Trent Dilfer and Alex Smith were checking out of the 49ers' team hotel as I was checking in this morning. Time rarely allows for visits to the opposing team's locker room, so it was good to see Dilfer for the first time since Super Bowl week, when he was providing commentary for NFL Network. I did have a chance to speak with Dilfer on Thursday night for a Q-and-A that served as my Sunday column. He's always been an interesting interview because he's not afraid to speak his mind. That comes through loud and clear in the transcript below.
Q: What trends are we seeing in the league this season?
Dilfer: "A lot of athletic or young or creative-type quarterbacks can be good for two-, three-week stints. Michael Vick comes to mind where he had a couple weeks where he was just unbelievable. But at the end of the day, you have to be able to throw the ball from the pocket with rhythm and timing to be consistent."
Dilfer: "If you're running around with the ball out from your body and you're a quarterback, with the athletes and speed of the game right now, turnovers are going to happen. Here's the other thing: You practice on rhythm. When you play outside of the realm of what you practice, too often there are going to be catastrophic mistakes."
Q: Who is doing the best job scheme-wise, besides the teams that get the credit all the time?
Dilfer: "Sean Payton and what they are doing with New Orleans. Even though Reggie Bush's stats aren't great, the threat of Bush on the field, getting a rookie receiver (Marques Colston), seventh-round pick, that involved, what they are doing with their protections, the different types of plays. … And then (St. Louis Rams coach) Scott Linehan is as good as anybody."
Q: Were you surprised the Rams didn't spread the field more against Seattle?
Dilfer: "(Former Rams coach Mike) Martz just loved to have the fastest people on the field. And what Linehan is doing is keeping the run threat alive. That is why the turnovers are down and Marc Bulger has thrown two picks all year. I love Mike Martz. He creates a very fun offense to be a part of and to watch, but to win football games and balance out the holes you may have on defense, what Linehan is doing is probably better for that team as they are right now."
Q: Who is the best defensive rookie you've faced this season?
Dilfer: "The defensive end from Kansas City, Tamba Hali. He is really, really good. He is just an explosive athlete, very strong, plays with great leverage. Really took us by surprise. In fact, we were a little shell-shocked."
Q: Where have the dominant cornerbacks gone?
Dilfer: "Scheme has changed the corner position. There's much less true one-on-one, I-have-you coverage than there has ever been. It doesn't mean there is less man coverage. But even in the man schemes, there is so much help. They are always funneling them a certain way or letting them inside but not letting them outside."
Q: Why is that the case?
Dilfer: "I wasn't around in the '80s and '70s, but in my opinion, this is a better way to coach defense. Utilize all 11 players instead of just trusting that one guy. Because everybody is beatable. Deion Sanders, the greatest corner that ever played, was beatable. He got beat often."
Q: Who wins the Indianapolis-Dallas game?
Dilfer: "Indy by a lot. They are unstoppable right now. It's the greatest offense, I think, the league has ever seen on a consistent basis. They are redefining how offense is played."
Q: What about San Diego at Denver?
Dilfer: "I'll go with Denver. I think San Diego is a little vulnerable on defense. When we played them (48-19 loss on Oct. 15), they were not. They were rolling, they were healthy, they were strong, they were confident. We were the first offense to take advantage of them. Since then, you see teams getting after them a little bit. I talked to Carson Palmer last week at length about how to go after them, Saturday night. You could see it unfold in the game."
Q: You've said some harsh things about Maurice Carthon, your former offensive coordinator in Cleveland (since fired). Are you OK with your career given the way things went down with the Browns?
Dilfer: "Yeah. Cleveland was one of the best and one of the worst experiences of my professional life. I had to do it. I think everybody in Seattle understood that. I loved my situation in Seattle. To this day, even playing against them this week, I have a great respect and admiration for that organization. How they treated me was second to none. But I had to go play, knowing I could.
"And I feel like I played really well. The people that follow this league and watch football and break it down based on an individual performance and take into account what is going on around them know that I played really good. It was the worst experience because of who I had to work with. It's not me. Everything I thought and the decisions I made have been kind of proven true to this point. You can't work in that environment. You can't be successful with incompetence paired with just being a bad person. I don't know a better way of saying that. That is a deadly combination."
Q: Players generally do not speak that way about coaches, at least in public. You must have felt it in your heart.
Dilfer: "It's been said you can't criticize a coach because they have so much invested. If you want to look at the investment involved in that project, I had as much as anybody. The sacrifice that I put my family through, myself, my body, what I endured to help that team, the offseason hours, the training of the young players, the handling of the drama off the field, everything that went along with it. I had as much invested in that thing as anybody. And it was like climbing Mt. Everest barefooted."
Q: For example?
Dilfer: "I'll never get into that. People can go, 'Oh, Dilfer shouldn't have said that or, 'Wow.' I could (not) care less what people think. I've always been that way."
Q: Another quarterback drafted in 1994, Heath Shuler, was recently elected to Congress. What's in store for you after football?
Dilfer: "Heath and I actually hit it off great back then. He was a friend and I really respect him. What am I going to do? Probably answer questions like this for a living."