Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg
It's been an improved special teams unit that had some blips last week with the botched extra point and the long punt return. On those two plays specifically, what did you see? (Bo Smolka)"On the extra point, our alignment was too tight and the ball actually deflected off the foot of our guard, that's why Sam [Koch] wasn't able to catch it. Had he caught it, it would have been a miraculous play, but he wasn't able to bring it in. And on the punt return, we just lost leverage on the ball to the wide side of the field. That returner is very fast, and it's not like we didn't know that, and we just squeezed too much to the short side of the field and he beat us to the edge. And our ultimate contain player got knocked down, so it was one of those inadvertent collisions that lost the edge for us. Those are things we have to clean up."
How would you rate Deonte Thompson's decision-making? Overall, it seems like he's made good decisions. (Luke Jones)"I think he has done a good job of making decisions. Now, the one return that didn't get very far last week, he brought that one out, and I think more than anything else the depth wasn't as bad as the hang time, and just getting that mental clock. That ball was in the air a long time. We want him to be aggressive. We don't want him to be back there scared – we want to be aggressive – and he was aggressive, so we just talked to him about the hang time of that kick. I think he'll bring others out from that same spot, but we want him to continue to be that way – have a mentality of going to try to make a play. There's a course of action in the game where you want to think, 'Well, maybe now is the time to be a little less aggressive given this game situation.' But generally speaking, we give him license to make those decisions and be in attack mode. That's the way we want to play."
Have you found that the kicking game has evolved dramatically since kickoffs moved to the 35-yard line last year? (Luke Jones)"I think last year there were a lot of people getting used to it – players, coaches, everyone. But the timing of the returns, the point where guys were going to bring them out or not bring them out, there were a lot of unknowns. And I think through the course of the offseason, everybody had an opportunity to digest what had happened and people were making adjustments during the year – ourselves included. I think this year, everybody's pretty much settled down into what they're doing and how they're handling the situation, so I don't anticipate any title change in that regard. I think everybody's pretty much figured out what they're doing now."
What kind of challenge does the Chiefs' Javier Arenas present? (Jeff Zrebiec)"He's a strong runner. We really liked him as a player coming out of college. He's got such good vision and good strength and makes good decisions, and he can cut. He puts his foot in the ground and changes directions like you want your returner to do. He doesn't change directions three times before he changes directions, and that's really a good quality in a returner. The other thing that I recall when we were watching him coming out, and it shows up on tape now, is he's a football player. He's the kind of guy that we like, and by that, I mean he can do a lot of different things. And, he's strong, he's fast and he's tough. He's the kind of guy that you really do respect after watching him on tape, and we have to do a really good job on our coverage to contain this man."
Jerry, can you describe Justin Tucker's personality, and is he a really unique kind of kicker? (Ryan Mink)"I think I'm better qualified to comment on his kicking rather than his personality traits. We have psychologists and things such as that, and the media types that can do all they want on that. *(laughter) (Mink: Does he liven up the room?) *We've got a bunch of characters on this team in general, as you probably all are aware, and he certainly adds to the flavor of it. I mean, he's a really level-headed, bright, young man that's a good teammate and is a smart young man. He analyzes situations well, he analyzes his own play well, and really, that's what we're interested in. We're interested in good teammates that work hard at their craft and have something to add, and he does that."
Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron
Cam, can you talk about Anquan Boldin's game against the Browns? (Kevin Cowherd)"I thought he showed great patience, and it's hard sometimes for receivers. The game came to him, he was ready, and he started getting some one-on-one matchups. You've seen over the last few years [that] his chemistry with Joe [Flacco] is just getting better and better and better. It's not where it's going to eventually be, but I love where those two are headed, and I love the fact that he's being patient. When he is being doubled, he understands somebody else is going to get singled, and he just has to understand the ball is going to get pushed away from him a little bit, and then when it comes back to him, he's like all the great pros – they come through when you need them to. I thought he was huge."
Bernard Pierce got in some carries over the course of the last couple of games. How happy have you been with what you've seen from him? (Matt Zenitz)"He is an improving player, a guy we have a lot of confidence in. We put him in some tough positions. If Ray [Rice] gets winded or Ray gets nicked up or something, we're not going to hesitate. [Running backs coach] Wilbert [Montgomery] knows he can put him in at any time. I think it's just a matter of him growing, maturing like young backs do. He is going to be a really, really, really good player."
