JOHN HARBAUGH MONDAY PRESS CONFERENCE: WEEK 4 at STEELERS
Opening statement:"Welcome. Good to see everybody here. We've had a chance to review the tape as a coaching staff and meet and go through everything and set our path going forward, in terms of what we need to do to keep building and improving and stacking and becoming a better football team. And then also, the challenge ahead, we've starting on the next game, which is Sunday night up in Pittsburgh, another primetime game in Pittsburgh. I think we're getting pretty used to that. It seems like we're there every year in primetime at night, one way or another, so we're excited about that. And, I'm just proud of our team. You don't look back too much. After tomorrow, we'll get about probably 10 minutes, we'll look at the game and then a little bit of tape, study it and try to build on it and improve, and then we'll be moving on to Pittsburgh, so that's kind of how we do it. There are a lot of twists and turns. You think you're going to take a right, you take a left. You think the road is going to go down, it goes up, and it's kind of how life is, and that's how football games and football seasons seem to go. I think it's a great metaphor for life that way, and I just appreciate the way our guys handled the twists and turns of the game and the season so far. We have a lot of character, and when you have that, you certainly have a chance, and I'm excited about that going forward."
The defensive line yesterday and linebacker, the pressure you put on the quarterback, could you talk a little bit about it? (Stan Charles)"It's really true, and I think we had 14 times where we were hitting him in some form or fashion – all legally, the right way, which certainly, I was very happy with. Three sacks, was it? And, a number of hits in pressure, so we forced the ball out quick. We also had some batted balls. The blitz, the pressure package was good. We had a few free runners. We came clean in a couple games. That was part of the plan, because their hard-setters, their flat-setters, they get their hands on you. They're very strong when they get ahold of you, and we thought we wanted to pick them a little bit and run some games in there. That was good. But, I just thought the power of our rushes more than anything – getting off the ball, getting into their chest and pushing them back – was a big part of it."
As a follow-up to that though, without their holding penalties, you would've gotten a lot more hits and a lot more hurries. They must have had about 10 holding penalties yesterday. (Stan Charles) _(Harbaugh shrugs.)_
In going back and looking at the film, there were two plays that really seemed to upset the fans and, I'm sure, upset the coaching staff, maybe. One was the blocked field goal. What had you seen from that and in talking with the league? And, the other was the OLB Matthew Judon call on the ILB Patrick Onwuasor return. _(Jerry Coleman) _"The Judon call … The quarterback, Case [Keenum], was just trying to get out of bounds and get out of the way, and I think Matt was just trying to avoid him. That's what he was trying to do. And yet, his hands kind of brushed Case's back, and Case fell forward, so I understand what the officials saw there. We coach our guys very hard in all returns – special teams, or interception returns – to basically keep your hands off a player from behind no matter what, no matter what, and don't grab anybody. That's something we coach really hard. Matt does that, too. I would've liked for Matt to have been able to get his hands up, even if he would have run over Case and stepped on him, that's … Tangled up would have been one thing, but in trying to protect himself, it cost us a touchdown. Try to learn from that, although I don't blame Matt for that.
"As far as the other play, we did talk to the league, and I can't really speak for them. I'll let them speak for them on it, but I think what we all thought was confirmed. There's an element of being stationary, and they weren't stationary. But still, the way we look at it is, we have to improve there. That should be blocked. We should protect that 'A' gap better. We know that. It shouldn't even be an issue. But, [it was] as we all thought after the game last night."
How much better is the receiving corps this year? Not to insult the guys that were here last year, but all three of the guys that they've added, plus even your rookie tight end to really contribute, giving QB Joe Flacco a lot of targets. _(David Ginsburg) _"I'm really pleased with all those guys. They're playing really well. They made big plays. Willie Snead had some huge, huge conversions. [Denver] is a team that is the best third-down team in football. I think they were second last year and first this year. Ever since Coach [Vance] Joseph got there, they've been great on third down. Pressure, coverage, scheme – it's all been excellent. We were 50 percent, and a number of those were the guys you were talking about making plays, whether it was Mark Andrews on the seam route on third-and-8, Willie Snead caught a couple slants over the middle, tight-window throws by Joe [Flacco]. Crabtree, Michael Crabtree came up big back-to-back in the first two, second or third drive, I think, where he kept those drives going for scores. And, John Brown made a couple big catches, especially the 40-yarder down the right sideline. So, those guys making plays for us has really just been so critical, and we want to keep building on that."
