SPECIAL TEAMS COORDINATOR CHRIS HORTON
Opening Statement:"Good to see everyone. I hope you guys all had a great Christmas. Right now, [you're] really starting to see our guys play the kind of football we've been knowing that we can play throughout this season. [I'm] just going to keep encouraging them to just go out there and just let it rip [and] have fun doing what they're doing. Guys are making plays for us right now. Questions?"
In head coach John Harbaugh's post-game press conference, he said that it was the best game you played in all three phases, and he mentioned special teams, specifically. What did you like about the performance from your unit against the 49ers?*_ (Kyle Phoenix) _*"I just thought we went out, and our guys … One of the things we've continued to do is really just maximize our effort, our physicality [and] go out there and just play hard, and then we had an opportunity to really execute some plays. We had another good punt return. Tylan [Wallace] is doing a great job. Again, he's taking advantage of his opportunities. We've got guys covering kicks well. Obviously, we let one get out on us for a little bit, but you know what? It didn't hurt us. That was a good returner back there. And just to see our guys just go around, fly around, get off the ball, knock guys back and really play a physical football game against a physical team really showed us kind of who we are. And then, when you look at the other phases, [such as] our field goal block, our field goal team, those guys have been outstanding the last couple of weeks – of just making kicks, the protection [and] all those things that we talked about when it wasn't going well – and we just want to make sure we continue to keep that up."
I know the goal is to get better, but do you feel like last week was the best special teams performance from your unit all season?*_ (Jonas Shaffer) _*"I do. I think we're starting to hit our stride at the right time. Obviously, some of the things that happened early in the year [were] really uncharacteristic [and] really came down to kind of one thing – a guy here or there – but I think all 11 guys are starting to play as one. And as we continue to do that, you'll continue to see us make a lot more plays."
WR Tylan Wallace seems to be making the most of his return opportunities, despite him not being a crazy burner or the most elusive guy. How does he do that?*_ (Pete Gilbert) _*"I think it's just [Tylan Wallace's] feel. I think it's a guy that understands [and has] natural ability with the ball in his hands. It's those things, and it's the right ball, and he is making great decisions. He's making the right decisions, and again, he is taking advantage of those opportunities. He's a skilled player. He's good with the ball in his hands. He can make guys miss, and as we found out, he's a strong runner. And so, that's [all] good to see."
Is WR Tylan Wallace more decisive, or is there a call that you guys have for when to return it or when not to return it?*_ (Mike Preston) _*"I wouldn't say [Tylan Wallace] is more decisive. I think it's more of, 'How efficient can we be?' We talk a lot about efficiency, because every ball is not a returnable ball. And I think when he does return the ball, he's getting those yards; all of our returners have done that for us."
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR MIKE MACDONALD
After the last interception, we saw the double fist pump, and it almost looked like you almost took Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Line Anthony Weaver. Why do you think that release of emotion came at that time?*_(Childs Walker)_* "It was a great moment for us to close the game out, and at that point, the game wasn't entirely over. If [the 49ers] scored, [it would have been] probably an onside situation with timeouts. You close the game out of that magnitude, you're just juiced about the guys and the performance the guys put out there, and then it just came out."
How do you handle the speed of Miami's offense?*_(Mike Preston) _*"It's a challenge. It's unique to the rest of the league because it's at every spot. Every guy that can touch the ball can take off and score from any point. So, it sounds cliché, but it is all 11 [players]. You have to take great angles, [and] you have to have great force, great secondary force and a third guy in the alley. So – and the ball can hit at any point in the field, anywhere from the A-gap all the way out to the alley. So, it's a challenge. How we structure things, and how we play blocks, and they do some things, schematically, that are a little different from what we've seen in the run game and the perimeter, like screen game. So, we're getting a great look this week. The guys have practiced well today and the walkthrough yesterday, but [we] definitely need to attack that the rest of the week."
Miami's offense runs a lot of tosses on the outside. Is that something you've emphasize to your defensive ends or your outside guys that they probably need to be on alert about?*_ (Mike Preston) _*"It's everyone that's responsible for the perimeter, right? It's not just the defensive ends, sometimes those guys are unblocked, and they're getting cracked, so they have to be able to play those blocks, but it's the guys behind them, too, that have to replace when their guy blocks the perimeter, too."
