When you first got here can you kind of assess where you thought the talent level was and how it fit to your system and where it is now and how it fits to where you're at now?
I thought there was good talent here. You never know how you're going to make the transition. You know, that's a process you go through and it's kind of a step by step process. And I think anybody that's followed our defensive team over the last two years, I think it was significant. The first half of the season last year we were a different team than we were the second half. We started to have some things come together and were able to get our run defense playing very well. One thing that's been consistent I think is we've had people that can take the ball away and we've been fairly consistent in taking the ball away. We've been a lot more multiple this year because the players' understanding of the defense. I've always believed that first of all you have to have adapt what you're doing to the players and what they show on the practice field that you can do, do with efficiency. And the second half of this season we've played a lot of different personnel combinations based off of our opponent that week. So I think that we're closer now in terms of looking more like a 3 4 team, but we still have a lot of elements and we play a lot of sub defense because I think it fits our strengths of our personnel.
How valuable is it, you have you here, you have Mike Martz, Mike Tice over in Chicago, to have former head coaches on a staff in other roles?
*I think if you haven't experienced being a head coach, all right, then I think you look at things totally differently because you look at the big picture. You know, having done it twice with two expansion teams and then coming here and working for Mike, you have an appreciation for what the head coach goes through, that his decisions affect the whole squad. So I think it helps you be a better assistant really. I told Mike when I first came in, I'm going to try to be that guy for you that I was always looking for. *
Can you talk about how your staff has meshed together?
*I think the staff is somewhat like the team. If you want to go in and talk about principles of being on a team and everybody pulling together and having a role and depending on each other and accountability and all those things, it's certainly true with your staff. And I think we have an outstanding group of coaches. I think they're all very competent. I think they're very technically sound, I think they're very good teachers, and they've got a great work ethic.Many of the things that we talk about when we go in the defensive meeting room with the defense, it starts right in our defensive staff room. Players, they don't miss a trick now. They know if you're all on the same page and if you're all pulling in the same direction. Everybody has the same goals. And I think that then that carries over into that group. I think the thing that we feel the best about our defensive group this year is we've been through a number of different transitions with injuries and so forth and the ups and downs, and when one guy has been unable to go we've had another guy step up and go in, and to me that's a sign of a good team. There has to be a feeling, okay, that you're not only accountable to yourself but to everybody else in that room and you have a job to do and you can't let them down. *
*Are you worried at all about A.J.?
*No, I think A.J. will be fine. I talked to A.J. today. We held him out a little bit at practice today but it was more of a precautionary thing than anything else.
Mike Martz has seemed like he's changed as a coordinator this year. Do you see that, and in what ways has he changed if you do?
*I think playing against Mike for a number of years, we all have certain qualities about the way we call the game and systems and that type of thing, and I've always had a tremendous amount of respect. Obviously the success he's had speaks for itself. You know, I would say that they've been a certainly more balanced team the second half of the season than they were the first half of the season, and I think what he's been doing is playing to the strengths of their personnel. When you have a running back like Forte, Chester Taylor, I think their offensive line has made tremendous strides during the course of the season, you know, they made an adjustment, moved Williams inside, and they've been very productive in terms of you've got they force you to defend both the run and the pass, and I think that's probably helped Jay Cutler. *
In a general sense can you talk a little bit about the chess match with Martz? Are you anticipating that he will adjust to what you did the last time, and have you already prepared a plan B in case of this or do you just let it unfold or how will that play out?
*I think we all do that. We steady ourselves. We know what we've done the last four, five, six games; they certainly know what we've done. You always anticipate what tape they're looking at. And then there's certain elements of your scheme that you're just going to do. That's just you. And I think all good teams develop certain tendencies in certain areas because they're probably pretty good at what they do. But then it's whatever little adjustments that you make off of that. Mike has certainly been doing this for a lot of years, and he has a lot of little intricacies that are true to his system, I think, that you never know when that's going to come out, and he knows when he wants to use them and he knows when I think they'll be the most effective against you. Yes, I think it's first of all utilization of the personnel and then fitting that into your system and when you want to come out with those things that are always kind of the frills of your system.*
How have you been able to so consistently generate pressure, especially late when teams are keying on Clay? *It helps when you have a guy like Clay because Clay attracts a lot of attention. I think a guy like Charles Woodson attracts a lot of attention. We bring Charles quite a bit. And so then you have to have some counters off of that. If you do the same thing, I don't care in this league, you'd better be multiple because if you do the same thing all the time people are going to block it up, and then it becomes Clay having two people blocking him, and you've got to win your one on one match ups at other places. I think you just have to be able to have enough flexibility in your system where you can change things up and understand what type of protection you're going to get and what they're doing to do to take away what you've been doing basically. *
What has Shields done with that third corner spot? *Yeah, Sam has been, we've all seen Sam when he came in at training camp. He had some physical tools, we knew he was very fast. We put him out there in the opening game against the Eagles, and I think he's been growing ever since then, and so I think he's playing some of his best football now just like we've seen Tramon grow. Tramon is playing his best football right now, which is what you hope. You hope at this time of the year that guys have enough background in the system and enough confidence that they can go out and play their best, and I think both of those guys are playing at their best now.*
Is he doing more defensively because obviously he's not getting beat up and down the field all game?
