FRIDAY AVAILABILITY: Week 12 at LA Rams
Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale
Opening statement:"[I was] really happy with the challenge that we had last Sunday. It was great. The fans were awesome during that game. Sometimes, the fans don't really understand how important they are to us with our momentum and keeping that momentum going, defensively, like they were. They were outstanding at the game. And I was really happy with all three levels of the defense because of the task they had in playing against the Texans and the challenges that they had. That was a high-effort game from start to finish. They executed the gameplan, did exactly what we needed to do. The pass rushers up front were relentless. That's a hard tackle to make back there with No. 4 [Deshaun Watson]. The cover guys, they plastered all over the field, and the linebackers really did a nice job of fitting that run game. So, with that being said, we're on to the Rams now. I always feel like I have to recap the last game, but it seems like a month in between since I've seen you guys. But, what a great challenge we have on Monday night."
Obviously, you guys did your homework on CB Marcus Peters before you got him – watched tape, I'm sure you probably put in a few calls. Is there something about what he's done and how he's handled himself that has surprised you, that you didn't know he was as proficient at something or like that in a certain way? (Jeff Zrebiec)"You really don't know until a guy gets into your locker room and into the defensive meetings, of how football smart they are. He is a savant when it comes to playing corner and routes and everything else. That's been really refreshing, because as I've said many times, knowledge is power in this league. And you can see with his play that he has a lot of knowledge, and that's what has jumped out the most to me."
This week with "Jelly" [DT Justin Ellis] and with Peko [DT Domata Peko Sr.], they were both on the street – before, they weren't even playing with a team – with those guys, and I know you went through it with ILB Josh Bynes, too. How do you measure how physically fit they are, and are you impressed that those guys have been able to play so quickly? (Aaron Kasinitz)"I've been impressed with every guy that we've brought in. I've mentioned before that Eric [DeCosta] and George Kokinis [director of player personnel], he just keeps turning it over, trying to find guys that we've had to place in the system. And we talked about before, the elegant simplicity of our package, and those veterans that have played a lot of snaps, they can fit in really easy. That's what we found this year. We didn't have to experiment with that last year, obviously. So that's what we've found this year, is the way it's being taught. And obviously, the big-body run-stoppers, they played their tails off in that game. The thing that impressed me the most is how hard they played in running to the football, with just being there the three days that they were for practice. And those guys, they're a welcome addition."
Can you just talk about how proud you are of this unit? After all the changes from last year and the guys lost then, and the injuries that have happened this year, and like you talked about now, plugging a new guy in every week. And yet, you guys have been playing the best defense in the league over the last several weeks. _(Ryan Mink) _"Proud is the right word, because every challenge we give them, they've accepted. John [Harbaugh], and you might have heard him say this before, you can hope to fix something, or you can confront the issues. After that Cleveland game, we sat down as a staff and looked at our scheme. I think what you have seen in the last six weeks is just that we're getting to know the people that we have better and putting them in the right places. But this game always has been, always will be, about the players. And they have done a great job of practicing Wednesday, Thursday, Friday – I know this week is different – Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and they've been locked in every single day. And the communication has been better. Leveraging the football has been better. The techniques, the fundamentals have been better. And that's why you've seen our play rise."
I know stopping the run is always the first and foremost thing. Is that maybe even more so true this week, considering how much the Rams like to use play-action?_ (Garrett Downing)_"Yes. Obviously, this offense we're getting ready to face is a great offense. You have a guy who can throw the ball as well as any quarterback you want to put in there, throwing the ball. And plus, we sort of branded our defense off of the way they play offense, the elegant simplicity of it. Because there are teams that steal things from other teams, but they don't know the system. They steal plays. But this is a great system we're getting ready to face, because you have the quarterback there, and you also have the offensive coordinator, in this case, head coach, talking to him the whole time up to 15 seconds. And that's a great challenge for us, because Sean [McVay] has done a great job with that."
How encouraged were you by OLB Jaylon Ferguson's performance on Sunday? (Ed Lee)"I've been pleased with Jaylon Ferguson since he's been here, and I keep telling you guys, 'He's on the come [up]. He's on the come [up]. Watch out.' And continue to watch out, because it's really all starting to click for him, for the rookie. I was really happy with him."
