SPECIAL TEAMS COORDINATOR CHRIS HORTON
Opening statement:"Good to see everyone today; I hope everyone's doing well. Just for us right now, our main focus right now is the Atlanta Falcons. Our guys are out here, and we're back to work. We've been working hard the past two days, really just to go out here and try to put a good gameplan together and go out here and have a good game. What questions do you guys have?"
With WR Devin Duvernay going on IR, how much does that impact the return game for you guys? (Jamison Hensley) "It's huge. I think one of the things with us [is] Devin [Duvernay] was valuable for what we were doing, for what we have done over the past two years. So, we have guys, though. We have guys that will come in and fill that role. [I'm] very confident in all the guys that we have. As you guys have seen, throughout the course of the last couple weeks, we were starting to rotate some guys back there anyway. So, I'm not really concerned that much about that part of the game. The biggest thing for us is just to go out there and execute all 11. I think those plays will take care of themselves."
What happened to WR Devin Duvernay? By the time we were out there, we didn't see him doing much, and he left the field as we were going inside. Did he take a bad step returning a kick? (Luke Jones) "I honestly have no idea, but you guys saw that he is out. It's just unfortunate; we're going to miss him. We're going to love him up because I know how much he means to our team. So, it's just unfortunate."
As you look back at the blocked kick on Saturday, did anything break down in the setup? (Childs Walker) "I don't think it was necessarily a breakdown in the play. There are a lot of things that go into it; the conditions – you're kicking that 50-yard field goal – you might have to hit the ball a little bit differently. I thought the protection for the most part, it was solid. Maybe the flight of the ball might have come out a little bit low, but in those conditions, that's kind of what happened. We live, we learn, we move on, and we get ready for the next one."
K Justin Tucker doesn't miss very often, but he missed two including the one block last Saturday. When those types of games happen, what do you say to him? (Cordell Woodland) "With a guy like Justin [Tucker], I don't say anything to those guys on gameday in that moment, because he's in that moment more than enough times that he knows how to fix whatever happened in that instance. Every kick's different; every kick's not the same. So, I think you kind of let him go over there. He takes care of what he needs to take care of, then he goes out, and he lines up for the next one."
The weather is going to be cold and windy on Saturday. How does that affect strategy? (Garrett Downing) "I think [that is] one of the things when you go into you just have to consider, and you have to plan for it. Strategy, I think we'll always have a gameplan based on what's the weather, and what's it going to be out there. We'll have gameplans for any type of weather, whether it be rain, it's really cold – we know the ball doesn't travel very far – so we'll kind of have things planned for that."
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR MIKE MACDONALD
Opening Statement: "Good to see everybody. [It was a] disappointing loss last week, but we've got a great challenge ahead of us, and we get to come back home. So, I'm looking forward to it on Christmas Eve. It should be a great game. Atlanta does a great job, especially up front and with their [running] backs. [They're] very well coached, very tough [and] very physical, so it will be a big test for us."
Would you say that this Falcons offense is probably one of the most similar to the offense you face at practice every day? (Jonas Shaffer) _"I'd actually say no. They're a very heavy wide-zone team. So, it would probably be more like of what we saw from Gary [Kubiak] back in the day, back in 2014."(Reporter: "I guess, more so in terms of how they use their personnel.)_ "Oh, how they distribute the personnel. OK, in that way, yes, absolutely. It's definitely the most personnel groups that we've seen [and] not as much 11 personnel as we're used to seeing. So, you've got to be able to adjust to all those "big-people" type formations. They do a really good job of that – of mixing it up."
You're going up against a rookie quarterback in Desmond Ridder. How does that affect preparation? _(Garrett Downing) _"It's the same. It's the same; it's just less sample size on the types of plays that you him doing. So, you go back to preseason and what you think that his skillset would translate to [and] the things that they've been doing throughout the rest of the year."
