A Weekly Conversation with Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy
Each week during the 2008 regular season, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy will discuss topics pertinent to the Colts with Colts.com.
Question: The Colts beat the Baltimore Ravens, 31-3, Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium. It was their widest margin of victory of the season, but you made it very clear Monday that just because the Colts won big doesn't mean it was a perfect game.
Answer: It doesn't mean everything is good and just because you lose a game it doesn't mean everything is bad. That's the tendency with young players, especially: 'Oh, we won. We have everything solved,' or, 'Oh, we have a couple of losses and we're not very good.' Neither one is usually accurate.
Q: If you had to pick out something that defines your coaching style, that might be it.
A: It probably is. Try to stay even and try to keep improving every week. Don't think you have it made too early or don't think you're out of it too early. November and December are really the tests no matter what. I think we've seen that a lot in this league already (this season). Baltimore won two in a row and it's, 'Wow.' Now, they (the Ravens) have lost three and everybody is kind of off that bandwagon. Denver was hot early and now they (the Broncos) are not. San Diego was cool early and now they (the Chargers) played a great game Sunday night. You just kind of have to keep fighting your way through and be there in November with a chance, then be playing well.
Q: And if your experience has taught you anything, it's that first month of the season is never what people predict it's going to be . . .
A: People buy into that every year and think they have it figured out after the draft or after training camp or after preseason games. In Tampa, we got in the playoffs so many times from 3-4 and 1-3 starts – I can remember being 3-4 and playing for home-field advantage the last game of the year. That's the way it is.
Q: And as you said this season already, the norm in the NFL is not the 13-0, 9-0 and 7-0 starts Indianapolis has had the last three seasons . . .
A: People will always look at (the Colts' start this season) and say, 'Gee, if you don't come back from 17 down (against Houston), you could be whatever. Maybe you could be 0-4,' and then the other side of it is with a couple of breaks you win the other games. Most of the time, you're going to be 3-2 or 4-1 and you're not going to be 5-0 or 0-4. Your team is not all that much different if you are. Sixteen games is a lot of games and those breaks even out and usually, the better teams end up coming on at the end.
Q: You've always believed turnovers are key, and that's particularly true this season. Key turnovers turned into points for the opposition in the Colts' two losses and in the last two games, a flurry of takeaways for the Colts has given them significant momentum . . .
A: That's the message: 'You have to protect the football. You can't give it to the other team, and if you're playing hard and fast on defense and special teams and you make a couple of those, you can turn the game around.' It's playing smart and sharp on offense and hard and fast on defense. If you do, you're usually going to swing that in your favor.
Q: People just don't want to believe it's that simple . . .
A: That's the bottom line. It really is that simple. It's not a hard game. It's great to have star players and guys who can have 200-yard rushing games and 300-yard passing games and guys who can get four or five sacks, but still, when you're playing hard and you create those takeaways and when you play smart and you're prepared and you don't turn the ball over, you're going to win. Washington went five games without turning it over and all of a sudden they're in a game that they think they should win (against St. Louis Sunday). They turn it over a couple of times (in a loss at home to the previously-winless Rams). Those star players can win some games for you when you overmatch the other team, but that doesn't happen that often in the NFL, so you're still going to have 10 out of 16 games where you have to do the little things. The little things win or lose for you.
Q: Someone said after Sunday's game it was nice to get a victory like that because it showed the younger plays that this is how it can be when things go right . . .
A: Our rookies hadn't seen it. They hadn't experienced what it feels like when all the practice, all the preparation, comes to fruition and you play that way for 60 minutes.
Q: And that's what you preached after the rally in Houston in the last five minutes – that that energy the Colts had late needs to be there for the entire game . . .
A: That's how you outscore people 31-3 and that's how you outscore people 17-0 in eight minutes (in Houston). It takes a total effort – offense, defense and special teams. Even when you do that, usually it's not 31-3. Usually, that's what it takes to win games.
Q: Sunday's game was a second consecutive one-sided victory over the Ravens, who are typically one of the NFL's more dominant defenses. As you said all last week, they're a defense that you have to play that way against – going for big plays . . .
A: We've always felt playing them you're going to get some shots. They're going to gamble and take chances. Your big plays may come in the fourth quarter and make it a 10-3 game or a 14-7 game. If you get them in the first quarter it changes the dynamics of the game. That's what has happened the last two times we played them (a 31-3 victory Sunday and a 44-20 victory in December of last season). We played them there opening day in '05 (a 24-7 Colts victory) and it was grind, grind, grind. We grinded and kicked a field goal and it was 3-0 at halftime. Then (wide receiver) Marvin (Harrison) catches a touchdown late in the third (quarter) or early in the fourth and it kind of broke it open. It's a struggle, struggle, struggle and that's how it is with those guys. You're going to get a couple of big plays sdically. When we've gotten them in the first quarter, it really has helped take them out of their game. Then, it's different, but you may not get them in the first quarter.
Q: You've played the Ravens five times since 2004. This week's opponent, Green Bay, is a team you haven't faced since 2004. How much different does that make the approach this week?
A: These are tougher games. It will be tougher on the coaching staff. We haven't played these guys in four years. They have a different quarterback than the last time we played them, different defensive coordinator than the last time we played them. It's a little bit unknown, so we have to take two days to really learn. It was easy (last week). On Monday, you kind of knew the theme you were going to give to the team on Wednesday for Baltimore. So many guys had played them and they understood it. Here, as coaches, we have to learn Green Bay and then transmit that to the players.
