HEAD COACH JOHN HARBAUGH
Opening statement:"Hey everybody. Good seeing you guys. [I] appreciate those of you guys who made it down there. It was good to see it last night late, and you made it back today, so congratulations – through the wind. We're very pleased with the victory. It was a big win, an important win in a really tough venue against a really good team, and our guys played the kind of football they needed to play to win that game last night. I'm very proud of them for that. We all are as coaches, and fans [are] I'm sure, too. We're excited about where we're at, and then now we're getting pointed toward the next one, which is going to be [against] an even better team in probably an even tougher environment out there on Christmas night. You talk about Advent – this is the season, for sure. I'm proud of the guys in terms of how they've handled the December football part of it and how they've carried themselves, how focused they've been [and] how humble they've been, giving glory where it belongs, so we appreciate that, but we're focused on the task at hand. What questions do you have?"
When watching the film, why was the running game so dominant in the second half on Sunday night?*_(Jamison Hensley)_* "It's the nature of the running game. You have a chance to … I guess you could say wear a defense down, but it's harder to stop the run a lot of times as the game goes on. You start to pick up first downs. You keep a defense on the field. That was a [Jacksonville Jaguars] defense that was known for getting people off the field quickly. They were I think leading the league in three-and-outs as a defense coming into the game. One of our goals was to not have that happen and to keep them on the field as much as we could. I think when the time of possession started to add up, it made it more difficult to stop the run. I thought our guys really just got better and better blocking the run and running the ball. We popped some runs. Obviously, Keaton [Mitchell] had some big runs for us. [Losing him to a knee injury is] obviously a very heartbreaking loss for us, but he was a big part of that as well."
How important was it for you to still have the ability to remain an elite rushing attack when you chose a new offensive coordinator in the offseason?*_(Cordell Woodland)_* "It was important. It was important in the sense also to have elements of the rushing attack that we built [and] worked so hard on the last four years. We didn't want to run away from that run game, because we had a lot of reps under our belt and a lot of institutional knowledge with that. Our players understood it – a lot of the plays we'd been running, and they fit our guys really well. That's one thing that was an important part of it."
Do you sense as coaches when the rushing attack is wearing out an opposing defense similarly to how players can see if they're wearing out the opposition?*_(Brian Wacker)_* "Sure. I think on the field, you can't see everything on the field, but you do feel that type of thing on the field. You're really close to the game. You're right there, and you can talk to the players, but you have a sense of how everybody's doing right there on the field in front of you."
Is there any more information or specifics on RB Keaton Mitchell's knee injury?*_(Brian Wacker) _*"It's a long-term knee [injury] thing. There wasn't cartilage-type damage, so that helps quite a bit. It'll be a little cleaner. [Keaton Mitchell] will go to work. I'm sure he'll be here every single day with the team and doing his part to get back."
Did RB Keaton Mitchell bring a spark that is going to be not easy to replace?*_(Childs Walker)_* "I'm not in the judgement business about ranking all that. That's what you guys can do."
T Ronnie Stanley left being evaluated for a concussion. I noticed with T Morgan Moses, it was much more of a split with him and T Daniel Faalele. Did Morgan get through the game OK? What went into that this game since last week it was a little bit of a lighter rotation?*_ (Luke Jones)_* "There's always going to be those things right now. This is December. There are guys like that, that were fighting through things. [Daniel Faalele] played really well. I thought Morgan [Moses] played well. I thought Ronnie [Stanley] played well. We were going against two really good, obviously, those are some power rushers. Those guys are probably the best in the league at power rushing off the edge. [They are] really good. I thought they had their moments, but our tackles had their moments, too, and Lamar [Jackson] had his moments, too. But Daniel played well. That was the thing. Daniel really took it to another level, I thought. Since he was doing well, he [received] more reps, and it was good for us."
After the game, CB Marlon Humprey talked about QB Lamar Jackson saying, after Lamar signed his deal, he thought Lamar would only kind of raise his game as far as being a leader. He talked about Lamar being more vocal. Have you seen that at all with Lamar?*_ (Jamison Hensley) _*"It's kind of a comparison question that you've been asking over the years that I've never been answering because when you answer that question that way, it basically says, it wasn't up to snuff, or the other person is less than the person you're comparing to. The same question [the other reporter] just asked me, [and] that's why I stay away from that stuff all the time, because in the case of Lamar [Jackson], it wouldn't be fair to answer that question. I appreciate you shaking your head saying you understand, but Lamar has been a great leader in his own way all the way through. I think we all grow; we evolve, circumstances change, [and] we find ourselves in a different place. I've always admired Lamar for every part of what he's doing, and I also understand like all of us, we're all dealing and going through things and we're doing our best and he's always been that way. He's always done his best, and he's doing his best right now. And I would say this, He's an A-plus leader right now, and he's doing ... He's taken the team in that sense, he's been glue. He's been glue for the guys, and it's been great to see."
