What are your thoughts on Coach Payton making Terron Armstead the starting left tackle for the Carolina game?
"(I'm) Excited for him. He has continued to improve each and every day, obviously running the scout team. But, throughout training camp and into the season here, I think he's just been biding time and waiting for his opportunity. That opportunity came along for Jermon Bushrod when Jammal Brown got hurt. It came along for Zach Strief. I remember during his rookie season when Jammal Brown went down one game, and Strief had to step in and play against one of the better pass-rushers in the league at the time that week. (It is a) Great challenge for him, a great opportunity. I'm excited for him. I've got a lot of confidence in him. He was excited as well."
Is there any way to describe the discrepancy between playing in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and playing on the road this season?
"Well, obviously we're not very satisfied, certainly, or happy with our performance on the road as of late. I thought we played well on the road earlier in the season, we just haven't been able to put it together the last few times. The only way I know to fix it is the process throughout the week: your preparation in regards to knowing the game plan cold and going out there and executing it in practice and visualizing success, visualizing yourself in the moment – wherever you're going, whatever the conditions are going to be. I find that when you do that, in many cases you go out and you play well and what you visualize is what happens. That's the way we're approaching it. I felt like we had a great practice today and we'll continue to just kind of hone in on the process."
How much of the road struggle is a mental thing? Can it be a mental thing?
"Well, like I said, if you know that you have prepared yourself as well as you could possibly prepare yourself, then you go out and good things happen. At times are you going to maybe have a tough stretch? Yes. I think every team does, in some regard, throughout the course of their season, and ours just happens to be the way that we've played on the road the past couple of games. Certainly it's motivation to go out and play extremely well."
Do you think the road struggles are more of the adjustments by the defense or a lack of execution on (the offense's) part?
"Well I think that it has been, for the most part, execution here for us over the last two weeks if I'm just looking at Seattle and St. Louis. There have been some times where you don't, you know…they are really very different games, Seattle and St. Louis. Seattle felt like we just did never really get a rhythm going. I felt like we had a lot of good drives in the St. Louis game, they would just end in a turnover or no points, a missed field goal, or a missed opportunity when we maybe had a chance to score and there was a penalty, or whatever it might've been. But in many cases, that's 'Why did you not convert the third down? Why did you not score the touchdown? Why did the drive not continue?' In many cases, it's lack of execution."
Are you excited about the fact that you can get the monkey off your back this weekend with a road game with everything on the line?
"All that matters, despite what has happened over the past few weeks and all that stuff, the fact of the matter is we go on the road this week, we get a win, we win the division, we secure the two seed. That's all that matters, so that's where our focus is."
How much extra do you spend talking with Terron Armstead this week?
"Obviously, him stepping into the first huddle and that kind of thing…it's been a while. There were times throughout preseason and that kind of thing where we were working a lot of guys in and trying to give everyone opportunities when a lot of guys were competing for that job. It's not like he's not used to hearing the plays or knowing what to do and now it's just a matter of stepping in with that first group and just the tempo and that kind of thing that we operate with. I'm nothing but just very encouraging with him. I know that unit has rallied around him. As an offensive line, it is very much a game for those five. As a tackle, you could say you're isolated a lot of times and it's you kind of one-on-one with the end, this and that. There's so much communication that goes on between those guys that they always play as a unit."
How important is it for your offense to start fast?
"It's great when that happens. We certainly preach that. We have our first 15 plays going into every game like most teams do, so that way you're well-versed with the things that you can see. We always talk about a fast start. Anytime you can go down and get points right away or at least feel like you're finding your rhythm, those are good things."
How hard is it to fathom that after leading all season, you have the potential to lose the division in week 16?
"No. Carolina has won, what, nine of ten? They've been on a great roll here. We saw them kind of surging mid-season. Obviously you aren't looking too far ahead, but you kind of know your schedule and the teams that you're going to have to play and the fact that inevitably most of the times it does come down to the wire. You're having to win a game late in the season against a divisional opponent or what-have-you, in a tough situation to advance. The bottom line is, we want to be playing our best football going into the playoffs. Certainly we want to be divisional champs and want to secure the two seed. Our expectation level is to go out this week and play great football, sound football, and get a win on the road, and then continue to build from there."
What kind of issues does it present when you play the same team twice in 15 days?
