Roman's preparation reflected in opening game record: Exclusive Q and A

Sal Capaccio
September 09, 2016 - 7:56 pm

Photo: USA Today Sports


By Sal Capaccio

Twitter @SalSports


Any football coach will tell you that getting that first win of the season can often be the toughest.   Lose in the opener and you feel like all those months of preparation, game-planning, early morning meetings and late-nights watching film still weren’t enough.  It’s crushing.  

Luckily, Greg Roman has never had that feeling.

You see, in seven years as a college or NFL run game or offensive coordinator, the Bills OC has never lost an opener. 

7-0 combined at Stanford (2-0), with the San Francisco 49ers (4-0), and the Bills (1-0).

That’s impressive enough.  But what’s even more eye-popping are the numbers his offense, and specifically his quarterbacks, have put up in those games, and I’m not even referring to when he had Andrew Luck under center while at Stanford.

Over the past four years, Roman’s offense has averaged 383 yards and 29.75 points in their first game of the regular season:

2012: 377 (49ers 30-22 over Packers)

2013: 494 (49ers 34-28 over Packers)

2014: 319 (49ers 28-17 over Cowboys)

2015: 342 (Bills 27-14 over Colts)

Since the Atlantic City, New Jersey native became an offensive coordinator in the NFL in 2011, here are the combined stats for starting QBs Alex Smith (2011 and 2012), Colin Kaepernick (2013 and 2014) and Tyrod Taylor (2015) in opening weekend games:

92-for-127 (72% comp.) 

1,143 yards (228.6/game)

8 TD


120.9 Passer Rating

So why has Roman been so good in opening games?  What are his philosophies of preparing for week one?  I sat down with him and asked.  Here’s the complete transcript of our Q and A:

Sal: So how far in advance do you prepare for your week 1 opponent? You know the schedule comes out in April. When do you really get started to work on them specifically? 

Roman: You know really probably before the last preseason game, that's really when we start really honing in on the upcoming opponent. Us as coaches are working diligently behind behind the scenes prior to that, but we definitely want to get a little jumpstart on the first opponent.

Sal: How much of the offense do you show in the preseason normally, and specifically this year was it any different? 

Roman: No. I mean we were not really looking in the preseason to do a whole lot schematically. We're looking for a more fundamental development and certainly the thing I think everybody needs to remember is that if you have a, say, you know 30 players on offense, every player is really in a different spot. The really experienced guy is trying to sharpen his blades you know. Or a guy that you're trying to evaluate to see if he even belongs on the team. And then they've got the guy in the middle and that's, you know, maybe in the league for a couple of years. But he's in a hot and heavy competition, he's developing. So we try to meet the needs of each if that makes any sense. You know we certainly have to give guys an opportunity to develop. So in the course of a game we're going to ask them to do very rudimentary things so that we can see if they can improve doing very rudimentary things. Generally speaking, if you can't improve doing rudimentary things you're going to have a hard time climbing that staircase. So I think it's important to give that player a very fair opportunity to show what he can do. The more experienced players, we're not so much inclined to expose them to too much scheme or game plan specific stuff. But each each guy's a little bit different. You really want to go into each game with a little bit of a different mindset on what you're trying to accomplish. 

Sal: Do you actually go out there a preseason game once in awhile and throw something out that might force your week one opponent to think about, to work on and spend time on in practice?

Roman: Yeah I think that'll happen sometimes, but really not much this year, really not much at all. So no not really.

Sal: If you spend more time doing that than you're probably taking away from what you're trying to accomplish, right? 

Roman: Correct. You really want to keep your eye on the big picture and that's getting your unit ready for the season. Not just the first game but you're trying to prepare them for the season. You're going to see multiple defensive fronts, different, you know, a team with a great pass rusher to our left or right. Certain teams have them on both edges. You know, these teams will play double coverage, too. They want to take away your best receiver. Teams just kind of play, and do what do they do. So there's a million different things that you've got to get them ready for and you'd like to not have to expose them to it for the first time during game week. So, we have a pretty calculated approach to the process of training camp.

Sal: How far back, in general, do you go back to an opponent as far as who the defensive coordinator is? His tendencies, etc.? How many years back, weeks back? How does that work? 

Roman:  Yeah, I think everybody's got a thumbprint. And I think you definitely recognize certain trends at times, you know? Some guys are really hard to get a handle on. But I definitely think that that plays into what what you're doing and how your game planning. But you can also go too far down that road, too, like 'I think this is what he's thinking. Therefore I'm going to do this. And then he's going to do that that,' and that can be self-defeating. 

Sal:  I mean even on your end, like if people do that to you, if they go back all your years back in San Francisco, it might be worthless to do that, right? You may have changed so much stuff? 

Roman: Sure. I mean, you know, it's one of those things that I think any coach is going to be very diligent and have all their bases covered. How much they expose their staff and/or players to, I think that's the delicate tap dance right there. 

Sal:  During the game, how much do you ever, if at all, do things to set up stuff for later in the game, as opposed to just calling the play in the moment? I've watched a lot your stuff where you'll do some influence stuff and then later on you'll hit them with something else. Do you call a play earlier to specifically maybe do that in the fourth quarter? Or is it all just about 'in the moment' and then say, "well let's go back to what we did?"

Roman: There's definitely some of that. Everybody in the league, to a certain extent, does that. You know, we're going run this run, we've run this run, now we're going to run this play action type of thing. I think everybody does that to a certain extent. But you don't make a living in that. But it's definitely not just within the confines of one game. I definitely think that's something you do throughout the season. 

Sal: Is that something though that maybe a younger coach you want to just run a play that works, where as an older coach, you're experienced, so you understand that it is a process throughout the year? Is there maybe a rush rush as a younger coach who really wants to make his mark to just go out there and do things and not kind of set up and be patient throughout the year?

Roman:  You know, I don't know. It's an interesting question. But I definitely recognize, and I think that at a younger age, you want to be prepared so when you get put in a position when you're making those kinds of decisions you don't want to be that guy that's running down the hill. You want to be the guy that sees the big picture and understands there's times when you've got to bob and weave a little bit. I definitely think that.

Sal:  7-0 in openers. Andrew Luck. Alex Smith. Kaepernick. Tyrod. You did it with lots of different quarterbacks. What's the challenge in that, every year or every other year having a new quarterback?

Roman: Working with great guys. I've been very fortunate to work with great guys. I think that's where it starts. And really those wins are a credit to the players that handle their business and got it done. So I'm just fortunate to be around those kind of guys. 


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