SPECIAL TEAMS COORDINATOR CHRIS HORTON
Opening statement: "How's everyone doing today? It's good to see everyone. I think for us this week, our guys, we're just getting our minds right, our bodies right, really, to get ourselves ready to go play a good football game against a good football team up in Cincinnati. Questions?"
How positive was it to see K Justin Tucker's 51-yard field goal after long attempts being blocked the past two weeks? (Kyle Barber) "It's very positive. We've always had a positive approach, even on the ones that were blocked, mainly because we know that it was us. We always talk about us going out there and executing our fundamentals and just executing the play. So, when we do that, we know what type of kicker we have, and we know what kind of field goal-protection unit we have. If everything's spot on, those kicks, we'll continue to see those kicks made."
We saw how excited you were after RB Justice Hill's 56-yard kickoff return. Was that just because you had been waiting for a moment like that for everything to come together? (Childs Walker) "I talk about it all the time. When you get plays like that, it's not often that you get a lot of returns. So, when you do get a return out to the plus-40 [-yard line], it's obviously a combination of a lot of things, a lot of guys doing a lot of things right. We work too hard to really not have those plays happen weekly, but we also understand the type of opponents that we're playing. So, I'm always excited; anytime our guys make a play, you'll see me running up and down the sideline. It's just football; it's just a part of who I am, and it's a part of me being really excited for knowing how hard those guys are out there working."
It's a small sample size, but what has been your assessment of RB Justice Hill's kickoff returns? (Ed Lee) "He's been great. He comes out here, he practices. We've worked him out back when he first got here. We had him back there, and so again, I think whoever we put back there, we feel pretty good about those guys. He has all the skill that we need in order to hit big returns."
You've faced the Bengals already once, will face them again, and there's a possibility you could see them in the playoffs. Does that factor into your consideration of what to show and what not to show? (Jonas Shaffer) "Not really. Not for us. I think in my role as a special teams coach – and kind of what we do – we're going to do what we do, and they're going to do what they do. It's all going to be about execution. For us, it's about going out there and playing our best football. No matter how many times we play them, we want to play our best football."
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR GREG ROMAN
Opening statement:"How's everybody doing? The first thing I'd like to say is obviously, I'd like to give our most sincere condolences to the incident, Damar Hamlin, his family [and] the entire Buffalo Bills organization. [It] sounds like he's doing better, which is unbelievable. The moment I saw it happen, and I saw what contact took place, I immediately went to an incident that happened a couple years ago. A great friend of ours, a young man, Peter Laake, here in Baltimore, played on my son's AAU basketball team, was hit with a lacrosse ball in the chest. He's doing great now, and we can only pray that Damar will be doing great as time goes on.
"Beyond that, we're getting ready for a very good Cincinnati team. When you look at their statistics, their personnel – they're a veteran group. We played them earlier in the year. They're very diverse on defense [and] do a lot of different things. We've played them four or five years now, and they've evolved every year from a personnel and scheme-standpoint. So, we're really excited about it and on to the challenge. Any questions?"
Head coach John Harbaugh said on Monday that RB Gus Edwards should have played more. Was there a reason he had nine snaps and three carries? _(Kyle Barber) _"No, he should definitely play more. It just played out that way, but I thought J.K. [Dobbins] was doing pretty good. The looks that Gus [Edwards] got weren't ideal, that's for sure. I really feel like he can do a lot more to impact each game. So, he knows how we feel about that, believe me."
We've seen QB Tyler Huntley on the injury report this week and haven't seen him throw a lot of passes at practice. Does that make it harder to work on the stuff that you guys want to work on? _(Childs Walker) _"Without question. Anytime your quarterback can't practice, that's a tough situation, but it is what it is. It's the NFL in January; you have to adapt [and] try to overcome that. He's working hard; he's doing rehab like crazy. He's been dealing with this thing for weeks and fighting through it. It's changed maybe the way we've had to play some of these games a little bit, but we know when he's at full strength, he's a dynamic player for us. So, we just want to get him back there."
What kind of confidence do you have in QB Anthony Brown if he is called upon to start? _(Shawn Stepner) _"I have a lot of confidence in him. I think he has a bright future. You never know until they get out there and do it the first time, but that's OK. That's OK; that's part of the excitement. I thought how he [conducted] himself in Pittsburgh, on the road, coming in that game and leading us to victory there was pretty darn impressive. So, he's off to a good start, but he's buckling down for any opportunity that comes his way, as obviously is Tyler [Huntley]."
Pittsburgh had a heavy box throughout the game, but you had more success throwing the ball in the first half than the second. Did they do anything different to attack you guys? _(Pete Gilbert) _"No, not really. It was all pretty similar. It was a limited possession game; I think we had three possessions in the first half. When you have a limited possession game – and I go back to my time in San Francisco when we used to play Seattle, it was the same thing – you have to make hay on your possessions. I thought we did a good job of that early, but we have to finish better. Nobody's happy about that. We have to make more plays. We just have to execute better. We had a great chance to look at it and learn from it. [In] limited possession games though, every possession means a lot."
On Monday, head coach John Harbaugh spoke about not attacking Pittsburgh's emphasis on the stopping the run enough. What do you think you could have done differently? (Childs Walker) "I think we could've maybe thrown the ball more at times. To be honest with you though, when you watch the film, there were some plays there, and we just have to make those plays, make those blocks, et cetera. [The Steelers] were definitely loaded up to stop the run, as they were the first game we played them."