Where have you seen OLB Jaylon Ferguson's biggest strides from Week 1 to now? (Andrew Gillis) _"If you had asked me that three weeks ago, I would have said conditioning. Now, I just see that he has more confidence in his pass rush, and he's doing exactly what he needs to do that week in rushing the passer. Because you rush every quarterback differently, that you're playing. The mobile quarterbacks, you have to do _this, the pocket quarterbacks, you have to do this, the moving quarterbacks, the boots, as somebody brought up before, the play-action of the boots, you have to do this. And he's executing those plans. So, just his knowledge of the package and his confidence [is encouraging]."
RB Todd Gurley had his biggest production game of the season last week. There's been a lot of talk about his knee and all of that stuff. What do you see when you look at him on tape at the level that Gurley is playing? (Ryan Mink)"I see a really big, fast running back that can be a game-breaker any time he touches the ball. That's what I see."
I know offensive coordinator Greg Roman is on the same staff as you, but I believe you had to go against him when he was a play-caller as well. What impresses you the most? I know you don't have to do it anymore, but what has always impressed you the most when you have to go against one of his offenses? (Jamison Hensley) "That he's committed to certain things for each game, and he stays committed to it. There's a lot of, especially the younger coordinators – and he's not a younger coordinator – but a lot of the younger coordinators, they get all enamored with throwing the ball every down, and he stays with what his gameplan is. That's what impresses me the most. And it ends up being a complementary football thing that we have."
Is there a fine line, in terms of how much you can involve FB/DL Patrick Ricard on the defense and offense? (Ed Lee) "We're always checking during the game, 'How much is he playing?' Because that changes for the offense, just like it does us. So, we're always checking, 'How many plays does Pat [Ricard] have?' Things like that. So, there is a fine line, yes."
Do you guys find yourselves, as coordinators, kind of advocating for, "Hey, if Greg Roman says we want this to be a Pat Ricard game," do you say, "No, we'd prefer him."? (Garrett Downing)"No, it's never that. We work together well. And I'm happy for Pat [Ricard]. He's a Pro Bowl fullback. And he's also a good defensive tackle. But we're happy for Pat. The defensive guys get fired up when he's knocking somebody into the Gatorade over on the other bench or catching the ball out on the flat and breaking a tackle. So, it's never that."
Going back to the communication with Sean McVay and QB Jared Goff, is that something where it's kind of like another part of the chess game, where you have to set up looks differently? (Daniel Oyefusi) "I don't know if you can even afford to do that because of the tempos, the different tempos they have. And that's the beauty of his system. And he's done it well since he's been there."
I know you're not preparing for him, but just watching DT Aaron Donald, or knowing about him, what are your impressions of the impact he can have on a game? (Aaron Kasinitz) "[He is a] really, really good game-wrecker. He's an unbelievable talent."
How much does it help the Rams to have somebody like S Eric Weddle, and what do you make of his comments about not giving up any of your secrets?_ (Clint Jiras) "That's a great question. We'll walk hand in hand with Eric [Weddle] forever with that No. 1 defense [from 2018]. And there's a respect level, personally, that I have, and also, we have, for him. The bottom line is, every one of these games are taped, so there's really not a whole lot that can be said, because all we're doing is studying the tape. And I think the world of Eric and what he's done for us. And he's a great football player. So, there is a respect. It's a two-way street with that respect. He's not saying anything. I know he's not saying anything. If he says, 'I'm not saying anything,' he's not saying anything. I'll tell you that, first of all. And second of all, it's the same thing with us, defensively. We're not going down to the offense and saying hey, 'This_ bothers him. This bothers him. That bothers him' No one thinks about that. We don't do that, because like I said, we'll walk together [forever]. And I can't, personally, can't wait to see him."
How much has S Eric Weddle texted you, even this season? (Ryan Mink)"That would be tampering, wouldn't it? I don't know what you're talking about." (laughter)
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman
Opening statement:"Getting ready to play this Rams defense, all you have to do is hit the play button and see how good this team is. That's about how long it takes to figure that out. They have the star-studded front five, obviously, led by Aaron Donald, who has been a great player from the first snap he took in this league. And he's only getting better. And you want to double him or try to help on him. And then you have Clay Matthews. 'Oh, let's put somebody on him, two people on him.' Oh, you have [Dante] Fowler [Jr.], and then you have [Michael] Brockers. And you have [Samson] Ebukam coming in, an excellent player, as well, and those guards playing well. And then the secondary, obviously, [Jalen] Ramsey, [Taylor] Rap, [Troy] Hill … And then we all know how good of a football player Eric Weddle is and the impact he can have. So, we have our work cut out for us. We're really excited about the challenge, getting on the plane, and we have a lot of work left to do. We have some time left. And it's going to be really important that we maximize that time."
