ESPN hosted a media conference call today with studio analysts Tedy Bruschi, the three-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots linebacker, and Trent Dilfer, the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl XXXV champion quarterback, to preview this weekend’s NFL Conference Championship games. Below is a transcript of the call. (Full audio replay)
Q. For Trent, Joe Flacco has the game manager label. You had that label as a player in Baltimore. What does that mean to you? Do you roll your eyes when you hear that? Is it a derogatory thing? What is it that we don’t understand about that label?
TRENT DILFER: I think it’s turned into a derogatory term. I always looked at it two ways: I looked at management of the game was part not digging your team a hole, and I don’t think that part is derogatory. I think every quarterback, whether he’s a Hall of Famer or other, the biggest part of his job ‑‑ one of the biggest part of his jobs is not to dig his team a hole, not to put them in a negative situation, to make decisions that help you move the chains or help you score points, not help the other team obviously.
I think the part where it’s become derogatory is when a hole is dug, whether it’s by yourself or by your team, you’re viewed as somebody that can’t get out of it, that you can’t put the team on your shoulders and get out of it. And I’m the first to admit that in my stint in Baltimore I was the first part. I didn’t dig my team a hole very often, so that part was good. But I also didn’t have many opportunities to have to dig our team out of a hole. So I didn’t get the part of it where you’re playing beyond the Xs and Os so to speak, where you do the heroic thing and put the team on your shoulders and get them out of bad situations.
So I’m fine with that. I think Joe is a better quarterback right now than I was at that point. I think he showed in the Steelers game earlier in the year that he was able to put the team on his shoulders and make big throws at big times to dig them out of a hole. So I think he’s shown the ability to do a little bit more than manage the game, as Alex did last week and Alex has done a few times this year. Yeah, I think it’s derogatory when people just make a blanket statement, but I think it’s really twofold.
Q. Trent, you grew up in the Bay Area. In recent years it’s become a Giants town, San Francisco has, and the whole area has been crazy over that team. Do you see with the success that the 49ers are having now sort of a swing toward them again? Do you feel that?
TRENT DILFER: No, there’s huge momentum. In fact, today was 49ers day at my kids’ school, and my daughter put on the Dilfer jersey and the NFC West Division champion hat and went off to school. There’s a lot of excitement here with the 49ers, and there should be. I think Jim Harbaugh is getting a lot of credit, as he should, but I think people are starting to recognize, also, that Jed York has done an incredible job as the owner since he took over for his dad, and Trent Baalke, the general manager, has really constructed probably the best roster in all of football, 1 to 53, in terms of talent, in terms of youth. That, the structure and the order within the organization is now very much like it was when Eddie D. ran it when he owned it 30 years ago and Carmen Policy was the general manager. They’ve kind of found the same structure within the organization, and people are trying to draw parallels between the glory years of the 49ers and how that dynasty was built and how this team was built. I was on local radio yesterday, and just being around town, it’s as much excitement as I can remember since I was a kid growing up in this area.
Q. Trent, I don’t think this happened to you, it may have because it’s a crazy team in its own right, but with Ed Reed saying the things he said recently, the last couple days, about Joe Flacco, especially saying Flacco was rattled in that game, what kind of effect can that have on a quarterback in that situation, and did anybody on that team do anything like that when you were here?
TRENT DILFER: It did not happen to me, privately or publicly. I think the reason is because we were very secure in who we were as a team. Others wanted us to maybe do ‑‑ win a different way or do something else, but we spoke very openly within our locker room about our profile for success and kind of roles each player had, and we were very secure with what the offense was to do to complement the defense and special teams and vice versa.
I took that comment as a little insecurity by Ed and the defense, as, hey, we know we’re going up against Tom Brady, we know we’re going up against him. Maybe we can’t hold him like we did the Houston Texans, and we need a little bit more from the offense. That’s all I kind of read between the lines.
