Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer
Good afternoon. Hope you guys are doing well. Hope you had a good Thanksgiving. I thought we did a really nice job on Sunday versus Green Bay for the most part. The field goal kicks, the one was concerning. 48 yards, he [Dan Bailey] has to make that one. Then he makes the 51-yarder. They kind of drew us offsides, but we have to keep the ball. We can’t ever use that as an excuse. The last one, the 56-yarder he pushed a little bit right. I was really pleased with our effort. We went into that game confident and I think that is going to be the key this week. You go to New England on the road. They are very good on special teams. They don’t beat themselves. They don’t get penalized like a lot of other teams that we’ve played. They’re smart, they’re tough, they’re disciplined like I said. They have a great kickoff returner [Cordarrelle Patterson], which I’m sure you guys want to talk about. At the end of the day, they are a good football team. We need to bring our A game and go out there and not do anything extraordinary, just do our job play after play after play. Play penalty free football, play with great effort, tackle better than we did last Sunday. That’s one area that we need to improve on but kind of get after them from there.
Q: What has it been like preparing for Cordarrelle Patterson this week as an opponent?
A: We know what type of player he is. We know what type of attitude and effort and enthusiasm and energy he brings to the locker room, that he brings to the football team. I always told him that if he every left here and I ever had to coach against him, I was not going to be happy that week. But I think our guys are excited for the challenge. Anytime you coach against an opponent and you coach against an opponent that is that good, and he is the best in the business at what he does as a kickoff returner, your juices get flowing, your competitiveness juices get flowing a little bit. In that regard, we are excited. We are excited about the challenge and opportunity. I think we have a good plan, we just have to go out and execute and tackle better than we did a week ago and then we go from there.
Q: Did you talk to Mike Zimmer at halftime about going for it on fourth downs?
A: No. He asked me if he [Dan Bailey] was ok in the third quarter before he ended up kicking the 37-yarder. I said, “He was fine.” My only concern with Dan at halftime was if he was ok because he got drilled. At the end of the 56-yarder, he got hit pretty hard and went down pretty hard. That was my only concern and we talked briefly about the 48-yarder and he knows he has to make that kick. But he came back and made the 37-yarder, made his PATs and kicked off well for us. No, I didn’t talk to him about what he said. I didn’t know about that until pretty much just now.
Q: With the experience that Dan Bailey has, how much easier does it make for him to come back and do what he did in the second half and not be rattled?
A: He wasn’t rattled at all. Dan, you guys probably have talked to him a little bit, he doesn’t get rattled, ever. He’s got that personality that he just goes with the flow and he understands what he has to do to improve and get better. He did that. He made the adjustment and he hit the ball better in the second half and made a big field goal for us to put us up 17-14 there late in the third quarter. That is the nice thing about having a veteran place kicker is he doesn’t get rattled. He has that great personality, that great demeanor about him that should not happen to him.
Q: Were you expecting to see a flag for roughing the kicker?
A: 100 percent. Absolutely. I thought we were going to get a flag there.
Q: Will the NFL ever get back the rare returner type that the league used to be filled with?
A: I think there are probably more exciting returners out there than we realize because of the opportunities aren’t as much as it used to be because of the rules and the changes. Special teams coordinators in general are trying to figure out the best way to utilize our kickoff returns, when to bring it out, when to not bring it out. We have to avoid penalties. I think once we get two to three years of these rules under our belt, which are great rules. I think they’re fantastic and I think they’re making the game better and safer for us. Once we get to that point, I think you are going to start to see some of those great returners continue to develop and make the game exciting. Which is why we need to keep this play in the game, because it is an exciting play and it is an important play. I think that has proved out this year in the NFL with some games that have come down to those big plays on special teams that have helped teams win or lose games.
Q: How do you think Anthony Harris’ role is going to change with becoming the full-time starter?
A: He’s done a great job on special teams. Andrew [Sendejo] has been out for a while and Anthony’s role has changed a bit pretty much for the last six, seven weeks anyways. Because we know Andrew is not coming back now, Anthony is set in that role. I think he will contribute on special teams and if he needs a blow, I know Coach [Jerry] Gray does a great job of getting George [Iloka] in there or getting another safety in there, Jayron Kearse in there, to give Anthony a blow. At the end of the day, he is a very important part of our special teams and we are going to continue to use him if he is going to help us win and I believe he will.