Q: It's even more of an issue under the current system. Until the NFL realigned in 2002, teams played teams from the other conference once every three seasons. Now, it's once every four . . .
A: And the actuarial tables tell you that if you play them every four years, you have a good chance that there's going to be a new staff there a lot of the time. You don't know for sure. There are a few teams, but we played Minnesota this year. They have a different staff than the last time we played them. We play Detroit. The Lions are different. Chicago is the only (NFC North) team that really is the same. We played them in the Super Bowl (following the 2006 regular season), but if you threw out the Super Bowl, they were the same staff in 2004 as they are this year. They're the only NFC team we're playing that would be the same as '04 or the same style. The players even know. If we play San Diego or New England or Baltimore, they kind of know what I'm going to talk to them about on Wednesday, but they don't know with these guys.
Q: You're five games into this season. On the surface, it would seem this has been the most difficult start to a season you've had since arriving here in 2002 as the head coach. Has it been significantly different than past seasons?
A: Not really. We've just had some uncharacteristic things, especially on offense. If we don't turn the ball over, we're probably looking at the same kind of start we've had in the past where everybody else is saying, 'It's the same old thing. The Colts are pretty good,' but we know there are some glitches we have to work out. The 9-0 year, the Super Bowl year, there were some things going on we knew we had to get fixed, but having that fast-starting offense kind of masked a lot of things.
Q: There have been so many changes and new faces on the offensive line. Do you feel like in the last two or three games you have kind of found your group . . .
A: They have played pretty well, really, the last three games. In the last two, you're playing against Houston – which has a ton of first-round draft choices and real stout players up front – and then this group (Baltimore), where there is so much thinking and communication. To handle those two weeks in a row, back to back, pretty well – I think that says a lot, especially about our young guards (Mike Pollak and Jamey Richard).
Q: There has been so much talk this season about the lack of size up front defensively. The Ravens are a huge offensive line and a power-running attack and rushed for 51 yards on 19 carries. Isn't that the sort of team that should give a defense trouble if size up front is a problem?
A: We would have had a tough day Sunday. They're huge up front and that's the way they play – kind of slug-it-out and downhill. It's not (safety) Bob Sanders (being out). It's everybody doing what they're supposed to do and understanding where to go and pulling the trigger fast. We did that Sunday. We played extremely fast and we knew where we had to be when the ball went a certain place. I guess ever since I was in Minnesota in 1992 (as defensive coordinator), when a team would run the ball on us, we're too small. We could play the same team six weeks later and stop them and it's, 'Well, your speed is the factor.'
Q: The Colts are not accustomed to trailing in the division. When do you start looking at standings and talking about them to players?
A: We'll talk about it when we get ready to play Tennessee (a week from Sunday), because that will be such a big game on the division standings. I usually start talking about it late October or early November. But more than anything, especially this year, I've talked about us getting to play well. If we play well, the standings will take care of themselves. We can say, 'Hey, Tennessee's two games ahead of us right now,' but if we don't play well and win our games it doesn't matter. If we go on a three-game losing streak, it won't matter where Tennessee is or what they do. For us, it's getting ourselves geared in and playing well. We're starting to show signs of that and if we can win this coming week, it will set up a big game next week and we won't have to talk about the standings.
Q: Beyond big plays on offense, what do you like about what you're seeing from this team right now?
A: I told the team Saturday night in our meetings, 'It's going to be a game of big plays.' You never know what is a big play until after the game. We had two defensive lineman chase down a screen and cause a fumble. We had (rookie running back) Mike Hart get hit two yards in the backfield on 3rd-and-2 and run over two people. Instead of trying a long field goal, two plays later we're throwing a touchdown pass. That 3rd-and-2 run was a big play by Mike. It didn't seem like much in the box score. (Safety) Melvin Bullitt makes a tackle on the 16-yard line on the kickoff return. Who knows where that return is going if he doesn't make the tackle? It's great to have the long passes and the big plays, which we know are going to come if we continue to progress, but everybody hustling and making big plays that seem insignificant at the time, that's how you win.
Q: Early on Sunday, the Colts made a big play – an interception by Bullitt – then missed a chance in Ravens territory to score. Still, they maintained energy and eventually took a 24-point halftime lead. A lot of teams would have had their energy sapped by a disappointment like that . . .
A: We talked about that, too – that against Baltimore everything isn't going to be perfect. You're going to have some drives that fizzle out. You're going to have some sacks where they come with the blitz and you have to throw the ball away or just take it – not give them a momentum play with a sack/fumble or an interception. Everything isn't going to be perfect and it's not going to be a pretty game. We got the ball at the (Ravens) 30 and we didn't score and we came off the field saying, 'That's how it's going to be, and the next drive can be a big play.' That's what Baltimore does. That's what they do to you.
Q: It's early, but what have you seen from the Packers?
A: They're similar on offense to the way they played in the past. They still have the same system. (Quarterback Aaron) Rodgers is doing everything (Brett) Favre did. We have to get ready for that throwing game and that downhill running game from (running back) Ryan Grant. Defensively, they're more like the (Miami) Dolphins we played in the past – same coaching system and style, press corners, a lot of big inside defensive lineman and fast outside guys to pressure the passer. So, it's really – for some of the guys who have been around a long time -- it is going to be like playing against the Dolphins.