"Good morning. A nice road win against Chicago. Hard fought, but [QB] Blaine [Gabbert] especially made some plays at the end and it was nice to have a happy plane ride home. But, we go back on the plane and go play Cleveland."
Were you surprised at all that that last play was there because it hadn't been there all game?
"[Chicago Bears defensive coordinator] Vic [Fangio] knows us and we know Vic, but Vic is very patient. He was playing a lot of shell early and forces you to be patient. We had actually had that finger on the play earlier in the second half, but the fake's got to be believable. And if you're thinking that Vic's thinking that, then you've got to think differently. But again, full credit to Vic. It was a well-prepared defense that we played. But, we felt like if we kept playing through the patience that there would be some windows of opportunity. Fortunately we had that opportunity."
How much is Blaine instructed to be conservative with his throws? He only had two completions where the ball traveled further than 10 yards. How much of that is by design and how much of that is him being eager to take the cautious route?
"Sure. First off, we've done a nice job with the deep ball when given the opportunity. If you think back to the previous week against Arizona, I think we had eight explosive passes. The way that Chicago was playing us, every game's different and every chance you have to go out there, you have to solve whatever is being presented to you by the defense. I know that a guy like [RB] Shaun Draughn is such a good receiver out of the backfield that, going back to the original west coast principles, that a back out of the backfield catching a 10-yard completion is like a run for 10 yards. It's your team moving the ball down the field. There's no doubt also that we were struggling early with their four-man rush. All four of the sacks were off a four-man rush. So, now you have the combination of a deep shell plus not an unlimited amount of time to get the ball off. So, Blaine's done a nice job of not panicking, take what profit may be available and we've been rewarded, the four games that he's played, of guys catching the ball and getting some yards. It gets frustrating when you take that and it's the bare minimum gain or you're trying to find a completion deep and you just don't have time to get the ball off. So, that's just the way kind of each game plays differently."
On a similar subject, the numbers say when he's under pressure, he's been really good.
Is that part of it?
"I think so. I think that his game has shown a lot of maturity. And what is meant by that is, we watched a lot of tape of Chicago say, against Green Bay. They created two turnovers. I think, a guy like [Green Bay Packers QB] Aaron Rodgers, his yards per pass attempt was under 5.0. So, you knew that that was what Vic does with his defense whoever he plays and that sometimes maybe the feet are the best thing. There was the throw in the third down to [TE] Blake Bell where we missed him on a breakout route that we reminded Blaine that really that was a nice window to run into and he took advantage of it in that final drive. So again, Vic's defenses are always well prepared and we felt we had some answers to it. You'd like to get to, whether that call that was in overtime earlier, but they also did a nice job. If you noticed, they were draining the play clock on virtually all of their snaps. So, I think they had two six-minute drives in the second half. They were doing that even in the first half. Knowing [Chicago Bears head coach John Fox] Foxy, he loves that, play keep away mentality. And so, that also builds into it because you're standing a lot on the sideline and you've got to remind yourself to be patient. And we were rewarded for that at the end."
I doubt many people expected Gabbert to play the way he's played so far this year given how he played in Jacksonville and given how QB Colin Kaepernick played earlier this season with relatively the same teammates. How do you explain Gabbert's relative success so far?
"He's a well-prepared player. He really spends a lot of time, which is to his credit. I think he's done a really nice job when the play is starting to break down, using his feet or delivering the ball accurately when he's under duress. I think back to the Atlanta throw to [TE Garrett] Celek right before the half. There was a lot of pressure coming into his face and he does a hell-of-a job getting the ball off. And when you do that and you're rewarded with a touchdown, it gives you confidence that, for example, the long 16-play drive in the Chicago game, that was really the only drive all game that Vic actually blitzed and Blaine had really good answers to the blitz and Vic had to back off the blitz once it was shown that Blaine could do a nice job not just under pressure, which may be a collapsing pocket, but also under the blitz. And so, his maturity, his weekly preparation, he's a prepared quarterback when he goes out there and plays on Sunday."
If the Cardinals will allow the deep ball and the Bears try to take away the deep ball, where do the Browns fit into what their defense gives?
"[Cleveland Browns head coach] Mike's [Pettine] background as a head coach has been with the [Buffalo Bills head coach] Rex Ryan style defense. So, you could get anything with that. He could make a decision based on their tape study and where they are as a defense to bring a lot of pressure. They also can learn from, remember Vic was part of that Baltimore crew when [offensive line coach] Chris Foerster was also there, that they could learn from some of the principles. But, I think that's the great thing about a schedule that you play. Every week is a new challenge and I'm curious to see because they've shown effectiveness when they bring pressure. They've shown effectiveness, they've got a unique drop eight coverage that basically allows the free catch underneath, but they expect to tackle you short of the sticks. So, we're prepared for all the different looks that they have, but we have to go see the game on Sunday and see what their game plan is."
You started the season or in training camp with about eight or nine tight ends. You're down to TE Blake Bell as your healthiest option. How has that affected your ability as a play caller or just the scheme that you're trying to run?