Q: From what you watched of Cordarrelle Patterson this week, does he have the same green light to bring it out?
A: Probably not as deep as we had him. To be honest with you, that would’ve changed had he still been here. I think Coach Zimmer would have had us move him up a little bit because of the rule change, because of the differences. We can’t use the double teams on the back end and that sort of thing that he was so good at maneuvering through there. I think we probably would have been a little more aggressive with him. I think New England is aggressive with him at times. I think they’re really smart with how they use him. They know when to bring it out, when not to bring it out. I think Cordarrelle has done a great job of being coached up that way and he understands the significance of each situation. Because of the play is different, he is utilized a little bit differently. But man, when he gets going he is still the same guy, unfortunately for us.
Q: Knowing Anthony Harris was big for you on special teams, how rewarding is it for you to see him perform the way he has?
A: That is a great question because I said that the other day, probably about three or four weeks ago in a special teams meeting. I said, “The fun thing for me as a coach is to see these young men develop as special teams players and they last in the league and they’re contributing on special teams and they play at a high level and then they contribute on offense and defense.” When C.J. Ham catches that ball on the flat the other day against Green Bay, I’m like, “That’s a teamer.” Anthony Harris has two picks against Chicago, that’s a teamer. Adam Thielen had been a teamer for a long time. Harrison Smith played special teams back in the day. Trae Waynes, like I’ve mentioned before, was our leading tackler about three years ago in his rookie year. I think he had 15, 16 special teams tackles that year. For me, it’s very rewarding to see those guys that last in the league five, six, seven, eight, nine years and contribute on special teams when they are called upon in certain phases, but still do a great job for us on offense and defense. That’s fun. That’s a great question. I like answering that question because I’m real proud of those guys.
Vikings Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo
Obviously a great team win for us Sunday – a lot of great individual efforts by a lot of people. On Sunday will obviously be a challenge for us. They are well coached. It’s going to be a loud environment so we’ve really turned up the volume in practice this week. We’ll have to play well to beat these guys.
Q: Can you mention a few things that you’ve learned from Coach Zimmer about what makes a good head coach in this league?
A: What I love about Coach Zim is that he’s the same guy every day. He’s the same guy every day and he knows what he believes in and he holds those values true to himself, the staff, and our team.
Q: What was the key in getting Kyle Rudolph involved?
A: We love spreading the ball around and would love to see get Rudy more involved than he has been. Did a great job of getting open the other night, just so happened that Kirk [Cousins] was a little bit higher in the progressions at times. We found him, so it was great.
Q: Zim said they make you play left handed and take away your best players, how does that translate to what they do defensively?
A: They change up what they do every week. You really don’t know what you’re getting until you really get to the game. Obviously, you watch their game tapes as they go along the season and they play each team a little bit differently to how they perceive what you do well, like man coverage, bracket coverage, cover-two. So they change it up to stop what you do well. We have a feeling on how they’re going to play us, we don’t know for sure. That’s what he’s going to do. I think we’ll have enough to hopefully counter-punch it.
Q: Is some of that with them being good at recognizing personnel packages?
A: I think Coach Belichick does an unbelievable job. I think he really understands. When he sees a unique skill set on a player I think he does everything he can to take that away. Whether that be crowding to a side, whether that be man, whether that be getting in somebody’s face – press man, off man. He does a great job of recognizing skill sets in players and trying to take that away.
Q: You had two weeks of preparation last year for them, did any of that come into effect this week?
A: It does. You know it does. I think comparing years is a little overrated, to be quite honest with you. The average NFL team changes about 33 percent, between 33 and 38 percent from personnel to coaches. I did a study on that a few years ago and it was relatively between 33 and 38 percent. There’s different guys out there, there’s different schemes out there, there’s different things that they do better than they did last year. Yeah you look at it in terms of personnel driven more so than scheme.
Q: Does going head-to-head so recently make it easier for adjustments?
A: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. That was a very high offensive game in that Super Bowl. There was a lot of balls in the air, guys running around, if you like offense it was really good game. Yeah, it does. It just kind of gives you a flow of the game in terms of the way he views the game and the flow and how they change things up. Like I said, we’re obviously looking at this year’s tape much more than the Super Bowl.
