Opening statement:"Thanks for being here; we appreciate it. Obviously, we've started preparations on a short week. It's an honor to play on Thanksgiving. I think it is most guys' favorite holiday, isn't it? Don't we all feel that way on Thanksgiving? We all love Thanksgiving. To get a chance to play on Thanksgiving night in front of the whole country in a rivalry such as this in Baltimore is something that you work hard for and being a part of what we do. So, we're looking forward to it. We can't wait to play, and we've already started our preparation."* *
Last time you played on Thanksgiving, it was a really different dynamic since you were facing your brother. This time, it's a bitter rivalry. Does it feel any different to you? (Pete Gilbert) *"I really haven't thought about that. I haven't thought about comparing those two things at all. We're just getting ready for this Thanksgiving and this game, and we're excited for it. It's a big challenge for us. We have a lot at stake in this game, so it's an important football game." *
**What's the bigger challenge on a Thursday night game – getting physically prepared for it or mentally making sure the players feel comfortable with everything on a condensed work schedule? *(Mark Zinno) *"It's probably both of those two things, balancing that out. Physically, we have to get back. The turnaround is quick [considering] the physical football game that we were in. We were in a very physical game, so we have to get our guys back and ready to play another physical game after that. That's a one-hand challenge. The other challenge is being mentally prepared, just from a standpoint of what to expect 'X' and 'O'-wise, how to execute our schemes, timing in the passing game. Things like that are a challenge in a week like this. But still, our guys have had a lot of practice. We'll be running stuff that we know and understand against a team that we pretty much understand. I'm sure there will be a wrinkle or two that they'll throw at us that we'll have to be ready for and just go play football."
**Does the familiarity with your opponent make it kind of easier on such a short week? *(Jeff Zrebiec) *"When you play an opponent that you don't know, there is a lot of ground work that you have to do, in terms of establishing how they set up their system and how they organize things. Both teams have a pretty good idea, I'm sure, of how the other is organized. So, we're pretty far down the road with each other at this point."
**You've talked in recent weeks about the challenge of building chemistry along the offensive line as it pertains to pass protection. Generally speaking – and I guess this is a philosophical question – there's so much turnover on the offensive line. Most teams don't have the luxury of bringing back the same five guys every year. What's the challenge of that, and how have you been able to … You've cycled in a new lineman it seems like every year at least and been able to have success. What's the challenge of building and maintaining an offensive line? *(Matt Vensel) *"It's the challenge that every team faces. It's kind of the nature of the National Football League right now. In football, you've heard it said, the game is won in the trenches, and the offensive line is the part that is the most complicated. The offensive line and the secondary are the two areas where you have to tie the group together the most on each side of the ball. And it's hard to develop that chemistry and cohesion and being on the same page, especially with all the stuff that the defenses throw at you. It's that, plus it's also developing offensive linemen. The technique that goes with it is precise. We've talked about this before, but the change in the CBA has made that even more difficult because it's harder to develop young linemen when you don't get as much time working those guys together to develop that chemistry. So, you've got to come up with creative ways to try to do that. I think everybody in the league is trying to figure that out. And we talk about player safety and protecting our quarterbacks – building a cohesive offensive line goes a long way in protecting your quarterback."
**How key is it … Like Gino Gradkowski for example – he could watch for a year and play. You have Ryan [Jensen] and Rick [Wagner] this year who might not play in starting roles. Is that kind of your philosophy, too – to take these guys and give them a year to learn and develop, so you don't have to throw them in the fire right away? *(Matt Vensel) *"We put 'K.O.' [Kelechi Osemele] in the fire right away, so we're not opposed to putting a rookie out there if he's ready to play, as soon as he's ready to play. So, it's competitive, and you put your best five guys out there. It certainly doesn't hurt those guys, but they'd be further along if they were playing right now. So, you can go either way with that."
**Elvis Dumervil said after the game that it was good to see the hard work finally paying off. Do you feel that way, in that you guys played exceptionally well, and maybe you're ready to build on all the work you've done? *(Dave Ginsburg) *"I feel like we've been building on that all the way through, and when it doesn't result in a victory, that can be challenging because you have to stand up, and you have to answer the questions. And it's a one-loss league. It doesn't matter how close it is. You can lose by 40 like some teams do, and it counts as one loss. You could lose by a field goal in overtime, and it's still one loss. So, that's the challenging part of it. Even when you feel like you're making progress towards improving, it's still a loss. So, getting the victory in the end, that's the bottom line, and it's rewarding in that way."
**Pittsburgh has won three straight, and they seem like they're turning the page in their season. What have you seen from them in terms of improvements compared to the last time you saw them? *(Garrett Downing) *"The Steelers have always been a good football team. They were a very good football team the last time we played them, and we take them as we see them right now for the team that they are right now."
