HEAD COACH JOHN HARBAUGH
Opening Statement: "I appreciate everybody being here. Thank you. [We] arrived back late and began to work. We're in the process of now reviewing the game, [we're] finishing up with that. Most of us are on to the next game. So, what questions do you have?"
A year ago, the team made a big pretty splash for ILB Roquan Smith. I'm curious, when it comes to those things, do you feel like there's a specific need for this team? Secondly, how does that process between you and Eric DeCosta go just in terms of need versus what might be available in a good move?*_(Brian Wacker) _*"That's a really broad and good question because specific need and need – what level of need – is kind of what it comes down to. You're talking about degrees. Do we have a specific overarching 'have-to-have' guy? No. We have an excellent roster; [we] love our players; we have guys who are getting healthy that will be coming of IR, even, like [Damarion] 'Pepe' Williams, for instance, and guys like that. I love our guys. I think we have everything we need to be successful. At the same time, if an opportunity came to bring in somebody that can help us or make us better in any area, really, but certain areas more than others of course, and you can do it in a way that's affordable to the team and the club cap-wise [and] draft pick-wise, those kind of things, you would do it. You would do it to try and get better. So, that's where we're at right now. Eric [DeCosta] and his group are working through that. I was just meeting with Eric now about some of those things, and it's a possibility … It's not easy making trades in this league, it's just not. It's not. Maybe in some sports it is, I don't know. I've never been in another sport, but you don't see as many trades in football. We've made a few over the last few years, and Eric has done a great job with that. If there's one to be made that would help us, I'm sure he'll pull it off, if not, then we'll be happy with what we have because we have a great team, we feel like."
We heard from a lot of the defensive leaders after the game that they felt like they had not played to their standard. What is your sense of what they meant by that? Do you think they were talking about some of the drives they gave up in the fourth quarter?*_ (Childs Walker)_* "That was that. I think they wanted to finish the game and shut them out and not give up the … We were playing against the clock as much as we were the offense in the fourth quarter. We were very vanilla with the call. We ran the same call probably 15 times in a row or so, and that's OK. The idea was that we were certainly trying to win the game; it's a two-score game in different ways there. You want to make sure that you … You just don't want to give them the game. You don't want to have something happen that just hands them the game. You want to win the game. It's really not about style points at that point, but I also feel like we have a lot of pride; We have pride as players; We have pride as coaches and want to put the best ... We want to get every stop, and that's exactly what they're talking about, I think."
What is the near assessment on special teams this season. You've made a lot of good plays and there's a lot of positives, but it seems almost every week there's a lapse or something that needs to be worked on?*_ (Kyle Barber)_* "Well, there's always something that needs to be worked on. Special teams – I have a lot of experience with – the expectation is that all six phases are going to win. You talk about six different phases, and it's pretty hard to bat 1.000 in six different phases and have every special teams phase either push or win every snap. We've done that a lot. We have a ton of success here. The standard is really, really high, and that's good, we want the standard to be super high. The standard is probably higher here than anywhere else in the league if you look at it over the last number of years. So, that's awesome, and we chase that standard for sure. We played a very good special teams game yesterday. The one kickoff got them inside the 20[-yard line]. We had 4 punts inside the 10[-yard line]. Our net punt was [a 46.2 average]. It's pretty unbelievably good. [In] punt returns, we were 3-for-30 yards, a 10-yard average, and half of our calls were fake defense calls. We were playing safe punt return because they were in fake type of territory or fake down and distance, and we still had those return yards against a really good punt cover team. [The] kickoff return didn't get any chances, and the one you're talking about is the onside kick where that was the one where we need, in this game, played better. What happened was – and I talked to their kicker afterwards. I congratulated him on the kick because it's supposed to be a high hopper, [and] it came up low and short, and we just need to be aggressive on that and go get it right now, and we hesitated. 'He who hesitates is lost,' on an onside kick recovery, obviously, and it bounced. In the second one, it was the exact same kick, and we went and got it. So, that's how it went, and it's like anything else, it's a battle. Our special teams overall is playing at a high level, but we will keep chasing perfection and try to make every play. It's either a push or a plus, that's what we go for."