Q: What do you see from Stephon Gilmore?
A: A guy that’s really physical. A guy that’s really physical and fast. He locks down number one and does a great job of that. Gets up in your face, he’s not afraid to press, he can run with you, so we’re going to have to mix up some things to give him some different looks.
Q: Given sacks aren’t everything how do they achieve so much pressure on the quarterbacks?
A: I think what they do very well, they line game very well and sometimes you can get the o-line on it. It creates a little bit of leakage up front. We’re going to stay balanced up front and keep our footing and pass it off and hopefully we’ll do that.
Q: What makes playing there so difficult in the times that you were there in the past?
A: A lot of things. Number one, they have great players. Number two, they have great schemes. Number three, they are very well coached. Number four, the environment you have to play in; it’s a pretty loud place, the fans are right on top of you. The other thing is they’ve won a lot of football games there. They’re a really good team at home. Over the past years, I don’t know the exact stats, but they’re a really good team at home. Anytime you go in there and play them you know you’re going to get a great game, you’re going to get their best shot all the time – very rarely do they have a bad game. We’ve just got to be ready to go and start fast.
Q: Will the headsets work there?
A: Yeah. We have the best headset crew here in Minnesota. They’re on top of that. There’s no doubt. They’re on top of that no matter where we play.
Q: What is your message to Kirk Cousins when it comes to running the ball?
A: Not lowering his shoulder is one approach I don’t want him to do, but at least it was his left shoulder. Our goal in the quarterback room is to get one a game, get one first down a game however that is, whether it be a QB sneak, a third down and six run up the middle, whether that be whatever. Our goal is to get one a game, so Kirk did a great job of doing that last week.
Q: One first down?
A: One first down with your feet, yeah.
A: You’re 40 and Tom Brady is 41, you’re a quarterback guy, what stands out to you about how he defies the age bracket?
A: A lot of times when I get out of bed I think about that and I’m like hurting and my back’s hurting and my legs are sore. I’m like “how does Tom Brady play? How does he play NFL football at that level?” He’s just an unbelievable player. He’s Tom Brady. He’s probably the best who’s ever played, got a ton of respect for him. Depending on who the quarterback it is, if you’re a wide base, short strike guy, that’s what you want to watch – you want to watch Tom Brady because he’s so good at it. Just staying back in the pocket, moving his feet, keeping a wide base, great upper body torque when he throws the football; he’s so fundamentally sound it’s really a thing of beauty to watch.
Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards
Going to Boston this week, playing against Tom Brady and that offense. It’s been really impressive looking at them on tape, I was in that division for like nine years, so I have a lot of experience going against him and know the caliber of offense that they do have and his ability to look at things and be able to diagnose and get rid of the football, all those things. It will be a tough matchup for us against their offense this week, but we’re working through it through the course of the week and getting ready to go.
Q: How have you seen Brady change in any way from the times when you were in the division?
A: A lot of the personnel around him has changed, but he’s really been pretty consistent throughout the course of his career. He looks at things and diagnoses them and goes where he needs to go with the ball and understands protections. He does a great job with what they ask him to do.
Q: Coach Zimmer said they are the best play action team in the NFL. What makes them so good with play-action?
A: It’s really tough, because they do great job of selling it, whether it’s putting the football in there, and they’re really up front in the way that they block it. They do a great job of coming off real hard and getting into the protection mode off of it. We’ll have our work cut out for us diagnosing run and play action against this team. And they’re ability to run the football, this team is what, 113 [rushing yards] a game? They run the football, so it plays right into it.
Q: How different is their offense with Sony Michel?
A: Yeah, he’s got good vision when he gets the ball. He’s got the ability to cut back, get on the corners, and he’s got the speed so that once he gets in the open field he’s a tough tackle. He brings a lot to their run game and we’ll have to do a good job of being technically and fundamentally playing from play to play, and making sure that we got gap control and those kind of things, and do a good job of tackling.
Q: In the time that you were in the division what was the most difficult thing when dealing with Rob Gronkowski?
A: He’s a tough matchup. He’s a big guy, a big catch radius down the field, so we’ll have our work cut out for us as far as leveraging him down the field and then going up and being able to compete for the ball.
