Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton
I'm sure you're aware of what happened in the Dallas and Atlanta game at the end. Do you use that as a teaching lesson? And in that situation, for your hands tram, do you teach them to aggressively go after the ball even if it's within that 10-yard mark? (Jamison Hensley) "That's a great question, and good to see everyone. In that situation, that's a learning situation for guys across the league – just on what you should do when you're not sure or you're uncertain of if that ball is going to go 10 yards or not. If it doesn't go 10 yards, obviously we don't want to touch it. But in that case … I just tell our guys, 'Look, we don't want to back up. Let's just make sure we surround that ball, because it only needs to go 10 yards. The second that nose hits 10 yards, we need to be in a position where we can recover that ball.' So, I think a lot of coaches are going to be showing that to their guys on, 'Look, let's learn from this, and let's not end up on the other end of it.'"
I know you probably haven't thought a whole lot about this big picture, but is this the best kicking matchup you've ever been a part of? (Jonas Shaffer) (laughter) "For my short time being a special teams coach, this might be it. What we have here in our 'Wolfpack' and with Justin [Tucker] – obviously, he's been unbelievable in his career – and then what you're seeing from Harrison [Butker] out in Kansas City right now … For a young guy, he's strong. Mentally, you can see he's locked in. So, this will be fun. This will be fun to see."
Only three years ago, Sam Koch had 84 punts. Last year, he had 40, and this year, he's on track to have 40. Is that something you guys have talked about? With the proficiency of the offense, his volume has gone down so much. Does that come up at all? (Kirk McEwen) "It really doesn't come up as much. Our job is to prepare every week like we're going to punt the football as many times as we need to punt the football. With Sam [Koch] not punting the ball as much last year … He's been good. On the punts that he does go out there and he hits, it has been great punts. So, when his number is called, the one thing I know about Sam is, he's going to be ready, and he's going to put his best ball out there on every rep."
What would it mean to get WR/RS Chris Moore back on the field for your special teams units? (Ryan Mink) "Good question there. I talked about it before – about the impact that Chris [Moore] has for us. But we're going to wait to see if he's ready to go, and then there could be a chance that he lines up for us. We're just going to wait to see, but he'll come out; he'll be ready to play. He's a veteran guy, and I know he's itching to play."
When you see K Justin Tucker kick a ball … And I guess from the untrained eye, his kickoffs hang in the air and it just drops down. How difficult is it to get that exact hangtime and place it to the position of the end zone where you're trying to force them to come out and return that kick? (Jamison Hensley) "We just tell Justin [Tucker], 'You know what? Go ahead and kick the ball.' Obviously, there's always strategy involved, because it's football, right? There's always going to be some kind of strategy involved in knowing what we want to do. I thought he hit great balls. I thought he hit returnable balls. And then, it's up to the opponent to decide whether they want to return the football or not. We just teach our guys, 'Hey man, let's run. Let's go cover. You never know when the ball is going to come out.'"
Along those lines, watching the game Sunday, there were kickoffs where the ball would end just one yard deep into the end zone, and they still wouldn't take it back. Are returners just that good at sensing how long a ball has been in the air, I guess? (Jonas Shaffer) "Yes, that's a great question. I think the veteran guys, maybe they have a sense of it; they have a feel for how long the ball has been in the air. But when you watch the tape, there are some teams that, they don't really … That ball is at the one-yard line or half-a-yard deep in the end zone; doesn't matter, they're going to bring the ball out. So, when we talk about whether there's strategy, I think it is strategy on both teams' part – whether it be the kickoff team or the kick return team. I think they might go into the week deciding right now, 'If the ball is in end zone, we're not going to bring it out, no matter what.' So, I think that's the strategy behind it. But again, our job is to tell our guys, 'Look, let's just go cover it. Let's just go cover kicks. Whether it's in play or out of play, we're going to cover it the same way no matter what.'"
As a young Black coach on the team, I'm wondering if you can get a sense of where the team is on all the unrest going on? They hadn't talked about yesterday as a team yet, Lamar said, but we're a day later, and I'm wondering if you can tell me anything? (Kirk McEwen) "As a team, we haven't discussed that situation yet – about the Breonna Taylor situation. But early on, our mission was clear. We said what we wanted to see happen, and we wanted those cops charged. So, we still stand on that as an organization [and] as players. There needs to be something done. There are families out there who are grieving. There are parents out there who are at unrest – uneasy. An innocent child lost her life. And I can go on about this forever; but in this country, we're serving no-knock warrants. This is not the military. The men and women who are supposed to protect and serve us, their lives are in danger when you serve a no-knock warrant. You go into someone's house – I don't care what time it is – bad things could happen. You're putting innocent people's lives in danger. You're putting the [lives of] people who are supposed to protect and serve us in danger. So, we have to be smart. We need to think about the law. And then, there needs to be consequences for what happened to that young lady."
Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale
Opening statement: "I'll try to cover the Houston game first as a recap for you all. I was really pleased with the step that we took. Going into that game, I said, 'The biggest jump is from the first game to the second, and then as the season goes on, you just try to keep stacking those events.' But there were plays being made by all three levels, and you're starting to see the personality of … Each year is different, but you're starting to see the personality of the defense and how they play. We were really happy with going down there and playing against one of the best quarterbacks – a Pro Bowl quarterback – in the NFL with Deshaun Watson, and how we handled that situation. We gave up a couple big plays, but I was really pleased with the resilience of the defense overall. With that, I'll open it up to questions."
You've played QB Patrick Mahomes the past two years; this will be your third meeting. He's the kind of guy you're playing tape on, but at the same time, he does stuff that you really can't plan for; he's so spontaneous. How do you prepare for that, and what do you tell your guys? How do you deal with a quarterback who makes plays sort of like QB Lamar Jackson? (Todd Karpovich) "Yes, I think so. There are the mobile-type quarterbacks. You have to defend the first play, the second play and sometimes the third play. And with the way he throws the football, you have to stay on your coverage no matter what. He can be on one side of the field and throw it all the way across to the other. I think that's what makes him as good as he is. The other thing too is, I think [Chiefs offensive coordinator] Eric Bieniemy and [Chiefs quarterbacks/pass game coordinator] Mike Kafka have done a great job. From what I understand, I think Kafka has been with him [Patrick Mahomes] since he's gotten [there]. And the intelligence of the player … He's at that football IQ level of [Tom] Brady and [Peyton] Manning and those type of quarterbacks. [He's] getting them in the right play all the time. And the protection part of it too; it seems like anytime anybody pressures him, he always has them in the right protection, and you're just running into a wall. So, it's a challenge. And to me – I know he has $450 million or whatever it is – they could have paid him a billion [dollars], and I still think he's underpaid."
The Chargers gave the Chiefs all they wanted last week. Are the Chargers that good, or were the Chiefs off last Sunday, in your estimation? (Kirk McEwen) "I don't know either one of those questions. Just looking at the tape, I think the Chargers played them really well. I think they're coached really well, and their defense played really hard. So, each week is a new challenge, and I know that [Chiefs head coach] Andy [Reid] and [Chiefs offensive coordinator] Eric [Bieniemy], they'll make adjustments, just like they do with their system. I'm just concentrating on Monday night – the challenge that we have ahead of us."
You, pass defense coordinator Chris Hewitt and head coach John Harbaugh have all, in recent months, talked about CB Anthony Averett's development. If he has a bigger role in the sense of … What have you seen from him, in terms of this year? It seems like you guys were really pleased with what kind of training camp he was having before he got a little banged up. (Jeff Zrebiec) "What he's done is he came in … He's changed his body around from last year. It's not just physically being ready; it's mentally being ready. There are others as well who we can move in and out and move around for our game and for the rest of the games here on out [with] the interchangeable parts we have here in the back end. The thing that I've told him, and I've told [pass defense coordinator] Chris Hewitt and [defensive backs coach] Jesse [Minter] and [coaching analyst – defense] Brian Duker is, when Chris has put him in the game, and he's put him in the game before Tavon [Young] had gotten hurt, as well, which you guys know … I don't know he's in the game. I still call the same game. So, that just shows you the confidence that I have in him."
Last week, you referred to QB Deshaun Watson as LeBron James. Who would you equate QB Patrick Mahomes with? (Jerry Coleman) (laughter) "I think he's Patrick Mahomes. He's up there at that level that he turns into … At the end of that game in [Los Angeles], he turns into a closer. You see the [Michael] Jordan of him, if you will – if you want me to stay basketball. The guy, he's unbelievable."
In your experience going up against an Andy Reid coached offense, what makes those different? How, as a defensive coach, do you respect the way that he's evolved from year to year? (Aaron Kasinitz) "I think defensively, I have much respect for [head coach] Andy Reid and [offensive coordinator] Eric Bieniemy and [quarterbacks coach/pass game coordinator] Mike Kafka and the whole offensive staff. Like I said, the biggest challenge is they stretch you horizontally and vertically with their speed. So, I think he knows the pieces that he's looking for and he knows how to use them and put them in the right position in every game. Like I said, it's a great challenge for us."