Sometimes it's unusual for interior linemen to rack up huge sack totals. What do you attribute DT Justin Madubuike's season to so far? How much does his production along with NT Michael Pierce affect the defense?*_(Noah Trister)_* "[Justin Madubuike]'s having a great year. I guess you first attribute Justin's great year to Justin. He's playing great. He's talented. He works hard. He's come in here from the beginning and steadily worked hard to become the kind of player he is. I really think he's having just a top-notch year against the run, chasing the ball down and pass rush. [It's] what he's doing, plus I think the other guys. The other guys – it's spread out. You have guys who are pressuring from every different direction – defensive ends, inside guys, linebackers, safeties, corners, nickel – and getting sacks. That helps everybody. It's like the rising tide – [it] raises all ships. He deserves the credit for that."
Is WR Odell Beckham Jr.'s ability to draw defensive penalties and attention on the field a special quality in what he's done for the team so far?*_(Kyle Goon)_* "It really is. Odell [Beckham Jr.] is super talented, very determined, really has a high standard for himself [and] really works hard. I really think that's indicative of his reputation. It's like, they know who he is. They know he's No. 3, and they do not want to give up a completion to him. He's being covered that way, and he draws two huge defensive pass interference calls. Now, Odell and Lamar [Jackson] and all of us want those to be catches, but pass interference is the same as a catch in this league – almost. A touchdown would be a touchdown. You have to put it at the 1[-yard line], [and] you have to go score. That's the difference – that's the only difference. I was happy with the way he played. I was happy with the fact that he was targeted. Then, he got hit in the ribs on the sideline play and had to go out for a little while. [He] came back in [and] didn't really get targeted too much, but did get the one big play – the pass interference [penalty]. [He] was blocking well, which you probably didn't see [on television]. He's playing really well. I just think it's going to pop. He's going to start getting some big catches for us."
Do you get a sense that WR Odell Beckham Jr. is a player who beats himself up when he does not get catches, even though he clearly did do things to help the team win?*_(Childs Walker)_* "I don't know. It would be a good question for him, but I think he really wants to get catches. He really wants to be a big factor in the game. That's what he's used to. He's a world-class player, a world-class athlete, and that's the kind of expectation that he has for himself, sure."
On the second pass interference penalty WR Odell Beckham Jr. drew, he was visibly upset on the sideline. Was that frustration of not getting the catch, or was there a miscommunication on the play, or was it just him being a player who is trying to make a play?*_(Brian Wacker)_* "I think it's the last part. [He] just wants to make plays. That's what he wants to do, and you appreciate that. I talked to him, actually. He wasn't mad at anybody. He wants to make plays and wants to do great. His son was in the stands – [it was his] first time playing in front of his young son there in Arizona. You know how that goes. That's how guys are."
What are your thoughts on G Kevin Zeitler now defeating all 32 NFL teams? What are you seeing from the interior offensive line playing at a high level and staying healthy?*_(Ryan Mink)_* "I agree. They're playing really well, and I think we're getting better and better. You saw the inside, interior run game really come alive in the second half. That was something we've been working really hard on. With that, Lamar [Jackson] got outside a couple times on some keepers late in the game when we called those. Kevin [Zeitler] getting the all-time … [He's] only one of three ever to have that kind of an opportunity. He said the [Arizona] Cardinals had been elusive for him the last few years, which was fun. I don't know how many people can say they beat every team in the league, especially an offensive lineman. That's pretty cool."
What does G Kevin Zeitler bring in terms of his leadership qualities and work ethic?*_(Melissa Kim)_* "He's a leader in an interesting way. First of all, about work ethic, this guy – you can't believe how he practices. You know he's the guy that does the pass sets when his wife's having a baby in the hospital." (laughter)"You've seen that, right? That's how he is all the time. He's just on his craft all the time, but more than that, he's a leader by relationship. He has the guys over to his house. He has them by the pool. I don't know what they eat – [it's] probably a lot. They have a lot of fun, and he leads that way, which is neat. He does it by relationship and by example, I would say."
People were calling yesterday the NT Michael Pierce game. He played so well, and so many plays stood out. When you watch him over the course of game to game, and you go back and watch film more closely, what kind of things show up that you see that maybe we don't see?*_ (Bo Smolka) _*"Well, game to game, [Michael Pierce] has played very consistently, so it's kind of been like that. Then, this game, the consistent play paid off in these opportunities to make these huge plays. So, he's been doing the same thing without having the chance the actually make those plays sometimes. Sometimes he gets pushed out to somebody else or cut back. Then, the sacks and the pressures … It's how he's been playing all year. He's having a great year. He's doing a great job, and it's nice to see it kind of pay off in a huge game for him like that."
