I’ll start with the injuries. We came out of the game clean from an injury standpoint, which we feel very good about.
(How did Jenkins come through?)
Came out OK. I thought the fact that he was able to practice throughout the week and was able to come through the game clean, I thought Mike Trgovac was very smart in the utilization of his reps, something we talked about before the game. It will be good to see Cullen go through another week of practice, and he’ll be ready to go in Atlanta.
(What did you think you got out of him? He said he didn’t feel 100 percent and didn’t feel he played that well.)
I’ll be honest with you, when we got on the plane last night, we all jumped on Atlanta. I have not watched the defensive tape and I have not even visited with the defensive staff about the grades. We’re going to probably do that Thursday, which is a normal Friday for us.
(What’s the theme for the team this week?)
Really staying to your brand of football is the most important. We need to focus on our opponent. Obviously Atlanta is a different opponent than Philadelphia. I think we need to clean a couple things up from Philadelphia to the Atlanta game. But we’re not going to change who we are, the way we approach our opponents. We’ll just focus on the particulars for Atlanta. We have a brand of football, and we’re going to stick to it.
(Atlanta almost never loses at home, and they’ve had a week to rest. But you almost knocked them off last time. Do you expect a knock-down, drag-out fight?)
Absolutely. This is playoff football. This is going to be a 60-minute game, or more if needed. That’s our mindset going down to Atlanta. They’ve had the opportunity to rest. We feel very good, the fact that we’ve played three weeks in a row in a very competitive playoff atmosphere. So that’s what we’re taking into the game. We feel the short week helps us. We’re in sync, we’re ready to go. We’ll be smart with our practice reps this week because I want to make sure our players are as fresh as possible for this game.
(You went into the Atlanta game last time feeling you had an advantage by spreading things out. Are you different now offensively with Starks? Can you be more diverse this time?)
Really, that’s what game-planning is for. I don’t really want to get into specifics. We’re not going to surprise them which way we go. But we did have production with the spread offense in the first game. I’m sure their approach may be different the way they play us (compared to) first time, as the second time. We’ve had an opportunity to watch their last five or six games since our first game. They’re doing a couple things different. We’re doing some things different. That’s all part of the game plan.
(But is there more carryover preparation wise against a team you played on Nov. 28 as opposed to Sept. 12?)
Definitely. Just look at the personnel, just look at the depth charts. There’s not as much change. I think clearly playing Philadelphia Week 1 and then playing them in the first week of the playoffs was as dramatic a change as I’ve been a part of playing a team once and then later in the year, just because of the number of personnel changes. But definitely there’s more carryover with Atlanta.
(Aaron spread the ball around to nine different receivers. Would you agree this is an unselfish offense with a lot of different options?)
Clearly. It’s an unselfish offense that’s built around making the quarterback successful. You have to have a starting point, you have to have a focal point. Our offense is based on making the quarterback position as successful as possible. That’s why you start, with the game plan you start building the run game, because running the football is what needs to be done up front so the offensive line, the run-blocking unit can establish the line of scrimmage. From that, it gives you the variations in pass protections that’s definitely needed in today’s game with the amount of pressure and scheme diversity that these defenses in today’s NFL give you, and then off of that comes the passing game. It’s clearly about throwing the football to the right person. It’s about decision-making, accuracy, getting in rhythm, timing, and it’s all driven by making that quarterback successful.
(Do you feel like you have more diversity and more to work with now between the way Aaron is playing and now Starks emerging?)
I think we’re all stating the obvious.
(Does Starks’ role change because of what he did?)
His role? Well, he definitely deserves opportunity. He’ll run the ball against Atlanta, if that’s what you’re asking me. Yeah, he’s going to carry the ball in Atlanta. He’s earned that. The young man was extremely productive and works extremely hard. He’s had a tough road coming here in the spring and being injured, PUP and not to be able to practice in pads for Lord knows how long. We’ve just been trying to get him ready through the weekly practices. It’s nice to see someone like James put as much into it, stay patient, stay confident, and when his number is called, to produce.
(Your fan base has been clamoring for him a lot. Is it fair to say you wanted to make sure before you expanded his role that you knew he could hold onto the football and that you felt good in pass protection? Were those the things holding him back more than anything else?)
It’s all about preparation. When you don’t have an opportunity to see someone do it in the padded practice, I think it’s only natural to be concerned about it. I think those are all natural questions that everybody had, including James. He hadn’t run through an inside drill in quite some time. To go back and ask him to return a kickoff and he hadn’t done it in a year and a half, that’s a legitimate concern. Edgar Bennett does an outstanding job coaching the running backs, and we were just making sure that he was ready to go.
(The drops and the fumbles, how big a concern is that moving forward?)
