OC PAT SHURMUR
Q. What have you seen in this last stretch of games from the running game that has caused the gradual improvement that you seem to be getting?
COACH SHURMUR: Yeah. I think we're getting better running the football. We certainly did a good job with it last week. I think [RB] LeSean [McCoy] has done a good job throughout. I think he's like the third leading rusher in the league. So we've been talking about some things that aren't necessary at this point, I don't think. He's battling through it. And then [RB Chris] Polk's done a good job for us, not to mention [RB] Darren [Sproles] when he's in there. So we've got a good crew of running backs. Our offensive line is starting to play together and getting it going a little bit. The one thing about our running game is we're going to get our opportunities to run the football; Coach [Head Coach Chip Kelly] is going to call runs, and I think that'll help us get the reps we need and then hopefully get the yards we need.
Q. What do you get from playing T/G Andrew Gardner at right guard instead of G/T Matt Tobin and vice versa?
COACH SHURMUR: Well, they're similar players. Similar players. I thought -- if we're going to just talk about them specifically, I thought Gardner did a good job. I thought Andrew did a good job last week, sticking on blocks. He's a veteran guy; he's pretty savvy actually. He tripped in there a couple of times, which happens, but for the most part he performed very well and we saw the same thing from Tobin when he was in there. Q. Last year Dallas' defense really struggled. This year they even lost more of their key players. What has been enabled them to be good enough of a team to win eight games?
COACH SHURMUR: Well, they've done a good job. I think they're playing excellent team defense. The scheme, [Cowboys defensive coordinator] Rod Marinelli is doing an outstanding job with them. When you look at it on paper, you say, 'Well, we're going to lose DeMarcus Ware and [Jason] Hatcher and [LB] Sean Lee, oh, my goodness, how are we going to do it?' But they're about middle of the road or middle of the pack on defense in terms of yards. They're doing a good job. They've only allowed 240 points, which is essentially the most important stat.
And they're just playing good, solid team defense. They run to the football well. The scheme they play, they're very disciplined in how they play it. A lot is made of the Tampa 2 that they play, but essentially Tampa 2 teams play single-safety coverage about 70-to-80 percent of the time, which they do as well. So, I think it's just good, solid team defense.
Q. Is Gardner getting the first team reps this week? COACH SHURMUR: Yeah, we'll let that reveal itself, but they're both in there working like last week.
Q. WR Riley Cooper's snaps have steadily declined as the season has gone on --
COACH SHURMUR: Nothing there. Nothing there. I think we've done a good job of subbing in with our receivers. We used [WR] Brad Smith last week. We're also using [WR] Josh Huff in there, and we're just getting a good rotation of guys. The guys that are active each week are playing, but there's nothing to that.
Q. Just to follow up, how would you evaluate how Cooper has played this year?
COACH SHURMUR: I think he's had a good year. I really do. I think he's doing a lot of the things we want him to do, especially the plays when he doesn't get the ball. He's a pretty steady presence at the left receiver spot for us, and when he gets his opportunities, he makes his plays, so I think he's doing a good job.
Q. Did you go into the year wanting to sub your wide receivers more than you have by this point?
COACH SHURMUR: No, we want to use the players that are active each week and try to get guys in there. I think, you know, we ran close to 90 plays last week, and so we try to get a good little rotation in there. Q. How does the rotation work? Is it by feel, by down-and-distance, by ‑‑
COACH SHURMUR: It's somewhat fluid. You know, there are times when we have coaches on the field. I watch it from upstairs, and we'll kind of watch what's happening with a play.
We get a couple of long plays or a play where a receiver is involved in something and we may sub in and out, so it's ‑‑ we got a good little system for it. I won't reveal all the details, but that's how we do it.
Q. Are you comfortable with how many snaps WR Jeremy Maclin has gotten?
COACH SHURMUR: Yeah. We're comfortable with all of that. We're comfortable with any of our guys when they're in there and we expect them all to -- when you're a receiver, to block, do what you do when you don't have the football and then when we call your number, make a play.
Q. What's your level of concern with QB Mark Sanchez's interceptions?
COACH SHURMUR: I'm not concerned about it. We look at the interceptions individually, and there are reasons for the two that we threw, and you know, we just keep working to avoid them.
