HEAD COACH BILL O'BRIEN**
"Not much to update you on today. I'd say Jadeveon Clowney is day-to-day. He moved around a little bit today, and Nate Washington, same thing. Had a good practice today, and open it up for questions."
Talk about OLB Whitney Mercilus winning AFC Defensive Player of the Month. What's his impact been?
"Yeah, he's done a good job. It's a combination of his own work ethic and his attitude and his work ethic in the weight room, on the practice field. I think he's coached very well by (Linebackers Coach) Mike (Vrabel). So he's done a good job for us. He's one of our most improved players in the two years we've been here. He deserves a lot of credit for that."
Would it be safe to say that OLB Jadeveon Clowney is making progress?
How important is controlling your emotions as a player in the playoffs?
"It's a big part of it. It's going to be a great scene here in Houston. It's a great football city. We know the fans are going to be great for us on Saturday. I think the key is that you just have to talk to the players about that and show them and just give them your own experience with that and how each play in a playoff game is very, very important. So the best way to control your emotions is to focus on that play and what your job is on that play. Look, it's an emotional game, but I think the key is that part of that emotion goes into winning the penalty battle. Let's not be the most penalized team on Saturday. Let's do a good job of playing with poise and doing our job."
What makes Chiefs OLB Justin Houston such a threat?
"He's an excellent athlete, tough. He's got explosion off the ball. He's flexible, able to dip and run the edge. He's got a couple different types of moves. He's not easy to block. He's a great player."
You have some players on the team with playoff experience. Do you think that matters in a playoff game?
"Oh, yeah, no question. I'd say the same thing for coaches. You've got coaches and players here that have been in it. J.J. (Watt), you just mentioned, a bunch of guys. Vince Wilfork, and Jonathan Joseph, Brian Cushing. Coaching-wise, obviously Romeo (Crennel) and myself, Mike Vrabel, so, yeah. I think it's good because you can just talk to them about our experiences and things that went wrong and things that went right and how we've all learned from it and try to give them our thoughts on those things."
How much has ILB Benardrick McKinney improved?
"B Mack has done a really good job. He's a rookie that's really improved every week. You can see it on film, you can see it in his preparation. There's a bunch of guys like that. Guys that have really put the time in to get better by watching film, by studying, by practicing well. And Benardrick is definitely in that category."
When you draft a rookie class, obviously you want them to contribute right away.
"Yeah, when we drafted these guys, we felt like we were drafting good guys, high character guys that could play football. These guys have done a good job. Even guys that weren't drafted, (Kurtis) Drummond, and Kendall Lamm, and guys like that that have contributed for us this year. So it's a good rookie class.
How much does the versatility of RBs Akeem Hunt and Jonathan Grimes help?
"Yeah, it helps a lot. They have good hands, they're very smart. They're smart players. They're able to learn what their role is in each game because it changes in each game. They're involved in protection. They're involved in the running game, obviously. They're involved in the passing game as receivers. It's helped to have guys like that, no doubt about it."
A lot of the quarterbacks in the playoffs this year aren't your typical franchise quarterbacks. Do you think that says anything about where the position is going in the league?
"I'm not sure. I'm not sure our definitions of 'typical franchise quarterbacks' would be the same. But I'll say this about first of all Alex Smith. I mean, this guy is a mentally tough guy. He's been through a lot in his career. He's really an efficient quarterback. So that means he gets the operation in and out of the huddle very quickly. They operate at a fast pace. He's smart. He makes very few mistakes with the ball. He does a good job of taking care of the ball, and he can run. He can really run. So they're able to do some things with him in the running game that really is a threat to your defense. You know, I don't know what definitions are out there. I'll tell you this about Brian (Hoyer). He's a mentally tough guy. He's been through a lot. He's been through a lot this year. He's been hurt. In past experiences, he's been cut and he's come back and he's had a good, solid year for us. He's had a good week of practice here, and he's very excited to play."
Some teams are just able to find quarterbacks who fit their system, rather than feel like they need a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady type of player.
"I think that's a good observation. I think you have to have a philosophy of your team. Maybe that philosophy can change from year to year based on your personnel and what you decide as an organization. But the philosophy here right now is we've got a good defense. They're playing well. They need to play well on Saturday, obviously. I think our special teams has improved. I think at times it could be better, but it has improved over the year, I think, as a whole. Then offensively I think it's about taking care of the ball, taking advantage of scoring opportunities when they're there. Being efficient. I think we can always improve in those areas and I think that's primarily what we've done over the last half of the year, and that's been our formula so far."
What about the left side of your offensive line now with Chris Clark at LT and Xavier Su'a-Filo at LG?
"I think it's really good that we have a guy like Chris Clark that can step in and play there. You talk about a good pro. Just actually watched him in practice today, and he had a really good practice. Everything he does, the walk-throughs, and the examples that he sets in the media room and on the practice field is just really good. So I think that helps a guy like Xavier who is still a young player who has improved. But it's always good when you can get a veteran presence in there next to him. You've got (Ben) Jones there on his right, so I think that's good."