It's been about a year since ILB Roquan Smith came to the team. What did you know about specifically his leadership or communication before he arrived? Based on his reputation you knew going in, has he exceeded those expectations that you had?*_ (Kyle Goon)_* "With 'Ro' [Roquan Smith], you knew from the college draft [that] that's what they all said about him at [The University of] Georgia. Then, [when he was with] Chicago, you talked to people who played for the Bears and people in the organization – [like] coaches – and that's kind of what they said about him there, too. [They said] that he's a leader and all the things that you've seen, but you don't know, exactly, and you don't really hear it to the extent. Maybe people don't want to tell you too much either. Then, he comes here, and he's … I don't know. Sometimes it's a good fit, too, like he comes in here, and it's kind of like, this place really fits him. He'd probably tell you that. It fits his personality [and] his style. He's been a great fit. It's one of the all-time great trades that we've made. Nothing against the Bears. They got a good pick out of it, and they made – salary cap and all the things they got out of it – it's probably going to be undersold a little bit, but in the end, you'll see how it pays off for them. Maybe it was a win-win [situation], but it was definitely a win for us."
We talk so much about these trade deadline deals and the potential for them. You've been around the league a long time. How rare do you think it is for a guy like ILB Roquan Smith to come in midway through the year and have the breadth of impact that he has had?*_(Childs Walker)_* "It's probably pretty rare, no doubt about it. I don't really keep track of that stuff, but I don't really remember too many of those, so I'd say it's a pretty big deal."
On the broadcast, it looked like players were slipping and struggling with field conditions. Is that something that you noticed? When you do notice, is that something that you have to account for in play calling for better or for worse?*_(Kyle Barber)_* "It's the players' responsibility to kind of work on that as much as they can. You can't really overthink it from a play-calling standpoint. You have to account for it with the cleats and the guys understanding that in situations. There were a couple of rain games [yesterday]; Wasn't the Pittsburgh game rainy and stormy? So, you just have to keep your feet underneath yourself as an athlete. Our guys did a good job for the most part. There were a few plays where we slipped, no doubt. It's a different kind of grass. They bring it in. It's nice. It was [a] good, safe field, but it's a little slicker. [In London] we had the Tottenham [Hotspur] practice field [which] was way slicker than that, so that was good practice for us, on a slick field. They adjusted [to] it from Wednesday to Thursday, so that's something that you talk to your guys about, and a few guys changed their shoes and things like that. But that's something you really do have to think about. It's very important to have good footing."
WR Rashod Bateman had a couple of nice catches, the end around. It seems like he's kind of come on a bit. How big is that for him and this offense?*_(Garrett Downing)_* "It's so big. [Rashod Bateman had] two big plays. The early catch, to keep the drive alive, to go get the ball and take it away from the defender, was just … You're not going to see a better play than that. It was great, and then, the end around so to speak – it's really not [an end around play]. It's a jet sweep-type of play with a read option involved and gap scheme, to be clear." (laughter) "But Lamar [Jackson] read it right and gave it … It's not something he's done a lot. I don't think he's practiced it even that much, the ball handling of it, but to have him be able to do that … Maybe they weren't expecting it, but he ran around there, and I'll tell you, when he turned the corner and accelerated up the sideline, that was impressive, wasn't it? He ran by a couple guys, and he really showed some burst there and got up the sideline. They actually hit him out of bounds [which] got us another 15 [yards], so it was a huge play in the game that ran time off the clock, got us down [the field] deeper and got us another score."
Following up on WR Rashod Bateman, do you see more confidence in him trusting his physical abilities as he gets further away from his injury? Has that even been a week-by-week journey where now he seems more confident to make plays like that?*_ (Kyle Goon) _*"Yes. That's really perceptive because it's not really confidence in [Rashod Bateman's] ability. He's always been very confident. It's confidence in his health. [It's] the fact that he's been able to stack practices now and get a feel in the offense and catch balls and run routes and compete for balls. Football is a practice sport. I've said that before. The more you practice, the better you get, and the better feel you get for the game, all of those different things. I would say it's just starting to kind of come together for him that way. I'm hoping … I think the second half of the season for Rashod is going to be big [and] is going to be very successful."
