JOHN HARBAUGH MONDAY PRESS CONFERENCE
Opening statement: "OK. Good to see everybody. Thanks for coming. It's been awhile, obviously, through the weekend. I hope everybody had a good weekend – we did. It was a good opportunity, playing Thursday night, as it turned out, to get some rest for our players and our coaches. Coaches were in here working on Saturday all day getting ready for today, just to get a little bit of a head start on Cleveland. Players had treatment through the three days, the players that had the injury issues. But, they are back today, and we had a little practice, we had meetings, and we had lifting and conditioning. So that's where we're at."
Ever since you said that you are looking for a returner, I think 'Zibby' [Tom Zbikowski] has two returns and nobody else has had a shot. Is that enough of a sample size to say that you have made some strides in that area? (Joe Platania) "Probably not, only two opportunities. But, we'll be looking at… 'Zibby' has done a solid job in there, I think, and we have blocked it fairly well both times. But, we've got some other guys that we'll be looking at as we go, and we're working the other guys back in. We'll just have to see where we go. I think it's a competitive situation – those guys all want to do it."
John, in terms of a competitive situation, everybody else that is in the running for the top seed [in the AFC] all won, and just your thoughts on how tight of a race it's going to be down the stretch here. (Aaron Wilson) "Well, we expect it to be a tight race. We just want to uphold our end of the bargain. I think what you have to concern yourself with is winning. That's the bottom line for us. We can't be concerned with what the other teams do. We have to be concerned with what we do. It's really not a long-term proposition. It's this week, and that's what you have to focus on. This week becomes everything. It becomes all-consuming in a tight race like this."
John, can you talk a little bit about Cam [Cameron] and at the end of last season your talk about consistency with your staff? Obviously, [former defensive coordinator] Greg [Mattison] left right at the end of the year, but just a little bit about Cam, and he has sort of been a little embattled with the fans and just your thoughts on him this season so far. (Drew Forrester) "I think all of our coaches have done a great job. I think Cam [Cameron] has done a great job, I think Chuck [Pagano] has done a great job, Jerry [Rosburg] has done a great job, right down through all the assistant coaches. Every year is a tough year. Every year brings us different challenges, and I think what you try to do as a coach, [you] try to address those challenges as they come up. And, all three phases, and offense, certainly with the young guys we have had out there, and the new guys we have had out there on the offensive line, have presented some unique challenges. I think the offensive coaches have done a great job. Cam has done a great job with leading that side of it. We've had to kind of search for – week to week – ways to find a way to do the best we can to win football games. Sometimes we've done better than other times – all of us. So that's where we're at."
Coach, considering that you are one the best teams in the NFL, and you know that you are always going to get team's best performance, whether they are sub-par, below .500 or not, considering the struggles that you have had, with the three losses against sub-par teams, do you think the team is more mentally ready for the next three opponents that have sub-par records? (Barry Barnes) "That would presume that we weren't mentally ready for the other ones. I think we were. What we didn't do is we didn't play very well. Whatever led to that, you're saying that it was that issue, I am saying it may have been that issue, but I am not sure it was that issue, so we can't just stop at that. We've got to turn over every stone. We certainly acknowledge that those three losses, coming off of big wins, against teams with sub-.500 records, were not good performances. They are team losses the way we look at it – coaches, players, all of us. They are there, they are on the record. Now, we face a similar challenge this week, but a tougher challenge because now we have to go play a team in our division, a team that you saw play the Bengals last week and control the game for most of the game. We know the Bengals are a very good football team. The Browns have had some real heartbreaking losses. They have been within a point or two in the fourth quarter in most all their games so far this year, and they have played really well. It's always a tough game against a division opponent, against Cleveland, up there. It's always a dogfight. That's never going to change. It's going to be just like playing the Steelers, just like playing the Bengals in that sense. We're very tuned into that. We just have to play better than we have in those three circumstances you are talking about."
John, it might seem like forever ago, but can you talk about the job that Albert McClellan did moving inside in his first-career start and stepping up into that role for you guys? (Dan Kolko) "I think Albert [McClellan] played very solidly. That was something that really we had no idea how he was going to play, in all honesty. He's never really played inside linebacker ever in his career. At Marshall, he moved around and played different positions. He was outside 'backer, inside 'backer, nose guard, defensive tackle – he played it all there. I think it shows you what kind of a football player he is. He's been working really hard with [linebackers coach] Dean Pees over the course of the last six or seven weeks after we kind of focused on inside linebacker for him. The way he played is pretty remarkable. We're proud of the way he played. That builds depth for us in there."
John, how much does the fact that you have the 10-day period now from Thursday to the next game affect Ray's [Lewis] situation? Does it make you more optimistic, or is Ray's situation just the same, as far as what we know right now? (Peter Schmuck) "The rest part of it is big. The fact that all those guys are going to get an extra three or four days of rest and more time to recover, because it is kind of a cumulative process in terms of recovery. Ray [Lewis] is probably the guy that is the furthest away, if you are going to look at all the guys, but then again, you never know. [Dannell] Ellerbe looks good. Chris Carr looks good. Most all those guys look good coming into Monday. Ray has a sprained toe, turf toe kind of a thing, so those are a little more unpredictable. I am hopeful. I have used that word before. I think he has a real good chance, but we'll just have to see how it goes."
