Moderator: Welcome to today’s conference call leading into our Ravens at Patriots game on Sunday Night Football. Joining us on today’s call are Cris Collinsworth, Tony Dungy, and Rodney Harrison, our NFL analysts. We’ll begin with opening comments from each and then take your questions.
With that, I’ll turn it over to Cris Collinsworth.
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: Hi, everybody. Thanks for taking the time to join us today. We’re excited about this matchup. It’s a matchup of contrasting styles, to say the least. I don’t know if we’ve ever seen Tom Brady matched up against a Lamar Jackson type player, maybe Mike Vick at one point.
Lamar Jackson is truly one of the most exciting young players to come into the league in some time. Some of the plays that I’ve seen him make this year getting ready for this game are breathtaking. His ability to escape is the first thing that grabs your attention, but I think the second thing is that he’s really a pocket passer, that he really wants to win the game from the pocket, and he runs when he has to.
So I think that we have seen this position evolve. I think we’ve seen offenses evolve and change, the influence of the college game, and this is very much one of those matchups of style that is going to make this game as interesting as anything that we’ve done all season.
So we’re excited about it, and with that, I’ll turn it over to Coach. Tony, what do you have on this one?
TONY DUNGY: Hey, Cris, I feel the same way. Excited to watch this game because it’s going to be exciting on both sides of the ball: how New England deals with the different styles of offense they’re going to see from Baltimore, how does Baltimore get ready for how New England is going to attack them. I’m sure they’re going to attack them differently than just about anybody else has this year on offense.
Then, the other side of the ball is intriguing too. New England has not been consistent – just the precise offense that we’re used to seeing. Baltimore hasn’t been the Terrell Suggs high pressure defense that we’ve been used to seeing. So how do these two teams respond?
Then you’ve got the kicking situation. Where New England for years had Steven Gostkowski, we’ve been used to just automatic field goals…now they’re going through different field goal kickers. And on the other side, Justin Tucker is rock solid. So is that going to be a factor in a tight game?
So a lot of things to look for, and should be a lot of fun.
Moderator: We’ll open it up to questions now.
Q. The Patriots defense so far has been remarkable, and statistically alone, they’ve allowed 40 points defensively in eight games. As they go into Baltimore, I think one of the subplots is, is this Patriots defense a historic defense? The greatest defense ever in terms of points allowed was the 2000 Ravens. They actually had allowed 82 points through their first eight games. So the Patriots are trending that way. Tony, you were with the Bucs when they were great. You were with the Steelers. Cris, you have been around the game and understand all these great, historic matchups, and Rodney when he comes back. Are the Patriots a historic defense?
TONY DUNGY: I think the next few games will determine that, and obviously, if they keep this up all year and they do it with every quarterback and every offense they face, then you’re going to have to put them in that category. I say we just wait a little bit and slow down and see how they do.
Rodney’s kind of mentioned some of the quarterbacks, young quarterbacks they’ve faced, and they’ve certainly just blanketed those guys, but let’s see a little bit. They’re fantastic. Their secondary is great. They have the ability to play different styles. I love a lot of things about them, but I think we need to slow down on the all-time great just to see how this season turns out.
RODNEY HARRISON: Coach, I totally agree. Just watching them on tape, they do have some vulnerabilities. You look at them last week against Cleveland. Nick Chubb ran through them. If he doesn’t fumble the ball twice, it’s a totally different game.
You look at the level of the competition — and I think that’s what Coach is kind of referring to. The first seven, eight weeks of the season, they really hadn’t played anybody. Now you get into the meat and bones of your schedule, where you have to play Baltimore, Philly, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City with a healthy Patrick Mahomes. That will really tell how great of a defense they truly are. But to put them in an all-time great category after eight weeks, after the garbage schedule they’ve faced, I mean, we could say they’re playing extremely well, but I think the next month of the season will tell what type of defense they truly have.
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: The hard thing for me is I don’t know if we’re seeing — I know we’re seeing evolution on offense. I wonder if we’re seeing evolution on defense too and just not realizing it. These two teams are really built around their secondaries. We have seen sort of the pass rushers, the down linemen pass rushers of the Patriots on kind of — they’ll come in and help and then out the door and go play for somebody else when big money calls.
