HEAD COACH JOHN HARBAUGH MONDAY PRESS CONFERENCE
Opening statement: "OK, [it's] good to see everybody here. I appreciate you. I was asked yesterday about Elijah Gorham and what we did. As I learned more about it, I was really proud. It was a pretty emotional thing in terms of what was done and how it came about last week, in terms of Mayor [Brandon] Scott, the superintendent of the school district, Mervo High School, the coaches over there and the principal, to honor this, from what I understand, spectacular young man. The way we were able to do that is just awesome. For Anthony [Levine Sr.] and Elijah's mom to be together on the field like that after the game, I'm really just proud of it. I wasn't involved in it. I didn't know a lot about it. I knew what had happened, but I didn't know what we were doing for the game until after the game. To see it come together so quickly like it did, it just makes me really proud of our organization and everybody involved. [I'm] also [proud of] the mayor's office, the school district, the school and everybody involved. He was a great young man. It's a tragic accident. It's a wonderful family, [and] our hearts go out to them. I'm just thankful we were able to do something to honor this young man. OK, what questions do you have?"
Defensively, it was a strong effort. When watching the film, what kind of stood out to you and the key to that defensive effort? (Jamison Hensley) "The biggest thing was we were able to take away the things that they did so well, and that's what you try to do. We pretty much were able to do it across the board. It's a credit to our coaches and our players. They have two great receivers, and both of those guys were taken out of the game by our corners. They did a great job. Marlon [Humphrey] played excellent, and so did Anthony [Averett]. They were gloves pretty much the whole game. We were able to take [Austin] Ekeler out of the game in terms of all the things that they do with the screens, the checkdown passes and the crossing routes. I think he caught one on us. He caught us in a particular blitz that doesn't account for the [running] back quite as well, and Marlon still almost got him. That's the only one they had the whole game, really. The tight ends, the seam routes, for DeShon [Elliott] to make that play … We had a couple coverages that were locked in on them in terms of linebackers covering those guys – I thought they did a good job. We had safeties covering Ekeler. We just had some really good ideas, and they were executed really well. It starts with stopping the run game, [and] we did that as well. Across the board, I thought we did a great job handling their offense."
What did you see from the left side of the Chargers' defensive line where you guys could exploit that the way you were able to in your run game? (Jerry Coleman) "I don't think we were really planning on the left side or the right side as much as we were just planning on running the plays that we thought were going to be good against the fronts that they ran, and it just kind of might have turned out left side or right side. Now, [offensive coordinator] Greg [Roman] might be holding something back – you can ask him on Thursday. Maybe he did have a plan, but I thought we just did a good job of recognizing their fronts. They came out with a little bit of a different personnel grouping. They put [Joey] Bosa inside sometimes and tried to create some situations where he can make some plays in there, but our tackles were just phenomenal. Both of our tackles, Alejandro [Villanueva] and Patrick [Mekari], were great, both run and pass. They pretty much neutralized their pass rush. So, I'm just proud of those guys."
WR Rashod Bateman surprised everybody that he had 45 snaps and four catches for first downs. Does that tell you kind of how much preparation he had? He kind of replicated what WR Sammy Watkins did. (David Andrade) "To see 45 snaps, it was surprising. There's no question about it. I don't think that was really the plan, either, but he was playing so well. He came out there and just did a great job. He had some assignment things, and he had some alignment things that happens to receivers. Even the veteran receivers, they have so many complications in terms of some of the details that go with that position, especially in our offense. But he made the catches he had to make until the end, so we'll keep reminding him of that one. But I thought he played really well. It wasn't too big for him. He handled the speed of the game just fine. So, it's a really good start."
You brought in college coaches with wide receivers coach Tee Martin and pass game specialist Keith Williams. Were you concerned about that mix that sometimes the college game differs from the NFL game? (Mike Preston) "Yes, it was something to think about, for sure. I don't think there was any doubt about it that it was a thought, but once I met the guys and kind of figured out what their roles were going to be in terms of who they were … I feel like who they were and what their strengths were kind of set the job descriptions more than anything. [Wide receiver coach] Tee [Martin] has been in the NFL. He knows the NFL. He played in the NFL. He has a lot of ties to the NFL. So, I felt like he had a really good feel for that already. [Pass game specialist] Keith [Williams] has worked with NFL players, so he had that part of it. He's more working with the guys. Tee had a good feel for the scheme stuff, and he's been an offensive coordinator before. It's worked out great. Whatever concerns you might have had have not turned out to be a problem. So, I'm really happy about that, too."