As soon as last night ends your focus is on the Steelers, but do you take a peek and see where you guys are in the playoff picture? There are so many teams now in this race? (Jamison Hensley) "We understand where we are. We know what everybody's record is – if that's what you're asking. But, we also know that we have to win. None of that matters unless we continue to win. We've got to win as many games as we can, and we'll be hopeful that it's enough to get us in – that's what we're looking for. We haven't given up on the division championship yet, either. We've got to win games, and we've got to win the next one that's on our schedule."
**John, how great is this for the fans of Baltimore – Thanksgiving night? Does it mean a lot to play on Thanksgiving night against the Steelers? *(Bill West) *"It is great for our fans. For our fans to get a game like this … It's the second time in three years we've had a Thanksgiving night game. If at any point in time the NFL and Roger [Goodell] wants to make this a tradition, wouldn't we all be for that in Baltimore? I think that would be pretty amazing. We love it and I know our fans do to."
The offense moved the ball well yesterday, but one sticking point was in the red zone. How important is that going to be against Pittsburgh? (Ryan Mink) "The red zone is always important; it's always important to do well in the red zone. The first thing is not to give up those three, to protect the kicker to make the kick, and to get yourself to the point where you have a chance to kick the field goal and get three points – that's where it starts. From there, you want to build your way into seven. You want to get as many sevens there as you can. We're working on the red zone really hard, and we want to get as many sevens down there as you can. But, I was happy with the fact that, in that type of game we were playing, we were able to get the points on field goals even to the point where we had four field goals. It was the difference in the game."* *
Are you guys allowed to go all the way up until 4 p.m. on game day on [Dennis] Pitta now and not the day before a game? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I'm not sure about that. I can know more on that tomorrow."
John, Jacoby [Jones] said he felt, really for the first time since Week 1, like his old self. His legs got loose; he had that bounce. It looked like it on the field, too. Him really at full strength, what does that do for your offense? (Pete Gilbert)"He told me before the game that he felt fast. He said he really felt fast. Maybe you're right, that he was feeling full speed for the first time. When he went and got that pass, that was pretty incredible. When [the ball] is up in the air and the wind started to push it, I didn't think that he was going to be able to get to it. It was just a great a play. Jacoby [Jones] making big plays is something that's incredibly important for us. If we can add that to our arsenal here, that would be huge for us."
On the one return, there was a big block by Courtney Upshaw. What were your thoughts on that, the first one he had? (Matt Vensel)"I'll comment on both of them. *(laughter) *You get a bonus comment here. *(laughter) *The first block was a great block. [Assistant head coach/special teams coordinator] Jerry [Rosburg] has done a great job; our guys understand punt return angles and things like that, and that's why our punt return has been so good. It was perfectly legal; I thought he did a great job of understanding the rule and executing it really, really well. The other one, I'm not so sure about. It's our understanding that if the punter or kicker is making a move – the return is coming this way and he's making a move toward the return – that you're allowed to block him. I sure would hate to see him make the tackle. And he did it with two hands, so he didn't do anything with his helmet; it certainly wasn't a dangerous block. We don't want to just let the punter go make tackles, so we've got to get a ruling on that."
**John, it seems like Terrell Suggs has been kind of quiet from the pass rush standpoint for the past few games. Is he doing some stuff that isn't showing up on the stat sheet, or are opposing offensive lines maybe doing something different with him? *(Matt Zenitz) *"Sacks are going to come when they come. He's getting a lot of pressure, we're hitting quarterbacks, we're flushing quarterbacks out of the pocket, we're forcing them to throw before they want to throw. Our pass rush has been good. Terrell Suggs and Elvis [Dumervil] – all of our guys – they're all part of that. But he's rushing the passer just fine."
John, you went up against the No. 1 rushing defense yesterday. Stats aside, is there progress coming along? Do you feel like you're making strides in the run game? (Mark Zinno)"We were patient with the run game, and we really did, we really stuck with it. We didn't get a lot of yards, but we got enough yards. We had some four- and five- and six-yard runs in there that really made a difference for us. We weren't in third-and-long the whole game. Yes, I would say we're making progress in that area. Earlier in the year, we were second-and-long, third-and-long most of the time, so against that defense that's probably pretty good. We need to improve though. I don't want to sit here and sound like we're satisfied with that kind of an output."
With regard to Thanksgiving – not necessarily playing on that day – what do you enjoy or cherish about that holiday? (Brett Hyman)"I haven't thought about that. I love Thanksgiving. Just like I said, if there's any guy that doesn't like Thanksgiving, I don't know. I don't know that guy. *(laughter) *You come home – we're always working – but you come home and the food is in there cooking, the turkey is in there cooking. Isn't it that way for you guys? Do any of you guys cook your own turkeys? No. That's a straight for the record. Oh, we've got one. *(laughter) *You watch a little football, you go out and play a little football or basketball, you get with the kids and run around, and whatever you do as a family that's what it's all about. We can wax nostalgic all night here, right? Don't you guys have somewhere to be? *(laughter) *We've got to get ready for a football game. But Thanksgiving is great, for the record." *(laughter) *