The defense has played dramatically better every week in the second half. Is it the speeches at halftime or what's going on?
"It's not about speeches, I can tell you that. But I think the first point you made is important. You have to - my theory and philosophy is by the third or fourth series of the game you have to really try to understand how the game's being played in all three phases. So if you're having trouble figuring that out, that's not going to really bode well for the game. It's very difficult to figure that out sometimes. It's not the easiest thing, especially if there's not a lot of plays offensively or defensively. They're doing a lot of different things. So I think you have to adjust while the game is going on. Hey, they're coming at us with this running play. Man, we don't have a great front for that. Let's go back to this front we used a couple games ago because that was good against this running play. Well, the players have to adjust to that, and that's the type of team we have. We have smart guys that are able to adjust during the game. Then at halftime, you try to confirm those things and think of some new wrinkles you can throw at them in the second half."
What were you thinking about after the loss to the Miami Dolphins? Was that the turning point of the season?
"My first thought was I couldn't wait to get a Coors Light in my hand. I'm kidding. No, my thought was this: I knew that No. 1, I had to do a better job. I had to figure out what was not going right for us, and clearly there were a lot of things that weren't going right. I knew that we had a team. I knew that we had a team of guys that were hard working guys that really wanted to win. I knew we had good leadership. I knew we had a good coaching staff. So I thought on that plane ride back and moving forward, I just said, look, here are some things. I'm not going to get into all the details of things that we can do as a coaching staff better. And here are some things that the players can do better. But in the end, it's the players. The players are the ones that play the game. They go out there, they execute the game plan. They play the game. Those guys should get most of the credit. They've done a really good job of getting us out of that."
Did the team show you something in the second half against Miami or did the Dolphins just stop playing hard?
"No, I don't think anybody in this league, I don't think that really happens. I think that maybe the game plan changes based on the score. I'll say that. But I think we made a pact at halftime that we were going to compete. Look, we pretty much knew we weren't going to win that game. I mean, it was a blowout at halftime. But I said if can he can just go out there ask compete in the second half. And I think it showed something about our team. Look, there are no moral victories, that's not what I'm saying. But I think our team went out and competed and we did a better job in the second half. So I knew our guys would show up to work on Monday."
Did you talk to your guys right away about your thoughts or do you try to figure things out before you have those conversations?
"No, I try to think. I know sometimes on the sideline you probably think I react pretty quickly, and sometimes I do. But in those situations I really try to think to myself. I write a lot of things down. I just try to figure it out on my own and then communicate it as soon as I've got it figured out or at least I think I've got it figured out."
What did you know about Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel before hiring him?
"First of all, I had spent five years in New England, as you know. So I knew a lot about him. His name came up all the time. And the respect he had in our building. Guys that were there that had played for him, coached with him. Bill (Belichick) had a ton of respect for him and those guys, so that carries a lot of weight with me. I knew if I was able and fortunate enough to be able to get a head football coaching job in this league, he'd be a guy I'd be interested to in talking to about being the coordinator. When you talk about situations like that, you've got a guy in Romeo, No. 1, who is extremely smart. Very smart guy. Very poised guy. A guy that's been around a long time. So he's seen it all. And he's very positive. So he stands up in front of the room. He tells them the truth. There's not a lot of happy - I've got to be careful what I say there - but he tells them the truth. He's positive in the fact that, he'll say, 'look, this is what it is right now. It's not very good, but here's what we can do better to get us out of this hole.' I think that's one of his best characteristics, he's a very positive guy."
What about the relationship between DE J.J. Watt and OLB Whitney Mercilus? They were the leading sack duo in the NFL this year.
"There's a lot of respect there. I know that J.J. has a lot of respect for where Whitney has come from. Whitney's worked very hard to get to this point in his career, and he can even get better. He'll be the first one to tell you that. Obviously, Whitney has a lot of respect for J.J. They work very hard. They communicate well together, and I know there is a lot of mutual respect there."
It seems like you value players' opinions. How do you decide a player is at the level where they can help dictate the game plan and tell you what they're comfortable with?
"Not every player, but some players. You're talking about - and I'm kidding about that. I do value communication with the players, I think that's really important in this league. But the veteran players, the players that have been out there a number of years that have produced on the game field that have been in big games and seen a lot of different defenses and offenses and special teams situations. Those guys right there, they're playing the game. A guy like Shane Lechler, he could coach for us. He could coach for us. He's a very bright guy who understands a lot of different situations and special teams play. So, I think you have to figure out a way, look, you're the coach. You have to direct it and make sure they understand what to do. But I think you have to do a good job of listening and making sure you're hearing what they're saying."
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR ROMEO CRENNEL
Talk about the relationship OLB Whitney Mercilus has built with Linebackers Coach Mike Vrabel.
