THURSDAY PODIUM AVAILABILITY: WEEK 14 AT CLEVELAND BROWNS
Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton
Opening statement:"Good morning. Good to see everyone. Just a quick recap of the game: I thought our guys continued to go out and play hard. I thought Rob Jackson – we brought him up – I thought he was prepared to play. I thought he did a good job for us. We've just got a lot of guys playing well and just doing what we're asking them to do. Questions?"
Just the physicality on the returns … Obviously, you chose to have K Justin Tucker not kick it through the end zone. How pleased were you with the kickoff coverage on those? (Jeff Zrebiec)"Yes, I was very pleased with the kickoff coverage, but that's a pretty good observation that I think you made there, Jeff [Zrebiec – The Athletic]. Again, there are times when you might tell him, 'Hey, put the ball in the end zone,' and it doesn't go as far as you want it. So, again, it's just one of those things [where] we've got to be prepared to cover kicks whenever, and I thought our guys did a really good job of going out there and covering those kicks." (Reporter: "So, it was more weather and field conditions rather than strategy?") "Yes, there was some wind out there, especially going into that end zone. So, there are things that come up in the games, and when they do come up … Like I always say, we prepare on Thursdays to cover kicks, and if our number is called, and we've got to cover kicks, we need to cover."
Related to that, ILB Malik Harrison looked like he had a really physical game – and we know what happened with him taking the time off after the shooting incident. His job on defense has changed, and how have you seen him evolve with your group and his game specifically on Sunday? (Bo Smolka)"The one thing about Malik [Harrison] is he loves the game. He's always going to be ready to play, and it was just exciting to get him back out there. I'll tell you what; we've missed him. I think the guys on that special teams unit, they love having him out there, and I know he loves being out there and playing ball. And just to see him get back out there and get back to seeing him doing the things that he loves to do – running down the field, being physical, communicating – it was a sight to see, and I think he's going to continue to grow as the season goes on."
Analytics have you guys as the No. 1 special teams unit in the league. How much is that a result of all your guys buying into playing special teams and taking pride in that? (Todd Karpovich)"It's a long season, right? We talk about it all the time. That's good – when that stuff comes up – but I'll tell you one thing: that's the least of my concerns right now. It's about playing as well as we possibly can play every Sunday. And if we do that, those things will take care of themselves, and at the end of the year, you see where you stand. But it's about winning games. How can we help our team win football games, and are we doing those things? We're creating good plays. And I tell these guys all the time, in our phase of the game, good is good, but we want to be great, because if we create great plays, then we're changing the game. So, we want to make sure we continue to do that. Stats, and where we rank and all that stuff, that stuff will take care of itself at the end of the year. Our guys just need to go out and play our style of football."
How close do you think you guys came to executing that onside kick? (Jonas Shaffer)"I thought 'Tuck' [Justin Tucker] gave us a great opportunity to recover that football. It was a great kick; those guys just made the play. When we get in those situations, it's a 50-50 ball, and we've got to try to do our best to sell out and recover that football, and we didn't recover the football. But I thought it was a great kick, it was a great design. And like I always say, I don't think we'll find ourselves in many of those situations, where we're going to need to be going for those onside kicks in those situations."
From a rules standpoint, I guess K Justin Tucker has a little latitude, right, because you can put your plant foot wherever you want, which gives you some flexibility with where that kind of kick is actually kicked? Your foot can be over the line, as long as you're making contact with the ball where it stands. (Jonas Shaffer)"Correct. You've just got to make sure … One thing we tell our guys is, 'Hey, there are no fouls on this play. Make sure you stay behind the kicker, and everything else will take care of itself.'"
Did you have anything to do with K Justin Tucker going out after the timeout and kind of faking that he was going to kick the extra point, or was that something he just decided to go run out and do on his own? (Jeff Zrebiec)"I think 'Tuck' [Justin Tucker] was just going through his normal routine. Whenever there's a touchdown scored, he's prepared, he's ready to go out there, and if they call on his number, and we're kicking the extra point, he's ready to go. But I think he was just going through his normal routine. There was nothing more than that."