For you guys with the running game, a lot of people talk about the different ways, as far as blocking schemes, different things you can do. For you, the guy that is orchestrating everything, how would you describe the Ravens' run game? Because it is different than what a lot of other teams do. (Jamison Hensley) "I don't know. One of my favorite quotes is, 'Always be a first-rate version of yourself, rather than a second-rate version of somebody else.' So, I think we just went to work and really tried to figure out who we were. And that can express itself a lot of different ways. We just kind of stay in our lane and do our thing, and that's what we're focused on – improvement, trying to get better – and we recognize the challenge we have. But we're definitely just focused on us."
What's it like being the "it" offense right now? Last year, everybody was looking at the Rams and "wow" at what they're doing, and now, everybody is looking at you guys. (Ryan Mink) "We're really not aware of any of the perception and whatnot, if it does exist. We're more focused on the reality of, 'Hey, we have a big game this week against a really good defense, and we really need to go through our process that we do every week.' Whatever you do is what it is. It speaks for itself. Everybody is aware of it, as far as performance and how we can improve and what we could do to take the next step, the next logical step, for us. Or, 'How do we attack the Rams?' because they're a very unique defense. So, that's really where all of our energy and thought is going."
What are the difficulties and the differences in not only trying to stop DT Aaron Donald, but the fact that they move him along the line? (Daniel Oyefusi) "He can line up pretty much everywhere. You just don't know where he's going to be. They're very well-coached, and obviously, Wade Phillips [Rams defensive coordinator] has been doing this at a high level for a long time. It seems like he always has that guy, wherever he is. And he'll move him around and make it hard on you. It requires a lot of film study and a lot of specific gameplan stuff."
Is the biggest compliment, as an offensive coordinator, to hear how difficult your offense is to prepare for? (Jeff Zrebiec)"I definitely enjoy that, because that's one of our guiding principles. But the biggest compliment you can receive, really, is that your players play well and play to win and play together, play hard, play tough. That's what you're really looking for, however that comes out."
The starting five offensive linemen have been consistent all year. What has been the secret to their consistency this year? (Andrew Gillis)"They are] just tough guys that want to win that are wired the right way. It all starts with Marshal Yanda. And Marshal's presence, day-in and day-out, just sets quite the tone. I can't speak highly enough [about] how instrumental he's been in the success we've had, really starting mid-season last year, just how he's been just unbelievably dominant. And that's no surprise. But a lot of people look at who scored the touchdown and whatnot, but none of that happens without the guys handling their business up front. And it all starts with him. It doesn't end with him. You can have one guy that's doing it, and the rest of the guys are in and out. That doesn't work either. So, it's a tribute to all of them, how they come in every day and work extremely hard, and really take a lot of pride in the identity they're trying to create every day."
It seems like each week you guys roll out a different wrinkle that keeps defenses on their toes. Is that something that you come up with early in the week, and you're like, "Alright, I think we can do this."? Or, have you had this in the Rolodex for quite some time, and you just figure this week is the right time? (Ryan Mink) "It's a little different. It's a little different every week. Some things … Like, we threw a touchdown pass [vs. Houston] that on late Thursday night last week, that I was like, 'I want this play in. We're putting this in.' And it happened late Thursday night. Every week is different as you go through the gameplan, but you keep studying film. You keep watching. You keep thinking through the gameplan in your head, and you try to find the right stuff.
Is there a lot more that this offense hasn't shown? (Ryan Mink) "I would say 'yes.' I would say 'yes.' And at some point, we'll show it, probably – depends who we're playing."
Was that touchdown pass you referenced either one to WR Seth Roberts or TE Mark Andrews? (Garrett Downing)"One of those two, yes." (laughter)
I think on Sunday, we saw a lot more empty formations than we had earlier in the season. Against New England there was a lot of motion. I know you don't want to give anything away, but are you guys doing more maybe to have defenses declare [their coverage] before the snap to help QB Lamar Jackson [determine if it's] man or zone? (Jonas Shaffer) "Not really, not especially. We have a plan, and a lot of different factors go into that. And it's a credit, really, to the players to handle all that multiplicity week-in and week-out, and they do it with a great attitude. I think they kind of take pride in it. I definitely think when you can do that, it can be an advantage for you, and our guys are using it to their advantage."