By any chance, did you see the special that the NFL Network did featuring the Thanksgiving game on SoundFX? If you did, what did you think about it? (Barry Barnes) "I thought it was OK, you know? I thought it was fun. The NFL does a real good job with that and kind of gives everyone access into what goes on a little bit. It was good."
Is there anything in the red zone offense that you've seen as you've looked at the tape with Cam Cameron, or whoever it is, that concerns you or that you're trying to pick up on in the red zone? (Drew Forrester) "Well, you can't talk about… Do you have a specific question, like [in] this game, or do you want to talk about the whole season? (Reporter: "Just in general, or if you even consider those to be struggles in the red zone.") Well, we're one of the better red zone offenses in the League. But the first thing you want to do is get points, so the first thing you don't want to do is turn the ball over down there. That's No. 1. In this game, you're playing against a defense that turns the ball over down there pretty consistently, [with] nobody scored a rushing touchdown. I felt like we got down to the one-yard line, and we should have put the ball in there. In my mind, that's on us, that was on coaching, that's on me. We could have done a better job of scheming up that run game down there and giving our guys a better chance – the run right before that gained four yards against that defense. So, in my mind we should have been two-for-two. I think all our players and all our coaches agree with that and we wouldn't necessarily be having the conversation. The next time down, in a critical situation, we get down to the 11-yard line and we run a route to perfection. Joe makes a great throw. That's how you score down there most of the time. But it goes hand-in-hand with the run game and continuing to develop what we're doing. I think we're blocking, for the most part, pretty well. The issue is more of the way we block their front. They've got a front that we really don't block well scheme-wise, and that's what happened."
At the end of the second quarter on Thursday night, you guys called a defensive time out after a running play. Then, coming out of that timeout, were flagged for 12 men on the field. What happened in that entire situation? (Mark Suchy) "You want to talk about the strategy of calling the timeout out there first of all? What you try to do there is you're trying to not allow them to get in the situation where they could run the clock down, to under five seconds, and throw a pass into the end zone or kick a field goal with no time left. We wanted to make it a tough choice to kick the field goal. So if you kick the field goal with 38 or 40 seconds left, and they miss it, they give us a chance to go kick a field goal. So that was the reason we called a timeout. I think they did the right thing [in that] they went for it, because it was fourth-and-three, fourth-and-four. They ended up getting it because of the 12 men. They would have… They got in anyway, but the penalty obviously made it a moot point, which was disappointing. We just had a substitution error; one of our guys made a mistake. That's on us. We, coaches and players, did not do a good job of making sure we had the right group out there in the confusion of their substitution situation, going for it on fourth down. They ran their field goal team off, they ran a personnel group on the field. We tried to make two changes in there and we didn't get it done very well. The result ended up being the same, because they threw the ball into the end zone basically and ran out the end of the half. So, there was no harm in that. But that was the idea behind the whole thing."
At the end of the half, Lardarius Webb made a very athletic play to get that ball off. What do you think some of the keys are in him emerging as the player that he has become this year? (Kevin Van Valkenburg) "We all thought he was a good player his rookie year, right? And then he had the knee surgery. I think he did a great job of rehabbing and getting ahead of schedule on that, but, he probably felt some of the effect of that last year coming back from that. Plus he missed the whole offseason, in terms of developing the technique part of it. I still think if he had the offseason this year again, he'd even be farther along as a corner, because he moved from safety to corner in the offseason. I just think he's a guy that takes the craft of playing corner very seriously, pays attention to detail, and really tries to be a technician. There are still a lot of things he'll tell you [that] he could do better. But he's becoming a… I think, when we talk to opposing coaches, they have a lot of respect for the way he plays."
Usually in college it seems like corners end up moving to safety to play in the NFL because of their speed. You don't see that transition the other way. It's pretty rare that you can take a guy that played college safety and make him play corner (Kevin Van Valkenburg) "Right. I think part of the reason he was a college safety, down at Nicholls [State], because he was their best player. So they just put him in the middle of the field and let him run all over the field, and make all the tackles. When you watched him, that's what he did. He was sideline to sideline, and pretty much made every tackle for them. So he was fast enough to play corner. We were a little bit concerned about whether he would have the hips and the transition and all that, but that's proven that he does have all that."
What has Cory Redding provided for you guys in terms of high level of play and also leadership? He seems like a guy that will step up and say what he needs to say at the right time (Aaron Wilson) "Cory Redding is one of the best leaders that we have and that we've had here since we've been here. Really mature guy, as you guys know. Very serious-minded guy, but likes to have fun, and he's playing at a really high level. This guy was a high draft pick, who was a high-price free agent at one point in his career. Very talented big man, playing ferocious football right now. He plays in a furry right now, so I think he fits in real well with our defense."
