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Thursday Availability: Week 16 at Browns


Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale

Opening statement: "Alright, how are we doing? Since last time we talked, obviously, we had two physical games against Buffalo and the Jets, and it looks like we're getting ready for another one." 

How much benefit have you seen from a half a bye week at this point in the season for your guys? (Pete Gilbert) "I feel better. (laughter) No, I think that it is a benefit without a doubt, having it this late in the season. It just timed up right for us. Everybody can recover and be ready to go for this next one we have coming up." 

It looks like CB Marlon Humphrey has kind of settled in on that slot corner. (Jamison Hensley)"I'd say." (laughter) (Reporter: "How do you feel he has done? Because it is a different skillset than just playing on the outside.") "Yes, and we've mentioned before, Marlon [Humphrey] is a linebacker playing corner, both attitude-wise and by style of play. And I think that he's like this city: He's just a tough, hard-nosed guy that comes to work every day and brings his lunch pail and gives it his best every single snap. That's why he was voted to be a Pro Bowl player, I believe. It's just everybody can appreciate and respect his work ethic and how tough he is."

What did it mean to see some first-time Pro Bowlers – CB Marlon Humphrey, obviously, being one of them, OLB Matthew Judon another – to see those guys get the recognition they deserve? (Garrett Downing) "I talked to the defense. When we talk about respecting the league and respecting each other and respecting the players in this league, I think that that's just awesome for both he [Marlon Humphrey] and Matt [Judon] – the fact that they've worked themselves into Pro Bowl players and got acknowledged for it. And they both also realize … They know they have to play on a good team to get in the Pro Bowl. That's not taking anything away from them or their hard work, but ... I heard Matt talking about it yesterday that it's the whole team that really gets that honor. With Earl [Thomas] coming over for the first year and jumping right into the system and getting another Pro Bowl and … The same thing with Marcus [Peters] coming in the middle of the season. [He] jumped in there and played really fast and has done a lot of good things. I think the league and the players and coaches all see that, so I was really happy for all of them."

You've talked many times about what general manager Eric DeCosta and the front office has done remaking your defense early in the season. But when you watch the film of that Browns game in Week 4, is it still startling to see how much the personnel is just different than the guys that you saw on the field that day, both from injuries and also additions? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Yes, I think 'startling' might be a little dramatic with it, but [I'm] more happy that we've come as far as we have defensively. Someone told me we have nine different guys that are playing defense right now that didn't play in that first game. We know it's going to be a great challenge that they have not just the best back in football right now with [Nick] Chubb, but a guy that also two years ago was the best back in football with [Kareem] Hunt. So, that's going to be a great challenge, and that's without even bringing up [Jarvis] Landry and Odell [Beckham Jr.]. Those guys are ... There's a reason why all of them are on all of those commercials and everything else. So, it's going to be a great challenge."

Because your personnel is so different, how relevant is the game tape from Week 4? (Pete Gilbert) "He [Browns offensive coordinator Todd Monken] is a copy-cat coordinator, so he's going to try some of the same things that worked against us. We know that. He'd be silly not to, so it's going to be a great challenge for us."

You've also talked often about how John Harbaugh as a head coach never settles for doing things the same way when there might be a better way. Do you think that adaptability is sort of a defining trait for him as a coach? (Childs Walker) "Without a doubt, and I think it spreads throughout all the assistants, too. He's fantastic that way, always giving us a different look at it. 'Hey, what about this? What do you think about that?' It's great to work for a head coach that challenges you like that daily."

Along those lines, I think John Harbaugh told Bills reporters a couple weeks ago that for as aggressive as the defense is, there are some games where going into the week he wants to be even more aggressive. To have a coach like that who's so much on that same page as you, in terms of wanting to... (Jonas Shaffer)"It's awesome. (laughter) It's awesome. Yes, I think our personalities do match that way."

