Offensive coordinator Doug Pederson
Q:With Alex Smith running the way he is, how tough does it make it for other teams to prepare? **PEDERSON: "I think it's an awareness by the defense. I think they go in each week (and) when they sit down and start game planning on Monday, they go 'Okay, who's at quarterback? Is he an athletic guy, is he more of a pocket guy who doesn't really scramble around?' There's all types of those quarterbacks in the National Football League. You take a guy like Ben Roethlisberger who you are not just going to take him down, but he's a pocket-type guy and he makes plays just kind of hanging and guys falling off of him, where our guy can make plays with his legs. I think it's a way you approach your plan during the week and you have to be aware of who's back there playing quarterback."
Q: How important is it to have a quarterback who can move and has good footwork in this offense compared to other types of offenses?
PEDERSON: "I just think that it helps you in your run-pass options at the line of scrimmage. Having a running, mobile-type quarterback and as durable as Alex is, it allows us to do those run-pass options at the line of scrimmage and it allows him to run. I think it just allows us to spread the field a little bit and create some natural running lanes. And at the same time, if he's not going to beat it with the run, he'll beat it with the throw. So we just try to take advantage and try to scheme those things up each and every week."
Q: You've mentioned that you're asking Alex Smith to do more, has that flexibility made him a better quarterback?
PEDERSON: "The 'do more' isn't necessarily with the football, it's more using his mind because he's a sharp guy. And getting in and out of plays, giving him a couple – two or three – options and allowing his brain to really focus in on what's happening on each play and putting us in the proper play, where defenses nowadays – you like to say they're junk ball-type pitchers – they're going to throw everything at you, fastball, curveball, slider, changeup, they're going to hit you with everything. And to be able to take advantage of that, you have to have a sharp quarterback and that's what Alex is and that's what he provides us and allows us to do more that way with him using his brain and then his talent."
Q: Would you say that this group of guys on offense 'gets it' and understands what other people need to do in addition to their responsibilities?
PEDERSON: "Yeah, and again, a lot of these guys are in their third year with us now. And he's one of those guys – the more repetition you get over time, you put more of that on tape where you can watch yourself and critique yourself and learn from that, good and bad. It just makes you a better football team. And then, it collectively makes you better on offense. I think that's what's happening now, the guys, the continuity's there. We still need to get better, but things are beginning to click offensively throughout the game."
Q: Andy Reid mentioned that the play calling has stayed the same without Jamaal Charles, how helpful is that?
PEDERSON: "It's very helpful because you don't have to change your whole offense for the one guy – for Jamaal or for Charcandrick (West) and Spencer (Ware). It's tough losing a guy like Jamaal, obviously, but at the same time, to have that pleasant surprise of two guys filling in that (have) kind of taken that load has allowed us to maintain that same structure offensively and do the same things and do it over and over and over and get better at it every week."
Q: Do you think being 'the guy' for the first time in his career has been tough or a strain on Travis Kelce?
PEDERSON: "Well, if you remember, it's really his first full year to play. To take that load on as the primary tight end – last year you had (Anthony) Fasano and he was kind of the guy at times, but wasn't necessarily the primary tight end, so he was getting more breaks. Now he's the primary guy, so he's out on the field a lot. He's learned to come in and study and work hard during practice and develop his craft that way, so when he gets in the ballgame, he eliminates some of those mental mistakes. And he's really learned to grasp that role of being the guy at the tight end positon. And the success that he's had, at the same time, you hear from Coach Reid all the time, let their personality show. He's one of those guy, you want his personality to show, that's when he's the best."
Q: For him, is it just a matter of doing the little things well?
PEDERSON: "I think that's an accurate statement for everybody. I don't think it's just for him, I think it's for everybody. If you do the little things well, it takes care of the big things. If you focus on your step on this particular play, or your route on this particular play and just do your job on that play, and do those little, fundamental techniques that we teach them and you do it over and over and over, that's where the success is coming and that's when it starts to show up."
Q: What improvement in anticipation have you seen from Alex and the receivers?
PEDERSON: "It's just coming with time. It's coming with time and repetition. The quarterbacks and receivers talking during the week, practicing certain things during the week. When the defense is working, the offense is together and we're throwing some of these things and we're getting on the same page with quarterback and receiver. And that's what you're seeing now is those guys kind of understanding what Alex is seeing and how the quarterback would like you to run that route. So you're starting to see that, a little bit, coming together."
Q: What kind of progress have you seen from Chris Conley?
PEDERSON: "Chris has done an outstanding job. He's a sharp guy, hard worker, studier, great talent and ability. Now we're starting to kind of plug him in in certain roles and give him a handful of plays here and there. And he's a guy that you have to have on the field. He's got big play capability and you're starting to see that out of him and we've got to continue to find ways – not only work him into the game – to get him the football."
