Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham
December 31, 2020
Q: Obviously you go week to week with your scheme and your plan. The last three weeks with a quarterback like Kyler (Murray) and especially Lamar (Jackson), I would imagine you have to approach it differently in all three levels on how things come together. Logan Ryan was talking about it yesterday, the idea that now the challenges are different at all three levels. How do you approach it? He kind of said you throw last week in the trash. Whatever you tried to do against Baltimore is not necessarily going to be the plan to go against Dallas. How do you approach doing into this week and trying to stop this offense as opposed to what you’ve done the last couple of weeks?
A: The game plan is going to be different, it’s a different offense, different people. That’s the obvious part of it. In terms of last week or the previous weeks, here’s the thing I try to do, I try to learn from everything, whether it’s the specifics of a game plan or not, there’s fundamental stuff that has to improve. You try to take inventory of that and just try to make sure that as we get to practice, yesterday, today and tomorrow, we work on the stuff that showed up in the previous weeks that we know we have to get better at. Here’s the bottom line as people talk about it, Dallas is the focus. Our daily focus is to get better every day. We have to do a better job tackling. I have to do a better job coaching it up. Whether it’s the tackling, the scheme or whatever. That’s what I take from any other previous week. I’m just trying to learn from that week and what we can do better. For me, I can speak for myself. I’m trying to learn from my past experiences and see how it could play into the game. Do you throw away the game plan? I mean you can say that, but we do that every week. Every week is new in the NFL. It’s definitely going to be different. You’re dealing with a different animal with the skill players, the offensive line is different, the scheme is different. It’s still football. We have to tackle. We have to play our leverage in coverage. We have to defend the deep part of the field. A lot of stuff. There’s still carry over no matter what you do, there’s still carry over.
Q: One of the things that was talked a lot about when you guys were playing at a high level and winning games was disguising coverages. Being able to jump from one scheme to another. Have you gotten away from that recently? Have quarterbacks caught up to it? Can you get back to it?
A: In my experience in 12 years in the league, if you’re really, really good at what you do, then you might not disguise. Most defenses disguise no matter who they are. I think that’s always a part of what we do. Whether it’s third down or early down, we’re going to try to disguise. I can’t speak for what the other offenses are doing in terms whether we’re not doing a good job, what have you. I know this, we haven’t done enough to win, so that’s not a good enough job. Here’s the thing and the beauty of this league, it’s Week 17. We have another opportunity playing Dallas. That stuff is behind us, the win-loss part of it is. The lessons learned from it are stuff we can carry over to help us improve for this week. If disguise is part of it, then disguise will be part of it. I know this, we’re going to go out there at practice today and try to improve. Disguise will be part of it, in terms of trying to get better at that. That’s just one facet of what we’re trying to do in terms of our improvement.
Q: When people think of Dallas, they think of Ezekiel Elliott. How much of a challenge is this receiving corps.? Is it the best one you guys have faced top to bottom this year?
A: I hate doing that because I’m trying to get ready for practice, I don’t want to dismiss. They’re good, they have some skill guys. The thing that shows up to me is the guys that go in there and block. I’m always fascinated by that. Here they are, they’re getting all these accolades, are they blocking? When you see that, you know, one, it’s being coached. You know I have a lot of respect for coach McCarthy. Adam Henry is a good friend of mine, the wide receivers coach. I know his toughness and what he’s trying to instill in those guys. It’s a challenge. Are they the best group we’ve seen? Just so I’m not dismissive of other groups, I would say they are one of the best. We have a big challenge in front of us. You know how it is with Dallas. It starts with the run game. Practice today is an opportunity for us to get back to what we have to do stopping the run. It starts with the run game and the backs they have back there, (Tony) Pollard, (Ezekiel) Elliott. Also, you tie into (Andy) Dalton when he gets the checks in there. They’re pretty good.
Q: Do you think opposing offenses sort of figured out your zone? It just feels like those intermediate throws the last few weeks, they have really been hitting those with frequency.
A: I can’t speak for the other team. I have to do a better job of coaching. I have to do a better job of coaching and laying out the plan. I have to do a better job of calling it, mixing in zone and man and stuff like that. I don’t know if they’re figuring it out. It’s football, these guys get paid too, and they have good players, so they execute. It’s just a matter of I have to coach better, I have to do a better job. I’m working on it every day just trying to get better. Hopefully I have a good day at practice just trying to get the guys in the right spots. All leading towards Sunday where we can execute.
Q: Blake Martinez said the other day that a lot of defensive players were not aligned properly when the Ravens motioned or shifted before the snap. I was wondering why that would be when guys were, I assume, coached to prepare for that and it wasn’t anything different than what they normally did.
