Transcripts: John Harbaugh Monday Press Conference

JOHN HARBAUGH MONDAY PRESS CONFERENCE

Opening statement: "Good to see everybody. I appreciate everybody being here. Another Monday, the week of Christmas – Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to everybody out there. It's a great week; it's a glorious week. I might as well get to a couple things. First of all, the game: I watched the game. We played very, very well, even when we weren't producing as much. They had two scoring drives, if you look at it, penalty-aided, mostly, on the one, and then when we didn't get the ball rolling so much in the first half offensively, really, [it was] more our own doing. We had just a couple key mistakes here and there that we'll work to clean up. And I would give a lot of the credit to that to the Browns, too, because they were throwing everything at us – both sides, offensively and defensively – a lot of scheme, offensively, different pick routes and different challenging things like that on offense. And then defensively, a lot of aggressive calls, a lot of zero pressures and things like that. I thought our guys handled them very well, coming back to the composure part of it. Both sides of the ball and special teams played with great composure. Coaches kept their cool, and we found a way to make some plays. 

"As far as Mark Ingram, he has a mild-to-moderate calf strain. So, he won't play this week. He probably wouldn't play this week no matter what the circumstance was with that calf strain. We'd be looking for him to be ready in two weeks, so we'll see how that goes going forward. What we're going to do is we're going to not play certain guys in this game. We won't play Lamar [Jackson]. Marshal [Yanda] won't play. Earl [Thomas III] won't play. Brandon Williams won't play. After that, we'll still decide as the week goes on. It's not like you can sit … One thing that's really important to understand is this is pro football, not college football. You can't sit your starters in a game. That's not how it works. You have up to seven options, if you're completely healthy. We don't know exactly if we'll be completely healthy or not. We're very healthy, so that does bode well. It will be an opportunity for some guys to play who have been inactive, so that's a big plus for us. It gives some guys some experience, and we'll just roll with it. But our intention will be, and our plan will be, [to have] all hands on deck to win the game. With all of those guys who will be playing, they're all on our 53-man roster. They'll be excited to play, and we'll be excited to play. It's a rivalry game. It's the Steelers. They have everything to play for, and we recognize that and we'll be looking to put our absolute best foot forward, play our best football game with the guys that we'll be playing with, which will be, for the most part, most of our football team, with a few exceptions. So, that's where we're at with that."

Was this something that you discussed? You said yesterday you would talk about it with the leadership council. Is that how you arrived at it, with that sort of discussion? (Jerry Coleman) "Yes, there's a process to it. It was really more informal, I would say, because we didn't bring the guys in today. So, I talked to a few guys on the plane. Marshal [Yanda] was the main guy that I had some time talking to about it. I know everybody … I feel confident that everybody is on board. I talked to the coordinators, assistant head coach, and Scott Cohen was involved in that today. It was pretty straight forward. It's not really hard. It's not a hard decision, really, if you really sit back on it and think about it. It's a solid decision."

Would you play both other quarterbacks? (Peter Schmuck) "Possibly, yes, sure. That's something we've talked about. That's on the table, yes."

As you think about the rest factor for guys who will be active, what will be the main factors that you look at in making those decisions? (Childs Walker) "For who will be active?" (Reporter: "When you decide how much the guys who are active are going to play, in other words, what will be the main factor?")"[In regard to] the guys who are active, it depends on who it is. It just depends on who it is. That's really all I can say. You can kind of take it from there. It will be case by case. I'm not getting into every different guy. Most of the guys are going to play the whole game. Most of the guys will have a full plate, because guys will be playing both the offensive or defensive position and special teams in a lot of cases. There will be some guys pulling some heavy duty in the game. So, it's just case by case."

The people who argue against it, it's like, "Oh, the momentum that carries you." But it sounds like from how you've described it, it's an easy decision. (Jamison Hensley) "Well, it's a solid decision. I don't know if it's easy. There's a strong case to be made either way, and I really recognize the other side of it. It's a fair, a valid case. It's real. So, you just have to balance it out between two … It's two good choices, really. We are going to have to practice really well. That's our whole team. And really, the whole team, most of the whole team is playing anyway. And the guys who aren't playing are going to have to practice. Our goal is now, in between, we want to win this game. That's next on the agenda. And then after that, our goal is to be the very best football team we can become for that divisional game. So, we have a number of practices between now and then, and we have to make the most of every practice, every rep, every meeting, everything we do, to be a much better football team than we are right now."

Everything with you is always team, team, team. But CB Brandon Carr has an interesting streak that I know he's very proud of. He's a veteran. Is he a guy that you consider sitting, or would you talk to him about that in particular? (Jeff Zrebiec)"Yes, again, it's case by case. Right now, Brandon [Carr] is on my list to play. And if something changes with that, it'll change. So, we're aware of that. But also, I believe Brandon wants to play."

With QB Robert Griffin III, he's gotten in some games this year. What kind of an opportunity do you think that presents for him? He's probably getting the most extensive playing time for him on Sunday. (Jamison Hensley) "It's a great opportunity for anybody that's playing in the game. So, for all the guys – and certainly, in his case – it's a big deal. He's played already this year, which says a lot. Backup quarterbacks don't always play unless there's an injury, but he's still played quite a bit, relatively speaking, and done a good job. So, yes, it will be a great opportunity for him. I fully expect him to make the most of it and play a very good football game."