*Your corners dictate how much you can do defensively. If you've got to always roll up and protect the corner, you know it's going to what you do, you cut it down. So yes, Sam and Tramon outside and Charles inside, you know they give us great flexibility, whether we're playing 1st and 2nd down or 3-4 or Okie defense or any of our sub packages. They're a big factor in it. Yeah, Sam has been great in terms of fitting in and being able to give us more flexibility in what we want to do.*
When you played Arizona in the playoffs last year, was there something schematically that threw a curve at you or was that Kurt Warner being Kurt Warner or what happened?
I think it was a combination of both. We had been playing pretty good defense up to that point in time. We had one game in there where we didn't play real well against the Steelers but we had gone out the week before and it probably worked against us because I don't think they had 200 yards against us. You know, Kurt Warner had a great day, and quite frankly we didn't play like we'd played the whole second half of the season. So I don't know whether it was the inexperience in a big playoff game or what it might have been, but it kind of caught up with us.
Did you learn from that to help you prepare this year?
*I think you learn from every situation. You hate to ever have to learn from a situation like that because it was disappointing after the way we played. But you know, I think that one of the things we learned is you'd better be ready to play every week, and when you get into the playoffs you understand that you only get one shot. So you'd better be at the top of your game. I feel like the last couple weeks in the playoffs we've played the same way we did down the stretch. I haven't seen much difference, and so that's what we've got to do Sunday. We've got to go out and play at a high level.*
As a defensive coach what's so impressive to you about Chicago's defense?
*They have a philosophy. I think they've done a great job. You can see Lovie's philosophy. That defense has been in place. They've got veteran players. They've been able to stay healthy. They don't beat themselves. They make the opponent beat them. And it's a proven philosophy, and they get a lot of takeaways. They play great field position football. I think it ties in with their special teams. And you can see how it affects the offense. They're one of the top teams in the league in terms of taking the ball over on your side of the field. You know, that's been a winning philosophy for a long time. They've been very consistent all year with it, and I just think that all three phases of their team are tied together very tight, and that's a credit to Lovie Smith.*
How have you been able to get two corners to play almost without committing penalties all year in Shields and Tramon Williams? They've been pretty clear in terms of that.
*I think it comes back to technique, and again, emphasis. I think penalty wise, I think at one point I was counting that we had 17 penalties in the first six games, and I think we only had like nine the rest of the way out. Now, I know we had the most last week, all right, that we've had probably since the Chicago game, but we went a stretch there where we were averaging less than one penalty a game on defense, and to me that's once guys get more tuned into the system, they understand what their roles are and they play with the right technique, I think you limit the penalties. *
*Forte had a couple big runs against you guys.
*He did. They had back to back a 25 yard and a 21 yard run. He has those capabilities of doing that, and I think Chester Taylor does, too. Like I say, I think their line is doing a better job. I think all three of those inside players in their line are very good pullers, so they do a good job scheme wise of getting those guys out on the perimeter, and when you've got a runner like Forte you're always concerned about being able to stop the run. Fortunately we were able to get it back under control after those two runs. I think they had a 12 yard run a little bit later on against us. Those were both in the first half. And second half they had a 12 yard run. But we tightened down and played the run better from that point on.
What's the most impressive thing that makes Mike McCarthy a good head coach?
*I think Mike understands the big picture. I mean, he understands football. I think he's an outstanding offensive coach that he knows how he wants to attack defenses, and I think he knows how he'd like his defense to look. Many times when you've been on one side of the ball, you kind of look at the other side of the ball and you know the things that have given you problems, and that's the way you'd like for your team to look. You know, so I think he's obviously an outstanding quarterback coach and offensive play caller, and I think that just being able to see the big picture and organize things. The one thing I've found about working here from Mike the last two years is you know exactly what's expected of you, whether you're an assistant coach, whether you're a player, and I think he does a nice job of organizing things so there's direction for everybody in the organization. *
I know you're in a different role as a coordinator compared to '96 as head coach, but what's this moment like for you personally to be back here?
*I think the longer you're in the business you realize how hard it is. You might go for a period of time. I can remember Pittsburgh in '94, I had taken the Carolina job, and we got beat in the championship game, and I'm thinking to myself, I'm taking an expansion team, it might be a long time before I get a chance to go back, and two years later we were coming back up here. And then in '99 I was at Jacksonville, and unfortunately in all three of those we came up on the short end. I think you appreciate it more, the effort, and how hard it is and how every step you take that the margin for error becomes smaller and smaller.*
*Has this been a similar week for you compared to those years back then?
*Yes, this week has been pretty much we've been in playoff mode for the last month. We've had four straight games that we've had to win, which I think has helped our guys. They understand. For a month now we've been in the same mode, and it's take care of business. There's not any do overs. You don't get a chance to repeat, all right; if you go out and you don't do it right, you go home. I think that's helped us.