You said you want to be the best version of yourself. When you were constructing the offense this offseason, did you at all look back at the Rams since they were so prolific last year on offense under Sean McVay? [Was there] anything from their system that you were like, "Alright, we can borrow this or tweak this."? (Ryan Mink)"Not specifically. But definitely when Sean [McVay] got to L.A., the impact he had was huge, and I think everybody took a hard look at what they were doing and how they were doing it and whatnot. But again, you never know where ideas are inspired from. Maybe some were."
We saw RB Gus Edwards, obviously, have those big runs late [vs. Houston]. When you're thinking about how to split up carries and designing the gameplan, how do you factor in maybe the benefit of a guy having fresh legs late in the game? (Aaron Kasinitz) "That's a great question. [Running backs coach] Matt Weiss does a great job of kind of rotating those guys in, and we have a plan going into the game. A guy like Gus [Edwards] is definitely a kind of guy you want to throw at the defense late in the game, and I think you saw that last week."
Is there a part of you that would like to utilize FB/DL Patrick Ricard more, but then you're taking into consideration that he also plays defense? (Ed Lee)"Patrick Ricard more? You know what? That's a good question. I think we're at the point now where there's really no limit to how much we're going to use him. I do think there was a time when we might have taken that into consideration. I think he's excelled enough at the fullback position. I mean, is there a better fullback in the league? I don't know. I'll let somebody else decide that. But he's playing his position at a high level, and if he can help us win the game, we'll do whatever and how much of it we need to do."
What's it like seeing cornerbacks try to form tackle FB/DL Patrick Ricard? (Jonas Shaffer) "I love it. (laughter) It's fun. I like watching linebackers try to do it." (laughter)
Special Teams Coach Chris Horton
Opening statement: "Good morning. Good to see everyone. Just to start with the recap of the Houston game: I thought our guys went out and played a solid game. We had eight kickoffs. We covered three. Again, I thought our guys covered well last Sunday, which was pretty good to see. We didn't punt the ball again. That's OK. I said that before. If you're not punting, then you're putting points on the board, and that's how you win football games by your offense scoring points. Punt return, we had a little hiccup there with De'Anthony [Thomas], but he's doing a great job for us. That one play – you, obviously, want him to fair catch that ball, but that is, obviously, interference with an opportunity to catch that ball. So, he's doing well for us. He's doing everything we ask of him. And kickoff return, again, it's just some little things that we're going to get cleaned up, and we're going to keep pressing our guys for the little details. And soon those plays will pop. Again, that ball that hit the ground on the kickoff return, it's just one of those things I have to make sure I cover with De'Anthony [Thomas]. You try to cover everything, and he hasn't been here very long. He's in charge of catching every football, and he needs to know that. So, that should never happen again, and we have that taken care of the other day. In regards to the missed field goal, it's just one of those situations where our kicker [Justin Tucker], he just has to hit the ball better. He understands that. We have all the confidence in the world in Justin Tucker. I can guarantee you that, and those things won't happen again. He came out yesterday, he practiced well. I thought he really had a great practice."
You mentioned P Sam Koch going without a punt. Do you ever worry about him getting rusty? (Ed Lee) "Not at all, not at all, because when it's third down, he's over there, he's in the net, and he's punting the ball. So, those are his reps. He'll be fine, and when we come out here on Wednesdays, we have great sessions with our punt team. So, he's going to continue to practice, and if you don't have to punt in the game, like I said, that's OK. That's OK."
Did you get a reason why it wasn't called interference [with the opportunity to catch on WR/RS De'Anthony Thomas' muffed punt]? Was it just a missed call? Have they [the NFL] acknowledged it? Or was there something that led to that? (Jeff Zrebiec) "We didn't really get a reasoning, but I just think that guy clearly interfered with De'Anthony [Thomas] to catch the ball. And that's one that, nine times out of 10, they're going to call that. That was a point of emphasis on the video that came out a while ago with interference with the opportunity to catch the football. I just think that one should have been called. Now, on the other part, De'Anthony – I talked to him when he came off the field [and said]: 'Just go ahead and fair catch it.' That's one that we wouldn't return anyway based on where that guy was. 'Just go ahead and fair catch it, protect yourself, and then you're probably more likely to get the call.'
From your perspective, what happened on the fake field goal? Did they just defend it really well? Was there something, execution-wise? (Luke Jones) "They really just defended that play pretty well. We watched it. We weren't discouraged, because it was there. And there are some things that you can't really replicate in practice with that play. That nose tackle did a great job of getting push, knocking our guy back, but it was there. It was there, and we're not discouraged. We'll continue to have those plays up if we feel like there's opportunities for them."