Q. In your mind, is there ever a situation where there is an acceptable reason or explanation for a player losing a fumble, or is it a zero-sum situation? Don't fumble!
A. Zero-sum situation. Those who catch it, throw it, and run it, they're throwing, catching, and running with our hopes and dreams, and there's responsibility associated with that.
Q. As a defensive coach when you broke into the league, how did you view opposing players who fumbled the ball, and how many times did they fumble before they came to be labeled a "fumbler" and you coached your guys to try to take advantage of that?
A. If you have more than one on video, you can tell a story. That's what I always tell our guys, particularly our offensive guys. To be transparent, that's what I've been talking to Benny Snell about all week, because we've played two games and he has two balls on the ground, and so anybody who wants to tell a story can tell a story. So he needs to proceed with that understanding. He needs to assume they stood up in a meeting room in Houston, Texas, this week and put those two clips on a reel and characterized him as a fumbler. You have to answer for that. We all have to answer for that. But in general, all it takes is two plays in any discussion.
Q. How would you evaluate Terrell Edmunds through the first two games of this season?
A. I think he has been really active. Particularly in the running game, he has been good in and around the line of scrimmage. His fits have been really good. We're starting to get him going in the blitz game. I just like the general trajectory of his play. It needs to continue. There's more meat on the bone, but I think he's got a good start thus far.
Q. Are there any similarities between Edmunds' development to this point in his career and Bud Dupree's development to a similar stage in his career?
A. No question. And probably for similar reasons. The things we ask them to do are not necessarily what they were asked to do in college. Bud was an off-the-ball linebacker a lot in college. He played in space. He had to develop the down in and down out rush skills associated with outside linebacker play in our scheme. The same thing with Edmunds in college – he played all over the place. In sub-package ball, he played like a linebacker; in first-and-10 ball, he played the middle of the field. We've asked him to do some different things within our scheme that has required an adjustment and growth in him, so I think it is reasonable to expect him to continue to ascend and to continue to hone his skills and develop awareness within the scheme relative to the position he's playing, very much like Bud has done.
Q. When you're studying video of other teams or putting together a game plan for your team, what constitutes a blitz – is it the number of players rushing the passer, the breakdown of the positions of the players rushing the passer, or something else?
A. It's defined by us purely as the number of people rushing the passer. Traditionally, there are four people designated to rush the passer, and so anything more than four we designate as a blitz. There are different kinds of coverages behind the blitz – there are fire-zones, there is man-to-man, there is trap coverage and so forth. Generally, a blitz is defined by anything more than four rushing the passer.
Q. In the design of a blitz, is it always about out-numbering the blockers?
A. It's difficult to outnumber the blockers simply because you have a certain number of guys allocated to coverage and so it's usually a fair fight. What you want to do is confuse the blockers. And at times when there's the appearance that a blitzer comes free, usually there are an appropriate number of offensive players to pick up the blitz, but there is an element of confusion and so that's why somebody comes in free. Very rarely does the offense end up short of personnel in terms of picking up the number of blitzers.
Q. Moving onto another often used football phrase – outside-zone. How would you describe outside-zone, and what is the purpose of outside-zone running from the standpoint of the offense?
A. It's a zone scheme running play where you're blocking an area as opposed to blocking a man, and so it's very versatile. Your linemen are on tracks, and they have very disciplined steps. And the back himself has a track. So regardless of what the defense provides the offense, all zone scheme runs provide that fluidity where it's not man-related and you're blocking an area. When you're blocking an area, that allows you to block the unforeseen, that allows you to move in concert, and it really highlights the vision and cut-ability of a back. You put him on a track, you put offensive linemen on a track, and you train him to visually look for holes and then he's capable of hitting the same running play in a variety of different ways.
Q. How is a defense supposed to respond to outside-zone?
A. Most defenses have gap responsibilities regardless of offensive play. Each defender, particularly in the defensive front, is assigned a space or a gap, and so the defenders have to move in their gap. In inside-zone, the interior gaps don't move a lot. In outside-zone, the special relationships in terms of where the gap is on the field moves significantly. You can have an A-gap in the center of the field, and if you're running an outside-zone play that A-gap could end up out by the numbers. That's why you need defensive linemen who have lateral ability and can move with their gaps.
Q. On to another offensive tactic: the screen pass. What is important to making a screen pass effective from the standpoint of the offense?
A. Simply timing, and by timing I mean the amount of time the offensive linemen hold their initial block before they release them, and the amount of time the back or the tight end or whoever is receiving the screen pretends to block before they position themselves to receive the screen. Those two actions have to be extremely coordinated, and when they're not there is the chance for disruption.
Q. Are screen passes used to slow down the pass rush, or is that a myth?
A. It's used to slow down the rush. It's also used to neutralize blitzes. When the defense is bringing more than four people, it is a good weapon to neutralize the blitz game.
Q. How do you coach the defense to react and neutralize a screen pass?
A. It depends on whether we have man responsibilities or zone responsibilities. It's not a lot of discussion when we have man responsibilities, because whoever is responsible for the man who gets the screen should destroy that play before it develops by hugging up close to him. The ball is snapped and you're assigned a man, and that man is not proceeding downfield, you have to close that distance to him in an effort to destroy those plays before they develop. In zones, it's about fitting in spaces on blocks. It's really similar in discussion to the outside-zone play we were talking about in terms that you're assigned a fit or a space. So in zone concepts, we fit the screens. In man concepts, whoever is responsible for the intended receiver better destroy it before it develops.
Q. What characteristics does a good screen team have?
A. A lot of the time, it's the teams that are capable of running the football because the play-action screens are probably most effective. You get a run-action and then you discover it's not a run from a defensive perspective, there's a reaction and usually it's bursting into deep pass defense. That provides space for screens to develop. On a consistent basis, the most effective screen teams are the most effective run teams, and the most effective form of screen is the play-action screen.
Q. Into what category would you put Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson in terms of how he uses his mobility?
A. He's dangerous. It's beyond escapability. This guy is a capable runner. It doesn't mean that he doesn't have varsity throwing traits and is capable of hurting you from the pocket, but his running ability is more than escapability. I would describe Baker Mayfield as somebody who has really good escapability. This guy's movement is beyond that. This guy is capable of turning a broken play into a 50-yard gain if you're running in man coverage with your back to him. He is a legitimate athlete who happens to play the quarterback position.
Q. Ben Roethlisberger will set a franchise record today for games played. What does that say about him?
A. It just speaks to not only his physical talent and his God-given abilities, but also to what he's willing to do and his physical and mental toughness. That position, the way it challenges you above the neck and from a physical standpoint, he's just a special guy and that's what it says (about him). This is a tough job. All of these jobs and positions are tough jobs, but definitely the quarterback position. To do it at the level he's done it after so long, I think it's just a tribute to him and his talents. And not only his talents, but what he's willing to do.