We didn’t have that issue. We’re getting ready to go play the Oakland Raiders with Rich Gannon, and they were one of the league leaders in offense. And Rod Woodson and I were in a helicopter going from our hotel over to the AFC Championship press conference, and he looked at me and said, “All we need is a touchdown,” and that’s how they felt. They didn’t feel insecure with their ability to be able to stop that team, and I think this Ravens team is looking at this Patriots’ offense saying, wait a second, we need our offense to play better and maybe this is a way to call them out and get more out of them. Whether it’s right or wrong, that’s what I think of it.
Q. Tom Brady said last year that he’d like to play until he’s 40, and as you know that’s very difficult at quarterback. From what you’ve seen, how much longer do you think Brady can play at this high level?
TRENT DILFER: I wouldn’t put it past him. And Tedy can speak better to this than me. And by the way, Tedy is much better looking and much better than I am. You know, Tom is a unique competitor. I think we throw around the team “great” too easily. I don’t think we do it with Tom. I think he’s truly one of the greatest competitors we’ve seen in football. The more people say he can’t, the more he will.
We talked so much about the Tim Tebow “will factor” this year. I think Tom Brady might have as great a will as anybody in football, and because of the type of game he plays where he doesn’t really rely upon his physical, his giftedness from the waist down, so to speak ‑‑ that’s what goes first with quarterbacks is their legs. Once you lose your legs, you kind of lose everything else. I remember Kurt Warner talking about that late in his career, and obviously I experienced it. Every quarterback experiences it. I think Tom works hard enough to maintain the leg strength he needs to be as precise as he is, and I think he’s a competitor that if he puts something in his mind that he’s going to do something, he’s a guy that goes out and does it, and there’s very few people in sports like that, talk about the Kobe Bryants and the greats in all sports. I think Tom is right up there, when he puts his mind to something, he’s going to do it. So I fully expect him to be playing at 40 if he says he’s going to.
TEDY BRUSCHI: As players progress up into the years, the more shots you take, the shorter the second half of your career will be. And I think Tom Brady will play as well as his offensive line, his protection allows him. I think he’s shown over the course of the last few years that there are the usual ‑‑ they’re becoming normal now, late in the season where he had a rib or a shoulder or various injuries like that over the course of a season. You end up accumulating some damage, especially as a quarterback, because you’re the most sought‑after hit in terms of the defensive perspective. So if he can be protected, I think that goal is possible. He can play as long as he wants to.
Q. Could you give your perspective on Alex Smith’s career and his season and kind of the patience or the time that he’s had? It seems pretty rare that a quarterback would get as many years as he did. I know that the turnover I think had something to do with that. And the second part of that is if there’s anything the Broncos and Tim Tebow can learn from the Alex Smith journey here?
TRENT DILFER: Yeah, it’s a big answer. I’ll try to condense it. Being with Alex for two years and being very close to this program out here, living here and playing for them and whatnot, I’ll say this about Alex: I was saying this a few years ago and got laughed at, but Alex was a guy that had about 60 percent of his ability, his potential brought out in him because of all kinds of circumstances. What he was really relying upon to survive in the NFL was his mental and emotional strength, toughness, giftedness, whatever you want to call it. He is so mentally strong, so resilient, refuses to let the demons affect him negatively. And I just admired that about him, and I knew once somebody came here and was able to develop him and train him like he started to get trained with Norv in 2006 that you would start to see some of the physical stuff come out. And I’m just so happy for him because he found a guy in Jim Harbaugh who coached him the way he needed to be coached.
I call it the “you’re awesome, but” coaching philosophy, meaning you affirm the player first; everything you do, it’s hey, you’re awesome; Alex, you’re an awesome player; you’re an awesome talent; you’ve played good football. But there’s some things we need to work on. It’s like raising teenage kids, you’ve got to tell them how good they are all the time to get the fullness out of them. That’s what Jim did. Jim got here, and I remember when he became the coach, talking to him, and all he could talk about was all the good things that Alex could do and all the positives, and the first time they met together, it was always, hey, you’re so good at A, B, C, D and E. Everything was affirmation. And then they went to work on the little things he needed to improve. You just saw, I worked out with Alex a few times this off‑season, and you just saw a different ‑‑ he carried himself differently. There was a different aura to him because of that affirmation that he got from Jim.
