OC PEP HAMILTON
With QB Davis Mills on the sideline the last two weeks, do you think that will help him moving forward?
"I think that it was an opportunity for him to recalibrate fundamentally more than anything. When you look at our games up until this point, it is just a matter of being able to manage all situations. It could be something as simple as how we adapt to the pocket, finding checkdowns. There's a lot of things that come along with helping us to be more consistent on offense. More importantly, I felt like over the past two weeks it was an opportunity for us to go back and really recalibrate some of the fundamentals, to help him with his posture in the pocket, to help him throw from funnel positions, to better adapt to pushing the interior of the pocket and finding checkdowns. Those are things that don't show up on the stat sheet, but those are things that will ultimately help him play winning football at some point."
Did you always have it in your mind that QB Davis Mills needed a couple of weeks off? Was it a specific timeline?
"No. It was just exactly what you just with in regard to can we bring a spark to the unit, to the locker room, but also at the same time, just knowing that you have a young quarterback. You often hear me say you can't teach experience, that is learning on the job. We kind of hit a point where the challenges became a bit overwhelming. It started with just getting background and fundamentally, and myself and Davis (Mills) just going back and working on some of those things that I just mentioned that we had to do."
With WR Brandin Cooks and WR Nico Collins not practicing, how do you manage that with QB Davis Mills returning?
"We had a similar situation arise a few weeks back. We had to adapt and improvise. Without a doubt, it will be a tremendous challenge if we were in a situation where we didn't play with both of those guys. I don't foresee that being an issue."
How do you isolate what the problems are with the quarterback versus the whole unit?
"As a unit, we often talk about we're a run first team. We have to be able to run the football. We want to stay out of obvious passing situations. That's one thing that we can do to help any quarterback, not just a young quarterback. There's going to come a point in time as a quarterback where you're going to have to be able to manage and handle some obvious passing situations. One thing that we know can help manage those situations is making sure fundamentally we are sound."
Are there similarities to the situation last year where QB Davis Mills sat out?
"We'll find out. I do think that after the Buffalo game last year, that was a tough one. He needed a second to kind of do what we've talked about as far as recalibrate. Both Davis (Mills) and myself, each week it's just part of our routine to go back and really identify the things that we can do to correct the mistakes that we made the prior week. He's had two weeks to do that, and we hope to see the benefits of just going back and self-evaluating."
Can you talk about the challenge the Cowboys front seven presents?
"It's well documented. We're talking about one of the best defenses in the National Football League and it starts with the guys up front. The guys up front allow the guys on the back end to play really aggressively as well. It will be a tremendous challenge, but it's the National Football league. From week-to-week, you're going to have these challenges. We just have to come out and play our game."
Is LB Micah Parson different from some of the other pass rushers?
"Very much so. He runs a 4.3, a high 4.3, 40 (yard-dash). Explosive. See ball, get ball guy. Can play on the line of scrimmage. Can play off the ball. Had a chance to face him some years ago in the Big Ten and he's such a dynamic playmaker that you got to account for on every play."
Do think they QB Davis Mills and QB Kyle Allen switch is similar to what you experienced in the XFL during 2019?
"Not necessarily. This is a part of the game, where the quarterback is truly the catalyst to leading the team to victory and winning football games. We have to do whatever we need to do fundamentally from a decision-making standpoint, even from a scheme standpoint, to make sure we're playing winning football at that position."
How do you keep moral up with QB Davis Mills?
"I think I said this last week. We don't get too high with the highs and too low with the lows, but there is a human element to it, and you try and inundate them with football. More importantly, as a coach, we try and inundate our players with solutions and things we feel like can help them to realize their full potential. That's what we've done with Davis (Mills)."
Where are WR Amari Rodgers and RB Eno Benjamin at now? Can WR Amari Rodgers help with the current state of the wide receivers?
"Both guys have worked tirelessly to learn our offense and get on the same page with our quarterbacks. You guys understand how important it is that the quarterback can trust that the receiver is going to get to a spot and vice versa, the receivers can trust that the quarterback can make the appropriate throws. The more time our guys spend together, the more time on task they have, the better chances we have to go out and play efficient football. Those two guys have been working hard in practice."
What progress have you seen from TE Teagan Quitoriano and TE Brevin Jordan?
"I think both guys have shown they can play without the ball. Teagan (Quitoriano) is as tough as they come, and Brevin (Jordan) is no different. We're excited about both young guys."
