Trent Dilfer on The Eagle’s Michael Vick: Things Didn’t Go Right

ESPN conducted a media conference call today with Super Bowl XXV winning quarterback and Monday Night Countdown’s Trent Dilfer to discuss NFL week 1 action and preview NFL week 2.  As part of Monday Night Countdown’s weekly traveling triumvirate of commentators, Dilfer, co-analyst Steve Young and host Stuart Scott, will originate segments from Atlanta’s Georgia Dome on Monday, Sept. 17.  The team also hosts Monday Night Football post-game SportsCenter live from site every Monday night. (Full audio replay.) Transcript:

MODERATOR:  Welcome to the ESPN NFL media conference call with Trent Dilfer.  I just wanted to let everyone know, Trent has been very busy, so we asked him to sort of make himself available and be ready to answer a bunch of questions from the media in this call.  I would just try to open up the call for Trent to give us some idea of what he’s seen in the league so far, and we’ll start the question‑and‑answer session.  Trent?

TRENT DILFER:  Well, hello, everybody.  It’s been only one week, so the observations are few.  I think the challenge after week one every year, this is the same as a player, is so much nonsense is talked about in the off‑season because there’s so much interest around the league that all those story lines, you want to see how they play out in week one.  I think the hard part is to just really focus on what happened between the lines.

I’ll start with the officials because I know it’s been a hot topic.  Watching most of the snaps this week in all the games, I felt like the replacement officials did a really good job for the most part.  I think if anything they let more happen, especially in the back half of the defense.  I saw a lot more pulling on jerseys and pushing off and subtle little things that you used to be able to get away with.  I thought the replacement officials kind of let those things slide, which in the big scheme of things, I don’t know if that’s a bad thing.

Obviously impressed with RG3.  I think he was probably the story line of week one.  But I was probably more impressed with the coaching staff of the Washington Redskins and how they were able to adapt a college offense into the pro setting so quickly.  I think it’s actually genius.  I’ve actually been saying for years, why wouldn’t you take a kid’s college offense and make it yours when you’re trusting a rookie quarterback to help you win games.  And that’s what they did.  They studied the Baylor offense extensively.  In the first 12 plays, I probably recognized 10 from all the study I did of the Baylor film, studying RG3 coming out.

There was a flavor of the Denver Broncos offense last year with Tebow, and there was a flavor of the Carolina Panthers offense with Cam Newton last year.  So really kudos to the Washington Redskins’ offensive coaching staff and the wide receivers.  I thought the wide receivers made a lot of plays.

The book is starting to get written on RG3 and this new offense, and it’ll be really interesting to see how he adapts as well as how the Redskins adapt moving forward as they start getting the defenses making chess moves to counter a college offense.  It’ll be very intriguing to watch.

Peyton Manning is back, obviously.  I was impressed, like everybody else was, with his performance, more impressed that he didn’t try to do too much.  I thought the real danger of him going into that game was trying to make a statement that he’s healthy, that he’s the old Peyton Manning and try to play above the Xs and Os.  I thought he did a great job just being patient and letting the game come to him and finding his own rhythm and trusting that in the 60 minutes he’d be the best player on the field, and that happened.

Baltimore Ravens, wow, I love this up‑tempo offense.  I love the transition of going from a defensive driven football team to a balanced football team offensively and defensively.  Joe Flacco has been dying for this, to kind of be put in the driver’s seat and control stuff at the line of scrimmage.  I’d say the same thing about Matt Ryan.  I thought Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco both were given similar responsibilities.  I think both of them are very good when given control at the line of scrimmage whether it’s being up‑tempo and calling their own plays or just being a pass‑first quarterback instead of a run‑first quarterback, meaning handing the ball off.  Impressed with both those guys.

Not going to go over all 32 teams, but those were my initial thoughts from game week.

Q.  I want to ask you about Michael Vick’s performance against the Browns on Sunday.  He’s only taken 12 snaps in the preseason.  A, were you surprised that they had him throw the ball as much as he did considering that, and B, what was your sense of his decision making in that game and the judgment on his throws, on his pocket awareness and just his general overall performance?

