THURSDAY PODIUM AVAILABILITY: Week 13 AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton
Opening statement: "Good morning. [It's] good to see everyone. Before we get into football, [special teams coach] Randy [Brown], [special teams coach] T.J. [Weist] and myself would like to just send our condolences to [former San Francisco 49ers assistant special teams coach] Stan Kwan's family. Recently, the special teams brotherhood lost a great member of the special teams. Stan coached over 500 games in this league as a special teams coach [and] special teams assistant. The places he's been, he's been in Detroit, he was in Buffalo, he was in New Orleans, and lastly, just recently 'San Fran' [San Francisco]. So, we just want to send our condolences to [his family]. He was a great man. He was a young man – 54 years old. We have a tight family, the special teams unit. So, we would just like to send our condolences to Stan and his family.
"From a football standpoint, our guys have been out there. Guys have been competing, and guys have been playing hard. I think we'll be ready to go. We know we're about to go face a physical Pittsburgh team. I have a lot of respect for [Steelers special teams coordinator] Danny Smith. I played for him; I know what he's teaching. He's teaching his guys to play hard, and they pride themselves on effort and physicality. So, we just have to make sure that our guys are ready to go out there and execute and get ready to play a good game. Questions?"
The fake punt, when you talk about coaching, what can you do differently? Did you just snap it early? Are there teachable moments there? Or was it just kind of a miscommunication? (Jeff Zrebiec) "There are always teachable moments when those plays are executed. I think it's one thing when you talk to the guys and you talk to the refs and things like that, they pretty much said that that play, from a mechanics standpoint, should have been officiated a little bit better. But I think our guys, we can also learn from it. Now that that play has happened, there are things that I'll be teaching our guys that we can look for. Normally, when that umpire is out of there, the play is ready to go. Obviously, the play wasn't blown in. We executed a good play, and it didn't count. So, there's always teachable moments, and I have ways in which we'll teach our guys how to make sure that those things don't happen again if it's not right."
Is it kind of annoying that you put that out on film? I don't want to say it was a waste, but you pretty much put that out on film, and it didn't count. (Jeff Zrebiec) "Our job is to go out there and just execute plays. Whether they count or they don't count, just execute. If it's a perfectly executed play, we can live with it and we'll just move on. We'll look for the next opportunity."
On the upside, though, you had them sort of scrambling and they had 12 men on the field. Is that kind of what you want on special teams? Having the other team always thinking about what you can do differently, and they're worried about what you're going to pull off? (Todd Karpovich) "I think, as a special teams coach, that's one of the things you never want to have – 12 guys on the field. You don't want to have your head coach burning his timeouts or anything like that. So, our job is meant to make sure we have the right personnel on the field every time. We try to keep ourselves calm and stay poised when those situations do happen."
K Justin Tucker has made now 55-straight kicks in the fourth quarter or overtime. Are you able to even step back and appreciate that? How do you keep from taking him for granted? (Bo Smolka) "It's easy. You see a guy like that, you watch him work, and you know what he's very capable of. I don't think you take any player for granted. Those guys are good at what they do. You just kind of sit back, and you watch him work. You know when you put him in those situations in games, he's going to go out there and execute for you."
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman
Opening statement: "It's good to see everybody. It's good to see the heaters out here. We have a big challenge in front of us this week – the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh. [They're] a very proud defense with really, really good players on all three levels – Pro Bowl level players, and we're well aware of that. This is what you would call a rivalry game. I was involved in it back in the early 2000s, and I'm back in it now. It's a very special game. It's going to require our best effort for four quarters. Any questions?"
