New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels addresses the media during his conference call on Tuesday, November 25, 2008.
Q: How difficult is it to find areas you can exploit against the Pittsburgh Steelers when they are the NFL's top-ranked defense?
JM: It is a huge challenge. Obviously, there aren't a lot of weaknesses. There really aren't any. It is a team that the scheme itself has been in place for a long time, a number of years. They have had a lot of the same players in that scheme for a long time. They really know how to play the defense. They execute it extremely well. They are very physical. They pressure you. They cover well and they try to force you into turnovers and negative plays. They have a number of very, very good players. The challenge is to try and find ways to move the ball against them and eliminate all the negative plays that they cause to disrupt you and get you in those long yardage situations where it is really hard to convert and stay on the field.
Q: What are some of the hallmarks of Dick LeBeau's Zone-Blitzing scheme?
JM: The one thing, whenever they blitz they have good blitzers. It is not like they change all their blitzes every week. They run a lot of the same blitzes over and over. They have people that can, even if you have a guy there assigned to block, the guy that is actually coming you still have to stand in there and block him. They are not going to stop. They run through you. They run around you. They have a number of different linebackers that make multiple moves. They have secondary players like [Troy] Polamalu that come from the outside and come from the inside. It is not just about identifying who is coming; it is about actually sustaining your protection. They get a number of sacks when you actually have enough people to block them but you just can't block them long enough. The way they rush, how physical they are and the speed with which they do it are all hallmarks of what they do and that is why they are so good at it.
Q: How do you feel the offensive line did with pass protection against the Dolphins?
JM: We did a decent job. That is an area that we are improving at and one that we are trying to improve in constantly throughout the course of this season. We emptied out the backfield a number of times on Sunday. When you do that, there are five guys to block the four our five that are coming. They really have to do a great job of identifying the fronts, who the blitzers are, who the rushers are going to be and they gave us plenty of time to throw. Matt [Cassel] had time to look and often times to go from the first to the second read and at times even further than that. It is not perfect and never is but I think that that group as a whole did a pretty good job. I think we had 45 or 46 pass attempts and didn't allow too much pressure on him. Anytime you can do that that says a lot about the guys that are up front with how they are doing and how they are performing on a weekly basis.
Q: Was quarterback Matt Cassel's touchdown run against the Dolphins last week a designed run?
JM: [laughter] We have multiple options on most plays and they gave us a particular look where it was a good decision to go ahead and do that. Matt made the smart play there. They were in a coverage mode on the play and were really trying to make sure the receivers were covered and we were in an empty backfield so most of their attention was being paid to the receivers. It could have gone either way and he made a good choice on it and scored.
Q: You laughed when I asked the question…
JM: It's just that he has done it a number of times during the course of the season on his own and has had some good results with running with the football and that one actually paid off for seven points.
Q: Matt Cassel made some nice throws on the run against the Dolphins last week. What does it say about a quarterback that is able to throw on the run and how has he grown in that area?
JM: Matt is doing a good job of not necessarily escaping the pocket but at times, maybe it is a step or two in one direction or another to avoid a rush. He's improving in that area. Then there are certain times where it is required of you to leave the pocket because the protection or the rush forces you to do that. First of all, recognizing when it is time to leave and when it is not necessary is an important factor in that. The second thing, when you are moving out of the pocket your mechanics can't change all that much. You have to still try to have some of the base fundamentals that you use when you are in the pocket. You still have to have those when you are out of the pocket - with your shoulders being square, two hands on the ball, finishing your throws and we work on that every week. He is doing better at that. He definitely made some big-important plays when he was moving around the pocket or out of the pocket on Sunday.
Q: How patient are you going to have to be against the Steelers since they do well at limiting long pass plays?