But pass rushers on this team are really the linebackers, which is unusual. It’s Jamie Collins, Hightower, Kyle Van Noy. Across the back end, they have great players. Gilmore is as good as there is. This Jonathan Jones has been playing his tail off. McCourty can play man coverage. He can play free safety. He can be down in the box. Duron Harmon is more of a back end kind of a guy. J.C. Jackson can play. Jason McCourty can play. So when they want to match up against anybody, they can do that.
The problem with doing that against this team is that you essentially have to assign somebody, I think, to Lamar Jackson and keep your eye on him. So now, if he comes back and if he’s ready to play, this Marquise “Hollywood” Brown is a real problem. So you’ve got to keep your eye on Lamar Jackson because he utterly won the game by himself almost the other day with some of those big runs.
But if this team — I can’t wait to see how they’re going to play them. I think there’s a chance that a guy like Jamie Collins ends up in a spy position. They even use this Terrence Brooks, No. 25, in the spy position in the game the other day. So that’s going to be the greatness of this game, a unique style of offense to go with a great defensive mind and what will he do to stop it.
RODNEY HARRISON: Tom, I will tell you this, just kind of looking at their secondary, in particular, their cornerback position, now, I can say, since I’ve been around the Patriots, these are the best cornerbacks that they’ve had depth-wise because you look at all their cornerbacks, and they can start anywhere, and it can probably start anywhere in the league. All four of those guys can start.
So you have a nickelback, you have a dimeback that can start somewhere else. So they go four deep in terms of their starters. And they have three really good rotational safeties and some other guys that can come through. So really the key to that defense — it’s the linebackers and their versatility, but really just the depth of that secondary, in particular, the cornerback position.
Q. I wanted to ask you, has Lamar Jackson reset your thoughts on how successful an offense can be when it’s built heavily around a quarterback’s running skill?
TONY DUNGY: No, not for me. As a defensive coach, I always fear that type of guy. People kind of made fun of me when a couple of years ago with Robert Griffin the third, I would take RG3 before Andrew Luck just because of the pressure it puts on people. We have to remember RG3 was doing the exact same thing his first year until he got hurt because you can’t account for a quarterback who can do this. To account for him, you have to change everything around, and you can’t play certain coverages. You have to play man to man. You can’t let the quarterback scramble. That puts a lot of pressure on you.
Now, the question is how long can Lamar Jackson do this? RG3 did it for about 13 games. So we’ll see. But quarterbacks with this type of skill, they can change the game of football, no question.
RODNEY HARRISON: But the only thing about it, Coach, and we’ve seen him will this team to victory against Seattle. The only thing — all it takes is one shot. All it takes is one shot, and he’s been doing a pretty good job of not getting hit, but a couple times you’ll watch him on tape, he’ll take a couple shots, and he’s young, and he’s a stud, and he feels good. But all it takes is that one hit and it can really change the complexion of their team.
So I still worry about a quarterback that’s really heavily involved in the run game, especially as the season starts to change, and all of a sudden you’re playing on grass and slipping and sliding and things like that. But they have an offensive plan. They believe in it. They stick to it, and they’re very physical with what they do.
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: And don’t underestimate the running game either because you tend to want to put speed on the field to defend against Jackson, and when you do that, now you’re tackling Mark Ingram, who’s a very physical back. This guy, Gus Edwards, is about 240 pounds, and he is a load for anybody to try and make a play against. Then you deal with the speed on the outside of Marquise Brown, three good tight ends. Even though Mark Andrews didn’t have a very good day the other day. He’s their high quality guy.
I’ve got to think in coverage they’re going to want to match their tight ends against the linebackers of the Patriots in coverage as much as they can. Now, when those guys are coming forward and coming towards your quarterback, that’s not much fun, but I think that that’s going to be a great matchup if they can get the Patriot linebackers in coverage against those tight ends.
RODNEY HARRISON: To add to that, the one thing I was thinking about, I was thinking how could the Ravens attack the Patriots’ defense? I think the one thing they might want to do is get into a two or three tight end package, which will force the Patriots not to be in their subpackage. When the Patriots are in their subpackage, to me, that’s when they’re at their very best because they’ve got speed, they’ve got all the versatile linebackers. That’s when they create the majority of their turnovers and big plays.