Q. What were the reasons?
COACH SHURMUR: Well, I'll keep it pretty private, but typically when you throw an interception – I'll just throw it out there globally – you know, you can say at times it's a bad decision. You can say at times it's an overthrow or a tipped ball. Maybe the defender makes a really good play, or maybe sometimes it just totally blows up on you. So those are the things that happen and that's how we evaluate it. Every one of our ‑‑ we're not happy about the fact that we've turned the ball over this year and we're working to correct it.
Q. On the throws where the ball sails a little bit on Sanchez, is that something mechanical? Chip Kelly mentioned that it has to do with footwork a little bit. What do you see there?
COACH SHURMUR: For a quarterback, most everything comes back to footwork, and a lot of times, you know, as you're pushing up in the pocket, you know, if you get your front shoulder up or you get your lower body out of whack or you don't stay in rhythm, then that's at times when the ball will sail on you. So those are all things you work on.
Q. The big plays have not been there with Sanchez as much as they were with QB Nick Foles. He hit the one on his first throw, I think in his first game, but how much of a concern is that and can he hit those plays?
COACH SHURMUR: Oh, he certainly can. He can make all the throws that Nick can make. We still have a small sample size of what Mark can do. So we'll hold on that question. We call all the same types of plays.
We had a couple of deep throws in the last couple of games, a couple we hit on, and a couple where we chose -- or for whatever reason the ball didn't get there. We had a couple where we had to scramble and then you check it down, but none of it has to do with him being physically unable to do it.
Q. Mechanically speaking, when a guy tries to throw out of his comfort zone in terms of arm strength, is that when things break down?
COACH SHURMUR: Anytime we all try to do something -- if I try to dunk a basketball on a regular basis, I'm probably not going to get it done. I'll eventually hurt myself.
But from a quarterback standpoint, it's not always clean in the pocket, so when you move around and you try to do something or create a play, most of the time, and Mark's really good at this, you know, good things happen. But every once in a while you do something bad. Q. People didn't think much of Dallas' defense coming into the season. They lost some guys to free agency and Lee got hurt. WHy have they been so much better than what people thought?
COACH SHURMUR: I'll just kind of add to what I said earlier. I really do think they're playing just really good team defense and they're running to the football. They're making plays on the ball. I think they do an excellent job, also, of when the ball is completed or the running back is running through the second and third level, they do a good job of stripping it. That's one of the things we noticed on tape.
So when you play good team defense, you run to the ball and you play with a lot of energy, and you do a good job of trying to create turnovers, then you've got a chance to eliminate the offense from scoring points and get the ball back for your offense. I think that's what they're doing. Q. Are you surprised what LB Rolando McClain has been able to bring to that defense?
COACH SHURMUR: No. We knew he's a tremendous player, and I think he's found his little niche in their defense. I think early on everybody was wondering how it would work out, but he's done a good job for them. Q. You guys were 3-for-7 inside the red zone against the Titans. No turnovers. What are the issues there?
COACH SHURMUR: Well, we just didn't execute on the plays that we needed to, to get it in the end zone.
You know, in a lot of games, that certainly went our way, but in a lot of games that's not good enough down there and we'll continue to work on it.
Q. In a short week are there generally very few new wrinkles offensively and defensively by both teams?
COACH SHURMUR: No. I think we ‑‑ you know, every NFL teams goes through this. You have seven‑day weeks, you have six‑day weeks and you have eight‑days weeks. In the case of a Thursday night, what is that, a four‑day week? So we just compress it. I would say we have as many wrinkles in for a four‑day week as we would have if we had an eight‑day week. You know, we have our system, and we have the things we do and certainly we want to always have a handful of things that attack the defense we're playing specifically.
Q. Are you guys getting McCoy and Sproles on the field at the same time as much as you thought you could going into the year?
COACH SHURMUR: Again, that's a game plan, situational thing. If we got them both on the field at the same time, then we take another guy off the field. There's reasons why it makes sense for us to play with two halfbacks, and we'll do it when we feel like it's schematically the way to go.
Q. Usually when you face man coverage that's a better ‑‑
COACH SHURMUR: No, not necessarily. It depends on the plays you're running. You know, you think about it, you've got two halfbacks in the backfield and they can all do three things, right? Both can run the ball, both can pass protect and both can catch the ball out of the backfield. So I think it does things to certain defenses.
Q. How valuable is it when the quarterback throws the ball on the appropriate shoulder in terms of getting yards after the catch? Sanchez seems like he's been doing that very well.
