WEDNESDAY ZOOM AVAILABILITY: WEEK 16 AT CINCINNATI BENGALS
Head Coach John Harbaugh
Opening statement: "OK, [it's] good to see everybody. I appreciate you coming on Zoom to do the press conference. We're excited about a big game, obviously against an excellent opponent with a lot at stake. I'm proud of our guys. Their work ethic has been tremendous, and we're just preparing for the game. What questions do you have?"
What can you tell us about QB Lamar Jackson? Do you expect him to be at practice today? (Jamison Hensley) "I really don't have any updates on that. That's 'wait and see' for all of those guys. Every single guy you're about to ask me about are all going to be day-by-day, and we'll just see where they're at as we go."
When you go back and look at the Bengals game, the last time you played in Baltimore, you guys struggled with the tackling a little bit in that game. How much have you cleaned it up since that game? How much of a difference will that make in this game as far as stopping them? (Todd Karpovich) "That's going to be very important. Tackling is critical; many of their yards are their catch-and-run yards, [and] many of their rushing yards are yards after contact. Many of their big plays are yards after the catch. So, we have to do a great job of tackling, of course."
Bengals WR Ja'Marr Chase obviously had a monster game last time. The big plays though, you guys have really kind of shrunken down a lot lately over the last several games. How do you attribute that? What do you have to do to apply that, as far as trying to stop WR Ja'Marr Chase from replicating what we saw? (Pete Gilbert) "It's disciplined football. We have to play disciplined football. We have to have our eyes in the right spot. We have to take good angles, and we have to wrap up and get them on the ground. These are good run after the catch players, all of these guys, including Ja'Marr [Chase] as you mentioned, but not just Ja'Marr. Tyler Boyd is good at it. Tee Higgins is good at it. [C.J.] Uzomah is good at it; one of the most underrated tight ends in the league is Uzomah. So, these guys are all talented guys. We're going to have to do a great job, and I expect that we will."
You talked about the stakes of the game, just as you did on Monday. I know you approach every week with urgency. Is there a 'do-or-die' quality to this one, maybe more than any of the previous games this year, just because of the standings? (Childs Walker) "Anybody can put whatever label on it that they want. That's not really my mission – to put labels on it and name it with any particular phrase."
I believe it was the last time you guys were out on the road, there were a lot of pre-snap offensive penalties. Is that something you're working on for this week, knowing that Cincinnati is going to be amped up? They're talking about this being the biggest crowd that they've had since their last playoff game. (Jerry Coleman) "Yes, we're going to work really hard at that. Absolutely, that's very important."
Can you give us an update of how you see the performance of S Tony Jefferson? I know it's going to be a big role for him this weekend. Can you tell us about him? (David Andrade) "Tony [Jefferson] just came last week. He was in very good shape, as the workout showed us. He has a good familiarity with the defense, and that was nice to see. He hadn't really lost any of his understanding of it [and] picked up the new things really quickly. He played well in the game, the snaps that he played both on defense and special teams. So, Tony's role will be what it is based on who we have. I expect him to play very well."
You guys just had to play this game against Green Bay pretty shorthanded in the secondary. With the chances that you may have to do that again this week, how much confidence did that game give you going up against a loaded Bengals receiving group? (Cordell Woodland)"I think it's pretty well understood that we have confidence in our players. We trust our guys. They're at practice every day. They work hard. They learned the defense. There are still many things in that game that we can do better in the backend – leverages, eyes, assignments, communication. Just basic technique that we can do better, so we'll keep chasing that. We coach all of our guys, all the time. We'll keep coaching those guys to play better and better and see if some of these guys can make a name for themselves."
The Bengals seemed to have been running the ball particularly well, but then the last three weeks, they have not done so well at that. Are there any trends that you're noticing or anything you can exploit right there? When you look at the Bengals run game, what stands out? (Aditi Kinkhabwala)"What stands out is the running back. [Joe] Mixon is one of the best in the league. I don't think there's a better running back in the league than him. He runs hard. He's powerful. He has great lateral quickness [and] body control. He can catch the ball; they use him quite a bit as a receiver. He's very good in pass protection. I mean all of those things, and then Samaje Perine, he's a power back downhill guy. [He's] a good cutback runner, hard to bring down – a great lower body runner. So, it starts with those two guys. They run the wide zone play exceptionally well. That's their basis. They always have some scheme runs, especially in the red zone. They love to run the ball in the red zone, that's kind of their thing. Then you have to take care of Joe Burrow, because Joe Burrow gets yards. He'll slip out of the pocket and go get some yards for them, too, or he'll slip out and throw it, a lot of times deep. So, that kind of accounts for their rushing yards, and you have to do a good job defending it. You have to hold the edges. Our linebackers have to pace the play very well, especially the zone play. If we do those things, we've been defending the run well of late, and I'm very confident that we can do a good job of that."