Lee Evans is two games back in. Coming back from the injury he had a big third-down catch. How do you see him continuing to get worked into the offense and acclimated, and what kind of impact do you think he can make? (Garrett Downing) "Well Lee is a guy we want to work in more and more. Right now, he's working into the three-wide receiver packages. I think we can continue to work him into the two receiver packages and rotate him with Torrey [Smith] and Anquan [Boldin]; give those guys a break. We like playing both the tight ends too. So there's a mix of guys that we've got to kind of work in there, but that's a good problem to have. Obviously, he's a good downfield threat. But, as you saw in the third-down play, he's not just that. That was a heck of a catch he made coming across. And then he lowered his shoulder and made a guy miss a tackle and got the first down. So, I kind of think he's only going to get better as we go forward here."
Did you win any secret family bets with Jim [Harbaugh] you want to tell us now? (Drew Forrester) "No. No, nothing like that, nope. (Reporter: "Come on.") No, neither one of us would have paid off anyway." (laughter)
You guys got tremendous pressure on Alex Smith, and they're a 9-1 team. They've done great things. Every team in the NFL, you'll have weeks where you get that pressure, and then against a team that we might not think is as good as San Francisco, where you don't get that pressure. What are the factors that go into that? Nine sacks is pretty amazing. (Peter Schmuck) "Yeah, you'd never predict that number of sacks, and I think it's kind of the perfect storm sometimes. First of all, you've got to credit our guys. I think the pass rush, combined with that crowd noise, combined with the fact that we had them in third-and-long, was big. So, it started with the run defense. We did a really good job against a really good running team, and I think that started with our front. Haloti [Ngata] and Terrence Cody and Cory Redding needed to dominate in there, because they are a scheme-run team. And you can't predict where the ball is going to go; you just had to play the schemes honestly, and our guys do that really well. [That's a] credit to [defensive line coach] Clarence Brooks. So, we got them in third-and-longs for the most part [and] that allowed us to bring a lot more of our exotic pressures. And on a short week – you know, they only had four days to prepare for us – that's a little bit tougher. They haven't seen our system; that helps us a little bit. Obviously, the crowd noise helped us. And I thought our guys won a lot of one-on-one matchups. They had a couple injuries in there during the game that hurt them a little bit, but more than anything was our guys – just a relentless pass rush – I think taking it upon themselves to make the difference in the game. We also got good coverage on initial reads, so Alex couldn't get the ball out to his first throw a lot of times and made him hold the ball a little bit."
What kind of maturation have you seen from Jameel McClain this year, and especially in the past two weeks, him stepping in for Ray Lewis and taking over the headset? How much has he shown you in that regard? (Ryan Mink)"Yeah, I think it's great… I think everybody has a chance now to see kind of what we've been seeing over the course of the last couple of years. Jameel played the way he's been playing for the last two years, really. He's not playing any differently. I think he gets a little bit better every week. He's a serious student of the game. He's talented, he's physical, he learns from Ray [Lewis], he learns from [linebackers] coach [Dean] Pees. He's a good, solid… He's one of the better inside linebackers in football right now."
Will Lardarius Webb remain the primary punt returner? (Mark Suchy) "Yes."
John, when you look at the Browns, Josh Cribbs is obviously a guy that can change the game for them on special teams. How important is it for your coverage units to really focus on staying in their lanes and making sure they're sticking to the fundamentals? (Dan Kolko) "It's going to be important, just like it has been for the last couple weeks. We've gone the last few weeks against some of the premier punt returners in football, and one of our main priorities was to not let them wreck the game for us. And that's going to be true with Josh Cribbs; he does both, just like [Ted] Ginn did both. And if you go back, I think you'll see the last few weeks, we've had the same challenges. So, we've played them a few times. He's hurt us a few times – not recently, about three years ago I think he really hurt us – and we've just got to make sure we do a great job of that. But, our guys are up to the challenge."
Can you talk about the skill sets and styles of Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed and why they complement each other so well? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Yeah, I think they're both two of the better safeties… Obviously, Ed, I would say, is probably the best safety in football. And Bernard has been known as one of the better safeties in football, so you've got two really talented guys. But, they're not as different as you might think. I think Bernard has really learned our system, coverage-wise, and has been a very solid coverage guy for us. Not the Ed Reed-style obviously, but a solid coverage guy. And then Ed, he's always been more physical than people give him credit for, but he's not a Bernard Pollard-type of box hitter. So, I just think they complement each other very well, because they're both very good players [and] they talk all the time. I mean, they always sit right next to each other in meetings, and they're always talking back and forth, making sure they're on the same page."
Coach, the 16-play drive in the San Francisco game… Talk about how efficient that was? (Bruce Raffel) "Right, that was probably one of the best drives of the season, against a defense of that caliber. Arguably the best, or one of the top two or three defenses we've played this year. The third-down execution was off the charts. To protect it the way we did, the chemistry between the receivers and Joe [Flacco], Joe's accuracy, Joe's recognition of coverages… That's what won us the football game, is in order to convert on that drive and separate us in the game a little bit, I think offensively, we did a really good job of being patient, pushing the ball forward [and] playing field position football. Always trying to get that drive, and then getting that drive at the end of the third quarter was the difference."