"Well, I think it all plays together. You know, Whitney has shown up every day. He's out there every play, works really hard, tries to do what the coaches ask him to do, and it's paying off for him, you know, so that's what you want. From a coaching standpoint, you want a guy who's going to be there, who's going to work hard, do what you want him to do, and then have some results from it because that reinforces it to everybody else."
What do you think about OLB Whitney Mercilus getting an honor like AFC Defensive Player of the Month?
"I'm really happy for him. You know, because sometimes guys fly under the radar a little bit, and he's one of those guys who's been flying under the radar, but I've seen his improvement. I've seen his work habits since I've been here, and I'm really happy that other people see it, as well."
Was there one thing that you saw with OLB Whitney Mercilus when he turned the corner?
"Well, no, to tell you the truth, the fact that he played just about every play the year before I got here, you know, that let me know something about him because he was on the field, he was starting and he was playing, and then he just continued to do that and learned our system, and now he's pretty efficient in it."
What do you expect from OLB Jadeveon Clowney on Saturday?
"Oh, he was light in practice. He's day to day. We'll have to see how it goes."
This game will feature some of the best pass rushers in the league on both sides of the ball. Do you enjoy watching that?
"I enjoy watching our guys rush, you know. Those other guys, if they're not playing us, I don't mind watching them rush, but when they're playing us, I'm not too crazy about them rushing."
You've said many times over the years that repeat mistakes are what really bother you. You have been tested on that this season with some of the play early on. Can you describe the thought process of how you were able to maintain control and get them back on track?
"Well, the thing that - as a coach, you're a teacher and you know that things are not perfect, even though we want them to be perfect, and so a lot of times we go pretty quickly. You know, we have a meeting and we put it in, and then we go to practice, and we want it to be perfect at practice, and very seldom is it perfect. Then you get to the game and you hope that the reps that you get in practice and in the classroom, enough of it is absorbed so that when you get to the game field, they don't make mistakes. But when mistakes are made, then you try to correct those mistakes. And from a teaching standpoint, so he makes one mistake, so you correct it, and he makes two, then you correct it, and at some point you'll say, 'well, he's not getting it' and then you have to do something different at that time. But generally from a coaching standpoint, you try to teach and you continue to teach until the guy has a breakthrough or you get to the point where, this is not working and I've got to do something else."
You've also said that's so much different than the way you were raised with your dad.
"Well, yeah, that's right. But I'm human, and I made mistakes, and he didn't kick me out of the house, you know, so I kind of approach the players that way, as well."
What's it like having LB Brian Cushing, who's been with this team for seven years now, to lead this defense?
"Well, the fact that he's been here seven is a plus and a positive, and the fact that he's playing and leading the defense is another positive because he takes that leadership role. He embellishes it. He communicates, makes the call from the field, and then he plays hard and makes plays as a player. That's what you want. I mean, like I tell the guys all the time, if you've ever been to a Broadway play, all right, on that stage, there's generally one or two stars, but then you have a whole lot of other people that make that play successful and make it go, and the thing that I try to impart on these guys is everybody has a role to play. Play your role to the best of your ability, and then maybe one day then you can be that star, and so if everybody will play their role and the team then gets better as a result of it, because this is a team game, and when the team does well, everybody does well, no matter how minute that role might be."
So if you're the director and DE J.J. Watt is obviously the star, what is LB Brian Cushing for that play? Is he the guy arranging everything around and making sure that the play goes off as well as possible?
"Yes, part of his job. His job is to make sure we've got the communication, we've got people lined up correctly, the identification of the opponent sets and backfield sets and things like that, and then the execution of his job as far as the play is concerned. And then after that, anything more than that is gravy. But that's the way everybody has to do their job, and guys like J.J., they're the stars and they get all the accolades, but there are guys like Whitney (Mercilus), who didn't get many, but he's beginning to show up a little bit. There's some of these young guys who are playing their roles and they're playing their roles pretty good, but it takes everybody to make it happen and make it efficient."
What have you seen from Alex Smith that's different from what you saw at the beginning of the season?
"Well, I'll tell you, Alex is a good, solid quarterback. He does a good job for their offense. He doesn't turn the ball over, and he makes good decisions on the field, and so he did that first game and he's still doing that. I anticipate that he will continue and try to do what they did the last time they were here, and we're going to try not to let him do what they did the last time they were here. "
What were you thinking about on the flight home from Miami after that loss?
"Well, you think about what happened in the first half because that was the most embarrassing half. You gave up too many plays, so you've got to figure out what you can do not to let that happen again. So I think that the defensive players, that was on their mind, and as a result I think they came together more as a unit, trusting each other more, and with the resolve to get back to fundamentals and basics and be good team players, and as a result, the team started playing well, and then the defense is playing well."
Did you think what happened in the second half vs. Miami was significant at the time?