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman
Opening statement: "We're getting ready to play a team that we played two weeks ago. They've had the Bye [Week], and I'm sure they've had a long time to look at us; we've been looking hard at them. They're a very talented defense. They created a lot of problems for us in our first game. We have to do a much better job of protecting the ball and maximizing our opportunities each possession we have; it's very important. So, we're hard at work at that. The guys' attitudes are great. We have five games left in the regular season. Our future is in our hands, and there's a real sense of urgency amongst everybody to play our best football on offense. Any questions?"
We know QB Lamar Jackson hasn't played as well as he's wanted to recently – he said so. What can you do to help him kind of get out of that rut, especially against all the pressure that he's seeing? (Childs Walker) "We're seeing pressure, but we're also seeing very not pressure. (laughter) Everybody is a mile deep, go ahead and throw the ball underneath type of defense, too, so it's not just … It's really never just one thing. We're going to get a mix. A little bit of man [to man coverage] jumps out there. So, there's a lot of things coming at us, a lot of different things. So, we just take it day by day and focus on one play at a time execution. When Lamar [Jackson] does that, it's a beautiful thing. But it really goes well beyond him; it's really us as an offensive unit, starting with me trying to put them in the best positions possible, as much as possible. You're never going to be 100% right, but we want to be as right as we can possibly be as coaches and as players."
There's been a lot of talk about spacing downfield. There's been a couple times where a couple receivers are just a yard or two from each other. Is that a case of them freelancing and they end up in the same spot? Or is it a miscommunication there? (Bo Smolka) "When that happens, it's generally somebody did something that they shouldn't have done. Sometimes, it can happen where you're really trying to clear a guy out and bring a guy underneath as a form of a shield. So, sometimes, that may be the case. Sometimes, guys are in the wrong spot. So, it's either one of those, really."
QB Lamar Jackson said that as far as holding the ball too long, sometimes he has to to avoid a strip sack. Are you seeing that? Is that a good observation? What are you trying to do as far as telling him to just get rid of the ball and not take all those sacks? (Todd Karpovich) "There's definitely … We comb through the film together, all of us, and there are definitely some things in that area that we have to do better in, and he knows it. There are times, though, when there is a smart sack. Like if you try to throw the ball and somebody is in a position where they can swat at your arm, now you're putting the team in jeopardy. The bottom line, though, is we want to play on time and in rhythm. So, that's something that we have to work on, especially with these teams that are playing way off and are just giving us stuff underneath."
I know that in the past, we've asked you about going quicker and being up-tempo. (Greg Roman: "I think last week and the week before, and the week before that.") I don't know, I think you got a two-week hiatus on those questions. (Roman: "It kind of feels like Groundhog Day out here.") But with the offense's struggles … I know you didn't really struggle on your first drive; you had a good first drive Sunday. (Roman: "The 99-yard drive was pretty good, too.") It was good, too. Is this something you have to consider more strongly to kind of get the offense going early to try to put some points up on the board early? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I mean, no-huddle is definitely an option for us. We've been really good in 'got-to-have-it situations,' which we call two-minute. That's where your back is against the wall, you're fighting the clock. We've had some really solid success there in that situation. In game, hurry up is a lot different dynamic. [It's] completely different. The upside, the downside, the team, the big picture to it all, involving the defense and everything, is very different. So, it's definitely on our plate. We work on it all the time, and it's definitely something that you kind of want to get into at the right time. I've gotten into it, sometimes, early in the games this year, and it hasn't worked out so well. So, I got right out of it. There are pluses and minuses. The one thing about our hurry-up operation [and] our two-minute operation is, with Lamar [Jackson] and 'Snoop' [Tyler Huntley], it's been really productive for us. So, that's definitely something that's another club in our bag that we can use from time to time. Like anything else, if you try to do it all the time, it dries up in this league. You have to have different approaches at different times. I'm glad that we have that tool at our disposal down the stretch and, hopefully, in the playoffs."
I think QB Lamar Jackson said the two-point conversion was the perfect play, it was just a couple inches away. What did you see from it? (Jonas Shaffer) "To me, and this is as coaches, as a coach, if it works, it's the perfect play. So, I have to do a better job with a better play. As a player, you want them to say, 'Shoot, I had an opportunity. We have to make that play.' That's how this thing works on a team. I think we all strive to do better, no matter what. [They say], 'Oh, that was a great play, we just have to make it.' Well, maybe I can come up with a better play. The players, the standup guys that they are, they say, 'No, that's a good play. We have to make that play.' That's what you want. You want that dynamic. That's how you get better, [and] that's how you move forward."
