Chris Steuber: What do you think the Lions will do offensively against the Eagles defense?
Chris Gocong: It’ll be exciting. They’re going to try to stretch us out and catch us deep. They’ll try to do a few lead draws on us. It’ll be a test on our secondary and a test with our discipline in our run gaps.
CS: The Lions have two outstanding receivers, Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson. What do you have to do as a defense to contain them?
Gocong: They are fast and big receivers, and in the slot they have some smaller, quick guys. They have the whole package. We have an aggressive defense. We’re going to put pressure on [Jon] Kitna. We have faith in our secondary, and I think the pressure we put on Kitna will take away their receivers.
CS: The Eagles defense has played well in the first two games, but unfortunately the team has been unable to get a win. What is the defense’s biggest improvement, and what do you still have to improve on?
Gocong: If you look at last year’s game film and you look at these last two games, we’re more disciplined as a defense. We rely more on each other. We’re not trying to do each other’s jobs. The biggest thing we have to work on is making those last few plays of a drive. We just have to finish up the drive. Getting off the field on third and long and making that one last play is what we need. We need those big plays to win.
CS: This is your first year starting and your first season playing as a strong side linebacker. Talk about your adjustment into the defense.
Gocong: It’s going well. The preseason was a good learning experience, and I’m still learning with every game. I’m feeling more comfortable as a linebacker. I don’t have to think so much as a linebacker; I’m just reacting now. I think as we move forward my play is going to get faster and faster.
CS: At Cal Poly you were an outstanding pass rusher, and now in the NFL you’re being asked to play the SAM position in a 4-3 defense. What’s been the biggest transition?
Gocong: I’m new at the job, so I might be thinking a little bit too much. As I get more experience I’m not going to think as much, so I’ll be faster and more aggressive. That’s been the big thing for me.
CS: What has Takeo Spikes meant to you and the defense as a whole?
Gocong: He’s been huge. After we lost [Jeremiah] Trotter, he stepped up. We lost Dawk at the end of the [Redskins] game. He went out with an injury [neck stinger] at the end of the game, and he [Spikes] stepped it up. He’s been the vocal leader. He’s been the go-to-guy for me if I’m asking any linebacker questions. He’s got tons of experience.
CS: What’s the defensive game plan for Detroit? I know a lot of it will be to contain the receivers, but what else do the Lions present on offense that you’ll have to prepare for?
Gocong: We’re going to try to get Kitna out of his rhythm and put pressure on him. We’re going to try to take the receivers away from him by getting into his face and taking away his vision.
CS: What’s your assessment of the Eagles offense so far? You’ve seen what they’re capable of in practice, so why haven’t they been able to get it going in the games?
Gocong: It’s almost the same as the defense sometimes. They’ll have a great drive, but it’s just those handful of plays you need to make that have you being an 0 – 2 team compared to 2 – 0 team. They just have to finish things off and get into rhythm. We have all the talent on offense, and I think we’ll be fine.
CS: What’s the mindset of the team right now? And, how do you bounce back this week and try to get things moving in a positive direction?
Gocong: It’s tough after a loss. We really thought as a defense we played well at Green Bay, but it just didn’t happen for us. And the same thing can be said about the last game [with Washington]. We just have to forget about it and move onto the next one. You just have to have a short memory.
CS: Can you have that short memory after losing to a divisional team and knowing that this next game with Detroit may be a make or break situation?
Gocong: This is a copycat league, so the things you had a problem with last week you’re going to see again the following week. At least you know what you’re expecting to see. That’s the good thing; that’s what you take out of a loss. You use that as a positive. But it’s tough taking losses like that.
CS: How big is this game on Sunday, as it may determine your season?
Gocong: It’s huge, especially with the Philly fans. You could say, “It’s early in the season; there’re 16 games.” You can take that mindset or you can say, “We’re not going to lose this game – we have to win this game no matter what.” I think we’re banging our heads against the wall, and we need a win right now.
CS: What has Coach Reid’s message been this week?
Gocong: The biggest thing for him was for us to play emotional football. He showed us a play on film, and it was a great play, but over on the sidelines there was no emotion; nobody seemed into the game. We played a great fourth quarter, but we were in a bad position, and everybody rallied together as a team. His thing was for us to play emotional football, and we’ll win games.
CS: Obviously at your position you have to cover the tight end, and the Lions’ Dan Campbell is your responsibility. What are his strengths and how can you exploit his weaknesses?
Gocong: He’s one of those guys that Kitna’s going to look to down field first and then he’s going to look to his shallow grounds – the tight ends and running backs in the flat. We’re really going to be focusing on pressuring the quarterback and taking away the deep throws and keeping an eye on the shallow throws.
CS: I guess it’s fair to say that Kitna is your main focal point for the game, right?
Gocong: Yeah, I think so. You have all of those great receivers, and he’s the source of the ball. It makes sense if we pressure the quarterback.
CS: I understand what you’re saying about Kitna, but I’d think that the receivers are the biggest concern no matter who’s behind center. When you have that kind of talent at the receiver position, all a quarterback has to do is throw it up.
Gocong: That’s true, and you could look at it that way or the other way. I think Kitna is a rhythm guy. If you take him out of his rhythm, he’ll be over-throwing the ball. I guess we’ll see who’s right come Sunday.
CS: How big of a concern is the Eagles secondary at this point?
Gocong: It doesn’t really affect the linebackers too much. We’re still going to play the same way. I’m not sure how worried they [coaching staff] are about the secondary. I really can’t say.
CS: What’s it like playing a home game in Philadelphia? I’m sure if you guys are losing it almost feels like a road game, but if you’re winning it’s probably the best home field advantage in the league. What are your feelings about the Philadelphia fans?
Gocong: The crowd is like having other guys on the field. They’re so loud we can hardly hear our own checks, so I’m not sure how the quarterback can make audibles at the line. This is a big one for us. It hurts going 0 – 2 and losing our home opener, and I know the fans hate that too. This is a real big game for us.
CS: So, what’s your prediction for this weekend, Chris?
Gocong: I think they’re going to get their big plays and we’re going to get ours. We need to be an explosive defense and get in their face. Of course I’m going to pick the Eagles, but I’m not sure what the score is going to be.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber is the Editor in Chief of WarNest.com and an NFL Analyst for Scout.com. Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. If you have any questions for Chris, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.