If QB Lamar Jackson is able to come back next week, how much of a concern is knocking off rust after his extended absence? Is it feasible after being out for that long to be able to play that quickly? _(Jamison Hensley) _"He's a special guy. I think if somebody's got a chance to do it, he does. You can always sit here and say this, that and the other. You don't really know until you get out there, but I would say I would bet on him. I would definitely bet on him. It's not an ideal situation obviously, but it's a great opportunity when he does come back for us to get him back in the lineup and get moving."
How much of a difference does it make for Cincinnati having DT D.J. Reader in the lineup? _(Jonas Shaffer) _"He's a big guy; he's a really good run player. He didn't play in our first game – we're well aware of that – and he's a really good player. He's a 350-pound run stopper, knows how to play the run, knows how to take on blocks, knows how to get off blocks, [and he] recognizes run schemes really well. So, that's going to be a challenge, and our O-linemen are keyed into that, for sure."
With so much uncertainty right now about the schedule and not knowing if you will be able to compete for an AFC North title, what is it like trying to get ready and focus? _(Pete Gilbert) _"You just have to put the blinders on and get to work and get ready for whatever can happen. That's all you can do. If you let yourself get distracted for a minute by anything other than what's important, you're missing the boat. So, we got right on to Cincinnati, understanding that, 'Hey, it could be really fluid, things could really change.' We have to get prepared for that and beyond."
Considering that there is a decent chance that you could face the Bengals in the first round of the playoffs, does that factor into your approach for this game at all? _(Ryan Mink) _"It certainly could, it certainly could, but we're going to try to go win the game. Whether I call this play or that play, we'll see, but we're going to go try to win the game no matter what the situation is. Will it change [our] kind of strategy? It could; it certainly could."
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR MIKE MACDONALD
Opening statement:"Alright, good to see everybody. I was just telling [Senior Vice President of Communications] Chad [Steele], Week 18 and on, I don't have much for you. (laughter) Keep it moving. But it's nice to be outside in the middle of January."
How challenging and unique is this Bengals passing attack? _(Jamison Hensley) _"Yes, well, they're definitely different than a lot of the teams we've been playing recently, just in terms of how they set the whole thing up. But they do a great job. The stats speak for themselves; the film speaks for itself. [Joe] Burrow, the quarterback, he's incredibly efficient with the ball and makes very fast decisions. And then the skill around him, the way they've built and where they put those guys in positions to make plays, it's very complementary. And at one point in time, really, they have up to five guys that are potential matchup problems. So, those are things you have to account for, really, at all times."
Is it fair to say that they're the same offense you saw in Week 5, but just a lot better? Is that what you're seeing when you look at them in recent weeks? _(Childs Walker) _"Yes, I'd say so. Going into our game, you knew that they were really hunting for a win, because they were coming off a couple losses. I think they've won nine of the last 10 or something like that, so they're clicking on all cylinders right now. So, like any good teams do, over the course of the year, they just get better and better. So, it's a great challenge for us."
A lot of people have mentioned that maybe that Week 5 game was an inflection point for the Cincinnati offense and how they handled your defense. Is there anything that you can take from that game? _(Jonas Shaffer) _"I'm not sure about an inflection point; that's a question for them and how they react. But there are definitely games for us over the course of the year that we shake and move based off of how we feel like teams are attacking us, things that we do well and things that we need to practice. But in terms of how to stop the offense, there are not many answers, I guess, but it definitely has to be complementary [on the] front and back. You're trying to deny the ball, and then when [Joe Burrow] does get the ball out so fast, you've got to eliminate those hidden yardages and be able to stop the run in different front structures and secondary structures. So, like I said, I'm not sure about their trend over the course of the year, but they're definitely playing well right now."
What are your takeaways from Sunday? How do you feel about your performance? _(Pete Gilbert) _"No, it's definitely disappointing. The message to the guys, and what we discussed in our room was [that] we just kind of talked about the reality of the situation. We didn't play well enough to win the game; we had an opportunity to win it at the end. And it kind of speaks to the life of the season, as well. We're going to have adversity, and it's about responding to those certain things. And you're upset that you lost the game, and you lost and opportunity to potentially win the division or have it in your control, at least, but at the end of the day, the reality is that we're still alive, we're still battling and we're in the playoffs, so we're going to have a chance to go make a run. But [we're] definitely disappointed, and it wasn't up to our standard."
In some sense, do you have to view the Bengals as a potential two-game problem and not just a one-game problem, because you could face them in the first round of the playoffs? _(Childs Walker) _"Yes, absolutely, absolutely."
Was there anything on film that you saw regarding third down and how you can improve there? _(Hayes Gardner) _"Shoot, yes. Well, the first thing is staying out of third-and-short. We had four third-and-ones that we lost all four [of]; we'd just like to improve in that situation, but that's a tough situation [with] the way teams are approaching that situation now. So, I'd say, mostly, it's a function of creating more opportunistic situations for us, and that's how you play the first and second down before. But like I said, working [the] front and coverage together and making sure we're on the same page, that's something we're always going to be focused on, especially on third down."
Were you surprised with what happened with the run defense last week? What did you see going on? _(Cliff Brown) _"That's an interesting question. I was expecting to turn on the tape and see one, possibly two things, but really, each play was kind of a life of its own. Again, run game is a team defense thing – I've told you guys that before – [with] all three levels going together. Whether they're bleeding you for runs that they shouldn't be bleeding you for, based on your structures and how you feel like you should be playing it – that was going on. And then you pop a couple double-digit [yard] runs, where we're just not quite in the right spot. So, yes, it's just an overall, [we] have to play it better. I know it sounds cliché, but that's the way I really feel about it."