Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Marwan Maalouf
We’ve been practicing, obviously been preparing for the Detroit Lions special teams unit. (They’re a) very, very good unit, a lot of team speed, very physical. The coordinator I’ve known for a long time. He’s back in the NFL. He always puts a good product out there. Last week, I was happy with the outcome of the game, obviously, and how our guys played. There’s always stuff that we can improve on and we’ve addressed those with the guys, little things here and there in the coverage phases. I love everybody’s effort and their enthusiasm and how they’re attacking every week and every week in practice. That’s been a positive.
Q: Why has Matt Prater been so good throughout his career?
A: He‘s impressive. He really has. I just feel like some kickers keep growing as time goes on like Adam Vinatieri. There have been so many guys that start to, he’s not kicking off which I think helps and I think he would probably tell you that, but he is incredibly accurate. His tempo to the ball is excellent. He’s exceptional. He’s like the fountain of youth and 13 years, I think, isn’t really that long. I think the better years for him are probably still to come. He’s somebody that I respect highly and we have to find a way to try to keep him out of field goal range.
Q: How good did it feel to see that fake field goal play into the coverage?
A: It worked out well for us, I’ll say that. I like what our guys saw. I like that our rules really came into place there. Anthony (Harris) was in the right spot. There’s even some things that we can clean up there, to be honest with you, but I like how everybody was in tuned and we’ve been talking about situational football and where we were at in the game, I think with our call and how they executed it, it’s a credit to them. They were ready.
Q: Do you do anything differently to make it tougher on Matt Prater when you know how accurate he is?
A: Yeah, when coach asks me what his range is going to be in pregame, I’m going to probably say anywhere like a 42. He’s just a good kicker. There’s really not much that you can do with somebody as far as somebody like that who’s been a good kicker for a long time. The best thing we can do is keep him out of range really. We’ll obviously have a good game plan when it comes to our field goal block that we’re going to try to execute as best we can and hopefully, just like you said, take him off rhythm just for a second. That could be the difference.
Q: Just to clarify, you’re saying them advancing to the 42?
A: Correct, yeah.
Q: Do you tell Dan Bailey not to give their returner a chance?
A: I don’t think it matters where you kick it unless it goes through the back of the end zone. He’s going to take it out and that’s how we prepare with every kicker, not just him. (Jamal) Agnew is an exceptional talent. The last thing you want him to do is get the ball in his hands because he is explosive. Unless that thing goes through the back of the end zone, we’re expecting him to take it out and our coverage has to be on point in punt and in kickoff, as well. Our gunners are going to have to get down field. We’re going to have to protect and get as many guys into coverage as we possibly can.
Q: What do you like the best about Mike Boone as a coverage guy?
A: He keeps getting better every week. He’s an exceptional talent. He’s fast and I think the game is starting to slow down for him a little bit more the more reps he gets. I don’t think he was on the field quite as much last year as he is this year. I’ve been happy with him and really all our running backs have done a really good job. That room has done a good job of paying attention to details and just understanding what the opponent is trying to do.
Q: Is there a competitive spirit in the punt gunners about who’s going to get down there and make the play?
A: Absolutely. Absolutely, those guys, Jayron Kearse is one of those guys, they all want to get down there. That’s a competitive thing about our guys. That’s something that you don’t get at a lot of places and I love the way our guys compete and how they compete within the game. You really see that in the kickoff huddle. They want us to kick it to their direction so they can cover or kick it away so they can cover. That’s been a pleasant surprise from my perspective.
Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards
In preparation for a tough division game on the road again this week, just in preparations this week. Guys are dialed into the situations that we’re trying to get worked today. Tough opponent this week. Offensively, they’re doing a nice job. Good balance with the run, good balance with play action pass down the field, good in third down, so we’ve got our work cut out for us this week as we continue through the week as far as preparation.
Q: How different does the Lions’ offense look from years past?
A: It’s a lot different than it was last year. Most respect for (Matthew) Stafford. He’s been exceptional before, like when (Jim) Caldwell was there, he was very good at situational offenses, numbers were really up. But this year, we’ve always had a lot of respect for him. He’s very tough, very competitive, has the arm to make all the throws. He’s competitive in the pocket, can stay alive to get the ball down field. They’re exceptional outside to the receivers, guys are competing up at the top, making big plays for him down the field. Anything situationally, he can run to throw. He can also run it for first down, so we have to do a good job of being good with our rush lanes and we have to do a good job of staying on top of the coverages.
Q: Do you see that system helping Matthew Stafford a little bit more?
A: Yeah, I mean it seems like they have had a lot of success because there’s balance. They’ve been able to run the ball now and the play actions off of it. I think that’s been a big plus for him.