How will the noise and everything in Kansas City affect the running of your offense? (Bo Smolka)"In an ideal scenario, you hope it doesn't affect you because you prepare for the noise. Coming out of this division, the places that we've been, that Joe [Flacco] has experienced … When you have a quarterback who has a ton of experience in those kind of situations, you feel good about what you can do as it relates to the crowd noise. Now, their defense is the issue. If you get a chance, go through the personnel on that defense. That front seven is outstanding. Those defenses, historically, have fed off the crowd. I know they've gotten behind in a couple of their home games so far, but when the game is tight, that defense feeds off that crowd. So obviously, it's going to be a big challenge for us."
You guys are ranked near or at the top of most offensive categories. Are you pleased with where you are at this point of the season? (Garrett Downing)"It's early. Obviously, if we're winning, we're going to feel good about what we're doing. We're scoring points. We've scored some points, but I think all of our guys would say we haven't scored as many points as we could have. As long as we're taking care of the football, those are the stats that are most important to us. At the end of the year, you look back and you say, 'OK, what were you ranked?' But, those are the three that we're focusing on. If we keep doing those three things, we're going to be fine. But, at the same time, our guys are doing good things. I don't know what all of our rankings are, to be honest with you. All of our guys would agree [that] we have not played our best offensive football yet. We haven't played as well as we're going to play. We think we're an improving offense. Early in the year, I think that's the important thing – that we just keep getting better no matter what we were ranked. That would be our same approach."
So, where do you see as the place where you could improve the most? (Bo Smolka)"Well, the other night we had 13 second-and-10-plus [situations]. We hadn't done that the first three games. If we can stay on schedule on first and second down so that we are in third-and-manageable, we are going to be in pretty good shape, as most teams would be. But, we had second-and-10, I think half of a dozen of those, we had a second-and-13, a second-and-14, second-and-19, a second-and-17. You really don't score many points or win a lot of games when you are doing that. We overcame half of those, so that's the good thing. If we can just eliminate the false starts, eliminate the penalties, eliminate those kind of things – really unforced errors – that's the area we can improve in the most. Obviously, you can't stop yourself first. Defenses are going to stop you on occasion. You have to make sure you're not stopping yourself first."
They lose Brandon Carr to free agency, but are still ranked pretty highly against the pass. What have you seen from their secondary so far? (Matt Zenitz)"They had a little bit of a switch from last year. It will be interesting to see. I am sure they'll have some things they'll change coming into this game. They made a complete switch in their secondary approach. They are playing bump-and-run Cover 1, a lot of single-high coverage. They feel good about their linebackers, inside 'backers ability to cover. They like their ability to get edge pressure to help their secondary. So, I like the way they're aggressive. Most teams that can play bump-and-run man-to-man play Cover 1, they can give you some problems."
Does that make technique with the receivers off the snap a key this week? (Jason Butt)"Critical. Absolutely. It always is. You have to win those first five yards. It's really about the first seven yards now; it's not five yards anymore. You better be able to run through those seven yards, get yourself free, get yourself clean, get some separation so Joe can get the ball out. These guys do an outstanding job rushing the passer. You saw last year when Green Bay went in there undefeated, and they got a ton of pressure on [Packers QB Aaron] Rodgers. New England last year … You've seen what they've done this year against New Orleans, a ton of pressure on [Saints QB] Drew Brees. I think they sacked [Falcons QB] Matt Ryan a handful of times, got after him pretty good. The combination of their coverage and their pressure is the toughest part."
Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees
How tough is this [Kansas City] running game? They have three pretty good backs. (Jason Butt)"It's a good system from top to bottom. They do a great job up front; it starts there. Whenever you have a good running game, obviously, you always have a good running back, but you also have a good offensive line. They have a system, and they really don't deviate from that system very much. It's not like it's real, real complicated. They just do a great job of blocking it. Now, when you add the fact that [RB Jamaal] Charles is really a dynamic back, and they have two really good backs behind him, but especially him – he's got it all. The guy can pounce it outside, he can cut it back, and he can stick his foot in the ground and make a one-cut. There are some backs in some of the zone systems that are just a one-cut, downhill – that's what they are. This guy really has it all. San Diego saw that last week when they took the thing all the way back. [They] defended it about as well as you could, except on the backside, and he took it all the way back for a long gain. [It's a] great running game."