"Well, I kind of take it with a grain of salt. I was happy that we didn't let them score 100. I was happy about that. But then also, you know that sometimes when a team gets up as quickly as Miami did, they don't always throw their whole package at you and so I understand that. But we knew we had to regroup, and so we came back and we regrouped, and we're playing a little bit better now."
Was there a point in the regrouping process where it felt like the light went on and you knew you wouldn't get blown out?
"Well, I don't know that you ever know that no one will ever embarrass you again because this game is a different kind of game, and every Sunday or every Saturday anything can happen. But probably the most encouraging performance was the Cincinnati performance, and we played well there, and so now then, boom, you get the feeling that going against a good team at their place and you're able to play well that maybe you've made the kind of strides you need to make to continue to be good."
Where do you think LB Brian Cushing is as far as his on the field play compared to how he was before his injury?
"Well, see, I really didn't know him before the injuries. I've only known him since I've been here, and I know that he works very hard to rehab his injuries so that he can be on the field, and I think this year he's moving around better this year than he was last year, and as a result of that, that allows him to be a better player to help the team more. So if we can keep him healthy, that helps this defensive unit, because he is important."
What can you take away from your time in Kansas City?
"Well, it was a short stay, and I went there as the defensive coordinator and ended up being the head coach for a year. They had some good kids on the team, and they were trying to build a team, just like we're trying to build a team here. You know, and it's a process that you have to go through to try to build it, but they decided they were going to make a change, and so they made the change. But I think the two places are similar: Good ownership, good towns, and hopefully we can get to the point where we will be a good football team for a long time."
Along those lines that we've talked about LB Brian Cushing, Chiefs LB Derrick Johnson has a similar type effect on that defense?
"Yeah, Derrick is the leader of that defense. He's a playmaker, and he's pretty important to them."
ILB BRIAN CUSHING
What was going through your mind on the flight back from Miami?
"We've got to play better. We've got to play better and figure it out pretty quick. Just a very frustrated state of mind and obviously knew we weren't playing anywhere towards our potential, and we had to figure it out and figure it out quick. It was close to the midway point of the season, and had no other option but to play better."
Could you draw some positives from the way you played in the second half?
Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel said that he felt like the moment he thought you guys really were headed in absolutely the right direction was in Cincinnati. Your thoughts on that?
"Yeah, I think so, too. I think there's one thing about this group is that we're battle tested. I think we've been through a lot. I think it just forms character, forms toughness. We've learned from each other and learned from the hard times like a Miami game, and we've overcome it. Two, three weeks later going to undefeated Cincinnati and finding a way to win."
Was there ever a point where you were concerned that this couldn't turn around?
"You have your doubts, obviously, when you're sitting at 2-5 and you lose the way that you did. You definitely have your doubts, but you can't dwell on it. You can't get stuck in it, and you have to, like I said, turn it around quickly."
How different does the Kansas City run game look now from Week 1?
"Well, you know, Jamaal (Charles) is one of the guys that you obviously have to focus on no matter where he is at all times, whether he's split out receiver, running back. He's one of the guys that can get the ball out in any kind of position and be dangerous. These guys that are there now are all built very similar. They're kind of smaller, quicker guys, but all very capable, as well. Obviously, losing Jamaal hurt them, but at the same time they've done a great job and they've found a way to win without him."
What do you think about OLB Whitney Mercilus winning AFC Player of the Month for the first time?
"It's very cool. We're very proud of him, just the way he's come along and just playing the way he is. He's a hell of a football player, and he's only gotten better every single year, so it's just really cool to see the development of a guy like that."
What's going through your mind in the middle of the Kansas City game when you fell behind in the first half? Are you thinking something is terribly wrong?
"Yeah, well, we felt like that during the game, too, and we go back and we watch that film now, it almost doesn't even look like us, even though it's pretty much the same guys out there. But it's just finding your identity, simplifying your game plan, as we've done this year, and just figuring out what our strengths and weaknesses are. We really didn't know yet at that time, it was right after training camp and obviously we were still coming along, and playing, like I said, nowhere near ourselves or like ourselves."
Have you simplified the defense?
"I think so. I think so. I'm not saying we're going to run the same defense the entire game, but we've definitely cut down some things, and like I said, found what we're good at and really just executed that and gone along with that plan."
How would you describe your role in the defense and how long do you think it would take you to explain what you do in the defense to an average person? How complex is it?
"It is. It is. There's a lot of ins and outs to being the Mike linebacker in this 3-4 and the Mack and the Charger. We have three different packages, which is already one more than most teams have, and every single one has a different role within it. But I get the calls in every single one, and I've got to relay it to everyone, and I'm in charge of the checks and in charge of lining everyone up, but everyone does a great job echoing the calls, as well. I'm the only one with the microphone, but everyone, once I get the call out, tries to talk to each other and really remind each other what our plan and assignment is on that job."
It seems like a huge part of what you do isn't just on the field what we see. It's the locker room, the prep, the intensity, the way you carry yourself. All of that goes into being a middle linebacker in the NFL on a top five defense?