SPECIAL TEAMS COORDINATOR FRANK ROSS
"Interstate football here. Got to turn the page quickly, moving on from last week. That was the emphasis from my perspective too. Special teams unit getting ready for the Dallas return game. Negative plays happen, got to find a way to eliminate those as quickly as possible for the next upcoming opponent. If you look at the stretch here, the return games that we're about to face here in this next stretch we have coming up is the league's best. It's going to start with us defending KaVontae Turpin, obviously they've put (Tony) Pollard back there. We have to be at our best. Really one of the best special teams units that we play coming up with (John) Fassel's unit. Work cut out for us, and we have to have all hands on deck."
How did you break down the Browns punt return touchdown?
"Missed tackling in space, and just everything working together as a unit. Leverage in coverage, getting off single blocks and missing tackles. Do what you can, right? Next week come back up, practice tackling, over-emphasis those points and just make sure we know as a group our standard is higher than that. Try to eliminate those mistakes when possible."
Was it a situation where the punt went further than you anticipated to go?
"We had a free hitter on the ball, so not necessarily in that circumstance. Against returns like (KaVontae) Turpin, space is the enemy. As coverage, you're trying to take the air out of that space from a three-by-three perspective, from the interior core plus your two gunners, and then you have to get off blocks. People were stuck on blocks and missed tackles. Doesn't matter who you're playing, where you're playing, what part of the year, he's going to make you pay. This week specifically, going to be even more important for that."
What sets Cowboys WR KaVontae Turpin apart from other returners?
"Returners that you see that are most successful for return after return after return, you see the dynamic speed. That is always there with him. You're right. He does have an aggressive mentality, doesn't want to fair catch. He wants to return the ball when given any chance, and then his ability to stretch and cut. When you're in space, he's not a big guy, so those jittery guys that can move and cut at full speed, that makes it difficult for singular tacklers in space. You have to make him slow and stop feet, that way the rest of coverage can rally and really shut down that space and close lanes."
Because WR KaVontae Turpin is both the kickoff and punt returner, does that give you more of a balanced approach?
"Yeah, that's a fair question. I would say we prepare for everybody. I know what Tony Pollard can do coming out of school. If he's back there, we know what type of routes or tracks that he's going to run. We know what they want to use Turpin for if he's back there. Of course, most teams have a starter and a guy that works the most reps back there. We'll prepare for that, but we're going to teach as much as we can to our entire coverage unit on who potentially we could face. Again, with Turpin, a lot of work cut out for us to shut down those lanes and not let a smaller guy get started in space."
On Sunday, the Browns squibbed a kick. Do you expect that to be something other teams do to you in the future?
"I don't think so. We're always prepared for it. It wasn't a squib. It was a mishit off the foot. If it goes to the off returner, in this case it was Dare Ogunbowale, he got the ball, he backed up to take off the second hop, fielded cleanly, got the ball at the 18-yard line, but we get it out to the 32 (yard line) just by them not having speed down in coverage. If hang time matches coverage for them, or our kickoff, we want the ball to be placed at the certain spot so we can cross the 30-yard line when he's receiving the ball. We caught that ball before they were ready for coverage, and we were able to just find a lane and bury your head, and he got to the 32-yard line. That's a good starting point. Teams don't want to give that, so it was a mishit off the foot."
Because Cowboys CB Kelvin Joseph now starts on defense and not the coverage team, does that change things for you?
"Whoever's out there, we have to stop. But to your point about very good coverage, look at (Luke) Gifford, look at C.J. Goodwin. How about (Peyton) Hendershot running down there, putting his hat and hands on people. There's dynamic level of players. They have two rotational that play. They've kind of swapped out roles or rep-for-rep, or phase-for-phase in Damone Clark and Jabril Cox, both those LSU kids. They've got plenty of guys that can cover. Yeah, having an elite player like (Kelvin) Joseph is going to be a little bit lesser of not a challenge I'd say. You want that guy to be out there covering if you're the coach. I'm expecting him to play out there even though he's going on defense. If he's not out there, we'll just deal with whoever's up."
What happened with K Ka'imi Fairbairn on the injury report, and do you expect him to play on Sunday?
"Just working through everybody late in the year, soreness and different things like that. Coach (Lovie Smith) will have it on the injury report for you guys."