Well, we need to handle the ball better. We were minus-2 in the giveaway category, and that’s the last two weeks now, Chicago and Philadelphia. We will definitely make a bigger emphasis if we possibly can on taking care of the football. You can’t turn the ball over. These games in the playoffs, they come down to one play a lot of times, so we need to maximize our opportunities, especially the number of possessions you get with playing Atlanta. I think we had seven real possessions in our first game, so it’s important for us to take care of the football.
(How confident are you that you have a championship-caliber defense?)
We have a championship-caliber defense. We have a championship-caliber football team. We’re a good football team. We’ve been a good football team all year. We have an opportunity to achieve greatness, and that will start with the second step in Atlanta.
(What were the keys to slowing down their big plays yesterday?)
Well, a lot of respect for their offense. Their statistics speak for themselves, just how explosive they are on offense. But trying to keep Michael Vick in the pocket was definitely a focus. I thought we did that for the most part. He did a good job from the pocket, had a lot of productivity in the passing game. But as we all know, it’s about scoring points, and our defense has done a great job all year keeping them out of the end zone. That was evident with our red-zone defense yesterday and our adversity defense stepped up big there at the end of the game. That was our 1 and 2 emphasis coming off the offseason, and we’ve done extremely well in those two categories
(What was the genesis of that inverted wishbone formation?)
We’ve used it since I’ve been here. It’s something that we feel gives us good angles from an alignment. Every formation that you line up in, you’re trying to accomplish something from your alignment as opposed to how you anticipate the defense is going to line up. It’s just an alignment that we feel gives us the proper angles to do what we’re trying to do conceptually.
(Is that called Falcon?)
That’s the personnel group.
(You started using it when you had Kuhn and Hall. Was it partly personnel, that you had two good blocking fullbacks?)
It’s a combination of personnel, alignment, and the run concepts or the protection concepts that you feel are going to work against that defense, how you anticipate they’re going to line up. It’s a combination of scheme and utilization of personnel.
(The last time in Atlanta, you had the replay situation with the Tony Gonzalez catch. Can you go over the options available to you to be sure that doesn’t happen again?)
Like anything involving decision-making, it’s about information. When you have information, you have to make a decision, whether it’s a particular instance of challenging a play, is it blind information, meaning you’re going off of what you see live or the emotion of the moment. Or the situation. Or the information that you’re able to receive from the replay, your coaches up top, or if someone gets a really good look at it on the sideline. Really, the Tony Gonzalez play, being fourth-and-3, having no information, calling a timeout there would have been the right option. But as we discussed after the game, there was really no information that he did not catch the ball. It was actually communicated that it was a catch. That’s why we never called a timeout, and everybody knows the delay that occurred with the information as far as the instant replay.
(Are the coaches up top allowed to watch an actual broadcast of the game?)
Well, it’s all based off the feed. There’s a feed, what is it … direct feed from the network.
(We’ve seen the delay different in different stadiums. In the playoffs, is it more uniform, consistent?)
That’s a great question. I don’t have the answer to that. Whether it’s the direct TV feed, or if it’s the direct feed from the network, or exactly what it is. I don’t know if it’s by stadium. I know Ted Thompson and Russ Ball, our vice president of football operations, have looked into that specific situation after what occurred in Atlanta. But we’re worried about lining up and playing. The technical part of it really in our view is not going to affect the outcome of this game.
James has been playing for quite some time with a very painful thumb injury, something that doesn’t really show up on the medical reports as far as what’s communicated. But it’s on our medical report. You don’t like to put those things out for competitive reasons. But it’s something that he’s been dealing with for a number of weeks.
(Did Tramon think that he was down by contact in the end zone?)
That’s a great questions. I haven’t had a chance to talk to Tramon about that. It’s a no mas situation, whether he didn’t realize he was in the end zone or regardless. We haven’t had a chance to review the tape with the players.
(Did you flip-flop 76 and 75 at one point?)
Yes we did. It’s something we’ve done in particular running. It was a run formation for us. Just a tendency breaker.
(On that punt, is there anything Underwood can do differently?)
It’s about awareness of where the football is. That’s something we need to do a better job of being aware in that particular situation, and definitely Brandon will learn from that experience.
(You talk a lot about confidence and real confidence. What value does confidence have? Because your guys do seem to be playing with a lot of it.)
I think confidence is clearly one of the main factors in being successful. It’s just the way individuals, you’re around your football team long enough, just the way they interact, the way they act, the way they practice. There’s many different identifiers of confidence or the real confidence. When you win a playoff game on the road, that’s definitely a big dose of confidence that is added to your football team. We were really confident going into the Philadelphia game. We felt it was a contest that we expected to win, and from that experience it will give us more confidence, and we’re going to Atlanta, and we fully expect to win.