So if I’m the Ravens, I’m taking some of that speed off the field, and I’m coming out in two tight end sets, I-formation, three tight end sets, run the ball, play action pass, and let Lamar Jackson do his thing. But I definitely don’t want to see the Patriots in their subpackage. That’s where they create the most damage.
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: That’s really what they did the other day in all the key moments of that game. They just brought all this big power in there and basically made Lamar Jackson the ball carrier, which added another blocker to the play. Think about running power with an additional offensive lineman effectively coming through the hole. To me, that’s what they ended up with that huge touchdown on fourth and two.
Q. I have two questions, one for Cris and one for Rodney. Question for Cris, I’m hoping you can take us behind the curtain for a second. All the years calling the Patriots games relative to your encounters with other coaches, what is it like sitting with Bill on Friday or Saturday, whenever you have those production meetings with him? And for Rodney, a number of former players have noted that this year’s Patriots defense, to them at least, feels like kind of a throwback unit. I was curious if you feel the same way. In what way might this be kind of a throwback defense to perhaps when you were playing the Pats?
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: I would say some of the most interesting conversations with an NFL coach I’ve ever had have come with Bill Belichick. When you hit on a subject that he wants to talk about and when you’re talking about football, as it does not pertain to this particular game plan, he will give you some real history lessons. I’ve had conversations with him about individual positions and gone for half an hour, and the amount of detail is mind boggling that he brings to bear with that.
So have we had a few not so pleasant conversations? Yeah, we’ve had a few of those too. But I’ve got to say that the good far outweighs the tough conversations, and if you bring to the conversation knowledge and if you’ve done your homework, for the most part he’s pretty respectful in answering the questions. There’s just some that he’s not going there.
RODNEY HARRISON: As far as me, as far as probably the resemblance between kind of the present-day Patriots compared to some of the old school guys, I think it’s relatively, you know, basically the same. (Belichick) goes out, and he gets guys that are smart, guys that are unselfish, guys at different points of their career where they can come in and they’re motivated and focused, and he’s not afraid to let guys go. We’ve seen Jamie Collins leave. We’ve seen a ton of other guys leave and want to come back because they want to know football. They want to be part of something special.
It’s the same thing. It’s unselfishness. It’s preparation. It’s working hard. It’s doing your job. It’s the same type of thing. So no matter if it was 2003, when we won, when I won my first Super Bowl, or if it’s 2019 like it is, basically, the principles are the same, the fundamentals are the same. You just have to follow them, and if you don’t follow them, he’ll definitely find somebody that will.
Q. Obviously, Greg Roman has been in San Francisco and Buffalo and has had success with the running game in both of those places with mobile quarterbacks. But as the offenses evolved toward more of a passing league, I’m wondering if you see him having embraced those kind of prevailing league trends and adapted it to this offense with a really special talent in Lamar?
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: I happen to think Greg Roman is one of the more out of the box thinkers that there is in the game. Most of what it is pertains to the running game, though. Of course, he was with Colin Kaepernick and all the creativity that went along with that, but when you watch this team run the football and do things within the running game with multiple formations, motions, the quarterback, you know, reverses, whatever it is, he comes up with a bit of a new twist almost every game that I analyze of his.
So if you’re going to go all in with this style, with Lamar Jackson and Robert Griffin being your first two quarterbacks, which I always wondered if anybody would ever do that. You know, in my mind, I was like would any team in the league ever just fully commit to this style with the full understanding that their quarterback may not make it through the year? So you’d better have somebody that can play just like the first string.
We’ve seen running quarterbacks who have a veteran passer behind them or whatever. I don’t know how you even get ready for offense on that. Whereas this team from the beginning, they’re all in. This was going to be their style. They saw enough of the success of Lamar Jackson a season ago. They’ve got Lamar Jackson at quarterback. They’ve got Robert Griffin to back him up, and they have Greg Roman to design an offense for those guys. I think that is the right combination. I think it’s a smart combination.
When people – when they decided to go all in, I was thinking, you know what, I think that’s who I would have chosen to run this style of offense too.
TONY DUNGY: It’s been great. It’s been fun to watch. I’ll tell you what, the passing that comes off it, when they force to you to defend their running game, if I was Marquise Brown, this would be the team I’d want to play for because they can put him in the slot and he’s going to get single coverage with no free safety help eight or ten times a game. I can run to the post, I can run to the corner, I can run deep. All I’ve got to do is beat one guy man-to-man with no help because that is the kind of pressure that the running game puts on people.
