New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels addresses the media during his press conference at Gillette Stadium on Friday, September 5, 2008.
Q: Wide receiver Randy Moss said towards the end of training camp that you guys were ahead of where you were at this point last year because the core of the offense had been together for a while. Do you feel the offense is ahead of where it was last year?
JM: I think that as far as the system is concerned, the players that are here know more about the system than they did at this time last year. We had so many new guys last year. They were learning the whole year, at least a good part of the year. At this point last year that is kind of where we were. I would say we are ahead of the game in that respect. We are always trying to fight back to get to that level of consistency that you hope to reach at some point during the course of season. We are certainly not there yet. From a learning and understanding the system standpoint, I think we are where we would want to be. This group of guys is very easy to coach. They learn the system and the new things each week very quickly. They are not learning as many new things as they were at this time last year.
Q: How much time did you spend in the off-season reviewing how defenses started to cover wide receiver Randy Moss towards the end of last season?
JM: I think we saw a lot of different things as the year went on. No two teams really play us the same, which is what you expect coming into the season anyway. Different people played different types of coverage schemes against him [Moss]. Some of that gave us a lot of other options. There are plays where more than one guy is open. We looked at some different things to do with all of our players. We do that every spring, where we evaluate what we did with our running game and passing game to try and get different people in the game plan. He [Moss] was certainly one of those. I wouldn't point to one specific type of thing to eliminate that. There were some teams that blitzed us a lot, some teams that played a lot of Cover-2 and something in between. We are trying to do different things with all of our players, you will probably see some things this year that you didn't see last year for Randy [Moss], Wes [Welker], Jabber [Gaffney], the tight end position and the running backs. That is just part of our growing process. We try to do it and expand our offense every spring and he [Moss] is obviously included.
Q: It seemed like some of the media and fans last year thought that opposing defenses played more outside against wide receiver Randy Moss because they were scared of him beating them deep. Towards the end of the year, it seemed they were playing more press and getting help from a safety. Is that close to how it was or is that too simplistic?
JM: Probably too simplistic. Some teams chose to do that a lot early in the year like Buffalo [Bills] and Washington [Redskins]. There were also some teams we played early in the season that rolled up the corner and played with a safety behind him. Sometimes it was productive and some times it wasn't. The one thing about that is you can still get people the ball even if there is a specific scheme to try and stop him. There are still ways to get people the ball. I don't think as a defensive coordinator you can say 'we are going to play this scheme this week and that is going to take this player totally out of the game.' I don't think that would be true of any scheme. It is our job for us to find ways to get him the ball and get him involved in the offense.
Q: What was the most important thing you learned from Super Bowl XLII?
JM: Not that we want to stress too much about this game [Super Bowl XLII] at this point because we have moved on from this game but I think offensively it takes all of us – the coaches and players – to be successful. Every game is the same way. If you want to put together 10-12 play drives to go down and score touchdowns then you need consistency, people to work together and you can't have breakdowns from a coaching standpoint or a playing standpoint. It's about the consistency and overall level of continuity with playing and coaching. We have to do a good job of playing together, working together and trying to be consistent if we want to drive the ball. That game [Super Bowl XLII] was one example of that.
Q: How different is this year with Bill O'Brien as wide receivers coach and former wide receivers coach Nick Caserio now being director of player personnel?
JM: Billy [O'Brien] had quite a bit of interaction with us last year. He was the offensive assistant so he was in most of those meetings that he is in now anyways. Billy has done a great job and it has been a seamless transition there. The receivers work very well with him, he is a good football coach and he has been doing this for a long time. There really hasn't been a huge or drastic change between the two of them [Bill O'Brien and Nick Caserio]. It is a little bit different with their style of coaching but the players respond to Bill, he works well and we are doing well working together.
Q: Wide receiver Randy Moss said he was nervous about how good the offense could be this year. How would you describe your feelings about the offense heading into the season?
JM: [I'm] Excited. I think that is the best term to use at this point. I think you work all through the off-season and training camp and you really look forward to getting to this point of the year. It is an exciting time for our players. The things we really try to work on and improve upon from last year and the spring pay dividends on the field for us. It has been a good week of preparation and I am sure there are some nerves because everybody has them on opening day. It is the first time we have gone out there for a regular-season game for a while. I am not nervous - I am excited. I think our players are excited. I think our players are excited and I think we practiced that way this week.
Q: What did you learn about yourself as a coach last year?
JM: Every week is a challenge. Whether that is on game day and they [opponents] don't play the way you prepared for them to play you. Every week is a challenge. In terms of the preparation in general with trying to find out where their weaknesses may be. You are trying to utilize your strengths against their weaknesses. I think every week in football is the same in that regard. It is totally different every week because the opponent is different, the scheme changes and personnel is never the same. I think from a coaching standpoint, every week you come in you are trying to 'crack the code'. You have to figure out what to do and figure out 'is this the best way to approach this week or not?' Whatever you did the previous week doesn't necessarily matter. You have to go to that next week and find out what gives you the best chance of being successful and trying to apply it and work like hell during the week to get it to work the way you want on Sunday.
Q: Do you feel you are better at 'cracking codes' this year?
JM: I don't know if I am better at it. I think you put in a lot of hard work, study a lot of film and try to give your players the best chance to be prepared on Sunday. That doesn't change. Hopefully we all improve from one year to the next. We will see, we will find out.
Q: Quarterback Tom Brady talked earlier this week about how much he has practiced this season even though he didn't play in any of the preseason games. What is more important to a player's preparation – practice or game experience?
JM: I think you get a lot out of both [practice and game preparation]. I know he [Tom Brady] didn't play in the [preseason] games so I can't really say I got a lot from him in game situations. We try to simulate situational football in almost every practice that we have. He has been in some situations that would occur in games. I think you are looking to get a lot out of practice and then you go to the games and different things come up that you couldn't necessarily prepare for. The reaction of the players on the field during the game is something that you try to evaluate and measure how well they react to a situation you didn't necessarily put them in in practice. What you get out of both of them [practice and games] is a little different. Hopefully the level of performance and what you want to get done with each play you call with each drive and each player is kind of where you want it to be.
Q: How much versatility does it give you to have such a large group of running backs?
JM: One thing is, like you mentioned, the versatility of them. They all can contribute in both the running game and passing game, which is a good thing to have from the backfield spots. Getting them involved in the passing game, giving them the ball and sharing reps on whatever it may be. If it is in and out of a drive or if it is in the game together, Heath [Evans] will be in there, LaMont [Jordan], Sammy [Morris], Laurence Maroney and obviously Kevin [Faulk] when he comes back. We have a good group and we feel like we have a lot of depth there. Hopefully we should be able to keep fresh running backs on the field all the time. We don't do the big role thing; they can all interchange with one another. They should be in the game and give us productive plays in either the running game or passing game.
Q: How difficult was it to get over Super Bowl XLII?
JM: The game is over. We did the best we could. We are moving on; we are excited for this season and can't wait for Sunday.