It seemed like OLB Za'Darius Smith had a really good game yesterday. Just curious, in his fourth year now, do you feel like he's at the point where he can, not play like that every week, but can build off a performance like that, and has expanded what he can do as a player? _(Cliff Brown) _"He has. He's taken the next step. He's certainly raised his game to another level. He's always been a good player. He's a guy that didn't play a lot of football. I think he played two years or something in college, maybe a year in high school. He went to junior college. He's a guy that just was not a football player, so I think there was a big learning curve for him coming out. He's learned it now. He knows how to play fast. He knows all the little [nuances]. He's not making mistakes like he did before that would keep him off the field, and he's cutting it loose. He's really explosive. He's done a great job with the inside pass rush. That's been something that we've been looking for. He has filled that role very well, and then even when he's inside as a pass rusher, he's held up very well against the run. For a guy that's 275 [pounds] or so, that's pretty darn good. So yes, I'm very pleased with him."
How would you assess WR/RS Tim White's performance as a returner yesterday? _(Todd Karpovich) _"I thought it was good. I thought it was very solid. Tough day again [due to the rain]. He caught everything, made some good decisions. Maybe could have run up and caught one or two, but those are. .. I told him, I said, 'Hey, listen, especially towards the end, we have the lead. If you can go catch it, grab it, fair catch it if you're … Let's err on the side of smart right now.' And he did a good job of that, and hit the one return, the kickoff return. Yes, I thought he did well. If we would have blocked a little better for him on two of the other kickoff returns, he might have hit those, too. So, he did a good job."
The Steelers play tonight. I'm curious, would you watch them live? Is there anything that you can glean from doing that, or do you wait for the tape? (Aaron Kasinitz)"Yes, it's going to be impossible not to watch them live. I've already seen them. I've already seen all of the two games on tape, both sides of the ball and special teams. There's really no more tape to watch. We'll do a lot of study from now until then. We'll get a lot of reports, a lot of information that comes in. You just process all that information. We all have our roles, and all of our guys will be doing that. But my guess is most of the guys will get home and watch the game, or watch it – if they're doing film work, they'll watch it on the TV. You have two screens in your office. But, I'm going to go home and watch it. You get a lot out of it by watching it on TV. You get a feel for the game and the team. What am I going to get done if I'm not watching it? I know they're playing, and we're playing them next week. If I'm not watching it, it'd be crazy! I'm looking forward to it. It's just fun. I can't wait to see it. I'm looking forward to it."
Obviously, we don't know how they're going to play tonight, but with that team in particular, have you learned not to pay it too much mind when it maybe seems on the surface that they're struggling? _(Childs Walker) _"We're going to play the Steelers on Sunday Night Football in Pittsburgh, and we know what that means. We're going to get their best shot. There's no team that rallies for big games more than they do. They come up big for the big games, and playing the Ravens is a big game, and I'm sure the Steelers will play their best on Sunday night, like they always do against us."
Do you prepare for RB Le'Veon Bell, or do you just wait and see if he signs? _(Jerry Coleman) _"Wait and see. Wait and see. We'll prepare for their offense. It's a very good question. Of course, their running backs that they're playing now, James Conner and Co., that's who we'll looking at mainly. But, we've seen Le'Veon enough to understand what he brings to the table and how he affects what they do."
Your running backs, how much more confidence do you have in RB Javorius "Buck" Allen now than you did, say, a couple years ago? _(Stan Charles) _"He's grown as a player, especially on the third-down stuff. Pass protection, excellent. [He's] become a real factor. In fact, we're talking about how much better he can get as a receiver, in terms of shaking loose on some routes and keep growing in that area. He's become – I think quietly, like I said last night – one of the better players in football at his position."
Speaking of those running backs, it looks like the defenses that you guys have faced have really committed to putting a block to stop RB Javorius "Buck" Allen and RB Alex Collins. Does that jive with what you've seen so far, and how much, I guess, does that explain the few yards per carry that you guys have put up so far? _(Jonas Shaffer) _"It does explain it. Safeties have made a lot of tackles against us, if you go back and look at it. One of the best tackling safeties, Darian Stewart, was on the field yesterday. He had a number of tackles, even in the backfield he had a couple. I don't think just against us, I also think the teams we've played, that's the way they play defense. They commit to stopping the run. This team [Denver] is probably more like us. They're more similar to our defense than the first two teams we played, scheme-wise, and they have some big strong guys up front, and they were not going to let us run the ball. That was their mantra. They talked about it after the game. They were proud of that, and it was something that they wanted to do, but that doesn't stop us from thinking we can run the ball. We feel like we can run the ball. We need to run the ball against anybody, I think when we're in a game, or at least we're in striking distance, and we understand how many possessions we have and how many possessions it takes to score how many points to get back in the game and how quickly we need to try to score. And when we can run the ball and pound the ball, we will do that. We're just, like I said, after the first week, it hasn't changed. We still haven't popped any big runs. A number of our runs have been in the red zone and scored, but that's five yards. It doesn't help your average too much. We need a 40-yard run. We need a 50-, 60-yard run, and all of the sudden, that stat you're talking about goes up. We haven't earned that yet. We have to earn that. We have to get our back through there, and that's what we're working on."