TRENT DILFER:  Yeah, that was really interesting to watch because the biggest danger in week one for quarterbacks is try to do too much, is to try to make some signature statement in the first game of the season saying, hey, here I am, watch me, I’m going to light it up, we’ve got changes on offense, kind of that splash factor, and you end up playing outside the structure of the offense.  And that’s really all I saw happen to Michael.  Simple stuff that I’ve seen him execute at a high level last year he tried to do too much with.  He tried to make too many big plays.

And then what happens is that snowballs, and what happened to Michael was a couple things didn’t go right early on, and now instead of just settling down and trying to find his rhythm, he tried to make up for it by making more great plays.  He has the potential every time he takes a snap of doing something phenomenal, but when you play outside the structure of the offense, there’s also the danger of something terrible happening each time, as well.

So I think it just got away from him really quick, and he just kept trying to make up for it, and you see that kind of frenetic activity in the pocket when that happens to him because that’s where most of his biggest plays have come is when he’s tried to escape from the pocket or do what I call second and third reaction quarterbacking to break down the defense and make a big play, and Cleveland was ready for that.

Now, to his credit, that last drive, I don’t know what clicked, but that last drive he just ran the offense, and the touchdown pass I thought was a beautiful example of he starts off looking to his left, he goes through two progressions on his left and flips his hips back to the right, which is what that play calls for, it’s a play I ran a bunch in Seattle, I know very well from the West Coast, and he gets back on perfect timing and throws a touchdown pass.  He was able to settle himself down for the one drive that mattered the most.

But I think it’ll be a great learning lesson for him moving forward.  I think he’ll probably evaluate himself that exact same way.  He’ll see all the plays that would have unfolded if he had just stayed within the structure of the offense, and I look for him to use this as kind of a launch point to get back to the really good Michael Vick, which is the guy that plays the Andy Reid West Coast offense with discipline and with structure.

Q.  I want to ask you questions in relation to Ryan Tannehill, a kid that I know you like.  How long does it relatively take a young quarterback to feel comfortable in the NFL, and with all the tipped passes last week against Houston, just what are your thoughts on if he can correct that and how long should it take for a quarterback to be able to fix a problem like that?

TRENT DILFER:  You know, I think the answer to your first question is changing, and I don’t want to act like I know because these quarterbacks are coming out so much more prepared.  I mean, the first and second year guys were 2 and 8, right, so everybody is going to say they’re not as good as everybody said they were.  Well, I disagree.  I think this group is incredibly talented, prepared, they’re smart, they’re tough, they’re everything you’re looking for.  So they’re more prepared.

But saying that, it’s still hard.  I mean, it’s still a journey.  So much of what you learn, and I don’t know if I ever got there, but so much of what the great quarterbacks do is they stop ‑‑ they don’t make the same mistakes over and over again, so they learn from their early mistakes, and then they correct them and they just start ‑‑ it’s math, right, they start adding one good decision on top of a another good decision and the next thing you know they’re great players.  That’s the process, but they’re getting a head start on this.  They’re given so much more responsibility than quarterbacks of the past at an early age.

So that part I’m impressed and encouraged with.  Some of the stuff, it’s freakish.  Ryan Tannehill should not get a lot of balls knocked down because one of the big misnomers is that a high release is what allows you to not get balls knocked down.  That’s totally false.  We’ve actually done the science behind this with the quarterback training I do at Elite 11 is that the quarterback with the highest release, say it comes out at 8 and a half feet, 9 feet high in the air, okay, that’s extreme, well, you’re still dealing with 6’4″, 6’5″ on the other side of the ball that are jumping to knock the ball down, so their hands are still higher than the highest release.

Typically what allows you to not get balls knocked down is a quick release.  The guys with the quickest releases, the shortest arc on the ball is another way I like to say it, don’t get balls knocked down.  And he has one of the quickest releases there is, so it doesn’t really make sense.

