By John Oehser - Colts.com
Question: A 33-14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. You called it perhaps your most gratifying victory as a head coach. That was a big victory over your former team, but the Colts had several players down with injuries. It was wasn’t so much beating the Bucs as it was the way the Colts won, was it?
A: That, to me, gets you excited – when you have a little adversity and you see how your team is going to respond. When you have guys you really have confidence in, and you feel like they’re going to do a good job, but you then go out there and do it . . . that was really something special.
Q: You’ve always talked about that, even back to when you were the Head Coach in Tampa Bay – that when players are down, replacements have to play well. That sort of victory says a lot of about what you think is important in the NFL, doesn’t it?
A: We’ve had that in the past and I think a lot of good teams have that – most good teams have that – where guys just expect to step up. They don’t change a whole, whole lot and everybody has confidence in the guys that go.
Q: How much of that is the approach of the organization? Here, everyone says over and over again, “It’s the next man up.” A lot of it is psychological, isn’t it?
A: The game is so much mental. If you approach it at the beginning of the week, ‘Gee, we hope this guy can play and if they don’t play, we’re going to have to do this, this and this’ – I just never really believed in that. I always figured you take the approach, ‘OK, these guys probably won’t play. Here’s who’s going to play. Here’s how we’re going to win the game – with these guys.’ So often, it’s belief. When your guys believe they can get the job done, that’s three-quarters of the battle.
Q: You’ve told the story before about how a year before you got to the Steelers, Pittsburgh lost the AFC Championship Game to Oakland. Running backs Rocky Bleier and Franco Harris missed that game and you said Steelers Head Coach Chuck Noll often said he wished he would have said early in the week that the backs were out – that he thought that would have made a difference . . .
A: Being with Coach Noll, that was one of the things he always stressed by the time I got there. I learned later on that he felt like that was one of the things he didn’t do in that game. He said, ‘This guy might play; hopefully, this guy will be back,’ instead of just saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do and this is how we’re going to win.’ Some lessons stick with you a long time.
Q: Guys filling in wasn’t the only story Sunday. What else did you see that went right to enable the Colts to beat a team that came in leading the NFC South?
A: We did the things we talked about doing. This was a team that had been hot. They were playing their tempo, playing with a lead. We felt like we had to stop the running game early and we had to score points early with good execution. When we got the lead, we ran the ball and didn’t turn it over and didn’t give up big plays. A lot of the things we talked about during the week we focused in on. The one area I was worried about was special teams. I thought we’d have a trickle-down effect with a lot of new guys playing. They (the Buccaneers) had been exceptional on special teams. They had a lot of speed. I thought we matched their speed and won the field-position battle.
Q: That’s something that has been lost this season. The Colts have allowed a long kickoff return, but overall, the coverage has been pretty solid, hasn’t it?
A: It has been better. It really has. It has been a lot better. We had one long punt return and since then, we really haven’t had a return against us, so we can’t get that average down. We’ve had a lot of fair catches and touchbacks. We’re in the upper echelon in kickoff coverage (seventh in the AFC) even though we’ve given up the long one for a touchdown. The overall coverage is much, much better. I feel better about it.
Q: There once was a time if wide receiver Marvin Harrison missed a game, the offense had a good chance to struggle. On Sunday, Harrison was out with a knee injury, and quarterback Peyton Manning threw two touchdown passes and the Colts scored 30 points for a fourth time in five games . . .
A: Our offense has evolved. I said a couple of years ago I didn’t see Marvin catching 125 passes in a year again, even though he could. I just didn’t see it with the way our offense had evolved and the number of guys contributing. That was a plus Sunday, and it was a plus in ‘03, that you do have other places to go and other guys who can fill in. You don’t have just a tremendous sense of, ‘Oh, what are we going to do now?’
Q: The Colts were without their leading rusher, Joseph Addai, and an eight-time Pro Bowl wide receiver (Harrison) Sunday. Still, 30 points and 400 total yards. It shows you the level that tight end Dallas Clark and wide receiver Reggie Wayne have reached, doesn't it?