So now that the mental and emotional strength allowed him to get to this point, survive, for lack of a better term, and then now Jim is getting the fullness of his athletic ability out of him, his talent, because of the approach he’s taken. It’s really a great model for how to get the most out of a player. I think Jim’s history has been he’s always been able to get the most from the least. That’s what makes him a good coach. Whether he was at San Diego or Stanford, he was never dealing with the best of the best in terms of athletes, but he was always able to get those players to play to their fullest potential. So I think that’s probably the biggest story with Alex.
How that relates to Tim Tebow, I think there’s more passing ability. There is a lot more passing ability just in Alex’s DNA than Tim, but Tim has some of the similar emotional and mental traits that Alex has, and I think because of that, it will allow him to survive long enough to get developed and trained, and that’s really ‑‑ Steve Young talks about this all the time. The first goal for young quarterbacks is to find a way to stay on the field. Find a way to stay on the field long enough so you can get developed and trained, and that’s what Alex was able to do with his resilience, and I think Tim will be able to do that with his resilience, as well.
Q. Obviously here in Dallas there’s a lot of sickness amongst Cowboys fans. They had two chances to eliminate the Giants, and the first time they blew a 12‑point lead at home. Can you address how far you think the Cowboys are away from the Giants, and Trent, if you could touch on the difference between Tony Romo and Eli Manning at this point in their careers.
TRENT DILFER: I think quarterback comparisons are tough because it’s a very dependent position. I think Eli has definitely gotten more help from his friends, meaning his teammates, than Tony got this year, but Eli has also done an incredible job of weathering some early‑season storms and playing his best quarterback when the Giants have needed him to. I think Tony can learn a lot from kind of how Eli handled the early years, and I think Tony has. I think Eli’s just steady, calm composure, his not getting caught up in the hype has really allowed him to ascend into ‑‑ I guess the term we use now is elite group of quarterbacks. Tony has greatness in him. I think when you talk to other people that really play the quarterback position, and I see it, as well, there’s a few guys that really have incredible greatness in them, and Tony is one of them.
I think the issue here is he needs more help from his teammates. I think they are not nearly as talented as people say they are, from 1 to 53, I’m talking about the total roster. I don’t think there’s as much order and structure in the organization as the Giants have and the teams that have the elite quarterbacks have. I think the only thing that’s keeping Tony from ascending into the upper echelon of quarterbacks is his team, is the help from his friends and his teammates, and I think once that all comes together, you’re going to see the fullness of Tony’s greatness come out.
TEDY BRUSCHI: Well, Tony Romo is someone who on a week‑to‑week basis you just don’t know who you’re going to get, and until that consistency establishes itself, you’re going to have problems. And when you talk about friends, like Trent is talking about, I look over on the defensive side of the ball, and Rob Ryan needs more time with these defensive players because his system is complex, his system is multiple, and for every shift, for every motion, there’s going to be an adjustment. And this defense just didn’t grasp the complexities of his scheme, especially towards the end of the season.
I played under Rob. He was a linebacker coach in New England, and I know what this system is, and unless you have players that are ‑‑ you need intelligent players that are ready to make those adjustments, pre‑ and post‑snap, making adjustments on the fly. I think that defense first of all has to be the strength of that team. That’s the way Rob wants it to be, and until those players, especially at the linebacker and secondary level, grasp that scheme and embrace it for what it is, you just can’t ‑‑ we do what we do. It’s not that type of system, and if you’re that type of player, you’re not going to succeed in it. You have to be ready to be multiple, be smart and make adjustments on the fly.
TRENT DILFER: Let me add to that, too. I think as I’ve studied the really good talent evaluators in this league and the guys that consistently get the players that best fit their system, they look at talent differently than the general public. The general public looks at talent as just athletic ability, and the greater valuator is to blend athletic ability, functional football intelligence and football character, and you find a blend with those three and then you really get a highly talented player.