"Yeah, it's definitely a certain role you have to be comfortable with. I still go back to learning from really DeMeco (Ryans) on how to handle it, and I wasn't a middle linebacker until I got into the NFL. I always considered myself a leader but I think a middle linebacker is a completely different mindset. It's just something that I accepted and learned as I went, and I really take a lot of pride in it now."
As you've studied or gone back, are there linebackers that you've studied or looked up to growing up?
"Yeah, for sure. I remember growing up, I was a huge Ken Norton fan, and then sure enough, he was my linebacker coach in college, and once I found out he was the linebacker coach at USC, I pretty much committed right there, no matter what else happened with that school. I was a huge fan of him and the way he played the game and the tenacity and toughness he had, and I just loved guys that had that kind of enthusiasm and just passion for the game and kind of left it all out there and played the way they did."
Is there a different feel this year than maybe in 2011? Obviously you weren't playing as well then as you are now going into the playoffs. Does that translate?
"I hope so. I hope it translates and I hope we play our best game come Saturday. I just remember the '11 season I think we clinched a little earlier. I think we clinched it was Cincinnati with about four or five games left, but I think we're playing really well right now, and it's a good feeling. I don't know if I can compare the two, but it's just a really good feeling about where we are and we've just got to keep the momentum going."
TE Travis Kelce had a good game against you guys the first time around. What is the key to shutting him down?
"Yeah, he's had a good game a lot of games this year. He's a good player, but we have to be physical with him and be aware of where he is at all times on the field. Definitely a playmaker for them that we have to kind of track in and know where he's at."
Can you talk about ILB Benardrick McKinney and how excited you are about his development?
"Yeah, he's gotten a lot better. Go back and watch the Kansas City film; he really didn't play that much compared to where he is now, and he's just developed, he's done a really good job. You can just see him slowly becoming a better pro every single game."
ILB Benardrick McKinney says he trust what you sees. When did you start to trust him?
"Probably right about that Cincinnati game. I think a lot of things really happened right around that Cincinnati game. I think we really just started trusting in each other, and I think you see it on film, you see it in the way we play, practice and do everything, and I think that's what makes us good, and hopefully it carries for a while now."
You have a lot of, Head Coach Bill O'Brien says, 'juice.' You're fired up at all times, every play. How much more jacked up can you be for a playoff game?
"Yeah, it kind of just takes over. It kind of takes over. Any time you get in an environment like I'm sure it'll be this Saturday, it kind of takes over and you almost have to bring it down a little bit and play within the game and remember your assignment and remember your job and don't get too fired up. You see it happen sometimes with teams and next thing you know they're down. You can kind of see it the first couple games of the year, too, especially the first game and the home game, I think we were just a little too jacked up. Definitely controlling our emotions and playing the best way we can."
But it's a balancing act because you want to come out and play hard –
"Yeah, you want to start fast, you want to play hard and play best you can, but at the same time you've got to play under control."
You said you felt like maybe you were a little too jacked the first game?
"Could be. Could be. It was a while ago. I might not remember."
CB JOHNATHAN JOSEPH
How exciting is it to be here in the playoffs?
"Absolutely. I think it's something that, at the beginning of the year, when you set your goals, it's definitely one of your goals, winning your division, getting into postseason play and let everything else take off from there. So we're definitely excited as a team. But we don't want to get too overly excited to where we can't go out and do our job on Saturday."
How much soul searching did you personally do on that flight back to Miami?
"Just really thought to yourself: Is this what we want to go down as, all season long, and put that type of play out there on the film. We're a better team than this, especially defensively, than what we went out there and played out there. And I think for us we wanted to take it back to the basics and take it one game at a time and not really overthink it, because if you look back then, everybody talked about how good we were on paper, that really didn't translate to some of the games at times. I think us as a team, we just get our minds together, coaching staff and players included, took it one game at a time, practice on it, and now we're reaping the benefits from it."
Did you ever have any doubts that you could turn it around?
"Never at all, because it wasn't like where it was something extreme. It was little small things that continue to add up and kind of bit us in the rear end a little bit. I think we went back and we practiced those things and we continued to try to get better at those things. And I think now we're seeing the benefits from it, like tackling better, getting everyone to the ball, getting sacks, tipped balls, turnovers, playing great red zone defense, all those things collectively."
You have played well on season in the second half of games. Can you reflect on that?
"Stats sometimes are misleading. I think there's some key stats you really like to look at as a football team which is red zone defense first and foremost, third down defense, turnover ratio, all those things. Of course, rushing defense, because you know they can run the ball on you, you really don't have a chance, so I think some of the other stats really don't tell the tale as much as some stats do. I think overall we're at the top in a lot of those categories. But I think there's some that we always want to be in the top which is red zone and third down defense."
How would you describe ILB Brian Cushing during the game on the field, his intensity, the kind of good version of madness?
