HEAD COACH BRUCE ARIANS
(On if he was able to use the Bye Week to determine the reason for the slower starts on offense)
"I think we had those answers going into it – it's third downs [and creating] manageable third downs on offense. Defensively, it's just matching the speed. We do a great job in the second half, but we have to do a better job of matching the speed – especially if the [other] team is in tempo – to start the ballgames and get off the field on third down."
(On RB Ronald Jones II and the importance of giving him a higher volume of carries each game)
"He's having a heck of a year and when things are good, he's got 20 touches. We've just got to stay in the ballgames earlier and not fall behind. That is what we try to do every week. I thought in the Kansas City game we did a good job of staying in the gameplan, keeping him going and getting back in the ballgame. He is where we start."
(On Minnesota's success defensively in high-leverage situations and the importance of Tampa Bay's offense succeeding in those situations)
"Its huge. They've done a good job on third down [and] getting teams in a little bit longer situations. They've got a great blitz package – Mike Zimmer is one of the best there is [and] one of the guys I respect the most in this business. They have a heck of a third-down package and they know what they're doing in the red zone. We played them a couple times in Arizona and they're very, very solid. They know what they're doing [and] there's not really anything you're going to show them formationally that they don't know what to do."
(On if he was pleased with how the team handled the Bye Week)
"Yeah, I'm knocking on – it's not really wood, I think it's plastic – but we've still got a couple days to go to make sure over the weekend. But, so far so good. I think our guys have done a great job all season of following the protocols."
(On his message to the team regarding earning a Wild Card spot in the postseason and if it's important to get into the postseason regardless of seeding)
"Just getting in the dance. We've been a one seed and won it [and] we've been a six seed and won it. This year especially – with no fans – the home-field advantage is really going to be out the window. It's just going to be lining up and playing in empty stadiums. What has been a big, big part of the playoffs in the past is home-field advantage [but] I don't think it's going to be an advantage this year. It's just a matter of getting in."
(On the team's return to practice on Tuesday)
"You can see – the practice had a different feel already. Guys were excited [and] it was half a run, half a walkthrough practice. It's the excitement I wanted to feel when we got back together."
(On Minnesota's offensive weapons, including RB Dalvin Cook and WR Justin Jefferson)
"[They are] dynamic. Dalvin's one of the best backs – arguably the best back – in the league right now, and they feature him. He's a great zone runner, he's a downhill runner, one cut [and a] hard tackle. It's going to be a great challenge defensively. Jefferson – he takes the top off the coverage [and] we've seen a bunch of those guys this year. Don't ever forget [Adam] Thielen because he's really the go-to guy."
(On S Harrison Smith's role in the Minnesota defense)
"Not as much coverage-wise, as you have to know when he's blitzing because he's a heck of a blitzer and he disguises. He's up on the line, he's back in Cover 2 – he does a great job disguising coverages. Then, when he's blitzing, he does a great job of starting back and then coming. Whoever has him in protection has to be very, very alert to where he is at all times."
(On if he has a better idea of the offense's identity after adding new pieces)
"None of them are really new anymore. It always starts with the running game. The receivers have been together now and Tom [Brady] is very, very comfortable this week. The identity is being able to do a lot of different things with a lot of different people."
(On if the variety in ability by many of Tampa Bay's offensive players does not allow them to concentrate on one particular aspect of their position)
"No, because you get very predictable that way [and] you cannot be predictable in the NFL. That's a sure sign for defeat."
(On if there is a point where he has seen the offense click in recent practices)
"I think we'll see it more on Sunday. It was a good rest for [Tom Brady], but also going back and looking at a lot of different things – looking at the way this team plays and the way we've played teams like them. It's still a work in progress – that part is – but again, I feel very comfortable that everybody's on the same page right now."
(On if there is anything he plans to implement in practice this week to prevent a slow start in Sunday's game)
"I don't think so. We always talk about starting fast in practices and finishing strong. We have periods of kicking in between so it's a first half [and a] second half. We talk about those things all the time [and] we emphasize third down. It's a matter of playing on Sunday. Practicing at night helps if you're going to play at night – I think. But again, it's just a matter of matching that speed in the first 10 minutes of the game."
(On if he has to remind the team of not overlooking its final four opponents who do not have winning records)
"No, because Minnesota's one game behind us [and] they'll have the tiebreaker. This is a huge game. We're not looking by [anybody] – that's for sure."
(On what he noticed during the Bye Week from the first 12 games that he would tweak moving forward)
"Well, I looked at a lot of the things that we're doing well and then a few things that we're not. I think we talked about the starts, playing great in the second half and [how] we have to match that in the first half. We did that early in the season and then we kind of fell off."
(On signing OL Ted Larsen to the practice squad)
"Ted started a couple years for us in Arizona and was willing to go on the practice squad. With losing A.Q. [Shipley], it's another veteran, interior player for the long haul, a guy we really trust and knows the system."
(On the decision to waive WR Jaydon Mickens)
"Right now, I can't dress seven receivers on Sunday. Kenjon Barner does a heck of a job as a kick returner also, so rather than having seven receivers and three backs, I'd rather have four running backs. 'Mick' has done a heck of a job for us."
