PATRIOTS TIGHT END ROB GRONKOWSKI
December 13, 2018
Q: What were you thinking when you watched the Jesse James catch/no-catch deliberation in the game last year?
RG: I mean, I haven't thought about that since it happened. We haven't brought it up or anything this whole week. We've just been focusing on the game this Sunday, but I probably was thinking the same thing as everyone else, like, 'What's going on? What happened?' and all that. But, just really focused now on the game this Sunday and just studying up and preparing.
Q: And obviously staying warm?
RG: And staying warm. It was chilly out there. I had to have the jacket on after practice.
Q: What is it about the Steelers where you seem to find consistent success against those guys?
RG: Just playing ball. Just going out and just doing what we've got to do, preparing throughout the week and going out and executing. Just executing plays, and that's what we've got to keep on doing. Been having a good practice week this week, got to keep on building chemistry out there with the whole offense, and when we go out there Sunday, we've got to be prepared mentally and physically, and we've got to execute plays in order to put up points.
Q: How do you anticipate the Steelers will try to match up with you? Do you think they'll try to throw something different at you?
RG: I feel like they'll throw a lot of things. I mean, I've seen a lot from them before – a lot of coverages, a lot of split-safety, post-safety, man, zone. They switch it up a lot, too, and so I've had a couple guys before – like a linebacker covered me one time, a safety or a corner. So, to tell you the truth, they actually mix it up a lot and you've got to be prepared for it all, whatever coverage, whatever guy it is.
Q: What type of atmosphere are you expecting on Sunday?
RG: I mean, it's the same thing as every year. Every time we play them, every time we go there, it's always like a four o'clock game, gets dark by 4:30, night atmosphere, and it's always popping. It's a football atmosphere. It's a football town. It's all about the Steelers. So, it's going to be a great atmosphere. It's going to be a lot of fun to play in, like it always is.
Q: You talked about building chemistry offensively. Do you feel like you are in a better rhythm now after a game like Sunday?
RG: Yeah, definitely, and you've got to keep on building from it. You just can't have a good week and then stop from there. You've got to keep it going, you've got to keep it continuing, you've got to keep putting that work in. It's a long season and it's a new week every single week. So, just been working on it, working hard, been going out to practice, doing what we have to do, and just want to keep on building from what you've got.
Q: In your experience against Sean Davis, what stands out to you?
RG: He's a good player, definitely plays hard, always consistent, always going hard. And guys like that, you've got to always be on top of your game because they're playing hard every single play and it's always challenging.
Q: Pittsburgh's run defense has been exceptional this year. What's the key to unlocking some of their schemes to get some movement for your guys?
RG: First off, you've got to get the mental assignment right, got to know who the guy you're blocking [is]. They switch it up a little bit – stunts here and there – so you've got to have that part right. And then you've got to block the guys, you've got to block the defenders, and they're good players, so you've got to be mentally and physically ready to be prepared to be able to have a run game. So, it's always a challenge going in there, no doubt, with the atmosphere, the fans, just the football atmosphere, it's loud, it's hard to hear on the offensive side. So, you've just got to be really focused when coming into this stadium and coming into this game.
Q: What has Josh Gordon brought to the offense?
RG: He's brought a lot. The way he just plays, the way he catches the ball, gets that burst, gets us the first downs when we need it – just another player on our team that's reliable whenever we need him. So, it's great to have him and it's great to have him part of the team.
Q: It looks like he is trending in the right direction. Was there a moment where you could tell it was going to work out for him here?
RG: I mean, I would say within the first week when he got out there playing in games. Just the way he's been working every single week, week-in and week-out, he's been just trying to get better and you just see it on the practice field and then you see it in the games. So, it's a great guy to have out there and just a phenomenal athlete, too.
Q: Have teams treated you guys differently in the red zone, or is it just an execution thing as far as why you guys are struggling?
RG: I mean, I don't think teams are really treating us that much different in the red zone. I mean, I would say that we just need to execute better. Teams have been just stopping us straight-up with what they've got, so we've just got to go out there and execute better and make more plays.
Q: Tom Brady has had a lot of success against the Steelers over the years. What has stood out to you with what you've seen from him against this team?
RG: Just his competitiveness. He's just always on top of his game, always finding the open receiver and just always bringing it. So, the way he just plays the game – I mean, week-in, week-out – I mean, you really can't just say it's versus the Steelers. It's versus everyone, every single week, and the way he just brings it to practice, too. So, he's always ready and always on top of his game, no matter really who it is.
PATRIOTS DEFENSIVE BACK DEVIN McCOURTY
December 13, 2018
Q: Is it strange to have two guys with such a high volume of the offense in Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster?
DM: Yeah, they've got a lot of targets, production, yards – like they do a lot for the offense. But, the crazy thing is, you can turn on games where Vance McDonald is out there having a great game, you can turn on games where [James] Conner's out there running wild. So, even though those two guys have a lot of production and targets, it's not one of those games where it's like, if you only take away these two guys, you're going to win because they have other talented guys. Those two guys are just really good.
Q: How do Brown and Smith-Schuster complement each other? It seems like they're different types of players.
DM: Yeah, I think that's what it is, though. They're two great players. So, how do they complement each other? By being great. I think whether it's Schuster catching a 97-yard touchdown or Antonio Brown beating a coverage and getting over the top, you really can't fall asleep. Even though they're different, it's not one of those things where it's like, 'Well, this guy's going deep and this guy's not.' They both are different but they do a lot of the same things on the field that make it hard to set your defense. It's not like one guy's a possession receiver and the other guy's a vertical threat, or one guy's a guy that's going to only run crossers and try to beat you with speed horizontally – like they both do all of those things. So, I think how versatile they are helps them because they don't just align at one position either, they're in different spots in the offense which makes it tough to kind of set a defense to just stop those two.
