THURSDAY ZOOM AVAILABILITY: WEEK 17 VS. LOS ANGELES RAMS
Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton
Opening statement: "It's good to see everyone up on this Zoom. Just a quick little recap of last week; I thought the effort by all of our guys, even the new guys, was good to see. We have some guys that are playing their butts off, and we just need to continue to try to find a way to help our team win football games. Obviously, we thought from a kickoff return standpoint that it probably was not our best outing. There was a ball on the ground. There was one that was muffed, and there was one that hit the ground. But you know what? That's something that we go back to work on. We had two new returners back there. We'll go back to work, and we'll just come back out ready to work. Questions?"
What do you like about WR Tylan Wallace as a returner? How much work did you do on him in the pre-draft process? Or was that more of a case like WR/RS Devin Duvernay, where he kind of got here and you thought it could be a role that he could contribute in? (Jeff Zrebiec) "It was a similar situation to Devin [Duvernay]. Tylan [Wallace] never returned kicks. One of those things is, as we go throughout the season, we're always trying to see who else could return for us, just in case something does happen to a guy. Obviously, we got into the game, and we felt like we had two guys with James [Proche II] and Tylan [Wallace], that really gave us a great opportunity to create plays. So, we're just going to continue to give as many guys as possible an opportunity back there, guys that we feel fit the role in which we need them to do. First thing first is making sure that we catch the football."
You may have just answered that a little bit there. If WR/RS Devin Duvernay and his ankle injury continue to linger down the stretch, do you foresee sort of a rotation from a return specialist theme over the next couple of games here? (Bobby Trosset) "Of course. I think it's just one of those things that we figure out in practice. That's why we practice. We just hit a bunch of balls to guys and see who is going to catch the ball and who is going to go out there and give us what we need on Sundays. I think the guys we have on our team that do back up that spot are very capable of doing that. So, we just have to continue to get them ready to go, just in case that does happen."
The Rams had a punt return touchdown if I'm not mistaken this past week. They're pretty innovative, too, in some of the stuff they've been doing. Is this one of these groups that you feel like is going to be one of the bigger challenges this year for your units? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I think every week is a challenge because it is the National Football League. I think every group we face has been pretty good. It doesn't matter from week-to-week. There are some things that our guys need to be prepared for from this coach, but we're going to go out there and we're going to really focus on executing the way we know how to execute. They have gotten some spark from [Brandon] Powell. He's done well for them in the reps that he's had. So, we just need to go out there and execute the way we know how to execute, play our style of football, and I think we'll be just fine."
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman
Opening statement: "I see people are still getting on, I hope everybody is doing well. I'd just like to start off and pay my condolences to the passing of [Hall of Fame coach and broadcaster] John Madden. He had such a profound impact on our game. I know he had a profound impact on my life. Thinking back to the late 70s and some of his teams, the Raiders were the first team I ever saw to pull a guard and tackle at the same time. It kind of enthralled me as a young boy, and they did it quite well, actually, with some really good players. Obviously, Madden and [Pat] Summerall Sundays and Mondays [as a broadcast duo], those memories are indelibly etched into my mind, and I know a lot of people's minds – [they were] a real big part of our lives. After the 2011 season, I was able to spend some time with Coach Madden, and he was a real big fan of what we were doing out in the Bay Area and had a really great visit, which really meant a lot to me. I'll treasure and remember that for the rest of my life. So, condolences to him, what a great life he led, and to his family as well.
"With that, we're getting ready for a Rams defense that is extremely explosive up front. It starts with Aaron Donald, No. 99. They're moving him around quite a bit. This guy is darn near unblockable. When you really look at Von Miller and [Leonard] Floyd on the edge, it's a real toxic combination for offenses – it has been this year. Not only those guys, [No.] 91 [Greg Gaines], [No.] 94 [A'Shawn Robinson], these guys are showing up big time as well. So, their front is loaded. Obviously, their secondary, starting with [Jalen] Ramsey, who is one of the more gifted corners in the league, playing at a high level, and really their whole secondary. I think their safeties are doing a really good job of playing within the scheme. They play a really sound, good scheme. We have our work cut out for us, but we're really looking forward to the challenge. Any questions?"