How do you go about installing your gameplans? Does everybody sit around and have an input, and then eventually you sign off on it? Or does offensive coordinator Greg Roman give to you? How do work that out? (Mike Preston) "It's just a process. [Offensive coordinator] Greg [Roman] runs the show with the offense in terms of the game-planning. It's his vision, I would say. In terms of the specific game-planning type of stuff, I'm tagging along as much as I can in terms of checking the drawings and listening to the installs and asking him the questions. Sometimes, I'll come in with my ideas early on in terms of big picture stuff. I don't give him too many plays. Every now and then, I give him a play, and when I give him a play, I expect it to be installed just for the record. (laughter) It doesn't always get called, but at least it better be installed. But those guys have done a great job, and we just have to keep going." (Reporter: "So, that's when you do the big picture stuff? You don't give it to us. You save it for them.") "Of course not. Of course not." (laughter)
You made the move with ILB Josh Bynes, inserting him at middle linebacker. How do you think he did? What do you like about him there? A couple years ago, you made an adjustment in similar circumstances. (Luke Jones) "His story is just incredible. We've had some young linebackers in here ever since C.J. [Mosley] left. There's a process going on there. We've had to be bailed out a couple times, quite honestly, [by] Josh [Bynes] and L.J. [Fort], and then Josh again. So, we're very grateful that those guys were here. I thought Josh did a really nice job with just calming things down. Patrick [Queen] played a lot. He played over at WILL [linebacker] when Josh played MIKE [linebacker]. Then [Malik] Harrison played WILL [linebacker]. Chris [Board] played WILL [linebacker] and then Harrison played a little bit of MIKE [linebacker]. Those guys were kind of moving around in there. I just felt like everybody … It just kind of settled everybody into a good place where they could take a deep breath and just play football. The tackling was better. The assignments were better. The fits were better. Everything was just more settled down. So, now we go from there."
You talked about ILB Patrick Queen, and we talked to you about him last week. He didn't play a lot of snaps, probably because of the thigh injury, I assume, but it seemed like he did make some nice plays. Did you see some promising times from him yesterday? (Childs Walker) "Absolutely. I think he had 24 snaps, something like that. It was between 18 and 24, off the top of my head." (Reporter: "It was 19 snaps, something like that.") "OK, in that neighborhood. It would have been more obviously without the thigh [injury], but it was a good number. We didn't really have a pitch count on him or any of the guys. We just had them in personnel groupings, and you see how it goes. But absolutely, I think he played with confidence. I think he kind of … The pressure was off him just a little bit with some of the calls that have to be made in there, and it freed him up a little bit. But OK, next week is a new week. Let's keep improving."
As a coach, when you look at the film, was that a pretty complete game in all three phases, including special teams? We've talked a lot about the defense, too. (Jerry Coleman) "Right. It was pretty complete. It was the kind of way you want to play. It wasn't perfect by any stretch. Offensively, if you look at the downside, we probably had five series in there where we could have been a lot better, and we'll be looking at those really closely. Defensively, [there were] probably less issues – we were pretty dominant there – but there are plays, and there are things that we can do better. And special teams, we were looking for a dominant game there, and the return game, the coverage and the field goal stuff was all … I didn't really see any negatives in that. So, that's a good place to be for this week, and hopefully, we can keep building on that for next week."
