Oakland Raiders: Tony Sparano Monday Press Conference Transcript
By Chase Ruttig
After the Oakland Raiders threw away yet another chance at a winnable game on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, interim head coach Tony Sparano was on the hot seat on Monday afternoon and left to explain some questionable playcalling decisions in the 23-13 loss. From abandoning the run that was working well, to working Maurice Jones-Drew in at the wrong times, to a fake field goal pass that turned into an interception, the gameplan may not have been as well executed as Sparano would have liked.
Discussing those questions on Monday, Sparano also touched on the positives while looking ahead to this weekend’s clash on the road against the Super Bowl champions. Following is the transcript of Sparano’s press conference from the Raiders official website:
Q: When you took over, one of the first things you said was that you wanted to run the ball a lot more. Now it seems like you guys have run the ball about the same amount as before. Why has that been the case?
Coach Sparano: “I wouldn’t say that necessarily. I think yesterday we had 20-something called runs. As the game went on, later in the game, we had to throw the ball when we got down a couple scores and we were playing in two-minute offense. Early in the ball game particularly, I think 10 of our first 22 were runs, somewhere in there. We continued to mix it up pretty well. We have not done a good enough job in some situations there at the line of scrimmage and winning some of those battles up front. Whether it be the line, tight ends, running backs, everybody that is involved in that part of the game. I thought Darren [McFadden] was running the ball pretty well yesterday. We need to continue to work at it and stay committed to being able to do that. Sometimes that’s easier said than done, but we need to.”
Q: But even in the first half, I think you threw twice as much as you ran. Was it a matter or staying committed to it, or …
Coach Sparano: “I think you have to stay committed to it, but also there were some opportunities out there yesterday for some big plays. Part of our identity here has to be to run the football and part of our identity has to be to create some explosive plays. I think when you look at us right now, and some of the games that we’ve played better in, I wouldn’t say our best, but better in, it’s been because we’ve been able to have a good mix of running the ball and getting the ball down the field with some play-action shots. San Diego game, those types of games, I think that was the scenario there. Really, last night, we weren’t able to create a lot of explosives. Early in the game, some of those were coming off the run game more.”
Q: How did DJ Hayden look?
Coach Sparano: “He played five plays on defense and I want to say, a dozen plays, on special teams. He had about 17 or 18 total snaps, which, going into the game, we thought with DJ probably 20-25 snaps, whatever way we got them would be good for us. He did a really nice job in the time he was in there, defensively. I think he played five plays and he maybe had like one minus technique-wise during that deal. Special teams, we really thought he did an outstanding job for being really only practicing at it for that week. We didn’t use him in week one when he came back on special teams, we only used him on the look team. I thought DJ did a good job in the game. He competed hard yesterday and he really played fast. Little by little, we’ll get him more involved.”
Q: How long is it going to take for him to be able to take a full load?
Coach Sparano: “I don’t know that. I really don’t. I don’t know DJ’s body at all that way. Honestly, a brand new player to me right now and to most of us. We know a little bit about DJ but it’s been a long time since he’s played so I really don’t know the answer to that question. As long as he came out of this no worse for the wear here, we’ll push the envelope with him a little more this week and see how he goes. Obviously, the faster we can get him moving, the better off we’ll all be.”
Q: I want to make sure I get this straight. You felt that you didn’t want to run the ball more because you felt that there were more chances down field, right?
Coach Sparano: “No, I didn’t say that. I said that we ran the ball 10 out of our first 22 snaps in the game. The question was asked, ‘Why did we get away from that?’ I said, ‘There was some opportunity for some explosives as well.’ You have to get the ball down the field in this game. In this game, chunk yardage is going to be the difference at some point, too. When you look at the team that we just played that beat us, they really didn’t run the ball very well. A pretty good rushing team, they didn’t run the ball very well at all. They’re watching that film today. They just feel a little better than we do right now. That being said, they gave up five plays yesterday, or we gave up five plays yesterday that were 35, one 48-yard play… At the end of it all, it equaled almost 44 percent of their total offense, those five plays. And they won. They made those plays. One of those was aided by a penalty that ended up being a big play there. Nonetheless, that was 44 percent of their offense, just on five plays. We have to be able to get the ball down the field and we have to take chances in getting the ball down the field. We don’t want to go out there and dink and dunk it constantly. I think that’s not the nature of what we want to be. At the same time, it really isn’t our quarterback. Our quarterback can advance the ball downfield, so he should, but we have to be able to stay committed to running the football. It’s something that in the last couple of weeks, we’ve made more of an emphasis on. We have to continue to make a better emphasis.”