You haven't seemed to have that much of a drop off at the quarterback position with QB Tyler Huntley and QB Josh Johnson. Have you had to overhaul the playbook at all with those guys? Also, how important is it for which quarterback to get first-team reps in practice this week with the uncertainty with QB Lamar Jackson? (Todd Karpovich) "I think those guys are playing well for the team. Last week with Josh [Johnson] was very interesting. We were pretty much figuring out what we were going to do all the way up to the 11 o'clock hour on Sunday morning. He had one practice with the offense on Friday. So, that was definitely a mad scramble if there ever was one. I thought he did a really good job. There are obviously a couple plays that he'd like to have back, but overall, I thought he played a really smart, good game. He has a lot to be proud of there. I really like how the offense played around him. Everybody understood the situation and really stepped up to do their jobs, so to speak, within the scheme. As far as practice reps, that's kind of been a story all year for us. We just have to maximize things as best we can with who is practicing and be ready for anything. I think you definitely want to spread the reps around if you can and try to make sure that you're prepared to the best percent possible. I think the starter, generally, is going to get most of the reps, if not all, but under the circumstances, we may adjust that."
With QB Lamar Jackson coming back, do you guys … When you are kind of evaluating, looking at him at practice and kind of making the determination at the end of the week, do you guys talk about if QB Lamar Jackson is 60%, 70%, 80%? Not saying you'll give us that percentage today, but do you guys talk about if he needs to be this type of percentage in order for him to start and play? (Jamison Hensley) "Yes, I think it really comes down to, is he ready to play? I'm sure in his mind he's ready to play, but I think as coaches, it's our responsibility to make sure that he's in good enough health that he can go out there and play the way we need him to play – A. And B, be able to play and make sure he's able to protect himself adequately. So, I think that's definitely a process that goes on day-to-day. That's kind of an oft-used soliloquy, if I'm using the right word. But day-to-day is kind of how you have to see it. That's how you have to look at it, and that's kind of what we're doing. That's kind of been the story for things here for the past couple of weeks, and that's what you have to do."
We know you're a fan of tight ends and tight end play. That said, TE Mark Andrews this season, have you ever been around a tight end who's played better over 16 weeks than he has this year? (Childs Walker) "I'm not one to compare people. I've been blessed to have been around a lot of great tight ends, but Mark [Andrews] is having a super phenomenal year. I knew he would. He's making a lot of real big plays. He's making tough plays. He's making routine plays. We had a real emphasis with him in the offseason on some things that we really wanted him to work on and improve on and focus on, and he certainly has. I can't speak highly enough about how dialed in and competitive he is on a day-to-day basis, whether it be practice [or] meetings. He's doing a great job of being a leader out there on the field. [He's] a great communicator. So, I think his game is really rounding in, and he takes really good care of his body in the offseason and the season. So, it's really … I don't know exactly what other tight ends are doing this year, but I have a hard time imagining anybody is playing better than him."
With QB Lamar Jackson missing the time, obviously you guys would prefer him to be out there and to have been out there the last couple of weeks. Do you think there's been any kind of benefit for him just to sit back and watch from a further removed standpoint as you kind of look at how the offense has operated without him these past two or three weeks? (Jonas Shaffer) "I don't think it's ever a positive for a player to have to miss time due to injury. But once that is declared the situation, it does sometimes give a player a chance to kind of sit back, catch their breath, get out of the forest and see the forest from the trees. It's an opportunity to kind of just take a big-picture perspective on everything. But we're trying to get him as healthy as fast as we can, so he can get back out there on the field. Lamar [Jackson] has won a lot of games for us, and he's won a lot of games, period, when you look at his record. So, we're really looking forward for him to be able to function fully, practice fully and continue to work on his craft."
