Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham
November 5, 2020
Q: On third and long, obviously you have a decision every time whether you’re going to rush and blitz or you’re going to send maybe three and play coverage. What goes into that decision and what are the pros and cons of each approach?
A: Like always, it usually starts with the people, that’s how I look at it. How many people do we have to cover? If the number gets great, we have to be mindful of that. Personally, for me, after the people, how many people do we have to cover, before I even get to our guys is the experience of the quarterback. To me, in those third and longer situations, in my short two years of being a coordinator, when you play zone sometimes, I get worried sometimes based on the experience of the quarterback. Sometimes I like to be on him more based on the experience of the quarterback if they’re younger. That’s just in a general, like you when you ask a big picture, I’m not saying it specifically for this week. If you ask me when I’m at the pool in June, that’s what I’m thinking. From there, it’s just in terms of the rush and the part of the game that we’re at. If it’s the end of the game, you need the play, you might want to force the ball out quick, so you bring a certain rush to get the ball out quick. If it’s early in the game and just a little bit more conservative by nature, then you might three-man rush it. Try to manipulate it so you can get some pressure off of it. Those are some of the things that go into mind right there. For me, it starts with who we’re covering, who’s the quarterback and from there the situation and where it’s at in the game.
Q: Can you talk about the challenges and maybe the difficulty of manufacturing a pass rush? Some guys have one guy who’s going to get 10 or 15 sacks, maybe two guys. You guys are on pace for 40 sacks, but no one is on pace for double digits. You don’t have (Lorenzo) Carter, you don’t have (Oshane Ximines) X-man. (What’s) the challenge of a guy that has to move these chess pieces around?
A: I think it’s less the chess pieces moving around, it’s more these guys just figuring out ways to get to the quarterback. Our guys, they work pretty hard at it. In terms of the coaches that deal with it the most, Bret (Bielema) and Spence (Sean Spencer), they deal with a lot with the pass rush. I would say that Kevin (Sherrer) is involved with that as well. By nature, because I am an old D-line coach, I get involved in the pass rush a little bit. I think the fun part about it is we have to be coordinated. I think the more you look at how this league is changing and it starts probably in Pop Warner and how it is in college, all these quarterbacks can move. When I first got in the league, it was certain quarterbacks you had to worry about them getting out of the pocket. Everybody is live in the red area, everybody will scramble in the red area, we all got that; there’s points at stake, all that stuff. Out on the field, when I first got in the league, we didn’t have to deal with that many quarterbacks that could move and you were worried about it. You could play 2-man and not worry about it because so and so wasn’t going to scramble. You didn’t have to worry about spying him. The more quarterbacks that can move, you just go up and down the list of quarterbacks we’ve played. Really, you say Tom (Brady), but Tom moves in the pocket pretty decent. I’m not saying he is going to scramble for 20 yards. We’ve dealt with every week a quarterback who can move. That’s probably the challenge. Even if you’ve got that guy who can get 12 to 15, that’s cool. The other elements of the rush, you have to piece it together to make sure you’re caging the quarterback up. That’s what we have to keep continuing doing a better job of. Not letting them extend plays. I think it’s fun anytime we get the chance. I don’t know if it’s based on our players but just the challenge of rushing an offense. The O-line coaches in the league, there’s only 32 of them and they’re really good. Usually, you look at most staffs, the O-line coach is the best coach on the staff in terms of detail. I tell the guys all the time, if you want to know anything about yourself, you need to go ask the O-line coach. I’m sure he has a list up on those guys all the time. You want to know what you’re doing, ask the O-line coach. That’s probably the biggest challenge right there.
Q: How are you guys incorporating new players every week so seamlessly? It seems like every week you either have new players to the roster that are suddenly playing say 30 or 40 snaps. Or rookies that you’re acclimating that haven’t played yet and suddenly are making big plays for you. I would imagine there is a lot of detail and a lot of preparation even weeks ahead for some of these guys for these roles. How much detail is there put into that? Why are you guys looking like a defense that maybe has been together even though you keep adding new pieces?
A: First is the hard work the guys put in. Whether it’s they are a rookie or it’s their first day here, they have to put in the work to see the results. We want to push people to get out on the field, but if they don’t show us they can handle it, it’s not going to work out. They do that. Secondly, I would say it’s the coaches. Not just the position coaches like Bret, Spence, Kevin, Jerome (Henderson). It’s also the guys behind the scenes like Mike (Treier), Blev (Anthony Blevins), Jody (Wright). Those guys, when we’re game planning and you have new guys, they spend the time, whether it’s zoom or what have you, to get these guys right to help them get prepared. That plays a huge role in what we do. It’s a huge role in terms of their development in terms of being young NFL coaches. We can push that down the line. To me, I remember when I was put in that position. I was proud when I’m like you know what, I helped get that guy right. It was a big deal. He gets his one or two plays in the game and he gets it right. I’m sitting there and you get pat on the back like you got him right. That’s a big part of it. Is there detail? I hope, yeah. We have to be detailed about everything. Really it comes down to development of players. Football is a physical game, you’re going to lose guys throughout the season. You have to be constantly thinking about developing players, the roster. Joe does a great job of laying that foundation. Again, that’s how we learned. Those guys that aren’t playing in September, they’re going to be playing in November. That’s just how it happens. Something is going to happen, they have to play. You have to look ahead in terms of the development of your roster or you’re going to get caught short. Nobody cares, Washington doesn’t care if so and so is hurt, they don’t care. They are going to go out there and try and kick our butt, they don’t care. You have to develop the roster and hope those guys are prepared and put the work in to do so.