One of the big vogue things right now in the NFL for defensive linemen to knock balls down is they do it based on backfield sets, tendencies, the short completion passing game that you’re seeing so much of, they know the timing for which the ball is coming out based on how many backs are in the backfield, the depth of the quarterback’s drop, all the other little nuances that nobody on TV really picks up on.  I think that’s what that is.  As people study Philbin’s offense for Green Bay and knew it was going to be run in Miami, you know that the launch point is going to be three or five steps behind the center, that it’s going to be a progression‑based offense, and when the guys go to the first progression and the second progression there’s a great opportunity to jump and try to get your hands on the ball.

So I think that’s what it was.  I don’t think it’s correctable on Tannehill’s side.  I think it’s correctable by having a little bit more multiplicity offensively, a little bit more play action change launch point, and now you’re not going to see so many balls knock downed.  I know that was a long‑winded answer, but I think it’s an important one because I don’t want this kid to start getting killed that he’s staring down receivers so that his release is too low because I could show you 1,000 reasons why Philip Rivers doesn’t get a lot of balls knocked down, Tony Romo doesn’t get a lot of balls knocked down, and their release is quick and low.

Q.  I was curious, I heard what you said about Peyton and how he played Sunday night.  I’m curious what you think about the coaching job that’s going on in Denver right now, what it might be like for Mike McCoy and Adam Gase and they’re concocting this offense along with Peyton Manning, especially after what they had to do a season ago and maybe what challenges they’re facing specifically with working with Peyton.

TRENT DILFER:  Well, thinking about Mike McCoy’s last 13 months, it’s Kyle Orton, who nobody thinks he’s a great player, he’s a really smart guy, though, and knows a lot of offense.  They really built an offense around him at the beginning of last year that they thought was going to be successful.  So they had so much invested in building that offense.

Then he has to basically go to school mid‑season on how to get the most out of Tim Tebow and introduce an offense in the NFL that’s never been seen before, a true ‑‑ when he was playing full‑time, it was truly a single‑wing ‑‑ I call it the T‑gun, where you’ve got your quarterback in the gun but you don’t know if he’s a power runner, you don’t know if he’s going to throw a jump ball, you don’t know if it’s play action or if it’s drop back pass.  He has to learn that, and he did a phenomenal job squeezing the most out of that, and then he has arguably the greatest player that’s ever played football dropped in his lap in the off‑season, and he goes to school again because I’ve been seeing this for years and not many coaches disagree with this statement, Peyton has forgotten more football than most of these offensive coaches know.  So he goes to school again and starts learning from the master of X‑O from the quarterback position.

So what a roller coaster ride for Mike and what a great thing for his career.  He’s a head coach in the making because of this last 13 months because of what he’s had to adapt to and what he’s had to go through.

You asked what the challenge is for him.  It’s letting go, knowing that the Indianapolis Colts’ coaching staff as well as they knew it when Peyton was there, their greatest challenge, and it’s a fun challenge, is Peyton demands so much of the coaches, of himself, of the players mid‑week in preparation.  I mean, every I has to be dotted, every T has to be crossed.  You uncover every stone, you lift up every stone, you’re chasing ghosts.  You have to know everything getting ready for the game.  You have so much invested, and then when the game starts, you really know it’s on him.  I’m not saying he calls every play, but he has the right on every play to get to a better one.

It becomes what we call a best‑play‑possible offense, where you’re always trying to get into the best play, the best match up, the best protection, the best run scheme, whatever it is, to take advantage of where the defense is weak.  So really, game day the challenge is letting go and trusting that this guy who hasn’t played football for a year is going to make the decisions that you’re normally making on the sidelines, he’s going to make them on the field.

Q.  Just curious about, there’s been so much talk with Tony Romo and whether he’s the guy who can get the Cowboys over the hump, and they obviously had an impressive start.  Just wondering your general thoughts on him at this point in his career.  Seems to me maybe he’s the guy who people point to as being an issue when he really isn’t, but I’m just wondering what you think of him as a quarterback, any missing piece he may have to getting the Cowboys where they want to go.

