Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz met with the media on Monday afternoon to wrap up the 2011 season. He addressed a number of interesting topics during the presser, including the status of several injured players, if he expects all of his coordinators back and the defense's issues late in the season. You can check out his comments below (transcript via the Lions media staff).
On how he feels now about the Saints game: "Probably the way I felt after the game. We were able to score on offense, missed a couple opportunities there but it was really more about missed opportunities on defense. With a team like the Saints, they are going to get some yards, but you got to find a way to stop drives and that is going to come from 3rd downs that is going to come from turnovers. We stopped some drives in the first half with turnovers and had some other plays that we didn't make. We didn't do a very good job on 3rd down. Even when we stopped them on 3rd down, we allowed the conversion on 4th down and they were able to keep drives alive and then big plays, particularly in coverages that we shouldn't give up big plays. It just made it that we couldn't score enough with them because of those things."
On if he can look back and appreciate the good year the team had now that season is over: "I think it was an important year for us. I certainly wouldn't classify it as a good year. I think our expectations are high, but it was an important year for us. It was something - getting to the playoffs - that hadn't been done for a long time and that was an important step, not just for the organization and the city but for individual players to have gone through that and things like that.
"I think you look over the course of the season we were, I don't want to say consistent, but we beat the teams we should have beat. I don't know if that is the best way to put it, but you see a lot of teams that are still playing that had some games that they lost to teams that were maybe not so good. The thing we really need to take another step that and it was an important step for us, but the other thing we need to take an important step is having a better record amongst the peer group, meaning the playoff caliber teams. I don't want to include just the 12 teams that made the playoffs. There were a lot of teams like San Diego, Oakland, Chicago, teams that were in that peer group, I guess you could say. You look at the development of our team and everything else and that is probably the next step for us. It is not coming up with a win against Denver, splitting against Chicago, or playing close games against Atlanta or San (Francisco) or whatever, it is having consistent wins there. I think that is probably the biggest step we need to take.
"Like I said, you are proud of the effort and proud of the fact that we didn't have any of those lapse games where we lost to another team. We came close a couple times but we were able to find a way to get ahead on the scoreboard. There are a lot of steps that we have taken. We have talked about them here. Finally winning a game, winning a division game, winning a road game and things like that. Going to the playoffs is a big step but that is obviously not our end game or something that is the last thing we want to accomplish."
On if he expects any player turnover: "I think every year we will see less turnover. I think that is obviously a good sign. There was a lot to turn over from 0-16. Didn't really show in the record the next year going 2-14, but each step along the way you have seen a little less turnover and that comes from drafting well and signing free agents that are with you for a long period of time. Not just guys that are there for one and done, but guys that you can move forward with. I think we have a good nucleus here. We have a good group that we can go forward with. I think we have had continuity, not only from a front office standpoint, but from a coaching staff standpoint. We haven't been starting over on special teams, offense, defense the last couple years. That and getting players that fit in a philosophy that works when you are not changing your philosophy every year. So I think in that case, there is something to be said about the young players that we have and the position we are in to be able to continue to put seasons together like we just had."
On if he expects to have the same coaching staff moving forward: "Part of the thing with having success is you are going to have guys on your staff that get promotions and move on and things like that. I don't necessarily view that as a negative. I think that is healthy for a team. But that being said, I wasn't really going to comment or speculate on it. I think, like I said, we are in a good position. I think we have a good group of coaches mixed with experience and younger guys, some former players, some guys that never played, but I like that dynamic and I like the consistency. Like I said, we were consistent from a preparation standpoint, from a game plan standpoint, from week to week."
On if he expects the coordinators to be back next year: "I would expect, but, again, when you - particularly the offense - perform the way that we did last year, coaches are going to get recognition. People are always going to try to get a piece of the success that you've had, whether it's been developing a young quarterback, dealing with injuries or anything else. We certainly have guys that are deserving; we have guys that will end up being coordinators on our staffs that are position coaches right now. We have guys that are quality control coaches that will get position-type jobs. That's part of the NFL and it's part of success and it's something we're going to have to deal with at some point over our time here."
On what he needs to do specifically with the defense in light of the final two games: "I think it's more than the last two games; it's probably the last six other than the San Diego game. There's a lot of ways (to look at it). How much of it was due to losing Delmas and Chris Houston and Willie (Young) and Lawrence Jackson and those guys? We lost a lot of depth on our D-line; we lost a couple key players in our secondary. We didn't adjust well to dealing with those injuries. I think you look at the injury situation: our offense, other than the running back position, was relatively healthy over the course of the season. Defensively, I don't think we could say the same. It's the same defense, I think, after about week 8, 9, 10, whatever it was, that was a top-10-type defense. Obviously we didn't finish that well. We did well in certain areas. Takeaways were still high and sacks and third-down percentage were all still good. But over the last, I don't know how many games it was - six - we gave up way too many points, other than San Diego. That comes from keeping those guys on the field, developing some more depth. We certainly still have work to do there."