Q: How do you think your offensive line did in run blocking in this game?
Coach Sparano: “Well, we were 57 percent efficient in the run game this week, 21 runs called and 12, 13 of them were efficient plays in the game. So, to answer your question, average in the run game. Average. In the protection game, I thought they protected the passer pretty well. We threw the ball 54 times, we had 285, 95 to be exact, individual matchups out there, and they won 87 percent of those, so that’s pretty good.”
Q: When talking about efficiency in running the ball, what is the goal?
Coach Sparano: “The goal in the NFL, an efficient run in the NFL, is four-plus [yards].”
Q: What percentage of efficient runs is the goal?
Coach Sparano: “Oh, for us? I think that if you’re in the 60’s, you’re in pretty good shape. It just depends on how many times you run the ball. If you’re in the 60’s and you only ran the ball 12 times, that’s not very good. We’ve had some of those, where we’ve only ran the ball 15 times, by the nature of the game. So, if you’re running the ball 35 times and you’re up there in that percentage, where you’re really pushing the ball and you’re at 60 percent, that’s pretty good, making the necessary yardage. I don’t know how many rushing attempts they had yesterday, I forget. Looking back at it, they didn’t run very many plays, but they’re efficiency wasn’t very good.”
Q: How is TJ Carrie after getting hurt in the game and did he come back in the game?
Coach Sparano: “I don’t know that yet. He did not, not after he came out. It was late when TJ got hurt there, but I haven’t gotten an update yet, we’ll get that in a little while here and see how he’s doing. I have seen him in a meeting this morning, so he was sitting up which was good.”
Q: It seems like there are times on third-and-long where Derek Carr is throwing underneath routes that don’t quite get you to the sticks. Would you like him to be more aware of where that first down marker is?
Coach Sparano: “Yeah, our awareness, our situational awareness as a group, as a football team, has got to continue to get better. That’s an area that I think we need to grow in, our situational awareness. Where are we in the game? Where are the sticks? Whether it be offense or defense, third-down defense, those type of things. Where are you in the game? What’s the clock say? These things are all important, so in some of those situations, what’s the coverage? Is it man coverage? If there’s a lot of man coverage, to get vertical in the man coverage is not always good. You need to move people side-to-side. We had a couple opportunities last night. One opportunity we were right around the 30-yard line, maybe you guys saw it, where [Kenbrell] Thompkins came across on an under route and the ball was thrown on the sideline in that situation, but he got a good rub vertical and then a rub underneath and he came across and they dropped the coverage. Then you run across, but you know that’s how you win some of these man-to-man situations, running across the field a little bit and doing some of that stuff as opposed to getting vertical and maybe letting some of those guys carry you at times, so that may be a little bit of what you had seen there in some of those situations. Now, there were a couple times there where we were pressured. Right now, going into the game the other day, Derek Carr was the third-most pressured quarterback in the National Football League, going into the game the other day. That’s not a surprise, he’s a rookie and he’s a starter, so he’s gotten an awful lot of pressure, and prior to that game, to be sacked whatever it was, four or five times, going into that game, for that kind of pressure, that didn’t stop yesterday. In other words, they tried the whole gambit, overloads, the whole thing. Really, the only pressure that really got home was the pressure there on the five or six-yard line coming out, which was really more of a communication error and a situational awareness error, than anything else. So, that’s something that he’s in there learning from right now and some of our receivers.”
Q: If he’s one of the most pressured quarterbacks, how come he hasn’t been sacked more?
