Andrew Hirsh: I'd like to focus on the red zone today. Julio Jones doesn't have a touchdown in more than a month and mentioned that opponents are doing a good job taking him out of plays near and past the goal line. Is that simply because defenses are double-teaming him, or are there more complex strategies in place?
Kyle Shanahan: It's both. When you play a Tampa 2 team, you can't throw any jump balls. No one in the world does that, so you hope to get Julio on some single matchups. We try to move him around, get him as many opportunities as possible, but people understand that, also. When they do take him away, that's OK; it gives other guys real good looks. You have to come through with those looks, and until you do that, Julio is going to continue to see those coverages. The key isn't, "How do we get him away from double coverages?" It's, "What are the four other eligibles doing? Can we help those guys out? Can they make the defense pay?" The more they make them pay, the better looks Julio gets.
AH: I was looking over some red zone numbers, and the pass/run balance is more skewed to the pass than it is in other situations. Is that intentional or ?
KS: It depends on what you're going through. There's a lot of run/pass checks and certain looks you can't run the ball into. There are certain looks where you really want to run the ball into; it depends whatthey're playing. I know last week, we scored on one drive down there in the end zone and we had six plays inside the 15—they were three runs and three passes. We have to get better in the run game down there; I think it's something we did better at early in the year. That takes some pressure off the pass game, too.
AH: Nick Williams mentioned some of the plays you've drawn up have helped him get open in the red zone, where he recently caught two TDs. How've you been able to accomplish that.
KS: Yeah. Julio wasn't in on that play in Tampa, but we did a fake run and got them to honor the rush and we slid Nick out the back side. So that was about making them defend the whole field, defend everything. We ran the ball pretty well on that drive to get down there and got Nick going.
AH: Before that late interception, I thought Matt Ryan was playing better than he had in recent weeks. In what ways do you think he's improved of late?
KS: I thought against Tampa he did a good job, until the last play, not turning it over. He was smarter with the ball. Matt's done some good things all year, but the mistakes he's made have been bad turnovers—especially down in the red zone. He didn't do that last week, so that's where he improved.
AH: Is there anything in particular you'd like to see him do better?
KS: We work on stuff every day, so it's not just him, it's everybody all around. There's nothing in particular; it's the consistency of four quarters. The main problem before that had been was interceptions. He did a better job with that last week, and hopefully he'll continue to get better this week.
AH: Are you seeing him continue to gain a better grasp of your offense?
KS: Yeah, Matt's played a long time, so he's made those decisions before. He gets what happened on them. He got a little bit greedy on a two-minute drill trying to make a big play trying to get us back into it, and he made a mistake right there. He knows that without me having to tell him; it's a pretty obvious thing for him. He's played a lot of football. He tried to make a play there and should have checked down, but that's stuff we talk about all the time. Matt's played a lot of good football in his career, he's done a lot this year, too, and I know he has a lot of good football ahead of him.
AH: With Leonard Hankerson out for the year, is there an expectation that Justin Hardy will step up and become a major contributor?
KS: Yeah, he needs to. We need everybody to step up. We've struggled since Hank has been out. It's been a while now and we need everyone to step up—especially in our pass game. We have to help out with all the five eligibles, move the ball, get our points that way. We need to create threats there, which will make it easier to run the football.
AH: Dan Quinn said earlier this week he's able to help the offense by studying opposing defenses and sharing that knowledge with you. He's pretty familiar with the Panthers, so I imagine he's been able to
KS: Yeah, for sure. I talk to Dan every day about football. It's not that much different this week than any other week. Dan knows a lot of football and has a very good defensive mind, so any chance I get to talk ball with him is fun. It helps.
AH: Based on what you've seen, what are some unique challenges Carolina's defense presents?
KS: It's about everything. They're good in every facet of the game. Definitely the best team we've gone against this year. They're extremely talented, well coached. They have a very good scheme, so it's going to be a challenge, but one we're looking forward to.
AH:The anticipated battle between Josh Normanand Julio has received a lot of attention this week. How do you assess Norman as a cornerback?
KS:I played against him late last year and I thought he was a hell of a player then. He's only taken it to another level watching him on tape this year. He's a hell of a player, he's competitive, he's got 10 good guys around him, too. So I definitely understand his confidence. But we have a pretty good player, also. Julio's going to be confident, too, and hopefully he'll get some opportunities. It'll be a fun battle to watch.