Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale
Martindale: Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas. Big game this past week. It just makes this next one even bigger. With that, I'll open it up to questions.
Q: You've been pretty consistent with us from day one talking about (outside linebacker) Kayvon (Thibodeaux), saying 'It's not just about sacks. It's about everything.' When he had a game like he had last week, was that for you kind of a 'I told you guys. I told everybody this is what it's about,'?
A: Okay (Laughs). It was fun to watch. I keep telling you all this: He's working on the little things. He's getting better every week. I think that was an accumulation of all the work that he's done. Like I said, it was a lot of fun to watch.
Q: He got, obviously, the big splash plays. But it seemed like that whole defensive front, everybody was making plays.
A: They were. They did a nice job of rushing the quarterback, especially when we needed it and not just Kayvon, but (outside linebacker) Azeez (Ojulari). Getting back to Kayvon, obviously the sack, strip, fumble for a touchdown, was a huge play for us. But an even bigger play, I thought, was when he was in coverage and came out of his coverage when the quarterback started scrambling. He tackled him on the one-yard line down there. That was a huge play for us. We always talk about (how) there's going to be big plays in this game. Both sides of the football get paid. Just get him down to give us a chance to stand. There is no play more evident than that one that he gave us a place to stand, and we were able to come up with the stop.
Q: Do you have a comp(arison) for (Minnesota Vikings wide receiver) Justin Jefferson? You like giving a little historical context.
A: I told the defense. I said that he's one of the top two receivers in this league, and he's not number two. He's had a phenomenal year – their whole offense has. It's one of those things that they throw the ball, and he could be in double or triple coverage, and he still catches it. I know it's fun for the fan to watch. It's not very fun for defensive coordinators.
Q: Is trying to stop him one-on-one with one guy, is that just something that you can't do in this game?
A: I don't want to say you can't do it. Like I said, you can double or triple team him, and he still catches the ball. If you are going to any type of one-on-one situation, you better pick the right spot to do it. So, I think that you got to keep things spinning for (Minnesota Vikings quarterback) Kirk (Cousins) back there because if you just sit in one simple front and coverage, he'll tear you apart.
Q: Philosophically, when you use your dime packages when you have guys like (safeties) Tony (Jefferson) and Landon (Collins) in the box, you always want to dictate to the offense about what they're going to do. But are you almost curious to see how an offense is going to try to come after you?
A: I think it's that way with any package you have every Sunday. And every Sunday's different. So, you just put the best matchups out there that you think you have and see how you can attack the offense. So, you're curious to see – especially with the way we attack protections – of what they're going to try to do to limit our success of hitting the quarterback. So, it's one of those things that each package we throw out there initially, that's our first thought: See how they react to it.
Q: Because traditionally, the idea is that if you put smaller players in the box, a team is going to look to overload and try to show that you can't stop the run. That give and take is chances you have to take, right?
Q: Landon played some snaps, though, just at inside linebacker in the base and the nickel. How did he hold up? Can he hold up more than he did?
A: Oh, yeah. I think so. I think he had one misread out there, which is kind of expected a little bit because it's been so long since he's played. But I thought he did a nice job, and excited to see where he goes moving forward.
Q: How comfortable are you giving him a substantial role on defense?
A: Very comfortable.
A: Yeah, very comfortable.
Q: At that linebacker spot?
A: Very comfortable.
Q: You mentioned the front, obviously. Getting (defensive lineman) Leo(nard Williams) back, what did you see this past week that was different with the growth of Kayvon and (defensive lineman) Dex(ter Lawrence) and getting Azeez in there, too.
A: I think the players like Leo and the rest that you mentioned is a problem when they're all out there because you can't just – if Leo's not out there, there's four hands going on Dex all the time. Now, they got to deal with Leo on the other side being a single block guy. I think that creates issues plus with what you said with the guys on the edges. The thing that's beautiful about the guys on the edges is the relationship they have with (outside linebackers coach) Drew (Wilkins). And it's like they have a mindset that they're always trying to improve. That's exciting when you have two guys that are 22-years-old on the edge, and they're looking to get better every day. They have that growth mindset, if you will, those outside backers. And then the inside guys, they're having a lot of fun. When Dex and Leo are playing together, you can see they have fun playing together. And it's fun to watch.