How about the competitor in you? You're a very competitive guy. The Steelers have something to play for. Will that be mentioned, the fact that you're not just playing a team that's in a lame duck situation? _(Jerry Coleman) _"Yes, I just said that. I think I just said that a minute ago. That's exactly right. That's exactly right. We're going to do everything we can to play our best football game and win the game. That's what we're going out there to do. We know who we're playing. We know what kind of game it will be. And we're going to go out there and play our kind of football game."

You said practice will be important. Do you make any tweaks to practice, because you'll have a couple of weeks off to try and shake off some of the rust, or is it the same schedule, same thing? _(Aaron Kasinitz) _"There will be some adjustments in the bye week. We'll have a bye week schedule that we're planning right now. Since we won't be preparing for a game, it won't be quite like a game week, to your point. So, that will be part of it, yes."

Did your experience from 2012 help inform your decisions here, or do you look at it as a totally different situation? (Childs Walker) "I didn't really gauge how much or why … You do go by all of your experiences. You do go by your feelings about it and conversations, too, of course, and just all that factors in. I prayed about it, too, just so you know."

QB Lamar Jackson said yesterday that he wanted to play maybe some. Did you talk … When you talked to him and told him that he wasn't, was he completely on board? (Dave Ginsburg)"I haven't talked to him, yet, about it. I know he'll be completely on board, though. He wants to play. I saw the [Sunday post-game] press conference.(laughter) And I appreciate it. But one thing about Lamar [Jackson] and all of our guys, they'll be 100 percent behind the guys who are playing, and they'll be doing everything they can do to get those guys prepared to play in this game and win the football game."

When will you inform QB Lamar Jackson? (Jerry Coleman) "I don't know." (Reporter: "He may have just found out right now.") "He probably talked to his position coach; that would be my guess. (laughter) But we're moving pretty fast here. We're moving pretty fast. We'll be alright."

How pleased were you with how the run defense played yesterday? And in general, you guys are in dime a lot. And on paper, that tends to be a package that can be susceptible against the run. But considering how much you play dime, how pleased have you been with the run defense, specifically on Sunday? (Luke Jones) "Our front did a great job, the guys that were in there. And you talk about dime, we have a lot of iterations of that. There were a number of those types of personnel groupings that had bigger personnel, D-line. Chuck Clark was playing linebacker quite a bit. Anthony Levine was at linebacker. Sometimes, we had two defensive backs in there at linebacker, more on the passing downs. So, yes, those guys did a great job. I would start with the front. The front, the tackles played exceptionally well. And the defensive ends set the edge very well, with just a couple of exceptions. Our run defense was really, really solid."

You often get these questions about QB Lamar Jackson and your reactions and stuff like that. Watching TE Mark Andrews yesterday virtually dominate the game, did you envision anything like that when you guys drafted him?_ (Peter Schmuck)_"It's funny, I don't know if I've mentioned this publicly, but I have mentioned it to Eric [DeCosta] numerous times. When we first did the evaluation on Mark Andrews, these guys get kind of slotted where they're at and stuff. The truth is, I think hindsight would say that he was undervalued by the NFL world of evaluation, and by the fact that he went in the third round in the end. And Eric was really good about knowing where he would go. But when we first did it, he was our top tight end in the rankings. And Hayden [Hurst] was right there, and the kid that's up in Philly was right there, too, off the top of my head. There might have been another guy or two, because it was a good class for tight ends. But Mark was my top guy and a number of the scouts' top guy, and kind of sprinkled around that top four. And then you watch him on tape, it was because he always got open. He always made catches. He had a knack. And you watch the tape, and you're like, 'Well, is it going to be that easy in the NFL?' Not 'easy;' easy isn't the right word. 'But is he going to be able to get that open and make those plays in the NFL?' Because he was wide open at Oklahoma, it seemed like, so often. He's just a guy that translated. He's a guy that came here and yes, that feel translated to sitting down in the right place, to beating man coverage, to making great catches. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. You never exactly know what college is going to translate into the NFL. He's a guy that your first gut instinct watching the tape ended up being right, and I give Eric and Ozzie [Newsome] tons of credit for knowing where he was going to go. And we were able to get him in the third round."

Speaking of that run defense, the play that OLB Jaylon Ferguson made off the edge on that third-and-1 play on RB Kareem Hunt – can you just talk about the play, what it says about him to make that play for tackle for loss? And the play call there seemed to be just perfect from that situation and kind of catching them in a gadget play? (Ryan Mink) "We were just bringing a run pressure. We had one guy coming inside, one guy coming off the edge, and our guys inside did a great job of getting off blocks. I believe that Earl Thomas was coming off the edge there, wasn't he, as well? And Jaylon [Ferguson], as you said, they just were bringing it. They were bringing it hard. They didn't know what play it was going to be. It was not a play that we had practiced against or anything. We didn't expect to get that play. Although, we were prepared for trick plays. We knew that they had a number of guys that can throw, and we actually knew that 27 [Kareem Hunt] can throw, as well. But our guys were just playing fast and made the play. It's a credit to them, yes."