On how important it is for him to get a contract extension: "I don't have any comment on that."
On how much he will evaluate his defensive scheme this offseason: "I think that there's something to scheme and how it matches up against certain opponents and there's also what you're able to do with the talent you have and it's also what you're good at. I think those same schemes were allowing 10 points to San Diego. Same schemes did things very well. I think there's a consistency part to it and, certainly, we're always a work in progress when it comes to that. I think the most important thing scheme-wise is matching schemes to your talent. We've talked about that a bunch. We never really went in saying, ‘Hey, this is what we're going to run.' I mean, look at us offensively. We spent a lot of time these last few games with three wide receivers and two tight ends on the field. Why? Because it was Scheffler and Pettigrew and Burleson and Titus and Calvin. I mean, those were good players. The first game of the year, we didn't run that, but it was dealing with it. I think there's something to that with defense. Every year's a new year and, when we lost players defensively, we weren't as consistent as we were when we had our full complement. That's something we're still working on."
On if he can confirm that T Jeff Backus had surgery and if any other players are having offseason surgery: "Yeah, Backus was injured in the game - injured his biceps - and was scheduled for surgery today. So I will confirm that, but I have not gotten any reports yet on that. He's going to miss a significant portion of time. We'll have other guys that will have had things here and there, but it'll all be guys that have either already been operated on or finished the season with us, but that's no different than any other year. You always have guys that will have an ankle cleaned out or a shoulder cleaned out - stuff like that. Jeff was really the big one that came from this last game."
On DE Cliff Avril's contributions and how it helped the team this year: "It's one thing to have double-digit sacks, but Cliff had more of an impact than just that because of the forced fumbles. It goes hand-in-hand with getting sacks a lot of times, but Cliff has a knack for it and that gave us a big push. We didn't finish the way we wanted to defensively, but we got a lot of turnovers and Cliff was a big part of that. I think Cliff is also a guy that was drafted before I got here, but we've developed him. He's developed with us, he's become a better player every year, he's added to his arsenal every year and he's been a hard worker. I think in all of those things we recognize and we certainly aspire to have as many good players - particularly young guys like Cliff - around here for as long as we can, but it's January. It's early January and we've still got a long way to go before we start talking about free agency and everything else."
On having tougher decisions to make personnel-wise as a team gets better and if he will have tough decisions this offseason: "Potentially. There are tougher decisions when you're trying to figure out how you're going to keep all your good players than how are you going to get rid of all your bad players. Honestly, that's the difference between a couple years ago and now. If you keep drafting well, you keep signing good free agents, you develop young players - not all of them high draft picks - but you develop young players and do that and you're going to have some of those decisions. But, again, it's too early to even be more than just a glance talking about that. We're talking about middle of March before some of those things come up. We've got a long way to go before then."
On if the defensive line regressed this season: "I wouldn't say regressed as far as rushing the passer. We weren't always as consistent stopping the run as we needed to be and I think a lot of that came from long runs. Were the long runs the fault of the defensive line? Generally, they're not the last person there to be able to make a tackle. A little bit like talking about having good players on your team.There's going to be guys on your coaching staff and there's going to be guys interested. When you can rush the passer well, people are going to take steps to try to eliminate that. If you're a good running team, they're going to be loading the front side trying to stop the run. If you're a good passing team, they're going to be playing a lot more guys in coverage. And we dealt with that a little bit this year and I think we're still productive rushing the passer, particularly from the D-line standpoint. Just from a front four-production standpoint, I think we were top five in the League; we were somewhere in there. We expect a lot from those guys. We saw our depth, particularly when we had our full arsenal, we were effective. When we lost a couple guys due to injury, suspension, whatever it was, we saw some of that productivity drop for a few games, but - like I said - when you bring that to the table, people are going to do their best to take it away and then you have to be able to find other ways to be able to succeed. Certainly wasn't disappointed in the D-line."
