The Shutdown Corner Interview: Eric Winston (Part 2)

Note: You can find part 1 of my interview with Houston Texans right tackle Eric Winston(notes) here. In the conclusion, Eric talks about myths and misconceptions, the toughest players he faces, what Brian Cushing(notes) has been up to, and what the Texans need to do to hit the next level.

Shutdown Corner: Do you think zone blocking teams get a bad rap when it comes to overall power?

Eric Winston: It's such a fine line - it really is. When you have teams that do some different things ... the thing we've seen, especially from 2008 to 2009, is some very different ways to attack zone blocking schemes. Whether it's pinching ends (inside), or running linebackers over the top, putting guys in different gaps or just taking guys out of the play and just shooting them upfield as hard as they can to set some sort of edge, we've seen some different ways to combat what we're doing. And now, it's our turn to come back and one-up them.

I've seen guys ... if you don't teach the mentality as well as the zone scheme, you do get a little bit soft. Just because you're not always firing right off the ball. You have to be an athlete - you have to go sideways and get those hips squared. You have to know when it's okay to get parallel with the line of scrimmage and get width on a guy. And at what point do you need to push guys forward? When you juggle players in as we did last year - the zone scheme, more than anything else, is all about playing together and being a part of it. That's something I have learned in the last couple of years; even though it's a great system, I have to understand not just who I have and what combination I have, but what are we really trying to do here? Toward the end of the year, the new guys started to understand that even if the ball was going the other way, they were really still the point of attack and they had to start getting some push. As a result, I think you saw our run stats go up toward the end of the year, more where we like it.

SC: You face the Colts twice a season and you're going up against their speed rushers - is Robert Mathis(notes) your biggest challenge, and who are a few more of the better pass-rushers you've faced?

EW: He's a guy I'm definitely not excited about playing, let's put it that way. I will say that I think I have played him well, and better than most of the right tackles I see playing him on film, but he's a tough guy to play. And the Colts, overall, are a tough team to play. They're like that pitcher you never really see ... they're like Jamie Moyer (laughs). Nobody else in Major League baseball throws 78 miles an hour - and I'm not saying the Colts are soft or anything - but that's how they are. It's so hard to get ready for them, because nobody else does what they do. Nobody else runs his offense like Peyton Manning(notes). Nobody else plays defense like they do, with all those undersized guys just going really fast. That's why I think that us, Jacksonville, and Tennessee - we play them the best. We haven't had a ton of success against them, and nobody else in our division has, but if you look at their toughest games over the last few years, we've given them everything (we could). Knowing them helps, as opposed to, "Holy crap, this defensive tackle is really running - I'd better go wider here!"

I don't think Mathis gets the credit he deserves because of Dwight Freeney(notes). He's six-foot-1, probably 245 or 250, and he can bull rush, but he's just so fast. Like I said, you just don't see it from anyone else, and that's why it's so hard to adapt to.

Other guys I've had problems with ... Jevon Kearse(notes), even though he was near the end of his career then and may be done now. Derrick Burgess(notes) is a guy I'm never comfortable with. He's got that hand swipe, and he does it pretty well against me. I've played some pretty good games against those guys, but I never feel like I'm totally okay out there - I' m fighting and scratching and clawing the whole game.

SC: Last July, you did a great blog entry about right tackles vs. left tackles, where you did a little bit of myth-busting. What are the most prevalent misconceptions about right tackles in general?

EW: Like I said in the blog, just that we're huge behemoths that are there to run-block but need a ton of help in the passing game. More often than not, the left tackle is the one getting the help, and I totally understand why, but guys like Mathis and Kearse - they aren't fun to play one-on-one, either. I think right tackles don't get credit for their pass-blocking, because a lot of teams are right-handed, so they slide to their left. In a way, I think right tackles have to be the most versatile guys, because you're the tone-setter for the offensive line. I want to be the guy getting after people in the run game, but at the same time, nothing's going to work if I'm not pass-blocking on third down, as well.

SC: Plus, you're dealing with guys like Denver's Elvis Dumervil(notes), who lines up pretty equally on both sides.

EW: Right. Absolutely.

SC: You've also been pretty outspoken about the rookie wage scale and other labor matters. What's your take on the current standoff between the union and the owners? Do you think we'll see football in 2011?

EW: I really hope so, but I have no idea what the owners' intentions are. And that's the problem. The talks we've had with them - I haven't been in any of them, but from the feedback I've gotten - it's almost like they don't care if there's a second or not, Like, "We're getting paid, so we don't care if there's football or not, unless you give us everything we want." And that's not a way to do business with someone after you say you want to be partners. They're the ones that opted out of the deal (the current CBA), but they're also the ones who won't tell us what they don't like about the deal. Any concession or offer we've made has been met with the response that it's their way or the highway, so the ball's in their court. It's hard to negotiate with, or have any sort of relationship with, someone like that.

SC: 2009 was a big step forward for the Texans - the first winning season, two achingly close losses to the Colts, the defense stepped up, and Matt Schaub(notes) really blew up statistically. Besides beating the Colts (obviously), what do the Texans need to do in 2010 to hit the next level?

EW: I think what we talked about - we need to be top 10 in red zone efficiency, if not the top seven or eight. And our defense needs to just pick up where it left off - I think they were playing fantastic towards the end of last year. We just have to do the little things - it's about having the maturity level to handle those situations at the ends of halves and games. Obviously, you can talk about those field goals, but making those protections late in games. Picking up blitzes. Running the ball and picking up those third-and-1 plays. When we handle the little things like the Colts and Patriots do, then I think we can start to reach that level. Because I think we have all the talent to do it.

SC: How has Brian Cushing's suspension affected him?

EW: He's been working just as hard. It's never been a question of the work, or the time he puts in. He's a great guy to have on your team, and a fun guy off the field. We all have his back here, and we're expecting great things from him in the 12 games he will get to play. He's going to come in and not miss a beat, and be the same All-Pro player he was last year.