Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo
December 8, 2016
Q: Last night, Justin Tuck said that he thinks if you get it all together as a team, you can make a run this year, but he feels like something is missing. He said that he knows that he is on the outside looking in, but that the group of guys that can light a fire underneath you are missing. Do you agree with that or dispute that?
A: I mean I never really thought about that. I am not sure what Justin is talking about.
Q: Just like intangibles.
A: Yeah, I think we have some pretty good guys and I think we have guys that will take on the challenge of what we are facing right now. Look, I love Justin and everyone has their opinion.
Q: Can you talk about the challenge that Jason Witten presents? You guys have had some issues against tight ends this year.
A: Yeah, we have gone against this guy a lot. He makes a lot of plays, he is still every bit as threatening as a pass receiver and I think he is a better blocker now. I think he has taken that on as a challenge, to be a good blocker, he does that really well. He will have to be a focus, but it is the same thing that we have faced in the other games, pick your poison. Who do you want to take away? Last week we, in some regard, did what we wanted to do. 84 (Antonio Brown) had that touchdown, but we didnít want him to wreck the game and throw the ball down field and they didnít do that. They had some other places that they could go and they did. This team presents the same problem. They have a running back, they have a wide out that can wreck the game, they have a tight end that is crafty Ė they have a slot receiver who makes a lot of people miss when he gets open, so we will put something together, let the guys play and hopefully it is well enough to win the football game.
Q: How will you approach life without JPP?
A: Look it, first of all, nobody is as crushed as I am and he is. I wish him well. I am glad that he is on the road to recovery. That is a tough thing to go through. I felt that he was doing one of those (gestures that he was on the rise) and certainly when you have a guy of his caliber on the rise, it makes our whole unit on the rise. But anytime this happens, everybody else has to step up their game and if you can come together as a unit and everybody can get better as a unit, then you can survive. We will miss him. You canít replace him, but you just have to find other ways to make up for the production that he has given us.
Q: What kind of growth have you seen from Romeo Okwara?
A: Yeah, Romeo is a young guy that was kind of a surprise when he came here. He has got some length, he is a smart football player, high effort guy. I think he will give us some productive snaps and he has big shoes to fill. It will not be just him; it will be a bunch of other guys. Look it, he has gradually gotten better. I think that Pat Graham and Z (Coach Jeff Zgonina) have done a great job with him and we will see what he can do for us when it comes Sunday.
Q: Across that stretch of the season, how much attention was JPP taking from the other guys?
A: You really would have to ask offensive coordinators. The beauty of what we had was two guys that people had to worry about and some inside guys that get a middle push. That may change for people. We are aware of that. We will have to do some things to make sure that we can open up in some areas, but when you have a guy of that caliber, people have to pay attention to him, so it is kind of naturally opening up something somewhere. We donít have that now, so we move on and find other ways to do it.
Q: How much do you have to change to compensate for that?
A: I donít know that we will change that much. We canít throw everything out, we are what we are, our system is what it is. We can tweak things a little bit, move some guys around, get some productivity out of other guys at other spots and go from there. Look, it is a team game, it is a unit. Great players make a unit a lot better. When you are missing one, you find ways to compensate for that by guys just Ė everybodyís level of play going up and that is what the challenge is for us to do.
Q: You have always been able to read your players very well. Do you sense that even though they know they will miss JPP greatly, they can still rebound?
A: Yeah, I think so. This is a confident, bold group. Look, guys that make it in this league are prideful guys. Every one of them thinks that they should be starting, should be a great player. They donít get to this level if they donít do that, so every guy, to a man Ė I havenít seen anybody blink. I go in those meetings and out on the field and I donít see anybody blinking, so hopefully we can put something together on the field without JPP that is going to make everybody proud.
Q: On Owa (Odighizuwa), Kerry (Wynn) and Romeo (Okwara)
A: Those will be the three guys that will find some time in there, inside and outside. That is where we are going to have to get it from. They have been hearing all the same things that everybody else has, they have been in the system now, all those guys for a year and a half. It is time for those guys to step up. I think that they will face the challenge, we will see what we come up with, but we are going to let those guys go out there and role.
Q: How much has Owa progressed?
A: Owa was up and down. He went through injuries last year, he fought an injury last week, so he has to come back from that, so he has fought that bug a little bit. But we have a lot of faith in Owa. He is a high motor guy. At one time last year, we had him in what we call the joker, doing a bunch of different spots. We had other people to fill in after he got hurt and he never really got that spot back, but we have high hopes for Owa.
Q: You said recently that when you played the Bears, Jordan Howard was the best back you saw on tape. Does that change this week?
A: We have seen some pretty good ones. Look, Zeke Elliot just gets better and better. I thought that he was pretty good when we played him the first week, but he gets better and better. There isnít anything that I can say about him that hasnít been said. The guy leads the league in rushing for a lot of different reasons, but mainly because he is a good football player.
Q: They lead the league in time of possession. How much do you have to be mindful of your rotations and keeping the defense fresh?
A: That is a good point. We are hopeful that we donít play as many plays as we have. A lot of that falls on us and third down. They do a great job, I think, of keeping that offense in manageable situations. Very rarely do they get behind schedule. Mainly because mostly all of their run plays are productive run plays, very few tackles for losses and negative plays in the run game, so when you do that, it makes it a challenge. But to me, it is going to be when we can get them to third down then make sure we win the third down, get off the field and get the ball back to the offense, but they are pretty good at possessing it. When you have a run game like that, it makes it difficult.
Q: How excited were you to see Eli Appleís break on the ball for that interception?
A: Yeah, that was a nice play. I still go back to Cleveland when he got the pass interference penalty and on the very next play he came back and picked it off. I know he was out of bounds, but to me that tells me a lot about him. He is resilient and you have to be like that as a corner, so it was good to see him step in front of that play and pick it off.