DT Brandon Williams didn't play in the first Browns game. Did you notice him maybe feel a little more energized and motivated when he came back? Was that something he could use as a springboard – missing that game? (Aaron Kasinitz)"When he came back from the first Browns game?" (Reporter: "Yes.") "Seems like it was two years ago. But what Brandon [Williams] and Michael [Pierce] bring to us – they're two centerpieces of the defense. Talking along the lines of Pro Bowl, you want all your guys to make the Pro Bowl. And I know there are some alternates or something for the Pro Bowl, but what they bring to our defense is unbelievable. Every week on Saturdays we do the goals. They're the 'FSU Brothers.' I can just tell you 'Up' is the last word of that, and neither one of them went to Florida State. (laughter) So, you can understand where we're going with that, and that's what they do." 

Can you talk about DE Jihad Ward and what he's brought to the defense and what kind of addition he's been? (Ryan Mink) "We've hit on this before, but his work ethic [is outstanding]. He's everything we thought he was going to be coming out [of college], as far as an edge setter. But his determination to win and do what's best for the team is really what stands out to me the most. He'll do whatever it takes to try to get a win, and all of his teammates really respect that. He studies the game, he stays after it and does extra to care of his body, to study the game, the next opponent and everything else. So, he's been a great addition for us." 

Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman

Opening statement:"How's everybody doing? It's been a long time since our last installment. A lot of water under the bridge, and we're getting ready to play a really tough Cleveland Browns defense. They're one of the top third-down defenses in the league. They've had a lot of players in and out of the lineup this year, so we're doing our due diligence. Everybody is very excited about the challenge, and as always, we're focused mainly on us, our improvement, and trying to get better every day."

QB Lamar Jackson went, I think, 22 touchdowns, no picks in the red zone this year. Just for a quarterback that young to have something like that is remarkable. What do you attribute that success to, where it's so, theoretically, hard to throw? (Pete Gilbert) "It's funny you ask that. We have to get a lot better in the red zone. That's kind of our mantra. We have to get a lot better in everything we do. We're working every day to do that. But I will say this: Early last year, when Lamar [Jackson] was here and we started working in the red zone, right away, I was like, 'Wow, this kid sees things in the red zone better than most.' And that's always – I guess I'll let the cat out of the bag – that's one of my barometers when I see a guy for the first time in an NFL practice, is when he's throwing down in the red zone the first couple times, just how they operate, how they see things. And I felt like he had a real knack for it. So, obviously, it's something that you have to continue to develop, because it is, as you say, one of the most challenging areas of the field to execute."

With T Ronnie Stanley being voted in as a Pro Bowl starter, earlier in the season, we talked about how he's improved his game. But what have you seen now that he's getting that recognition? What has he done to take that next step? (Daniel Oyefusi) "We talked about it earlier this year, the opportunity he had and the way he was approaching that and handling that opportunity. He has really knocked it out of the park so far. When you really look at Ronnie's game, he has improved in everything he does. I think a big part of that is improving every aspect of his preparation. The knowledge he's accrued over the last couple of years, he's a very intelligent young man. He's really putting it to use. His consistency this year has been outstanding, which makes him deserving of that honor. He's a constant work in progress, but run, pass, communication, assignment, technique, everything, he's just really pushing the envelope every day on. So, it's really showing on the field, and he's a very important, key contributor to what we do."

What do you think it is about opening drives of games that has allowed you to be successful? What have you done on those opening drives that allows you to be so successful? (Garrett Downing)"Really, it comes down to the preparation of the players. I do think we take maybe a little bit more time on that first part of the game, and practice a little bit, walk through it a little more than most, probably. But regardless of that, it's really a credit to the guys being locked in and being ready to play once that ball gets kicked off. So, I don't think there's any magic formula or secret sauce, but it's just something we would love to keep going."

