Q. I want to take you back to the fake field goal in Denver. When did the decision-making process on that begin, in terms of whether that’s part of the early-week game-planning sessions, or something more in-the-moment?
A. Like many of these concept plays that we have in any of the three phases, we work them for an extended period of time and they’re not necessarily earmarked for any particular game. It’s just about when we get comfortable with the level of execution, because we’re asking a guy like Chris Boswell, to do something outside of his wheelhouse. We’re asking a guy like Al Villanueva to do something outside of his wheelhouse. So we worked that play for a number of weeks and just focused on us and our execution and our decision-making and thought process. Once we got comfortable with that, once that was above the line, then we started thinking about how we would infuse it into a game against a particular opponent. In regards to Denver, we knew that we could potentially have a certain look in a certain circumstance – an end of the half field goal attempt was one of those circumstances. The most important variable and the one that’s underscored is: forget the in-stadium decision to utilize it. To me, the big decision is when from a concept standpoint is our execution of it above the line.
Q. What do you need to see during practice to get to the belief that your execution of it is above the line?
A. We rep it enough in practice and present the key contributors in the play – in this case it was Boz and Al – with enough different looks to evaluate their on-feet decision-making, and their ability to execute something that is outside their normal wheelhouse, while seeing the unforeseen or some of the unnatural things the game of football can provide. You snap that football to Boz, and there are a number of things that could happen to him in terms of how people come at him, how those potential eligibles are covered, and so forth. It’s one thing to ask Ben to sort through those things, because that’s his day job. Boz is a kicker.
Q. Would you ever consider attempting something like that – a concept play – to provide an emotional spark to the team, or is it done based on purely schematic reasons?
A. The spark is the outcome. Your intentions, when you call it, is that you’re intending for it to work, and thus provide points, or a new possession, or a first down, or a stop, or whatever the case may be. You acknowledge the execution of that concept play provides a certain energy, not only to your team but to the environment that you’re in. You can quell a hostile environment, like in Denver, or you can really charge up a home game crowd like you can at Heinz Field.
Q. What does the term “team leader” mean to you?
A. A guy who just lives it every day, and by “it,” I mean the daily requirements that the profession calls for. People can lead in a lot of different ways and many of those ways can be effective, providing it’s genuine. I’m always cautious about asking certain guys to do leadership things. It has to be within the framework of their personality. It has to be genuine. So different people lead in different ways. Some guys are blue-collar workers who don’t have much to say. Some guys are emotional leaders and can uplift people with their spirit or words. Most of the time guys are a combination of both. The bottom line is, and particularly in an environment like this, anyone is capable of leading. If you think about a professional football team, you’re looking at 53 guys who were probably the captains of their high school teams and their college football teams and have always been that guy who has broken the team down after practice. This is a collection of guys who have those personality traits and that experience.
Q. What does that guy have to be or do before he can be a “team leader?”
A. He’s got to make a certain number of plays, and what that certain number is is somewhat mystical, but we all know when we’re there. The more you deliver the more weight your words carry, the more weight your actions carry, the more people pay attention to what it is you do and how you do it. All of those opportunities are born out of playmaking. You’ve got to deliver for this group over a period of time before you’re even a candidate to be viewed in those ways.
Q. This weekend is Alumni Weekend, and it’s going to honor the teams that won Super Bowl XIII and Super Bowl XLIII. What made James Farrior a leader on that Super Bowl XLIII team?
A. First of all, James played at an extremely high level. He brought a certain passion and fire to the game that was infectious, that people wanted to follow. He did it at such a high level for such a long time. He brought a professional approach and a team-oriented approach off the grass. His home was the team gathering spot. It was the massage therapy place, it was the acupuncture place, it was the camaraderie meal place. He always gave of himself, his space, and his time. And couple that with the tangible things that we all know about – the quality player that he was for the extended period of time that he was – that’s what made him unique among men.
Q. Tonight’s game is against the Chargers, and their quarterback is Philip Rivers. Even though Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger never will be on the field together competing against one another directly, do games that match great quarterbacks come down to a competition between those quarterbacks?
A. They can, but they also can be decided by a lot of other factors. When these two teams play, it’s beyond the two top-quality quarterbacks, although I’m sure, and deserving so, they’re going to get a lot of attention. But the Los Angeles Chargers are one of the top rushing teams in the National Football League, they have one of the best defenses in the National Football League, they have a top 10 defense, as do we. There’s a lot of balance in both groups. There are quality players in all three phases on both groups. So the quarterbacks will get a lot of the storyline, and their play potentially could determine the outcome of the game, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the outcome was determined by some of the other quality players in this game – and there are a lot of them – you could talk about the rush tandems of T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree vs. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. There are a lot of those types of storylines. You could talk about Keenan Allen and his receiving group vs. Antonio Brown and his receiving group. There’s just a lot of that. Vance McDonald and Antonio Gates. There are a lot of top quality football players, and that’s why they’re an 8-3 football team and why I expect it to be a very good game.
Q. When a guy completes 25 passes in a row, as Rivers did last week, is it a situation where the defense is not doing something, or is it an example of a great player being in the zone?
A. It’s a combination of a lot of things. It’s a combination of a great player playing at an extremely high level, and those around him playing at an extremely high level, and it’s probably an opponent that’s not playing very well. It takes two to tango, and that’s an element of it when you’re talking about something as unique as 25 consecutive completions.
Q. Rookie Derwin James starts at safety for the Chargers. What do you remember about him from the pre-draft process earlier this year?
A. There’s a lot I remember about him. Special player. I remember the first time I saw him I was in Tallahassee for Jalen Ramsey’s pro day, and I had just taken Jalen Ramsey out to eat the night before and gotten to know him a little bit – window shopping of course because I knew I had no chance to get Jalen Ramsey. But getting to know these guys and what makes them tick is a part of this. You have to evaluate the league, not only the players you could potentially run across. I always ask top quality players like Jalen, “Who’s the next guy I need to know?” And he pointed to a freshman standing over behind the rope wearing a backpack, who had just come over to watch the pro day from his classes, and that freshman was Derwin James. He was a big-time player then on the tape as a young player. I’m not surprised about what he was able to do in Tallahassee during his career, and I was able to watch it because of that exposure from Jalen Ramsey. I’m not surprised about what he’s doing in the National Football League. He’s doing the same things he’s always done.
Q. How do they utilize him?
A. In the very same ways he was utilized at Florida State. In the box, he’s a dynamic run defender. He’s a good blitzer, and a strong cover guy. He doesn’t get enough credit for his coverage ability because he does some of those other things extremely well. He did the same things at Florida State. He was capable of being a centerfielder in the middle of the field type of safety, and he did that as a young guy. As he got older they realized he had a chance to impact the game down in and down out on and around the line of scrimmage. He continues to do that. He has 3.5 sacks. He’s a dynamic, dynamic playmaker.
Q. Who is the Chargers’ key guy on defense?
A. It just depends on the moment. Obviously Bosa is a dynamic player and big-time playmaker and has been, and he’s getting back to full strength. He played a dominant game last week. Melvin Ingram is a Pro Bowl-caliber player, and Derwin James is showing that he is in that category as well.