How much do you reference last year's Week Two game against Miami with the players when preparing for this week? How much have you grown as a coordinator since then? It was really early on in your play-calling career.*_(Pete Gilbert) _*"We haven't talked about last year. [We're] so far into the season, [it's] a completely new team, but personally, of course you're going to learn from that game last year. You want to learn quicker than not because you're playing the next week, so if you're not learning on a week-to-week basis based on how your guys are playing and how you're calling things and how you're structuring gameplans in the positions you're trying put your guys in and how things are ruled out and how clear they are, then you're doing your team a disservice. So, that's something that we take a lot of pride in trying to learn from week to week. And definitely that game, you look back, and we made a lot of corrections after that game to take strides for the rest of the year. Unfortunately, those [types of games] are going to happen in the NFL. It's about how you respond as a team and take responsibility for things you can improve on; I think as a team, and definitely individually, that was our approach then, but that's a long time ago. But you're obviously going to try and learn from every setback that you have."
What's the challenge of how you defend WR Tyreek Hill? You guys have physical corners. How do you go back and forth with whether or not you want to press a guy like that or give him space because he's shown that he can win both ways?*_(Cordell Woodland) _*"Well, they do a great job of getting him the ball creatively. It's different if someone just lines up at the X, and he's on the ball, and he's not moving, and you know where's he's going to be – that's definitely not the case with Tyreek [Hill]. So, we have some initial plans on how we want to handle it. Obviously, [I] don't want to divulge it right now, but it's a challenge in how they move him. It's a credit to them with their system and the things he's able to do from different spots."
How do you go about preparing to face a guy like WR Tyreek Hill in practice. Is it by committee thing? Is there a Tyreek guy? There's not a lot of guys who run with his speed.*_(Jonas Shaffer)_* "You try your best you can. Our look team does a great job. There's a lot of times we're looking like, 'Man, well that's not going to work' because they give such a great look. Actually, I was just talking to some of the [defensive backs] today. It's a constant evaluation of what we're executing well throughout the week. Then as the week starts to unfold on how we decide to play the game, you're constantly evaluating that and then saying, 'Hey OK guys, I think we're going to go this direction going into the game.' Obviously, you'll adjust as the game kind of unfolds, but our look team does a great job of getting the splits and the releases, and our young guys do a great job of getting those guys ready to go."
You said a lot about these three offenses, the Rams, Dolphins, and 49ers having very similar offenses. The way that the Dolphins motion though, do you have to kind of put them in their own category from those other teams?*_(Cordell Woodland_*) "Well, I'd say the thing they share is they motion frequently and with fast motion with condensed sets, it's little bit ... Each team has definitely a different personality of how they're operating and why, who's doing it. Like I referenced last week, there's always a rhyme or reason on what they're trying to achieve. [The Dolphins] operate differently of the [Rams and 49ers], even though it's a similar family of offenses, probably similar terminology and things like that. It's a unique operation on their end."
This time of the year, you inevitably get people starting to speculate about head coach openings. Your name has been very popular in that conversation in the past few weeks. How do you deal with that? Do you compartmentalize it? Do you ignore it completely? What do you kind of make of that?*_(Childs Walker)_* "It's hard to ignore. It's an honor to hear about it. It's such a unique opportunity when it does come up. For guys that know me, I'm a one-track guy. It's very difficult for me to kind do two things at once. So, try your best to focus on the things that we need to focus on, which is the next game and getting our guys in position to win. I thought you guys would probably ask about this at some point, but I think it's an opportunity to talk about ... When we started our staff at the beginning of last year, we said we were all in all together. We wanted to do it together as a staff and be a collaboration, and so to have that opportunity to have your name come up like that, it's really a reflection of our coaches and our staff together. We have a great staff, and our coaches do a phenomenal job of prepping our guys on a week-to-week basis, getting buy-in. We have such a diverse group of thought, and we're not afraid to challenge one another, too. So, we'll crack a joke, [and] we have a good time, but those guys deserve a lot of credit, too, for the position we've been able to put our guys in as well." (Reporter: Have you gotten any phone calls yet?) "No, I haven't." (laughter)
QB Tua Tagovailoa has the fastest time to throw in the NFL. How challenging is it to kind of disrupt his rhythm especially when his first and second receivers are aways pretty open?*_(Jonas Shaffer) _*"Easier said than done. Something we're always stressing is marrying the rush and coverage together. It's easy to say, we want to disguise and lie to the quarterback, but if it's a progression read, it's very difficult if they're just looking at spots, and his eyes are very disciplined. Obviously, they have really fast guys that they can create space. We're going to try our best to try and disrupt some timing and obviously our rushing coverage ... Our rush has to come alive even if the ball's out fast, if you're consistently bringing, when we finally do get him to hold the ball and try to get to his second or third option, maybe it will come alive, and then if the ball's out fast, if we can get our hands on the ball up front, that'll go a long way, as well."