If you go back a couple years, arguably one of the best games you had in 2019, of many, was against the Rams on Monday Night Football. What do you see from their defense then versus what you've seen getting ready for them now? How different are they? How similar? (Pete Gilbert) "There are some similarities. Obviously, a lot of the players that were there then are there now. It's a completely different scheme. They've, I'd say, probably fortified themselves at a few positions in that time. They're playing really well. Games from that far away, really there's no real carry over to now. It's such a long time, but when you watch them right now, they're pretty synced up on defense. I think [Leonard] Floyd has been a big pickup for them, and obviously, Von Miller. There are a couple players on the defense that were really young when we played them two years ago, and you can see the progress they've made. We're excited about the challenge and preparing day to day. Today is a big situational day for us, so that's where our mind is at."
DB Jalen Ramsey, you mentioned him earlier. It seems that they're moving him around a lot, kind of playing him in the box, he can obviously [play] man, in the slot, or whatever. What sort of flexibility does that give them? What's the challenge for you when you have this guy that's kind of like a joker [wild card]? (Aditi Kinkhabwala) "That's a keen observation. You definitely can't pinpoint where he's going to be. They have a lot of different personnel packages. Sometimes, he'll play inside. Sometimes, he'll play outside. Sometimes, to the field, et cetera. They're really moving him around [and] getting his physical presence involved in the run game and some of the inside passing game. It's pretty multiple, and the quarterback has to be aware of where he is at all times, because he's really playing at a high level. He is … If you're going to go block him, you're not blocking a corner. You're blocking a safety or a linebacker when you're trying to block him. So, I think everybody is on alert."
I was hoping for you to expand a little bit on a comment you made earlier about getting reps for the quarterbacks this week. How has that complicated things when you're not sure about Sunday? Do you almost have to give multiple quarterbacks first team reps just in case? I was just interested in what you were saying and was hoping maybe you could expand on just kind of the challenge of having all three potentially ready in case one of them has to start. (Jeff Zrebiec) "That's a good question. To kind of continue on that and in that vein, you obviously want to get your starter the reps. But when there's a chance that multiple guys could play, then you have to start to consider, 'Should we give this guy some reps? Can this guy handle all those reps? Are we better off kind of putting him on a pitch count and spreading them out?' So, I think there are definitely some options there. As unique as these situations have been, they've been pretty straightforward up until this point, because we knew who our starter was going to be. Well, last week, that wasn't the case at all, was it? We found out Friday that the plans were changing. It's fluid. It's adaptable. I don't think there's one way to do it. I think you have to take everything into account and factor it in, which we will try to do. But generally speaking, the starter is the guy that's going to get all the reps. The backup now has to really learn by osmosis, by paying attention, [by] double-dipping on the film and really visualizing things. So, that's … But in certain situations, you have to be ready to adjust."
Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale
Opening statement: "I'd like to start off with [my wife] Laura and I both sending out deepest sympathies to the Madden family. I was fortunate enough to be around him [John Madden] for five years when I was out there coaching in Oakland, and the things that he shared with me were just always positive, always things to help, and it was a sad day for the National Football League. The thing that stands out the most to me is that it seemed like he gave more to the game even after he retired while he was [broadcasting], and he sure did get a lot out of the game while he was coaching, too, with the success that he coached. He just loved the game of football, and he loved the National Football League. And like I said, we send our deepest sympathies. I take a lot of pride in the fact that I was a linebackers coach in Oakland, because that's where he started out as well. But he does more for people that he doesn't even know about, throughout the league and everyday life. What a great legacy to leave. With that, I'll open it up to questions."
