OK, I’ll start off with our injuries.
(How confident were you in the defense coming through for you there at the end?)
Very confident; we talked about it all week, just the ability to keep them out of the end zone, they’re a big-play offense. I thought Dom really did a great job of sticking to the plan with the coverage and pressure, particularly there in the red area, with the amount of pressure he was able to bring with the red-zone blitz, keeping them out of the end zone. They’re an explosive offense, to hold them under 20, we felt very good about that. We would’ve like to had some [more] point production on offense, that’s always the case, but when we put 21 on the board, we’re very confident in our defense that we’re going to come out of there with a victory.
(What can you say about the performance of
James Starks is just a fine young man, a very talented young man and just hasn’t played a lot of football over the last two years and that’s really been the biggest challenge. Everybody knows his story, coming off of PUP and we’ve just been trying to get him ready. We had a couple of packages in the game plan today for running the football. He established a hot hand early, and I rode it. I’m very proud of him individually. It really speaks volumes about our offensive line, and I thought they did a very good job of playing on their side of the line of scrimmage and James did a good job of hitting the holes and running after the first hit and so forth. [He’s] a very talented young man and he’s got a lot of football in front of him.
(Did you know going in that this was going to be the kind of game where you had to be patient?)
Oh, absolutely. Just number one, look where we’re playing. We’re playing in Philadelphia, and it’s a credit to their organization, just the crowd noise and the atmosphere. We did a very good job with the communication, we didn’t have the pre-snap penalties, we didn’t handle the ball probably as well as we would’ve liked, with the two turnovers, but our communication was excellent today. We knew we were going to have to be patient, take what they gave us and they played us pretty conservatively from a pressure standpoint; third down was more their pressure down. They played a lot of quarters [coverage], they played a lot of patience with their defense, and we had to do the same thing. A couple conversions here, we would’ve probably had more production. This is a tough place to play, clearly one of the tougher places to play in the National Football League, in my opinion.
(Was this a milestone win for
That’s what you talk about, we don’t look at it that way and I think you know that. I don’t understand why we have to talk about that today, but we’re just getting started. This is the first round, we’ve established ourselves as a football team and we won a big football game here in Philadelphia against a championship-caliber program. We have the opportunity to go to Atlanta and we’re excited about playing a No. 1 seed down there. Aaron has got a lot of football left in front of him, he’s going to be playing for a long time and I think those conversations should be talked about at the end, in my opinion.
(Can you talk about the task of containing all of Philadelphia’s different playmakers?)
Well, you can’t take them all away and I’ll tell you, they’re dynamic. During the week of preparation, I was just very impressed because the statistics speak for themselves. Their ability to run the ball, and you’ve just got to keep Michael contained and that’s hard. He caught us a couple of times in a four-man rush and was able to get out of the pocket and he’s so dangerous with the ball when he gets in space. They did a good job of blocking us up with the seven- and eight-man protections, and going with the two vertical down-the-field routes. I thought it was a well-coached game, I thought schematically there were a lot of challenges out there, and I’m sure from your standpoint it was probably a heck of a game to watch.
(How were you guys able to sustain the longer drives tonight and can you talk about your ability to consistently convert third downs on those drives?)
Well frankly, that’s the way we like to play and I think you have to be able to play that way in the NFL to win over the long term. We have individuals in our offense that can make big-strike plays and we have a quarterback that can stretch the field and make all of the throws. But to win week-in and week-out, you’ve got to have the combination of run and pass. That was our plan obviously coming in here today; we have confidence in the third-and-five, -six, -seven range with our pass protection. We feel that’s a strength of what we do, to be able to handle multi-scheme pressure schemes like Philadelphia has and the ability to keep your defense off the field, especially playing against an offense like that. Our plan was to come in here and try to establish the run, play in favorable down-and-distance, have the patience and take our shots when we can.
(Can you talk more about the contribution of Starks today?)
I haven’t seen the final statistics, but I know he was the hot hand. When I call plays, I watch the line of scrimmage and the quarterback’s feet and that tells me about as much as I need to know during the series as far as what’s going on out there and you’re able to gain a lot of information there. James was a difference-maker; he was a difference-maker for us just the way he was running the ball. He’s a gifted athlete, he’s a longer-levered individual and he falls forward, and I just love running backs that fall forward, especially when they’re 6-2, so that’s a big part of his success.
