New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels addresses the media during his conference call on Monday, November 17, 2008.
Q: How do the Dolphins put pressure on an opposing offense?
JM: Well for one thing they are playing extremely well. They've got a very active front. They don't blitz all that much but when they blitz it's effective. They certainly have a number of people up front that can get to the quarterback without blitzing and that always causes issues when you've got a front that you're playing against that can create a lot of pressure without the need to bring extra people at the quarterback. That usually means that they have seven guys back there defending whatever you're doing in the passing game. That's an effective way for them to rush the quarterback and they've done a good job of that this year. They obviously did a good job of it in our first game, and we're going to have to do much better this Sunday if we are going to have success with them.
Q: Along those lines, why has Joey Porter been so tough for people to block?
JM: He's relentless, he really is. If there was one word I would use that would be it. There are people that have him blocked initially, but you need to play until the whistle is blown with this guy or he's going to be somewhere near the quarterback if not on top of him and that's happened a number of times already this year. He's got a number of different moves, he counters, he plays extremely hard, his motor's always going and he's coming after the quarterback on most plays. Last year there was a little bit of a difference there because he wasn't always doing that. He's somebody that you're going to have to deal with on every snap if you're throwing the ball because he's made a lot of plays. You have to account for him and in some cases give him help because he's shown the ability to get to the quarterback when he's matched up one on one most of the game.
Q: Can you incorporate Matt Cassel's mobility into the offense more?
JM: We've used some movement plays with him this year. I mean we've used a little bit of it with Tom [Brady] in the past. We've always had that element in our offense, the ability to get the quarterback out of the pocket if we feel like it's going to give us an advantage, but it's really a week to week thing. Sometimes moving the quarterback out of the pocket is a good thing if the coverage - if you don't mind basically cutting off half of the field. If you're going to need more of the field to get people open and to find people that have single coverage then sometimes cutting off the field by taking the quarterback and moving him right or left can actually work against you. Matt's obviously made some plays with his legs on some broken plays and we've also tried to move him out of the pocket a couple of times, whether it is a play action bootleg or just a straight roll out. Like I said if it's something that's advantageous to do against that team that we're playing that week then we're definitely going to take a look at it.
Q: Last year the offense was a lot more pass focused, this year the running game has balanced that out a little bit, has that been a change in a way you're calling plays or are you just getting more production out of that position?
JM: No there really hasn't been a difference in the way we're calling the game. Last year is interesting, I don't know exactly where we finished I know it was in the top 10 or 11 in rushing in the league. I think that's pretty fair considering that we had a couple of games there in the middle of the year where we basically chose not to do it. I think the fact that we've been able to maintain our balance and we've never lost confidence in our running game, that's always something we've felt very stern about. We need to run the ball on a weekly basis. We have to have effective balance is what we try to preach so that they have to defend everything. We're going to stay committed to doing both things, throwing it and running it. We've had some good production from the running game but I really don't see where we've changed our philosophy in any way. We're trying to do whatever we feel is the best thing to do to win that week.
Q: I know LaMont [Jordan] couldn't go but was it nice to get Sammy [Morris] back in the mix?
JM: Definitely. Anytime you have more healthy backs it just means more guys for them to defend and fresh legs - hopefully at all times when you have a back in the game. The more fresh guys we have the more we feel like it's to our advantage to play them and to make sure that we've got a guy in there that is ready to go and that can contribute in the running game and in the passing game and Sammy [Morris] can certainly do both.
Q: How impressed have you been with Matt's [Cassel] ability with balls in the 20-yard range, the nice touch he's had - the game winner to [Kevin] Faulk against the Rams, the one he threw to [Jabar] Gaffney this past game - it seems like that's a pass he throws particularly well.
JM: He's definitely hit some big ones in that range. We have quite a few of those types of throws in our offense. It just so happens he's actually hit a few of them where they've come up in that fringe or high red area section of the field. He's throwing those balls well, he's throwing a lot of things well and he's making a lot of plays for us. Those two plays that you mentioned were obviously big plays in the two games that they took place in.
Q: On the flip side it seems like there have been a few opportunities down the field, 20-plus [yards], I'm not sure if it's a miscommunication with the receiver or just a misfire but those plays aren't quite clicking.