Do you think Monday, not only with the football game itself two of the top teams, but also QBs Lamar Jackson and Brock Purdy, the MVP talk has begun. The game could be referendum on where things stand not only with your team, but with him and Brock Purdy.*_(Jerry Coleman)_* "No, I haven't thought about that at all. I haven't given that one moment's thought."
TE Charlie Kolar was given the opportunity on the sneak [third-down play] amongst all the players on your roster. There's a lot of talk of the play in general, of quarterback sneak and 'tush push.' What is kind of your analysis on it. Is that something that should be banned? What are your opinions?*_(Kyle Phoenix)_* "I don't have an opinion on 'tush push' right now. That's a conversation for the offseason. But I was really happy with the way we executed it. I thought we did a great job. Charlie [Kolar] was awesome. [We've] been practicing it for a few weeks now and just the execution of the snap, and he's a big dude. He's an athlete. We had some big dudes pushing him in there which was nice to see. I'll tell you what, our centers and guards are really good, so we kind of have the tools to run that. And it's the first time we did it in a game, so that's why you're asking, right? And it was great to see because that was a big conversion for us." (Reporter: You did it with Mark Andrews a few times, right?)"We did. Yes. Yes, that's right."
There are a couple of reports that RB Keaton Mitchell suffered an ACL tear. Can you just confirm that's what it is?*_(Shawn Stepner)_* "I'll say there's ligament tear. I don't really feel the need to get into all that. If he wants to share that with you, he can, and maybe he will."
Do you feel it's legitimate that QB Lamar Jackson should be a part of the MVP conversation?*_(Jerry Coleman)_* "Going back to my other answer. It's like, I don't really care. I could care less about any of that, and the beautiful thing is Lamar [Jackson] couldn't care less either. What we care about is the game on [Monday]. That's one thing for sure. We're trying to be 1-0 this week. This is the most important week of the season to us just like all the last weeks have been when they've come up. That's really our ... It's a singular focus that our guys have that I love, and that's the way it's supposed to be."
You mentioned, I believe, last night that RB Melvin Gordon III was likely to join the active 53-man roster in place of RB Keaton Mitchell. I know he was up a couple of games earlier in the year. At this point in his career, what does he bring to your team, and where does he fit in?*_(Bo Smolka)_* "[It's a] great question. Melvin Gordon [III] is a high-pedigree football player in this league. It's almost kind of shocking that we're going to have the opportunity to put him into the mix right now, and he's been wanting to be into the mix. Like you said, he was up for three games. He's been practicing so hard and working so hard. Like he would] say, 'Hey. When the opportunity comes, I'll be ready.' He had a smile and would say that to me once a week, and you [knew] it was true because he practices that way. I'm sure he was champing at the bit and wanting to get out there and contribute, so his opportunity comes, and he's been there before. He's a high-pedigree, great player. [He's] talented. You can't hide talent. I say that to the guys a lot of times when we're shooting [basketballs and] playing HORSE out there, when I'm shooting. You can't hide talent." (laughter)"It's a weak comparison; you're right. I'm sorry. [I] apologize."
You guys can move S Kyle Hamilton all around the field this year and over his two seasons here in Baltimore. He's done it all very well. Is it always a challenge, a thrill or exciting for you and this staff to find new ways to use guys that they don't really make a lot of in the NFL?*_(Jonas Shaffer)_* "Yes. Yes. That is really something that is really kind of what it's all about. It's a big part of it. We're player centric. We build schemes for players. We think we should be good enough to understand all the options out there, schematically, and how to coach all that. Then, we try to make our choices accordingly based on the players. So, when you find another thing for a player to do that he can do well, man, that's like gold. That's a gold nugget, and we try to do that for all [of] our guys."
You always say the next game is the most important one, and you have the San Francisco 49ers this week. Record-wise, these are the two best records in the NFL right now. How do you view this matchup, and what are you looking to see out of your team against the 49ers?*_(Cordell Woodland)_* "I view it as a really tough game against a really good team that plays a really good brand of football. They do it all on both sides of the ball. They're tough, they're physical, [and] they're disciplined. They play hard. They play winning football, and [I have] a lot of respect for them. I have a lot of respect for the coaches and the players. There's just nothing about how they're built that you couldn't respect, so we understand that. What I'm looking to see is how we respond to that challenge, because we're going to go into there [as] big underdogs, traveling all the way across the country [on] Christmas day [and] Advent. We'll be looking forward to it. It will be a big challenge for us."