TRENT DILFER:  Yeah, I hate the analyst that says I told you so, goes back and says, well, I said this three years ago.  But I’m going to be that guy for a second.  I mean, I said it a few years ago when I first started doing this.  From my little inner circle world in the NFL, and I’m obviously more removed from that than I was a few years ago, but within the league circles, the guys that really understand quarterbacking and the guys that understand offense, the guys that really get it, Tony was the most underrated quarterback in the NFL.  What I kept saying is he’s the next guy that’s on ‑‑ that’s kind of waiting in the wings to be in this conversation, which I try not to get into, but people call it the elite conversation or whatever.  But one of the best players in the league.

He’s that good.  I mean, his skill set is arguably as good as anybody’s when you put it all together.  He’s really, really smart.  I remember Jon Kitna telling me when Jon was backing him up that he’d never been around a quarterback that just had a better feel for the game at the line of scrimmage, that saw stuff that was going to happen before it happened, that just had that innate feeling for knowing exactly what the defense was going to do, what the best match‑up was, where they were going to be weak, what they were planning for later on in the game, on the sidelines, breaking down pictures, kind of getting an idea of what their overall philosophy how to attack their offense was.  Just really, really kind of a brilliant guy.

He’s a fierce competitor.  I think he’s made a ton of big‑moment plays.  Now, he has a couple signature stinkers which get talked about over and over and over, and I said this a couple years ago:  The reason they get talked about more than other quarterback stinkers is they’re on TV every week.  They’re in the public eye every single week.  More eyeballs see Tony Romo play than any other quarterback, so they’re going to remember his big failures more than the next guy.

I mean, I just get frustrated at the start of every year when the Cowboys start getting talked about and Tony Romo is the reason why they’re not successful.  I think he’s the reason why they are successful.  A couple years ago somebody started saying, well, this is the most talented team.  They’re not the most talented team in the league.  They haven’t had the most talented roster for a long time.  I’ve talked to personnel directors, the best in the league, and they say, no, they’re middle‑of‑the‑league personnel wise, but they have a quarterback that makes a lot of their average players very, very good players.  They have a quarterback that gets their defense over a lot of problems.  They have a quarterback that gets the most out of everything they are.

To sum it all up, I think Tony is one of the most underrated players in this league.  I think the criticism on him that he gets is not correct.  I don’t think he makes any more mistakes than anybody else, and I’m not a big stats guy, but sometimes you do just have to go to the numbers and say, look at his numbers.  There’s no better argument for how good he is except to look at how productive he is and really how he stacks up with the other best guys in the league.

Q.  We’re seeing a few more teams go to the no‑huddle, and I was just wondering your thoughts on what might be behind that.  Obviously in New England we saw a good bit of that last year, so I was just wondering your thoughts on that trend.

TRENT DILFER:  I think you’re going to see more teams get to it the next four, five years.  It’s cyclical as anything, and it makes sense.  The quarterbacks are doing it in college.  Why are they doing it in college?  Because you get two real distinct advantages with the no‑huddle.  It’s why all those quarterbacks love it, every one of us loves it.  There’s not a guy out there that doesn’t want to be in the no‑huddle because you get two things:  You get defined looks.  The defense can ‑‑ they have to let you read their mail to a certain degree.  They just can’t do a whole lot of manipulation from a disguise standpoint, but they’re stuck and they don’t know when the ball is going to be snapped if you do the no‑huddle right, if the center’s hands are on the ball and the offensive linemen are set.  They’ve got to be prepared for the snaps.  They’ve kind of got to get aligned.

And the other thing is does is just reduces the pass rush.  It wears the defensive linemen out to a certain degree.  You can counter that with substitution, but it doesn’t allow them to kind of dig those front two cleats of their toe into the dirt, get their legs loaded, get their minds right, find their target point and just sprint off the line of scrimmage.  They’re always kind of playing about 80 percent of their potential in pass rush.