It seems like every week we ask you about another Pro Bowl, All-Pro receiver that you're going against. What's kind of the challenge going against WR Cooper Kupp, who's doing things that no other receiver has really done this season? (Jamison Hensley)"I think one of the things that jumps out is not only is he on a historic pace as a receiver; he's one of those guys that when you just watch him on tape, it looks like he just lives in the weight room and lives and breathes and eats football, because he does everything. Not only does he run great routes and catches the ball with great catch radius, but he also blocks well and does all the dirty work, as well. And all three of those receivers, with the addition of [Odell] Beckham [Jr.] and [Van] Jefferson, in my eyes, they're all No. 1 receivers. It's not like they have a [No.] 1, 2, 3; it's 1, 1, 1, and that's why they play 'zebra' as much as they do. [Head coach] Sean [McVay] does a great job of moving everybody around, and he is the originator of this offense that we're getting ready to see Sunday, and it's going to be a great challenge."
You talked about WR Cooper Kupp. The addition of WR Odell Beckham Jr. going over to the Rams coming from Cleveland, have you seen anything different in his game since he's switched teams? (Cordell Woodland)"There are a couple things that go into that – is building chemistry, and they're building chemistry fast. It seems like Cooper Kupp and [Matthew] Stafford [have] played together for 20 years. I mean, the chemistry they have that you just see growing with Odell [Beckham Jr.] within each game, and that's a scary thought. But he's being what's made him great – Odell. He's catching 'nine routes,' catching fades and catching the ball across the middle. He's a tough out."
Getting ready for this one, it looks like you're going to have a whole lot more in your arsenal than you did a week ago. Obviously, a week ago, you could only do so much, given the personnel that you had. In a game that you guys know you have to have, to be able to have as close to what you can health-wise at this point, what is the confidence in that room for everyone to know, "Alright, this is our group; you can go out, and you can be you?" You can be more yourselves this week – is that fair? (Pete Gilbert)"Yes, I think it's a fair question. I think that anybody that comes back, we're happy with. It's like Christmas Day, the way that things are going now. One guy we think is out, and the next day, he's standing next to me in practice, so that's always a good sight. So, we still have some issues on the back end, which everybody knows about, and we're building that chemistry back, and that's going to be a great challenge for us, the way they throw the football."
From your perspective, in Year 14 for DT Calais Campbell, can you peel back the curtain with just how much he's gutting it out right now from a health and availability standpoint? (Bobby Trosset)"He's a warrior. I've said it before, and I don't think I finished my sentence; there's [Walter Payton] Man of the Year and then there's 'Man of the Year.' There's a reason why he won that award for what he does in the community, but if there was a Man of the Year for what he's done for this team, especially this year, and like you said, 'gutted it out.' It's just been tremendous – what he's done and the leadership that he's provided."
RB Sony Michel … Obviously, we keep talking about their passing game and WR Cooper Kupp, but they've really focused on running a little bit more physically this past week. Last week, you talked to us about, potentially, cloud coverage and et cetera with the receivers and a light box. Can you play a light box against this guy? And when you don't have that chemistry on the back end, how does that affect what you do? (Aditi Kinkhabwala)"It's just one of those things that … With the system, you've just got to continually walk through, do everything communication-wise and everything else on what we're going to do, and where we're going to be, and who's going to be there, so it becomes second-hand to them. He's been running the ball real effectively, really for the last month. He's a tough running back. He moves piles forward when he hits the piles, and it's going to be a great challenge for us."
There has been a lot of attention on ILB Patrick Queen this year. What kinds of strides have you seen him making? I know you've said in the past that he's practicing much better, but when you're talking about just gamedays, how much progress do you think he's made from Week 1 to Week 17 now? (Jeff Zrebiec)"I think he's come leaps and bounds since Week 1. I think it helped moving him to the weak side and helped having [ILB] Josh [Bynes] in there. You see a chemistry between those two. And I've known Josh for 10 years now, and I knew that was going to be a help for him – just to calm his game down – but he's starting to see things. You can tell he's studying tape, and he's doing all of the things off the field that's going to help him play well on Sunday. He's just got to continue to keep growing and seeing more things, and he's just going to get better and better."