Q: What’s the most difficult thing about trying to cover him down the field?
A: One of the difficult things is just his catch radius. If it gets around him, he’s a big, long-armed tight end that’s got a good vertical, good speed. Our work will be cut out for us going up and trying to compete for the ball with him down the field.
Q: With teams using play action as much as they now do, are defenses having to adjust the way they handle it?
A: Yeah, I’d say we’ve gotten better at it as we’ve progressed throughout the course of the season. I think it’s a recognition thing, but that trend is just like a lot of other things that happen with offenses. It’s kind of that guys see what people are doing that have success, and they do it. Again, this offense, they do a great job with their run game and all the play actions coming off of it, whether it’s the different combinations they use. We’ll have to do a good job of recognition and being able to get out and get underneath some of the routes as they work down the field. The check downs, their backs do a great job as you alluded to earlier of getting out on the perimeter and catching the ball and running after the catch. We’ve got to do a good job in that area.
Q: Some teams don’t run the football much but still try to utilize play action. Does it ever get to a point where you don’t have to honor the fake the same way knowing that they don’t run off of it as much?
A: Every team is a little bit different, but there some teams that we play that really don’t run the ball or run the exact plays that we get as far as protection. Through film study you can pick up some things every once in a while that will be an indicator that will help you key and diagnose it a little bit quicker. That just varies from week to week, but this team this week has no question about it. All their runs and play actions are predicated off of each other, and it will be a tough task.
Q: What is one of the top qualities that makes a good head coach?
A: I think there’s numerous things, because you wear so many hats as a head coach. Whether you’re dealing with things on the field or dealing with things off the field, I think having the awareness to continually be able to work through those things and wear those different hats and make decisions and work with different people from different areas, I think all of those things are good characteristics for a head coach to have.
Q: Your defense is the best in the NFL when it comes to third or fourth and short, but the Patriots are historically good with quarterback sneaks. What has made your defense so good in those situations, and what makes New England successful?
A: One thing for them is that you’ll see a lot of times hurry up to the ball, snap the ball, and it’s catching people off guard or they out-leverage you in the run game. Their scheme of things is pretty good and challenges you defensively. I think it’s an awareness thing for us. I think our guys have done a good job throughout the course of last year to this year of realizing the situation and playing the situation. That’s been critical for us as we’ve progressed throughout the course of the year.
Q: How tough is Tom Brady to affect with your pass rush?
A: He does a good job of getting rid of the football. That’s one thing that we talk to our guys up front [about]. We got to do a good job with our rush plan and our rush lanes, but also, he’s going to get the ball out of his hand, so we got to do a good job of being prepared for those and being able to hopefully get our hands up and get our hands on some balls, and do a good job of getting underneath in coverage and down the field in coverage. That goes hand in hand with everything, a good pass rush, good coverage. Hopefully we can work those two things together and work it to our benefit.
Q: Is there a certain area where you see the pass rushing being particularly effective right now?
A: I think our guys understand our rush plan going in every week. I think Coach Patterson does a great job with them teaching the fundamentals and the techniques as far as rushing the passer. Again, it goes hand in hand. We do a good job of covering down the field, which gives them a little bit more time. Hopefully we can get the quarterback to be a little bit indecisive. When you put those things together with them going out and being disciplined, willing to work together and understanding the big picture as opposed to just rushing up the field, I think that is a big indicator of our success in the pass rush from week to week.
Q: If there is a wet field or wet ball, is there an advantage to one side or the other?
A: I think everybody practices in the rain and those kind of things, so I guess it could vary from player to player and from organization to organization and from team to team. But at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if we’re in a parking lot or if the weather is snowing, raining or whatever, we’ve got to go out and execute and be able to understand what you got to do as far as your footing, what you need to do as far as your preparation for breaking down in between the route running if you’re in a coverage situation where you can keep your balance.
Q: Is there a little advantage for the offense at times when it’s wet?
A: I think it can be, but I think it’s just like I said. It varies from team to team. It may affect one quarterback and it may not affect another quarterback. It may affect certain receivers more so than others. I think there’s a variance from team to team and from player to player and how they adapt to the weather situations.