The first game of the year, Miami came in to play these guys, Baltimore, and said, ‘We’re going to take Lamar Jackson away.’ We’re not going to let him run. And he threw for 300-something yards and put up 50 points because you’ve got all these free shots one-on-one, and they hit them. So even though they’re doing a lot with the running game, I think it would be fun to be a receiver there as well.
RODNEY HARRISON: His biggest challenge is trying to really stay patient as a young guy. He came in and had some success. He’s going to see a lot of man coverage, a lot of physical man coverage. He’s going to have to figure out exactly the different types of blitzes and the types of defenses and guys standing up, moving around. Things like this he sees every day in practice and he’ll also see it on the tape, but he’s going to have to be able to decide, like, where’s the blitz coming from? So, it’s a lot on a young quarterback, especially when you have those secondary guys locking down those wide receivers.
The biggest challenge for the Patriots defense is definitely – and Cris, you mentioned it earlier – is dealing with the tight ends. These tight ends are big, they’re athletic, they can block, and they want the football. And he feels very comfortable getting them the football and it doesn’t have to be in a perfect spot.
You get the Patriots linebackers in coverage where they don’t want to be. They want to move ahead. They want to attack, and I think you can have some success against them.
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: Lamar Jackson from the pocket, the one throw that I just love that he makes, he’s really accurate with it, is against the man coverage that Tony was talking about. But those little, I don’t know, I call them lollipop throws. You kind of drop it in over the top against the guy in man coverage, and the guy is running with his back turned or whatever, but he is amazingly accurate with those things and he sees it all the time because of the man coverage we were just talking about.
Q. This is a non-game question, if you guys would take one question. There’s a couple teams in the league halfway through the season that are threatening to break the Raiders’ record for penalties in a season, and I was wondering, as former players and a coach, how do you police that on your team? You guys represent some different eras here. How did guys used to try to police this in the locker room as far as guys committing the same penalties all the time – false starts, presnap penalties – and how has that changed, if it’s changed at all?
RODNEY HARRISON: Let me speak on this real quick. I don’t know how it’s changed, but when I was in the locker room, guys would hold other guys accountable by walking up to them and letting them know, even in film sessions, through the locker room. I would let a guy know, ‘Hey, you’re killing us. We’re third down and ten, and you get a penalty now. All of a sudden, it’s a first down. We have to play smarter.’ It wasn’t just me. It was a ton of guys.
So when you get that type of pressure internally in the locker room – I was looking at Houston today, and Houston had all these false start penalties and Laremy Tunsil, and it just was driving me crazy watching the tape today because it’s like so easy. Just look at the ball, just do the right thing. You don’t have to make mistakes and have penalties, and that’s the one thing that can kill you.
But it was kind of self-patrolled. If you didn’t correct it, then obviously, Coach Belichick would.
TONY DUNGY: Rodney, I have to come back to coaching, and I think what we’ve seen is a combination of things. We have owners that are hiring coaches for Xs and Os. I’ve got to put in all these plays. I’ve got to have different schemes. We’ve got to do this. People aren’t coaching fundamentals. My pet peeve is watching people grab, defensive backs grab jerseys, and offensive linemen grab. If you’re coaching fundamentals, you eliminate a lot of those pre-snap penalties like Rodney talked about, the foolish penalties.
Then I think it’s collective bargaining agreement too. I don’t think we practice enough. When guys don’t practice, they’re not in training camp, they’re not playing full speed preseason games, then you come out, you’re going to have this. I know there’s been a lot of blame pointed at the officials, but when you watch these games, there’s some bad fundamental football out there, and I think it comes back to coaching.
I do not see the New England Patriots making those kinds of mistakes, false start penalties, grabbing jerseys, things like that that you can eliminate. Coach Belichick eliminates those.
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: All I can say is we used to play three games before we played on Sunday. When Forrest Gregg was our head coach, we were going at it three straight days, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Full pads on Wednesday and Thursday and just shoulder pads, but there were a lot of injuries on Friday because we were playing. We were fighting for the ball, jump balls, you know, people were going to the ground. I sprained my ankle in a confrontation before a playoff game one time and barely made it to the game.
So, yeah, I agree with Tony. The game is very, very different from a practice standpoint.