On how the injuries to the running backs limited the offense: "You know, a little bit. We got a boost out of Kevin Smith when Kevin came back until Kevin got hurt also and sort of limped through a few games before finally getting a little more healthy for the last couple games. But it is what happens in the NFL. We had some injury situations at other positions and, like I said, you just have to figure out a way to be able to get through with what you have and that is one position that was a little bit of a star-crossed position. We lost Leshoure in training camp, lose Jahvid, I think Week 7. Kevin comes in, does a good job, he gets hurt also. We threw it a little bit more, but we can throw it. But that being said, it will be good to be able to get those guys back. Be nice to be able to slam Leshoure in there in short-yardage situations and have a good power running back, not just in short-yardage, but doing those kind of things. One thing we talk about is Calvin all the time affecting coverage, Jahvid Best affects a lot of coverage also because he is a tough matchup for a lot of linebackers so teams that want to play man, 2-man, and give space inside, Jahvid is a guy that give them a lot of problems. We see it with the Saints. Saints with Sproles gives you a lot the same problems and as much as Calvin frees up coverage, we have other guys that do the same thing, including Jahvid. The more weapons, the better and certainly both of those guys I would consider weapons."
On if the injuries makes it difficult to judge DT Nick Fairley's season: "I think a little bit, sure. He missed all of training camp and Titus Young missed all of training camp, but after that he was healthy. What you saw from Titus is every step along the way, he got a little more involved in the offense and also having more production as the season went on and the injury he had in training camp, he didn't carry over. The hamstring had healed up and it didn't carry forward with him. Nick was a little bit different. Nick missed all of training camp and then it was just sore throughout the season. I have had a lot of experience with guys that have had broken feet, screws put in, and things like that. They have had the same experience. It probably won't be for a few months now in the offseason of rest before that thing will be in his rearview mirror. But I think we also saw enough when he was healthy that we know we have a really good player there and a guy that can affect the game and make plays for us. I think it was good that way. I think we feel very strongly about him physically. I think it is very difficult not having players on the field. We experienced it a couple years with our quarterback. But just like that Matthew who in brief glimpses showed us what he can do; I think Nick did the same thing. Maybe over his career, maybe next year, maybe he will be better for it. It was difficult not having him on the field, being able to rotate him in, be able to see production from him and things like that. Maybe that perspective helps him down the road. We expect this injury to be behind him as soon as it gets to where it is not being irritated by going out to practice. You are talking about a rookie that missed all of training camp. The best process for him was resting him all week and playing him on Sunday. Well that is fine is you are Kyle Vanden Bosch or Corey Williams or a guy that has a lot of games and experience in the NFL. Very difficult for a rookie to be able to do that. That was the position he was in a lot of the year."
On not worrying about a quarterback for the next decade: "Yeah he's only 23, so I think we got more than a decade. I think we can take him past 33, maybe at that point it will be somebody else worrying about him other than me, because I'm older than he is. I don't know if I'll last as long as he does.
"Obviously there's a reason that we drafted him and there's a reason that we stood behind him. You know, I think that...I'd say this: we still have a lot...I don't want to say we're just scratching the surface, because it's hard to say that when you throw for 5,000 yards, but it's only the beginning. It's only beginning for this team, it's only beginning for our offense, it's only beginning for Matt Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and everybody else, but I think that the big thing is...You look at everything that he's done, probably this year included, but even going back to his rookie year, nothing was ever too big for him.
"Going to the playoffs, and starting, being injured-all those different things. You know, he was up to all of it and I think that's tremendously... comforting's a bad word-but it's a good feeling as we move forward."
On officiating incorrectly, does the NFL say "we owe you one": "No I don't think there's any owe-ing. It's a week-to-week thing in the NFL.
"The thing that was a little disappointing about that is the week before, we had been on the other side of that where rather than blowing a whistle, they were letting a play run that was a fumble that, ‘Hey, let it go and see if somebody's going to pick it up.' And we had to challenge our way to get that back, which cost us a challenge and then we weren't able to (challenge) the scoring play.
"You see a lot of scoring plays. I mean, it's very difficult to officiate in the NFL. Particularly with replay, you know, everybody's got 20 camera angles, and slow motion, and the game's not played that way, and it's not officiated that way, but when you have that there, it was a little bit interesting, because we were on the wrong side of it two weeks in a row.
"A little bit like last year, we were on the wrong side of the Calvin Johnson rule and then very next week we played Philly and a guy dropped the ball and completed a catch and they called it a completion. We had to challenge our way out of that.
"Hey, it's life in the NFL. They're doing the very best they can, but that certainly would have been a big play in the game. We were able, particularly, go score right there, because we didn't score off of that on offense-go score there. And we needed all the...obviously, the way the game ended, we needed all the help we could get, but that could have been a big momentum thing for us and even had us in a better position at the half of that game.