How do you think S Kyle Hamilton held up last week? _(Kyle Barber) _"I thought Kyle [Hamilton] played great. He gave up an out-cut from inside leverage, so it's a catch and tackle on that situation, so that's about as good as you can ask for in that situation. But Kyle is doing a great job for us on the edge. And sometimes he's going to be in matchups where he's going to be on smaller, shiftier guys, but he's just the man for the job. Sometimes there will be situations where we'll protect him, but for the most part, he's just out there and playing fast and blitzing and covering, and I expect him to keep it going."
This might be a strange question, but there was a chance that while you were at Michigan, you could have seen QB Desmond Ridder in the Orange Bowl. Had you done any scouting on him while you were at Michigan? (Jonas Shaffer) _"Yes, that's right. Shoot, I didn't even think about that. _(laughter). I do my homework. I think what happened was, if I remember correctly, the Big 10 game was on whatever day that was, and then we came back, and we had a breakfast or something, and they announced it, so we didn't really have any time to kind of do any background work. Maybe some of the analysts had done stuff anticipating it. But [the University of Cincinnati] did a great job last year. They had a great run."
How much of a step was it just to have OLB David Ojabo back out on the field last week? _(Noah Trister) _"Yes, it was cool to see [David Ojabo] excited for grabbing his helmet. I know he only got out there one play [on defense], but it was a good start, and we'll go from here."
How does OLB David Ojabo look in practice? Have you seen a noticeable difference as he ramps up? _(Ryan Mink) _"Yes, just like everybody else, there's a gradual improvement over time, as you'd expect. I think [David Ojabo's] playtime was more reflective of circumstances and numbers and things like that."
How do you think DB Brandon Stephens has done when he's been asked to step in as a corner on the outside? _(Childs Walker) _"The best thing that I can say about Brandon [Stephens] is he goes out there and competes. There are some situations where he'll win some, lose some, but the guy is out there, and he's battling, and he knows what to do, he's very conscientious. But his role is going to increase now with 'MP' [Marcus Peters] going down, so we expect him to go out there and not miss a beat."
Going back to 12-personnel and 21-personnel; when the default around the league is 11-personnel, what are the stressors of going against a non-traditional type of offense? _(Jonas Shaffer) _"Yes, that's a great question. A lot of formations are built on pro and slot and how they distribute the formation and where they put all their people. So, Atlanta does a great job of hiding those final formations. So, in order to defend an offense like this, you've got to be lined up, ready to go; you've got to be on your P's and Q's with communication. They do a good job of stressing you, and when you make mistakes, and when you're not aligned right, they make you pay. It's more difficult to do that when you are on big people, because sometimes you are making formational-type calls. So, when you do those types of things, you've got to be sound, and everyone has got to be on the same page."
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR GREG ROMAN
Opening statement: "Good afternoon, everyone. I'd like to honor and recognize the life of Franco Harris. [He was] a great football player. [I] got to meet him; what a privilege that was. [I] was always a fan, and [he] really brought so much to the game of football. So, I think he'll always be remembered, and I think we'll all remember him as well.
"Guys are hard at work. [We] have a tough team coming in, and we have a lot of work to prepare for. I'd say Atlanta, they play really hard, really sound, [and they're] really well-coached. So, we are at it, really from the moment we got back in [to the building]. It's December football; the fur is flying, and every play's important, so we're really dialed in at this point. Any questions?"
What do you think needs to happen for the passing game to get to the productivity that you want? (Jamison Hensley) "I'd say it's more of a play-by-play situation. So, to answer your question broadly, we just need to execute better. We need to be on the same page. It's a one thing here and one thing there type of thing, and we all know that offensive football needs cohesion. So, we can do a lot better. There's some good things going on, but we need to be more consistent."
What went into why we didn't see RB J.K. Dobbins much in the fourth quarter after his 37-yard run? _(Cordell Woodland) _"We were down two scores, and we got into a different mode. Would I have gotten into that mode that early? It's debatable; I usually wouldn't get into it that early, but you can go back and second guess that all you want. That's really the reason. [We] got more into a hurry-up mode, tried to change the tempo of things, tried to get things going in a different way. We were moving the ball really well in that game, just shooting ourselves in the foot."