Matt Cassel has, obviously, struggled some this year. I know you're familiar with Matt. What kind of player is he? (Matt Zenitz) "The thing about Matt is that he's … One of the things [is] he's a very, very good athlete. Back when he actually took over at New England there in '08 – I guess it was – I think that's right, he made a lot of plays with his feet scrambling. There are quarterbacks that scramble to throw – like [Ben] Roethlisberger – and there are quarterbacks that scramble to run, and he kind of scrambles to run. So, the guy can make some plays with his feet. You don't really want to let that go unnoticed. The guy can take off and hurt you if you just run out of there and try to play everything in coverage. At the same time, he's struggled a little bit with ball security in the pocket and making some choices. I'm sure they are going to try to do some things to rectify that and take it off of him a little bit. He's a good player. He plays hard. He's very competitive, so I expect him to maybe tweak the thing a little bit and if they … Obviously, they are putting up big, big-time numbers. If they don't turn the ball over – that's what they have to be preaching – if they don't turn it over, they are going to be just fine. That's the biggest thing I think they're trying to stress."
What do you think about the weapons he has on the outside? (Matt Zenitz) "Well [WR Dwayne] Bowe is a big-time receiver. They are big. Those guys are big receivers out there. He has 22 [WR Dexter McCluster] there in the slot, who is really quick. They've used him even before [Brian] Daboll was there, who is the offensive coordinator. He was a guy that could run reverses, run screen passes. They have a ton of talent. They have good tight ends. This is a very, very talented offensive football team."
*Through four weeks, give me your assessment of the overall run defense. (Bo Smolka) *"[It] started off slow against Cincinnati. I would say we didn't do as good of a job setting the edge as we should have. [We] cleaned that up the next week against Philly, I thought, a lot better. [We] still had a couple of plays inside there with [LeSean] McCoy, but for the most part contained him a lot better than we would have done the first week with BenJarvus [Green-Ellis]. Then I think we've steadily grown from there. I thought last week we made a big, strong emphasis against Cleveland of doing that, not only setting the edge, but really trying to play downhill and square inside. I thought overall we've gotten better each and every week in the running game."
Courtney [Upshaw], obviously banged up during the course of training camp and the preseason, how have you seen him progress during the early part of the season? (Matt Zenitz) "He's gotten a lot better. It was not only, I think, the injury, it's just getting used to our defense, our terminology, what we want, what we expect out of him, how to play it. When you haven't played outside 'backer and you've kind of been a defensive end in college, everything that you see in live action is the first time you've seen it. And we all coach, we all play from experience. If something bad is usually happening to you, it's usually how you end up getting everything fixed, and that's kind of the same way with him, even with Paul [Kruger] to some extent, with all those guys. They are playing a new position, so each week I think they get a little better because they see more things, they have more things, they experience more things and just get better and understand what we want from them. Going back to the running game, I think our biggest nemesis this year has just been big plays. Whether it be in the passing game or whatever, and they are all our fault – our fault meaning coaches' fault, players' fault, our fault. It's all of our faults. We just have to do a better job of actually playing things that will play out here in practice and just keeping our eyes where they need to be when they need to be there. Sometimes you pressure, you pressure, you pressure, and then when you drop back in zone, you have a tendency to not really drop quite like you did if you were playing zone all the time, and all of sudden one gets through the zone and comes out the other side, and it ends up being a big play. That's really been some of it. A couple of plays have been on pressure. A couple of plays have been on nice, good catches. Even that ball the other night that – I can't remember now who caught it down the side line – *(Reporter says, 'Little.') *– yeah, it wasn't like that was crappy coverage. He was on him – the guy made a nice catch. I saw [Anquan] Boldin make a couple of them, too, in that game with good coverage. It happens. The good thing is Cary [Williams] fought back, had an interception and was a big play in the game. If we can eliminate those things, that will help us statistically. I think we are growing in the running game; we are doing a little better not giving up a lot of points. We just have to cut down on the big plays and yardage."
Just in terms of the running game, I know Courtney has generated some pressure as a pass rusher, too. How much has he helped the run game in particular. (Matt Zenitz) "He's stout in there. One of the things that we look for on guys on the outside are … The first three criteria we look for guys is we said, 'No. 1, we need an outside guy that can set the edge in the running game,' which just means don't let it get outside, or if it's going to get outside it has to bounce so deep to get outside, and set it down, not just run up field and say, 'I did my job.' Set it down, set the edge, and push the thing inside to Ray [Lewis] and the rest of those guys, Haloti [Ngata] and those guys. That's the No. 1 criteria. The No. 2 then, is rush the passer, and No. 3 is drop in coverage. That's kind of the three criteria in order that we look for in those outside guys. And I think he's become ... He's a stout, strong guy that can set the edge. I think he's done … He's getting better, he's getting better."
