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Transcript - John Harbaugh Monday Press Conference


Head Coach John Harbaugh

Opening statement: "We had a chance to review everything, and once again, it's pretty much what we thought as watching it live – a lot of good things. The key thing, if you look back in the game, probably was how our guys executed under pressure in the fourth quarter. Breaking the thing down, taking a step back, we had our backs to the wall, 17-14 at home, divisional opponent. [It was] a very important game for us. Our guys found a way to execute and make plays in the fourth quarter, really in all three phases. That's what won it for us. That was the difference – we made those plays in the fourth quarter. Moving on to Pittsburgh, [this is] a great opportunity. It's going to be an unbelievable environment. We've been there many times. We're very comfortable in that environment. We're excited to go there. It's a great place to play. [The Steelers are] a tremendous football team. The last five times we've played, there have been two overtime games and a bunch of three- and four-point games. And it shouldn't be any different if we hold up our end of the bargain. They're a good football team, so we're getting ready to play them."

Could you give us an update on the status of RB Ray Rice's knee and his MRI results?"We got the MRI back. It is a contusion on his knee. I'm sure it's a significant contusion, so we'll just have to see how he fares throughout the week."

Do you still feel there is a chance Rice could play this week?"Yes. We'll just see how it goes. You've got to see how it heals by the close of the week."

If Rice cannot play, you must be happy with the depth the team has at the running back position…"That's one thing we are in good shape pretty much across the board with most of our team. But running back… Willis [McGahee] has obviously proven himself again. Le'Ron [McClain] is going to be able to run the ball. Jalen Parmele is a guy you all haven't seen too much, but if he gets a chance to run the ball, he can do it, too. So, we like our running back situation."* *

What is your message to the team regarding the game-week hype that occurs before Steelers week?

"Our guys understand the game is played on Sunday. And Pittsburgh understands that, too. I don't think too much is going to be said. We've played these guys too much. They've played us too much. What can we say? Everybody knows what kind of game it's going to be, and we'll have to play the game at 1 o'clock on Sunday. If something gets said, it gets said. But our focus is on Sunday and channeling our emotions toward the football game."

How reassuring is it to have confirmation that Rice's injury isn't more serious?

"Well, it's good to have good players. Injuries are a big part of the deal. There are going to be injuries throughout the course of the season. Hopefully, we've positioned ourselves with good football players on the football team to overcome them. And I think we've don't that, especially at running back and some other positions. That's proven itself already where we've had some guys who have played. But Ray Rice is a good player, and we'd sure rather have him."

Did something happen during the timeout that changed Rice's mind about continuing to play in the game?

"I'm not sure. He just had a bruise. It's a pretty significant bruise, and he just didn't feel like he could go. He talks to the trainer, and he's out, and they let us know, 'Hey, Ray Rice is out.' So, we put Willis in."

After Cleveland played so physically in the run game, what did you see from the run defense when watching the tape today?

"That's a great point. We looked at the tape closely, and we didn't not play physical. We played physical defense, and the Browns, they can block. They did a good job. They've got a good offensive line. That was stated many times before the game. I didn't see it written very much, but that's a good football team, on both sides, and they are going to win plenty of games. We knew what we were up against. The running back, that was really his first opportunity to shine in his career, and he did it. He's a guy we're going to have to contend with. So, it was the combination of a downhill, hard running back that got out of some arm tackles, and we didn't get off blocks quite quick enough. We didn't fit it once or twice like we wanted to. It's always a combination of things, but all things are correctible. We play the defense we play. We believe in the fronts we play, and we have really good players. We just [need to] play a little bit better and coach a little bit better, and we stop the run."

Did QB Joe Flacco's performance look even better on tape than it did live yesterday?

"I just think the fundamentals were a little bit better, a little bit tighter. He was a little more secure back there at times. The route-running was good. It was just better. The results were better. Like I said before, every week's a new week. Every week is a new challenge. These guys this week are going to put a whole new type of defense out there schematically that we are going to have to contend with, so it will be a different challenge for us."