And to play in a system like Rob’s you need a player like Tedy, who you combine athleticism, functional football intelligence and football character, and the Dallas Cowboys need to do a much better job of looking past height, weight, speed and drafting defensive players especially that have the other two elements, as well. And when you draft that type of player, one that has athletic ability, functional football intelligence and football character, then they’re able to adapt to a system like Rob Ryan’s, they’re able to be more coachable, they’re able to ascend and get the fullness of their potential quicker than the next guy. So I think the Cowboys’ biggest issue is reconstructing how they look at the draft and the type of players they draft.
Q. I’m looking for maybe a perspective on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. There’s a number out there that says 80 percent of the time the team that wins the turnover battle wins the game. I was just wondering what your feelings are on that, and why is that number so important that teams can’t overcome it, especially in the playoffs?
TEDY BRUSCHI: Well, first of all, you’re stealing possessions away, and that’s even more critical in today’s NFL against some of the offensive systems you’re playing against, that when you steal possessions and limit their opportunities to score, it gives you a greater chance to win, and also a thing that people don’t realize is how it helps you win the field position battle, also. You’re not asking your offense to go a long field if you can get the turnovers. So it’s the number one stat in football that’s talked about. It’s talked about weekly. There are coaches that get in front of defensive units and talk about turnover statistics and how they did in terms of ball disruption, altering throwing, tipping passes, forcing fumbles, recovering fumbles. It’s all that’s ever taught to these defensive players. You know, it’s just the major factor in winning games, and teams know that.
TRENT DILFER: Yeah, I have very little to add to that. That’s pretty much it. From an offensive perspective it’s very hard. There’s only a few offenses, a handful of offenses that are built to go 80 yards, and Tedy will tell you that because he played on some great bend‑but‑don’t‑break defenses that eventually offenses will beat themselves if they’re asked to make long drives. So when you give an offense a short field, you’re basically giving it a head start basically. You’re allowing them to now only have to run six, seven, eight plays consecutively instead of 12, 13, 14, and the odds of scoring points for your average offense go way up. The 49ers are a great example. They’re not a bad offense but they’re not a great offense. If they have to go 80 they’re not going to go 80 and score a touchdown very often, but they’re going to capitalize on a short field. The mantra of don’t beat yourself, make the other team beat you, is never more true than in the playoffs, and a big part of that is the turnover battle.
Q. We’ve been beaten over the head with the notion of this being a passing league with all the stats and 5,000‑yard passers and so on, and yet three of the top five offenses are gone. What’s it say or what do you think this says, and are we short‑changing defense now this time of year?
TEDY BRUSCHI: Well, I think it’s just offensively it’s more glamorous. It’s more glamorous to look at. You want to watch the passers, and statistics are big to a lot of people, so throwing over 5,000 yards, it’s important. You realize come playoff time, divisional round, when the good teams start entering and you’re seeing some quality defenses, some top‑ranked defenses that are still in it that complement their offenses very well, and those are sometimes the best football teams.
The San Francisco 49ers had prime examples of a complementary football in their game versus the Saints, where you punt the ball away, Aldon Smith gets a sack for minus 11 yards, forces the Saints to punt it back to the San Francisco 49ers, and they’ve actually gained about 11 yards in field position with their offensive unit not even being on the field. That’s what true complementary football is, and those are what the championship teams do. I think that it’s not as exciting to watch, and you only can recognize it when you really know what you’re looking at in terms of a team working together in a concept of all three units working together, and right now the San Francisco 49ers are best at doing that.