And when I say defined looks, it helps in the run game, too.  It’s one of the best ways to run the ball because so much of the run game these days is based on fronts, so if you get a front that has three guys strong, there’s weak spots weak ‑‑ I’m sorry, there’s vulnerabilities to the weak side.  You get even fronts with the linebacker off the ball, you want to run there.  There’s just defined looks for you to be able to call the plays at the line of scrimmage.

It’s just been a matter of control freak offensive coordinators, which by the way I would be one.  It would be very, very hard not to be one.  But it’s just the willingness of an offensive coordinator to say, okay, I’m going to give this to my quarterback, and we do have that 15 seconds where I can talk in his ear so I can kind of have my fingers on it from that standpoint, but it’s just a new way of looking at offensive football.

I think the big message I’m trying to get to everybody this year is I live in the Silicon Valley, and one of the big things around here in the tech capital of the world is in technology there’s really no more rules.  Anything is possible.  The scuttlebutt around here in the Silicon Valley is there used to be a set of rules for technology.  Well, none of those rules apply anymore.  If you want something to happen, we can make it happen in technology.  Offensive football is the same way.  There’s no rules anymore.  You don’t have to run the ball.  You don’t need six, seven tackles, you don’t need a 300‑pound lineman, you don’t need a burner outside, you don’t need a strong arm quarterback.  Whatever it is, there’s no rules because the offensive world has been opened up, and there’s so many great ways of attacking defenses, it’s just which way you choose and if it makes sense with everything else you have.

It’s just really fun every week to watch a new creative young football mind say, hey, this is how we’re going to do it, and the no‑huddle right now is kind of that vogue way.  I think everybody will get there, and then another smart offensive mind will find another cool way of doing it.


Q.  I had a question regarding quarterback wide receiver chemistry.  With the Titans this week you’ve got Kenny Britt coming back and really playing for the first time in about a year after the knee injury.  On the other hand, you’ve got a young quarterback in Jake Locker, and those guys have never had a game together, and they also missed all of training camp and all the off‑season together because of Britt’s injury.  So how long do these guys take to develop an effective chemistry?

TRENT DILFER:  Yeah, it’s a great question because we kind of bunch it all into one big category, like every throw takes incredible chemistry.  Derek Hagan comes off the street for the Oakland Raiders and catches the first 3rd down play of the season Monday night for the Raiders.  It’s kind of a route‑by‑route, play‑by‑play thing.  There’s certain plays, certain route combinations that take great chemistry, synergy.  You’ve got to be able to understand a guy’s movement patterns and his body language and all that stuff, and that takes a lot of repetition.

Then there’s other just kind of straight‑line simple stupid, hey, he’s going to be there, throw the ball when he gets there type routes.  I mean, let’s not overcomplicate it too much.

It’s interesting, though, talking to the Tennessee staff when we were there doing the Thursday night game, they didn’t seem to think that they were going to get Kenny really involved early on when he came back.  It was going to be a 10‑ to 20‑play spot, only use him for certain type of play concepts, more for his transition back to a full‑time player.

I’m kind of giving you a long‑winded answer as usual, but it’s really a play‑by‑play scenario.  I’m sure they’re going to give him a small package, he’ll get a lot of reps on those packages in practice, they’ll go generate some chemistry in a short amount of time, but to really expand the playbook and get to the graduate level stuff, it’s going to take probably three to four weeks of practice and a high volume of repetitions to get on the same page with the quarterbacks.

Q.  I wanted to go back to the offense again.  After last week, 791 points scored, second most of all time, and obviously five teams hit the 40‑point mark.  Is this something we’re going to be seeing throughout the year?  Is this a sign of things to come?