Coach Sparano: “It’s two things, that’s a good question. One, I think [offensive coordinator] Greg Olson and our coaches upstairs do a great job of preparing our guys for the pressures. Rarely something that shows up in the game that they either haven’t seen, which is hard, because a lot of times you can’t script every look, you don’t have enough plays. You can’t stay out there until midnight every day. Some of those are non-scripted looks that you’ve got to use the tools in your toolbox to kind of get the answers for, and that happened yesterday a few times, where the line handled it really well, Derek gets us in the right protection, [Stefen] Wisniewski being out there gets us lined up quite often, has good answers that way, and Derek gets the ball out. He’s got a great release, probably one of the best releases that I’ve been involved with, so he gets the ball out and doesn’t take a lot of sacks like that. That’s all part of it, it’s a big part of it.”
Q: Where have you seen progress over these three weeks that you’ve been the head coach? Are you seeing improvements come as fast as you need to?
Coach Sparano: “As fast as I need to? No. I mean, I wouldn’t say as fast as I need to because I’m one of those guys that wants it yesterday. Do I see progress? Yeah, I see a lot of progress in a lot of different areas. I think that you like at our football team, and I told the guys this today, the one thing that has to stop happening for us is we can’t patch one hole up and then find another one. In other words, all of a sudden this week, we fixed third-down defense, example. Now you say, well, where was progress made? Well, progress was made in third-down defense. We tackled better. I think this team has played with a lot of passion and a lot of enthusiasm. I think we’ve given ourselves a chance to win three football games right now. I mean, listen, there were a lot of games played this weekend where people didn’t have a chance to win the games, and we’ve given ourselves a chance to win these three football games. Yesterday, we can look at turnovers as being one of those issues. I showed the team a statistic, over the last five years, when you look at the turnovers over the last five years and you’re on the road at minus three, the percentage of winning is three percent. That’s not very good. A three percent chance to win the game, on the road, three turnovers, 93 percent chance to win the other way, 97 percent chance to win the other way. You’re just not going to win a lot of football games that way. That’s not something that we’ve been doing a lot of. We’ve turned the ball over end of game, that type of thing, but we haven’t done that, and all of a sudden that hit, so now you’ve got to go out and you’ve got to fix that and put emphasis on that. So, that’s probably the biggest thing right now. I think there have been a lot of areas of improvement. Defensively, I think we’re playing with better fundamentals right now. I do think we’re starting to get the run game going in the right direction right now. I think our quarterback is completing a lot of passes right now, not necessarily big chunk plays down the field, but we have pushed the ball down the field. We’ve made a more conscious effort of getting the ball down the field and taking shots during a course of games. I think all those things are really positive and I think the energy that the kids are playing with has been outstanding over the last three weeks. That’s not something that I can even remotely question, but we can’t continuously have to patch up something every single week. Eventually, those problems, we’ve got to fix all those problems.”
Q: Benson Mayowa has made the most of his opportunity. What have you seen from him, especially this past week?
Coach Sparano: “Benson’s done a really great job. From where he was when he came in here to where he is right now, I think the biggest thing is just that – when we got him, we kind of that he would help us in the rush as a pass rusher. What I’ve noticed is that in the games, he’s been around the football in the run game. Yesterday we needed to set the edge against this offensive line and this running game that Cleveland had, and in setting the edge. Your edge guy is Khalil [Mack] and he, yesterday, really had to do a good job. I thought our entire defensive group really did a good job of knocking offensive linemen back and setting the edges. I thought Antonio [Smith] and ‘Jelly’ [Justin Ellis] and that group there did a good job of knocking people back. But the two most glaring players in my opinion in that group yesterday were clearly Benson and Khalil Mack. I mean, Khalil Mack was outstanding yesterday. I mean like really, really good. Again, he’s going to be measured in whether or not he sacks the quarterback, but I would just say that it’s been a long time since I’ve seen somebody do that in the run game. What he did yesterday in the run game to an opponent, this guy Khalil has just really dominated, and I thought Benson was right behind him there at times. He set the edge and the other guys chases it down. He made a play on a big play that came out of a screen play that came out of there where he chased this thing down from – I don’t know, it was a 35-yard play I think and he chased it down from behind. He’s playing hard. He’s making the most of his opportunity, exactly. That’s exactly right. Sometimes they come around. You better make the most of it when they come around or they might not come around again, and he’s done a nice job of that right now.”