TRENT DILFER: I would also add I think offense is a lot easier to explain, the nuance of it, whether it’s us, analysts on TV, or you guys as writers, you have so many words and your sources. I think there’s very few people like Tedy that can articulate what good defense is. So I think it’s hard to explain the nuance of defense and what makes it effective. I also think this time of year that defense has a ‑‑ Tedy would speak better to this than me, but they have a larger volume of work to look at, and a lot of offense is smoke and mirrors. You look at the Saints and you look at the Packers and you look at some of the really good offensive teams, even the Patriots, they smoke and mirror you as good as anybody; at this time of year you’ve kind of shown your bag of tricks. You’ve shown the 78 formations you’ve used and the different personnel groupings and the down‑and‑distance tendencies, and you’ve shown your tempo packages and you’ve kind of put everything out there on the table, and now you get a defensive staff and a smart defensive football players that can break you down during the week, and by Thursday or Friday they go, wait a second, I see what they’re doing; all they’re really doing is running 15 or 20 different plays but they’re dressing them up a bunch of different ways, but here’s some commonalities in them.
I remember going into games, and we really thought we were going to trick some people and do some new stuff, and the defense is calling out your plays before you run them. And if you give the defense the answers before the test, if they know what’s coming at you, it’s very hard to execute against that. So I think defense kind of wins out this time of year because they’ve broken you down to such a degree that now it really does become man on man because they’ve kind of taken your bag of tricks away from you, and it kind of exposed you for whatever you are. Is that fair to say, Tedy?
TEDY BRUSCHI: Yeah, because defense ‑‑ what makes you less effective is when you’re deciphering what the offenses are doing, basically when you’re thinking, and when you’re thinking on what motion equals each play and what formation and what they’re going to try to do, it takes away your aggressiveness. As the year progresses, Trent is exactly right; you see more film, you can anticipate what’s going to happen, and the veteran players ‑‑ you’ll see the veteran players and the veteran defenses, you’ll see them communicate on the defensive side of the ball, like oh, they know what’s coming, and once they know what’s coming, that’s when their aggressiveness comes in. You’re not deceiving defenses anymore. They can be more aggressive, and then basically what it’s all going to come down to is the quarterbacks are good, they’re going to find the right answer, but they’re not going to be as open as they were before. So when the ball is in the air, it’s going to be Hakeem Nicks versus Charles Woodson like it was last week. It’s going to be a receiver versus a defensive back, or the scheme run is going to be deciphered, and it’ll be a linebacker with a running back in the hole, and then you rely on which player is better, and then that’s basically what championship football is.
Q. We’ve got two brothers coaching in these championship games, and there’s a distinct possibility they might be facing each other in the Super Bowl. Can you guys compare them and just kind of talk about that dynamic?
TEDY BRUSCHI: Well, I see them both as similar coaches that put a hand ‑‑ had a hand on every unit of their offense, defense or special teams, every unit. Their teams have the same attitude. I think it was that Thanksgiving Day game when they played each other. It’s almost like they were ‑‑ they were very similar teams going at each other because the brothers are very similar in the Harbaugh boys. I can only attest to my own brother, if I was playing against him or coaching against him, what a motivating factor it would be to eventually get to a Super Bowl game like that to play against him to be ‑‑ it’s something I’d look forward to because both of these coaches love competition. They want their players to compete out there on the field. Teams are a reflection of their head coaches; I truly believe that. To see two similar teams go at each other with brothers being a head coach, I think that would be an interesting match‑up.
TRENT DILFER: Yeah, I know Jim really well. I don’t know John that well. But from what I hear about John, there’s some commonalities between the two. One, they both have tremendous work tolerance. They just really have the capacity to outwork the next guy. And I think that resonates through a locker room. When you know your head coach is dotting every I and crossing every T and holding his coaches accountable and holding every department of the team accountable, you feel as a player more prepared, but you also can trust everybody else a little bit more because you know they’re being grinded on. And I think the messaging, as Tedy mentioned, they’re both such hyper‑competitive people that the messaging that the team gets every day is about competing, it’s about the intangible qualities that help you win games, and I’m around the 49ers’ players a lot, and they just talk about it all the time, that the message is always very clear: Bring your lunch pail to work and outwork the next guy and out‑compete the next guy and the physical stuff will take care of itself, and I think that’s a pretty similar message that John has in Baltimore for his team.
Q. Theoretically you’re supposed to need a vertical threat to be able to stretch defenses and have a successful passing game in this league, yet the Patriots are putting up ridiculous numbers this year with an offense that revolves around two tight ends and a possession receiver. How do you explain their success beyond Brady?