Before the season, an ESPN reporter came out and said that some executives believe that they've figured out QB Lamar Jackson. Through these six games, what have you seen differently from defenses, and how do you think he's played against that? (Martenzie Johnson) "I think he's played phenomenally well. We've seen some different things from defenses. I think we've seen the same kind of basic principles that we saw for the last two-and-a-half, three years. It's oftentimes something different, related around whatever their base structure and their principles are. So, we never see the exact same thing, from any team, that we've been seeing on tape. We always see something different – we did even this week – and we kind of expect that now, we plan for that. We're starting to see kind of all the options, but just when we think we've seen it all, we see something different. I think Lamar [Jackson] has handed it great, and our offensive line has handled it great, and our coaches have handled it great, but it doesn't mean, all of a sudden, you don't get shocked by something. But I don't once somebody does something – some X and O idea – all of a sudden, that's the answer, and we've kind of been saying that for three years now. There is no answer. You've got to play well; you've got to execute. And so, it's our players executing against their players, within the structure of whatever they're doing and we're doing, and whoever executes better and makes plays, really, in the end, is going to win. When we play well, we're doing that; when we don't play well, we're not doing that. It's less about figuring somebody out. So, if you're looking for your headline here, I do think that people who make those statements are kind of, 'Whistling in the graveyard' just a little bit. It doesn't have any meaning; I've said that before. Anybody that knows X's and O's would just kind of roll their eyes when they hear something like that."
In all your years of coaching, have you ever seen a quarterback "figured out" by any other team, or yours? (Martenzie Johnson) "No, no. You just play well, and you play your defense against their offense, and whoever plays better and executes better, makes plays, are the ones that have the success."
You guys had to basically start over at running back because of the injuries. You brought in the veterans, and all three of them found the end zone yesterday. What has stood out to you about that group? (Garrett Downing) "Just the veteran presence, understanding the game and kind of the 'know-how.' They're guys who've been around, and they know how to play the game. We've thrown a lot at them, because there was a lot in our offense, and they've had to learn a lot. But they bring a lot to the table already, in terms of understanding knowledge. They're playing their styles, they're fitting them into our scheme, and they've done a great job – all three of those guys. I mentioned, every one of those three guys have done a great job."
Speaking of the running backs, is there any update on RB Latavius Murray? (Jamison Hensley) "No update right now."
What about T Ronnie Stanley? Is there any resolution there? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I think we're nearing one, but I don't have anything to announce at this time."
From Monday to Sunday, what stood out about how much you improved, in terms of defending play-action? (Jonas Shaffer) "From Monday to Sunday, defending play-action. Were we better in stats defending play-action? [Is that] kind of where that's coming from?" (Reporter: "Yes") I don't think there's any grand answer for that. We played our defense really well. I thought we got decent pressure. You've got to play the run first, then you've got to transition to the pass-rush; we did a pretty good job of that. The couple times they ran boots, we had pressure on them – on the edge. [Justin Herbert] didn't have a lot of time out there on the boots. I think he got out of the pocket once and scrambled; that was a dropback pass. And we played our coverages really well. We were in man a lot. Our guys played really tight man quite a bit, and we were in a little bit of a matchup zone a few times, where we played tight coverage. So, that's probably your answer on that."
Moving to this week, you guys play the Bengals. The last couple of years, this Bengals team didn't look like they do this year. What kind of challenges do you think they present, especially with the addition of WR Ja'Marr Chase? (Cordell Woodland) "The whole team is one of the best teams in the National Football League right now. There's no question about it – just watch them play. They've done a great job across the board. In terms of how they're playing this year, that's all we look at. There is no comparison to anything else. We can compare them to the teams they had in the mid-teens [when] they had great teams. So, there's no comparison. [We] just look at the team as it stands. The defense is playing great football. The offensive line is run-blocking and pass-blocking. The ball is coming out of the quarterback's hands quick. The running backs are … They're kind of beastly in the way they run. We've got our hands full, and it's going to be an AFC North division showdown, really, and whoever wins is going to be leading the division kind of at the midway point of the season. So, we understand that. But we've always understood that. [With the] Bengals, Browns and Steelers, all these games are like that no matter what. Their records really don't matter. These are the kinds of games that you expect. So, we're excited about it, and we understand the challenge that's in front of us."
When you came into the season, OL Patrick Mekari was kind of competing around the interior positions. Now you have a good sample size of him playing right tackle. What have you seen from him, and what has stood out? (Kyle Barber) "I've seen a guy that's just playing the position, really, in all honesty, about as well as you could expect it to be played. I mean, he's getting the job done. I texted him; I said, 'Just another …' How did I say it? I can't remember the word I used, but it was along the lines of, 'Spectacular.' He's just played great, and he's going to have a big challenge this week ahead of him, too. But I couldn't be more pleased with him – run-blocking, pass protection – [and] his versatility, obviously, but he's locked in at right tackle, and I couldn't ask for a better player there right now."