You've worked with a variety of head coaches. What do you appreciate the most about the way John Harbaugh does that job? (Childs Walker) "Wow, great question. John [Harbaugh] is a remarkable head coach, a remarkable leader. Talking about even just our offense, for example – really, John is the one who really orchestrated the vision for this offense and kind of set us on our way to do it and painted the perimeters and painted a picture of what he wanted it to look like and let us do our job. That speaks highly of a leader. But really, the three years I've been here, it's all about football. It's all about getting better, and that serves us all. There's really no … We don't waste time. He's just all about business, all about family, which is very important. Sometimes, you'll see our kids working the sidelines in games. You can't put a price tag on what that means to us, to be able to spend that time with our kids and have them have that experience. So, I really can't say anything … You just keep going and going. [He is] an excellent, unbelievable leader, somebody that you really want to come to work and do a great job for."

With QB Robert Griffin III, he's gotten some snaps in the fourth quarter. What have you seen out of him? And worst-case scenario, what have you seen if he does have to step up and perform? (Jamison Hensley)"We played the Thursday night game, and I'd like to take this opportunity to commend our coaching staff. We got off the plane from Buffalo, came right into the office, and many of us were scattered around on the floor at three in the morning trying to get ready for the Thursday game. So, we play the Thursday game, and it really gave us a little window to evaluate ourselves and look ahead a little bit. But really, evaluating ourselves, that's something we really looked at. I have to do a better job when Robert [Griffin III] is in the game, with some certain things. But we really like everything he has brought to the table this year. I really think he's maturing and developing as a quarterback. He does an amazing job working with the defense every week, with the specific looks that they request. That's priceless. I really think his best football is ahead of him."

You mentioned QB Lamar Jackson's vision in the red zone. Is there any play that stands out from this season where you've said, "Wow, for him to see that is really something special."? (Ryan Mink)"Any one particular play? It might have been the touchdown to Seth [Roberts] in the Houston game." (Reporter: "Up high?") "Yes. I'll let you run with that. Go back and get on the film." (laughter)

Aside from the obvious imperative of locking up the No. 1 seed, redemption … The last team that beat you was Cleveland. You get a chance to go pay them back. How does that motivating factor help you? (Pete Gilbert) "We're really focused on the task at hand for us, which is the game this week and what that means at this point in time. That's really where we're limiting our focus. There are a lot of different ways you can look at it, and that game earlier in the year was a great learning experience for us, a great opportunity for us to grow from. And when you really look at it, I really think our guys responded really well to that. But that being said, it's water under the bridge at this point. It means nothing. It's all about this game, and that's where our focus lies. We're where we are at, and this game is a very important game for us. We're looking forward to the challenge."

Last game, Jets head coach Adam Gase said that they had to spend so much time trying to figure out what was going on in the backfield. Rams S Eric Weddle had a similar quote a couple weeks ago. What do you make when you hear those comments about how deceptive your offense is? (Andrew Gillis)"What was it Sun Tzu said? 'Deception is the…' Anybody? (laughter) No history majors here." (laughter) (Reporter: "It was in 'Wall Street,' too, right?")"It might have been, I don't know. But I actually read it. (laughter) So, I think it's very important. Any advantage you can gain, it's worth investing in or at least exploring. And really, I've mentioned this before, all those details have been worked on by our guys so much, and we've gotten so much better at them. We need to continue to improve, but we're lightyears ahead of where we were a year ago at this time."

There have been a few opposing players who said, "We saw a quarterback like Lamar [Jackson] in high school or college, and then they moved to receiver or running back." With your experience as a high school, college and pro coach, do you think QB Lamar Jackson's impact and the success you guys are having, is that going to trickle down to those lower levels and maybe change how some kids view football? (Aaron Kasinitz)"I would hope so. I would hope so, because if kids have dreams, they need to follow those dreams. If they feel like they want to play quarterback, they need to go play quarterback. And if Lamar Jackson is their hero and that's who they want to emulate, they need to go do that. And they need to find somebody that believes in them." (Reporter: "You gave a lot of credit to Lamar's mom, who told all the coaches he was only playing quarterback.") "You better believe it. You better believe it."