COACH SHURMUR: I think so. That's one of the primary three things you need to do as a quarterback: It's decision making, which we've been talking about; timing, having a sense of timing; and then accuracy. Ball placement, and really ball pace are the two components of accuracy.
So when you have guys sitting in the zone, you want to put the ball on the shoulder away from the closest defender; and when you've got a guy running, you want to put it a foot in front of him so that he can catch it and continue to run. I think those are all things that Mark has a good feel for, and I think it displays itself when he plays.
Q. From the second quarter of the Houston game to the fourth quarter of the Titans game, where have you seen the improvement in Sanchez?
COACH SHURMUR: Okay. All right. Q. So from the time he went in ‑‑
COACH SHURMUR: So since he's been playing. All right. Good. That's a good question. Very detailed, I guess.
I think, you know, he knows what we're doing offensively, and he was comfortable with our progressions and the rhythm of the game, but as he's gotten in there, he's gotten more and more familiar with it at game speed.
He's played a lot of football, and he's just kind of converting what he knows into what we do, and it's getting a little smoother each week.
Q. Going back to the question earlier about the difference between Foles and Sanchez with the deep balls. Sanchez seems to move it methodically. Is that sometimes just different quarterbacks seeing the field differently or being more comfortable with different guys?
COACH SHURMUR: Not necessarily. There's times when we call the deep‑to‑short concept where the ball will get down the field and if they defend it, it gets checked down.
I think Mark has a good understanding of what it means to get completions, too. So he'll take a look down the field, if it's not there, we'll check it down.
Some of it is by design. Some of it is a little bit the way the defenses are playing us when we choose to call a pass and then some of it is just having a good feel for going through the progression.
Q. A lot of people think Sanchez and WR Jordan Matthews have a really good connection because it goes back to the spring and because they were working with the second team a lot.
COACH SHURMUR: You know, I don't know. I think that's probably a fun thing to talk about. I wouldn't make too much of that.
Q. Sanchez seems really good on the throws outside of the pocket. Is that something you saw on film when he was with the New York Jets or is that something he's improved on?
COACH SHURMUR: Well, he's a good athlete, and he knows how to use his legs. He's certainly been a guy that's done that all the way back to high school and college when he was evaluated coming to the league. You know, he does that well.
You know, and that's part of what we do, is move the pocket and get him outside the pocket, and he certainly has made some good throws.
Q. G Evan Mathis and C Jason Kelce, what's their progress been?
COACH SHURMUR: They're doing great. Actually, I think they're improving each time they go on the field. And again, it's the individual improvement that comes by coming back from injury, and then certainly the group improvement that comes by working in the unit one more day or one more rep or one more series. I think as we go along, as long as those guys keep physically going the way they should, we'll continue to get better and better.
And that's really what you want. I mean this time of year when the games you're playing are meaningful, you want to be playing your best football, and I think as time goes on, these guys, you know, Jason and Evan will play better and better.
DC BILL DAVIS
Q. Is there evidence of a team that's gotten a consistent four‑man rush against the Cowboys?
COACH DAVIS: Yeah, they're out there. One of the things about the Cowboys that jumped out this year when you put them on and watch them this year is the play of the o-line. They've got the same playmakers they had a year ago, same quarterback in place. Everybody's kind of doing what they've done, and then you have the o-line that's playing at a higher level. So when you see the four‑man rush, it's not getting there as much because the o-line is really playing together and they're really settling into the scheme.
Q. What do you make of the Cowboys comeback the other night, and how do you think Tony Romo is playing right now?
COACH DAVIS: I think Romo is playing as he always has. He's really hot. You don't see any signs of the injury. He's moving around well. He's still got that knack for escaping when you do get there and then looking downfield and making plays. So I think he's at the top of his game right now.
Q. In the past, though, they've never been terribly committed to the run. This year obviously they've changed. How much tougher does that make them to deal with?
COACH DAVIS: Any offense's balance is always harder. When you got a one‑dimensional team, whether it's all run or all pass, at least schematically when you're calling a game, it's easier to just say, okay, this is what we'll do and this is what we'll stop.
When they have the 50/50 and the run, the run game also gives you those third down and manageables. So those teams that commit to the run on first and second down almost always put themselves in that third and four or less, and then you have to deal with the third and four or less, which makes it difficult. So the balance, the tact that they have now is a big part of why they're winning.
Q. What's the plan for that second inside linebacker spot this week or say the spot next to Mychal Kendricks?
COACH DAVIS: Well, [Emmanuel] Acho and Casey [Matthews] were rotating, and obviously they won't rotate, unless we get [Acho] back. We still have a shot at getting him back.