Q: What kind of dynamic has T.J. Hockenson added to their offense?
A: He’s definitely dynamic. He’s a tough matchup when it comes to coverage, those types of deals. I know last week they got the ball off of him in the red zone, but he is definitely very good on the option routes, being able to adjust off the option routes with the leverage of the coverage. We’ve got to do a good job of knowing where he’s at and how they’re using him within what the situations (are).
Q: How much of a luxury is it to have both Mike Hughes and Mackensie Alexander healthy?
A: I think you’ve heard us say it before, you can never have enough corners. You look at the situation we started with, and then getting him back, it’s been a big plus. Guys being able to go out there compete every day on the field and then they’re able to transition that to the game as far as number of reps, guys rotating in and out at the different positions. I think that’s been a bonus for us.
Q: How has the Lions’ commitment to the run changed?
A: I agree with you. I think the one thing you see from past years that they’re sticking with the run. It is a part of what they do throughout the course of the game unless the score dictates or the situation dictates that they get out of it. In games that have been close, they’ve stuck with it and been pretty balanced with the run game. I think they’re averaging over 107 yards, or something, like that per game. We’ve got to do a good job of stopping the run. (Kerryon) Johnson is, number one, he’s a good runner, good vision, tough to bring down and then the other thing coming out of the backfield as a receiver, he’s done a great job with that, too. We’ll have to definitely be dialed in to how they’re using him in different situations.
Q: Does he give Matthew Stafford a quick out that he maybe hasn’t had before in the passing game?
A: I think that’s a part of it. I think the one thing with (Matthew) Stafford when he’s getting pressure and those types of deals, his ability to feel in the pocket and get rid of the ball has been critical this year. Whether it’s throwing it down the field or throwing it to the outlet of the running backs, the screen game that they run with it, they have a lot of outlets for him and he’s doing a good job of reading what the defense is giving him and getting the ball out.
Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski
Big opportunity this week on the road against a really good Detroit Lions team, looking forward to it. I’m impressed with their scheme, I think they do an outstanding job. And then the players, they got really good players at every level. Adding Trey Flowers like they did in free agency I think is a big get, and we’ll have our hands full with that group. Briefly on last week, great team effort, good to come out of there with a win, and I was proud of the guys.
Q: Since the days that you coached the tight end group, how have you seen Kyle Rudolph develop as a blocker?
A: I think he’s doing a really good job. Any of our success that we’ve had up to this point, I think you can include number 82 in that. And I know maybe that’s not through the pass game a ton, but whether it be in the pass protection world, in the run game world, I think he’s embraced a role that for the first few weeks here has been a blocking role in the run game and a couple pass protections. But I think there is going to be ample opportunities, and maybe it’s this week, where I think he comes alive in the pass game. But I just appreciate the way the guy goes about business. He’s a team player, he’s a captain for a reason, and I think you’ve seen his game evolve. In our scheme I think he works really well with tackles, he’s a smart player, so he’s able to understand fronts. I think he just works really hard with Brian Pariani to make sure that his technique is on point.
Q: Given how much of a threat Rudolph has been in the passing game in previous seasons, is it difficult for guys to change their role like he has? Is it unique for him to embrace it the way he has?
A: Again, it might be, but the guy is a captain. He’s about winning. He’s played a lot of football games, he knows what it takes to win and I think he’s willing to do whatever it is.
Q: Why do you think the tight end targets are down this season?
A: I think sample size is hard, and you’ve seen in the last two ball games how things start to even out. I hate to keep going back, but we had two ball games where we were ahead and we just kept running it, so I think the pendulum will swing a little bit on that stuff.
Q: What kind of challenge are you facing this week when you prepare for a defense who moves guys around as much as the Lions do?
A: Yeah, we got our work cut out for us. They do a great job. They’re smart, they know what they’re doing. They play a ton of man coverage and they’ll mix in the zone. You have to be ready for every front, they play every front there is and they can play it week to week and series to series. Really, identification and communication from our end is at a premium this week.
Q: What have you liked in what you’ve gotten out of Alexander Mattison?
A: We identified some of his traits in the draft process, and thought he would fit our scheme. He’s a very intelligent young man, works really hard in the meeting room, works really hard on the practice field. I think Kennedy Polamalu has done an outstanding job with him, so there’s a trust level when he gets in there that we don’t have a drop off from one to two. But at the same time, he’s a rookie, and that’s why we’re staying on top of him and making sure that he continues to get better.
Q: What do you think of the way he can hurdle opponents? Is there any concern he can get hurt doing that?
A: That position, you rely so much on natural instincts, so I don’t want to get in his way when it comes to making yards.