SAFETIES COACH JOE DANNA
How do you think DB Jalen Pitre played this past weekend?
"First, talking about him, obviously he had a productive game. He's done a nice job through the rookie year to continue to get better every week. Anytime you can get a takeaway in a game like he did, that's huge for us defensively, us a team. That's something we need to continue with."
How did DB Jalen Pitre work through not getting a turnover from Week 3 until last week?
"Really, he's just functioned within the confines of our defense. Just executed the technique, played it the way that we talk about it. He's got a good feel for the game and made a heck of a play."
What have you done behind the scenes to help DB Jalen Pitre's progress?
"I'll just say this, can't say enough about how much he, as a rookie, works at his game, studies the game, takes care of his body. He takes the coaching. The credit is to him. We try to coach everybody the same. He works at it. It's important to him. It's just good to see he was able to reap the benefits of some of that work."
How important is it going to be for your safeties to stay disciplined against the rushing attack and passing game of the Cowboys?
"They're just one of those teams that are really good at everything. But like any week, executing the defense, playing with good eyes, not trying to go chase the plays, letting them come to you. It's just disciplined football that you try to do every week. It's just a little bit heightened with the players they have."
What have you noticed about the Cowboys tight ends?
"They use all of them. All are talented. All kind of similar in size and athletic ability. All have had production in some point in time in the year. Just guys we've got to be aware of."
Do you think some of the teams you've already played have prepared DB Jalen Pitre for this week and next week?
"Just trying to focus on this week, but every Sunday presents its different challenges. We've had plenty of them over the first part of the season and this week will be no different."
What have you seen from DB Jalen Pitre during film study?
"I think it just shows he really loves the game. It's not a chore for him to sit in a meeting, watch the film and study and things like that. He truly enjoys it. I think it's a passion of his. When you have that, it doesn't feel like work. It makes it a little easier to come into the building every day. I think he's kind of proven that."
How have you seen DB Jalen Pitre mature in the film room and take ownership?
"It's tough through an NFL season. Every Sunday you've got to show up. There's going to be ups and downs, especially at the position we play. You're going to have your splash plays. You're going to have your not so good plays and just try to be the same every week. Never get too high, never get too low and just keep grinding out every week."
Have you noticed the safety being used more in Lovie Smith's defense than in other places?
What have you seen with DB M.J. Stewart's progression and what led him to be put in the rotational safety spot?
"M.J. (Stewart) has played a lot of football in the league. Anytime you take one of your best special teams players, you're seeing them make plays in those areas, special teams and defense, lot of correlation there. Just felt like he was deserving to get out there and be able to play some snaps."
What does DB M.J. Stewart add?
"Speed, athleticism, physicality. Everything you want in a safety, he possesses that. Good football player."
How would you assess the performance of DB Jonathan Owens to this point?
"I would say he's been pretty consistent. Obviously, some games more than others, but overall and during the season you can see a lot of tackling production, been a consistent tackler, always plays with good effort, solid in coverage area. Overall solid player.
How do you go about the decision-making process with players over the year?
"For every technique within a coverage, you've got to teach the fundamentals with that technique. It starts with your stance, alignment, key, responsibility, technique, there's so many things that go into it. You've just got to follow that check list and try to stay within that as much as you can. There's also a fine line between letting a guy, kind of those natural instincts and play making ability, and just letting them go."
When you're reviewing the game, how do you define success within your position?
"There's success within each play, each drive, the game. Just trying to take it one play at a time and all of those things mentioned in a check list, just trying to check all of those boxes. You're trying to be perfect on every play. It's hard to do that, but that's what we're striving for."
QB DAVIS MILLS
How beneficial was sitting out these two weeks? Do you think this will be a similar situation to last year?
"I hope we get similar results to last year. I felt like last year when I was able to come back for the second time, I played really well at the end of the season. These past two weeks allowed me to sit back and continue to learn. Early on in the season and as the season progresses there's a whirlwind of everything, as you play a game, watch the film immediately after the game and then you're quickly on to the next opponent. There's not really a time to sit there and evaluate what you're doing. You're just trying to progress as the season goes, but these last two weeks really allowed me to sit back and start piecing some more things together in my mind of what it takes to be successful out there. Hopefully we can fall back to those fundamentals that I've been doing my whole life and as Pep (Hamilton) has taught me since I've been here in Houston, to go out there and play some successful football."
What are some of the things that you've been piecing together in your mind?