Q: That's kind of how you drew it up in the offseason and the preseason: You had those four guys. You had to wait three and a half months for it to click. Was that hard?
A: Thanks for bringing it up (Laughs). No, it's not hard. I mean, it was hard not having them in there. But having them all in there, it's fun.
Q: What kind of message did the comeback the Vikings made last week allow you to give to your team?
A: I mean, everybody sees it. It was the first in NFL history, right? That just tells you how explosive their offense is. It's going to be a great challenge.
Q: (A previous question) mentioned getting your four guys up front back. How much do you allow yourself to think about, 'Okay, now if we could get the guys on the backend back,' what this defense would look like if you had (cornerback) Adoree' (Jackson) and X (safety Xavier McKinney) back there with those guys now?
A: You don't have enough time to think about it right now because you're planning for the next game. But it would be nice to have them all out there.
Q: Would you agree with this – that you run a defense with a lot of different personnel? If you know, 'this is my number one cornerback, and he's really good', so, if you have a guy like (Justin) Jefferson, 'I can kind of put him there and maybe give him some help.' But you don't really have that right now. Would you agree with that, so it makes it more of a 'gang mentality' sort of thing?
A: Yeah, I think that's a fair assessment to it. Even you could go this way with it, too. You could put your second-best corner on him, and always have a safety over the top, which a lot of people do. And then single up the other guy. So, like I said, you got to keep the gumball spinning. (Minnesota Vikings head coach) Kevin (O'Connell) does a great job calling the offense. I said it's unfair: I'm the blue-collar guy going against Harry Styles (Laughs). He's a good-looking young guy, but I really like Kevin. I think he's done a great job with not only calling the offense but the entire team.
Q: You spoke pretty highly of (inside linebacker) Tae (Crowder) early in the season, and how did it go south so fast? He went from playing every snap to no longer on the team.
A: I think that it was one of those things where it just didn't work out with the expectation of execution and things just kept building up and building up. And you want to give a guy time to correct it, and we just didn't have the time for him to correct it.
Q: Where is the ceiling for Kayvon?
A: I have no idea; I don't want to put a ceiling on him. I don't because that's how special I think he is – he and Azeez both.
Q: When you have a number of explosive receivers on the other side and you have a veteran quarterback who doesn't move as well as he used to, is it more important to get pressure?
A: I think that you got to have the right time to hit the pressure, and you got to keep them guessing. Like I said, if we just let him sit back there and they block up our front four, we'll be in for a long day because you can only cover them for so long – especially 18 (Justin Jefferson). Let's not forget about (Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam) Thielen, either. They got three receivers (including wide receiver K.J. Osborn) playing at a very high level.
Q: How difficult are those plays that Kayvon makes where he's chasing guys downfield like 20 yards? I mean, he made about three tackles that way.
A: I think difficult, or is it your standard of how you run to the football? And he can run, so it really sticks out. I think since day one, we've talked about getting to the football and running to the football and practicing hard. And it becomes a habit. And then when you have a player that doesn't, he stands out like a sore thumb – that doesn't run to the football. And especially this time of year. Like I said, just give us a place to stand. That third guy that's there, that's busting his tail to get there, can recover a fumble that gets knocked out – like Leo did down there in the red zone in Washington.
Q: Do you show the team those plays when they happen?
A: Oh, yeah. Sure, we do.
Q: Did you think of growing your hair long when you guys were struggling a bit?
A: No. No, I didn't. Obviously, I'm no male model.
Q: What do you think of Dabs' (head coach Brian Daboll) new look?
A: It's different (Laughs). He looks faster.