How impressive was the blocking and blitz coverage yesterday as compared to the previous two weeks?"I actually think we protected pretty well in Week 1 and 2. There were some issues, like there always are, and hey, people bring stuff at you that you haven't seen. And there are good pass rushers. Obviously, [Flacco] was a little cleaner – there were no sacks – so that's a plus. And that way, it was better."

How is DE Cory Redding doing a day after suffering the concussion?"I haven't gotten a read on him yet. I don't know yet. I don't think they've done the tests yet. We don't practice until Wednesday, so they'll probably give it a little time to clear up."

With Redding being a little banged up, does that possibly open the door for a guy like NT Terrence Cody?"Well, possibly. Terrence is getting healthier, and he practiced well last week, and we'll see how it goes. But, we want to get him up if we can."

What about DE Paul Kruger? How has he transitioned into playing more of a down-lineman role?"Is he going to be active? Is that what you're asking?"

How has Kruger been practicing?"You know, Paul has been in there practicing well – fighting like crazy. But you only get 45 [players active on game day], and you only get five or six [defensive] linemen. So, you've got to put the guys up that you think give you the best chance against the team that you're playing. I'm sure that when Paul gets activated, he's going to play really well. And when Terrence gets activated, I know he'll play really well, because you can see it in practice. And we just have to see how the numbers shake out."

You don't hear much about NT Brandon McKinney, but he's playing pretty well, too, right?"Right, I mean that's part of it. You've got some guys playing well. Brandon McKinney has played really well. You've got a group of defensive linemen that are playing well. But then again, we might decide to put an extra [defensive] lineman up, too. So we'll just see how it goes."

In a divisional game, do you try to reinforce to the team that tempers can get higher and be more prone to flare?"You really try to do it in every game. Every game is pretty heated in this league. In these division games, you know each other so much better. There's probably a little more history involved, but you have to focus your energy and challenge your emotions to play in the next play and play in the game. And when you move out of that, that doesn't help – that doesn't help you play well. So, we want our guys to focus on that all the time. We want to use our emotions as an advantage. We want our emotions to be a positive. We have a passionate football team, so let's use them as a positive. Let's use them to help us win the game."

What is the environment like playing in Pittsburgh, and do you learn anything about your team playing in that kind of an environment on the road within the division?"We've been there before, just like we've been to Cincinnati; we've been to Cleveland. You know, it was new for us in the New Meadowlands. Obviously, we hadn't been there before. But, Pittsburgh has been to our place. So has Cleveland, so has Cincinnati. So, these are environments we're familiar with. We know exactly what it's going to be like. It's going to be tough, it's going to be loud, but it's exciting. That's what you get in the NFL for as a coach or a player. We can't wait to be a part of it, you know? Along those lines, I think our place is pretty tough, too. There were times… I think Cleveland called three timeouts before the ball was snapped because of crowd noise, because they couldn't communicate. And there were other times, defensively, they struggled getting communication and getting people on and off the field. The place was loud. [Terrell] Suggs was joking that he wanted to call timeout one time when [Cleveland] was backed up [to its own end zone], because he couldn't hear the defensive calls. That's how loud it was. So, that's the way these places are. It's what makes the NFL so great."

A few teams lost yesterday because of their kicker, but you seem to be on the good end of that this time around with K Billy Cundiff?"We like it when our kicker has plusses. It usually means you win the close games in the National Football League. This guy, Billy Cundiff, has been through a lot in his career. He's been out of football. He's been in numerous tryouts where he hasn't been picked. He's been hardened a little bit. And that's not to say he's going to be perfect. He's not going to be perfect the rest of the way. Although hey, you know what? We'd take it, wouldn't we? But, he came through a couple times big. He missed the one field goal, a longer field goal, with a little bit of a low snap, and he kind of pulled it over to the upright a little bit. If it had been tighter, it would have been in. It was a good kick, but you know he wants to make that kick. The other one was under an immense amount of pressure, and it was a tough kick from way out, with a little bit of wind up there. And then the two kickoffs at the end, the two that he wanted to kick deep, to kick those as deep as he did against Josh Cribbs, with what was at stake, that says a lot about his character [and] his mental toughness. So, it's pretty good when you've got a kicker with that mindset."