We just talked to QB Lamar Jackson yesterday, he said after the four-interception game, he wants to let it fester a little bit and wants to feel the pain. Have you noticed any change in his demeanor or anything this past week? (Jamison Hensley) "No, not really, but he was definitely ticked off, definitely ticked off. Those plays were addressed. We have to learn from it and use it moving forward. We never want to turn the ball over like that. The positive thing about it though is, and the longer you do this, the more you realize, that some of those games that you find a way to win are some of the most beautiful games that you'll ever be part of. Because when bad things happen, and you're not playing your best, and you still have the guts and will to land the plane … We landed the plane. He did a lot of great things in that game, also, to help us put that game away. But there's a lot to learn from, and we want to continue to improve in every area, really."
QB Lamar Jackson has had eight interceptions in the last three games. What are you seeing there? Is there a common denominator? (Todd Karpovich) "No, each one is a little bit different. One of them the other day was not nearly his fault; somebody else did something to cause it. They're all a little bit different, but very, very correctable."
It's probably not the best way to put it, but it seems like the last three weeks, the offense has sort of hit a rough spot. I think you're averaging 4.1 yards per play during that span. What do you see as things that have to change? You guys have gone on a run, before, offensively late in the season. (Jeff Zrebiec) "We just have to execute and play well, and we have to coach well. How many plays have we run in those games? A lot. And you're probably not going to run 80 to 90 plays and average seven yards a play, generally speaking. That's been done before, by us, but that's a rarity. The thing we're doing extremely well is controlling the football game. It's kind of unique, and honestly, I can't put my finger on being a part of this kind of dynamic where you're averaging 38 minutes of possession [and] you're getting 23-plus first downs. We just have to turn those and finish drives into points. It's kind of a double-edged sword. Obviously, when we played Chicago, 90 minutes before the game, we found out that Tyler [Huntley] was playing. So, I certainly called that game a little bit differently than I might, and we played a certain style in that game. Again, [we] controlled the game, time of possession, complementary football, field position – you do what you have to do to win games. As far as our offensive production, we're always looking execute, finish drives [and] maximize possessions. That's very important to us, and that's what we really have to focus on. Whether it be the play-calling, because we're getting drives going, generally speaking, quite often. We just have to finish those drives. We know how to do that; we just have to keep grinding. That's what this is; it's a grind."
I know he didn't play a lot and he's still working his way back to full strength, but what do you see from TE Nick Boyle? (Luke Jones) "Nick [Boyle] is getting better all the time. He's still getting used to things. He'll be the first to admit that he's not where he wants to be yet, but we want to keep dosing him in and keep letting him take those steps up the ladder to get him back to his form. It's definitely going to be, I'd say, a process throughout the rest of this year, and we fully anticipate that. He will definitely be a big part in helping us the rest of this year as well, because even him at 70% is very valuable."
It's a popular question nowadays because of what WR Deebo Samuel is doing in San Francisco and RB Cordarrelle Patterson in Atlanta. You've done it a little bit with WR Devin Duvernay, he's getting some carries here and there. Have you ever thought about using him more in the backfield? (Jeff Zrebiec) "That's already been thought about. We have tons of stuff sitting in the vault, you know what I mean? Whether or not we choose to unlock the vault … It's a long season. The thing you'll probably notice is teams that go crazy with that stuff, it dries up after a little bit, and then [they say], 'Now, what do I have?' I like to space things out throughout the course of the season. Do this one week, then they think you're doing this, and you do that. 'Oh, he's doing … Oh, look out [for No.] 13,' and then he does the other thing, that kind of thing." (ESPN.com reporter Jamison Hensley: "So you don't want to empty the vault too early?") "No."
Much was made about Miami's blitz-happy attack. Have you seen a reflection of copycatting since? (Jeff Zrebiec) "A little bit. A little bit, and we've done a good job with it. That game was … It was what it was; it was a little bit of an aberration, but it's definitely something that we work on full speed. We've seen some of it; the touchdown the other night was one of them. We always want to take the approach of bring that blitz on, [and] we'll make you pay – that's our attitude."