You talk about how the total yards against you guys is much higher and that's contributed to the ranking. Is the frustrating part been a couple of plays that you think, you called them 'chunk plays,' that have contributed to that?' (Jeff Zrebiec) "Yes, it is. It is frustrating, and what happens here statically, too, you have to be careful in that one game can skew it one way or the other. If you have a great game where you give up 150 yards total offense, that throws you way up there and can kind of be deceiving, too. If you have a terrible game, statistically, like we had at Philadelphia, it's hard to fight your way back. We are doing it little bit by little bit. But even the other night, we gave up a couple of plays late in the game that are not indicative of what we are doing. We happen to be in zone on those two – one of them we were in pressure and one of them we were in zone. We didn't have our eyes in the right spot. Statistically, I've said before a little bit that I don't care about stats. Well, it's true, but not true. I do care. I don't want to give up yardage. I don't want to be ranked low, but the stats – the three stats to me that are the most important are points, third down, red area, because those usually all contribute to points, and then the fourth one is win. Do I want to give up yardage? No, but I want to make sure we are OK in those categories, and I see us coming up in those categories, and that to me is a big part of it."
You mentioned giving up the big plays, trying to minimize that. Obviously, the Kansas City offense leads the league in turnovers. It's an aggressive defense – it always has been here in Baltimore, but is there more of emphasis in a message to being more disciplined in your assignment, not trying to do too much to force the turnovers, knowing that this offense is capable of moving the ball? (Luke Jones) "I don't think … There is always an emphasis every week that we want to try to get turnovers. I don't think it's necessarily anything that we want to do more. Even last week, one time we missed a tackle because we were trying to strip the ball instead of making a tackle, and the second guy come in and strip it. That's not what we want. We want the first guy to make the tackle, the second guy to strip the ball. Make sure you have the tackle and the play secure before you try and create the turnover. I don't think it's any more of an emphasis than we always have had. I think we are an aggressive defense, and hopefully, if you're an aggressive defense and you keep getting guys to the ball, you're going to create turnovers. I don't think it's anything where you are deliberately going out and saying, 'Well, this week they are more turnover prone so we are going to do this and this.' Hopefully, they stay that way."
What have you seen from Haloti [Ngata] so far this season in terms of being an all-around defensive lineman, and what does he allow you to do as a defense, having him, his presence. (Aaron Wilson)"You can probably see we don't take him off the field very often. We keep him out there even on third down, which wasn't always the case before, because he has such a presence in the inside. He usually creates a situation where you're going to take two to block him. So even when we are pressure, if we can keep him in there and use up two with him, then we have a chance to get some one-on-ones other places. He's been great this year. He's playing very disciplined. He's very smart. Again, the more you play, the more you know, the better player you are. We've always known he has talent, he's strong – he's all of that – but I think he also just understands football and defensive schemes and all of that stuff so much better, and I think it's really helped him. He's helped us a lot up inside, even on third down where most people would say, 'He's a big guy. That's not necessarily the prototypical pass/rush guy.' But, in the scheme of what we are trying to do, he's very, very effective."
Have you ever seen a guy his size that will run down a receiver and will hustle and run that fast? (Aaron Wilson)"He is amazing that way; I thought that when I first got here. I saw him run down some people or see a screen, and he is out there hitting the guy and landing on him. That didn't feel good. *(laughing) *I'm going, 'Man, there is no way I'd come back inside on that guy. Just stay outside.' But he is amazing that way. A lot of that is not only physical talent, that's 'want to.' That's an attitude. That's one thing I think our guys have always had, which is attitude about running to the ball and making plays. Sometimes, this year, we've kind of wanted to make too many plays, and I think sometimes that's led to big plays. [We're] getting out of position because we're wanting to do it, but you have to do it within the framework of the defense. If you go outside of the framework of the defense, usually bad things happen to you."
In terms of Haloti, is this the best football you've seen him play in the time you've been here? (Matt Zenitz)"Yes, I'd say so. I just think he's improved every year."