How did CB Josh Wilson and CB Cary Williams play?"Josh played well, especially on defense I thought he played really well. He hadn't played special teams a lot in his career, so he's kind of learning that part of it. That's something I think he'd tell you he needs to keep working on. But defensively, he made a tackle or two and covered well. I thought Cary made a huge play on the punt [coverage]. That was probably Sam [Koch]'s least effective punt, and Cary was down there right in Josh [Cribbs'] face and made the play. And that's not an easy tackle. That's one of the things Cary brings to the table."

If RB Willis McGahee ends up with more carries, will that add a physical element to the offense?"Yeah. Ray [Rice] is a physical runner, too, so I think we've got physical runners. But Willis is 240 pounds, and he brings it. He's a load. I like the way Willis runs. And I like his personality, like the way he's practiced, the way he's prepared for the season. He'll be ready to go."

Is there anything specifically that stood out to you about WR Anquan Boldin?"I think he did what he does. He's a very physical player. He's got deceptive speed. He's got really strong hands. He'll go up and get balls in traffic. I thought the route schemes were really effective against some of the coverages. Our offensive coaches led by [offensive coordinator] Cam [Cameron] did a great job of finding their coverages and having some really tough routes for them to cover. That helped get some guys open, as they were. But that's just the kind of player he is. He's smart, he understands what he's got in front of him, and he went up and made some plays for us. The other thing Joe [Flacco] did in the passing game was Joe made some really tight throws. Think about the throw to T.J. [Houshmandzadeh] in the fourth quarter – when we had to get the first down in the third-down conversion on the sprint out to the right. That was the only place that ball could've been thrown. He was covered by two people, and he put it high and away – away from the two defenders – and T.J. went up and got it and made a great play. Todd [Heap] made some great plays in traffic. [Derrick] Mason made some plays in traffic. I thought Joe did a nice job of firing it in some tight spots."

When you see Flacco playing well, does he do something differently – his footwork or the way he holds the ball – that makes him better?"It's all of the above. When you look at a football player – no matter what position it is – as a coach, you look at the end result. You look at spacing and leverage and positioning and body position, body mechanics. It's really kind of different for every single position, and it applies to the quarterback position as well. So, if you don't see those things, then you've got to ask yourself, 'Well, he knows that. He understands that. He practices it every day. What's taking him away from that?' Because it's not just that he's forgetting technique. There's something that's taking him out of that, and every play is a little bit different. Maybe it's a coverage that surprises him a little bit. Maybe it's a little bit of pressure. Maybe it's some push. Maybe the route wasn't run quite as deep as he thought it was going to be run. Maybe it's just him being a little more anxious than he should be. Maybe he's in too much of a hurry. It's probably different on every single play for every single position. It's a good question. I wish there was an easy answer."

Is it fair to say that technique comes naturally to some QBs, while others have to work at it, and Flacco is in the latter category?"I don't know if it is fair to say that, because I think it looks more natural for some guys because they're further along. Joe's a taller guy, so it's going to be tougher for a taller guy to get lower. The things that make him so good – those levers that make his arm so strong and he's a great athlete, that's why he's so accurate for being a long guy – make it tougher for him to be compact. Six-foot-one quarterbacks, they're more compact, but it's tougher for them to get the ball out and over people, and they don't usually have as strong an arm. Nobody gets everything."

Have you been pleased with the pass-rush defense or is that something you want to see more production out of?"We always want more production. I think if you watch the one-on-one battles, guys are getting good pass-rush [pressure]. We're getting good push. A lot of times we bull-rush linemen right into the quarterback's lap. Other times, we gun inside a little bit, and Seneca [Wallace] got outside on us. So, there are things to work on. We want more sacks, we want more pressures, we want more quarterback hits. We're going to keep working for that."

You defense hasn't given up back-to-back 100-yard rushers in some time. What is the resolve of the defense going forward after having allowed a 100-yard rusher yesterday?"We don't dwell on that stuff – stats. I guess you can write an article about stats if you want. We're going to try to win the next game."

