Thursday, August 31, 2017
MODERATOR: Welcome, everybody, to our call today. We appreciate you joining us. In a few moments, we’ll hear from our Football Night in America analysts Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison, as well as NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood.
Just a little recap, as people know, Football Night in America is the most watched studio show in sports. This year, NBC Sports will be broadcasting 28 NFL games, including Sunday Night Football, the No. 1 show on television, Thursday Night Football, last year’s No. 2 show on television, and the Super Bowl. It all starts with kickoff next week, September 7, on NBC.
So let’s begin now with some opening remarks, first from NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood.
SAM FLOOD: Thank you all for joining us today. We’re excited to get the season going. There’s something special about having it be your Super Bowl season. So it adds a little more excitement because we know we get to show off the first game of the year and the last game of the year, and that means we’ve got a big season ahead of us.
Mike Tirico now becomes the full-time host of Football Night in America on the road, where Dan Patrick continues his role as the ringmaster and teammate of Tony and Rodney. We think it’s a team and a family of people in our studio that the audience is used to, really embraces, and they know, when they want the real look and the instant breakdown on what happened that day in football and what it means, Tony and Rodney give that information, and then Mike Florio added in for all the insights and news from around the league.
I think we’ve got a winning combination that continues, and there’s something about the continuity of these three guys — Dan, Tony, and Rodney, DTR — that makes magic TV every week. When Tony speaks, people listen, and you add that passion that Rodney has, and it’s a winning combination. So we’re really proud of where we are with the show. We’re proud of the fact that it’s the most watched studio show in sports television, and we continue to grow the passion base, and that’s the important thing.
With that, I hand it off to Mr. Dungy.
TONY DUNGY: Thank you, Sam. I would just have to echo that. Obviously, very exciting to know that you’re going to be broadcasting the Super Bowl this year. A long ways before we get there, but Sam mentioned continuity and just teamwork, and going into my ninth year with Rodney and Dan, it’s been awesome. The feeling that we have for each other and the chemistry we have, it’s just great.
I was at the Colts kickoff luncheon yesterday, and I had to remark to people I’ve now been on this NBC team longer than I was on the Colts team. So it’s pretty rare. It goes fast, but we’re having a great time. Looking forward to the year. I think it’s going to be an excellent year for NFL football and should be a great year for NBC.
With that, I will give it to my man, Rodney Harrison.
RODNEY HARRISON: Thank you, Coach. Much appreciated. I can pretty much say the same thing, echo Tony’s sentiment. Really extremely — after five, six months off, it seems like it’s just been long. We’ve enjoyed ourselves. We’ve taken Disney cruises. We’ve done a bunch of different things. But it’s now time to get back to football.
The one thing I noticed when I was up at the Patriots facility a couple of days ago, they were loose. They were extremely loose. It was no — no one walking around pouting about Julian Edelman’s injury. Spent some time with Coach Belichick, probably spent 30 to 45 minutes with him, probably the longest time I’ve spent with him, and he just seemed very relaxed. He seemed confident. And he continues to push the button with these guys.
With that being said, I do believe the Patriots are right on pace to repeat as Super Bowl Champions, and right here and right now, Coach Dungy, I will say that the Patriots will repeat this year.
TONY DUNGY: Hmm, okay.
RODNEY HARRISON: Back to you, Chris.
CHRIS McCLOSKEY: Thank you, Rodney. Now we will take questions from the press.
Hey, guys, thanks for doing this. This is for both Rodney and Tony. I’m just curious about what your impression is of the Giants defense jumping from last year. This year, obviously, they made huge leaps last year. Specifically, what kind of jumps out at you guys with this defense and how good can it be this year?
RODNEY HARRISON: I’ll start it off, Coach. The one thing that impressed me about the Giants defense last year, they got everyone involved. They did — they extended their defensive game plan, a lot of blitzing, a lot of different looks. Landon Collins, I think he had a terrific year last year. I felt like he was — should have been in consideration, which he was, for Defensive Player of the Year award.
But I like the way they play. I like how aggressive they play. I like the looks. I like the fact they love to blitz — safeties, corners, nickelbacks, linebackers. So against their defense, you can never line up as an offense and be comfortable because they have so many different looks, they have so many different guys coming at you.
TONY DUNGY: Yeah, I would echo what Rodney says. I did a little work getting ready for next Sunday night, and looking at their game against Dallas last year, the second game, and what you saw was the secondary that was very aggressive, and they blitzed a lot, but they covered. There were not receivers open. So those young defensive backs, I think that is what has allowed them to play more man coverage, to play tighter, to play more aggressively, and allowed Coach Spagnuolo to be able to blitz more.
So they’ve got a fast unit, they’ve got an aggressive unit, and I really think you have to credit that secondary for the reason they took that statistical jump.