From a physical standpoint, do you feel RBs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards are now at a point where they can take on bigger workloads if needed? _(Luke Jones) _"I hope so; I really do. This time of year, it's really important. I think they're getting better and better every week. So, we'll probably push the envelope there and see where we can go with it. That requires us to stay on the field. It's easy to say all that, and then you need opportunities. So, we need to stay on the field, execute and let those guys do what they do."
You're coming off two really good games for the run game. Are you happy with what you're seeing out of the run game right now? _(Garrett Downing) _"Yes, we're doing some ridiculously good things. It's a week-to-week thing. Three weeks ago, the thing was, 'What's wrong with the running game?' I really think the running game has been very productive the past couple weeks. We want to continue to build on that, and then we want to become more balanced in our offense as well and continue to work on the passing game. This team we're about to play, they post a stiff challenge in the run game, so we're hard at work trying to figure out what the best approach is going to be. That's an ongoing process, but it's a real credit to the guys – really all 11 on the field – the receivers are blocking well. Mark Andrews is blocking better than he ever has. So, he's really, really becoming a well-rounded tight end, too. [I'll] throw that in there."
Does RB J.K. Dobbins have a hamstring issue with the way he pops up at the end of runs? _(Mike Preston) _"I think he's just coming off that [knee] procedure, and he's just rounding into form really. [He's] getting better all the time. I don't think he feels like he's where he wants to be yet, but I'll tell you what – his vision right now is outstanding. I think it's better than it was before the injury, to be honest with you. So, we just have to get him back up to full speed to where he breaks loose, and he's gone. We've seen that before."
There are a lot of fans wondering why you went hurry up and pass heavy on the second to last drive when QB Tyler Huntley wasn't really pumping the ball downfield, when there maybe wouldn't have been a whole lot of time difference between passing and running in at that point. Can you talk about that decision? _(Jonas Shaffer) _"That's one that I generally would hedge on the other side, but we were just trying to – really like I said earlier – kind of try to change the tempo, try to spark ourselves a little bit. We were moving it really well on the ground for sure and some quick passes or whatnot, but could we have stayed in that mode a bit more? Probably. Probably. You look back, and you're like, 'Jeez, [we] could've kept going with that a little bit more,' but on Monday, it's always easy to say that."
Will you try to push the ball down the field a little bit more? _(Mike Preston) _"[I'd] love to, would love to. They were playing really passively, but we have to be able to do that to get where we want to go, that's for sure. The guys ... two weeks ago when we had to go down and put a 91-yard drive together, we had to throw the ball; we had to lean on the passing game. So, every week's a little different."
There has been a lot of negativity in general from the fan base about the offense and the offensive coaching staff. Do you have to actively shut that out? How do you deal with that? _(Childs Walker) _"I'm a fan; I sit in the stands at Orioles games or whatnot. I know what it's like to be a fan, and you love the passion, you love the emotion. With the emotion comes ... That's what comes with it. So, as far as the passion and wanting to win and whatnot, that's a great thing, it really is, but it's two different worlds. That world of the fan, which is the fan, and then there's the people in the arena, the players, the coaches, et cetera. The first thing you're told when you get into this profession is, 'Don't listen to any of the noise.' That's what everybody is told everywhere. If you're an offensive coordinator, and you don't think that's going to happen in the NFL – it comes with the job. The second world is in the arena where you really have to laser beam focus on the task at hand. You can't let anything distract you from that, and that's players, coaches, everybody working on all the details that go into winning in the National Football League. So, it's pretty simple, really. First-time coordinators, when I talk to them, that's the first thing I tell them. I tell them a lot of things that I won't say here, but it's that, 'You can't listen to anything other than doing your job.' How the offensive performs, that's what I'm concerned about."