Do you know if you've had any more positive tests today? What's the level of concern with … Now it looks like the outside linebacker position is getting hit, as well. What's your level of concern as far as depth at outside linebacker? (Jamison Hensley) "All of those things are just in the protocol. It's really not for commentary, it is what it is. The protocols are what they are. The days, the testing, all of that stuff, it's kind of complicated. I don't spend too much time with it. It is what it is, and we'll be where we're at. We're getting ready for practice right now."
WR Marquise Brown
On catching more short-yardage passes recently or if he'd rather make big plays: "Yes, I'd rather make some big plays, but if the defense is trying to take that away from us, I'm happy to help however I can – catching underneath, short passes. Whatever I've got to do to get involved and help the team, I'm willing to do."
On QB Lamar Jackson's status this week: "I haven't gotten a chance to really talk to him since the game. So, I'm hopeful for him, and I know he's doing everything he can to get back and play for us."
On if there is a heightened sense of urgency in the locker room this week: "I've been feeling the sense of urgency. We want to win games, and we've been … I think we're on a three-game losing streak, or whatever we're on. We're just trying to get back in the win column, and that's going to start Sunday."
On how much QB Tyler Huntley's South Florida roots helps with his confidence: "That definitely plays a part. Tyler [Huntley] has been one of the best since we were little kids, so he's played with the guys who are getting the recognition, he's played against the guys, and he's always held his own. He's always been a top-notch player, so that's never going to change, no matter his role."
On how much more of a well-rounded receiver he feels he has become this year: "I think I've showed I can attack all the levels of the field just trying to make the most of whatever we get out there. That's been a goal of mine – is to try to do everything I can the right way. If it's going deep, short passes, intermediate, YAC [yards after catch] … I'm just trying to cover all the bases."
On if teams are hanging back on him and not letting him get over the top and what he's seeing from defenses: "Yes, they're playing back, but like I said, I think, a few weeks ago, I feel I can get behind anybody, no matter how far back they play. So, however they want to play it … We're going to connect on it eventually, so we're just going to keep working."
On approaching 100 catches and 1,000 yards: "I mean, I really don't care. I feel like that's been a goal – to get 1,000 yards. I feel like I'm going to get it, so I'm really just trying to win, trying to make these playoffs and make this run."
On seemingly being open on the two-point conversion and if he expected to get the ball there: "No. I felt like it was a good play. Mark [Andrews] was hot. We designed the play for him. But they made a good play. The dude came down, and he made a good play on the ball. I popped open late, but I don't think [Tyler Huntley] could see me behind the O-linemen."
On if he's ever seen TE Mark Andrews play better than he has the past two weeks: "Mark [Andrews] is playing great football right now, and I really don't think he's playing his best football – and you could ask him. He has a lot left to keep showing. He's a great player, and I feel like he's going to keep showing why he's the best tight end in the league."
On if he believes the experiences the team has had overcoming all the adversity will help them make a push these last three games: "Yes, definitely. It brings us closer as a team. We've been hit with adversity after adversity, and some ways, we find ways to be in games, we find ways to win games. And just to know we're never out of things, no matter who we have available, is a great sign for our team."
On Coach John Harbaugh interacting with the team before making the decision to go for the two-point conversion last week: "It just shows what type of coach, Coach [Harbaugh] is. He lets us be involved in decisions, and he trusts us, and we trust him. So, it's like a family atmosphere here. We're going to win with each other; we're going to lose with each other."
DB Brandon Stephens
On what the defense needs to improve upon from their previous matchup with Cincinnati: "I think just going into the game, we just need to play like Ravens. Everyone in this building knows what that means – just swarming to the ball, tackling and just making plays. It's simple, but we've just got to come out there and do it."
On how comfortable he feels in his new role and with a few starts under his belt: "I feel as if every week I'm getting more and more comfortable. I'm just starting to feel like myself in the game. But it's not just me out there. I'm just learning from the vets, learning from guys like Chuck [Clark], DeShon [Elliott] – I'm still in his ear. Those guys have helped me out a ton, so I give them credit, as well."
On how strange it is to play with new faces around him and the importance of communication when there are inexperienced players in the secondary: "We knew going into the game – really any game – that communication is key. We had a lot of new guys in the secondary that stepped up. But we just had to communicate, make sure everybody is on the same page and everything, and I feel like we did a great job. Geno [Stone] did a great job with communication with the green dot on his helmet. It was great all around, though."