- Hi, gentlemen. For both Tony and Rodney, do you view the move from Tannehill to Cutler, the unfortunate move from Tannehill’s perspective health-wise, as a step back? Are they very comparable? Do each of you guys view Miami as a real wild card contender?
TONY DUNGY: I think Miami definitely can be a contender. They were right in the mix last year. Ryan Tannehill, I know some coaches down there on the offensive staff, and they felt like this was his year to take the step forward. It’s all going to depend on their quarterback play. They’ve got a running game. They’ve got aggressive defense. They’ve got some receivers who can make plays. To me, this is all going to be about Jay Cutler, how fast he gets back in the swing of things.
He knows the offense that Coach Gase wants to run. He’s got to get that chemistry with this team and come out firing. If he does, they certainly can be a threat this year.
RODNEY HARRISON: I agree with you totally, Coach. I do believe it comes down to Jay Cutler and his attitude as far as, not just when things are going well, but when things start to kind of go downhill. Will he stand up? Will he be the face of that locker room? Will he be able to go and have conversations? We’ve seen the way he’s acted in the past and conducted himself, where his teammates would say that he’s selfish, he’s not a leader, these type of things.
You have to be a leader if you want to go to the playoffs, if you want to go to the Super Bowl, you need the leadership at the quarterback position. He could not have walked into a better situation walking in with the weapons he has at tight end, the two wide receivers, the running game, a coach that he worked with. You could not ask for a better situation. It comes down to Jay Cutler.
I still believe that defense had taken a step forward last year, but I still don’t think it’s as good as people think, particularly in the secondary at the cornerback spot. We’ll see what happens, but their season definitely hinges on Jay Cutler and his attitude in terms of leadership.
Another Giants question, if I might, for Rodney and Tony. At 36, do you think that — you know, the window might be closing on the Eli era for the Giants, where they kind of have to get this done next year or maybe next? Or do you think in a Tom Brady world here, that he could go on for another four, five, six years?
RODNEY HARRISON: Well, kind of, I look at it, this guy doesn’t really get hit. That’s kind of what I look at. It’s not like he’s had major, major injuries. And Tom Brady has proven that you can play well into your 30s, right into your 40s. And I believe that Eli, as long as that offensive line protects him and he doesn’t sustain a major injury, as long as his spirit and body and mind seems okay, I think he can play as long as he wants to play.
But I think there comes a point in time where he has to get this team to the next level. The Giants went out and spent a lot of money. I know his name is Manning, and he has a lot of history, future Hall of Famer, two Super Bowls, beat the Patriots, but at the same time, you want that level of consistency from Eli. I do believe that he can play well into his 40s, but we’ll see how he plays this year. I’m expecting a big year from the Giants.
TONY DUNGY: I really don’t like that phrase, when is the window closing? We don’t know when the window’s going to close. I think, given good health, he could play for a number of years. But who knows? It may go this year. It may go next year. So you’ve got to do it — this year is the only year you can control and the opportunity that you have. I think that’s the way the Giants are approaching it. But let’s see what they do this year, and that will tell us a lot about the future.
How has the corner position changed over the years? Is it harder to stay consistent there than other positions?
TONY DUNGY: I think it’s definitely the most difficult place to play because of the rules. Number one, you’re getting tremendously talented receivers. Everybody wants to throw the ball, and every rule we put in makes it harder on the defense. I think those highly skilled corners are so valuable now.
We talked about the Giants and their corners just making the defense take that stride forward. Everybody’s looking for them. It’s a difficult place to play. And you always, always have a target on you now. So my hat goes off to these great young corners.
RODNEY HARRISON: And to really follow up what Coach Dungy says, basically it comes down to the reason why all the rules are changed is because the Indianapolis Colts changed the rules. It was Coach Dungy, and it was the general manager, and everybody else, they changed the rules.
TONY DUNGY: Let me stop you there. We didn’t change the rules. We just asked for the rules to be enforced (laughter).
RODNEY HARRISON: Yeah, Coach, you’re right. You look at some of these really good teams, and you look for the fact that Belichick will go out and pay a corner $50 million, $60 million. He had Asante Samuel. He passed on Ty Law, two really great cornerbacks who played. It just shows you he understands how important the cornerback position is.
I think Matt Patricia was telling me 70 percent of their plays, they play in nickel defense because most people attack them with 11 personnel. So they’re going to play a lot of man-to-man coverage. Obviously, they play zone, but they have two corners that can get up in your face and jam you and follow you all around.
So I think the premium for a really good cornerback, I mean, it really helps your defense.
Guys, this is for Tony and Rodney, although Rodney already went Joe Namath on us. Do you see the Patriots repeating, I guess — like I said, Rodney has already said his, but Tony. Also, when you look at Patriots, can you summarize what are some of the primary things that Brady and Belichick do that nobody else, in a league with a lot of smart people, can really match?