How much of it is a cat and mouse game, since this is your third time playing QB Patrick Mahomes, as far as watching the tape and seeing what works, but then maybe trying to show some looks that you've shown in the past and doing things differently? (Jamison Hensley) "Every game is that way, that's a good question. This is the National Football League; it's no longer checkers, it's chess. They play it very well, the Chiefs do."
I wanted to get your impressions of RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the rookie running back. And can ILB Patrick Queen give any tips on his running style or running game and how to bottle him up? (Ryan Mink) "'PQ' [Patrick Queen] has the utmost respect for the guy, so that tells me something right there that he's a low center of gravity, strong back. Don't let the height fool you, he's a physical runner and can cut on the dime. So, that's just going to be another challenge. That's what I was referring to when I was saying that [head coach] Andy [Reid] and that entire staff knows what they want, what their next piece is and where it will fit in with their offense. I just think he's another threat that they have out there, along with the Olympic track team they have playing wide receiver."
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman
Opening statement: "Guys we're getting ready for … First of all, I really enjoy these press conferences, because I don't have to wear a mask. I'm in a room by myself, and it's really about one of the only times during the day where I'm not wearing a mask. I haven't spoken to player this year without a mask on. So, it's been kind of unique that way. (puts on mask) As you can see, I'm ready to go at any point in time. If it makes you feel more comfortable, I can do it. We're getting ready to play a really good Chiefs team, obviously – the Super Bowl champs. Up front, we had J.J. Watt last week, and that's the NFL for you, now you get Chris Jones. This guy is playing better than any defensive lineman we'll see from any other team. He has all the tools and his wares are on display every week, so we have our work cut out for us. The back end is led by [Tyrann] Mathieu, who is very active in all phases of their defense. He's a very instinctive player, [a] playmaker-type and really is a catalyst for them. Linebackers are very active, experienced in their system and they're very well coached. They do a lot of things on defense. Over the past couple of years … They really improved their defense as the year went on last year, and [they're] off to a 2-0 start. So, we're really excited about the challenge, and I'll open it up."
When you read about some of the great quarterback rivalries in this league, you hear about how one kind of drives the success of the other. They kind of play off of each other throughout their careers. Do you think that could be a situation with QB Lamar Jackson and QB Patrick Mahomes? Is it now, or do you think it could be going forward? (Jamison Hensley) "I think it is now. It's a week-to-week league and we're getting ready to play the next team. I definitely think they're two of the most dynamic young talents [and] quarterbacks in the league. It just makes sense, really, to recognize it for what it is. I think it'll be a lot of fun to watch if you're a fan. But again, really good players and good matchup."
How key is it going to be to get that run game revved up, not only to set the tone, but also to keep the ball out of QB Patrick Mahomes' hands so you guys can kind of control the game? (Todd Karpovich) "We want to run it and throw it. I really think that you can't be a one-trick pony. If people want to stop the run, they can just all-out blitz you and just try to fog you with numbers. So, you have to be able to see how the game is going and react accordingly. We want to get our run game improving every week. I thought we made a good step last week. We need to make another step this week. Keeping [Patrick] Mahomes off the field, obviously, is always a positive. So, all those things can factor into a victory."
To tack onto that, keeping QB Patrick Mahomes off the field … It wasn't long ago that fourth down automatically meant punting team, but now, with analytics, it means you're going to go for it a lot. I'm wondering, where were you on analytics? Did you go easily with that or did you really have to think about it going for fourth down? Where were you? (Kirk McEwen) "It's definitely evolved – the thinking. Whether you call it analytics, statistics, tendencies, whatever word you want to apply to it, I think there's been a lot of research done that had not been prior done. A lot of things fell under the umbrella of analytics in the past, but not to the extent [of] the information we get now. It's really at a different level than what I was used to for many, many years. Coach [John] Harbaugh has really … [He] did a deep dive on that the past couple of years and, really, has led the charge with how we make decisions and our process with that. We discuss it, though. There are different factors; how the game is going, how you're doing in certain areas against the team, the time of the game – all that stuff. Those are, interestingly, pretty much all factored in by … We have a very diligent analytics group. They factor in so many things that really spawn really good discussions. At the end of the day, when you make those fourth downs, it really, really leads to a win. So, as always on offense, it comes back to execution."
Last year, you guys were the highest scoring offense in the first quarter. I know as a play-caller, there's a lot of focus on those first dozen or so scripted plays. What's been key for you as a play-caller and you as the offense just maintaining that production in the second, third and fourth quarter where you guys start to pull away from teams? (Daniel Oyefusi) "That's a good question. Every game kind of starts … There's a beginning, middle and end, like any story. They're all different, so you have to kind of adapt and adjust as things go on. Somebody – a really wise coach – once told me, 'This is a game of adjustments at this level.' He was right. I think you have to make those adjustments as the game goes on. Starting fast is something we always want to do, for sure. But I just think that throughout the course of the game, we want to make adjustments to how the game is going, what they might be doing on defense, et cetera. So, that's what we're trying to build – just an offense that can really attack whatever comes up against us."