Q: James Bradberry seemed to travel a lot last week. What goes into that decision? Is it the other receiver you want to take out of the game or is it part of the game plan? McLaurin this week is a pretty good guy, too.
A: Yeah, pretty good, to say the least. I think part of it is strategy, I’ll give you that. Part of it is strategy, you can start the game one way and then say okay we’re going to switch it in the second quarter. We started the game one way, okay we’re going to switch it in the second half. That’s part of the whole chess piece moves like we were talking about earlier. Then it’s definitely based on the people like in terms of skill set. How do we see the matchup? Do you take into account the other people playing defensive back? Absolutely. Does so and so matchup better with him, so let’s move these pieces around. Just by nature, JB (James Bradberry), he’s been in the league longer. He can matchup with numerous guys. He’s a good chess piece to have, I keep using that phrase. He’s a good piece to be able to move around because we can match up him different places to help make it easier or help play to our advantage with some of the other positions. I think that answers your question.
Q: You mentioned the acclimation for guys coming into the defense. I’m just curious from the rookie perspective, you mentioned that you guys are always looking ahead. Take us inside that process a little bit. How far in advance are you with some of these guys? Is it a delicate balance to not rush guys based on need? When Zo went down, you could’ve pushed X-man, you could’ve pushed more snaps on the rookies. It seemed like you kind of stuck to the plan rather than putting those guys maybe in positions that they would not succeed.
A: I think, just like I’ve always said, everything is a reflection the head coach’s vision. I’ve been lucky in my career every place I’ve been. I’ve been able to hear what the coach’s vison is and I understood it. Just being close with Joe as a coach and as a friend, I see his vison for the team in terms of how we have to develop these young guys. When we draft the guys that we had on defense, we knew that whatever the process was going to be, we had to keep pushing it to get them better. Improve daily and then put a little bit more on their plate and then the coaches understand that. That comes from being like-minded and understanding that part of it. How far ahead do you look? Joe talks about breaking up the season in quarters, he talked about that. We all know about Thanksgiving, that’s when football starts. To me, you’re trying to always build towards that. When you hit November, you’re playing your best football and you’re playing your best football with who’s available because something is going to happen. Because I have been in the league a few years, as soon as the season ended and we drafted guys, I’m starting to think about that, to be honest with you. Not the minute details of it, but you have to think about it. You draft a young guy, where’s he at? We had Zo (Lorenzo Carter), we had X (Oshane Ximines), we had Fack (Kyler Fackrell). Where are these young edge guys going to play into it? Are they going to start right from jump? No. You have to say how are we going to develop them? What is the best way to do it? That’s how you go about it and see how you use them as weapons. If we need them against Washington, let’s use them against Washington if that plays into the game plan. You have to look ahead, that’s how I was taught to do it.
Q: You guys have told us from the start that this is going to be a very multiple defense. It looked on Monday night like you kind of threw everything you had at Tom Brady. How much of that would you have been able to do earlier in the season? Obviously, there were the limitations this summer and in the spring in general. How much more can you add going forward?
A: The beauty of how we’ve installed and how Joe laid it out that he wanted us to talk to guys. We spent a lot of time in the spring and again, learning this from Flo (Brian Flores), learning this from Matt Patricia, learning this from Bill (Belichick), install the core concepts. So, install cover three. Don’t worry about whatever the call is for cover three, install the version of cover three. What’s the curl flat, what’s a hook curl? If they can understand that and the whole group can understand it, then you can have 10 calls that are still cover three, but people are in different spots. We took our time to do that and that’s what I’ve learned over my career, that’s the best way to do it. To be able to be more multiple as you push down the year. Whether it’s cover two or whatever it may be. Just making sure they understand what the core concepts are, so I can say, ‘okay, you go play this spot.’ Play this spot, it’s the same thing, you were in the same meeting. Same meeting, same technique, go do that. Obviously, it grows as time goes on. I’m just telling you, we’re not doing that much stuff. I know everybody is thinking it, but we’re not doing that much stuff. We just try to do what we can execute, and the guys are trying to do it at a high level. We have a ways to go in terms of improvement. I obviously have to do a better job coaching and a better job of getting them to understand all the fine details of it and also calling the game. It comes from the hard work they put in in the spring and the zoom meetings, to be honest with you. I would assume that even Dalvin (Tomlinson) could tell what the job of the curl flat is.
Q: It seems like the league is trending a lot more toward just generating front four pressure. Your players seem to do it, you guys have done a real nice job. Can you talk about what Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson have been able to do and how they have grown as pass rushers this year?
A: I think they all have the talent. Obviously, there is nothing new that I’ve done. As you’ve seen on tape, that’s why we’re willing to put them in those spots. The thing I’ve seen in terms of development. The biggest thing for Leo (Leonard Williams) was let’s hit quick man, let’s go. Let’s hit the move quick and let’s go, get to the quarterback. Just do that. Dalvin, he’s playing with good pad level. He’s always been powerful, he’s always been explosive. He always has good hands in terms of his hand work. The biggest thing for me is pad level. When it comes back to the rush, fortunately football is simple and I’m a simple dude. It comes back to pad level. The pad level leads to the violence, whether it’s the run game or the pass game. You ask those guys, they might think I’m a jerk. I don’t talk to them about any moves, I don’t care. I just say you have to be lower than them and that’s all I say to them, period.