Houston – The Texans have started to prepare for their date with the New England Patriots this Sunday. It is live on KPRC Channel 2 and Sunday Night Football. The Texans are 7-4 and lead the AFC South while the Patriots come to town 10-1 after beating the Dallas Cowboys.
Texans Head Coach Bill O'Brien met with the media on Monday. Here are some of his top quotes from his session.
Why has New England's defense been able to play at a historic level this season? "They're playing great defense for a lot of different reasons. They have excellent players at every position, they're very well coached. I mean, their secondary is as good as it is when it comes to being in position, communication, playing the proper technique. They're taking the ball away at a historic rate. So, interceptions, stripping the ball and then they play with great technique up front. You've got guys that have been playing in that system for a long time and they've been playing together for a long time, whether it's Devin McCourty or (Dont'a) Hightower, Jamie Collins (Sr.), (Kyle) Van Noy and then up front, Danny Shelton, obviously (Stephon) Gilmore. It's on and on. So, they're doing a really good job for a lot of different reasons."
Why is that Patriots don't seem to skip a beat when assistant coaches leave for other jobs? "Because of the head coach."
Is it because Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick has coaches ready to step up in their place? "Again, just organizationally, 20 years and a lot of continuity. Then yeah, guys have left because of the success. You have success there, you have a chance to move up the ladder and they do a really good job of developing coaches. Just an excellent job all the way through. They do a lot of great things in that organization and one of them is developing coaches."
Your team has come close to beating the Patriots in the past. Is this a team where you have to play all four quarters, minimize every mistake, and find some way to be as efficient as possible? "Yeah, you can say this for every game, but it's especially true when you play the Patriots. If you look at the games that they've won, they've just done a really good job of being opportunistic. They've blocked the punt or they've intercepted a pass, or they've batted a ball or punched a ball out, got the ball, get on a short field. Like even last night, the average drive start, I think, for the Cowboys was at like the 21-yard line. The average drive start for the Patriots was at the 41. They cover kicks well. They just do a lot of things well, so you have to do a lot of things well. You've got to take care of the ball, you've got to be in manageable third downs, you have to cover kicks well, you have to do the best you can to try to take the ball away if you can. It's just that type of a game, and they're a great team. They're 10-1 for a reason and we just need to go in there and play one play at a time. Very cliché, I know that, but you have to play one play at a time and understand that each play is a different type of situation, a different play, focus on that play and play the next play. That's the mentality you have to have."
Even though the Patriots have struggled a little on offense lately, when you watch the tape, does it look like they are close to breaking out? "I've always been just so impressed with what they do offensively. I think that when you look at Tom (Brady) and Josh (McDaniels) and then the players that they have there, Julian Edelman, the backs, Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, the tight ends, even the younger players. Then the linemen, (Joe) Thuney and that crew of guys, they just do – Shaq Mason, Ted Karras. I mean, they're just doing a really good job. Marcus Cannon. They play well together and then they play to their strengths. Whatever they believe their strengths are, they play to their strengths and they don't make a lot of mistakes. They don't beat themselves, and you just have to make sure that you're playing to your strengths and that you're doing a good job of playing disciplined football and I think that's a big part of it, who can play the cleanest football?"
What makes Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore so good and what do you expect from the matchup between him and WR DeAndre Hopkins? "He's got really good size, length, speed. Very smart. He's been playing for a long time. Very instinctive, good ball skills, does a good job of being patient. He's patient, he never panics, he's got a lot of confidence in himself. Just overall, they have a really good secondary. They just have a lot of guys that are playing at a high level and they've played together for a while now, so they kind of know how they want to play different coverages and how they communicate. So, it's going to be really important for us to get lined up and make sure that we're running very precise routes and doing what we need to do to get open. It'll be a good battle."
How hard is it to lose ILB Dylan Cole and his abilities on special teams and defense? "I think any time you lose a guy like Dylan, like when we lost J.J. (Watt), you lose guys that – forget about the team for a second, just the personal part of that. It means so much to those guys to play. Dylan was a captain, special teams captain, was a leader in the locker room. Was really, really good at his role, like one of the better players in the league at his role. So, now the next guy has to step up, whoever that guy may be. There'll be a couple of guys that may have to step into those roles that he played. But it's more personal when that happens, for me, because I have a lot of respect for Dylan and I know how hard he works and how well he plays. So, it's just a tough thing."
What are the keys to playing better run defense? "I think at times we play really good run defense. The Colts ran it, I think, about 40 times for 175 yards, which is clearly too much, but there were times when we were very disciplined and played good technique and we were in the proper gap and it's hard to run it on us. But when we get out of a gap or when we miscommunicate the front or whatever, then we're a little bit inconsistent, we end up giving up a crease and the good running teams find it. So, we've got to get back to playing more disciplined, just more consistent discipline against the running game."
What do you think about the Patriots' running game? "The Patriots have a really good running game. It's very – it's unique. It takes advantage of the skillsets that they have, both in the offensive line, at tight end and then obviously with the backs. They involve everybody in the running game, the receivers are involved. So, we've got to do a good job of just doing what we're coached to do and being in the right spots and not trying to do somebody else's job before we do our own job. I think that's a big part of the game."
How have you been able to get the tight ends more involved this year? "I think it's week to week. Fells has had a very productive year for us, Jordan Akins had some big catches for us the other night and then now we enter Jordan Thomas back into the picture. He hasn't played in a while. He got seven or eight snaps the other night. We've got to see how it goes this week and see if he'll be ready to go on Sunday night, but they're a part of what we do. We've used them a lot this year, but I think at the end of the day I think we've got to do a good job of getting them back into the fold and seeing if in the weeks ahead we can use them even more."
What do you make of how the Patriots have been able to adjust and keep QB Tom Brady playing successfully for so long? "I think that's a long answer. I'll try to keep it short. He's just a great player – arguably the best player to play in this league. He's won a bunch of championships, he's very smart, very competitive, does an unbelievable job of communicating with his teammates, does a great job of taking care of his body and he's always available for his team. So, I think when you have the combination of the head coach, Coach (Bill) Belichick, and then you have a great quarterback like that, you have a real chance for continuity no matter what happens around, if he's played with different players over the years an done a great job with all the different players. They just do a good job. They do a really good job in all areas."
What did you learn from Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick about running the personnel side? "It's different. Again, I don't really want to get all into that, relative to that word ‘control.' Again, we have a very, very unique setup here. Very unique. It's not like anybody else in the league, and I really don't want to get into all of that. With all due respect, it's not because – I respect your question, but it's just different. But I did learn a lot from Bill relative to strategy and evaluation and all those different things. Relative to that, it's just a whole different setup than what they have in New England. Totally different."
Is the fact that the Patriots have had at least 10 wins in 17 straight seasons their greatest feat? “That’s pretty incredible. I think the first year he was there in 2000 – I forget what their record was, but it wasn’t a winning record, then the next year they won the Super Bowl, and then the next year I think they went to like 9-7 and then since then it’s been 10-or-more wins since 2003. You just think about the continuity that it takes to do that, the grind, the work ethic, the ability to adapt. Think about how the NFL has changed. The NFL, the rules and all different kinds of rules have changed over the years relative to personnel, to rules on the field – everything has changed. So, I think that’s just something that’s a great feat and like I said, we have a lot of respect for that. But what does that have to do with Sunday night? I’m not sure. I think we’ve got to go out there and play our game Sunday night and see what happens.”