JOHN HARBAUGH MONDAY PRESS CONFERENCE
Opening statement: "I'd just like to, first of all, take an opportunity to give a shout-out to someone that we care a lot about – maybe you guys can put it out there for him – Jon Dzuray. He's a 14-year old guy who is in the hospital right now. He's fighting a soft tissue sarcoma. He was supposed to come over and visit with us a couple of times in the last six months, and he hasn't been able to make it over because he's in chemo and those kinds of things. Just a shout-out to Jon; he's doing a great job. We love you, we care about you, and we're proud of the fight you're putting in, the battle that you are waging. God has got you in His hands, man. He has you. He's holding you close, He's holding you tight, and it's going to be a very blessed Christmas for you. And we're proud that you are a Ravens fan, so we're with you."
**Considering the fact that the offense has been mostly successful this year, has any thought ever been given to changing your usual habit of deferring if you win the coin toss and taking the kickoff and getting that offense on the field right away? *(Joe Platania) *"We give thought to that every week. We consider all the ramifications of that, and we do what we think is best to win the game. We generally like to start on defense. That's generally our rule of thumb. If you look at the stats on it, that's the way to go. You have a little better chance, maybe a percentage-and-a-half better at winning, historically, if you defer and kickoff. We also have a very good defense, so we like doing that. But it could change next week. It's not to say that it couldn't change or we have any aversion to taking the ball."
Any updates on your two tackles [T Eugene Monroe and T Rick Wagner]? (Aaron Wilson)"No, we'll have that on Wednesday for you when the injury report comes out."
In terms of the slow starts – when you guys study all the stuff – has there been more of a common thread to it or is it just an anomaly in each game where it is something different? (Aaron Wilson)"Each game has been different. Every play and every series is different. There are different reasons for it. We've also had fast starts, too."
John, is there a way you can sum up the mood in the building? Obviously, it is what it is, but are you looking completely forward, not looking back? (David Ginsberg) "The mood is great. The mood is great. I'm not really into summing up the mood. That's not really something that I think we have any time for. That would be like … I don't even know what that would be. I can't even fathom it. What we're doing is we're going to work. Just like I said last night, we are playing a huge game in our stadium. We need our fans to be fired up, and we need our fans in the seats when we kick off. Whether we defer or take the ball, we need them in there. We need them cheering loud, and we need to go win this game. We need our fans to make it really hard on whoever the quarterback is in their offense, and we need to go play our best game of the year. We're playing a game for the playoffs. We have a chance to make the playoffs, and it starts with winning the game. That's what we have to do. So, that's our focus – completely, totally, 100 percent [that] is our focus – and that's all we're thinking about."
John, it was just announced that QB Johnny Manziel will not be able to play. That was [Browns head coach] Mike Pettine at his press conference, so … * (Aaron Wilson) "Ok. Thanks, I didn't know that. It's good [information]." *(Reporter: "It's either Brian Hoyer or Connor Shaw.") "It's Hoyer or Shaw?" (Reporter: "[Confirmed reports], though, right now [state that] Connor Shaw might have to start. That's from [Pettine's] press conference.)" *"Is Hoyer hurt?" *(Reporter: "Brian Hoyer has a shoulder injury.") *"Oh, does he? OK, good [information]. Not good that he has a shoulder injury, sorry. The NFL police are out there. *(laughter) I'm not rooting for injuries. I just didn't know."
My question would just be, again, [you have] to kind of prepare for a little bit of an unknown guy [in QB Connor Shaw] that hasn't maybe played a lot. (Aaron Wilson)"We've had some experience with that, yes, last week. No, I haven't had any time to digest that actually, so thanks. He played in the preseason; we'll watch it. I have a feeling [Brian] Hoyer might show up. We'll be preparing for him as well."
John, you kind of mentioned that you went through that similar scenario with a quarterback [in QB Case Keenum]. You probably didn't have extensive … Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak had a history with him, but still, [it was] not as extensive a history as what you would normally have. How do you think you fared with [preparations], as far as … Do you think that played any factor into it, of having a more inexperienced quarterback that you didn't really have that much [information on], compared to some other quarterbacks like a QB Ryan Fitzpatrick or? (Jamison Hensley) "I don't understand, in what way?"