"Just going back to those fundamentals, shaping my thoughts pre-snap. Pep (Hamilton) was talking to you about that acronym before. Just seeing what you need to see mentally and having that pre-snap check list every play based on what play we're given on offense. Safety, slot defender, see the shell of the defense and know what you need to see any given play. If there's nothing open downfield once you snap the ball, simplify it and find a check down instead of trying to do too much."
Do you feel you should have been given the opportunity to play through some of the offensive struggles?
"I think that was the coaches' decision to make at the time. Obviously, I want to be out there every snap, but that's just not how it was."
How do you work through play progressions when you're on the sideline and not playing?
"When you're not in there, and you're watching somebody else in the position or just in the week of preparation, you have film study to do it. You can check the pre-snap stuff from the film or looking at the Microsoft Surface tablets on the sideline in between drives to make sure what you're seeing out there is confirmed, and they're not catching you in disguises and different things in that regard. The biggest thing is simplifying everything, going out there and executing."
What are some similarities and differences between the process you are going through this year compared to last season?
"Similarities, it's a pretty similar spot in the season. The difference is my role on the team prior to getting taken out and getting put back it. Really the mindset going forward and even while I was out is you're still preparing to be the starter. You're preparing like you're going to be in there on any given snap, so not too much has changed. The only thing that has been different is the two weeks off to reflect on how to be a better quarterback so you can take advantage of the opportunity next time you get it."
How did you manage the reflection process?
"It's tough. It's a real business, and when things aren't going your way, it's tough at times. I'm a very realistic person. You can only really deal with what's in your future rather than what's in your past. Take it one step at a time, and the process is the same. Like I said, the preparation is the same. I was just waiting for my next opportunity to get out here."
How does it feel to have the support and confidence from your teammates?
"It's great when you have a lot of trust in your teammates, and they have trust in you. That's what it takes to win football games. I'm still a very confident football player. I didn't lose any confidence in these two weeks, and I'm excited to get out there on Sunday."
What is realistically in your future?
"Winning games. Playing good football."
What have you seen from the Dallas Cowboys on film?
"A very talented defense. I know there's a ton of stats that they kind of pride themselves on. Not giving up touchdowns in the first quarter and ending games really strong. We have a challenge ahead of us, but I think if we play a full game on offense, defense and special teams, we have a really good shot to go out and win it on Sunday."
What have you noticed about the Dallas Cowboys cornerbacks?
"They are all very talented, (Trevon) Diggs especially. They are ball hawks. They like going for the ball and taking chances. The biggest thing for me is being on the same page as the receiver, giving their defense different looks to make our concepts look different to them and any ball I throw, making sure I'm throwing away from the leverage of the defender and missing in the right spot."
How will it be facing the Dallas Cowboys talented pass rush?
"Very quickly. We'll have to get the ball out of my hands extremely fast. The biggest thing is getting the ball out to playmakers on the edge and let them make a play. There's no reason to sit back in the pocket too long and let those defenders do what they get paid to do. We can try to find ways to get the ball out quick on time and make some plays."
How do you approach this week's offense with what looks to be some key weapons on the injury report?
"I think Brandin (Cooks) might be out this week, and I'm not sure entirely about Nico (Collins). It's like any other week. We have a full week of practice with the guys that are in. We're extremely confident in the guys we have available to go out there and execute their jobs at a high level, so we're excited about that. It doesn't fall entirely on the receiver room to have production. We have a lot of playmakers in the offense still with the tight ends and the running backs to make plays. We're excited to continue building chemistry as we move on this week and go out there and execute our jobs on Sunday."
Over the past two weeks, have you and Pep Hamilton made some adjustments to the offensive scheme?
"We haven't fully pieced the game plan together yet. We still have a couple of days before the game. Really as we get into later this afternoon and tomorrow, we'll start doing some of that for the first 15, first 20 thoughts as we come out of the game. There are some looks that we're excited for this week, and some plays we've put in to combat what they've shown on defense. We're excited to do that and make it simple for us on offense to go out there and start moving the ball."
Is there someone personally that you've leaned on throughout the process over the last two weeks?
"I have a bunch of teammates who reached out. A big thing was my girlfriend and my family. They've been watching me play football my whole life, and they know I'm a good player. I know I'm a good player. Just them instilling that confidence in me was huge, so I'm just excited for my next opportunity, which is this week."