What do you see from Carson Palmer over the stretch that's really been his best stretch since back in his early days with Cincinnati?
BILL DAVIS: Yeah, he's playing his best football I've seen in years. His offense in the last four weeks, when you break it down and look at that small capsule of time, this offense is as explosive and hitting on all cylinders as we've faced in a while now. It would be our biggest challenge of the last five, six weeks. Because not only is Carson Palmer protecting the football, he's not turning it over, he's spreading the football out to all the different weapons they have, and they've got a lot of weapons. It's an impressive team from a talent standpoint. Then you have a wealth of knowledge on their coaching staff, so they're a lot like us in that there is a brand‑new coaching staff, brand‑new system, a lot of free agent players and some draft picks mixed in. And you can feel them hitting their stride as far as the players understanding the system, the quarterback getting it to where it needs to be. The offensive line protecting better. This is a huge challenge for us.
Talk about their receivers, how do they stack up against some of the other receivers you've faced so far?
BILL DAVIS: Their receivers are the strength of this offense. And Carson gets them the ball. You have Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald, who is probably still the best receiver in the league. The way he plays. He's off the hamstring now. That bye week got him healthy, and you could see that in last week's game. You have a healthy Larry Fitzgerald which is always trouble.
Is there insight on Fitzgerald having been around him as long as you were?
BILL DAVIS: The insight is he's probably the best receiver in the league. I've got nothing but respect for him. He does a great job at the ball. He's one of the strongest reach out and snatch the ball guys that are out there. And he's got such a drive to succeed and catch the football every time. I've got a lot of respect for Larry and Michael. Now Michael's the other one. The last couple years you haven't had, Larry hasn't had the opposite guy that you had to kind of keep in check. Well, now you've got two, and then you have [Andre] Roberts who is coming into his own. You have a nice young tight end in [Rob] Housler that can stress you a little bit. [Andre] Ellington is a nice pass receiving running back that comes out of the back field. So now you have to look at a lot of different people. You can't just put your focus on Larry, and that is helping Larry, I think.
From a physicality perspective, how important is it that Bradley Fletcher can be back this week?
BILL DAVIS: Anytime you get guys that have started and played a lot, all the guys coming back are a huge pick‑up for us. I love the fact that we've got a couple wins and played solid defense with some back‑ups getting experience. Anytime you can have back‑ups playing and get wins, it's a win‑win, in that the player, the back‑ups get some experience and some confidence that you can rely on later down the road if you need to call on them again.
So not only Bradley, but all the guys coming back, we're excited about getting healthy.
Where's Nate Allen at now compared to where he was in the beginning of the season?
BILL DAVIS: I think Nate has continued week‑in and week out to take big strides and just playing solid football. It's not all these big plays and everybody says oh, there is Nate. It's just down in and down out, Nate is taking care of his job and it's helping the defense.
You mentioned some of the back‑ups getting experience. Connor Barwin and DeMeco Ryans have played the most snaps this year. How do you navigate toward that at the end of the season? Are you confident they can hold off?
BILL DAVIS: We're always trying to spell all the guys. We're looking for ways to get those two guys, two of our biggest corner stones of the defense in that DeMeco is quarterbacking the thing. And we probably ask more of Connor Barwin and the different hats that we ask him to wear than any other defensive player. So both those guys, part of the reason we struggle to get them out of there more because of what they mean. They keep the whole package in play. When one of those two come out, the package shifts a little bit. So we'd like to get them more of a blow, but it's a challenge.
When you guys made the trade that sent Isaac Sopoaga to New England, you had started Bennie Logan. Had you seen enough to know Bennie could start? Or was there a leap of faith there that you figured if I started him, he's going to play well from the outset?