Of like game film of them being in that offense that season … If you were going against QB Ryan Fitzpatrick or even QB Tom Savage, you would have film of them in that system that season. You don't have any film of QB Case Keenum in that system this year. Do you think just that unfamiliarity, did that have any effect on how the game played or how you attacked on defense? (Jamison Hensley) "No, not at all. I thought we played well on defense. What they did was very much in line with their system. It's kind of a New England system. It's absolutely a New England system with some wrinkles that [Texans head] coach [Bill] O'Brien has used this year – some read option things and things like that. But it was very much in line with what they do. It was a very good game plan. I thought our defense did a nice job with it."
*The job T James Hurst had to do … After taking a look at it, could he have used more protection in trying to fend off guys like DE J.J. Watt? *(Jerry Coleman) *"What would you suggest?" *
Having a couple of guys maybe back to chip away or whatever? (Jerry Coleman) "You can't chip when they have two guys up in the 'A' gap – it makes it impossible to chip. Your only option would be max protection, and then you have really one guy out on a route. They did a nice job with the game plan. They did a good job protecting J.J. and making sure he got single blocks. There weren't opportunities, really, to chip the way out. When we did have an opportunity to do it, we did. We put a tight end over him a couple of times as well. So, the answer to your question really is, 'No.' We did everything we could to protect James. But the fact of the matter is in those situations, short of going complete max protection and having both your receivers doubled, we didn't have an opportunity to do that, because they had both 'backers up in the 'A' gaps, and that uses up a back. It's either that, where you slide the whole protection the other way, maybe to J.J., which still singles him up, or you put a back on J.J. Watt, or the other end [Jared Crick] who is a pretty good pass rusher on the other side. So, it's not just as simple as some would claim – [to] just chip your way out – because they don't always allow you to do that. They know what they are doing when they line their defense up, and we do the same thing with our guys. You wonder why [Elvis] Dumervil and [Terrell] Suggs don't get chipped as much as they do – it's because we're not allowing them to do it. It's a chess game, and they did a good job with it. And they always do. [Texans defensive coordinator] Romeo Crennel is a great defensive coordinator."
John, the last couple games … Now, you can't always run the ball successfully, but the running game hasn't really sparked the last two games. Have teams done anything different to take it away? Is it more what you guys aren't doing? Why don't you feel like you've been able to get it started? (Clifton Brown) "It's probably both. They've blitzed the run game quite a bit. In some games, we've handled that and made them pay for it, and some games we haven't, and in this game we certainly didn't hurt them. We missed some throws; they played a quarters coverage – a style of quarters coverage where the safeties were down; it was basically a nine-box type of a deal – and we had a couple posts that we just didn't quite finish. Those are big plays in the game. If you make a couple of those plays in the game, it's a whole different scenario and you stop them from doing that stuff. The other thing is we didn't handle the pressures very well early. They were running linebacker pressures up the middle that we didn't block for about a quarter-and-a-half. We just didn't. And some of it had to do with how well they were running it as well. Those are things that you have to put a stop to. If you allow people to keep doing them, they're going to keep doing them. In this game, we never put a stop to it like we needed to. We know that, [but] we didn't do a good job with it. They did a better job than us."
John, did you just feel like RB Fitzgerald Toussaint was a better matchup than RB Bernard Pierce was? Or has he just been practicing better and [you] thought he deserved an opportunity? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I'm not going to make a comparison like you're trying to lead me into. We like Fitzgerald Toussaint as a player, [so we] gave him a chance to play. We like [Bernard] Pierce, too. We like all of our guys. You only get so many carries out there and so many opportunities. Fitzgerald does a nice job in pass protection, so we feel comfortable with him in that as well."
Do you have plans to watch tonight's [Cincinnati vs. Denver] game, and how will you deal with next Sunday's San Diego [at Kansas City] game simultaneously? Will you tell your guys not to look at the scoreboard? (Dave Ginsburg) "Didn't I just answer that question a minute ago? Our emphasis is completely and squarely on the Cleveland Browns. That's what we're going to be doing. I'm sure they'll flash the score up there; I'm sure we'll see it. It'll be a matter of doing this (turns his head and looks up), 'OK, what's the score?' But we're not going to be immersed in any other game. That's a recipe for disaster. We will be wholly and fully engaged in the task at hand. We will be very determined. This is a determined football team. It's a football team that has put [in] a great deal of effort [and] has been through a lot of adversity. You learn from adversity. I guess I don't feel as somber about it as you all do. There is no success without failure. You don't improve and grow [without failure]. There's a process to it all, and you come up short sometimes, and we came up short in this game, but that's how you improve and get better. And that's what we plan on doing. We're excited about the opportunity. It gives us an opportunity to do something even greater – surprise everybody even more. That's what we plan on doing. That's what we're going to try to do."