TEDY BRUSCHI: Well, right now that’s basically the formula that this offense has had, Gronkowski and Hernandez and Welker in the middle of the field. What I’m looking forward to actually, based on their success, Coach Belichick and Tom Brady, I think specifically how that defense has grown over the last two years, it’s much relying on defense, especially this year. I think people get a little bit enamored with the statistic of yards allowed, and I don’t think that’s the way to judge a defense this year. Looking at how they’ve played in terms of the turnover battle and then points allowed the last month of the season and of course 10 points I think it was against the Denver Broncos, I think that defense has started to play well.
But that middle of the field for that Patriots’ offense, to me that’s the whole thing, to see what the Baltimore Ravens can do against that, how they match up with Gronkowski and Hernandez. At one point a defense has got to say, Deion Branch and Tiquan Underwood and Chad Ochocinco is going to have to beat us, and you’ve got to take away the middle of the field, and I think that’s going to be a goal of the Baltimore Ravens’ defense this Sunday.
TRENT DILFER: You know, I have a more conceptual answer to this, and I challenge everybody on the notion that you need a vertical receiver in today’s football to be successful because I think you have to go back and realize when that was true, when that was an NFL truth, that was when safeties and linebackers in the middle of the field could annihilate receivers. And the reason you needed the vertical threat was because you had to attack teams outside the numbers, you had to get chunk yardage outside the numbers. So you’re talking the deep outs, the vertical game, all those perimeter routes you needed a guy that can win those one‑on‑one match ups. Now you take away the defense’s ability to dominate the middle of the football field. They just can’t do it, and whether right or wrong, good, bad or whatever, no longer is the intimidation factor relevant in the middle of the field. No longer ‑‑ I’ve seen routes being called with tight ends and slot receivers that you’ve never even thought about running 10 years ago because you’d get your guys killed. So now you can get all this chunk yardage in the middle of the football field with players that don’t have to necessarily have top‑end speed.
And I think Bill once again just kind of beat everybody to the punch and just kind of figured out that the league is changing. You don’t have to win on the perimeter. We go through ‑‑ ESPN has this incredible department, next‑level stats, stats analysis, and we get all these numbers every week, and the number of yards generated in the middle of the football field is astronomical. It’s 70, 75 percent of the yards these good offenses are getting are in the middle of the football field. And the best way to do that is with a slot receiver and two tight ends, versatile tight ends. Well, what do the Patriots have? They have the best slot receiver in football and the two most complementary tight ends to each other. So you don’t need the vertical threat any longer to eat up the perimeter of the field when you’re going to major in the middle of the field, and they have the perfect personnel to get up the middle of the football field, and by the way, they have as precise a passer as there is in football, and that’s another element eating up the middle of the football field is that you have to be very precise with your passes. I think it makes perfect sense. I think you no longer have to have that guy outside to take the top off the defense. I think you can live in the middle of the football field, and the Patriots have proven that.
Q. Trent, in the NFC the Giants and 49ers are both teams that nobody gave much chance to get this far. From your perspective, how hard do teams work that angle of nobody respects us, nobody gave us a chance, and then do you have any memories from your own Super Bowl year along those lines?
TRENT DILFER: That’s a great question. You know, it’s funny, and I don’t do this very often, the ‘I told you so,’ but I actually did give this Niners team a lot of credit. I was the one early in the preseason who said they’d possibly be in this game. But I tell that story not to pat myself on the back but to say, it’s funny because I’m around these Niners players and coaches and they kept telling me to shut up. Literally, Alex just pulled me aside and said, will you stop saying good things about us, because they wanted that chip on their shoulder. They didn’t want anybody to believe in them. They wanted everybody to disrespect them. I think it’s a huge part of that bunker mentality is a huge part of what teams use as a rallying cry to make this run. I think the Niners ‑‑ I know the Niners have done it based on what they’ve told me. Brad Seely told me, hey, shut up, quit saying good things about us, we don’t want people to know how good we are.