Q: How has it been working with Greg Olson? He is the coordinator and you guys probably have some differing or unique philosophies. Have you tried to bring more of your philosophy into the offense these past few weeks?
Coach Sparano: “Really Greg and I have always gelled really well since the day I got here, to be honest with you. Greg and I hadn’t worked together prior to coming here and we both came here at the same time. When I was hired, at that time Dennis [Allen] was talking to me and it was important to me that he hire the coordinator first. I don’t want to a coordinator to come in and at that point be stuck with me. I kind of wanted it to be the other way around; I had just been through a couple different scenarios. When Greg and I sat down and visited we shared some different philosophies and our philosophies were really very, very similar. We come from the same kind of backgrounds, so that was really easy. And there was a trust factor there, a trust factor within kind of what I believed and what he believed. We don’t ever really differentiate a whole lot that way. To be honest with you, we’re pretty much on the same page and I think Greg would tell you that. There’s not any question about that.”
Q: What are your initial thoughts about going up to Seattle? Also, last night you talked about Oakland not beating Oakland, so what are your thoughts on that going into Seattle?
Coach Sparano: “Obviously, our thoughts going into Seattle right now – first thing we’re doing is correcting this tape here. Then, as we said to our players here, we’ve got a couple of hours to put this behind us and now we’ve got to get ourselves ready to go against obviously a very good football team in their place, which is really a tough place to play as everybody knows. As I said to the team, right now what we can’t get caught doing is letting anybody else define who we are at this point, or what our goals are at this point. We need to concern ourselves with our own goals for right now, and there should only be one and it should be Seattle at this point. We shouldn’t be looking down the road at anything right now. We shouldn’t be looking any place other than with what’s directly in front of us, and that would be this challenge this week. I think our guys are excited about the fact that we get to measure ourselves again. We do feel like we’re getting better in that room over there. I think [this] gives us another chance to measure ourselves against a really good football team, on the road in their place. I think the guys will be excited and they’ll be ready to go for that challenge. But as I said to the guys, it’s one of those deals where this will be obviously another really good test for us. It’s not what they call you, it’s what you answer to.”
Q: Looking at the game tape, what was Cleveland doing defensively against your run? I’m kind of puzzled why you only averaged 3.2 yards per carry.
Coach Sparano: “Yeah, you’re kind of stuck on that” (laughter)
Q: I’m still a little curious…
Coach Sparano: “I can tell. I can tell that. Honestly, first of all, you’ve got to give some credit to Cleveland. But what they were doing, at times they went in there and played us in some Bear. You know what that is? They played us in some Bear – that would be eight guys in the box and the core covered, so you’d have five down linemen in there – and that’s a hard front to run the ball into, because you’re going to be manned up in everything that you do there. You’re not going to have a lot of combinations in there. But at times they did that; at times, they moved a little bit; at times, we just didn’t do a good enough job at the point of attack of sustaining some things. We’d start in a combination, but all of a sudden color would show and before the back got to press it or any of those types of things. So they did a good job of that, but I thought again, early in the ball game, I didn’t see that as a factor. We started to move the ball pretty well early in the game and then there was that one drive there – unfortunately it was when the turnover happened – when we had two or three runs in there. When I say ‘the’ turnover – there were three of them in the game – I would say it was the fumble on the 20-yard line. But there was a couple, two or three, runs there that came out of there and that were good plays, and they were in the pressures. Like the one that Darren ran down in there was into a pressure. We call it a cross-dog, so they’re really brining their two inside linebackers and crossing those guys. That one came out of there to the backside, but we ended up obviously turning the ball over in that situation. So they did a good job of crowding the line, but that’s not anything that we haven’t seen before to be quite honest with you. We didn’t execute it well enough and we’ve got to do a better job of executing it at the line of scrimmage, and that’s everybody. That includes everybody. Running the football includes the line, the receivers – everybody.”
Transcript from Raiders.com