Q: From the back end of things, are you seeing any reason for the breakdowns in the run defense? Anything you can pinpoint there?
DM: No, we've just all got to do a better job of 11 guys – run defense comes down to 11 guys being where you expect them to be in whatever coverage or defense you're in. We just have to do a better job of that. Obviously, when you talk run game, pass game, it starts up front and then it goes second level, then it goes third level, so it's all three of those levels doing a good job whenever the run's called. I think we've watched that, we're trying to figure it out and that's something we know we've got to get corrected Sunday.
Q: Can the fact that you guys just prepared for Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs a couple of weeks ago help you at all this week when you're going up against another elite receiving duo?
DM: There's some carryover, but I think what helps us out more is playing these guys last year. Like we know kind of what we're up against and we saw both those guys last year. Antonio Brown got hurt but we had to prepare for both of them and last year you're adding in Martavis Bryant, so between [James] Washington and [Ryan] Switzer, we know one of those guys – [Darrius] Heyward-Bey will be in there too. I think that little bit of knowledge from last year and how we prepared as far as just how good those guys are help. It's not the same as far as, you know, everything that we're preparing this year and last year, but I think that's the best comparison I can give.
Q: Is this a good football environment? It feels like wherever you guys play, there's lots of Patriots fans except in Pittsburgh. I don't know if it charges you guys up even more to have it as you against them.
DM: Yeah it is. And Bill [Belichick] spoke about that this week as far as their tradition. They don't have even that many coaches in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers. It is fans that have been riding with those guys forever. It's like it gets passed down generationally. We know that, we know there will be Terrible Towels waving, we know at one point they'll drop their theme song and the crowd will go crazy. But, it's a fun atmosphere. It's going to be a playoff-type atmosphere where it feels like both teams just have to win this game, and I know their fans will bring that kind of energy. We know we might get 10, 15 Patriot fans, whoever can probably find a ticket to get in there or try to get in there.
Q: We've seen Ben Roethlisberger struggle this year with some uncharacteristic mistakes. Have you seen anything different from him than from years past?
DM: No, I mean I think Roethlisberger, [Tom] Brady, [Drew] Brees – like these guys, if they have three mistakes in a season, it's like, 'Man, this guy's struggling.' They've been at that high level, that elite level for so many years, it doesn't make a difference. It's the usual this week – he's coming off injury, he'll be there, he'll be playing. He's not going to play different. He's still going to be throwing guys off that are trying to tackle him in the pocket. He's a guy who puts stress on everyone. Even if you pressure him and you get there, you have to tackle him. If he buys time, you have to cover from the line of scrimmage all the way to 60 yards deep if he just wants to throw the ball and launch it deep. So, he puts a lot of pressure on the whole defense.
Q: When you think about nine years in league, where does that Jesse James play from last year rank in your career in terms of craziness and waiting on the result of an official's call?
DM: I don't know. I've never even thought about it. I guess it'd be pretty high. I think at that point in the game – but yeah, it was one of those things where we're waiting to see and I think in those moments, though, in games, so much is kind of preparing for what's next that you don't really have time to think about what it's going to be. It's like, 'Well, if it's this, it's this.' That's what we're doing on the sideline or as a group of guys in the middle, trying to prepare for what's next. You don't even have time – I think when you watch as a spectator, you're just sitting on the edge of your seat waiting, but as players, we're trying to discuss what will happen next either way the call goes.
Q: In that case, what happened next? You still had to close out the game.
DM: We had to play another play or two. Like, we didn't know what it was going to be, but we had to prepare and we knew the clock was going to run right away. So, all of those things that we have talked about situationally in meetings kind of gets used, and that was the one time it got used all year – probably the one time it might have gotten used or two times in my whole career. It's a lot of communication to try to prepare for that because we've all heard it over and over again, but it's different when you've got to rep it.
Q: Have you talked about the JuJu Smith-Schuster play on that last drive when he catches it and runs 50 yards just in terms of the need to play 60 minutes this week and tackle well? Has that play come up at all?
DM: It hasn't, but I mean that general concept of playing 60 minutes, leverage, tackling, comes up daily. We didn't go back and watch that as a group, but I think we all know that it will show up at different parts of the game, especially with this team. Obviously, it wasn't an end of the game situation, but the 97-yard touchdown by Schuster this year where he catches a nine-route, makes a guy miss, stiff-arms, like that comes down to leverage and tackling, not giving up 97 yards. You try to shut that down at 25, 30 yards if he makes a catch downfield, which I mean, they've got good players, they're going to make some plays, but we've got to limit the big plays.
Q: It seems like Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster are interchangeable in their play so does that make it more challenging to play against them?
DM: Yeah, we were just talking about how they complement each other by both being great. I think sometimes you talk about running back duos and you're like, 'Thunder and Lightning' – like this guy's this way. With these guys, they are different body types and a little bit of how they play, but they both can go deep, they both can go across the middle, they both can run under routes and catch it and take it the distance. So, I think the versatility that both guys have probably creates the most challenges for a defense that you can't just sit in a defense and say, 'Antonio Brown's here, Schuster's here. This is what we're going to run.' Like, we don't know all of that stuff, so it's a little bit on the move and you have to have a high awareness of where they're at.