I know arguing hypotheticals is kind of a pointless exercise, but why run the play to the side where Steelers OLB T.J. Watt is the unblocked player as opposed to running it the other way? (Jonas Shaffer) "I'm not going to get into the strategy of it all, but … [There] were definitely a lot of options on that play."
You've faced some top premier pass rushers throughout the season and the past two weeks with Browns DE Myles Garrett and Steelers OLB T.J. Watt. How do you think you guys have held up in that regard? How do you think you can improve, especially going against Browns DE Myles Garrett again? (Jamison Hensley) "Myles [Garrett] is playing at the top of his game. [Jadeveon] Clowney, he's been a game-wrecker, [and] he still is. So, these guys on the edge, and I'm not taking away anything from their outside pressures, [No.] 33 [Ronnie Harrison Jr.], [No.] 28 [Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah], these guys are really good off the edge as well, [No.] 44 [Sione Takitaki] as well. But we have to do better. We have to keep working to get better, to set better, to expand the pocket better, to hold our outside arm better, so we're not getting collapsed in the short corners. We'll do some different things to mitigate and assist in that area, but it's like every other facet of our offense – we have to keep working to get better."
Along those lines, what have you seen … It clearly isn't easy being thrown to the fire against Steelers OLB T.J. Watt. But G/T Tyre Phillips, what have you seen from him? I know you do have some other tackles on the practice squad. Do you feel like you kind of need to look at other options at right tackle as well with OL Patrick Mekari out for now? (Luke Jones) "Tyre [Phillips] is a developing player [with] worlds of potential, and we believe in him. He got thrown out there. He did OK at times, and he can do better. He knows it, and we know it. That's what we're working towards. Tyre has worlds of potential [with] a lot of attributes you want. [He's] a really dialed-in guy, and he just needs to go out there and do it, down-in and down-out."
You're getting a lot of criticism for this perceived blitzing stuff, and a lot of analysts have said, "Where's the plan?" How is that going in your mind? I know you've had some success against it, but what's stopping you from having more success against the blitz? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I mean it's like anything else. What's preventing you from having more success against zone? Against man? Against an under front? Against an over front? … [With] pressure, there's definitely a plan. There are times where the plan involves an audible, or the plan involves a check, [or] a signal, that kind of thing. There are times when you just have to make the play work, and there are built in things. So, we just have to keep working at it. We just have to keep working at it. The guys are working hard at it. We're seeing a decent level of it the last three [or] four weeks, and again, we've had some success, and we haven't had success. We're constantly trying to push that envelope to a higher percentage for us."
Are you pleased with what RB Devonta Freeman and even RB Latavius Murray did early on in the game, as far as receivers out of the backfield offsetting some of what you're talking about? (Luke Jones) "I thought they did a phenomenal job in that game. When teams are going to just say, 'You're not going to run by us and throw it over our head,' you've got to him them underneath on time and in rhythm. Lamar [Jackson] found those guys underneath on third down, a couple times, too. So, they did a really nice job. I'm really excited about those guys."
When you play a team two times in three weeks, from the offensive perspective, are there any advantages to that? Or is that more of a challenge to kind of change things up in a short amount of time? (Jamison Hensley) "That's interesting. It very rarely happens like this. So, a lot of times in your division, teams have a 'Plan A' and a 'Plan B' for you. There are some coaches that you can bank on that the first game, they're going to do this, and then the second game, they're going to try to flip the script on you. So, you have to be ready for that. Whatever you saw the first game, now they're going to do something completely different. And there are some teams that won't, so it's just a unique circumstance in that regard. Other than that, it's the next game on our schedule. We are fully vested in it, and there's a high sense of urgency to play our best football."
Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale
Opening statement:"I'm really proud with how hard we played and how physical we were in that last game, and it's going to be a great challenge, traveling, going back-to-back away games in our division. It's one of those things that, in preparation, it's going to be a hard-fought, tough, physical game of execution and great communication. You know the challenges that Cleveland gives us, just like you knew the challenges Pittsburgh gave us. So, with that, I'll open it up to questions."