RODNEY HARRISON: I’ll let the Coach answer that.
TONY DUNGY: Rodney has already — we don’t have to play the season now. Good to know. We can just cover the Super Bowl and figure out who the Patriots are going to play.
You really do, I always bet against the defending champs. If he’s giving me the Patriots or the field, I’m going to take the field because it is difficult to repeat. You are the circled game of everybody on the schedule. We in TV, we put you in tough positions. You’re going to play primetime Sunday, Monday. You’re going to play these big games on the road that are going to be late. It’s just difficult.
Patriots have done it as well as anybody, and Rodney will tell you they don’t look at circumstances, they don’t look at anything other than preparing themselves. But I think, to me, the thing that sets them apart is playing situational football. Rodney and I talk about it a lot in the studio. Knowing how you have to play to win games and how you have to handle yourself in two minutes in end of the game situations, before the half, and short yardage, third and one. Those different situations, they are the best at that.
RODNEY HARRISON: When I look at the Patriots — you know, I’ve experienced it. When we won in ’03, not once has it ever been mentioned. Nobody ever really talked about it. It was just something that we kind of forgot about. And he would say — and he would tell us, you’re not defending anything because the very next year, it’s a completely different team. It’s not the same team. You’re not defending anything. Plus.
So I agree with you, Coach, to a certain extent because, when you have that mark on your back, you’re going to get everybody’s best. But at the same time, this is a group that has gotten better. You’ve got a healthy Rob Gronkowski. You go out, and you get a cornerback that Belichick told me that you can’t even throw on. He couldn’t even throw on him. That was one of the main reasons why he went out and even got him, because he couldn’t throw on the guy. And you have another guy on the other side who’s playing for a contract. He’s playing for a 60, $70 million contract. So you have these guys with a sense of urgency. They’ll never become complacent. And quite frankly, guys that want another Super Bowl ring. That’s what they want. That’s the goal every single year.
This question is for both Tony and Rodney. The Rams are changing their defensive scheme from a 4-3 to a 3-4, and the Chargers are doing the opposite, from a 3-4 to a 4-3. Both of them have kind of expressed that it’s going to be an easy transition. Now, from what you’ve seen with defenses becoming more hybrid and players more positionless, are defenses more able now to make that transition? And is that something where some years from now, maybe schemes like we used to know it on defense, just won’t be the same? They maybe won’t even exist in that sense?
TONY DUNGY: From a coach’s perspective, I never thought there was that big of a defense between 3-4 and 4-3 in terms of principles and the way you play. To me, it’s all personnel driven. Do you have better linebackers? Do you have better defensive front people? How do you want to do it? Maybe you can do a little bit more in terms of disguising when you’ve only got three linemen and people don’t know who’s going to rush, but the principles in how you play, to me, is much more important than whether there’s four down linemen or three down linemen.
From that sense, I think you’re right. There’s not much difference in terms of what you’re going to do. It’s really how you do it.
RODNEY HARRISON: Yeah, and I agree with you, Coach. It comes down to whatever defense you’re going to play, it obviously comes down to the personnel that you’re playing. But as a player, to me, that was always easy, and that was one of the things that got me excited, learning different defenses, learning different schemes, learning sub-packages, and all those different things, and making sure that not only are you learning the defense from a safety standpoint, but you’re learning every individual player’s responsibility. That’s the fun thing about defense.
I think defensive coordinators need to challenge and push their players a lot more because you need that versatility. You need to be able to come out and play with three safeties if you have to, or play nickel or play dime the entire time. So as a player, I always looked forward to new installation when it came to defense.
Just to follow up really quick, how much more have you both noticed just defenses becoming more hybrid and using guys in multiple roles than maybe when you both started coaching or playing defense?
RODNEY HARRISON: I really believe that really good defenses have guys that can play multiple positions. When I came to the Patriots, Belichick told us, he said, don’t get too comfortable with one position. Make sure you know how to play everybody’s position. You never know. And make sure you know what everyone’s doing.
So when it came to defense, I was just one of those guys that just was excited to get out there and play, and most defensive players, you know, they don’t necessarily worry about the scheme, if they believe in the scheme. But it’s all personnel driven, Coach.
TONY DUNGY: It is, and I think that is what’s forced so many defenses to have to become multiple like that. You play a team like the Patriots, and you may see five wide receivers. You may see three wide receivers and the tight end as their primary set. And then the next week, it’s two tight ends and two running backs and a power game.
So all these offenses that can play different ways and give you different personnel kind of forces the defenses to have to defend differently. That’s why you see all the packages and the really good defenses being able to match up and do that.