Special Teams Coordinator Dave Toub
Q: Can kicking operations go into a slump?
TOUB: "We had a two-game slump, I guess if you want to look at it that way. The one was the hold the first week and this time it was the snap. We're going to go back and really it comes down to—Andy talked about it earlier in the week—about how important fundamentals are, and that's really what it comes down to. I've coached for a long time and you've got to go back and you just have to rep it out, and that's really what we're going to do this week. Go back to basics and fundamentals and get this thing fixed."
Q: Did the conditions play a role?
TOUB: "I hate to put the blame on something, but it's part of it, always. That's the way it is. We have to be able to perform in those conditions."
Q: Do you expect snapping to be an automatic process?
TOUB: "You do, you do. I mean, these guys are professional, they're the best in the world. Top 32 snappers in the world and you expect it to be perfect. We had a little glitch there and we've got to get it straightened out."
Q: When you're trying to rep it out, when do you know if there is a fundamental problem here that requires a change?
TOUB: "We know we've got three more games left. Hopefully we get this thing cleaned up, we get one game under our belt, we've got three games and then we're on a roll to being perfect again."
Q: In Cairo Santos' first two seasons, what have you seen with him both on the field and in terms of maturity?
TOUB: "He's a competitor now. He competes against himself, he gets mad when he doesn't get a touchback. Those are all good things. He gets upset if we don't have the correct operation. Those are things he's really improved, as far as mentally, being mentally stronger. You see it in practice and every day when you talk to him."
Q: He hasn't had a big-pressure kick since that kick in San Diego last year. How do you keep him mentally ready for that situation?
TOUB: "He has to know that at any time, that could happen. Hopefully, if it does happen, he can rise to the challenge like he did before."
Q: With Dustin Colquitt dropping that punt at the 10 that rolled into the end zone, does it speak to his ability to drop those punts?
TOUB: "Yeah, it startled me too. It's something we're not used to. The hang time wasn't there and we weren't able to get down there to help him on that one. It is a rare thing, especially this year. He's having a great year."
Q: Where is your confidence level with Frankie Hammond as a punt returner?
TOUB: "Well, I'm going to go back to what Andy said earlier in the week about fundamentals. It's the same thing with the snap and the hold and him securing the football, getting it in the correct hand. On the first return, we had the 60-yard return that was called back. He's got the ball in the wrong hand. He needs it on this side and the punter hits him, the ball comes out. Later on, it was a matter of – it wasn't the rain that caused the fumble, it was him getting the ball away from his body. You have to go back, you have to look at the tape and then you really, really have to pound it into his head about keeping that ball secure. The little things end up meaning a lot. I'm glad it happened now. We won the game. I'm glad we won the game. That was huge, but we can put this thing to bed now and move forward. I really believe that."
Q: Is your field goal protection where you want it to be at right now?
TOUB: "Yeah. Yeah, it's not bad. The operation, we've got to clean that up. Field goal protection is good. We're going to get tested this week. This is a good group across the board. They're number one in the league on special teams on a lot of phases, and field goal block is one of them. They do a great job. John Harbaugh, my mentor, he has these guys flying around and Jerry Rosburg, the coach, they're a good unit. We're going to have our hands full."
Q: Is it easier to get their attention since they won against the Browns on a field goal?
TOUB: "Yeah, that's how they won the game. They had a punt return earlier in the game for a touchdown. Kaelin Clay comes in, they sign him off the street, and he goes and runs one back against a good unit, Cleveland is a real good unit, and then they had the blocked field goal late in the game. Scooped and scored and they win the game on special teams. It's something we definitely talked about during the week and the tape doesn't lie. You put the tape on and see how they play, how hard they play. We know we've got our hands full."
Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton
Q: Did you learn anything about Dee Ford in the last game?
SUTTON: "Yeah, I think he's shown he's an improved player. He's got a fair amount of reps throughout the course of this year and I think one of the things that's exciting for everybody is, whatever your position, you come in and you get your opportunity, you take advantage of it. So it was exciting to see him do the things he did. The sacks were great and he made three or four really outstanding plays. He got the quarterback on a scramble that was about ready to get a first down in the red zone when they kicked the field goal. He smelled out a screen play. Obviously the cover on the wheel route on the last play of the game, so that's an area that he hadn't been exposed to really and to me that was as exciting as the sacks. To see him do those other things; he played the run pretty good and so his challenge now is 'hey, take that game as one game and see what else I can do, what else can I stack up here.' And it isn't so much as 'am I going to get three sacks again, but am I going to perform at a winning level? Am I going to perform and improve each and every week?' And if he does that, then he's like all other players and you've got a chance to be a really good football player."
Q: Are you going to be able to maximize the use of Dee Ford, Tamba Hali and Justin Houston when he comes back?
SUTTON: "Well, we could probably figure a way to get them all out there together."