I know we used it in Baltimore. We knew we were the best team, but everybody else thought we were a bunch of slap‑ups. So we used that as ammunition every single week and motivation every single week. I think the Niners are doing it and I think the Giants are doing it. I think it’s a huge part of this late‑season run that teams go on. The Patriots’ defense is doing it. I can tell you that.
TEDY BRUSCHI: If I could add to that, even when teams are finally getting their credit, you manufacture it. Players will try their best to manufacture it because it’s the greatest motivator a player, a unit or a team can have is when you tell yourselves, nobody expects us to do it and nobody wants us to do it, no one thinks we can do it so let’s go prove everyone wrong. We had some incredible win streaks in New England, but we would still manufacture that chip‑on‑your‑shoulder card that everyone is disrespecting you just because you feel like you play best when you feel like you’re doubted. So absolutely. We’d even manufacture that type of attitude sometimes.
TRENT DILFER: I think it speaks to the soul of an NFL player. There’s a lot of athletes that don’t make it in the NFL that probably deserve to athletically, but what they lack is that fight in them, the resilience, the toughness, whatever you want to call it. And the one commonality we all have is we’ve climbed a very steep hill, from high school football to college football to pro football to Pro Bowls to Super Bowls, whatever it is, we have a lot of fight in us collectively. And to enhance that fighter’s mentality is exactly what Tedy is talking about. You manufacture doubt. You make people think they’re doubting you, and it brings out the best in you. The more people say we can’t, the more we’re going to do. People told Tedy he couldn’t play linebacker. He was a flex nose guard at Arizona and people kept saying he couldn’t play linebacker, and he goes out and becomes one of the best linebackers we’ve seen. And there’s stories like that all over the NFL, and I think it’s really what makes us who we are is our ability to fight harder and try harder and have more resilience than the next guy that might be a better athlete than us.
TEDY BRUSCHI: And it’s amazing because as much credit as Alex Smith got coming out of college over the course of his career, it’s developed to that. I think the chip on his shoulder just got put there, and then it grew and grew and grew to where now he feels like he has a lot to prove. I mean, coming from ‑‑ Brady, yes, the 199th pick, yes. Got slighted in the draft, but Alex Smith didn’t. At this point in his career, he’s that way now that he’s got a lot to prove.
Q. Trent, I heard your answer about Ed Reed and why you think he said what he said, but there’s been so much talk about Flacco. Is it fair or unfair that he’s kind of talked about as the weak link or having something to prove, and if he does have something to prove and does need to do something he hasn’t done to win a game like Sunday, what is it?
TRENT DILFER: Well, first of all, I think if you’re caught up in fair, you’re in the wrong profession. That’s speaking from Joe’s point of view. I was pretty taken aback by his comments last week that he’s trying to justify his role with the Ravens and not getting the credit he deserves. This is a no‑fair league, and I think Tedy would agree with that. But what does he need to do for the perception of him to change? He needs to dig his team out of a hole. I mentioned this earlier. The game manager title is basically that you don’t put your team in a hole. You don’t dig a hole for your team. And that’s only part of the equation. And the great quarterbacks, what they do to go beyond that is when their team is put in a negative situation or they’ve dug a hole for themselves, the quarterback gets them out of it. That’s what he has to do. Whether it’s right or wrong, in this game against New England, for Joe to get more credit or be treated more fairly or to have a different perception, they need to get down seven points and he needs to answer. They need to be down 10, he needs to bring them back, they need to be down four at the end and he needs to bring them back to score a touchdown like Alex Smith did, something to that extent, because if this game goes like it did last time they played it where they run the ball well, then there’s a couple play-action passes, then he throws a touchdown, but he only has nine, 10, 12 completions, he’s just going to be considered the guy that didn’t dig his team a hole, and he’s not going to get the credit he deserves. But that’s the reality of this league we’re in is perception is bigger than reality, and for him to change perception, he needs to do something, for lack of a better term, heroic, to lead his team to victory.