"Yeah we played Atlanta on a pretty quick turnaround (Thursday night). We might've done this one time before. It's unique when that happens. You're pulling out kind of your notes from two weeks ago and going over those and seeing if you see anything new on film. Then obviously you know they're a divisional opponent so there's some familiarity there. It's the same coaching staffs that have been there for a few years now. But you also know that everybody's going to have new wrinkles for you offensively, defensively, you name it. They do have certain schemes and they are what they are, but then again you know that you're going to see something you haven't seen before and you've got to be prepared for it and ready to make an adjustment, and that's the way it goes."
The roster moves at left tackle and at kicker seem unique this time of year. Is this an example of what you've talked about with Sean this year with leaving no stone unturned?
"Sean's (Payton) number one goal with this team is to continue to help us improve and find ways that we can improve. Whether that means a change in the schedule or in personnel or a slight change in scheme or whatever it might be, he's going to do it. We all understand that. We also understand that we've got to come out every week and prove it to ourselves, prove it to him, and prove it to our teammates that we belong and can help this team win. There's always a sense of urgency, and I guess we are all always on the hot seat. We've got to perform. Unfortunately when changes are made, especially with guys that have been around for a while and have been a part of your success and that kind of thing, that's tough but unfortunately that's this business and you move on and know that it was in the best interest of the team."
What are your thoughts on the release of Garrett Hartley?
"It's tough because your heart hurts for him with some of the struggles that we've had this year and he's had this year, kind of the ups and downs. Listen, we've all been there. That's kind of a shakeup, you know? But it's maybe a reality check for everybody too, that that could be any one of us if we're not getting the job done. Decisions like that are made and you have to live with it and move on. We all wish the best for Garrett, (but) are excited about Shayne (Graham) and all that he can bring. At the end of the day, it's all about pulling together as a team and finding ways to win."
Is this a psychological effect on the team?
"I know this. Obviously we were all upset and disappointed after that game. While a lot of things were voiced in the locker room after the game, I think that everybody took 24 hours to take a deep breath, digest it and watch the film and evaluate and that kind of thing. Coming in the next day, Sean (Payton) flat out said, 'There's probably going to be some changes made around here and some of you won't like it.' That's the way it goes sometimes in this league and I think what he's trying to say and what his job is as the head coach is to put us as a team in the best position to succeed and win and make sure guys are in the right places to do that, make sure the scheme is the right one, make sure that the schedule is the right schedule, all those things. You had a feeling that something was coming, and obviously a change was made at left tackle, a change was made at kicker, maybe some slight variations in other ways. Now we move on. We buy in and move on."
Being a leader on this team on the offensive side of the ball especially, do you pull Terron Armstrong aside and tell him anything to get him going, like a 'rah-rah' speech?
"No. I say, 'Here we go big fella. This is your opportunity and I'm behind you 100%.' I've got a ton of confidence in him. Take every starter on offense, and they can tell you that moment when they got that opportunity like he's getting. It's nothing but positive, nothing but encouragement, and he knows we've got his back."
What do you think is the biggest challenge in your preparation about playing in outside weather such as in Carolina?
"The (most important) elements of being on the road are, number one, 'What's the weather going to be like?' Are you having to deal with wind, rain, snow, cold, (or) whatever? In some cases that makes a difference, but in most cases you don't think much about it. Moreso it's, 'What direction do we want to kick?' That's where it comes into play. Other than that it's crowd noise. How loud is this place? We've got to do a great job of communication. We've got to do a great job in and out of the huddle. We've got no-huddle packages. How are we handling those? How are we handling the signals, the communication? Those are the things you talk about, think about throughout the week in regards to going outdoors somewhere, but it's football. It's what you do in the backyard when you were a kid, you know?"
Do you find it odd that many are questioning if this team can win, but you guys are still 10-4 with a chance to win the division?
"That's the key. If somebody tells you that, 'Hey, in the second-to-last week of the season, you're going to have a chance to win the division and get the two seed in the NFC. Would you take it?' You would say, 'Heck yeah. Let's go. Let's play.' Here we are. We have that opportunity, and we want to make the most of it."
You have always valued chemistry and developing strengths and weaknesses and responding accordingly during the process of the game. With Terron (Armstead), can you give us an idea of how you're going to compensate for that?
"I honestly won't think twice about it. Other than just making sure the communication is really really good in regards to if we're changing plays or if we're changing directions of certain things, anything that's communication-related making sure we're really good with that. Other than that, you've got to trust him. You've got to trust that he knows his job, he's going to do his job, and then you just roll."