When you guys are playing Renegade [by Styx] and stuff out here, kind of preparing for a Heinz Field environment, how do you think that … (Greg Roman: "We have to get you waving a yellow towel today at practice.") How does that help prepare the guys when you try to simulate that environment the best you can? (Garrett Downing) "Yes, I think it's pretty neat what Coach 'Harbs' [John Harbaugh] does. I think it's pretty cool. It kind of brings everything to focus. It's going to be a loud, boisterous environment. Communication is going to be at a premium this week for the offense, and the louder it can get out here … That song kind of brings everything right to focus for everybody that's been there and knows what that feels like, because it's definitely a feeling."
When you see QB Lamar Jackson out there, especially with TE Mark Andrews, and he's pointing and then throwing the ball, is that part of their chemistry? Is that just familiarity? Where does all of that kind of come from? (Jamison Hensley) "We have different routes. We have some option routes where there's creativity, and then there's routes where there's not and you have to be in your spot. When those types of plays break down, that's when it's like anybody – scramble drill. That's when all that non-verbal communication takes place, 'Hey, go over there. Go deep. Block him.' That kind of stuff. They have really, really good chemistry, and when a play breaks down and turns into a scramble drill, that's when you see some of the non-verbal communication. That happens on some of our routes that involve options. So, you might break in, break out, hook in, hook out, [or say], 'Oh, this guy is playing low, I'm going to take it over the top.' That type of thing. That requires a lot of reps together, and these guys have had a lot of reps together over the years. So, we hope it continues to improve and evolve."
Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale
Opening statement: "I'm really happy for the guys on how we played Sunday night against the Browns. I thought that it was a complete, entire, all-11 effort of getting to the football, and that was the biggest thing that jumped out to me. And the second thing was how we tackled. Now, turn it around and you come back in, and it's a completely different feeling coming in this week, because we know how big this game is and the rivalry with. It re-energizes you – it does as a coach – and the players see it, too, and the young ones will find out about it. I told them that, 'If you want to be known in this city, play well against Pittsburgh.' So, it's going to be a fun game. I have nothing but respect for Pittsburgh, and [head coach] Mike [Tomlin] and Ben [Roethlisberger] and the whole group there, and they know that. With that, I'll open it up to questions."
It sounds like you spend some time talking about the rivalry aspect. (Garrett Downing)"Oh, yes. It's one of those things that … When I say it makes you feel younger, I know it doesn't make sense to – well to some of you guys it does (laughter) … You sit there and you watch Rivalry Weekend last weekend in college football; that's what it is, but except it's at the highest level there is. It's a respect level between both teams, and it's been that way since I've been here, and it's just a great game to coach in, whether it's here or there. So, we're looking forward to it."
Can you talk about OLB Tyus Bowser? It seems like over the last couple of years, he's taken his game to another level. How has he been going about doing that, and what has that been like for you to see that? (Cliff Brown)"It's been great to watch. I told him after the Browns game how proud I was and how happy I was for him, because I've seen the work that he's put into it – the preparation in watching tape and the preparation in the weight room and the preparation out here on the field. To sum him up, I've said before that he's playing at a Pro Bowl level. When you close the game out in Chicago with a sack, and then you close the game out in coverage, like he did [against] Cleveland, that just shows you. I think he's been playing elite against the run, elite against the pass and elite rushing the passer. Most of the time, when people say outside 'backer, what's the first thing they look for? It's how many sacks he has. They don't even understand what they're looking at here with this guy [Tyus Bowser], and I've had other offensive coordinators tell me that. He's a weapon that no one else has, and I'm just really happy for him."
With the improved tackling … I know it's been a point of emphasis all season, but what was the difference this week, and how do you maintain that going forward? (Todd Karpovich)"It's just accumulation of the work that the players have put in on their leverage to the ball, their communication to the ball, their eyes, their feet, their hands and getting people down. I think with having 'Big Baby' [Brandon Williams] back, the entire defensive line … And it takes all 11 to stop the run, especially with the two [running] backs that Cleveland has. And the same thing in Pittsburgh; it's going to take all 11 for us to stop the run. But the way they played; it was fun to watch. They really played well."