"He's really extreme out there. And I think that kind of is what makes him a really good player. He plays hard from whistle to whistle. He gives us great energy to feed off as a team. And I think anytime you play middle linebacker you have to have fine line to where you're really extreme and you're able to go out there and communicate, because he's kind of like the quarterback back there on defense. So he really can't get too over the top because there's a lot of things they have to do on each call and every play where he's kind of the lead guy there getting everyone in position."
You're one of the few guys that's been here through this whole run. You've seen ILB Brian Cushing the last four, five years, with the injuries. What's it been like for him watching him the last couple of years, now this point where you guys are the top five defense, probably playing better than he has since the injuries?
"It's a good feeling. I've had my share of injuries throughout my career. And many times we had those injuries just take a toll on you just from a mental standpoint because it's a long grind throughout the offseason just to get back to where you was in form and now you have to go out there and physically do it all over again. Sometimes it takes longer than expected and it's something you have to keep in your mind at the same time because in this game right here there is really no chance to wait around. You have to play if you're 85 percent, 75 percent at times. That's the way it works in the NFL. I think, overall, he's done a great job of keeping his mind focused on what he had to do and got his body to where he can go out and perform at a high level again and I think now we're seeing that from him."
Everyone mentions DE J.J. Watt and OLB Whitney Mercilus this year, but how important is ILB Brian Cushing to you guys, the overall scheme in terms of the spirit and soul that he continues to bring in the locker room and on the field?
"Because he's the guy in the middle. He's the guy that's been there the longest of anybody over there on the defense. He brings the excitement, the energy. Of course you mentioned J.J. (Watt) and those guys, but he brings a little different tenacity over there with us, very physical presence there in the middle of the field, and I think that's what you need from your middle linebacker."
You played with some great defensive coordinators, what stands out about Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel?
"His communication level. He takes it in. He's not just a guy over there saying, 'I'm in charge; we're going to do things this way and that's it, the bottom line.' I think he takes his feedback from his players and puts those into the game plan the best way he can to satisfy everyone all together. Of course, it's going to be different guys that's going to have a little more leeway than others. But I think he does a great job of using everyone's skill sets to the best of their ability."
Do you think going into the playoffs you guys are, like, in a group defensively playing the best football?
"Absolutely. I think I said it a lot earlier in the year, the more you go on throughout the season, you kind of want to get better each and every week to when you get here in November and December and of course the postseason, you're playing your best football. And I think that's where we are right now. The defense, still room for improvement but I'm sure we can only be happy for where we are right now from where we were in the beginning of the year."
Is this the best defense that you've been on these last seven games, or is it was it an earlier year that's a little better?
"It's right up there at the top. It's always different because of certain situations. But I can't really remember a time where I've been on a defense that's been this dominant week after week after week, holding guys to less than 10 points, leading the league on third downs by a long shot, not really giving the offense any breathing room at all throughout the full course of a game. So I have to put it right there with the top, some of the defenses I've been on throughout my career."
OLB WHITNEY MERCILUS
What was your emotions when they told you had won AFC Defensive Player of the Month?
"I was excited. To win something like that is a great honor and it just shows my peers how hard I have worked to receive that type of accolade. It is pretty cool, no doubt."
What does it mean that all of your teammates that we have talked to have said that they are very proud of you?
"It is pretty awesome. It just shows that I work hard, just come in, I am a professional, they appreciate that. I am a great teammate and I am a guy that just comes in and is just very accountable to everybody."
You are a team guy, but how special is it to get noted for a personal honor?
"It's exciting, for sure, from a personal stand point. For other guys to acknowledge that and talk well about how well my work ethic is, to finally get some recognition for that is pretty cool."
Does this culminate the season that you have had this year?
"Yeah, I have worked hard all season doing everything that I can, especially when my number is called on, to go out and perform the way that everyone wants me to preform, my teammates and also the coaches."
DE J.J. WATT
How do you control playoff emotions do you want to control playoff emotions?
"For the most part you treat it just like a normal game. There is some added emotion, added energy, added excitement and you need to harbor that and use it the right way and channel it to use it for positive and don't let it overwhelm you. Having been here and played in four playoff games now since I've been here, I think I've got a handle on how to do that. But I think for the most part you don't treat it a whole lot differently than the other game besides using the crowd's energy."
How do you describe Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel's coaching style and how he approaches instructing you guys on what to do?
"RAC (Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel) has been around a lot of time, so he has a lot of experience. He also has very good assistant coaches, so I think RAC is a guy that has a very good vision. He knows what he wants to do, knows what he wants to accomplish. And he lets his coaches coach and lets them do their job as well. So he's a guy that really can do just about anything. He doesn't do it very often, but if he needs to, he can get up in your face and be loud. But he also has that compassionate side where he can come up off the side and grab you and say, hey, we need this, and we need that. So I think he's a guy that understands his players and understands how to handle each guy."