RODNEY HARRISON: But all in all, the most important thing on defense was the most — the number one thing that he always talked about, coaches that I’ve been around, is making sure communication is at the forefront. You have to make sure that everyone’s on the same page. Whatever you do, one person does, everyone has to do it, and I think that’s one of the things, from all the coaches that I’ve had throughout my career, they’ve always spoke on communication.
Forgive me if I got on a little bit late. The Texans obviously face a different situation in that they did not get to play their last preseason game, and now they sort of go into a season where so much is happening around them that I would think that — I’m not sure, but helps concentration or if it hurts concentration to have all of these things swirling around them literally. How does a player or how does a coach deal with things that are happening in real life as it explodes around them in such a widespread fashion as the Texans face here?
RODNEY HARRISON: I think it brings us all back to reality. When you play in the National Football League and you’re making millions of dollars, you’re on TV, and you got everybody basically doing certain things for you and catering to your needs, you really find out that it’s not about you. You find out that people have real issues out here in life, and it brings just a certain perspective.
I don’t believe that this is going to be a distraction. If anything, it’s going to be a boost to the city. It’s going to be a boost to the team to try to entertain the city and try to win football games for the city. People around the NFL family, they’ve rallied around Houston. They’ve done a really good job of sending money and things like that. And everybody understands how difficult that situation is.
But as a football player, you have to go out there. You have to do your job. You have to help when you can, whether it’s on your off day going down there on a Tuesday, helping out, or sending a check in, and understanding that these people are fighting for their lives. But I still have a job to do as a football player, and your job is to go out there and win football games. And any time the Houston Texans can go out there and win football games, it can ease the blow just a little bit from everything that those people are going through down there.
TONY DUNGY: Yeah, I totally agree. Rodney said it. It does give you a sense of what is really important in life, and I think that does — we lose track of that sometimes. That is the first thing.
But secondly, as an organization, coaches and players, they’ll embrace this. The New Orleans Saints did it very much in the Katrina era, that, hey, we’ve got a job to do. One thing we can do is we can help the spirits of people by playing our best, and it’s a little thing, but we certainly can do that. I think you’ll see the Texans embrace that.
Hi, guys. Thanks for doing this. I was wondering how you all expect the Broncos offense to become maybe a little bit more dangerous, a little more potent under our new scheme with Mike McCoy?
TONY DUNGY: I really don’t think the scheme will make that much difference. To me, it’s going to be the quarterback play. They’ve got a running game and some runners who can make some things happen. They’ve got a defense who’s going to keep them in ball games and give them field position. Everybody is going to clamp down and try to play them tight and force the quarterback — and it looks like it’s going to be Trevor Siemian — but force the quarterback to make plays and beat them. So he’s going to have to step up and make some plays down the field.
I’m sure Coach McCoy will have some things in place to take shots down the field, but it’s going to depend on Trevor Siemian really operating at a high level. If he does, Denver is going to be very, very tough to beat. But he’s going to have to prove to people he can be the difference maker.
RODNEY HARRISON: You’re asking me if the Denver Broncos can win the division with Trevor Siemian? I believe they can. I believe their defense is good enough. Coach talked about being able to hit some passes down the field but also protecting, not turning the ball over, making sure that you protect your quarterback, and trying to get something that resembles a run game. I think they have to stay a little bit more patient with the run game and take a little pressure off the quarterback. But you can’t hide the quarterback. He’s the starting quarterback in the National Football League for a reason. You have to see if he can play.
Sam, obviously, you guys — good ratings are always good because that’s a big part of your job, but how much does it mean to you guys over there, this streak you have tied for American Idol and a chance to kind of set that record? It’s kind of a quirky thing, but is it something you guys look at and take pride in?
SAM FLOOD: We always take pride in it, but we know it’s all part of the partnership with the NFL. It gives us an incredible schedule, and then we’ve got the best team in football to produce the games and tell the stories of each game. So we think with Football Night in America surrounding it, we put together the best possible night of viewing and destination for a football fan.
We’re pretty lucky to have all these pieces in place, and hopefully the streak continues because the schedule, as you can see, can’t argue with this opening weekend. Pretty spectacular to have the Patriots playing with Tom Brady leading them on the field to collect the latest installment of Rodney Harrison’s banner raising, and from there off to Dallas-Giants game. It doesn’t get any bigger than that.
So when you open your season like that, you’ve got to feel pretty good about the opportunity to kick some butt and have some fun.
If you win in May, will Simon Cowell give you a trophy or something? Will there be some presentation?
SAM FLOOD: He works for us since he does America’s Got Talent. It’s a beautiful thing. The synergies are all together.
RODNEY HARRISON: He can always give me a Tony while he’s at it. I won’t be hurt.
SAM FLOOD: We have our Tony already.