TEDY BRUSCHI: Joe Flacco, he wants his respect, he hasn’t gotten it, and he’s going to get his opportunity against New England because there’s going to be multiple lead changes. He may have to bring his team back in the fourth quarter. You want it, you’ve got it, Joe Flacco; here’s opportunity right now, because right now Tom Brady is Michael Corleone and Joe Flacco is Fredo. That’s who he is. He’s Fredo. He wants his respect. Well, if you want your respect, you’re going to have to be that quarterback that plays ‑‑ well, not better than Brady, but leads your team to victory. So you want it, you’ve got it.
TRENT DILFER: It’s so true. I remember telling (sports writer) Mike Silver a few days before the Super Bowl, I want to be known as the worst quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl because I didn’t want to be behind. I figured our best chance of success was to get up 17 and for me to hand the ball off because I wanted to win the championship. I think Joe really needs to ask himself does he want to win a championship or does he want the personal accolades that come with putting up big numbers, because in Baltimore I don’t know if you can have both.
Q. We’ve heard a lot about Gronkowski, obviously has had an amazing year and people talk about his size. I wonder if you would talk about how good those hands are. And maybe Trent, when you have a chance, just let me know if you think Torrey Smith is a bit of a potential game breaker wildcard for the Ravens.
TEDY BRUSCHI: Well, Gronk, as he’s now known, he’s becoming somewhat of a cult hero in New England. He catches everything. His hands are tremendous. Tom Brady knows he can put it anywhere he wants. Of course Gronk doesn’t like them low, but he’s made those type of throws, also. It’s just a talent that you don’t see very often, a player with that size that can also block, be an in‑line blocker. And I think that’s what Gronk is most proud about is that he is an all‑around tight end. He can play from every possession, the one, two, three, the Y, the U, whatever position he wants to along that offensive formation, but the fact that he can block also and his hands are strong enough to handle those outside linebackers, yeah, that’s just who he is, and his hands are tremendous, like you said.
TRENT DILFER: Yeah, I mean, you can’t really add anything to that with Gronk. When you’re complete you add so much versatility and multiplicity to your offense, and that’s what Gronk is to the Patriots, along with the great skill set of being able to make plays. You asked about Torrey Smith. Yeah, I really do think he is an X factor in this game. He’s better than I think most of us thought he would be as a route runner. Everybody knew he was fast, everybody knew he had ball skills, but the guy actually can get himself open, too. He’s going to have, I would venture to say, eight to 10 opportunities in this game where he’s going to be singled out in some type of isolation route. The play may not necessarily be designed to go to him, but he’s going to have eight to 10 opportunities to really make a difference. And if Joe is looking his way, if Joe plays outside the box a little bit and looks for those match‑ups and kind of abandons his primary reads, he could have a big day. He’s going to have some opportunities.
I think the one thing that the Patriots have not done a good job of defensively fixing to this point, it’s handling the isolation routes on the outside. They’ve done a nice job in the ‑‑ done a better job in the middle of the football field, they’ve done a better job overall playing team defense, but in the isolation match‑up they have not made a lot of plays on the ball. So I’m not saying he’s going to be wide open, but he’s going to have a chance to make some contested catches, some chain‑moving catches, some field‑position‑changing catches. It really comes down to whether Joe gets him the ball in those opportunities or if he’s looking another way.
TEDY BRUSCHI: Trent is exactly right, not just Torrey Smith but also Lee Evans. What Coach Belichick will do, he will take away Ray Rice in the passing game, also, similar to his plans when he plays various running backs that are a threat coming out of the backfield, also. Marshall Faulk back in the day, using outside linebackers or defensive ends and sacrificing their rush as they come upfield on their way to the quarterback, if Ray Rice is offset to your side, you hit him, you forget about the quarterback because you know that’s where Joe Flacco wants to go. So you take away that middle of the field, you take away that check‑down, and it’s one to be those one‑on‑ones on the outside. Who wins those, can Torrey Smith adjust to that deep ball a little better than he has? Lee Evans? That’s what this game is going to be for Joe Flacco.
FastScripts by ASAP Sports
– 30 –