A: It shows you how much talent there is at other places on the offense, and I think it really shows how good Peyton really is. What people will probably never understand is we go in and practice all week like we don’t have Marvin, but we practice with Aaron Moorehead playing right wide receiver and Anthony (Gonzalez) in the slot. All of a sudden, at 2:45 on Sunday, we realize Aaron’s not going to be able to play and Anthony’s going to be out wide and we’re going to be two tight ends the whole game. The fact that that never really changed Peyton’s thought process and we were able to go out and function and put up 400 yards with a different type of game plan that we really just talked about for about 45 minutes is remarkable.
Q: And it seemed the Colts basically had to run everything from pretty much the same offensive set . . .
A: Mm-hmm. We were going to have Anthony outside and Dallas and (tight end) Bryan Fletcher inside. That was the way we were going to have to go and feature that and see how they played. If they had played nickel, we were going to have some different things, but that was our group that day and that didn’t evolve until about three o’clock.
Q: In that situation, how much does Dallas Clark’s versatility help?
A: It does help you tremendously, that you can play a two tight-end look. You can play what amounts to a three-wide receiver look. You can move him around to different places to try to get mismatches. You can be very versatile. The fact that he can play inside and outside, and Anthony and Reggie can – they all have to understand the offense. You can still be multiple even when we didn’t substitute. That helps.
Q: This is a third consecutive season with a 5-0 start. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it really is impossible to underestimate the importance of having that early lead in the division, isn’t it? It changes the dimensions of the season.
A: It helps you tremendously. I really have to attribute it to our offense really functioning. This could have been catastrophic Sunday. It’s a game you could lose and you could have said, ‘Hey, we’re playing a hot team and we didn’t have six starters.’ But the fact that our offense could execute early in the season no matter how it goes . . . Four years ago (in a 38-35 victory over Tampa Bay), we were the same way. (Running back) Edgerrin (James) was out. We had (wide receiver) Troy Walters making big catches. (Running backs) Ricky Williams and James Mungro. We had Marvin that night, but it was the same thing. You had other guys functioning when you really needed it. That’s a tribute to our offensive coaches.
Q: The Colts started 13-0 in 2005, 9-0 last season and 5-0 this season. You’ve been through seasons where you weren’t 5-0. Do you ever step back, pinch yourself and say, ‘This is special?’
A: It is and people may never appreciate it as much as you should. I mentioned last week that Pittsburgh hadn’t been 4-0 in so many years. I was watching the Green Bay-Chicago game Sunday night and it said (Packers quarterback) Brett Favre was trying to get to 5-0 for the first time ever. You assume it’s a little easier than it is because we’ve done it a few times now, but it’s unusual and to string that many back to back – I know how difficult it is.
Q: You don’t look ahead much at the schedule, but you do break seasons down into quarters. The Colts’ next four games are at Jacksonville, at Carolina, home against New England and at San Diego. Any thoughts on that four-game stretch?
A: I thought this game (Tampa Bay) would be key, to go into the bye week with a win, because we’re coming up with two away games – Monday Night (Jacksonville) and Sunday (Carolina) back to back on the road. That’s hard to do, so you want to come in with some momentum. These next two games will tell us a lot of where we’re going to be.
Q: Everybody around the NFL is talking New England, but the Patriots aren’t a factor in your thinking yet.
A: No. I think these games are more important – No. 1, the Monday Night game is a division game on the road. Then, coming off that Monday Night game, which is hard to do – road Monday Nights, the following Sunday is always tough. Those two are really going to be difficult. They’ll tell us where we are. That (the Jacksonville game) is the most critical game of the year to us right now. We’ll have a chance to give ourselves a cushion in the division if we can win that one. Jacksonville’s going to look at it the same way – that it’s their chance to bring us back to the pack. If they don’t, they’ve got to assume it’s going to be tough for anybody else to win the division.
Q: Overall, what are your thoughts on this team as you head into the bye?
A: I think we have the potential to do some pretty good things. I don’t think we still have played complete games yet, but we’re building a good team. A lot of guys are contributing. We’re doing the things we always talk about – few penalties, giveaway-takeway, limiting big plays, making big plays. The elements are in place. We’re off to a good start, so I’m pretty optimistic at this point.