We've talked a little bit about the communication in the back end, but how big of a challenge is it when CB Anthony Averett goes down in that first quarter, and you have CB Daryl Worley, who you just signed, and CB Kevon Seymour, who really wasn't in training camp or anything like that … How tough is it to get a group to communicate? Honestly, they might not really even know each other very well. (Jamison Hensley)"I think that's a great question, but it's one of those things that … When they're coming in and brand new, you've got to make sure that whoever is not brand new is talking to them the most, which we rely on the safeties and the inside backers [for]. When they're out there on the corner, they're out there by themselves on an island. There's a reason why they call it the island – because it's hard to communicate to them, it's hard to get things to them right away, and I think any defense will tell you that. I think that we're giving it our best effort this week to get ready to play."
LB Josh Bynes
On if there's ever a situation when he looks around and doesn't know who his teammate is or when he was signed, given all the injuries and subsequent personnel changes:"No, it's just part of the game. Obviously, last year, during the COVID season, has been introducing a lot of the things that's been going on this last, at least a couple weeks. And it's been amazing, obviously, to get these guys back and get this chemistry going, and hopefully put it all together and definitely – especially after this four-game skid – putting it all together to get this win on Sunday versus the Rams."
On how he would go about defending TE Mark Andrews in a game:"Oh man, I'd put about three people on him. (laughter) Mark is just an exceptional player. He just knows how to find his way to get open. He doesn't just sit there and … [When] you've got him figured out, he finds his way to get open. He finds the open area in the defense. He's relentless in his effort, and he gives 110% every single time he's on the field, and he does that in practice every single day. He's just an exceptional player, and honestly, you've got to put a corner on him – I don't know. You've got to be Jalen Ramsey at this point, so I don't know. It's got to be somebody, because [No.] 89 is definitely one of the best – that's for sure."
On the mood in the locker room and on the practice field with players returning from injury and the Reserve/COVID-19 list:"It's just been good to have the guys back. The chemistry and all that we've built this whole season … Now, everybody knows there's a mission at hand. Right now, the mission is definitely to win by any means necessary against the Rams, because we must win these next two games to get in to the 'big dance.' And I've said this before: As long as we get in, that's all that matters. It doesn't matter how you get in, because when we won the Super Bowl (in 2012), nobody talks about, 'Oh, the Ravens lost four of their last five that year.' Nobody mentions that. Why? Because you won the Super Bowl. So, as long as you get in the playoffs, anything can happen, and it starts with this game, definitely, Sunday – to go in … And it's just great to have those guys you've been battling with all year and knowing Justin Houston, Tyus Bowser, those guys can bring a great dynamic to this defense and bring trouble to the offense. So, we can't wait to get that going today at practice and eventually on Sunday."
On if this is a week where he focusses more on the Rams' film than the Bengals' from last week, given how different the defense could look:"Yes, you've also got to be aware of the things that teams could use to obviously … That's the biggest thing, because it's obviously a copy-cat league, in a sense, so guys try to find ways to take advantage. And if we don't fix those problems – whatever it was – they seek and find those things. We have to make sure we have those things that were mistakes to be on point with week in and week out. That's every week, even if we win, because those teams the next week still use those to their advantage to see if they can get that one-up on us and make a play. So, especially since we're playing the Rams after just playing Cincinnati, who gashed us each and every way – as far as throwing the ball – we have to make sure we secure those holes in the passing game and be ready to go, because they have a dynamic duo and then some at receiver and offense. Cooper Kupp is obviously setting records this year, so we've definitely got our work cut out for us."
On how approaching do-or-die games affects preparation and mentality:"Honestly, you've just got to take it up another notch. You have to take it to a whole other level than you did before. You have to watch twice as much film, twice as much this [to] try to find little keys here and there and just pile in as much as you can, because every single play can be a defining moment in this game, and that's just what it is. It's playoff football at this point. It's do or die, win or go home, and you have to treat it like that. And I know guys are putting in the effort and the work, and we're putting it in, because at the end of the day, we need to win this game. It's at a must. [We're] definitely going to get after it today in practice and tomorrow, but definitely Sunday, we're going to be locked and loaded and ready to go."