There has been a lot of talk about Cover Zero this year on both sides of the ball. Obviously, the secondary is a little banged up. How much does personnel and all that factor into your play calls and all that? (Jeff Zrebiec)"I think that's a fair question, first of all. It's situational football, it's personnel, it's all of the above. And specifically, the one on the five-yard line going against Ben [Roethlisberger]; it's one of those things that, no matter if we were in three-man rush, four-man rush, five-man rush, if it doesn't work and they score, it's a fair question. So, we're a defense that … We talk about all the time that pressure breaks pipes, and offenses play us different than what they play others, because of the style of defense that we play, that our guys enjoy playing. But when it doesn't work, that's the first thing that people ask. And I understand that you get paid for a reason, and I also understand that's why we have the greatest sport in professional sports in our country. It's one of those things … There have been plenty of times we've won with zero pressure, as well. So, we're going to be who we are, and will we do things different? I think we do things different all the time. Are we going to play a different gameplan than what we played against Cleveland the first time? There are always punches and counterpunches in a game, and that's what you'll see Sunday, and that's what Pittsburgh will see the next time we play them and everything else.
"And Ben is obviously a great quarterback in this league, and that last quarter, he played really well."
When you lose CB Marlon Humphrey – one of the emotional leaders on the team – how, as a coach, can you help … You always try to preach it's the next man up, but when you lose a guy who a lot of guys really depend on, how can you make sure the guys don't have an emotional hangover going forward? (Jamison Hensley)"I think that time is too short to have an emotional hangover, and that's the old … Everybody has got problems in this league. But the funnel gets so small by the time that they get to this building – of all our guys in personnel and everything else … We have guys that can play, so we're going to go play. I think that we had a really good practice yesterday, and we plan on having another one today."
When we talked with CB Anthony Averett yesterday, he said that basically all the defensive backs have to be prepared to occupy multiple roles. I know you're always trying to be creative, but are we probably going to see more of that for the rest of the year – finding different ways to use guys? (Childs Walker)"Oh, yes, and we'll still be creative, too. And we're not just going to stop the season because of injuries, and no one else does in this league, and the faster we can get everybody up to speed, the better we'll be."
Cleveland only ran the ball 17 times two weeks ago, and RB Kareem Hunt wasn't 100%, but now he's had two weeks off. What kind of matchup challenge do you see with RBs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt? (Todd Karpovich)"I respect this league when I say this: I think that combination of those two [running] backs are the best two in the business. So, we know that going into the game. And are there matchup problems? There always is when you're going against the best two backs combined – combination – and probably singular, if they were on opposite teams. They're both really good backs, so it's always a tough matchup."
It seems like a lot of good offenses in this league, including Cleveland with QB Baker Mayfield, use the threat of the run to help their quarterback with the play-action. Especially in that last game against the Browns, or throughout the course of the season, what have you seen from how the Browns have used Baker, just with the threat of their run? (Jonas Shaffer)"I think that that's where he plays his best – is play-action pass – where they can get him moving, and he's had really good games, and he's had some average games, and I think he'll tell you that. But it's going to be a tough challenge, and with the week off, I'm sure he's healthier – with their Bye Week – and looking forward to this matchup, as well."
I know CB Chris Westry hasn't played a lot because of injuries, but what are you seeing in his development, and how ready do you think he is to step into, presumably, a larger role? (Luke Jones)"We hope that he's healthy, No. 1, and when he's healthy and he can practice, he's a good corner. So, we'll see what happens of who ends up playing. Like, Tavon [Young] – the guy is tough as nails. And to play with the injuries that he's had, the injuries that he's had this year even … And then he was sick as a dog at Pittsburgh. So, to get a healthy Tavon will be good for us, so we'll see. Like I said, a lot of guys are going to have to play a lot of different spots."
For the Browns, the last team they prepared for was you guys, as well, so for two straight weeks, they're preparing for you. What is the challenge of trying to maybe change things up, because they've studied you now for two straight, three straight weeks? (Jamison Hensley)"Yes, and they've studied us longer than that, too, because you can see some of what their defense is doing [that] they've studied us, too. I think that the challenge is just getting our guys ready, and like I said, it gets into the counterpunches of what you did before – when you put them in and things like that. So, it's fun preparing for a game in this situation. I don't think I've ever done it. In the 17 years I've been in the league, I don't think I've ever had a team have a Bye Week and then come back and play us, so I'll be able to tell you more next week."