(How big of a strength is Aaron’s ability to buy time and move in and out of the pocket?)
I’m probably biased, but I think Aaron Rodgers is probably as good in-and-out-of-the pocket quarterback as there is in football today. His ability to play in the pocket, trusting his footwork, the time clock, the ability to come out of the pocket to buy time, that’s Aaron’s strength. And on top of that, as I’ve already stated, he has the arm strength to make all of the throws. It gives you a lot of versatility as a play-caller and as an offensive schemer when you have a quarterback right now with his experience, playing as well as he is. He’s a special player.
(What have been the biggest differences that you’ve seen in your defense this year versus last year?)
There are a number of factors and we’ve talked about this time and time again. The second year into a system is so important, just number one, the communication is so much better. The second part is, you’re really streamlining the concepts; you have a better understanding of what individuals can handle certain things, what their strengths are and areas to stay away from. We’ve had so much change on defense, but we’ve been able to stay true, conceptually, to the things we do best. As far as statistically, our adversity defense is so much better than last year, our red-zone defense is so much better than last year, and those were our number one and two points of emphasis coming out of the offseason evaluations. So when you’re able to go through that, spend the time in training camp and you see it show up during the course of the year, that’s what you like to see. We’re playing very good defense, particularly the scoring defense.
(What had you seen in Starks over the last few weeks that made you feel like you could go to him so much today?)
It’s hard, and it’s a juggling act because we have so much faith in
(Having won these last two games by such close margins, does that give you extra confidence going forward in those types of games here in the playoffs?)
You have to win the close games in the playoffs. We knew we were going to come in here and we knew it was going to be a 60-minute fight. We spent so much time on the overtime rules this week, I thought, ‘Heck, we might as well go into overtime too.’ This is the way it’s going to be; we’re on the road, you play uphill when you get off the bus and you have to overcome the atmosphere that you’re playing in, particularly the communication challenge, and it feels good.
(How important was it to respond with that long drive in the third quarter to try to slow down their momentum following your turnover?)
It was very important. I think it was evident to everybody that the momentum really swung in their direction. The crowd was really into it, and we’d had the two long drives there in the first half, but it was very important for us to respond. More importantly, we were playing with the wind and that was a focus of mine just from a play-selection standpoint. To lose a series like that and have it taken away from you, it was something that we didn’t want to get into and they responded. That drive was very important because the wind was going to the Eagles there in the fourth quarter.
(How surprised were you on the ruling on the two-point conversion and is that something you think will be reviewed by the Competition Committee in the offseason?)
I’m just glad we got it right and I think everybody feels that way. Just talking to the officials on the sideline, I’m just glad we got it right. No one wants to be talking about it for a week after the game; coaches, players, officials all included. I thought they did a good job of stopping it, and getting it right. I’m not sure what will happen with the Competition Committee, I’m just focused on Atlanta right now.
(Will you have a chance to enjoy this win or do you have to immediately re-focus on Atlanta because of the short week?)
We started Thursday night on Atlanta, just because you have to from a preparation standpoint. For me personally, I’ll watch Atlanta on the bus ride and on the plane ride home because tomorrow is our game plan day. I think this is going to have to be one of those ones where after the season is over you look back on it.
(What was the thought process that went into rotating different guys as your kickoff returner?)
Well, we’re not quite sold on one yet, to be honest. We’re working ourselves through a couple of things back there with Sam [Shields], and that’s definitely something James [Starks] does very well, and I thought Patrick [Lee] did a good job last week, so we’re just kind of working our way through that.
(Are drops becoming too regular of a problem for
In fairness to James, he clearly had the obvious opportunity right there before the half that would’ve put it to [21-3], but he has a thumb that he’s dealing with, but he’ll fight through it, he’s a warrior and he takes great care of his body. But he’ll be the first one to tell you that he needs to make that catch.
(Were you guys trying to kick that last punt out of bounds to keep it away from DeSean Jackson?)
It depends where you are on the field, obviously kicking into the wind factors, but we weren’t real excited about giving him too many opportunities punting the ball. I think that was evident with us trying to get the ball out of bounds, but field position was at a premium there and we needed to cover that last punt. We were able to get the holding on the return which obviously helped.