“Just injuries, [S Jaquiski] Tartt will be out. That’s it.”
Is Tartt’s issue the same as Washington Redskins LB Reuben Foster’s was with the stinger?
“They were both stingers. I don’t want to compare what’s worse or not, but it hasn’t gone away all year. We’ll end up putting him on IR tomorrow because we missed our deadline.”
You said you will put him on IR?
“Yes, we will.”
With CB K’Waun Williams back, presumably, does that move DB D.J. Reed Jr. to safety?
“It gives us an option to. Both of them can play nickel and D.J. can play safety. We’ll see on Sunday which lineup we go with.”
What do you guys got to do, either this year or the last couple games, just to get more rushing touchdowns and more success in the red zone?
“Not just rushing, but more success in the red zone. We’ve just got to get better all around. You need to be more efficient. You need to run the ball better. You need to throw the ball better. I can go into each scenario, but last week we were in there three times. I thought, we had two runs on first and second down. The third one, I thought we had a good throw. We ended up dropping the ball, which would have given us a chance. Next two times, we got in there at the 19-yard line to take a knee at the end of the game. So, I don’t count that one. I know you guys do. Everyone does. But, I don’t. Then, the other one that hurt us was the personal foul we got inside the five-yard line by [RB] Jeff [Wilson Jr.] giving the ball to the ref and the D-Line coming in between the two. That makes it tough. But, we’ve got to get better all around. The easier it is to run the ball down there, the more you don’t have to worry about stuff. We haven’t done a great job of running it inside the five. We can get better at the runs, and we also can get better with the passes to make the run job easier.”
You presumably want to be able to run the ball well against Chicago, just to maybe make things easier on QB Nick Mullens. But, you guys numbers-wise have struggled the last three games. I know, obviously, you were playing from behind in the first Seattle game. But, what’s been the biggest issue do you think with the running game the last few weeks?
“I think guys have committed more to stopping it. I don’t think we ran the ball very well versus Seattle the first time. I actually was happy with how we ran the ball versus Denver and Seattle this time. When you run the ball pretty good most of the year, you have a standard, our players do too, to where you consider it a successful day whether your stats were really good. Our stats haven’t been good three weeks in a row. But, I thought we have ran the ball good two out of those three. What I mean by that is you’re going against guys committed to the run and you’re still able to have efficient runs where you go hard and you’re still able to stay balanced throughout a game. I thought we ran the ball versus Seattle not for stats. We ran the ball good enough to win the game. I’m not just saying that because we won. There in that second half, they go into a ton of man coverage and stuff and making some of the passes harder that we hurt them with in the first half. Same thing with Denver. We hurt them with a ton in the first half. Then, you go to the run game because of some tougher looks and you aren’t just going to be getting six yards, five yards a carry. It’s hard running. Most of this year, when we’ve gotten into those situations, we haven’t been able to win games. Last week, we got the ball in overtime and I think we ran it every single play except for one play. Our first one, I think it was first-and-10 and we got four yards with [RB Matt] Breida slipping. Then, had a second-and-six on second down. To be able to get a first down running the ball there and avoid a third down pass, was one of I think the biggest runs of the year we’ve had. So, I know it doesn’t always show up on the stats. But, versus Seattle, I thought it was one of our best run games just in terms of running the ball well enough to win the game. These guys will be a huge challenge this week, also. It’s not going to be you just go out there and have stats that impress everyone. It’s going to be tough. If you can stay out there and get those hard, two-yard runs, convert some third downs, then you’ll have a chance to maybe break a long one. If you break a long one, then the stats will look like we had five yards a carry. But, you’re not going to get five yards a carry versus some defenses like this.”
Do you look at the Bears, just their defense as a whole, and see it as a completely different type of test for Nick that you could really learn something about him this week?
“I look at it as a test for everyone because I do think this is without a doubt the best defense we’ve played this year. It’s one of the better defenses I’ve seen. They have, at every spot, whether it’s linebacker, whether it’s pass rusher, whether it’s secondary, they have some very elite players. I think they have a scheme and a coordinator that is as good as there is. There’s not a lot of holes. They’re going to make every single play tough. You’re not going to get many freebies or anyone just really wide open to where you can score, unless you can make them vulnerable, which is very tough to do. So, it’ll be a test for everybody. We have to be very efficient because when there aren’t a lot of holes in a defense, that’s where you start to press a little bit and you force something and you get turnovers. That’s why they’ve done such a good job this year of turnovers. When they get turnovers, that’s when their offense scores points. We’ve got to be very efficient and smart and see how the game plays out.”
Is there a benefit to closing your season with two teams going into the playoffs? One, going and playing well. The Rams look like they’re probably going to have to play their starters Week 17. Is that a benefit to a young team?