LB Kristian Welch got the most extended time that we've seen last week on defense. Was that a matchup thing? Is that him earning his snaps and wanting to give him a longer look? Or is that because you were down some guys and had to figure out some other things people can do? (Jeff Zrebiec)"I think it's all the above. But I think it's also [that] guys earn their stripes playing special teams – younger guys do – and when they start making plays on special teams, it's time to get them in the mix defensively. I think in the last three-and-a-half, or if you want to call it four years now, we've played over 80 guys on our defense. So, he's just another guy that came in, and he knows the system, and he played well. He played really well, so he'll continue to get some reps. I don't know how many it will be; it just all depends how the game goes."
The past two games, the sacks and turnovers have started to come your way. Was it surprising that in the stretch of games before that, with how aggressive you guys played, that you were giving up the big plays but not getting the kind of splash plays defensively? (Jonas Shaffer)"I think aggressive is how you look at it. I think that we're just playing better. You really look at it in turnovers, and I don't want to take away anything about getting turnovers, but there is some luck involved in getting turnovers, too – overthrows, tips, a [running] back will just drop one and things like that, too. So, I just know this: when you start getting takeaways, they come in bunches, so I'm looking forward to Sunday."
How impressed were you with ILB Patrick Queen throughout the game and being able to battle through that rib injury? (Jamison Hensley)"The biggest thing with 'P.Q.' [Patrick Queen] is he's been practicing better, and that's a boring answer that nobody wants to hear – they want to hear that I got out my magic dust and sprinkled it on top of his head. (laughter) But he's just been practicing better. When you practice hard, you play hard, and that's what he's been doing. The move to the weakside 'backer … We play him at MIKE [linebacker] still. People don't even know the positions that we have him at. I know the fantasy football owners have all the ideas with it, but I think we're OK. (laughter) I think we've just got to keep him on the come [up], if you will."
OLB Odafe Oweh had another good game, and he's right up there in the conversation for Defensive Rookie of the Year. What about him has allowed him to have such a strong rookie season? (Garrett Downing)"His skill set – first of all. And you're just seeing him get more and more comfortable in the system itself. I think that his teammates have really helped him. It gets back to Tyus [Bowser] – what we were talking about with him – about how he's able to set other people up, and he's been able to set Odafe up, as well. But when he [Odafe Oweh] is playing hard, he's tough to handle. And I said way back in August [that] I think he's going to be a problem in this league, and I still feel that way."
When we look at OLB Odafe Oweh, the speed is the first thing that jumps off the screen. Obviously, you don't want anyone to get hurt, but to see that bull rush and convert speed into power like he did on that bull rush that knocked T Jack Conklin over … How exciting is it to see him kind of begin to realize that potential? (Jonas Shaffer)"Well, like you said, you don't want to see anybody get hurt, but he [Odafe Oweh] was also shoved in the back on that bull rush, if anybody was watching it close enough. It should have been a penalty called. I don't know if I'm allowed to say that, but I said it. (laughter) On that play itself ... Like I said, he's just getting more and more comfortable using his hands, doing different things, doing different moves, and I credit [outside linebackers coach] Drew [Wilkins], and I credit the veterans there. I think that's the biggest thing with … I know, like I said, with the pass rush … And everybody wants to talk about pass rush, and I understand how it equates to fantasy football – I understand all that stuff. What I want to see is how we're affecting the quarterback, and right now … I like seeing them get up off the ground – whether it's a hit, whether it's a sack, whatever it is – just as long as an official is not pulling up a flag off the ground, too, when we're picking him up off the ground."
You've had defenses that have really hit their stride late in the season. Do you have a sense that this could happen with this defense? And if so, what do you need to do to make sure that will happen? (Cliff Brown)"I think that we just keep playing the way we're playing right now, and that's just good, solid, fundamental football. And the communication is something that's big time. The Cleveland game … For us to communicate the way we did, at home, with as loud as our stadium is, I thought that was one of the most pleasing things that we did on Sunday night."
