
Q: Do you believe that's the real Patriots' offense or is it closer to what you saw in the first five games?
TS: I would say that the Patriot offense I've seen in the last couple weeks is the real Patriot offense. What I mean by that is I'm sure, like anybody else, time makes you a little bit better and a little bit sharper. Those guys are pretty sharp right now.
Q: Did a team like last year's Patriots finishing 11-5 and not making the playoffs reinforce how important these divisional games and conference games are?
TS: I think there's no question about it. I remember when I came into the league, nine games [wins] was kind of the measuring stick and that type of deal there. You rarely saw a team with nine games, ten games that didn't make the playoffs, and now you get a team that wins 11 games and it doesn't make the playoffs, so I think there's no question it all starts within your division. The division games are critical as you get on in this thing, and to leave it up to the luck of the draw or any of those things is probably not the best thing to do, so you need to take care of your division first.
Q: What do you attribute your team's success to over the first two seasons?
TS: I can't really put my finger on it. It's just been an emphasis since the day I walked in here that we try to do well in our division and the division games are most important. I mean, they're all important of course, but the division games have a lot more importance, no different than the question you just asked me. This is the emphasis without a doubt. We need to do a better job winning the games that are not in our division, but certainly taking care of the division is a good thing.
Q: What kind of presence has Jake Grove brought to the offense?
TS: Jake brings certainly, without a doubt, a toughness to our group inside. I think he's done a very good job of that. He's a tough player, physical player, but I wouldn't say he's a mauler type of a player or any of those kinds of things. I think he has some finesse to him and can certainly move his feet very well. He's a mentally tough guy and a physically tough guy. I like having that inside as a center.
Q: As an old offensive line coach, how important is it having a guy like you who you feel is maybe thinking the same way?
TS: Oh, I think it's critical, I really do. It's something I've talked to Jake about an awful lot. That guy to me has to be an extension of the coaches, has to be an extension of the coordinator, to the quarterback and to the rest of the offense. I think it's critical that your center is that guy. I've always put a lot of emphasis on the center position that way. I think Jake kind of gets it.
Q: Not to delve into your game plan too much, but you guys single-covered Moss last year. Are you going to do that again?
TS: Well, I wouldn't tell you what we're going to do one way or the other, but that didn't work out so good.
Q: You told your team after the Jets game that you want players who play, not players who talk. How does Joey Porter fit into that? He's a guy known for talking and producing on the field. Do you have to let him go and do his own thing?
TS: No, I don't let anybody go and do their own thing. I think one of the things with Joey is that he's one of my captains and I believe that he gets it. He does a great job of speaking our language that way. Every team has a couple players who are kind of out in front and Joey's one of those guys who is out in front. My opinion is that the media creates a lot of this and at the end of the day, Joey's been a good soldier for me.
Q: Bill Belichick talked earlier about Bill Parcells' imprints on this team as far as being big and tough and physical. Is that something you buy into? When did you start to notice that?
TS: Is what something that I buy into, that we're big and physical?
Q: Yes, that and this team having some of the trademarks of Parcells' teams from the past...
TS: Well, yeah, it's something I buy into, sure. There's no question about it. Bill Parcells is a big part of what we do and has been a big part of philosophy here. In other words, I've learned an awful lot from him. And being around him, big and physical is what I learned. That's the way this team was built. We felt strongly - and when I say we, I mean me, myself, Bill and Jeff Ireland - when we came in here, that was the direction we needed to head. There was never any waiver one way or the other because that's what we were used to. Big and physical is important. Doing it in the interiors, in the lines, and starting it there is very important. Our last couple drafts show that's something certainly we've made an emphasis doing.
Q: You have some experience with Sean Payton. Are there some elements to your offense that you took from Sean having worked with him in Dallas?
TS: I would have to say there might be a couple things we took from Sean. But really at that time, Sean and I along with the rest of the coaches were really working out of Bill [Parcells]'s playbook. That was kind of where we were, where the whole thing started. I'd say that Sean has kept some of those principles and gone off in a little bit of a direction on his own - maybe a little bit more of what he was used to with the Giants. It still has some of the principles - I can see that when we play them - of the Cowboy stuff that was there.
Q: What do you tell your defensive backs to do when dealing with someone like Wes Welker who picks up a lot of yards after the catch?
TS: It's hard to do, you know. He catches a lot of short routes and turns them into big plays one way or the other. He gets some people out in front of him and they do some things that way. In other words, they throw a bunch of those screens to him and he makes a lot of yards that way as well. The first thing you tell them [defensive backs] is that we have to tackle him. We have to get him on the ground and stop the bleeding right away. In his last 20 catches, he has 286 yards after the catch. Our players are very aware that Welker is the type of guy who can run with the ball after the catch and does a tremendous job that way. Those types of things hurt. Tackling is the biggest issue, and getting your hands on him and trying to re-route him and do some of those things.
Q: We hear a lot about Randy Moss and Tom Brady and the big play, but just how integral is Wes Welker to that offense and the way it functions with what he's able to do after the catch?
TS: I think he's critical, I really do. I think quarterbacks have quarterback-friendly receivers: people they just feel like in clutch situations they can get the ball to this guy and he's going to turn it into something for them. I'm sure just watching the tape that's the way they think down there. I can't speak for the Patriots people, but watching the film it seems like Tom's very comfortable with Wes and Wes is a very quarterback-friendly guy that's going to make a big play out of something small, but still has the ability make the big play.
Q: Last year, you turned the corner at 2-4 to get to 11-5. Did you see something last week against the Jets and maybe in practice the last couple weeks that shows that the same thing could be happening?
TS: What I've seen out of my team in practice is that this team, from the first day, has been a hard working football team. And this team is different from last year's but they're a hard-working bunch of guys. They put their head down and they get after it pretty good in practice and understand that practice is critical to the way we will play in the game. I see us getting better out there, but whether or not we're turning the corner, time will tell. We've had some pretty good battles against some pretty good teams right now, and we'll face another one this week. I do believe this football team right now is better than last year's football team at that time.
Q: Are you able to do the same things on offense with Chad Henne in there as you were with Chad Pennington?
TS: Yeah, we absolutely are. I think one of the good things with Chad Henne is that he was able to watch and learn from Chad Pennington. It also gave him time to get a good grasp of the entire offense. We had no reservation - hesitation I should say - when Henne came in to hold any of the playbook back or any of those things. He was very comfortable with all that we were doing. I do believe he can do any of those things. The other thing - and this is not to slight Chad Pennington at all - he [Henne] can advance the ball down the field a little bit, too. Thos are things he does well. One of the biggest issues in making this switch to Henne when Pennington got hurt is identifying the things that he [Henne] did well because we didn't have him in any of those games last year. We didn't have the luxury of getting him in the games. We won a lot of games in the fourth quarter last year, so unfortunately, we weren't able to get him in the ball games.
Q: You have given up eight pass plays of 40 yards or more this year. Is that a function of having some inexperienced guys back there, or have there been breakdowns that have led to those plays?
TS: Well, it really hasn't been a mental thing as much as it has been a physical thing. It's something that obviously we're aware of and that we know we have to do better at. You can't give up those kinds of plays. We gave one up in the game this week against the Jets that was an eight-yard play. So in other words, we were in man coverage and it was an eight-yard play. All we had to do was make the tackle and instead of making the tackle, we end up going for the ball and it ends up going for a 50-yard play. So, sometimes those things can happen. Judgment is critical in some of these. Judging the football when it has been in the air has been critical in a few of these plays. So we know we have to do a little bit better job with it, but it certainly has not been a mental thing.