Is that something that you're willing to sacrifice? Small fractions of yards in yards per carry, so that it opens up the passing lanes for QB Joe Flacco?_ (Jonas Shaffer)_ "Sure, yes – that's a good point. I think that's right. You have to make them still stop the run. If you don't, then you're not going to defend it, and it's harder to throw the ball, too. So that fact that they're up there stopping the run does help the passing game."
How do you think the secondary has performed in the first three weeks, especially with everyone wondering how it would be without CB Jimmy Smith in there? (Jamison Hensley)"They've performed well – not perfect. We've talked about that in previous press conferences. We still are chasing perfection. But some of the things that came up against the Bengals were corrected in this game, and that was really good to see. There are some things that came up in this game that we need to look at and correct, too. You're always chasing that perfection, but those guys are playing very well."
I know you talked about being 12-for-12 in the red zone yesterday after the game, but it's the first time in NFL history that has occurred. What do you attribute that to? What's making that so efficient? (Shawn Stepner) "[It] probably starts with Joe [Flacco]. Joe has done a great job making plays, making throws, of trusting his guys and also extending some plays – that's been big. I've always felt that in the red zone, it's not just the play, it's the next play. So, you get two plays for one. If your quarterback can extend and get the defense chasing a little bit, a lot of times you can score down there with a quick throw. Joe has done a good job of that. Our receivers have made some really good catches, to the other point earlier, and we've run the ball well down there. All those three things come up with touchdowns. We want to keep that going – that's the goal."
Has the diversity on offense helped you in the red zone? I think you've had five different players get red zone carries and eight or nine different players get red zone catches. Is that advantageous because teams can't key-in on one guy and note the go-to guy? (Jeff Zrebiec)"That's no question – that's true. We do that with our own defense where we say, 'Hey, this is the must-stop guy in the red zone, and these are the must-stop two or three guys.' I don't know who our must-stop guy would be. It's certainly [Michael] Crabtree. I guarantee you, they're talking about 'Crab' in the red zone, and he hasn't even scored that much down there yet. The fact that he's still going to be a threat down there ... Teams know that, so they're going to have to cover him. If they don't, he's going to score. That's a big plus. Marty [Mornhinweg, offensive coordinator] and [senior offensive assistant] Craig Ver Steeg and all those coaches have done a great job of scheme in the red zone, and like you said, spreading the ball out, keeping people off-balance, running past, and there are some really good ideas down there."
What have you seen from DE Chris Wormley and his development going into Year 2? (Luke Jones)"Great point. 'Worm' has really improved; he's really gotten better. He always had it in him, and he's still just scratching the surface of his potential. He and I talk pretty much every week, and he's a smart guy, very mature, and he knows exactly what he needs to do from one week to the next to improve. That's why I think he does it. Tearing off blocks, staying square down the line and falling back on zone plays, not getting pushed around in gap schemes – those are all things that he's done a really good job of, and then vertical pressure in the pass rush. He's gotten in quarterbacks' faces quite a few times. Yet, he still knows he can get a lot better."
Did he come back as a better athlete, too? Watching him during camp, we got the sense that he's a little stronger, a little quicker. Have you seen that?_ (Childs Walker)_ "He's definitely stronger and quicker – yes, I have seen that. It's just training. He works hard; he's a young guy. For some of these guys, 23 years old is not mature, fully mature as an athlete. They hit their peak around 26, 27, 28, strength-wise – even 29, 30. You start, kind of, layering muscle and all that kind of stuff if you train. If you train, you keep going that way through your 20s. We expect him to get even stronger and faster, just like all of our young guys."
Was yesterday one of the best throwing days you've seen QB Joe Flacco? (Stan Charles) "Man, I wish I could remember. (laughter)But he's had a lot of good throwing days, right? But to your point, yes, it's in the top category. That's what you like to see Joe do. I just think that it's a combination of a lot of things, including confidence in the guys that he's throwing to, and protection did a great job. We haven't mentioned the O-line yet, and we really should. The O-line, pass protection-wise, was just outstanding. Going back and looking at the tape, there was some good scheme stuff in there – we certainly mixed protections – but it was a lot of one-on-one blocks. Our tackles had to hold up against two really good pass rushers: [No.] 58 [Von Miller] and [No.] 55 [Bradley Chubb], and then [No.] 48 [Shaquil Barrett] was out there, too, and he was also inside rushing. I'm really proud of the guys; they did a good job."