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR TODD MONKEN
How pleased were you with the offensive line's performance against the San Francisco 49ers?*_(Cordell Woodland)_* "I thought they did a great job. That's a tough [defensive] front. [The San Francisco 49ers are] well-coached. [They] play hard. They're aggressive. [They were] playing at home. I thought we did our fair share of chipping and some things to help [like] sliding to certain people. When they had opportunities one on one, I thought for sure they held their own. Lamar [Jackson] is one that if you don't get a clean shot at him, and there's some space, he does a good job of escaping."
What is QB Lamar Jackson's vision like as a passer, particularly during off-script plays? What have you seen from him throughout the course of the season grow in that area?*_(Brian Wacker)_* "I do think that's a strength of [Lamar Jackson's]. I do think he sees the field very well. Take for instance ... We'll talk about the scrambles first. He does a tremendous job, and we've worked awfully hard with our scramble drills in terms of our spacing down the field reacting to the quarterback. But even beyond that, I think he's able to communicate what he sees and what he anticipates. Then, when he gets outside the pocket, [he] does a great job of seeing things. The touchdown [pass] to Zay [Flowers against the 49ers] – more times than not on that, we're trying to get the defense to move laterally, and we're thinking outside post [route and] rail [route] to the back [of the end zone]. I don't even know if we ever hit Zay one time on that part of it, but he saw the reaction of the safety and made an unbelievable play to be real honest."
How has T Daniel Faalele progressed now that he is getting more opportunities to play on the offensive line?*_(Pete Gilbert)_* "It's been great. [It's] an opportunity for [Daniel Faalele] to play. Obviously, [Pat Mekari's] played a bunch previously, but to get [Faalele] out there playing with our situation at tackle, it's been great."
How unique is it to have a rotation along the offensive line?*_(Cordell Woodland)_* "It is unusual, but that's a credit to our personnel staff. Obviously, having that depth where you feel comfortable doing that. That's been something that's helped us with Morgan [Moses] and also Ronnie [Stanley] as they battle through some nagging things that have continued. It's been a huge plus for us."
What are the challenges of going up against a Vic Fangio Miami Dolphins defense? How can QB Lamar Jackson's escape-ability be a counter punch?*_(Jonas Shaffer)_* "First off, [the Miami Dolphins] do a tremendous job. To the naked eye, you would sit there and say that they're not complicated, but they do a great job with their tools, whether it's up front or in the backend. I think they do a great job. When you have what would be called a system, it's easier to adjust to what you do because they're used to how teams are going to try to attack them. So, they immediately can get to another tool or another answer based on how you're attacking them. I think they do a great job of adjusting. Their guys play awfully hard, and they're playing with a lot of confidence right now. Like anything with Lamar [Jackson] – it's just trying to continue in the pass game in terms of consistency in drop [back and] consistency in terms of where his eyes are at, which he's been doing a great job of and then, when the play breaks down, as we've said as a two-play quarterback. Are our guys continuing to understand spacing and reacting, because that has to be a big part of what we do."
What do you see on the Dolphins' defense that is clicking for them?*_(Kyle Phoenix)_* "It's hard to really say other than ... Obviously, they have Jalen Ramsey back. That gives you comfort at the [No. 1] corner spot, but it's not as if they didn't have other pros playing so that's a little over the top. I look at games at the beginning [of the season] and I see them playing well before. I see them playing well now. Sometimes, there's certain matchups that play against you or certain games that play for you, but I don't really see [it]. They're doing the same things. They're playing awfully well. They're playing awfully hard. I know that's going to sound bad when I say that – that I don't see a difference. I thought they were really good at the beginning of the year, and I think they're really good now. Maybe in their minds, they've cleaned some things up, and they feel like they've given up less and played things a little bit cleaner. They might've been going through the same things that we went through [with] a new coordinator and learning adjustments on the fly and how they're playing their defense. You'd have to ask them. I think they've played well all year, and I think if you ask coaches that have played against them, they feel awfully strong about how well they've played on defense."
What did you know about C Tyler Linderbaum when you got here? How valuable has he been to your offense?*_(Jeff Zrebiec)_* "[Tyler Linderbaum's] been great. All he does is work. He's really smart. He's athletic. It's hard to get a guy as complete as he is when you talk about his talent level and his intelligence. He loves playing the position. Outside of the safety that we got with the [bad] snap [against the Los Angeles Rams], we haven't had issues with the snaps. He's playing at an elite level. When I got here, I found out that he was the draft pick [the Ravens selected from the] Hollywood Brown [trade]. I was like, 'Really? We got a center instead of a big-time wideout?' Then, we got Zay [Flowers], and I said, 'Perfect.' We got a wideout, and we got a center. Great, this is good stuff."
