New Orleans Saints Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo
Monday, September 17, 2012
Opening Statement: “Greg (Bensel) and I spoke on the plane and decided that it would be best that today be the day that I get a chance to visit with you. Really out of respect to you as media, out of respect for the fans, I certainly think it’s the right thing to do. That’s why I’m here today. I will do the best I can to answer all your questions and talk about the whys and what not, but I hope you do realize that we play Carolina again, that we are getting ready to play another opponent on Sunday, so I won’t dodge a question, but I’m certainly not going to reveal what we should have or would have done specifically, because we may do that next time we play Carolina. I just preface it and ask for your cooperation in that regard. I would say it first that I thought our defensive players played their butt off. There’s no quit in these guys, none. There was no finger pointing. All there was was resolve. They all realize we’re going through some growing pains here, but I think the growing pains will pay off in the end. I will also say that I strongly believe in two things. I believe in our players and our coaches and I believe in the scheme and unless something out of the sky falls, I’m not going to change in that regard. I do strongly believe in that. Having said that, we all realize that we’re not happy or content with the performance of where we are at right now. That’s obvious and when you get into a situation like this and firmly believe and we talked about it this morning, that you look in the mirror first. I’m going to look in the mirror with you and I’m going to tell you what I came up with when I looked in the mirror myself. I firmly believe in this that in that first half, had I made two better calls, I think the whole half is differently and possibly the game. The two third and longs, third and 15, third and ten, I’m not going to get specific about it, but I just think I could have put the guys in a better call there, which I think would have had a better result. We would have been off the field on both of them in that way and those were the two drives that they scored on in the first half, the 14 points and it was a third and 15 in one of them and a third and ten in the other. I just think I need to have a better call there and that’s really the first half. I thought the guys did a great job on that fourth and one play down there in keeping them out of the end zone, that’s to their credit. In the second half, we come out, we stop them and in the second series, I think there were three calls there I would like to have back. I need to do a better job. I got a little overaggressive and I think that kind of led to them scoring in the second half. Everybody wants to know about the 66-yard pass to Steve Smith. I get it. There were some adjustments we were making, some things we were doing, because of what we were facing with the zone option. In my opinion we probably didn’t practice what we did enough to be prepared for what we did there. I don’t fault the players for that. Sometimes that happens and you rally on the go. In hindsight, maybe we would have gone about it a little differently. Now, there’s no question that the offense is unconventional and different. That’s no excuse. Just because they run option football and we don’t get to run it in practice etcetera etcetera, there’s no excuse there. If you want to talk about those plays, I went through it. In the first half, we did not defend those particular unconventional plays very well. Quite honestly when they ran it and it was the quarterback or running back or whoever, it was, it was plus 12 yards per crack. They had the 40-yard one when Cam Newton carried it and we should have defended it better. Then in the second half, there were 11 times I think, nine of 11, it went for a two yard average and there were two of them we blitzed against and got a little bit more yardage on that. I thought we made the right adjustments in that regard. It still didn’t lead to us winning the football game. I did that in hopes that I’ve addressed some of the things you are concerned about and certainly I will open it up for anything else you have.”
You were part of a New York Giants staff in 2007 that came back from a 0-2 start to win the Super Bowl. What allowed that turnaround?
“People are talking about that a lot and I get it. I would say that I don’t have a magic wand. There were no secrets to that when it happened and I’ve tried to go back in my memory because you do call back to your experiences when you are in a situation to try to help your team out. I’ve been in the notebook already. I went back. I keep a lot of notes. I keep notes of every meeting. I’ve looked at them and I’ve tried to present that to my guys and Aaron (Kromer) and I have talked. But there’s nothing magical. We didn’t say anything magical. It just came together. I do know one thing. I came together because nobody, nobody pointed fingers. Everybody stuck together and (you) just grind your way out of it. That doesn’t mean because it happened in ’07 and I’m here now that it will happen again. It’s certainly the hope. But I do know this; If we stick together, there’s enough character and enough good men in that locker room and certainly on the defensive side of the ball that we’ll get everything right.”
Michael Strahan said that you walked into a team meeting after the 0-2 start and said that you said you believed in the system and the scheme. Have you done that here?
