Coach Sparano Breaks Down Win Over Buffalo

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Q: Did everybody finish the game other than Khalil Mack yesterday?

Coach Sparano:"Yes. Other than Khalil."

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Q: You're missing a lot of guys on your secondary and they really held up yesterday. How impressed are you with the play of the young players?**

Coach Sparano:"Really impressed with the play of the young guys. Obviously when in the nickel situations out there which is quite a bit in the ball game yesterday, you had TJ [Carrie], DJ [Hayden] and Keith McGill out there. Also in dime we had Ras-I [Dowling] out there at different times. We kind of worked a bit of a rotation there, getting him and Neiko [Thorpe] involved a little bit. As we went into the ball game, we knew that that was going to happen but I thought they did a good job. I thought they did a good job of contesting some throws early in the ball game particularly and making them have to throw the ball accurately. I thought that our rush was able to affect them a little bit and kind of get them off the spot and get the ball to flutter and we were able to come down with a few of those which was critical yesterday, to win the turnover battle like that. But, I was impressed with the way those young guys battled."

Q: Keith McGill is a guy you haven't seen a lot of on the field and he played 48 snaps yesterday…

Coach Sparano:"He played a lot of plays yesterday. Between special teams and defense, he played a lot of plays. It was good to see him play. Again, I think it's critical here at the end and you don't look back on this and say what can that guy do? I think that we're in a situation right now where we're getting a chance to see them all play and as much as you'd love to have Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown and those guys out there, it gives you a chance to see the younger players and to see the guys that you drafted and to see some of those things happen and I think that the more that these kids are playing, the more comfortable they are out there. I think about where DJ was several weeks ago and where he is right now. His preparation for the game, the way he approaches the game is completely different than early on in this where he really had no idea about the game and how to approach a game. He had a little taste of it last year and came back here and obviously took some time before he got back out there, but I've been impressed with that group."

Q: Was there more progress from Ray-Ray Armstrong?

Coach Sparano:"Yeah, I felt Ray-Ray out there yesterday and the biggest thing with Ray-Ray is he can run. That's a guy that can really run and he's athletic, he can match-up with some of the players in the underneath areas of the field. He can play some man, he can cause some problems with pressures and so those are all good things. I think the biggest thing for him has been the mental part of the thing because he hadn't had the reps up until last week. In last week's ball game he was really called on in the middle of the week and then in this week's game he obviously had the whole week's worth of reps and I saw that. He looked very comfortable out there to me yesterday and it was good to see him in some matchup situations that way and to make a few plays."

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Q: You've been asked several times after games if that was Khalil Mack's best game. It must be a good sign to keep getting that question…**

Coach Sparano:"Yeah, no question about it. He's continuing to grow and he's continuing to improve. Each week he's gotten a little bit better. I just thought in the first half of the ball game yesterday he really had them guessing out there. He made a couple up-and-under moves and then that kind of got him to set inside and then he beat them around the edge. I think those kind of things when you can get into a lineman's head a little bit that way, it makes his job a little bit easier. You can feel Khalil. I thought he had a bunch of big hits on the quarterback yesterday, a bunch of pressures. He's a guy that helped us create some of those turnovers yesterday. He's getting better and better and that's all we can ask for our young players right now is to continue to improve."

Q: After the 42-yard touchdown pass to Sammy Watkins, the defense really shut him down. How were you able to take him out of the game?

Coach Sparano:"You know, honestly, the touchdown play was just really a technical thing more than anything else. It was more technique. Sammy, he made a great play. The guy is a good player, but from our end, we didn't feel like technically we handled that the proper way. I don't mean schematically, I just mean proper technique and using the proper technique. That being said, we just really, I think, one of the ways that we were able to help ourselves there is the fact that we were able to get pressure on them and the ball had to come out fast. Those guys could contest it in smaller areas, so the ball didn't get down the field a whole lot during the course of the game. I mean it got down the field late in the game to the tight end, I think, down the middle of the field a couple of times. Other than that there were no real big plays that way."

