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 have won four consecutive games, their longest winning streak of the season, and done so against three 2007 division winners – New England, Pittsburgh and San Diego – as well as a team that finished .500 last season (Houston). They have won these games by three (New England), four (Pittsburgh), three (San Diego) and six (Houston) points, respectively. The Colts have had winning streaks in the past, but this one has a special feel . . .
Answer: To win the games like we have, where they're three-point games – three points, six points – and you have to make a play at the end of the game, you just feel good about the way it has transpired. You feel like you're doing the things it takes to win games in December and January. It has been very, very gratifying.
Q: What have you learned about this team that you didn't know before – or that you wouldn't have known if you hadn't had to fight through a stretch like this?
A: Probably the resiliency, and the way they hang together. We bounced back from so many things. We bounced back from tough losses, so bouncing back in the course of a game, making plays to change momentum, hanging in there . . . that's probably what this group's all about.
Q: Why has this group been able to do that? Veteran leadership? What?
A: I think a lot of it is that – having been there at some point in the past and feeling like we can do it, knowing the way to do it. Kind of what we've been talking about is doing your job and not getting too caught up in everything else, not worrying about all of these other things, just taking the approach, 'If I do my job, we're going to be OK.' We've got a lot of guys who have been able to sell that to the younger players so we haven't had to look for anything special or fantastic. Maybe going for it on fourth down is about the most bizarre thing we've done. Really, we've just played fundamental football and counted on players to make plays.
Q: Is it significant that this followed back-to-back, double-digit road losses, something that hadn't happened around here in a long, long time?
A: That was something. A lot of guys weren't used to that here. I can't remember very many games we've ever had that we didn't have the ball with a chance to win the game, or on defense with a chance to stop them to win at the end. Even the games we lost. To have those situations where you didn't have a chance to win at the end, that kind of threw people off. But we just looked at the tape. We analyzed why we were in those situations. It really came down to penalties and turnovers as much as anything. If we could get that corrected we were going to be back on track.
Q: Is that what gave you confidence that even at 3-4 after seven games it could be turned around?
A: I thought it was very much errors we were making that you can't make if you want to win championships. It's not easy to get those straightened out. You just emphasize taking care of the football and emphasize fundamentals so you're not out of position, creating penalties on yourself. That was what I saw that needed to be corrected.
Q: That sounds a lot like what you said in 2003, before the Colts beat Tennessee for the first time and sort of started the run of five consecutive division titles. You showed players film from previous games against Tennessee and basically said, 'There's no reason we can't be beating this team . . .' That's your role as a coach, isn't it?
A: It is, just to get people to believe that – that here's how you win football games. It doesn't matter if you're playing Tennessee, or Green Bay, or Chicago, or New England. If you do these things, you're going to have a chance to win. If you don't, if you give them extra drives because you have three defensive penalties, if you don't cover well and let them start at the 50 when you're starting at the 20, it doesn't matter who you play, you're going to struggle winning. Those things aren't hard to get corrected.
Q: A 23-20 victory over San Diego in San Diego on Sunday. Because the Chargers are 4-7, people may not realize what an accomplishment that was. The Chargers had won 18 of 20 games at Qualcomm Stadium . . .
A: They had lost one game there (this season), and that was on the last play of the game (in the regular-season opener) to Carolina. That is a tough team, especially at home. We've gone out there twice in the last two years and had the last possession to really win the game. This time, we executed and made the field goal. The last time we didn't, but there aren't going to be many teams that go out there and win.
Q: And it's the old cliché, but when you're playing a team playing for its so-called "playoff life," it's almost always going to be difficult . . .
A: It's never going to be easy. There are going to be momentum swings. They played with a lot of emotion and energy and all of the things we expected. It was a playoff atmosphere. I told our guys on Saturday night, 'I want to see if we're ready for that, because that's what we're going to get.' We got it, and we were ready for it.