“Yes, I have and unless I’m way off here, I do feel that the players do believe in that. It’s hard to say it when you start looking at stats and standings. You kind of stay away from that. Our focus right now after our guys are in there looking this over and putting it to bed, is on the Kansas City Chiefs. That’s what you do. You take one step at a time and grind your way out of it. That’s what you do.”
With the yardage Carolina ran for it looked like a lot of times guys were being blocked as opposed to guys not getting assignments right. Was that accurate?
“There was probably a little bit of both. Option football is option football in my 15 years of college coaching. It’s assignment football. There were a couple of missed assignments. There were reverses and all kinds of things. That offense is going to do that to a number of teams. I don’t think I’m going way out on a limb by saying that. That’s a good football team. The guy’s really skilled (Cam Newton) who has the ball in his hands every play and we didn’t defend it as well as we hoped and it cost us.”
Do you think you have the proper players position by position to run this scheme?
“I’m going to believe in that. We all know in this league that any system offensively or defensively, I think we’d be hard pressed to find a system in this league where we say we have to the top guy in this system at all 11 positions. There’s going to be some better and some not so good as others. As a collective unit though, you can still play pretty good football if everyone’s buying in and doing what they should be doing. Our guys are. There are a lot of good football plays on that film that I watch. There just weren’t enough and certainly the big play has hurt us.”
Is the possible hesitation in defending the option attack, one of the things that makes it hard to defend?
“I don’t know. I didn’t think there was a lot of hesitation. We talked about the night before and all last week, that we were going to let loose. We weren’t going to hesitate. I talked last Friday that in the Washington game there were some opportunities there for us to make plays and we were kind of one step away. We talked about finding one more, one more step, one more second. I didn’t think there was a lot of hesitation. There may have been some missed assignments here and there. The one thing about that offense is when there is a missed assignment on a play, it can result in the big play. That can happen.”
Is the hardest thing for you to be asking the fan base to be patient?
“I don’t have a lot of patience myself, so I can’t blame them if they’re impatient. I guess my message would be is there isn’t a coach or player in there on the defensive side of the ball that isn’t working as hard as they can to correct it and I don’t think we’re that far off quite honestly. That’s seeing the glass half full, which I choose to do and I know our players will do the same thing. If you don’t do that then you will have problems and I just don’t think you can look backwards and let that stuff seep in. It has to be all about what we do against Kansas City now and nothing more. It’s the next game.”
You were the coordinator in New York in a similar situation with a veteran team. Does having that experience help make it easier to be patient and stay the course?
“Again, I think you always draw back on experiences. I don’t think anything in this league is easy to be quite honest with you. That’s what makes it so much fun and makes it a great challenge; but if you do stay the course, stay together and believe in each other, then I think good things can happen. I really do. Is that guaranteed? Probably not because you still have to go out and perform on the field, but if you don’t do that I think your chances for failure go way, way up. I’m thoroughly impressed with the character and they type of people in this locker room. I really am. There’s a confidence here. Everyone knows how to win. A lot of these guys have done that and now we’ll find a way to dig out of a hole here and move forward.”
How many busted plays were there?
“Busts is a strong word. There may have been a few mistakes in there that led to a couple of those big plays. I’m thinking of one catch that Steve Smith made all the way across the field. It was actually one of those long third downs where we pressured and the down got extended and we don’t plan on that when we bring people, and yet he just made a great catch on the sideline. That’s happened to us a couple of times, but people are going to do that in this league and the way to negate that is to come up with a few yourself and we haven’t quite done that yet and I’m not sure why. They’re there and the guys are going to make them. Again, I don’t think we’re that far off. I know that to get stuck on stats, you’re going to think I’m full of bologna when I say that, but I truly believe it.”
You preach turnovers, and so far it hasn’t happened. Do you think they will come?
“We all do it. I don’t think we’re doing anything different now than I’ve done in the past and gotten a lot of them. They come in bunches. I worked for a legendary defensive coach in Philadelphia by the name of Jim Johnson. Everybody in here probably knows who I’m talking about. I thought about him the other day because he always would say they come and go in bunches. They disappear for a while and then all of a sudden you get a bunch of them, so I’m hopeful that’s what will happen here.”