BILL DAVIS: Not only Bennie, but Damion [Square] we have a lot of confidence in. Our defensive line is so young. They're all kind of boxed in the same group. They're very hungry, they're very enthusiastic about learning. Their techniques are coming and coming. We have a lot of good preseason play out of Bennie, so it was a combination of factors that we felt he was ready. Now you never know. When you put those guys out there and the bright lights come on and you're playing regular season games, it's a lot different than what you see in preseason. The speed and the opponent that you're playing. You're playing against the first teamers for the whole game. So we had a little bit of a leap of faith that you had to go see. You're never sure, but we're very pleased with the result.
The last few quarterbacks you faced, guys like Scott Tolzien and Robert Griffin III, Terrelle Pryor, Mike Glennon, younger guys in the league, even RG3 is still a young kid. You're facing a guy that's been around forever. I think before the Denver game you talked about how we've really learned a lot about the defense from that game. Do you feel the same way? I mean, this is a guy who has been through it all, seen it all in Palmer?
BILL DAVIS: Absolutely. This last five‑game stretch we're coming up against, we've got more of the veteran, taller, pocket quarterbacks that see the whole field. And Carson Palmer sees the whole field. You can see by how well the ball is spread amongst the different players that he sees the field. He's got the grasp of the offense, knows where to go versus all the different coverages, so that does take a huge ‑‑ that is an added challenge that we have when you have the veteran quarterback that knows what he's doing.
Some numbers the other day suggested that Nate Allen is very good against the run and against the blitz. Is that something you've seen and do you use him in that regard?
BILL DAVIS: Our safeties basically play right and left. So we've got a lot of different things that we do in the packages that we're doing with him. We don't have a down in the box safety or back safety. It's more right and left, a lot of the defenses are mirror defenses where we try to adjust equal. But no, we'll move them around a little bit.
You coached Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett. I know you're not watching much of their defense on tape. But when you see their development over the last four years, what impresses you about them and the disruption they create for offenses?
BILL DAVIS: I'm a big fan of both of those guys. They were fun to coach at the time, and I enjoy watching the progression they have. I do from time to time get some Arizona crossover tapes. I haven't studied them this week. But both are hard work and high effort. Darnell Dockett is one of the most explosive tackles that I've been around and coached. If he wants to penetrate a gap, there is not a whole lot you can do about it, because he's got so much power and explosiveness to him. And Calais is 6'7", and the things he does at that height with the three technique is really amazing. He's got more of a pass‑rush than it looks. He's got a unique style of rushing the passer, and he gets back there a lot more at that height. Both those guys inside are a force to be reckoned with on that defense.
At the end of your time in Arizona, were you ever concerned or worried you wouldn't be a defensive coordinator at some point?
BILL DAVIS: No, I know this. I've been around the NFL long enough that you never assume security or the opposite. It's such a slippery slope. You can climb and fall equally fast. The key is kind of coaching through a season. You take it one day, one week, one job at a time. You give it all you have. You put your focus on doing the best you can do, believing in yourself. And then what happens has all kinds of different reasons things happen, there are different circumstances, different people in decision making. It's so vast and so many different ways that you can get it really if you just focus on your job, doing it the best you can, holding on to your confidence, a lot like we ask the players to do during the course of the season. There are highs, lows, sometimes you're doing a good job. Sometimes you're not. Sometimes you're playing well, sometimes you're not. But if you just continue to take it in smaller chunks and not get ‑‑ don't overreact to the praise, and don't overreact to the criticism. It's all a balance that you've got to hold to survive.
What did you think when you turned on the tape to study for a week, and you see your old team?
BILL DAVIS: I've got so many old teams that's almost every week that I have that experience. Really in the NFL now, you turn on a roster, and what hits you the most is how many guys are in that building when I was there a couple years ago, and there are not many. The NFL is such a league of change. Change is so quick. The second you take a head coach out of the mix, that roster flips at almost a 50% rate. There are only a handful of defensive players that are there when I was there. Only a couple coaches. So it's amazing how much when you do face your old teams that, my goodness, this NFL changes quick. You better not fall ‑‑ that's why you put your head down and work. You can't get caught up in anything but doing the best job you can because it's a league of change.