Has there been a time he's gotten in your face and gotten a little loud?
"Not me individually, necessarily. But he's gotten into the whole team, that's for sure. And I take it personally when he gets into our defense."
Talk about OLB Whitney Mercilus being named the AFC Defensive Player of the Month?
"Yeah, it's great for him. Whitney's obviously had a fantastic career. I think he finished number six in the league in sacks. So it's a testament to his hard work, to all the time he puts in, and to his perseverance."
You've had some great playoff games. I know you've only had four, but you've been in some big games. Are you excited to be back on that stage and a chance to do that again?
"Yeah, I think the playoffs are the goal, obviously. It's the goal to get to the playoffs and then to take it from there. So all you can do is take it one game at a time. You need to play your best football in the playoffs. So it's a great opportunity for us to go out there in front of our home crowd, fly around, have some fun and enjoy ourselves."
Talk about ILB Brian Cushing and what he brings to this team?
"He's a middle linebacker. A middle linebacker in any defense is going to be a guy that has a lot to do with what your defense is doing. So he's the guy that's calling the plays in the huddle and making the checks to the line, and he's very good at it. He's been doing it for a long time. (Brian) Cushing is a guy that's intense, knows what he's doing. He flies around and gives it everything he's got. He gives his team everything he has, so we're very fortunate to have a guy like that in the middle."
How important is ILB Brian Cushing's heart and soul to what you've been able to do this year, and even the last four or five years since you've been with this organization?
"Yeah, it's been good. Anybody that's watched the team for a long time knows what Brian Cushing means to the Houston Texans. He's a guy that I've been fortunate enough to play with my time here so far, and I look forward to playing with him moving forward."
How about your award for player of the week, and also the Deacon Jones Award for most sacks in the NFL?
"Yeah, when they asked me for a quote for that award, I believe I said, 'individual awards are not individually earned,' and that's the absolute truth. All these great awards that I've been fortunate enough to be put up for over my years in this league so far none of them were earned by myself. They were earned with my teammates, with my coaches, with everybody around helping me get these awards. It's not one man. So I want to make sure that recognition is spread around to the whole team because they
all help me earn those things."
Can you tell that ILB Brian Cushing is playing more like himself this year?
"I think you see him flying around, especially as the year's gone on. He's gotten better and better. I think he does. He's a guy that's been battling injuries for a few years now. You always want to have that full season where you can just let your hair down and fly. I think he's been doing that this year. So, yeah, I definitely think he's happy to not be dealing with all that stuff he's had to deal with in the past."
You had to deal with QB Alex Smith's mobility and how much of a weapon is that? How does it change the way you attack their offense?
"Yeah, he's a mobile quarterback. He can do a lot of things with his feet and with his arms. We're coming off a guy in Bortles last week that could also do things with his feet, so it's not comparing to him in any way, just saying they both can run. That's one thing you have to worry about as a pass rusher is make sure you're rushing the quarterback with being smart about keeping those lanes so that he can't get out and run."
How did you process what happened on the flight back from Miami, what had happened that day? Did you draw some good feelings about the way you played in the second half or not really?
"Hell, I didn't draw one damn good feeling from that whole day. That was about as bad as it gets. But a lot of people, no matter what, are going to look at that day as a turning point in our season. I can see why they do it. Obviously, when you look at the season as a whole, you would consider that the turning point. But I don't necessarily think that that was some sort of monumental colossal meeting and change and all this. I think it's just from that point on we just started working on day to day, the fundamentals of football. The little things, playing good technique, playing our assignment, tackling better. It was a gradual change. It definitely wasn't an overnight thing. That's for sure."
Have you heard about a 99-year-old fan who sent out a video wanting to meet you?
"I have heard about her. That's the best part about our fans is there are incredible, crazy, wild stories every day from little kids just born to grandmas that are 99 years old. It's incredible. It's awesome. I'm so fortunate to have such great fans. And when you're a 99 year old fan, you're a big fan of me. You never know. Maybe you'll get a surprise every now and then."
How important is it to prepare to stop the run game?
"We just know it's our job to stop the run. It's our job as a defense to go out there and stop the running game and make sure that doesn't hurt us. And try to put them in long situations on third down and get after the passer. Which has been our plan all year, but especially in the second half of the season, that's why we've had a lot of success, is stopping people in the running game. I think in the last three games we've held people to just over 100 yards, total. I think we've been doing a great job of that. But that's what I'm talking about when I say we need to be fundamentally sound, play our technique and we need to tackle. Because if we do those things and we can stop the run, then we get a chance to get after the passer in passing situations."
What can we draw from the fact that you guys played so consistently well in the second half? What does that say about you?
"It says that we're playing better defense. We're practicing better, we're executing better. We're playing better. We're all very comfortable with each other. We're all very trusting of each other. And we all believe in what we're doing and everybody believes that the guy next to them is going to do his job. You can count on each other, and I think our defense is playing extremely well because of that concept, because we all believe in what we're trying to do together."