When you guys used to play Pittsburgh, OLB Terrell Suggs would run to the corner and kind of egg people on. OLB Tyus Bowser said yesterday that you had said that if you could play two games in Pittsburgh per year, you would. How much is just embracing that important to playing well there – enjoying the environment and just kind of embracing the whole experience? (Jeff Zrebiec)"I think that's part of the rivalry – I do. That's no backhanded slap. I just love that setting. The people in Baltimore and the people in Pittsburgh love football. And when you have two teams that respect each other … When the ball is kicked off, we don't like each other, but there's a common respect that we have for the coaches and the players and everything else. You don't see anything cheap or anything else out there. It's just good football to watch, and it's physical football, it's old-school football. That's one of the things that I just … I really enjoy going there to play – is because of that setting – and obviously, we love to play at home, too, because [of] the setting we had Sunday night. It's a lot of enjoyment, as a coach, to watch your players excel in those types of settings."
DT Brandon Williams
On the best piece of advice he received from a veteran about the Ravens-Steelers rivalry when he was younger: "The biggest thing I remember is 'Sizz' [Terrell Suggs] coming to the locker room or saying in the meeting that this game will define you as a Raven. That this game will pretty much prove if you're a Raven or not. This game and this team that we're about to face, [there's] a lot of respect, but it is a rivalry. Though we have respect, we also want to get after them. We want to definitely prove to the young guys, the team, everyone that we're still here, we're still balling, we're still grinding."
On the key against the Browns' running backs last week, as far as stopping them and shutting down their attack: "Definitely execution. [Nick] Chubb is a great running back – one of the top running backs in the league – and when he sees a space, he's going to get it, and you've definitely got to close all nooks and crannies when you're facing that guy, so that was the biggest thing. All the front seven definitely executed."
On his feelings as to where the defense stands: "On the defense, we're striving for perfection every week. You're never going to be perfect, but as long as you strive for it, you'll reach it as close as you possibly can. There are things that we've got to fix, there are things that we've got to clean up, but we're still striving for that perfection. We're still striving to be great every day, and that starts in practice."
On how important it was for him to take that time off to heal from injury: "It was very important. Kudos to the guys who stepped up – Kahlil McKenzie, big Broderick [Washington]. A bunch of guys definitely stepped up and proved that they can play in this league and [are] showing some great things to build off of, and I appreciate them for giving me that time to come back and do my job."
On how tough a matchup RB Najee Harris presents as both a runner and pass catcher: "He's definitely a good running back and a gadget guy, like you said, catching passes off the run, off the swing or whatever. He's definitely a guy we've got to keep our eye on, definitely a guy we've got to corral and keep in the pocket and make sure he stays a running back."
On if there is more juice in the locker room this week, given it's Steelers' week: "What do you think?" (laughter) (Reporter: "I think there is.") "All right, there you go." (Reporter: "How does it show up") "It shows up in preparation, and it shows up in what we do out here on the practice field every day, in the meeting rooms, how we talk, how we carry ourselves. It's just a different swagger this week, a different wave we're trying to ride."
On if he takes it as a compliment that head coach Mike Tomlin said the Ravens "have a bunch of goons" on the defensive line: "Definitely a compliment, definitely a compliment. We've got a bunch of guys on the defensive line who are about that life, and they're ready to put it all on the field. They've got a motor just like anyone else, and they're here to prove it."
On how big it has been for the linebackers to be so active in recent weeks: "It's been amazing. 'Ty-Bo' [Tyus Bowser] has definitely been balling out of control, and we want to continue to see that. Odafe [Oweh] coming off the edge; you've got Justin Houston – a bunch of guys who are just completely balling, and they're doing a great job setting the edge and getting after the quarterback. We want to continue that, and I feel they will."