When you went through the self‑scouting last week, did anybody jump out on tape maybe more than you had realized throughout the course of the season?
BILL DAVIS: I wouldn't say one guy, I really wouldn't. I think really you look at every guy individually and said oh, their technique is moving forward, and we are. There are some schemes and we'd like to take them back, and some plans that might have put together that I would have just done them different. But as I learned, there is no way of learning the players other than going out there on Sundays and calling the games and putting the plans together and seeing what they do well. As we grow and go forward, I'm getting a better feel for them. We as a staff are getting a better feel for them. The players are understanding the schemes better, and I get a feel for what they grasp and what they're doing well. So that was more of the week of what scheme, what techniques, what do we need to focus on more this particular week and last week. So that's how we grew in the off week.
On that same note, how is Fletcher Cox's role in what he's being asked to do different now than it was in the first few weeks of the season, or is it not different?
BILL DAVIS: His role isn't different, but his understanding and execution of the technique is increasing. That is why I think you're seeing a little more of the production. I think he's more comfortable with it. Early on when you teach new techniques, for the guys to actually do it, they have to think about doing it, and that slows you down. Anytime you're thinking about doing a technique, it's slowing you down or thinking about what you're supposed to do. We're kind of getting to a place where they know and they know they know and they're not afraid of being wrong. So he goes ahead and lets it rip in that tenth of a second and whatever advantage you have is what you're seeing on tape. It's time and reps.
What's Cox's ceiling?
BILL DAVIS: I don't know. Ceilings are tough to predict. Really. I'm very impressed with where he is. I'm excited about where we're going with him, but the ceiling is hard to answer.
You had Brandon Boykin do some different things early in the season. Doesn't seem you're doing as much of that and you're not blitzing as much. Why is that?
BILL DAVIS: It's actually in the plan. There is always that element in there. The different schemes or challenges we have each week sometimes I need to double cover that slot or get two guys on it or keep them out there in space, and I will. We still bring him. He comes in early on in the game. But that kind of had to do with the scheme of what we were going into. We haven't thrown that part out. It's still part of our package. It's just not used as often in the last month I would say.
I read a stat that Cedric Thornton is number two in the league behind J.J. Watt in run stops. That's been his strong point. Do you get a sense that people are starting to know who he is and what he's done for this team? Or is he still one of those guys?
BILL DAVIS: I think he's a little bit off the radar still. But contacts at the ball for a defensive lineman in a two‑gap system when you're doing what Cedric's doing, he's playing at a very high level for what we're asking him to do and the techniques. You can't compare him to say a Darnell Dockett, three technique penetrating player that's going to get more contact. So what we're doing and growing into we're very excited about Cedric and his work ethic and how he's growing.
Is Bradley Fletcher more valuable against these bigger physical receivers?
BILL DAVIS: I believe the bigger physical receivers, the bigger physical corners match up well with them. I think when you get in the slot and you get the smaller speed receivers, the smaller, quick corners match‑up better. So you're trying to see who you're facing, but, yeah, Bradley Fletcher is a good match‑up to bigger, taller corners. He does as nice a job as the receivers do.
How are the defensive backs taught when they're face guarding and a ball is coming over the top in terms of when to turn around and face the quarterback?
BILL DAVIS: A lot of that we talk about the body language of the receiver. Two things. The receiver is always going to go exactly where the ball is thrown. You don't have to look back for the ball. The receiver's going to go to that ball to attract the receiver. When the receiver's at the ball, he has some non‑verbal tips. His eyes widen, his hands start moving. That's when you look back and try to locate the ball. But you only locate the ball when you're in a position to actually touch him. Because you know he's going to be where the ball is. If you can't touch him, you can't touch the ball either. If you're in that position, and you see the body language tips, you turn and play the ball. You have to turn back and try to find it or you get to face guarding.