Any extra precautions this week regarding your hand?
"I'll be wearing the same thing I was wearing last week. Just a little thing to make sure that it's protected. Because it's still not fully healed. But, yeah, it's very nice to have it back, and I'm looking forward to playing another week with it back in use."
NT VINCE WILFORK
Talk about OLB Whitney Mercilus winning Defensive Player of the Month for the first time what do you think about that?
"That's awesome. Just goes to show all the hard work guys put in, especially that guy, I see him working every day, constantly getting after it. It paid off for him, so I'm glad that he got the recognition that he deserves. He helped us a lot this year but sometimes they get unnoticed. But this time, it showed up big time for us and helped us get to this level where we're at right now."
Was there a moment this year that you took note of OLB Whitney Mercilus, maybe in camp?
"In camp, you could just see how he worked. It would be so early on in the year, you don't know if somebody going to lose that juice or not. But he's a guy that it seems like he never gets tired and he's always working to get better. Everything that he did, he deserved it. He worked his tail off to get to where he at now. And I'm just glad he got the recognition that he needs, because he showed up big time for us in some games this year, stepped up big time for us, too. That's what we're going to need from all of us now going forward in the position that we're in now. So we've got to be at our best. We've got to minimize all error. We can't unleash, we can't keep the leash too tight. We've just got to continue just to keep pounding away and execute what we doing and do it well at a high level. If we do that, I think we'll be in good shape."
You guys have that post season experience with yourself and the coaches. What do you guys or have you done anything differently this week to try to set the tone for some of these guys that haven't been here before?
"Nothing. It all comes down to executing. The end of the day, the team that execute and plays well, that's who is going to win the ballgame. We understand that. I don't think it's anything that have to do with how many playoff games you've been in or how many you've lost or won or what you are. I think it's going to come down to being able to execute at a high level and whoever do that, and whatever team do that the best is going to come out victorious. We understand that. We preparing well. We playing well. Hopefully come Saturday, we'll show it."
What's it like for you to be in the playoffs, your first year with this team, and obviously it has not been an easy road to get to this point.
"Winning, it's always hard. It's a lot of teams wishing they could be in our position, I'll tell you that. I'm pretty sure there's a lot of people that thought in my career, me making the decision to come down here, that I won't be in this spot, too, but it's a good thing when you don't pay attention to what all these other experts and fans say and everything like that. But you know, you believe in something, if you believe in something, anything possible, and that's one of the main reason for my coming down here and my belief in this organization. I believe in these teammates and I believe in what they have done. So that's one of the reasons I came down here to be in this position. I'm not surprised. A lot of people might be surprised, but I don't think anybody in this locker room is surprised after being 2-5 that we're where we at. Wish we could have won more games and did all that, but it don't happen like that. And we're 9-7, we won the division. We're where we want to be. Even if we would have won 12 and 13 games, we at the position we want to be in in the postseason, and that's a start. Here going forward, we have to be at our best."
Can you describe Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel's coaching style and what makes him the coordinating genius that he is?
"He's old school. He played the game the way it needed to be played. He is very smart. He's a genius when it comes to playing defense. I had him as a rookie and I have him now. Really nothing's changed. He teach the game the way it need to be taught. I always tell people this, anybody that want to know about defense at any level, he's the guy that can teach you because of how he bring and how he produces it and how he show guys and make guys understand what we trying to get accomplished. He's a great teacher, and I think a good coach is a great teacher and he's one of them."
He's not a yeller and screamer all the time –
"Not all the time, but let me tell you something, when he want to get your attention, he'll get it."
Do you feel like you guys are a pretty dangerous team with the way you're playing defensively?
"When you play well, it's not just defense. I think as a team, when we play together and we play well and we execute well, we're a pretty good football team. We believe that. We've shown that. So we're going to continue to do that, especially in the postseason, being in the position we're in now. We've got to continue to just execute and prepare well and just put it out there on game day and just do what we've practiced and execute to the highest level. That's what it's going to come down to. Any time you play in a game, I don't care if it's a Super Bowl, playoff, preseason, regular season. Execution is the biggest key. If you can execute, you win ballgames. If you don't execute, you lose. It's simple. It's that simple, and I think sometimes people try to think about it more than what it is. But that's what it is. And it's going to boil down to the same thing this week and being able to prepare well and execute well. If we do that, we'll be okay.
Playoffs is a different game and different animal, have you executed anything from the Patriots way as far as rules go with the rookies?
"No, like I say, at the end of the day, it's about executing. It's simple. It's no magic wand. It's no magic wand. Like I say, you've just got to minimize mistakes, because at this point, every team you play here on out is good. They are not going to give you the game. They are not going to lay down. No, they are a good football team, so we can't go out and give up points early. We can't go out and turnovers and big plays and we can't make those mistakes now. It will cost us big time. It will cost you the season now."