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Q: What came about in the passing game throughout the game for Derek Carr to improve his numbers so significantly?**

Coach Sparano:"Honestly, it was, I think two things. I think one, our ability to run the football kind of helped get him settled down a little bit. I think that early in the ball game, he had some chances, he took some shots and those things didn't work out, which is OK. It's OK to take a couple shots, it's just we get behind the chains in those situations a little bit, but our ability to run the ball and to put him into more manageable situations opened up the playbook a little bit more for him. So in other words, we can throw the ball short if it's second-and-5. We can do those kind of things and throw a little bit higher percentage throws to get him a couple completions that way and then he started to throw the ball down the field a little bit. He made a good throw in there to [Andre] Holmes. He did a great job on a side adjust on a slant. He threw a ball in there to Kenbrell [Thompkins] that was an excellent throw over the top where he made a really clean read and Kenbrell ran a good route and then of course the scramble play where he moved in the pocket and bought some time and made a throw down the sideline there. I thought Derek got himself settled down. He was pretty clear on the sideline, he was under control. He knew the thing was going to turn, it was just how it was going to turn. Was it going to be one of those deals where we had to throw the ball a bunch? We didn't really want to play that kind of game. We wanted to be able to run the football and we just stayed patient with it and lo and behold it started to happen."

Q: When he was struggling you were able to get him going with a bunch of screens…

Coach Sparano:"Yeah, one of the screens came out of there really good and that was good to see because that's something that we've spent a lot of time at and again, go back to last year where we were really effective with those plays and I think that that play came out of there for a big gain. It was a good high percentage throw. He threw a smoke out there that we gained eight yards on to Kenbrell and then he threw another screen out there that we were able to get in to the funnel and Marcel [Reece] caught a ball that he ran with. So, a little bit of catch and run and then a couple big plays down the field and the ability to keep the ball around four and a half, five yards a carry, something like that, that's a good recipe.

Q: A few players mentioned how you did some things behind the scenes to change the mindset when you came in. Did you feel the players' confidence needed a boost when you came in here?

Coach Sparano:"I felt like when this thing happened and I took this thing over that things needed to change. There was a need for change. Sometimes there's not a need for change, sometimes there is. Obviously, when you make a change like that, there is a need for change. I felt like if I just approached the team in Week 5 of the season the same way that we had been approaching the team that probably wasn't going to work too good. So we did switch a bunch of things. One thing I immediately – you guys know that – that I think is huge right now – not a lot of people think it's a big thing, but the switching of the locker room and what we did with the locker room and where we put people and those type of things, I think was really important because I think we got young players around veteran players that you really want them to learn from. I thought that was important. When Khalil Mack can stand there and say that, 'Justin Tuck is like my big brother,' that's pretty good. That was the whole object. The other thing I thought that we did is the way we've changed practice around with our routine on Wednesday I thought was a big switch. Our younger players are playing a lot of plays; everybody's playing a lot of plays right now. Those offensive linemen play a lot of plays, and when you look at guys like Donald Penn and 'Wiz' [Stefen Wisniewski] and these guys who haven't really missed a play. By switching that around and giving them extra time on a Wednesday for their body to kind of recoup a little bit, that had an awful lot to do with it, too. Then I just think simple communication things. I think communication has been very clear. I think to the players, that's very important. I don't ever want to leave any gray area with them in those situations. I think that all those things, they appreciated it immediately and it was something that we were able to grab onto."

Q: Defensively, you held two of the better tailbacks in the league to 13 yards on 13 carries. How key was it in the game to make them one dimensional?

Coach Sparano:"It was huge. We knew going into the ball game that we had to take away something, and we weren't sure, quite honestly – they had attacked people differently throughout the course of the season with their run game. They can open you up or they can kind of bring it down and try to play big ball with you. Early in the game, that's really what they try to do, a little bit that way. But as the game went on, immediately when they saw that they weren't able to run the ball in there, went back to opening up – Miami, Seattle, those people – and seeing whether or not they could run it in there. I thought our front did a great job in there. Antonio [Smith] made a couple plays in the backfield. 'Jelly' [Justin Ellis] had a couple big plays there. Of course, when you're trying to run the edges with Khalil out there. A guy that I thought was active yesterday, made a lot of tackles out there, was Miles [Burris]. Miles made a lot of tackles out there yesterday."

Q: You mentioned when you first came aboard that you got a chance to talk with Mark Davis and learn what he was about, what his thinking was and what he thought of the organization. You can sort of feel the passion that he has for it. I'm curious as to whether you're getting good feedback in recent weeks the way you guys have been playing?