(On if RB Kenjon Barner is on the roster to primarily serve as a returner)
"No, he's a solid running back. He's got good hands and he can do a lot of things. He's got great speed, so I wouldn't say that at all."
(On WR Chris Godwin having pins removed from his finger and CB Jamel Dean practicing on Tuesday)
"Jamel was out there and should be finishing up the protocol, hopefully. There's no chart for the toughness of Chris Godwin. If it goes to 10, throw it away and start over again because the dude plays. He had a mitt on his hand to protect his finger and he's catching balls in practice with that on. He's amazing and he's one of the toughest guys that I've coached."
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS COACH LARRY FOOTE
(On what he feels the defense needs to get back to doing successfully in its final four regular season games)
"Just getting back to the fundamentals. [In the] last couple of weeks, our technique has gotten a little sloppy. We had some big games – some night games – might have crept into their mindset. But, the technique the last couple of weeks has been sloppy, so during the Bye Week – as a coaching staff – we just had to get back to the fundamentals of coaching technique."
(On his coaching career, playing for Bruce Arians and his coaching aspirations)
"It's awesome. Me and B.A. (Bruce Arians) hit it off way back in the Pittsburgh days when he was just a wide receivers coach. [He] was always a fiery guy and we always clicked off the field. When he became a head coach, my last year I came out there and played for him in Arizona. That's where I got to meet Todd Bowles and we won a lot of games. B.A. always knew I was an 'above the neck' type of guy when I was playing. As a player, I thought I was the best athlete out there, but coach told me I stayed in this league long because I could think out there on the field. When Bowles left, Mike Caldwell went with him and B.A. said, 'No, you're coaching my linebackers. I'm not letting you retire and go home.' I just slid right in there. Some of my former teammates I played with – Hines Ward, even Joey Porter – that's not the norm. Former players just sliding in and getting your own room – that's not the norm. It just happened to happen that way for me, and I thank God for it. My next step, I would love to be a coordinator in this league and to bring all my experience to the game. I've been around a lot of great coaches, so [I am] just going to emulate what they taught me."
(On what attitude the defense needs to have in its final four regular season games)
"I shared with my guys that [before] my first Super Bowl, we were 7-2 and lost three in a row. We just had to wipe the board clean and just figure out a way to get in the playoffs. We're at that same point [now]. Each game is a playoff. What happened in September and October [and] what happened last week – it [doesn't mean anything]. You're trying to get a ticket to the dance. Whoever believes and whoever is executing, they're going to be the Super Bowl champions. They don't care about your record. I know Tom Brady can speak to that – they were undefeated and lost in the Super Bowl. It's just any given Sunday. But, most importantly, you've got to get a ticket to the dance."
RUNNING BACK RONALD JONES II
(On Head Coach Bruce Arians' confidence in him and what it means to him to be a top-five rusher in the NFL)
"It definitely means a lot. Again, as a player, all you can do is ask for the opportunity. They've given it to me and I've just got to make the most of it. Take it and run with it – literally – so that's what I've been doing."
(On the potential to make the playoffs for the first time in his career)
"It's definitely exciting. We've got to focus for this last [four]-game stretch because one game could make the difference. We'll see what happens around the league, but we know what we've got to do and we're going to get it done."
(On Vikings RB Dalvin Cook)
"Obviously, he's a top-two rusher right now. I think, with him, it's the vision and his footwork is really good. I definitely watch his film and things like that. I'm always looking to add things to my game. He's definitely one of the top dogs at the position right now."
DEFENSIVE LINEMAN NDAMUKONG SUH
(On how the defense counters teams throwing the ball quickly against them)
"I think it just comes to rush and coverage and beating your one-on-ones. There [are] ways to get to the quarterback and we've found ways to do that when teams want to get the ball out fast. Part of that is communication and making sure we're lined up and ready to go, because I think sometimes that can be the case [where] people want to hurry up and put us in bad positions."
(On the key to having the defense finish the season stronger than how it has played in recent weeks)
"I think one of the biggest keys for us is going to be going back to our fundamentals. We've had the opportunity throughout this Bye Week to review film, understand where we've made mistakes and, at the same time, be able to go on the practice field and work on our technique. [It is] not that we don't do it in a normal week, but it's just a little bit more of an emphasis while we have the time. Truthfully, just getting back to the basics of going out there and executing. I think that's going to be some of the stuff that we're going to do in gameplans, as well as an overall opportunity to say, 'Line up, play, have fun and get back to the basics.'"
(On the attitude the defense needs to take in the final four games of the season)
"I think our attitude is going to remain the same in really being consistent. When we start playing at a consistent level the way we know how to play [and] executing the way we know how to execute, we'll be perfectly fine and in the right position. That position is setting up our offense to go score more points, getting them the ball back [and] not allowing teams to score in the first and second drive. In addition to that, I would say creating turnovers [will] allow for us to make big plays on our own side of the ball. We can go score points ourselves and we've proven that early on in the year, so we've got to get back to those things."