"Who knows how the game would have turned out and everything else, but you know, certainly you'd like...I think it's interesting too, is we had talked a lot about Chicago. Remember the Chicago game we had a ball that was a forced fumble that we, you know, a couple of our guys looked at it like it was a dead fish laying there on the ground. (It) made a big point about, 'Hey look, you got to play through the ball, not the whistle, that's what the league...that's the league's, sort of, term for that-play through the ball, not through the whistle, and we did in this case, but we were on the other side. I mean, but hey, it's the NFL and stuff like that happens. What you got to do, is you got to be good enough.
"You can't give up big plays on defense when you're in cover two and you can't, you know, miss some of the opportunities that we have when you have balls in your hands and drop them. You know, if we had made all those plays and that play occurred, maybe you got to complain, but we didn't make enough plays on our own to complain about anything else."
On if they'll be an emphasis on developing talent along the offensive line this offseason: "I don't want to say any more priority than just about every other position. We want to get good, young players at every single position and develop them. I think we reset back there a little bit with the injuries to Jason Fox. That was a guy that spent a lot of time...and we knew when we had drafted him as a rookie that he had some issues that were going to hinder him a little bit during his rookie year, but after that, he was...it appeared he was through those woods. He began training camp and Jeff Backus was injured and had a great opportunity to go out and play left tackle for us and start and play preseason games while we were waiting for Backus to come back.
"Unfortunately, he hurt his foot (the) first week of training camp, whatever it was, and then missed time from there and then we came back, he got his other knee and had to have surgery, so that certainly set us back there a little bit. We still have high regard for him, but the biggest thing is he needs to put injuries behind him.
"We've had a lot of work on this team. We were fortunate enough that we had some experienced offensive lineman that had been through here and then some guys that were high draft picks-guys like Gosder Cherilus, was a first round draft pick year before we got here. Dominic Raiola, Jeff Backus ,Stephen Peterman-they were very, very experience players, and you know, even though we certainly always took the approach of trying to draft the very best players that we could, you know, there were a lot of other things that we needed also. We do need to develop good young players there, just like at any other position."
On T Johnny Culbreath's surgery: "He had a procedure on his elbow - not that big a deal."
On T Jeff Backus: "He didn't start the season probably as well as he would like - as well as we would like. You could point to a lot of different reasons for that. He obviously missed a significant portion of training camp with a (pectoral) injury that he had during the lockout. But I thought that he settled down and then I felt protected very well as the year went on and has consistently been one of our best run-blockers also.
"A little bit that gets lost with Jeff is that Jeff is a very good run-blocker; very good at getting up the linebackers and cutting guys off and things like that. So it's not all just pass blocking.
"He's been a very, very consistent player over the course of his career. I think that last year we saw him have a couple rough outings early in the year and settle down and had a really good year. I think this year he had some rough outings early in the year, but again, being the veteran he is, he was able to settle down and hold that position down and do a good job for us there."
On whether there's concern that Backus won't be ready for training camp: "I never put timetables on (those), but that's certainly not... I wouldn't expect it to be waiting until then."
On whether this team is at a point where they can target specific players and positions instead of just taking the best player available in the draft: "I think it's a lot easier to see the needs that we have, but I don't think it changes your philosophy. I think it's a little bit like we talked about before: you can fall into a trap there. ‘Hey we're 10-6, all we need is this and keep everything else the same.' Well that doesn't work in this league. You've got to have philosophy, you've got to be able to stick with it and be able to keep going. There's a lot of other ways to improve. You see other teams in the league that have weaknesses and things like that and they draft positions that people don't necessarily think are there need and things like that. I think that the key there is that we have a lot less needs than we've had in the past. It would be easier to fill some of those, but I doubt very seriously if that will go into our thinking when it comes to draft and free agency and things like that. What's served us well is having descriptions and matching guys with talent and not passing what we consider are better players. It's tough to do that sometimes, but if you want to be built for the long haul, if you want to have some guys for Stafford in 2022, you have to be able to stick to that philosophy."
On the tackling issues on defense against New Orleans: "It wasn't our best job tackling. They've got some good, strong running backs that ran through some tackles; we had a couple guys that got a little over-anxious with some bad angles at times. That allowed them to get some first downs that they probably shouldn't have.
"There were a lot of things defensively that we needed to do better. We couldn't give up those long plays, and we did; we need to do better on third-down and we didn't and obviously tackling - it wasn't for lack of effort, it wasn't for lack of effort, it wasn't for lack of talent. I think you have to give some credit to those guys; they made some outstanding runs, particularly their running backs made some outstanding runs and broke tackles. I think it was combination of both of those."
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