Special Teams Coordinator/Associate Head Coach Jerry Rosburg
Your group has done a lot of good things, but are some of the coverage issues or some of the penalties a little bit frustrating? (Jeff Zrebiec)"We are not frustrated. We know we need to improve. We had a really good practice today to try and do that. We recognize our deficiencies. There has been a lot of really good, honest assessment by our players about what we need to do – coaches being a part of that. I am really confident that we are going to be better going forward. I think we are in a good place. We are not perfect by any means. We have a long way to go, but I think the good news is our guys recognize that, and we are practicing hard to try and correct the problems that we have."
When you go through a period like that, how much do you lean on your veterans like DB/LB Anthony Levine Sr. and LB Albert McClellan? Those are guys that have been around and have experienced struggles in the past. (Luke Jones) "A tremendous amount. We lean on our veterans a tremendous amount. I can convey a story to you about something that happened this week in practice. The question was asked much like you asked the question – 'What is going on?' One of our veterans said this: 'I have to play better.' That is exactly what you are looking for. You are looking for accountability and guys understanding that they are part of the whole and they are going to do everything that they can to help us play better. Certainly, it wasn't all him, and he knew that and we all knew that. His statement was, 'I have to play better.' We are going to be fine with attitudes like that."
You don't want penalties, and if you start thinking about it, is there a chance you might be less aggressive? Do you have to worry about your guys still doing their job as well as they can and not being so worried about committing penalties that you don't want them to do? (Cliff Brown)"There is a fine line. We want our guys playing all-out, full-speed, highly-aggressive. There is a line there, though. The art form is finding where that line is while you are playing full-speed. That is why veterans typically have fewer penalties than young players. They have developed an understanding of that, and they have discernment to figure out where they need to go, how they need to block and how the game is called. As a result of that, we have had some penalties that are completely avoidable. We are working on it. I trust our guys. I know we are going to grow from this, and we need to play better this week."
I know you are not going to be the guy to make any injury announcements, but does WR/RS Devin Hester Sr.'s status … Do you have to look at other guys this week to make sure in case he isn't ready to go Sunday?* (Jeff Zrebiec)"I trust in our medical staff. They will do everything they can to get all of our players ready to go. We will have a returner out there this weekend. Somebody will be playing there. Did that clarify things for you at all?" *(laughter)
Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees
Last week was probably not the pressure you would have like to have on the quarterback. What do you think has to improve with the pass rush?* (Jamison Hensley)*"I give Oakland a little credit. They didn't have any sacks going in. When you keep seven guys to block against a pressure team, it's hard to get some pressures. It's hard to bring eight without just selling everybody out. I give them some credit, too. They've done a great job of mixing up the … They go empty, and then they turn around and then they give you max protection. You're guessing with them if you try to … I call for something against max pressure, and they end up in empty, that's not going to be good, or vice versa. I give them credit. I thought our players did a heck of a job following the game plan. I thought we played them as well as we could play them, except for the passes in the red zone. If we can eliminate the stuff in the red zone, I think we played that team exactly like we wanted to play them. We knew we weren't going to get a ton of pressure. If they mix it up and they block you all, then you're hanging the secondary out there. That's what other teams have done and they put 500 yards on them. We weren't going to let that happen. I really felt good about the game plan. I really felt good about the players executing the game plan, except for the touchdown passes that we gave up."
How frustrating is that, because you've always been a really good red zone defense? (Ryan Mink) "Sure, it's frustrating. I almost don't know how to answer that question. What do you think? We've been a good red zone defense. They hit passes on us. I don't know how to answer that question other than that's disappointing."
What about the fourth-and-1 where the defense was drawn offside? What is your assessment of that? (Jerry Coleman) "We got drawn offside."
*Was that just not being disciplined? Because it didn't seem like they were going to run the play. (Jerry Coleman) *"They were going to run the play. You're mistaken. They were going to run the play. All it was was just one of our guys got a little anxious and stepped into the neutral zone, and we got flagged for offside. They were going to run a play."