What do the Dolphins do pressure-wise that makes them special?*_(Pete Gilbert)_* "I think their interior guys are relentless. They do a great job of pushing the pocket, which brings the outside rushers into play. When they moved the linebacker [Andrew Van Ginkel] out to ... [He] does a great job on the edge. He's athletic. He can get edgy. They do a really good job. Like a lot of teams, when you have relentless pass rushers, and you're up in games, those are going to come. That's a byproduct of teams that are throwing the football. They do a great job of ... I wouldn't consider them a pressure team by nature, but I would say that they do a good job of picking their spots. I think [David] Long is a tremendous linebacker, blitzing wise. He gets real edgy. It just compounds. I think they're up [in the game], and they're relentless. Those are the things that ... You'll see a lot of sacks. The ball doesn't come out, and they continue to fight and push the pocket."
Do you notice the difference in the way defenses are defending QB Lamar Jackson now than in the past?*_(Cordell Woodland)_* "It's hard for me to compare, because when we've watched in the past ... One, I wasn't here, so I wasn't as in depth in watching it as thorough. We're a little bit different in terms of our personnel groupings, so it's different to compare when you're in multiple tight end groups in the last year or so. But, certainly teams have had different plans and some common themes that they've tried to do to try and disrupt what we do on offense and to corral [Lamar Jackson]. That is the challenge for us and for them – to see what they're trying to do. For the most part, you'll have a few wrinkles, but when you play really good defenses, just like we're about to face, they didn't get really good by changing a lot of things. You have a belief system in what you do, and you stick to it,' and you can live with the results."
How close is WR Rashod Bateman to a breakout performance? What have you seen in his development as he has gotten healthier this year?*_(Jonas Shaffer) _*"Great question. You really can see with each day [and] each week [Rashod Bateman] gaining more and more confidence. His ability to practice [after] basically almost being out a year. Missing the offseason is a better way of putting it or a lot of [training] camp. You can see his confidence beginning to grow, and he's playing faster. You can see that, and he has it in him. It's been better every week, and he's been able to practice every week. That's a big part of a player's development when you have a skillset that he has. He loves football. He likes to practice, so it's just a matter of staying healthy, and that development will continue to come."
S KYLE HAMILTON
On how he's feeling:"I'm good. I'm good. [I'm taking it] day by day. It could have been worse."
On if he thinks he'll play Sunday:"It's day by day. I'm still evaluating. [It's a] short week. [We've] got a day less to kind of evaluate everything, but I'm going to do everything I can to make it to the game."
On what exactly happened on the play in which he got injured last week and if it was a reaggravation of the previous injury:"Yes, it was the same thing. And I was talking about taking the brace off before the game, because it was annoying me, but something told me not to, and I'm glad I didn't, because who knows? I don't know; the brace might have prevented something else from happening. But yes, I just got my ankle rolled up [on], and I guess that kind of went up into my knee and caused some knee pain. But I'm good."
On what was going through his head when he was laying on the ground before his second INT last week:"Yes, I didn't even … Obviously, I didn't see the play until after the game, and it looks kind of wild – looking at it from that perspective. But, I was blitzing, [and] obviously got hit on the ground and got landed on and kind of had to hit a hard reset on the ground. I caught my breath and then stood up. The play was still going on, [and] they always preach, 'Run to the ball, and good things happen.' That's a great play by 'Marlo' [Marlon Humphrey] at the same time – plastering a scrambling quarterback – and I was just in the right place at the right time."
On the Ravens shutting down the 49ers' star players last week:"I mean, the same message before the game that we were saying – 'Outside of the building, people are going to have their own narratives, own notions' – and I couldn't honestly care less. I think a lot of people here couldn't care less about how good or bad somebody is saying that we are, and I think the same goes for after a win like that. You've got to keep the same mentality – you can't feed into all the good press that you're getting now – and I feel like, at the same time, everybody in here is having the same mindset that we had before the game."
On the adjustments from facing San Francisco's offense to Miami's:"There are some similarities there, but at the same time, personnel is completely different. [Miami] provides a bunch of problems on their side of the ball. They've got a capable quarterback, a bunch of receivers and some running backs who are all really fast and do their jobs well. And I think it's up to us to execute the gameplan that we have in place, which I think is a great one and for us to go out there and get a win."