Your offense has been Top 10 in converting on third downs this season, but the last three games have been tougher sledding. Is that something that you've noticed on film? What might be some of the causes to try to get those conversions that have been unsuccessful as of late?*_(Kyle Phoenix)_* "It's a big deal. Third down is important. We talk about it every week, and we've been talking about it a lot the last couple of weeks. It's like you're saying; it hasn't been quite as good. It's one of those areas that we want to do a lot better at. It's been tough. Some of the defenses that we've been playing have been top third-down defenses in the league the last couple of weeks, and that's part of it, too. You have to hand it to the people you're going against; sometimes they make plays. That's something that's really important to us, and we need to improve in that area."
When we've talked before and mentioned TE Isaiah Likely awhile back, you said you can kind of read his body language a little bit. Since TE Mark Andrews went down, he has been very productive. Have you sensed, just by noticing him and with the challenge, can you see how he's been responding?*_(Jamison Hensley) _*"Yes. I think [Isaiah Likely's] body language has been a little bit better, a little bit more ... He's a great guy. He always just wants to do well. Nobody is more coachable [than him]. When you have something for him, he responds in a positive way [and] tries to do it right. Sometimes, young guys, they feel the weight of establishing themselves and proving themselves in this league. They really are anxious because they want to show what they can do so much. As coaches, you better want to give them the opportunity to show what they can do. They're your players, they're on your team, and they want a chance. You don't always have a chance sometimes for it to happen, or you want to give them a chance, [but] it doesn't happen in the game. The ball doesn't go their way maybe, sometimes. Yes. He has responded like anybody would, because he's [had] some chances, and he's done well. That's what you want to see for your guys."
From what you have seen of 49ers film, how much stress do they put on linebackers and those second-level defenders with everything that they do? How excited are you to see ILB Roquan Smith, ILB Patrick Queen and S Kyle Hamilton be able to kind of match up with everything that they do?*_(Jonas Shaffer) _*"Yes, it's going to be very interesting. I think football fans – real football fans – are going to look at this one and really be intrigued by all that. That's a great point. [The 49ers] do so many good things. It's a system that [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] has built forth through the tradition [of] his dad [Mike Shanahan], and he was with Coach [Gary] Kubiak, too, and he's taken it to another – even – place. He really has expanded it and evolved it in a great way, and he does it around his players, too. So, it's that part of it, but it's built around the players. I mean, you've got five, probably, All-Pro skill guys on that offense, and, not to mention, a really good offensive line and a Hall of Fame tackle. So, he's built it around those guys, and that's what makes it tough."
QB Lamar Jackson completed several passes from scramble situations yesterday. How important of a skill is it for receivers to be able to find open space when the play is being extended like that?*_(Noah Trister) _*"That's really important. That's kind of … That's an 'X-Factor,' and when you're on defense, it's a problem. We face a challenge with quarterbacks getting out and running this year, too, as we saw in this last game, too. It's something that we're working on and trying to corral. A lot of the run yards that we've given up have been that this year. So, Lamar [Jackson] is probably … He's the best in the business at it, in my opinion, and yes, that's a big part of who we are – extended plays."
What did you see in the structure and dropback-wise with QB Lamar Jackson? Lamar said last night that sometimes the Jaguars' pass rush would kind of get in his passing lane and disrupt the picture a little bit. But it seemed like most of the damage that he did was him trying to make stuff happen after that first or second read wasn't there.*_(Jonas Shaffer) _*"You'd like for everything to be just how you draw it up, for sure, but defenses really don't cooperate all the time with you on that, especially good defenses. But there were plenty of plays that were on time [and] in rhythm that were great. There when times when [Lamar Jackson] was getting pushed in the pocket and maybe … I remember the one [he was] backing up and hit Odell [Beckham Jr.] over the middle – that wasn't extended, but it was drawn out a little bit – and that was a great play by both those guys. Other times, he just got away and frustrated the defense, and that's good, too. I don't think you need to be a purest all the time. You need to recognize there are a lot of ways to move the ball and make plays, which we try to do. But we've been really good at times – many times – with that part of the passing game, and other times, it's extended and things like that. So, it's all part of it."
You started off by saying, "We played the kind of football we needed to play to win that game." Do you feel like this team has been particularly good at that – sort of adjusting to what's needed in a given week?*_(Childs Walker) _*"I do, yes. That's right. That's the thing about this team; it's a very mature team, and I think they understand the challenge in front of them, and they understand their opponent, and they understand themselves. So, you get into the game … And they also understand situations – game situations – really well. So, all those things probably have led to that, and that's what you have to do this time of year, for sure. And I really hope that that expresses itself over the next few weeks and the multiple weeks [ahead]."