Is it hard sometimes to not take the criticism personally? (Jamison Hensley)"I don't listen to it at all. It doesn't move me at all."
Obviously, WR Devin Duvernay wore a lot of hats in this offense. With him going down, how do you kind of go about the job of replacing him? (Ryan Mink)"It's a big loss. Devin [Duvernay] was having a great year in a lot of different ways. We'll have to shift gears a little bit without him, but we really feel like there's some guys who can step in and do some of the things he was doing. So, that's the good news. We just signed Sammy Watkins, too. So, he's back in Baltimore. [We're] really excited about that. Losing Devin [Duvernay], you can't just [say], 'Hey, let's just keep rolling.' We're going to have to make some changes. Guys are going to have to step up – next man up."
Do you get the sense with WR Sammy Watkins that he has a strong familiarity with the offense already? (Ryan Mink)"Yes, there's definitely roots there. That's a great thing. It's not like we're getting somebody that's never been here. That's huge. And to get a quality player like him this time of year – it's almost unheard of."
What have you seen with QB Tyler Huntley? There was kind of a push-and-pull game with him. What were your impressions of Tyler Huntley? (Jamison Hensley)"Last week? I thought he did a good job. There's a couple of plays that we'd like to have back and do better. Overall, we watched the entire game as an offense. We got a chance to really dive into what exactly happened. It's clear as day what happened, and there's some things that we have to clean up. I think everybody understands exactly what happened, and [we're] working very hard to get those things fixed and move forward."
When you look at the whole thing, you guys had a couple of struggles on fourth down in the Cleveland game. When you look back at it, do you think it was the execution or some of the [play] calls? (Cordell Woodland)"Like I said, we went through the film. We know exactly what happened. The first [fourth down] was interesting, which happens a lot. They spotted the ball, and it was like inches. And then they moved it back after the call already came in. But that really didn't affect it. Those happen in those short-yardage situations. We know exactly what happened, and we're working hard to fix it and get it right."
FB Pat Ricard told me a little bit about your session where you guys went over every single play against Cleveland. He said it was a "real talk" and there were some difficult conversations. Can you give us a little more insight into what that was like? _(Melissa Kim) _"It's just football; it's the NFL in December. The fur is flying, and we have to get things right as an offense. So, when it's not, we have to confront it and recognize it for what it is; it's that simple. It's all a partnership, working together and getting on the same page. So, after a game like that as a coach, you can't wait to get that meeting going."
With you guys losing WR Devin Duvernay, and us seeing OLB David Ojabo make his debut on the defensive side, is there any chance that we could see TE Charlie Kolar in these next couple weeks? _(Jonas Shaffer) _"He's getting there; he's getting there for sure. That's definitely a possibility, and it's in discussions – we talk about that stuff every night. [I] like where he's going. He missed all of training camp and the first half of the season, and [the tight end group is] a really good, strong group. So, there's not a huge need there at this moment, so getting him as ready as we can, game ready, is very important."
Even when the running game is running as well as it was against Cleveland, is it still difficult generally to run it all the way in? _(Cliff Brown) _"Yes, this is the NFL. We'll do it sometimes, and it'll happen, and we have to run the ball better in the red zone. That's one of our biggest issues right now. We had a discussion about that today as an offense; we're running the ball up and down the field, [then] we get in the red zone, and it's one thing here, one thing there. That's when we have to tighten our screws down. So, that's one of the aspects of what's really going on there in terms of finishing drives. Our guys are moving the ball probably as good as anybody; we just have to finish those drives and take care of the little things and avoid shooting ourselves in the foot."
We talked to OLB Tyus Bowser yesterday who said he apologized to you for his Instagram post. How did that go? _(Jamison Hensley) _"He was extremely sincere. I think his intentions were misinterpreted, and we had a great discussion, a really great discussion. I was really impressed with how he presented himself. [We] had a great handshake and hug, and it was kind of misunderstanding that people in the arena probably laugh about."