"Sure. It hurt when [TE] Vance [McDonald] came out because we were down to a limited personnel group. And we've loved the development of the tight ends. I think that's also been a nice thing that Blaine has found is those guys being trustworthy. But again, we had mentioned earlier with the St. Louis game when injuries occur during the course of a game or even during a course of a drive, you kind of have to play the cards as it is within the context of a game. And so, [G/C Daniel] Kilgore stepped in and played a little bit of tight end. But basically, we were down to two personnel groups, our 11 and our 21 personnel group. And I know Vic being a prepared guy knew that too. So, you just keep moving forward. But, we like the way where Blake Bell is going. Unfortunately, we're going to use all of them going down through our roster. But, they've done a nice job, the tight ends have and there's been a nice chemistry between the quarterbacks and the tight ends."
Are you expecting to get Vance McDonald back?
"As everybody knows this time of year, Vance is in the concussion protocol. So, he's out there. He was just out there at the walk-thru. His game has taken tremendous strides. We're really happy. You know, I thought that Seattle game was great for him and he's carried that through on the practice thing. So, we'll see. Our protocol is to put him in a blue shirt and we'll see where he's at really come Sunday. But, we love the way that Vance has improved and right along with Garrett and Blake. They've all been nice weapons."
Speaking of chemistry, it seems like Gabbert and Draughn have been playing together for 10 years.
Are you impressed or surprised by how quickly that connection has occurred as an outlet and things like that?
"Shaun's done an awful lot for us and we've been injured at that running back position. The same guys, you try to make a reference back to training camp and then you look around and I think [RB] Kendall Gaskins is the only one that knows that point of reference. But, I think Shaun's done a great job in terms of when you add his yards rushing plus his yards receiving in almost every game he's gotten toward the century mark. And that's such a nice weapon to have. And he kind of hit the ground running. I know for him, going back to Cleveland where he started the season off, I'm sure that's a motivating factor. But again, credit to those guys of developing the chemistry. The one play that was a big play, Shaun kind of slipped coming out of the backfield and Blaine kind of held on long enough and I thought that was a good snapshot for where they're at. That he still trusted that he wasn't going to go down completely and Blaine trusted enough to know that I can still get this throw off even though it was kind of under duress."
In the third down?
"Exactly right. And Shaun had a little angle route. He kind of slipped. I think it ended up being a 26-yard gain in the drive that was right before the half or the next to last drive of the first half. So, I think to me that's a snapshot of two guys being on the same page and really trusting each other and they've been nice, productive contributors."
With injuries like you talked about with Garrett Celek and then Vance and everything, for this week's game plan, how much have you had to go back in the playbook with things you haven't used before or maybe even create a few new things to maybe incorporate other players, like you said, like WR Bruce Ellington or other things?
"Right. I think that guys like [WR] Quinton Patton would probably fit in that same category of developing moving forward. We know more about him now than we did even at the start of the year or even in the preseason. Bruce is active and has got to make plays. That means other guys who are healthy like [WR] Jerome Simpson, all of those have opportunities when someone on your roster isn't even practicing. And then you practice the game plan and I think the practice gives you confidence that, ‘Hey, we can call that early in the game, hey, we can call that on third down.' The situational stuff is a lot of times from the practice. You think it's a good idea, but then the players make plays in practice. And that's the great value of practice."
But specifically for you, how has this game plan this week stretched you?
"It's good. It's like any puzzle that you're trying to figure out. You try to figure out a right number on a Sudoku puzzle on a plane or you try to figure out a crossword puzzle word. It's just another puzzle and you've got options available to you and you've got to make sure to prepare and challenge those guys during the week so it's not an absolute surprise. So, if a Kilgore has got to go in and play tight end when we were looking for him to play center, there's a benefit to that and he did a nice job. Now at halftime, we were trying to figure out a pass to throw to him so that it wouldn't be 100-percent run. But, we have yet to come up with that. So again, it just challenges your problem solving, and that's natural in the course of a game in terms of adjustments."
You mentioned Kilgore. Do you need to, with the tight end situation, do you need to find someone else to play that extra tight end if you want to get him center snaps or is he still going to be the--?
"Exactly. So, you want to feel like you've got the waterfront covered. We're excited about Kilgy coming back and playing center. So, you've got to find the other candidates on the roster. It's amazing how many defensive guys raise their hand thinking that they can play tight end."
Can you say who?
"No, I cannot. But, they all think they can do it, especially on a Friday afternoon. If you ever go to our Saturday practice, we like playing pat-and-go with just about everybody. So, that's always a lot of fun. It makes a long season of practice a little bit more enjoyable. The only rule is if we have one of those guys practicing the play, we always have to throw it to them to see if they can catch it. And, those lead to some humorous moments too."
How much more confidence do you have in Blaine right now as opposed to four games ago and is it at that stage now where you can just kind of unleash the entire playbook on him or has it already been unleashed?
"Blaine has an appetite for everything. I think even in the two losses, when you look at the strength of the opponent, both Arizona and Seattle looked like they had pretty good outings and we felt like we were going toe-to-toe with them with Blaine at quarterback. I think that a play here or a call here, a this or a that here and we might have had the win. That builds confidence moving forward. I think that's what's exciting about, not just the game against Cleveland, but the next four games to finish out is that we can help define who we are and really be excited about going out and playing on a Sunday with Blaine as our quarterback."
You like to use 13 personnel a lot. What have you seen from TE Brian Leonhardt in practice and how do you think he will transition?
"First off, Brian had spent time with [tight ends coach] Tony Sparano and Tony's done a nice job. Whenever we compliment people for developing, it often times comes down to that position coach and the nice job that they've done. So, we're trying to get him, Brian is here and he's trying to get him ramped up. He's had some familiarity with him. We'll see where that takes us, but we're not afraid of running plays."