We don't know. We haven't been running around much because we just played. We'll see. Again, there's just no rotation anymore, and Marcus [Smith II] will be the next man in but not necessarily on a rotation basis.
Q. Would it be difficult to try to play dime against them in third and four, five situations?
COACH DAVIS: Depends what they're giving me. You know, if they're running the ball, then it's difficult to play dime, but if they're not running, then you can slide dime in there; and sometimes they wait until you run your dime out there and then they call a run. It's just for that cat‑and‑mouse game and where they are on the field. There's a lot of things that go into when they'll try to run on third down and when they won't.
Q. Would you say of all the teams you've faced, this might be a team that could do that better than others? COACH DAVIS: They could. Absolutely they could. But [CB] Nolan Carroll is not afraid in there. He likes mixing it up in there, and he's been a pleasant surprise in there. He teases that he's a linebacker, but he kind of has a linebacker mentality, which I love.
Q. What did Washington do that enabled them to put so much pressure on Romo?
COACH DAVIS: Well, they brought more than they could protect a couple of times. They were bringing a lot of blitzes where other teams haven't, and it got to him at times, and at times it hurt him. So it's a give and take with those blitzes, especially with a guy like Romo who's prepared for it and he can dish that ball off quick, so they brought more pressure than other teams and I think that's why they got to him.
Q. Your run defense has been pretty stout since that 49ers game. What have you seen from that group as far as team run defense and how do you like this challenge? They seem to be kind of embracing the challenge of facing DeMarco Murray.
COACH DAVIS: Yeah. It's going to be a great challenge for us. This is the top rusher in the NFL and they're committed to the run, so we know we have a big challenge of stopping the run game this week. And I think as the season's progressed, we've got better and better, especially the inside run. It's tough to run inside on us.
The San Francisco game we had issues on the edge, but really have kind of cleaned that up, and that'll be challenged this week because they are an edge rushing team. We're looking forward to the challenge and we'll see how we stack up.
Q. There's a ton of talk about the Dallas o-line, how good they are, and your defensive line has been good, but not a lot of household names. Do you feel like they kind of fly under the radar?
COACH DAVIS: Absolutely. I think we have a great defensive line, and they do fly under the radar. But a lot of times when you two gap, it's not a glorified position to two gap and stop the inside run. Nobody writes articles about that, so you don't hear about them much, but boy, they're playing well in the run game. And then you see the sack production. They've been rotating in there too now. It's not just the starters that are getting those.
So it's been a nice blend of the outside backers and the d-line room that are really playing well together.
Q. What are the key points to stopping the stretch run? You guys have had some success against that, but the Cowboys do that really well.
COACH DAVIS: It's gap discipline. The stretch run is all about gap discipline and having the bodies in the right place and everybody having their face in their gap and then holding it because it moves quick on you. So you have to keep your feet. That's the other thing when people start getting cut out in the stretch run kind of gets you, so you gotta be athletic enough and strong enough to continue to keep your face in the gap to make sure you have that gap integrity.
Q. How has LB Casey Matthews done in terms of lining the front up?
COACH DAVIS: He's done a great job. He's done a great job. He really has. He's got a good command of it. He's a very intelligent guy. He's very demonstrative with all his calls. We always tell him, we say, 'You can't be wrong. Just get us in a call. You cannot be wrong. Live with it. Don't be quick to change it. If you're not sure, just put us in one and the coverage will match it and we'll be good.' So Casey's done a great job, and every week he's getting a little more and more confident in it, so we're starting to grow the package with Casey in there. Q. What's the biggest difference in LB Connor Barwin this year from last year?
COACH DAVIS: I think the second year in the system, along with the second year rushing next to guys that now he's familiar with. He's running stunts in games. We do a lot of that. Really they got a feel for each other now. They know who they're rushing with, what the guy's strengths and weaknesses, what they do well. The timing of the games makes a difference, so I think Connor has just got a second year in the system and second year with his teammates.
Q. You're getting three more sacks at home than you are on the road. Is there anything to that number?
COACH DAVIS: No. Sacks are really not ‑‑ when we don't have sacks, we're not really judging the guys on sacks; and now that we have sacks, we're not judging the guys on sacks. It's about the collective effort of the rushers.