A: I can’t speak for Blake, Blake speaks for himself. I know this, going into the Cowboys game, starting today, we have a walkthrough here momentarily. I have to do a good job of explaining based on formation, based on personnel, where we have to align. I have to do a good job with that. I have to get guys with their eyes in the right place, so they are able to execute, that’s my job as a coach. That’s a big part of what my job description is. Put them in the right place. Get their eyes in the right place so they can play ball. I can’t speak for what Blake said. To me, I’m worried about Dallas right now. I know this, they give you formations and they leverage you. We have to get lined up to that stuff. I’m going to do my best to prepare the guys for that today.
Q: You obviously watched plenty of that Dallas game the first time. What do you think when you’re watching your defense at that time?
A: It’s funny, you watch it. I’m sure a lot of you guys have kids and I’m not trying to compare the guys to kids, I’m just talking about the growth that happens over a certain period of time. You see guys, some plays that were there to make and now they are making those plays. To me, not even the plays, let’s not talk about it, let’s talk about just awareness. Some of the situational awareness, formational awareness. Stuff like that, that’s what shows up over time. I think I mentioned it earlier in the year. It takes time to build a defense and to build all those things that are intertwined within starting to play good football. You can be the most physical. You can have the right call. I don’t know how many calls coordinators are calling around the league to be unsound. It’s about the guys knowing how to execute, when to execute and some recognition of the people and the situation. When you look at games earlier in the year, you see the growth as it goes. You can really see that. It jumps off the tape in terms of when you’re watching that. That’s one thing I did notice when I’m looking at it. These guys have improved as football players. That usually happens. Especially when you’re dealing with a young group. They get better with experience.
Q: That’s kind of why I asked you. This is year one of your defense.
A: Our defense.
Q: Where are you in the overall progression of this defense? Is it still in its infantile stages in your mind? Are you there? Is there still a lot more that you see you can add and can grow?
A: Infantile, I do like the word. When I hear good words, I can incorporate them later on, so be ready. Where are we at? I want to be playing our best football post-Thanksgiving. That’s how you look at it when you start the season when the league starts in April or what have you. Here’s the thing, we have an opportunity. We need our best game on Sunday, I know that. So where are we at? There’s so much room for growth in terms of whether it’s the scheme, whether it’s us getting more comfortable with one another. I can’t tell you what stage we’re in, but I know this, in terms of how I have talked to you guys the whole time. We have to be playing our best ball post-Thanksgiving. We need our best game on Sunday. We need our best game on Sunday, our most physical game. Our most sound execution. We have to start fast. We can’t be worried about anything other than the Cowboys and trying to execute. I would say in terms of the process, I know this, the guys try to get better every day. Work to get better every day. That’s a big part of my evaluation at the end of the year when I’m looking at it. Did we try to achieve that goal? I can’t tell you what stage of the process, to be honest with you. We do need our best effort this week.
Q: You spent a year with Mike McCarthy. Do you have any insight into him as far as what did to help you and keep your career going? Do you see things in this Cowboy offense that maybe in the back of your head or the front of your head, you say, okay I recognize that, maybe I can do something with that?
A: Coach McCarthy, I had a great time with him in Green Bay. We didn’t win a lot of games, but I had a lot of respect for him. He’s a very smart man, good football man. The big thing for me is how he sees the run game in terms of the necessities of the run game. The necessity of a certain amount of carries. Seeing the correlation between the run game and success. You think about, all those years from afar, Aaron Rodgers, Mike McCarthy. You’re thinking pass game, pass game. You can go back to 2016 when we lost in the playoff game. It was because the run game when they got in 20 personnel, it was the third quarter. They hit a couple runs, they were backed up. It’s the run game where I really think he stands out. Not to discredit what he knows about the passing game, that’s obvious. I think you see the influence there. Dallas has always been able to run the ball. The timing of it, that’s what stands out to me.
Q: Your head coach said after the game on Sunday that you guys made defensive adjustments in the second half that worked, and he wished that guys had gone to them earlier. What is the challenge in making adjustments early in a game? If what you’ve worked on all week, maybe the other team has countered it and it’s not working. How do you feel like you’ve done that?
A: (Jokingly) I’m trying to dissect it. I think that was three questions, let’s try to figure this out. We have to make adjustments as soon as possible. That’s what we have to do. When we don’t do that, that’s on me. The Baltimore game is the Baltimore game. Obviously, we didn’t win, so obviously I didn’t do a good enough job adjusting. I can’t speak for Joe (Judge). For me, my thing is it’s a constant game of adjustment. That’s what we get paid to do. The pressure of being in the NFL, those guys are one of 32. Whether it’s the coordinator or the quarterback, however you look at it. It’s my job to adjust and I have to do a better job this week. I know this, Mike McCarthy , the OC (Kellen Moore), Adam Henry, all these guys over there, they are going to do a good job of seeing what we do, adjusting to it. Then we have to play the game back with them. I just have to do a better job. Get that information to players and hopefully we execute at a high level and play our best game on Sunday.
Problem is it also keeps our offense off the field. We tend to lose ToP due to the bend but don’t break scheme. It also forces them to drive the length of the field and keeps their points down, but it also affects our ability to have more offensive opportunities. There’s a time and a place for it, just not all game.