So, what's the full quote? "Deception is…" (Jim Forner)"I'm going to let you guys [figure it out]. We'll check in next week." (laughter)

Special Teams Coach Chris Horton

Opening statement: "Good morning. Good to see everyone. Just to recap what happened last Thursday, bottom line is we didn't play our style of football, and there were some things that happened to us that shouldn't happen. We need to play better, and we're looking forward to really going out and playing another football game."

Were there things that you looked at – I'm sure you were surprised at what went on, but in terms of a missed extra point, a block, returns – was there anything that just, "That is not what we practice," or things that stood out to you like, "That was completely different from what we expected."? (Pete Gilbert) "Those little miscues – it comes down to everything I always talk about. [It's] about the little details, and real honestly, like I said, we just need to play better. It wasn't so much ... They did some things on kickoff return that we got a chance to see, but we have to just stick to our details. We have to get off blocks, and we have to go make plays. So, it just came down to the little details that I always talk about. We're back at it, and again, we're looking forward to going out and playing another game." 

K Justin Tucker and LS Morgan Cox both made the Pro Bowl. Is it particularly significant for Morgan? I think this is the first year they've had it voted on by players and coaches and get announced the way it is right now. (Garrett Downing) "It is. Congratulations to those guys. [Justin] Tucker and Morgan [Cox] and Sam [Koch, a first alternate], it just goes to show what their peers think of them, what the rest of the league thinks of those guys. They're all three really good players, and kind of to your point, it's the first year that they voted on the snappers. Again, it just goes to show you what the rest of the league thinks about Morgan. He's done a great job. All three of those guys are really good at what they do."

Can a performance like last Thursday's kind of a be a wakeup call down the stretch? Not that you guys aren't emphasizing playing better every week, but when something like that happens in a win, can it be something that gets their attention a little more? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I can guarantee our guys are ready to play every week. And just for whatever reason, we didn't play our best football. It's unlike us. But it's like every week – we want to go out and we want to dominate teams. So, our guys are going to be looking forward to going on and playing some really good football this week."

Were you able to diagnose the blocked punt? Was it more of just an individual play, or was it a protection thing? (Aaron Kasinitz)"Small, little details – more just communication, making sure that we're doing everything right. Blocked punts usually come down to those things – communication and execution. On that play, we didn't do that very well."

DT Brandon Williams

On if the loss to Cleveland in Week 4 was the turning point of the season:"I feel like we just needed to get on the right track. We did. We started to bring some new pieces in. We started to get some things right within ourselves, and we just got on the right track and started balling." 

On how much this game means to him given that he missed the first matchup with Cleveland:"Definitely. I missed the last time, so I definitely want to go in there and give everything I have and help my team to a victory, definitely." 

On what level he thinks he's playing at: "I feel like I'm playing at the best level to help my team win. I don't know. It's really no [specific] level, I guess. It's just me going out there and doing what I have to do to help our defense succeed and our team win."

On how DT Domata Peko Sr. and DT Justin Ellis have helped him: "Oh, those dudes were a godsend. When they came in, they helped right off the bat. [They were] thrown right in not knowing many plays, not knowing anything. They just helped right away, and those dudes are a godsend. They helped me and Mike [Pierce] get a little time off, and they're in there balling, too. So, it's just a rotation with us, and it's doing great things."

On how important it is for a defense to gel during the season, especially with all the new pieces the team brought in during the year:"Yes, definitely. When you get new guys coming in, it's not one of those, 'Hurry up and get going, and you'll get with us when you get with us.' No, we're picking everybody up, trying to get everybody on the same page. If you come in here, you have to help us to win. So, we want to get you to your peak as fast as possible."

On why the defense has gelled so well this season: "Just from the top down, it's a family organization. When we bring in [guys], that's what we give people – just family and communication. In the locker room, we all hang out. We all gel together. We're all just one unit."

On if he was surprised he did not make the Pro Bowl: "I'm looking for something bigger, (laughter) so I'm not worried about that."

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