“We went through a little similar situation last year. So, I don’t know. It’s just the situation that presents itself. It’s more fun. We all know that we’re not playing to go to the playoffs right now. We’re going to play as hard as we can regardless. It’s a lot more fun when you’re playing someone who that game means a lot, in terms of what their future holds with making the playoffs or a Bye or whatever it is. You always like knocking someone out or making their season go worse.”
When you’re not in the playoff race, is it challenging to keep getting your players to improving each week?
“It is a big challenge. Anywhere around the league it’s tough. I think our guys have been able to do it all year. I think it’s a complete credit to them. I think it’s a credit to our organization too. We’ve been through a lot of adversity this year and sometimes when you do that, a lot of people splinter and the pressure gets too big and people point the finger and everyone goes into survival mode. Whether it’s players, whether it’s coaches, whether it’s your personnel building, ownership, whatever it is. I think our guys have stayed pretty level-headed throughout the year and just tried to always go back to work no matter how disappointed we are. When you do that, guys work harder because they feel like you’re still working for something. It wasn’t just this year, it’s for, ‘Hey, we’re still trying to build this and we’re still trying to make this place a winner.’ I think we’ve stayed that way and I think our players feel it too and they want to be a part of it.”
In terms of TE George Kittle being a fifth-round pick and now, second year, making the Pro Bowl team, can you talk a little bit about what that means to you as a team and then also just seeing him progress?
“It means a ton. You only get so many draft picks and everybody wants to build a very talented team and all of that. The way you do that is you’ve got to hit on some later guys and things like that. We got a very good player there in the fifth round and we felt that way last year. George did have a really good rookie year. He’s been able to stay healthier this year which is a complete credit to him, how he’s taken care of his body. It’s allowed him to play fully to his ability. It was cool that everyone could see the results. He’s not going to be the same next year. He’s going to be better or worse so I hope he still continues to keep working.”
If WR Dante Pettis keeps playing well at the X spot, what does that mean for WR Marquise Goodwin going into next year?
“Same thing it means for everyone on our team. No one in here has a position guaranteed. I would love to have Pettis and Marquise competing next year. I’d love to have all of those receivers. I’d love to bring in three more really good receivers to compete with them. I’d like to draft three more also to really compete with them. I don’t think we have that many draft picks. You want to get as much in as possible. These are all guys that we like, they’re all guys that we respect and they’re all guys that have a chance to help us. It’s a good problem to have when you have a bunch of choices and that’s what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to have more than one choice. I think I mentioned that the other day with the competition. We had a lot of young guys play in the secondary last year who finished the year strong and I don’t think they had a ton of competition this offseason right away. But this year, we’re finishing this second year with some young guys who are playing strong also, some different young guys. That’s real exciting for our team, just to watch those young guys compete next year plus the guys we’re going to add in the draft and free agency. The more we can do that, the more guys can’t just look around the room and know, ‘Alright, I’m going to be the starter.’ That’s when you know you’re building something the right way and you’ve got a chance to make people better.”
Other than a win on Sunday, anything at the top of your gift list this season?
“A win would be nice. A couple of weeks from now, hopefully just to spend a couple of weeks with my family and it would be nice if the schools let my kids out longer but they’re starting to get to the age where they don’t allow me to take them out for a couple of weeks and it’s bothering me. But, my wife tells me I can’t do it. Maybe if they gave my kids January off, that’d be nicer.”
There’s not much correlation year to year in terms of takeaway numbers generally throughout the league. A team like Baltimore led the league last year and now they have 11, just above you guys, despite having the number one ranked defense in the league. Does that give you confidence going into next year that maybe the turnovers, you might get some regression of the mean in terms of turnovers?
“Yeah, always. Not just with turnovers, but everything too. I’ve been on teams that have been last in the division and then been first the next year. I’ve bene on teams who, I think we’ve gone from 18th in offense to one on offense. We’ve had those years and I think everyone sees them all of the time. There’s a very fine line in what goes on during a season to be at the top or the bottom. It takes a few different players, a few different play calls, the ball just to bounce a few different ways. We need to do a better job as players and coaches to find out how to get more turnovers. I also know when there’s seven fumbles in the last two games, one of those should bounce to us and none have. So, hopefully we can get a little more luck in that way and hopefully we can do it better. It would be hard to get worse next year so I definitely plan on getting better and I hope it’s a lot better at turnovers.”
When you’re studying tape, how often do you see a defensive tackle like DL DeForest Buckner run down a quarterback like Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson on that one play on Sunday when he got him?
“Not very much and especially in the fourth quarter. But, that’s what he does all day. Buck, as talented as he is, he goes as hard every day in practice and every play in the game as anyone I’ve been around. That’s why he’s one of the better players in our league.”