Q: The division's not over, but catching Tennessee in the AFC South will be difficult. But the Colts could have to go on the road if they qualify for the postseason. In that sense, this stretch must be preparing you for that possibility . . .
A: It's good training for us, because if we go in as a wild-card team that's what we're going to have to do. That's how the games are going to be, and you're going to have to play as hard and as well as you can, then you're going to have to make some big plays in the fourth quarter. You're going to have to withstand the noise and the emotion and the adrenaline and everything the home team has. This is good preparation.
Q: You've mentioned since beating the Chargers that winning in Pittsburgh and San Diego was a difficult stretch. That's about as tough a two road games as an NFL team can face in that sort of stretch . . .
A: No question. They were different styles of teams, and having to respond to those styles . . . 4:15, national television in Pittsburgh; night game, national television, very amped-up crowd in San Diego . . . Denver losing to give San Diego the knowledge that, 'Hey, if we win this game, we're right in it and we control our own destiny' . . . they had a lot of incentive. We knew it was going to be that way and we were able to match that intensity. I think it was great to see.
Q: Conspicuous by its absence this season is the phenomenon of observers discussing the Colts' problems against teams that run 3-4 defenses. The Colts have beaten 3-4 teams such as New England, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and San Diego this season . . .
A: We'll see another 3-4 team (Cleveland) this week. They have good players and Pro Bowl-caliber people in some positions and it's going to be tough. If you call it 4-3 it's still going to be hard with the guys they have.
Q: So you didn't spend the offseason in the football labs scheming against the 3-4 . . .
A: (Laughing) . . . Saying we have to be ready for the 3-4 because we play all these great 3-4 defenses? No. It's really executing. In the first half (against San Diego), we had a little trouble. They brought some different blitzes and some things and Andrea Kremer (of NBC) was asking me on the sidelines, 'Do you have to do this . . ?' I said, 'No. We know what's coming. We just have to block them.' She said, 'Well, what adjustments . . ?' I said, 'We aren't making any adjustments. We just have to block the guys that are coming. If we block them better, we'll be in good shape.'
Q: Your staff gets a lot of deserved credit for quality halftime adjustments, but part of that is that the defense and offense are comparatively straightforward in a sense, correct?
A: Generally, we've gotten a bead on what the other team is doing and we take stuff out. So now we're saying, 'OK, here are the four runs we're going to concentrate on. Here's the passing game we like. Here are the calls we like on defense.' It really is kind of narrowing it down and focusing in on what you think is going to operate as opposed to saying, 'Oh, we're going to do this now,' or, 'Oh, we have to add this.' It's usually just eliminating stuff and running the plays we think is going to work.
Q: Talk about the job Jamey Richard did on Sunday replacing injured Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday . . .
A: People really can't know what he did going into that game with that noise and all the different packages they had, then blocking (nose tackle) Jamal Williams. He did a great job without very much practice time. If he does start this week he'll have the benefit of the practice time and should be a lot smoother, but he did a great job.
Q: He started for Jeff early in the season, and now it's 11 games into his rookie season. But with his experience, is he past being a rookie now?
A: I think that's the way we have to look at it.
Q: The Cleveland Browns are 4-7, and the next two opponents – Detroit and Cincinnati – have won a combined one game. But you won't approach the coming weeks any different than recent weeks, will you?
A: You can't look at it that way. You look at Oakland going into Denver Sunday (when 3-8 Oakland beat 6-5 Denver, 31-10). That's the National Football League. This is what separates really good teams that can take care of business week in and week out. That's how we were in '03, '04 and '05. Whatever the challenge is you're able to meet it that week.
Q: The Colts rushed for 91 yards on 23 carries, a 4.0-yards-per-carry average Sunday. That's not a total that's going to lead the NFL, but it's enough to operate efficiently offensively.
A: We're getting productive runs, getting people where they have to defend it and getting some single coverage on the outside because they're dropping safeties down. That's what we're looking for.