John, is there some concern about – and I know you've done your best to keep your guys fresh – but you look at the numbers of RB Justin Forsett and WR Steve Smith Sr. of late, they haven't been like they were at the beginning of the year. [Is there] concern over decline from those guys? And again, I know you've done your best to relax them and give them as much time off as possible. (Jerry Coleman) "The National Football League is a long season. It's tough. Look all around the league; look who people are playing with. It's kind of a battle ... I hate to use the word 'war,' but that's the term – 'war of attrition.' That's what it is. That's what football is. That's what makes it so great and so tough. Really, all pro sports are like that. Over the long haul, one true champion will be determined, and a lot of that is the ability to play through fatigue and to play through injuries and overcome adversity, and those things are all part of it. It's just reality, and you do your best to keep them [rested]. You can't stay fresh – it's impossible. You try to stay strong. You try to be strong from one week to the next, and that's what we try to do."
The Pro Bowl [announcement] does come out tomorrow. You guys probably have a lot of guys [that are] deserving candidates. Your thoughts on the season that you guys had and some of the recognition some of these guys might get? (Aaron Wilson) "I haven't thought about that at all. It hasn't crossed my mind. I'm very hopeful for all of our guys that they get an opportunity. Like you said, many of our guys are very deserving about it, and I'll have my fingers crossed for them."
John, CB Rashaan Melvin's first NFL start, first play [he] gets a big play – debatable on some pushing things, but it seemed like he bounced back. From your perspective, were you pleased with how a player that was on a practice squad for a while makes his NFL start? (Jamison Hensley) "[I] was very, very pleased. [Rashaan Melvin] played really well. I thought our whole secondary, all in all, played very well, but Rashaan was right there. He shadowed both No. 80 [Andre Johnson] and No. 10 [DeAndre Hopkins] all over the field. I thought [Lardarius] Webb played really well. He's getting his juice back. He's starting to have some bursts and his speed – you saw that out there – and he had a couple plays on fades in the end zone as well. So, those guys – thanks for brining that up – they did a nice job."
S Darian Stewart as well? (Aaron Wilson) "Darian [Stewart] did a nice job, and so did Jeromy [Miles]. Both those guys played well in the rotation. Will Hill played well. The secondary played well. Of course, that one play early was a play, but I thought we tackled well as a group. I can't think of another really big pass play that they got on us off the top of my head. Maybe you can think of one for me. And the only really long run play they had was the late-game Wildcat that snuck out, and I thought we had him pretty well surrounded. I'm not sure how he got out of that one. Just credit Arian Foster for being Arian Foster on that one. So, the big plays were down."
For the past couple weeks, the defense has been pretty good in sudden change, especially at sudden change when you're in the red zone. How much mental toughness do you think determines adjusting to that sudden change and being backed up a little bit? (Jamison Hensley) "That's being good in the red zone for one thing. We were 6-of-7 [defensively] in the red zone, and we were all kind of ticked off about the halfback pass. But give [Arian Foster] credit; he got it off under great pressure, and it was a trick play basically. That's a tough one to defend sometimes. They caught us on that. To be able to run back on the field when you're back there and not expecting to have to do it, it's why they call it sudden change. And the ability to do it with a positive frame of mind – in the right kind of mood to talk to David's [Ginsburg] point – but they approach in a way that says, 'Hey, you know what, it's OK. It's just another opportunity to do something even better than we expected.' That's the way you have to look at it. To me, it's a metaphor for life. I hate to get philosophical too much, but I think football is a metaphor for life, and it says, 'Hey, sometimes it's not going to be fair. It's not going to be right. It's going to be unexpected. You still better get the job done.' When you do a good job, it's even a little more special. On the flip side of it, we don't want to be putting our defense in that situation, but the defense basically says, 'Get them stopped wherever we get the ball.' That's what you admire about those guys. And they have probably been … I don't know, they have probably been better at it than anyone in the league this year. I'm not sure, but they're right up there at the top of the league in sudden change defense."