Q: Why haven't you used all three linebackers as much this year as opposed to last year?
SUTTON: "It's been a lot of different things, sometimes it's the type of team we're playing and what we're looking for. Obviously, these last couple of weeks that's not been an option. We actually had it available one game and it didn't play out the way we thought it would. So we'll see where it goes when Justin (Houston) gets back. Like you said, it's a good problem and it's an exciting one too, for the coaches."
Q: Do you feel like you've got more options with the pass rush?
SUTTON: "Our big thing is to effect the quarterback, that's what we're really trying to do. And the easiest thing to say to effect the quarterback is to sack him and knock him to the turf, and that's awesome, we'd do that every time if we could. But there's a lot of other things that go into it – sometimes it's pressures, sometimes it looks like pressures and you affect him and maybe make him change protections to slow down his reads or whatever. The fact that these edge rushers are so good, a lot of times people get tight ends and backs involved in helping protect, which is an effective method. It also limits what you can do from a passing game standpoint. So there's a lot of ways to affect the quarterback and we've tried to use different players and different combinations of guys and kind of stay out of those two boxes; the nevers and always. 'This guy never does this or this guy always does that,' and as long as you do that, you create some type of concern for the offense."
Q: Do you feel like with the pieces you've got you have more versatility in the pass rush?
SUTTON: "A lot of them are the same guys, it doesn't change that much. I think that we've got some guys that are playing really well and I think we've got some guys that have moved forward in understanding offenses and defenses and the whole thing. And they're playing at a faster pace, I give them a lot of credit of that because they've worked hard in studying not only what we're doing but trying to figure out what the opponent's doing and what we can see there. And all of that's going to allow you to be a faster, more explosive defense and you can get those little edges that you're always seeking."
Q: On sending Ron Parker and Husain Abdullah on pressures.
SUTTON: "Yeah, and what's interesting about both of those guys is that when they came here their first role was kind of as blitzers; that's what Ron's job was when he first got here. We used him a lot as a pressure guy and moved him around, he played two or three different positons. And Husain's got a great feel for the game, he adapts very well, he understands what's happening in a game, he adjusts – he's just one of those guys where it's very easy for him to adjust and see things. As a coach, those guys make you feel very comfortable because they can do things out there that you'd like to do, much like a quarterback does, things that make the offense more efficient, and those guys can all do that."
Q: What does Josh Mauga mean to this defense?
SUTTON: "I think Josh has played really well. And some games he hasn't played as much because of the different groupings and that, but I think particularly, these last three or four weeks he's played at a really consistent level and performed very well. He has complete command of what we're doing out there and can move anybody around and understands the whole defense, it's a big plus for us. I'm excited with where he is and what he's done."
Q: How much did having the microphone in his helmet last year help Josh Mauga grow?
SUTTON: "You're the voice that's out on the field and I think that's helped him. And all of the things you do eventually have to come down to 'are you doing things in a way that people are going to respond?' In other words, can you make the right call and once you do that there's that trust level – 'hey, if he says we're doing it we doing it and we're rolling.' And I think Josh has the respect of the guys and understanding of what we're trying to do and what we need to do in this formation or this particular personnel group, whatever it is. And I think that comes from 'hey, you earned those stripes,' and I think he's done a really good job of that."
Q: On trust in Josh Mauga.
SUTTON: "Well, I'd say that two ways – one, I'd say that Ramik (Wilson)'s done a great job and actually was getting in there when Josh was out and unfortunately for Ramik, he got hurt. But these guys are prepared well, that's why I like both of them. They prepare hard, they work hard and we talk all of the time in our room – 'hey, what sits out there today – hey, this thing could be turned all upside down by Thursday of next week. You better be ready,' and the thing is you can't wait until your chance comes, you have to prepare in advance so when it comes you're ready to go. And I think that's really important because we've had a lot of guys do that this year and over the last two years, really. And that's one thing I think is really exciting to me, because that means guys are working when they're not getting reps – once the season starts they hardly get any reps because we just don't have enough players. They're doing the scout team work and all of that and we don't have many to go. But for them to stay mentally into it and realize 'hey, in one play on Sunday I could be playing the rest of this game and the rest of the season.' You can't let up and you can't let anybody else down."
Q: What did you see form Josh Mauga last year?
SUTTON: "Well, he came in as a backup linebacker to give us depth – that's what we were hoping the situation was, and Derrick (Johnson) went down and he just took over in the middle of that game and never left the field. And really, stayed in on base and in sub and that speaks highly of him. There's a lot of things going on there and he did a great job and each of them has different challenges to meet and I think he demonstrated to us that he can be a winning football player for you. He can contribute and he did a great job. So to me, his consistency, the fact that he didn't have to leave the field was real positive. I thought he did a great job a year ago and he's continued on this season."