We got off the RB Mark Ingram II stuff to ask you about who's playing and stuff. So, all in all, this was pretty positive news for you guys, given how bad it looked at the time. (Jeff Zrebiec) "I don't really put a measurement on that part of it. I don't want you to put words in my mouth like that when you do the quote. I know you would never do that, though. (laughter)But yes, it was good news. It was good news."

Not wanting to give anything away, but with QB Robert Griffin III in there, obviously with QB Lamar Jackson, you can do things that you can't do with other quarterbacks because he's a dual threat himself. How different could this offense look on Sunday, and how useful could that be for maybe future experimentation if you guys look ahead to the playoffs? (Jonas Shaffer)"Yes, I guess it could. It's a pretty deep question, and I'm sure it'll be part of the process as we put the gameplan together. 'RG3' [Robert Griffin III] has a great skillset, some things similar to Lamar, some things different though. They're not exactly the same by any stretch. So, we will definitely try to tailor it toward what he does really well, does best, like we always do with Lamar. I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays out. It's still Monday, so we have a lot of work to do on that."

You challenged the CB Jimmy Smith pass interference call. It looked like it was uncatchable. Is that something that they can review? Is that part of the review, if it's uncatchable? I didn't know if there are different elements or not. (Jamison Hensley)"I don't know, to be honest with you. I wish I did know, because that's what I was challenging. I thought the contact was minimal. I don't think there was any contact that made a difference. That's just my opinion. That's why I challenged it. And then the ball was four feet over his head. So, what are you going to do? What are you going to do? It's crazy."

You said you heard some of the post-game press conferences. CB Marlon Humphrey was glowing about how this team is together. You've talked about the same thing. Is that maybe one of the reasons, besides skillset, that this team is 13-2 now? (Dave Ginsburg) _"I would say so. It's like, what comes first? Well, they kind of go together. Momentum gets built on other things, and once you can start generating that 'momentum' word that Jerry [Coleman, reporter] is just … Jerry picked his head up there on that 'momentum' word. _(laughter) There's a lot of history there, right? You feel vindicated now. But I do feel like it's a big part of it. Camaraderie, family, brotherhood, all those words, they do stand for something. We do have that. It's a joy. It's just been a joy to be around these guys, because they work. I'm a coach. I want guys to come in and work on football. I don't want them to be distracted and thinking about a bunch of other things. But I do want them to have fun. And you like to have a bunch of guys that love football, because that's what we're here for. That's what we're about. And these guys are that. So, that, to me, is a big part of what we're doing and what we're accomplishing."

As you have pointed out, you've taken each goal one at a time – made the playoffs, won the division, won the No. 1 seed. Is there any anxiousness among the coaching staff that the next goal is three weeks away, that it's that far away? I don't know if you understand what I'm trying to say. It's something you've been doing for four months, five months. (Peter Schmuck)"You just kind of want to get to it, yes. I can see the thought on it, but we thought more about what I'm going to talk to the guys about is we have a three-week opportunity between now and this game to get better. And we need to be the best team we can be going into that. We're going to play a great football team. And then, we're going to hopefully earn the right to have the homefield in the championship game. We haven't earned that, yet. We earned the No. 1 seed. People say, 'You have homefield throughout.' You only have homefield throughout if you win the divisional game. You have to earn the championship game. So, we're going to have to be a better football team than we are right now by a good margin to win that football [game]. So, I'm looking at it as an opportunity, for three weeks, to get better."

We talk so much about guys that have helped this team on defense on the fly. What did you think of ILB L.J. Fort yesterday? He lost some interceptions, one on penalty and one on replay. (Ken Weinman) "Yes, great … L.J. [Fort], what an addition. On special teams, too, he had a couple tackles. I want to compare that interception to the one in Pittsburgh No. 55 [LB Devin Bush] had, when the ball didn't move or did move when it hit the ground, didn't lose control and lost control. I don't get it. I don't know. Explain it to me, please, so we can understand it. But I thought that he got an interception there, yes."

Because of the timeline of RB Mark Ingram II's injury, you had about a quarter where RB Gus Edwards and RB Justice Hill were your two running backs. What did those guys show you and did you learn something about how they complement each other? (Aaron Kasinitz) "I don't know about that. I guess they complement each other really well, yes, because you have a speed guy and a quick guy and a smaller guy. But I don't want to take anything away from Gus' [Edwards] acceleration, either. He's just a bigger guy. But it was just reinforcing, more than anything, that they just played so well. It was good to see Justice [Hill]] break out and have a couple of runs. We've seen that from Gus. He's been very consistent. So, that was good."

With RB Justice Hill, have you seen him get better throughout the year in practice, even though we maybe haven't seen it in the game as much? (Childs Walker) "Yes, I've been talking to him for about three weeks, 'You're going to get a breakout run here, man. You're going to get one that's going to go.' And the last couple games, it just wasn't quite happening. But it did this game, with the, what was it, about a 20-yard run? So yes, he's been doing great in practice; it's good to see it happen in a game."

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