Coming into this season, you turn the huddle over to a 24-year-old quarterback [Christian Ponder] with 10 NFL starts to his name. Nobody of sane mind thinks he’s going to be Joe Montana for 16 games. We know the dips and slumps are coming. How as a head coach do you prepare yourself for the reality that, ‘OK, there are going to be some rough weeks and patience is going to be key to make sure don’t panic when the quarterback hits some of those valleys’?
Frazier: I think experience helps me a lot. Being around it for such a long time and seeing the peaks and valleys that young quarterbacks go through. Both coaching against young quarterbacks and being around young quarterbacks and then veteran quarterbacks who have succeeded. Going in knowing there were going to be moments where Christian would struggle, I always believed that we had to do some extra things around him to help him. Because there are going to be days where he’s not going to be on point. He’s not going to have his A-game. So the greatest challenge I’ve had is with our staff and with our players to make them realize that this is a team game. It’s not about one player. Even though they may hear people criticizing the quarterback, we can do some things around him to help him and support him. And if they understand that component of it, then they’ll never just point the finger at him and say this is all about him. It’s about us. We’ve got to do some things to help every position. And I think our guys understand that and have bought into that.
How do you get Christian to buy into that, that patience? He admits he can be wired like a perfectionist and when he starts struggling, he gets to striving harder. And sometimes you can strive too hard and think you’re the reason for all the struggle? How do you convey to him that he needs to take a deep breath here and there?
Frazier: I’ve brought him in my office. We talked after the Tampa game. We talked again after the Seattle game on the field. And I always remind him – I reminded him after the Seattle game – that he’s our quarterback. You’re going to have some tough days sometimes. I’ve seen Peyton [Manning] have some tough days. I’ve seen Joe Montana have tough days. Stuff happens, man. You have to be able to block it out and get ready for the next game and have a good practice and things will get better. So I try to encourage him and let him know up front that even though you may hear different people saying things, until you hear me come over and say, ‘Christian, you’re not the guy or whatever, block that stuff out.’ I reminded him that when we drafted him in April of 2011, I told him this. I said, ‘Remember, you sat here in my office after we brought you in town and did our press conference, I told you you were going to be the guy who leads us to a championship in Minnesota? That hasn’t changed. Your mind can’t ever get off of that. You have to keep working towards that. Don’t let anybody outside ever tell you anything different. You’re going to be the guy to do it. To his credit, I think he listens to that. I think he believes that. At the same time, we all have to support him and realize that he’s a young quarterback in the National Football League and there are going to be some tough days at times. But you just have to be able to see the bigger picture. As a head coach, if I’m panicking, if I’m worried, that’s going to seep through to him and the rest of our team. That’s not going to happen with me. Because I know he’s capable of leading us to big things.
With some of these rough days, you said you could see things within the offense that needed tweaking and changing? As you went back and did some of the film review and self-scouting, how did you diagnose that things had become a little too predictable?
Frazier: You look at those games, the Tampa game and the Seattle game. I knew Arizona would give us a bit of a tough time. They have a very good defense and some of the things they do schematically I thought might give us some trouble. And it did. But in the Tampa and Seattle games, there were definitely some things there that I thought we should have been able to exploit in their defenses. When we weren’t doing it and they way they played us, the more I looked at it and said, ‘Ya know, people have a pretty good bead on the way we’re doing some things.’ I knew there were some things we should have been able to exploit. So we sat down as an offensive staff and went through some things about how we had to adjust for Detroit and what we needed to do to help our young quarterback, help our receivers, help our protection. We examined a bunch of different things to make sure we came up with a good game plan to help us have success. Especially knowing we weren’t going to have Percy. So it’s a credit to our coaching staff looking internally and saying, ‘Yeah, we’ve had success early in the season doing it a certain way. But we kind of need to reinvent ourselves here as we get ready for Detroit.’ Because they had won three out of four, were playing with a lot of confidence, coming off a big win against Jacksonville. So our coaches did a good job putting together a plan that was a little bit out of the box. For example, the way we opened the game with an empty formation and ran that play. Things like that. So rather than being stubborn and saying, ‘Well, against San Francisco we did this and won. Or the first time we played Detroit, we did this and were successful. Why can’t we do it now?’ They realized we needed to adjust and we did.
What specifically wasn’t being exploited against Tampa Bay and Seattle?
Frazier: The passing game. They played us with so much single-high [coverage] for us not to be more successful. You say, ‘Wait a minute now. As an offense, this is what you dream for. Defenses are bringing all these guys into the box to stop Adrian. We’ve got to be able to take advantage of this.’ So we had to look at exactly what were doing and why weren’t having more success. And I think we have to continue that going forward. Because I doubt defenses are going to completely change the ways they try to defend us with the season Adrian is having. So we have to be constantly evolving without setting ourselves back by trying to be too creative and making our guys slow down. I just saw those things that we should have been able to exploit but weren’t.
And there was a recognition on your part that there were a lot of moving parts to that – quarterback play, routes, protection.
Frazier: All of the above. It was a combination of a lot of things. So we went back and did some things formation wise, personnel-wise. And with personnel, it was who we were putting on the field – whether that was three wide receivers, two receivers and two backs. Whatever. Just looking at things we could do to help our players be successful. Moving our receivers around, moving the ball to different guys, simplifying protections. Those were things we needed to do to help our passing game.