How much do you attribute the new system to what’s going on now?
“That’s kind of what I’m talking about with the growing pains. In this league, everything is about reps and getting reps and feeling comfortable and knowing the guy next to you, knowing exactly what he’s going to do without having to say anything. That’s kind of the communication. There’s a few of those, but nothing that’s got us concerned at all. It’s not that anybody’s being defiant in what we’re doing, I’m talking about players, but there are going to be some growing pains in any new system. I believe that. I’ve been through it before.”
Moving forward, how do you fix what did not go the way you wanted it to go?
“When I say we go back to the drawing board, we just get back to work. We’re going to get back in here Wednesday morning and approach it the same way. There are no knee-jerk reactions. We’re not changing anything. By that I mean we’re not changing the daily routine. We’re going to go to work just like we have. Our guys bust their butts and work their butts off all the time. We’ll continue to do that. This challenge this week will be different. It won’t be zone-read option football I don’t think. I haven’t watched a lot of Kansas City right now. It will be a different kind of challenge. There’ll be things that they do really good that we have to stand up and defend, but we’ll study our opponent like we do every week, put in things we think will work well against them and then go play football.”
What’s been the hardest part so far?
“I take a lot of this to heart. It’s a winning business, so when you don’t win it hurts. And yet, the only way to fight out of it is just to go back to work. Again, I begin by looking in the mirror first and then I try to help the guys along. The coaches are in there doing that right now. I asked them as they went into their individual meetings with their coaches to hash it out and come out unified and when we get together as a unit Wednesday morning, be unified there and move on.”
Would it be fair to say you’re going to defend Carolina differently the next time you play them on December 30?
“Not that much differently to be quite honest with you. We might take some things and do them better and then maybe put in a wrinkle or two.”
Can you talk about Romeo Crennel and Matt Cassel a little?
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Romeo Crennel. I know him personally. I think he’s one of the finer coaches in this league. I’ll be quite honest with you, I don’t even know what their record is or how they’ve done. I say that honestly because I just was focused on one team this past week. Matt Cassel, I’ve got a little bit of an indirect relationship with him so-to-speak because of Josh Daniels, who I worked with last year with in St. Louis, (and who) coached him in New England. When we talked about quarterbacks, he would talk about Matt Cassel and he had a great deal of respect for him. This is a guy that’s a little bit different than the last two quarterbacks that we’ve faced, but certainly just as dangerous. There are a lot of good quarterbacks in this league and we’re getting ready to face a bunch of them, certainly one coming this week. I think he just manages the game real well. He’s one of those quarterbacks that can get his team out of bad plays and into good ones. As I digest the film, I’m sure that’s what I’m going to see.”
Is it easier from a defensive standpoint to get into muscle memory this week since they’re playing a more conventional style of offense as opposed to the ones they’ve faced the past two weeks?
“There are no guarantees in this league. Whatever we see on film and we think we need to do against this particular offense, that’s what we’ll do. Our guys will embrace it, they’ll absorb it and we’ll just go play. The bottom line on defense is it’s just about playing loose and letting loose and going. If we can do a little bit more of that, I think we’ll be okay.”
When you play an offense like Carolina’s yesterday, what kind of predicament does that put a defense in?
“When you watch it, and it was quite evident to me when you look at it, is you’re always trying to figure out if they called the play for the (running) back to get it or the quarterback to get it. I think he’s (quarterback) reading it. So when you’re out there in the middle of the play, if the quarterback always reads it right, they’re always at an advantage. That’s option football. It’s not get in the huddle and say we’re going to run it to the left and the (running) back’s going to keep it. The (running) back might keep it, the quarterback might keep it, he might come off it and throw a bubble screen because he sees a blitz, and they operate it pretty well. That’s what makes it challenging.”
Can you give me your impression on
“I see it a little bit the other way. I thought he played real fast this week. I think he’s a real good tackler. He’s a great leader. I love having him out there. I think he’s one of those guys that will lead us out of this grind, this hole we’ve kind of dug, so I’m looking forward to that. Safeties are the position in any defensive scheme that have an added responsibility from a mental standpoint because we’re asking them to put guys in and out of coverages. I think Malcolm does a pretty good job of that.”