Q: How much different is the physicality Alexander Mattison has from what Latavius Murray had?
A: Dalvin (Cook) and Alexander have a similar running style to me. I think Alex is a little bit bigger, but I think ultimately they fit this scheme so well, and then when things maybe are blocked perfectly or there is a free hitter in the hole, which sometimes happens, I think both those guys are able to add force to each of their runs, and that was something specifically with Alexander that you saw on tape. At Boise (State), he was a physical runner with good hips, so he could make the first guy miss, or he could apply force at the end and try and run him over.
Q: Kirk was complimentary of the aggressive, creative play calling against Philadelphia. Was it fun to call the Eagles game?
A: It was fun to win. It’s fun to score points. Our whole thing as a staff is, let’s put our guys in position to go make plays. Let’s find ways to be explosive. We’ve been saying that from day one, and sometimes that’s in the run game, and sometimes that’s in the pass game. The fun in this business is winning, I’m sure you’ve heard that before. So I think I appreciate our guys that whatever the game entails, whatever the scheme on the other side entails, that’s kind of what we’re going to do.
Q: What’s stood out to you about the way the offensive line has handled communication when you have to switch guys in and out?
A: I think credit to those players, I think they do an outstanding job of being on the ready. A guy like Dakota Dozier to pop in there and pop out, Rashod Hill is in and out of there, and then the guys that are still in there, to be able to communicate with different people. So credit to the players and credit to Andrew (Janocko) and Rico (Rick Dennison), those guys do a great job in the meeting room and out on the practice field to make sure that there is a constant stream of communication among those five guys. The nature of the NFL, sometimes it’s going to be one in, one out, and there can’t be a drop off.
Q: Do you have to pick your spots when max protecting and using tight ends?
A: Definitely, and I think part of that is being multiple. You don’t want to do the same thing in any way, in any form or fashion. In any department of the offense, you don’t want to do the same thing over and over, because then the defense gets a tell in that. So we want to vary our protections like we want to vary our run concepts. We want to vary our route concepts, so keeping a tight end in protection is a good change up, but then you have to be very wary of matchups with those guys. There’s some defensive ends out there that are pretty darn good pass rushers.
Q: What have you seen from Pat Elflein in his transition from guard?
A: I think he’s working really hard with our coaches. I think he’s had a bunch of really good reps, and what you like about Pat is he’s a physical player. There’s a ton of effort and finish plays from him, which I think if you go back and watch some of our longer runs, there’s always an offensive linemen finishing, and Pat has been right there leading the charge. So I think he really fits our mentality of what we’re trying to do, and I think just more reps with him and Garrett (Bradbury) next to each other, I think the more the better.
Q: Is pass protection something Elflein is still working on?
A: Yeah, I think every player, honestly, is trying to work at the pass protection, the run blocking. I don’t think we’re ever going to say that we’re a finished product, so definitely, Pat is looking to improve that. The nice part is that we’ve got some good guys to have a pass rush drill against in practice, so he gets the cream of the crop to go against in practice. And then like anything, we just got to rely on our technique in the game.
Q: Why is Rashod Hill so good and so natural when he stepping in for Riley Reiff?
A: A lot of that is natural ability. I mean Rashod, just his frame and his arms, does a really nice job in pass protection. And then you saw him in the run game as well moving people. That’s a skill set that he’s always had and that we’re continuing to refine, but just the natural length is pretty unique.
Q: When you look at Kirk Cousins’ focus on the details, getting down to the play fakes and having that nuance, how does that make the play action game more effective?
A: I think with all of our players, the big thing is the little thing, is what we talk about. For the quarterback to make the play action world go, there needs to be certain elements of his fake. I mean, we’re talking about his off hand on the belt buckle, those little, tiny things that the coaches are continuing to harp on our guys. But it has to be from 11 guys. There are so many nuances to our scheme, whether it be play action or otherwise, that we really need everybody on point to make those things go, and I think you’ve seen in a few of these ball games that when we’re all on point and we’re doing what we’re coached to do, it can look pretty good.
Q: The Lions have been struggling against the pass despite having guys like Darius Slay and Justin Coleman in that secondary. Is that a function of playing some high powered offenses, and what kind of challenges will that secondary present?
A: Yeah, I don’t know. I know this, watching the tape, I’m impressed. It’s a group that can roll up and play man coverage. I think really across the board they have DBs that can get up and press you and make life really hard on you. And then they’re smart in how they scheme and add a few different wrinkles in a few different zone coverages. I see a sound defense from the run game and the pass game, and we’re really going to have our work cut out for us I think to be able to be explosive in this ballgame.