Have you seen a common theme with the issues in the red zone defense? Anything standing out? (Luke Jones) "Here's what stands out: Would you rather we be in the red zone more and have a good percentage or would you rather be No. 7 in the league in scoring? Which would you rather have?"* (Reporter: "I'd rather be No. 7 in the league.")* "I'd think so. I'm disappointed that we haven't kept them out of the red zone, too, but it just bothers me a little bit that that's what we harp on when our guys have busted their butts to be No. 1 in the league in defense, pretty much in every category in the Top 10 – sometimes the Top 5. And we have to focus on the one thing we've given up, but yet, we're the second fewest times in the red zone of all the teams in the league. That's not going to be my focus. We're going to keep playing the red zone that we play and play it like we play it. We're going to try to play it better. We've gotten caught in some pressure situations. Most of the time, just like the other day, we had them at third down-and-8, and we really weren't in a pressure and we busted it. It was our mistake – that touchdown pass on the post. That should have been an interception based on the coverage we played. We had a guy that made an uncharacteristic mistake, and we just have to improve on that. I'm more disappointed that we gave up the two-minute drive than I am the other stuff."
**Hypothetically, what goes into the decision to have a corner follow a top receiver? Does it affect the rest of the defense? *(Jeff Zrebiec) *"Absolutely. It affects the rest of the secondary, especially. When you start matching up, you have to be able to match up all the way across the board. A lot of things have to go into it, [like] the formations – where they put the guy. Do they move him all around? Is he a stationary guy? Does he always play in one spot? What are the formations? Do they motion the guy? Do they put him in stacks? Are they a quick offense? Are they a tempo offense? It's easy if I say I have '84.' It's easy on me, but then the other guy has to figure out who the other receiver is and then go find him just as fast as that. Then the fact of it is you start matching up, and if that guy doesn't play now, you have two other guys in the game with two different numbers. You have to make sure you communicate that in the huddle that this guy's not in the game. There are a lot of factors that go into it – not just the guy, not just a receiver. That's why you have double coverage on some guys and stuff like that, so you don't always have to match up. And then, other games, it's easier to match up."
Is it fair to say you prefer to avoid that if you can? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I'd prefer to have four Pro Bowl secondary guys and be able to cover everybody. (laughter) That's what I'd prefer."
**CB Shareece Wright has gotten a lot of criticism for allowing touchdowns recently. What have you seen from him? Do you need to see him play a lot better? *(Jeff Zrebiec) *"We all need to play better. It's not just Shareece. We all need to play better. Every time a pass is thrown and it's completed, you also have to take in consideration the pass rush. If the guy was on his back, then the pass wouldn't have been completed. It's easy to criticize guys on the back end on coverage, because those are always the last guys that you see. But, yes, he has to improve. We all have to improve. We have to do a better job maybe putting him in not so tough situations. It's across the board. It's open competition for everybody on defense every week. Everybody has to compete every week in practice. What we do is we always assess at the end of the week who is playing the best at that position, and that's the guy that's going to play. Nobody has security anywhere. Some you feel a lot more than others, but I'm just saying you have to practice well during the week, too. It's the only thing we can assess it on. It's so easy to say, 'Take this guy and put somebody else in.' Everybody that's saying that isn't out here all week watching our practice and assessing the other guy that they want us to put in. So, the guy out here in practice is terrible, but we're supposed to put him in because somebody wants the other guy in? It's always assessed every week."
You only play Redskins QB Kirk Cousins and his offense every four years, but what are the major things you're worried about shutting down? (Cliff Brown) "The thing that they really do well is they run the ball well. Basically, this last week, they really got it going against Cleveland. They run the ball well. They set up their play-action off the runs. Cousins has a great command of the offense. I think he knows where to go with the ball based on the coverages. He throws a good deep ball. He's an accurate guy. I just think he's a good quarterback. I think he sees everything and gets the ball out quick in the quick game. They have a lot of different things that they do, and I think he does them well. The fact that I think he's got some pretty good weapons on the outside doesn't hurt either – and a tight end that really could be a wide receiver on some teams. [Vernon] Davis, everybody kind of forgets about him because of Jordan Reed. That guy has been a Pro Bowl tight end, I believe. They have really excellent talent, and they have an excellent scheme."
Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman
You have had a lot of injuries on the offensive line. What is the comfort level on G/T Alex Lewis being able to play left tackle if T Ronnie Stanley can't go? (Jeff Zrebiec)"I really don't think about it from that standpoint. We are comfortable with the guys that have played. Alex [Lewis] has his feet wet, in terms of playing a couple games. We have seen him play outside; we are good with that. We have seen the guys who are playing inside play inside with John [Urschel] and so forth. We do have a comfort level with that."