QB Lamar Jackson talked after the game about the approach that Arizona took defensively – only rushing three or four and dropping a lot of guys into coverage. In broad strokes, how do you guys want to attack that kind of defense?*_(Childs Walker)_* "You have to be patient. It was; it was kind of a cage rush [and] a very physical rush. [The] Lions tried to do the same thing. Most teams kind of do that against us – not everybody. Pittsburgh is different. They cage, except for the two guys [Alex Highsmith and T.J. Watt] on the edge, and they're just going. So, different teams play us different ways. But you have to be willing to check it down; you have to be willing to run it; I think you have to be willing to get the ball out quick. You run the RPOs [run-pass options], which we called a lot [of] RPOs yesterday. All those things you have to be able to do. In the second half, the run game kind of started going, and we were in situations … Once we got the lead, we were able to do that. With that score at the end of the half, [it] even gave us a chance to probably run the ball even a little more. But you're always trying to find … And really in the first half, too, a lot of times, you're trying to figure out what they are doing to you. Sometimes you've got a certain play called, and they bring a front up; it doesn't work. Or they stem to a front; it's tough on the play. Or we try to throw a screen … And the defensive end in the one screen we ran that was a loss, he drops right to the screen. It wasn't something we had seen. Was it even in their call, or did he just feel the screen? You don't always know. So, you can't … It's never a perfect formula – things happen – and you just try to navigate your way through it as a play caller and as the guys make the offensive adjustments in there."
Is that one of those things that QB Lamar Jackson has tried to focus on and work on from the standpoint of … I'm assuming it's a fine line between holding it too long and then checking down, as you mentioned, and so forth. We saw him make some unbelievable plays against the Lions multiple times, where he did hold the ball, and then yesterday, those really didn't materialize. So, back to the question, I guess: Is that something that he is working on and focused on?*_(Brian Wacker)_* "Well, yes. I think that's something that's a … It's a fluid thing. Yes, there are principles to the plays; there is timing to the plays that are run. And then there is playmaking. Many times, Lamar [Jackson] and the guys, he'll scramble and get yards; he'll scramble and throw and get yards; he'll hold the ball, step around [and] make a throw; or just the protection will hold up, and he'll be able to hold it, hold it, hold it and 'Boom,' the coverage gets pried open, and somebody is able to come wide open. We've seen that lots of times. Other times, it just collapses on you, you're trying to hold it, you don't maybe see a guy – whatever – and you get sacked. Sometimes it happens. The main thing in that case … We can overcome sacks. We don't want too many of them; you don't want them in critical situations; you don't want them in fringe field goal range. But you definitely want to hold onto the ball. I think Lamar has done a good job of that the last few weeks, especially being conscious of that. He's also made plays [and] extended plays, especially in the red zone – numerous extended plays that you're happy with. So, I think that's something that you just have to understand is part of playing the game sometimes. You just work on it and say, 'OK, in this situation, maybe the ball goes here. What do you think?' And really, asking Lamar what he saw and what he thinks and why he did what he did usually is a really good way to kind of understand it, because he sees the game really well. And [when] he looks back, he knows why did what he did and what he saw, and he's able to express that to you."
What do your next 24 hours look like? Normally you have your week-to-week rhythm. But with the trade deadline coming up, are you fully prepared on the game, and then executive vice president & general manager Eric DeCosta calls you in from time to time to talk about trade possibilities? Do you spend a lot of time in the next 24 hours focused on the trade deadline, as opposed to the next game?*_(Bo Smolka)_* "I spend … It's the first one. I'm working fully on the game, and then when [executive vice president & general manager] Eric [DeCosta] comes in and says, 'Hey, this is what we've got going' in this or that scenario that becomes somewhat realistic, then we'll talk about it. That's how it works."
You didn't get asked about injuries after the game, which means it was a good day, I guess. But was there anything coming out of the game that you have to worry about this week?*_(Childs Walker)_* "Nothing major coming out of the game, and we may have some hope coming back. I had a chance to talk to Tyus [Bowser] just last week, and Tyus was pretty optimistic. So, I can't say it's a guarantee, because it's just kind of a … It's a knee that's a little angry at times. But who knows? Maybe we'll get Tyus back. We'll see how that goes in the next few weeks."
You mentioned CB Damarion "Pepe" Williams. Is he close?*_(Bo Smolka)_* "'Pepe' [Damarion Williams] is close, yes. 'Pepe' is close; [Malik] Hamm is close. And [then we've] got to make some decisions there, and those are all good things."