TRENT DILFER:  Yeah, another interesting stat I heard was 71 percent of the yards were in the air.  I think it matches up with that stat because what I would say is when you’re more aggressive offensively, you’re going to create more big plays, you’re going to move the ball easier, you’re going to score more points, but you’re also going to turn it over more.  I think my number is right here, but you might want to double check this.  I want to say 27 interceptions by ‑‑ there’s a high number of interceptions.  I didn’t calculate it after the late game Sunday and after Monday night, but at one point I think there was 27 interceptions from 13 different quarterbacks or something like that.  So you’re going to turn the ball over more, you’re going to give the other offense shorter fields, you’re going to give them easier opportunities to score, there’s going to be more pick sixes, there’s going to be more strip sack fumbles that switch the field.  So higher aggressive offenses are going to mean more points scored on offense but also more kind of catastrophic mistakes offensively which gives the other team a shorter field.

Yeah, it makes perfect sense.  There’s going to be more points scored with the ball in the air more.

Q.  The Saints obviously after that game against Robert Griffin, now they face Cam Newton a week later, which seems a little daunting on the outside, but obviously I’m sure there are similarities and differences between Griffin and Newton, and it looks like Newton stands back in the pocket more and is a little bit more open to sacks and interceptions.  Can you talk about what similar problems they’ll present and what he’ll do a little differently?

TRENT DILFER:  Yeah, I think the biggest challenge from a defensive standpoint is when you get into scoring territory.  Both these guys obviously have incredible athleticism and the ability to hurt you with their running ability, but also offensive coordinators who are going to call quarterback runs.

So as these guys, the Saints, are preparing for these two quarterbacks, it becomes an, oh, my goodness, we have a whole different beast we have to defend in the red zone or scoring territory because we’ve got to defend the quarterback as a runner.  I think that extends out into the field, as well, and it makes defending the play action game a little harder.  I tried to explain this last year when Tebow was playing, and I’ve got to give you a little background.

So the reason play action pass for any quarterback is successful if it’s done correctly is because it puts the defense in a second‑reaction mode.  The first reaction is they have to defend the run, then they see a pass, so now they’ve got to get in second‑reaction defense.  Well, a running quarterback really at times can make you play third‑reaction defense because you have to defend the run, then you have to defend the quarterback run, now you’ve got to defend the pass.  And it’s just one more wrinkle in kind of the conflict that puts defense in to defend this type of quarterback, and it’s driving people crazy because they don’t know how to defend it.

So you see these wide‑open receivers in the back end and you’re like, how does he get so open.  Well, they’ve dedicated so much time to how do we stop the run, how do we stop the quarterback running, oh, yeah, now we’ve got to defend the pass.


So it’s a huge challenge.  I think that’s why these big, physical, athletic quarterbacks have an advantage early on, and I think Cam Newton possesses the exact same conflict for them that Robert Griffin posed for them last week, and that’s kind of unknown what’s going to happen when he’s not running the ball or when they’re not handing the ball off or what’s going to happen at the back end of these passes.

Q.  Looking at the Saints’ offense, the way they played against the Redskins, moving forward what are your thoughts on what the Saints might want to do to be a little more succinct?  What can be fixed to play a little bit better than they did against the Redskins’ defense?

TRENT DILFER:  I think the receivers have to play better.  I thought the receivers played really poorly.  They weren’t getting open, they were get being grabbed a little bit.  I thought Washington got away with a lot of grabbing in the secondary but they weren’t pulling out of those grabs.  They were kind of quitting on routes.  Colston had the fumble again down in scoring territory, makes that a different game.

You saw a lot of ‑‑ listen, I’m not always going to be apologetic to the quarterback, but I kind of know their offense, and I know where drew was throwing it.  Earlier on the game there were four or five balls that were kind of wide to the outside, and those were routes that the receivers need to keep running on.  They’re pulling up instead of running out of them.  I thought the receivers played very poorly early on in that game, so they’ve got to play better because they’re going to throw the ball.  That’s who they are.

And the other thing is they’ve got to create the big plays down the field.  One of the things the Saints do really well offensively is they don’t have to run the ball a ton to create really good play action shot opportunities, so those receivers have to get open down the field and these play action passes to create the chunk yardage.  If they don’t do that ‑‑ every team is going to struggle if you can’t get some big plays on play action.  They need to get better at the play action game, and the receivers have to play better.

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