Is it a good thing the Steelers are coming into the game 3-0, because it would have been easier to look past them without QB Ben Roethlisberger? "We don't care. It doesn't make any difference to us. I don't care what they… OK, you asked me last summer what I thought about the Steelers without Ben Roethlisberger. Does anybody remember? None of you wrote it. What did I say? You don't even remember, do you? I said they're going to be a very good football team no matter who is playing quarterback, and that's turned out to be true, right? So listen: This is a darn good football team. They have a great defense. They have a great running game. They have dangerous wide receivers. Their special teams are much improved. We're not surprised they're 3-0, but we don't care. We're going to play the game."

Do you get the sense that more offenses are paying close attention to DT Haloti Ngata after how he played Week 1? "Yeah, they're probably very much concerned with Haloti and where he's at. I'm sure they always know where he's at. You've got to account for him on every play – pass and run. He's still really hard to block. It's not like he's getting blocked that effectively. He's just a great player. There's not a harder-working guy. I'm sure glad he's on our side."

What have you seen from Pittsburgh's secondary now that they have S Troy Polamalu back and he is rejuvenated? "Troy kind of makes a big difference back there because he – I'm not exactly sure what he's being taught – but he's got a great knack for changing everything up all the time. It's hard to find him and where he's at, and you've always got to be aware of where he's at. They play their coverages a little differently when he's back there playing safety. So, we'll take a look at them in the next day-and-a-half and try to figure as best we can where he's going to be, but we'll probably be wrong plenty of times during the game."

With LB Tavares Gooden out and LB Dannell Ellerbe in, how do you assess Dannell's play yesterday? "He did a good job. There were times where… Anytime you get a linebacker matched up on a tight end… That's tough when he's singled up there and the quarterback gets a little bit of time, but I thought when he was in coverage he was in position. Dannell's a good athlete. He was playing with a little bit of a knee bruise and still fought through it really well, so I thought he did well."

How much tougher is the Steelers' defense because of the schemes Dick LeBeau runs? "I think coach LeBeau does a great job of masterminding schemes that really fit his players. They've got a personality on defense, there's no doubt about it. They've got great players. Add Aaron Smith into the mix. I think he's a huge factor for them. [It] made a big difference not having him last year and having him back again this year. That front three, and then you put the two outside backers out there, and then you put the two inside backers, and then you add Troy and the rest of the secondary, that's a big challenge. You can't look at that defense and say, 'Well, you know what? That's the weak link.' There's no weak link in that defense."

Has there been anything new that you can tell us with T Jared Gaither? "No, I haven't had a chance to talk to him or the trainers yet, so I don't know."

With football schemes ever-evolving, does that old school adage still hold up that the game is won in the trenches, and is the offensive line still the hardest position to get ready for a season?"Yeah, I'd say you're right. The game is won in the trenches and the offensive line because you've got to develop the offensive line as a unit, just like the secondary. Those are the two groups that have to work together. They've got to be exactly on the same page. It's why it's hard to change a guy in and out. It's why they have to be there every day. I think that's where the coaches of those two positions have to integrate those guys probably better than any other group."

Is there a bright spot in having three divisional opponents in the first quarter of the season to learn something about you and build on that? "I think it's a real bright spot if you can win them. That's why the Cincinnati game was so disappointing. That was a big win for them, but it was at their place. Obviously, it's a great opportunity for us. This will be a challenge, a division team who is 3-0 at their place early in the season. It's a great opportunity for us, and that's how we're approaching it."

Does it look like S Tom Zbikowski is getting more comfortable as far as punt returns or is it still a work in progress? "I think he's making better decisions. You just take it game to game and rep to rep, right? Nothing was sideways. Everything was north and south. I thought he was comfortable catching the ball. He made a nice decision on the short punt when he 'petered' it and got everybody away from it, so he was solid."

How do you walk the line against an opponent like Cleveland by staying physical against a team that maybe isn't expected to win? "I don't think it's that hard for our guys. I don't think our guys took Cleveland lightly. You guys all did, but we didn't. We watched the tape; we know what kind of a team they are. Like I said, Cleveland is going to win a lot of games, and we're playing an opponent this week that obviously is a great football team. But we can go in there and win. That's what we plan to do. It's the NFL. The Chiefs are 3-0. Look what they've done. You've just got to be ready for everybody in this league. They can all play."

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