JM: They lead the league in almost every category. In most of the top categories they are at the top of the league. That is why they are rated as the No. 1 defense in the league. They do a number of things very well, not only patience but execution in every phase of our game - taking care of the ball and you have to take your opportunities when they give them to you, whatever they may be. Whether that means to run the ball, throw it short, throw it in the immediate area or even at times to take an opportunity to go down the field. They are very sound in what they do so you have to be just as sound offensively when you play against them or else you end up making mistakes. They are capitalizing on a lot of those. You have to avoid those situations. You have to make the most of your opportunities when you get them.
Q: With Ike Taylor, the Steelers have a guy that could follow wide receiver Randy Moss around. Do they use single coverage on their receivers a lot or is there safety help? How do they approach that?
JM: They play a lot of different coverage schemes. They will play with some single safety and for the most part let the corners play one on one on the outside with the receivers. They will also roll over the top of one or both receivers at the same time. You just have to do a great job of reading the coverage once the ball is snapped and identifying where you need to go with the football. There are going to be times where they want you to go outside with it because they are trying to take away some things away inside. You have to make those situations positive for you. There are other times where they are going to try to take away those outside throws and you have to do a good job of reading everything after the snap because the safeties do a great job of trying to disguise and hold their rotation until the ball is snapped.
Q: When they are single safety high, how often is that safety Troy Polamalu? Does his range make it seem like there is more than one safety back there?
JM: He is back there at times. He is down plenty near the line of scrimmage but he is also in the deep part of the field. You can't ever necessarily count on one or the other. He is a great player and has great range. [He has] extremely good instincts and really reads the quarterback well. He makes a lot of plays that maybe some other players might not get to or might not be as close to making because of how well he reads the pattern or the play itself. He gets to the area where he thinks the ball is going to. He is there to capitalize on those opportunities if he has read the play right. A lot of times he does. He has great instincts. He is a great player and certainly has great speed.
Q: After the success Randy Moss had Dolphins last week, is there any chance he sees single coverage this week?
JM: We played this team last year and their scheme for the most part is the same. They did a decent job of single covering him [Randy Moss] when they chose to do that last year. They are going to play their defense. They are No. 1 in the league in defense. I don't think they are going to change necessarily what they do or how they want to attack us just because. They were fairly willing to do some of those things last year. They have done it to very good receivers this year. We will see what they do and how they chose to play us. I would expect them to play their defense because they are very good at doing it. As we have mentioned a number of times 'why change when you have something really good going?'
Q: You guys had wide receiver Matthew Slater in on offense for a play against the Miami Dolphins last week. Are you guys integrating him a little bit more into the offense?
JM: Matt and all the rest of the receivers for that matter take repetitions during the course of the week and they are all ready to play. [Sam] Aiken played a number of snaps. Slater played that one snap. They are all ready to go and at times you may end up needing to sub people in and out because of a play that just happened. Somebody runs a longer pattern so you send in a fresher receiver at times. Slater works hard and he is getting better every week. We don't mind having him in the game. That was just one play. One shot of evidence of it. You could see him starting to get in the mix here in a little bit. We don't have any fear in playing any of those guys. They are all productive players and they work really hard during practice.
Q: When you guys are in a three-wide receiver set, it is normally Ben Watson in at the tight end in that package. What is it about him that you want him in on that package?
JM: Ben [Watson] gives us a lot of things. He has done a good job in terms of his run blocking in that offensive grouping. The week before [vs. New York Jets] he caught a number of balls and was open. He has the ability to do that on a consistent basis. He has been a decent run blocker on that edge and has improved in his protection. We feel like he gives us a solid presence on the edge. He has been here for a number of years and knows what to do, not that David [Thomas] doesn't. David has been in the game also in certain situations. Ben is that guy most of the time when we are in those three-receiver sets.
Q: I am wondering when you guys are going to stop 'babying' Matt Cassel and let him throw for 500 yards?
JM: [laughter]Whatever works. Whatever is the best way to try and win, that is what we are all for. We are trying to figure that out right now for Pittsburgh.