JM: We need to get better at them. That's no fault of anyone's, we're trying like heck and taking advantage of the opportunities that we're given to try and make plays. Those plays are obviously the lowest percentage throws you have in your entire offense. They were last year, the year before that and any year before that prior. They're lower percentage plays that take a lot of little things to be done right in order to hit on them. I think you continue to work on them and you continue to try to make them go in the game when you're given an opportunity because I think they can result in big plays. They can also help loosen up the coverage and give you some other things that you see down the road or in the same game later on in the second half, or what you have that maybe you weren't seeing in the first half. [It is] an aspect of our game that we'll continue to work on and try to improve on and certainly want to try and get some production from.
Q: What are the mechanics of throwing the deep ball? Is it any different than throwing other types of passes?
JM: Without getting overly technical about it, sometimes quarterbacks have a tendency to feel like they need to change their motion, or they just do it subconsciously but I don't really see that happening much with what we are doing here. We go through all of our throws, whether they be short intermediate or deep, and go through them technically and fundamentally. You want to try and keep your stride the same length, don't change your arm motion, you want to try and keep your shoulders as square as you can for as long as you can so you don't give the safeties any kind of indication that you're going to throw the ball down field. There are a lot of little things that go into it: footwork, your front knee not over striding, your throwing motion in general [and] trying to remain consistent with the rest of the throws you make. You're excited when you have an opportunity to throw the ball down the field because you see a coverage that gives you a chance. Sometimes those things change and you always work to make it as consistent as you can with the rest of your passing game.
Q: How do you coach the play from the last game where the tight end fumbled the ball?
JM: We talk about three points of pressure. You've got to have your forearm on it, your breast plate, your hand over the point and get it tucked in there tight to your ribs. Those plays could happen to anybody. It's certainly something you can't over coach because it's a thing that we do all the time in warm ups and in other periods. I know you guys have been at practice at times where you've seen the defense try to punch the ball out, so our offense is very used to having to protect the ball until they bring it back to the huddle. It's something that didn't result in a good play for us the other night but you want to try to talk to them about maintaining the proper position with their hand and their forearm, keep it against your rib cage and don't give the defense a huge surface area to knock it out. At the same time the looser you carry it the more chance it has of possibly coming out on its own.[We] just try to go back through things and rep it and tuck it away and hopefully that will take care of it and it won't happen again.
Q: The last two weeks we've seem Sam Aiken come up with a couple of big catches, is that just a random occurrence or is he working his way into a larger role with the offense?
JM: Sam's played in quite a few games. It's not a coincidence; he's been doing a good job in practice. Sam runs good routes, he's prepared and he obviously can do some things when he has the ball in his hands. The other night he made a nice run and a couple weeks ago he caught a big pass on third down. We have confidence in Sam, he'll go on the field and he can play a few different roles for us. He'll block and he's tough when he catches the ball. As many of those guys that you have you'd like to give them the opportunity to make some plays and Sam certainly has made the most of his opportunities in the last few weeks. He's going to continue to be prepared to go in there whether it's in the three receiver set or a four receiver set and at times a two receiver set. Sam's worked hard, he's earned the right to be on the field and as long as that happens then I'm sure you're going to see him in the coming weeks.
Q: Can that last second touchdown to [Randy] Moss help Matt [Cassel] in some tangible way down the stretch knowing that he made a big play in a spot like that?
JM: The drive in general, the fact that we were trailing in an important game and that the offense executed is the important thing. I thought it was a really good throw. [He] basically put it in a spot that, hopefully, only our guy can touch it and it was an even better catch. Hopefully the drive itself, the fact that we operated under a one minute four second barrier - we had to try to get down the field, execute the clock plays at the right time, save as much time as we could, get the plays called at the line of scrimmage quickly and do that under great pressure. I think that's something that any younger player or any offense in general can build off of. Hopefully that gives him some confidence if we ever get in that situation again. We've worked on it every week. He's worked in that drill a number of times since he's been here and it was great to see him have success and to see the offense itself have success in that situation through their execution.
Q: Any plans to add that last throw to the play book?
JM: Only with one second left - fourth and one at the 16. That was executed well and you just hope for an opportunity in those situations that your guy can actually get his hands on the ball and they made it happen. They made a good play.