There are so many factors that go in. What's the score differential? What's the weather? What's the place on the field you're at? What's the distance? Third and what? There are so many things that go into one game or another having more sacks or less sacks. We don't chase sacks, but we do chase disrupting the quarterback.
Q. How much do you think the play of the secondary has to do with the pass rush that they're getting on the quarterback? It seems like you see a big difference in the Tennessee game as opposed to Green Bay for example.
COACH DAVIS: It's all attached. The secondary is not in and of itself and the rush is not in and of itself. They are completely attached. Sacks are team-defensive things, as are interceptions. There are so many things that go into an inaccurate throw because the pressure was there, or the guy got an extra step because the coverage had everybody blanketed. So they are absolutely attached. When one succeeds, they both succeed. When one fails, they both fail. Q. We've talked almost every week about you guys wanting to eliminate the 'X' plays and then the big plays. Against Titans, I think they were, what, eight of 20 or more? So I mean is this what you guys are right now? You're going to just be a defense that gives up those plays, but also when you hold the coverage a little bit you also get a lot of sacks?
COACH DAVIS: I'm not conceding that. We're going to stop the 'X' plays. Somehow, some way we're going to find a way to get those 'X' plays off of us, because it matters. Turnovers are a big part of winning games and keeping the X plays off. So we continue to talk about it, stress it. We haven't gotten it done yet, but that's a focus that we have to get done.
Q. Without changing who you are, though. You're still going to be a single safety team.
COACH DAVIS: It's tough to change who you are at this point in the season. You have to stick with what you have success with, and try to correct and get better at the things you're struggling with.
Q. What were some of the issues in terms of catches over the middle? Obviously Tennessee has a good TE in Delanie Walker, but what were some of the other problems?
COACH DAVIS: There's a different coverage for every one of those plays. I really can't give you a blanket answer for that. I can watch the tape and say, 'Okay, this play, this is what happened.'
Q. What about giving up that big catch to Walker?
COACH DAVIS: That was just a good throw. We had an unblocked safety blitz. We thought we got there, but it was a great throw, under pressure he put there. That's the coverage. He wasn't going to have any help. It was a one‑on‑one. I know it. They knew it. We got the unblocked pressure, but it didn't get there in time, so they made a play and we didn't.
Q. How creative can you be as a defensive coordinator in a compact week, striking a balance between not overloading the guys?
COACH DAVIS: The system that we put together defensively has got a lot of carryover every week. We pick different tools and different ways that we're going to run similar things or exchange somebody's responsibilities to make it look different for them, but for our players, it's easy for our players to say, 'Oh, that's just that blitz' or, 'Oh, that's just that coverage.' We may combine them together, but we don't invent everything every week. So that's the one thing that our players I think are growing and getting faster in the scheme because the scheme is not changing for our players but some of the presentation to the opposition is what they're getting a different look, but we're not struggling to teach it. So this short week is really no different than a long week for us.
Q. With Romo's ability to extend plays, what's the message to the defensive backs in terms of holding their coverage?
COACH DAVIS: Well, it's the same as when you're playing any of the mobile quarterbacks, the [Panthers QB] Cam Newton's of the world. You have to plaster zones when they extend. You have to turn them into [man coverage].
And [Packers QB] Aaron Rodgers is the same thing. They've got little patterns that they do when he does scramble out. So you have to just make sure you attach yourself to coverage and don't get caught up watching him scramble. You have to cover a man and make sure that guy isn't an option for the quarterback. And the d-line has to stay in pursuit of the quarterback, never assume because he's down because he is slippery.
Q. Do you have to be more disciplined in how you rush him?
COACH DAVIS: Absolutely. But even the more tape you watch on him, you guys have all seen Tony escape things that you have a disciplined rush going on and somehow, some way he gets out of it. So he's got a unique gift in getting out of that and extending plays, and we have to be disciplined and aggressive at the same time. Q. How did LB Marcus Smith II do? I know he only played a handful of snaps.
COACH DAVIS: He did all right, he really did. I think the last two drives he was in there, and he did his job. He was where he was supposed to be, and he's growing slowly every week. And that inside backer world I've said many times, it's a very hard transition from outside to the inside. It starts with the eyes and where you place them and the instinct, but every week he's getting better and better.
Q. Are you comfortable with plugging Marcus in there?
COACH DAVIS: Yeah. He's worked hard at it. If that's where we have to go, then it's Marcus's turn. He'll make some mistakes and he'll make some plays. We're okay with that.