On the strategy for turning the page following a tough loss:"The NFL, it's crazy, right? You just have those weeks when you're rolling, and everything is doing really well. Then all of a sudden, you have that game. I guess a good [example of that] game was last year at Tampa. Obviously, they won the Super Bowl, did all of those things and whatnot, but they got beat to sleep by the Saints, 38-3, at one point in time during the season. You know what I mean? At the same time, it's the NFL. Every team gets paid. Every team has the capability to beat you any given Sunday. It just so happens that it might be that Sunday. The biggest thing to learn from those games is, obviously, that you have to move on. That's life in general. When things hit your way, adversity hits and strikes, we have to learn how to move on, move to the next thing and not let that past hinder us from the future. If we do that, then we're going to continue to go down that same slope of 'Ls' [losses] and blowouts and this and that. Do we still have to correct things? Of course. Even after victories we have to correct things. But for sure, after a loss like that against Cincinnati, we have to move on and learn from it, but we can't let especially these last four games be the defining factor for us. Because like I said, at the end of the day, if we win these next two games and we get into the dance, there's nothing else needed to say."
On how the defense can stay disciplined against the Rams when they go into play-action:"They do a really good job of the run and selling the run to create play-action and boots and everything. That's what makes them such a great offense. We just have to be zoned into our keys and our responsibilities. When we feel pass, we have to get out and get to receivers, get to overs and tight ends and the [running] backs. We have to be definitely detail-oriented, for sure, because this offense is really, really great. It's a really good offensive line. The running back, Sony Michel, is doing a really awesome job, and of course, my guy Matt Stafford is obviously still one of the best quarterbacks in the league. We definitely have our work cut out for us. We've been playing some really good offenses lately, and this is definitely one of the best in the league – that's why they are where they are right now. We have to get to it in the play-action, boot game, passing game; we have to hone in on our keys and make plays."
On where his calm demeanor on the field comes from:"I've been through a lot. I was undrafted. I'm this … I was told I will never be in this league long. I remember when I came out, I said to someone I wouldn't be in this league probably past a couple years, if that. Just all the doubts and everything that even I might have thought or believed myself at one point in time, just how every single time someone told me I couldn't do something, all of a sudden, I pulled through. I would have never imagined even playing past five years, I told my wife that. Then all of a sudden, I played to [Year] Seven. Then I was like, 'Well, I'll play to [Year] Eight, babe. We'll see.' Then all of a sudden, that turned into now eleven years playing this game, and I love it. I still feel like I still can play another whatever years left or whatever it may bring. It's just fighting through adversity each and every time. If somebody tells me I can't do something, I'm always willing to prove I can do it. Just knowing that, like I tell my 11-year-old son, there's always going to be somebody that doesn't like you or doesn't see you in that kind of light, but you always have to keep pushing, be confident and prove them wrong. Everybody is not going to be your friend. Everybody in the world is not meant to be your friend – that's totally fine. But at the end of the day, you keep worrying about what you need to take care of and everything else will follow. That's just what it's about for me. I love going out there and everybody depending on me. I love going to work. I love playing this game. I don't get too high on it; I just do what's asked of me and then some. [I] help guys calm down, knowing that stuff is going to happen and we're going to fight through it. There's going to be a big play. Heck, they have Odell [Beckham Jr.], they have Cooper Kupp, they have Matt Stafford, Sony Michel – those are big players. They get paid. That's a really dynamic offense, but when those things happen, how will we respond? That's really going to dictate us and how we're going to win this game on Sunday. How do we respond when adversity hits? We've done that, obviously, in the eight games we've won this year. We didn't do well in the games that we lost, especially these last four. So, we definitely have to do it this Sunday, and we'll beat the Rams."