What was the difference in the second half getting the running game going better than you have at any point? Did you guys decide at halftime to increase commitment to the run? (Luke Jones) "I think we felt we could run the ball from the beginning. We got debilitated a little bit getting behind with some things that obviously happened. Everyone knows what that was. Going into the game, we don't want to get that far behind in our pass-run ratio early in the game. We did, unfortunately, we did. We weren't able to be productive with it. Certainly, as we said over the three weeks prior, we are closer. I think we found some things that are very evident and that we can run the football. We are going to try to work in that direction."
Can you talk about G/C John Urschel? I'm wondering why he hasn't seen the field, considering he was running with the first-team offense in training camp before he had the injury. It seems like he is healthy now. Is there any reason why he hasn't gotten a chance? (Ryan Mink)"I think part of it is that he did have the injury. Early on, we made a decision on who we wanted to start. Ronnie [Stanley] and Alex [Lewis] had done a more than sufficient job in the first two games. We are lucky to have John Urschel. He is a multi-talented guy; he can play anywhere. He plays the game well at either center or guard. If it is his opportunity, we expect that he will step in. He played for us last year and did well, and we expect the same out of him this week."
When you are in a third-and-8 situation, are the plays typically designed to get to the first-down marker, or sometimes are you looking for yards after catch? There have been situations where you have come up short. (Jerry Coleman)"They will come up short for a number of reasons. Usually, we have someone going beyond the sticks. Certainly, if they are taking the sticks away, we have to go underneath and hope to get a run after the catch. The play designs are to beat the coverages and the tendencies that we see. Sometimes it is designed to go short with an opportunity to get the run after catch. You are talking about third-and-8; if you have a 5-yard gain underneath, you would hope at times, and you would expect if we call that particular play, we will get the three yards after the catch. All the plays are a little bit different; they are designed to beat the coverages. We have guys running them at different levels. We go to the guys that they are not taking away and try to stay away from the guys that they are."
QB Joe Flacco was talking about chunk plays. What do you think it will take to hit some of those chunk plays? (Garrett Downing)"I think the biggest thing is if we can just stay in sequence, we are going to have more opportunities to do that. We have played a couple of teams the last couple of weeks who have really tried to do everything they could to keep everything in front of them in zone coverage. That is why you see Steve [Smith Sr.] catching the ball on a 12-yard gain and taking it to the house. You have to get some of those things when they are a top-down team. We have plays in the game plan each and every week to go over the top, under and over the top of coverage. We have to be in a position where we stay in sequence and be able to run them. It helps to be able to balance them out with some runs, too, to get us some opportunities to really inhibit the pass rush as well."
What different element does RB Kenneth Dixon bring that we haven't seen from the backfield? (Morgan Adsit) "We saw a little bit of it in the preseason. We will see what happens when he starts his first game and plays in his first game. We see that he can get you more on our run. He has moved the pile. He has shown that he can extend plays. He has shown that he has the ability to catch the football. So do the other guys, as well. He is in that caliber. That is why he is up. He is healthy now, and he is going to get a chance to play and to see if he can springboard a very good preseason into a good start this week."
Going with three young backs now and not having much starting experience, how important is the pass protection and the other stuff? Obviously, you know all three running backs can run and catch the ball. (Jeff Zrebiec)"'Juice' [Kyle Juszczyk] is part of that. That is not a knock on the other guys. They are smart. They understand the protection packages. There is a comfort level, certainly, with all of us. It would be very difficult to play them if we weren't comfortable with their ability to protect and, not just physically do it, but know who [to block] in the complex NFL world. We feel good about Kenneth [Dixon], and 'Buck' [Javorius Allen] has had a year underneath him. Terrance [West] also over the last four or five months has really picked up his understanding with a demeanor and confidence level that shows he is ready to do the job as well."
You are going to miss RB Justin Forsett, but does this almost feel like a new beginning of the running game going young? You have three guys that could be part of this franchise for a long time. (Jeff Zrebiec) "I don't know if I look at it that way. We all love and respect Justin, and the organization made a decision, and John [Harbaugh] has expressed it as the best decision for the organization. I don't know if we look at it like [the running game is going young]. We are excited to get Kenneth [Dixon] up and see what he can do. We are excited to see Terrance [West] continue to grow and be a productive player in our offense. We have confidence in Buck [Allen] and his ability to go out there. We have seen him do it; he did it last year. We think we have three very good running backs that we can rotate around and move around. [Running backs coach] Thomas [Hammock] does a great job of that. And with the addition of getting 'Juice' [Juszczyk] in there, we have kicked out a couple of screens to him and a couple of runs to keep our balance there, but also in a protection mode."