On the best thing about working with defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald and what he makes about his name being associated with head coaching opportunities:"Yes, I mean, if that … We've got a goal in mind still, [and] we've got to finish out what we've started here, but if that were to happen, it would be much deserved. [Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald] is a young, bright star in our league, and just like the players are executing at a high level, so is he, and we don't do that without him and all the other people on the staff. So, he's got a great plan in place every week, and he's open to criticism, for sure, from us, when we're being a little sensitive and bratty about stuff. But he hears us when we're talking to him, and I think that's a great quality to have."
On what it means to understand the stakes of this game and that the Ravens have a chance to clinch the AFC North and the AFC's No. 1 seed this week:"Yes, we were kind of talking about it in the defensive meeting [that] we get a two-for-one special this week; if we get a win, we win the division, and we win the conference. It doesn't get much bigger than that, and I hope that we all have the mentality [that] we come in … And I know for a fact that we're all … [We've] got everything in this game, and I know that next week, obviously, is a big game against Pittsburgh, as well. But we've got to focus on the task at hand, and [if] we don't win this week, then we still leave things up in the air. I think it's a good thing [that] everything that we want in front of us is in our hands."
On his reaction to being named Week 15 AFC Defensive Player of the Week:"I thought it was pretty cool. I didn't initially … People were talking to me about it after the game – about whether I would win it or not – and I was like, 'OK, cool, whatever,' and then a bunch of people were coming up and congratulating me like I won MVP or something. But I mean, it's just another weekly accolade. I bet you all can't name who won the Defensive Player of the Week in Week 7. So, it's cool for the time being, but we've still got another game to win."
ILB ROQUAN SMITH
On going from one difficult opponent in the San Francisco 49ers to another in the Miami Dolphins:"It's definitely a huge game, but we're not making it any bigger than what it is. It's the next game on the schedule, and we're going to treat it just like any other game throughout the regular season. We're going to be ready to rock and roll, and [we] have to be ready to protect the house by any means."
On how he's feeling after showing up on the injury report with a pec injury:"I feel great. You see me out there in practice – [I'm] ready to go, baby."
On some of the challenges that the Miami Dolphins present:"I think [they're] a really talented team, starting at the quarterback position, but [also] starting with the head coaching position. I actually like his personality from afar, in a sense, and the way he carries himself. Starting with Tua [Tagovailoa], Tyreek [Hill] on the outside, the running back – [No.] 31 [Raheem] Mostert [and No.] 28 [De'Von Achane]. [They have] a lot of speed out there. [The] tight ends play good ball as well. I think they just all work well together, and it's just definitely a track team on grass, but we wouldn't like it any other way. We prefer to go through the best to be the best, so we're looking forward to the matchup. I think it's going to be a great one."
On what it is about the way defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald calls that game that you like so much: "I just think [defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald] is a wizard. He more so finds out what teams struggle with, [what] a team's weakness is and [knowing] our strength and being able to make those into a gameplan situation. I think it's just that in a nutshell and just having everybody on the same page throughout the week and on gameday [being] ready to just rock and roll, so I enjoy playing in the defense, and I think it's pretty sweet. So, if you haven't played in it, hey, it's pretty sweet."
On how important it is to watch the film when you can't replicate the Dolphins' speed on the scout team: "At the end of the day, the field is 100 yards long – and what is it, like 53 yards wide – so you can only go so far. There is 100 yards this way and 50-or-so yards going that way, so when you look at it from that perspective, I think it's just more so doing our jobs and getting back to our responsibilities. I think if we do that, we'll slow a lot of that down, but obviously, it's a lot easier said than done. We're ready for it, and we're going to be ready for it."
On how much earning the No. 1 seed in the AFC is a motivating factor:"I think that goes for both sides, if I'm not mistaken. I'm not sure, but yes, it's definitely big. I think it's the next game, and our livelihood versus their livelihood, so when you look at it from that perspective, it's very simple for any man. We're at home, so you have to defend your grass by any means. We're definitely going to invite them in and do everything that it takes to get the job done, but we know it's not going to come easy, but hey, nothing comes easy [that's] worth having, so we'll be ready."
On the key to registering their motion and making sure responsibilities are lined up when guys are moving: "Honestly, I just think it's eye candy, for sure. I think it's more so just [about the] final formation. You get back to what you're doing ... How I look at it, every single game and every single opponent I go up against, no matter how many motions you're doing, I'm looking at the final formation [or] the final picture because that's what you truly want to do at that picture ... Maybe some guys like can't really visualize that [or] see that in a sense, but that's how I look at things, and that's how me and 'PQ' [Patrick Queen] just try to look at things throughout the week."