Coach Sparano:"I've gotten great feedback from Mark. Any conversation that he and I have is really open and really honest about anything. I owe it to him to do that. I encouraged that in the beginning of this process and it was something that, quite honestly, I owe to him as the owner of the football team. He's the boss and I owe explanations when it goes well and even when it doesn't go well. I owe explanations in both of those scenarios; I'm not afraid to do that. And it's been really good. It's been really good give and take. That's the way I am. I'm not going to change that. I intend to continue to keep communicating with him for as long as I have. So I'm going to do that because I owe it to him and it's the right thing to do. We've had really good conversations – good, honest conversations. I love his passion for this team and I share it. It's kind of contagious."

Q: Did you go to him directly? Whether right or wrong, Dennis Allen's thing was Mark-Reggie-Dennis and there was not a lot of talk between Dennis and Mark.

Coach Sparano:"When I was back in another life – that's the way I like to put that, back in another life – I had a relationship with the general manager but I didn't have that kind of relationship with the owner. I look back at those situations and I try to learn from those type of things. When this thing came – everything's a learning experience for a head coach – for anybody, but for a head coach. I promised myself at that point that I wasn't going to do it that way again. When Mark and I sat down and visited the day that I took over here, we had an open and honest conversation about that. He agreed that that's what we needed to do, and it's been great – 100 percent great for me. No matter what the man tells me, it's helpful. It really is, because he's got great history and he's got some great insight. He really does. I like to listen to it and I like to share mine, and we've been able to bounce things back and forth that way. It's been really productive."

Q: Can I assume that was the Miami other life?

Coach Sparano:"Yeah."

Q: I'm curious about the timeout when Carr came out and went back in. Was that influenced by the booing?

Coach Sparano:"No, it wasn't. Honestly, we weren't sure at the time what had happened. Derek, as you know, has been hurt in the huddle before a little bit. He's pretty stubborn. We've told him if you're hurt, let's take a knee and figure out what the problem is. That particular play, he got a knee into the glute area so it was kind of a weird thing. It was like a charley horse. But he felt it and wasn't sure what it was at the time. When he came out, he was good walking around the sideline. The timeout just happened to come at the right time. We were getting down on the clock. We had Matt [Schaub] over the ball, but the clock was running down so we had to use a timeout there. Then, Derek was ready to go back in. Technically he had to come out for a play, unless you use the timeout."

Q: In your conversations with Mark Davis, I'm curious, have you guys talked about anything beyond the Denver game?

Coach Sparano:"We've had good conversations. Conversations that I hope and assume will continue at some point, but no. His goal, my goal is plain and simple. Last week we had two games left. This week we have one game left. The goal is to make sure we're doing the right things. I've got a ton of work to do upstairs. He's got a ton of work that has to be done right now. There's time at the end of this thing to make those decisions. I'm sure he and I will communicate here again. We talked a little bit last night."

Q: You talked several times about taking the passion you have at home and taking it on the road. Antonio Smith said after the game that they have to find a way to take it with them. Coach Sparano:"Yeah, we do. That's the next step right now. When you win three games at home like that, the three teams that we beat in our place, that says an awful lot. Our fans are tremendous, they really are. I'm not just saying that. I've been to a lot of places where there is passionate people, but I've never been around anything like this. It's a loud place and it can be a really tough environment for a visiting team. That's what we want to be. That's what we are. That's what the Raiders are. Getting that mindset when you travel on the road, you're the Raiders walking into someone else's stadium now. You kind of know how you're going to be received. We have to feed off of that a little bit and turn that energy around. It's something we talked about a lot this week. At some point in the game, we knew that we would have to turn the tide in this game. It's something I preach long and hard to the players about. There's a knockout punch that comes in one of those kinds of fights. We delivered a few of those. We were able to turn the tide in some of those situations. When you're out on the road, you have to be able to do that. You can't feed their ego and feed the crowd's ego. We have to be able to turn the tide when we're in those situations. Take some of that energy, confidence and swagger that we have from home, and bring it with us on the road. That's the next step for our football team. Unfortunately, we're at one game right now but fortunately we have one game."

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