TE Mark Andrews
On if he was disappointed former Oklahoma head football coach Lincoln Riley left Oklahoma for USC: "No, honestly I'm not. I'm excited about Brent Venables. I'm excited about that. Good for 'Linc' [Lincoln Riley], man."
On his vantage point of the two-point conversion: "Just going back, [it] was a great play call. Obviously, Lamar [Jackson] gets some pressure in his face and throws the best ball he could. For me, it's just making the play [and] just seeing it. That's a play I know I can make, so I'm going to be better."
On the offense's mentality when they were told they were going for two: "I love it, man. We were being aggressive. Obviously, that drive down the field, that two-minute drive was awesome. Guys were making big time plays. So, I think especially when you're in a hostile environment, and you're making plays and the offense is hot, go for it, man. We had everything right there. I catch that ball and make a play, and we're talking a different story. So, I love the call."
On what it's going to take for QB Lamar Jackson to get back on track: "I think he's right there, but like you said, it's everybody around him. It's everybody making plays [and] doing their jobs. When one thing is off, that's when bad things happen. So, I think it's kind of an accumulation of everything, you can't just put it on Lamar [Jackson]. We're always going to try to be better for him. He's done some incredible things these last couple of games that really kept us in this, and he's a fighter, man. He wants to be great, and he continues to work each and every day. He's hungry. I think we have a really, really hungry team right now, and it all starts with him. So, that's the exciting part about this."
On what it's been like to play against Browns QB Baker Mayfield given their relationship from Oklahoma: "It's been fun. It's been fun. Obviously, he's a competitor. I know he's hurting a little bit right now, but throughout these years, it's been fun. To be able to play with him in college was a joy for me. But at the end of the day, he's a competitive person, and I am too. So, it's all about those bragging rights."
On if his ears perk up when hearing about the fan discontentment at the quarterback position in Cleveland: "Over there?" (Reporter: "Yes.") "I don't know much about that, but I do know Baker [Mayfield] is someone that cares deeply about where he is, about that organization and about the players that he's with. Again, like Lamar [Jackson], he's a fighter. He does everything he can. I know there may be some discontentment, but I know those fans love him."
On what needs to happen for the offense to get back into the rhythm it has had in the past: "Just details. I think everything, like you said, offense is 11 guys doing the same thing, all on the same page. I think the more we can get on the details, the more we can be on the same page and just take what the defense gives us, and just rolling and flowing, as Sammy [Watkins] says. Sammy says, 'Just flow, man, and let the game come to you.' I think, like I said, it hasn't been all bad. We're 8-4, so there's been a lot of good. We've had a lot of great drives, but I think it's time to start putting these drives and put them in the end zone. I think when we do that, this will be a different story."
On if QB Lamar Jackson's ability to extend plays and do something amazing might make it more difficult for him to take check downs: "I think he said it was a dealer's choice-type of thing. It's one of those things where [when] you have a special athlete like that, he's able to make somebody miss and get 30 yards, get 20 yards. But then also, there are times where you've got a guy in the flat and stuff like that. So, I know for him, he's just going to continue to grow, make his plays, but also hit his guys. So, I know that as an offense, we're going to continue to grow in that area."
On if he feels like his chemistry with QB Lamar Jackson has grown to a different level this year, and how much they communicate about what they see on the field: "I think we talk a lot. It's always nice when you see something, and your QB comes over, and you're just kind of talking through the route and what he sees, how he feels the game. But like I said – I said this earlier – we've been in the league for four years, we keep maturing, and we keep seeing the game, [and] it slows down. We're people that always like to work and get better, and I think that speaks to this year and some of the things that we've done. But we also have a great support staff. We've got great receivers – all those guys – tight ends, [and] everybody on this field that helps out, makes our jobs easier."
On if there is a common diagnosis for why sometimes Ravens receivers have ended up in the same vicinity: "Yes, I'd seen something on Twitter the other day. Those are some of the things where maybe you've got to finish a route, you just run the route to run the route. And everybody sees things differently, but there are times where obviously there are open holes, and you want to hit that, but you've also got to be able to space the field. But like I said, that's hard. It's 11 guys being on the same page, and that's what we've got to be, and that's what we're working towards. We've had a great week of practice so far. Everybody has got a bunch of energy. This team is, like I said, a bunch of fighters, ready to go, and those are the details we're going to correct."