Will DT Willie Henry or TE Hayden Hurst practice this week? (Aaron Kasinitz)"We'll see. I don't know yet. There's a chance – probably a better chance for Hayden. Willie is going to see a doctor here this week and get … It's a little different with Willie, because it's not an orthopedic deal. So the doctor – internist – has to clear him on that kind of stuff."
Was ILB C.J. Mosley close to playing on Sunday? What's his prognosis? _(David Ginsburg) _"Sure, C.J. and Michael Pierce were really close; they just didn't make it this week. Still, you have to say it's 'day-to-day,' because you don't know. But I'm really hopeful."
T Ronnie Stanley threw off his arm brace during the game. (Stan Charles)"I heard that! I read a story on that." (Reporter: "Then he put it back on. Was he having problems?") "I don't know. I read he threw it off to the sideline and the crowd went crazy when they saw it – that's all I know."(Reporter: "Then he put it back on, too.") "Did he? OK."
The play involving QB Lamar Jackson – was he intended to be the target on that pass by QB Joe Flacco?_ (Jerry Coleman)_ "Well, he's in the progression. He's not the first guy. Probably part of that is to draw a little coverage to us and throw the seams behind it. We have a crossing route coming across it also that actually did come open that we didn't get to. I think Joe tried to pop it to Lamar really fast and get him running. But he's definitely in the progression on that. If you want to put it out there, you have to be willing to throw it to him. [He] probably wasn't as open as we'd like him to be."
When you're watching film of the Steelers and looking at WR Antonio Brown, what makes him so productive?_ (Jamison Hensley)_ "What jumps out? Man, playmaking ability is the broadest way that I can say it. But what jumps out to me is the deep over routes and the corner routes – that's what I see – and also the inside slants, when they get you matched up in there, especially when you bring pressure. Those things are things he's made simple concepts, that he and Ben [Roethlisberger] are like one mind on. He's made that throw on the sideline against us. He's made it on fade routes, too – right on the sideline where he makes a great catch and toe-taps it down. You're just kind of amazed by it. We know that's what you get when you play the Steelers, that's what you're dealing with, and that's what makes them who they are."
How tough is that to defend? (Jamison Hensley) "It's tough, but we have the guys that can do it. Plus, we'll mix coverages on them, and it won't be seven-on-seven out there. We'll be bringing some heat. That's how you do it."
With DT Michael Pierce, he said he could play yesterday but he also felt that week off could help him. How much can a week off help? (Ed Lee) "I don't know. It's healing. How much can it help him? Ask a doctor. It's [about] how much can a bruise heal – that's what it is. Sometimes it's real painful. We'll find out – you just have to wait and see. With any kind of injury, it's just wait and see. You have to see how they do."
What did you see on the blocked punt? (Cliff Brown)"We just didn't block the guy properly. We didn't use good technique. We allowed him an up-and-under move that we practice all the time. I thought he executed it very well, perfectly well. Matter of fact, they ran it later and got pressure on us. So ,we just have to do a better job of blocking that. We're not happy about that at all. The player that did it is most unhappy about it. He's going to go work hard and get that corrected, because we know we're going to see that again."
You had the two roster moves Saturday. Did WR/RS Tim White stand out, or he just needed an opportunity you thought?_ (Jeff Zrebiec)_ "Yes, just that. It wasn't anything about Janarion [Grant]. We're very hopeful that we'll get him back on the practice squad. I really think those guys were a tossup anyway. Janarion did a good job – a couple balls on the ground, and that's part of it probably, and he knows that. No way do I think he's not going to be a really good player. He's going to play, certainly, this year. But Tim was doing such a good job in practice. He's been around, he's more of a veteran guy, and we just felt that he should get a chance."
I have to ask about the sweater. Is that a statement of intent for your daughter's lacrosse career? (Jonas Shaffer)"It is! Thank you very much. She committed to Notre Dame to play lacrosse. How about that? Very proud of her!" (Reporter: "Do you know the fight song?")"No. I know the Michigan fight song?" (laughter)I can hum it, but I will know it soon though. Great place, really amazing coaching staff there and great university and great people. She's gotten really close with all the players and the recruits. As a dad, you can't be more proud. I'm happy for her." (Reporter: "Was Michigan in the hunt?")"They really weren't, to be honest with you. It was kind of ... [Notre Dame] is where she wanted to go from the beginning. She loved it there."