On what life is like with COVID-19 ramping up again: "It's frustrating, but at the same time, we can only control what we can control. Whatever happens, happens, but we're trying to do our best [for] everybody [to] stay safe. [We] socially distance ourselves from one another. But at the same time, we can only control what we can control."
On the concept of a rookie wall and how he keeps his body fresh and ready to go: "Man, [I'm] just doing the little things. It's the little things that get you prepared to go into the following week, the next Sunday. But there's no such thing as a rookie wall here. We've got a big step ahead of us with this upcoming game, and so we're all just focused on that and coming out with a 'W.'"
On if he was comfortable with the decision to go for the two-point conversion last week: "I love the decision. I have faith in the offense, this whole team. Unfortunately, we didn't get the job done there to complete the two-point conversion, but if we had a chance to do it again, I would do it. I was 100% with Coach Harbaugh and the rest of the team."
On if this upcoming game against Cincinnati feels like the biggest game of his career: "The next game is always the most important game, so this is the most important game up to date. We know what's at stake, and we're up for the challenge. We get another chance to compete with this team and come out with a different result."
On how much confidence he gained in the secondary after handling all the adversity of last week and still performing well: "Right. Whoever steps on the field … We all know what is expected from one another, and so we had no doubts going into that game. We knew we could hang with anybody with whoever is on the field, and we truly believe that, and I believe it showed. But we just have to continue stacking, continue to have great communication and just playing Ravens defense."
On what makes QBs Lamar Jackson and Tyler Huntley different in how they command the offense and what they want to do within the structure of the offense: "Both quarterbacks are special guys. They have a great command of the offense. You could see it at practice, and sometimes you kind of get mesmerized by it. But whichever quarterback is in the game, I'm sure that whoever it is would be fully prepared and ready to go."
On if he feels like it's a different type of challenge against the Bengals' wide receivers this week than the Packers' wide receivers last week: "Yes, Coach 'Wink' [defensive coordinator Don Martindale] is going to give us a great gameplan going into this game. We've already started install. But like I said, it's just another game. We know the weapons that they have, and we know the weapons that we have, as well. And so, just going into the game, we've just got to bet on ourselves and count on ourselves to go out there and help this team get a win at the end of the day."
G Kevin Zeitler
On if how tight the AFC North is makes the final three games more exciting: "Absolutely. I'd say every week from here on out is a playoff game. We know we have a great challenge this week. They're playing very well; we're going to have to give it everything we've got to take care of business."
On if he feels like he's having one of his better seasons: "Yes, I think so. But I think I have to give a lot of credit for that to having Lamar [Jackson] back there, [Bradley] Bozeman at center, all the tackles I've played with on the right side this year. We've gelled very well, and I definitely can't do it alone. I have to thank them all a lot."
On how G Ben Cleveland performed in his first NFL start: "He did great. Coming out there, unexpectedly with [Ben] Powers going down, he came in, [and] he prepped hard all week. He's a big, strong man, and he showed it out there this last Sunday."
On the challenges of preparing to play without knowing who the starting quarterback will be, and if it's easier to switch between QB Lamar Jackson and QB Tyler Huntley since they have a similar skillset: "I know this for sure; Lamar [Jackson] is doing everything he can to get healthy as fast as he can. I know he's putting the work in. Obviously, him and Tyler are very similar. Tyler has gone out there and showed up every time he's been out there. So, whoever ends up playing, I know we're going to have a chance."
On what's impressed him about QB Tyler Huntley: "The biggest thing is that you'd never know that he's a backup QB. He owns the huddle. He's smart. He's calm. He's cool. He doesn't let anything rattle him. He's been playing extremely well, and it's been a lot of fun."
On why the Bengals have had a productive pass rush this season: "I think their defense, they've put everything together. They have a lot of depth along the D-line, and obviously, they have a lot of talent, too. We know it's going to be an excellent challenge for us, and we're going to have to make sure we bring our 'A-game.'"
On head coach John Harbaugh having a conversation with the players before deciding to go for two at the end of the Green Bay Packers game: "I love it. He has faith in us, and we have faith in him. I never overthink. I love going for two points when the game is on the line like that. I have faith in our team that we can get it done. Unfortunately, it didn't go that way this week, but if we do it again, I'd do it again."
On if there was a difference in scheme that the offensive line allowed to keep QB Tyler Huntley upright: "I think going into the week, we knew with Tyler [Huntley] being in there, we had to really step up our game this week. I think everybody across the offensive line played extremely well. Tyler played super well, too. He made great decisions, and he was able to move when he needed to. So, you put it all together, and it all worked out for us."