We've heard you say multiple times about what a good problem it is to have four quality running backs. Do you, though, have to constantly talk to those guys to make sure they're not frustrated with the number of carries they're getting? Or they know exactly heading into a game what could be their role in particular, especially early in the game? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Not really. These guys are pros, and they're all about the team. Really, it's more of a function of how the game is going. These guys have great attitudes, winning attitudes [and] team attitudes. It's really all about winning the game. So, one guy might get some one week, but he's going to get more the next, or the next. It's a long season, and you can never have enough good running backs."
I know your offense is obviously unique from everyone else's, but with what the Los Angeles Chargers did last week with some of their pistol looks, was that particularly instructive for you guys? And then just as a two-part question, following up on the masks and the gaiters – how many do you think head coach John Harbaugh has? (Jonas Shaffer) (laughing) "The Chargers game was a good game to look at. That was a unique situation where their starting quarterback got changed right before the game. That may have impacted, maybe, how Kansas City played that game. But as far as how many masks Coach [John] Harbaugh has, I don't know. Everyday there's a new one. I haven't kept count – I think I stopped at like 100."
T Orlando Brown Jr.
I just wanted to get your thoughts on what it's been like stuck playing next to a rookie in G/T Tyre Phillips after being next to G Marshal Yanda for the first couple years of your career? (Luke Jones) "It's definitely been different. Obviously, coming from a Hall of Famer to a younger player in Tyre [Phillips], it's just different. The aspect … Just the feel of the game. Tyre is someone who's been playing for a long time. It's been different, but the way that he's worked, the amount of time that he's put in, the preparation week-in week-out, just his focus throughout camp and his ability to earn that starting right guard spot – I think it says a lot about how he's been [and] who he is. I think upper management and the coaches recognize that. He's been really great to play next to – I've enjoyed it. We're learning together in certain areas, and how to fill and fit certain blocks."
QB Lamar Jackson was sacked four times last week. What are some of the things you've got to clean up this week against the Chiefs? (Todd Karpovich) "It's important. Obviously, with it being my job to protect him, I've got to make sure that I keep people off of him – sacks, hits, hurries, pressures, touches, and making sure he's as comfortable as possible. As an offensive line, I definitely take a little bit [and] put more on myself by saying that I need to play better to make sure that we play better as a collective group."
Some of the other coaches and players that we've talked to have said that there's no way to pretend that this is a completely normal game. I mean, Chiefs on Monday night – does it hit you at all that this is a team that you guys can be facing for years to come? That this is a team that you will always have to go through to get to where you want to go? (Childs Walker) "I think there's a good understanding that … I guess you can say … Similar to the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens rivalry, I guess, in the 2010s, or something like that, or late 2000s. Just, kind of, that type of feel and that type of atmosphere for those games. It's similar in a sense that Kansas City … Obviously, they're the reigning Super Bowl champs. They beat us the last two years. They've got Patrick Mahomes. We've got Lamar [Jackson]. So, there's a bunch of competition and this weird rivalry that's kind of been created through the wins and losses, and their success, and our losses and our success. It's definitely something I think we understand the big picture of and the importance of it. Ultimately, are we worried about where this is going to have us in whatever seeding, or however it would affect us in the finish for winning the division? No, man. Right now, we're just focused about beating them on Monday."
You saw a bunch of [Cleveland Browns] DE Myles Garrett in Week One. And then last week, you saw a lot of [Houston Texans] DE J.J. Watt. This Monday, you'll probably see a lot of [Kansas City Chiefs] DE Frank Clark. Do you just accept that as life in the NFL and life being on an island there? How does that, sort of, get you ready for the rest of the season? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Playing right tackle in this league, in today's NFL – really just offensive tackle, period – you're most often going to see their best rusher. And that's how a lot of teams are built – with two good guys rushing on the … Well, one good guy rushing on the left tackle, one good guy rushing on the right tackle. It's kind of forced. I feel like teams will draft a left tackle and a right tackle to make sure that you've got both of them in check. It is what it is. It's the NFL. That's why I'm here – to play against the best competition in the world. I understand I've got to bring my lunch pail every week. It is what it is."
You can't walk past the TV set and not see everybody talking about this game. It's so much focus everywhere on this game. How do you keep your life normal and trying to keep the rookies who are playing in – not only their third game – but their biggest game ever. How do you keep them level? (Kirk McEwen) "It's important. When I talk to Tyre [Phillips] and the rookies in our room, I just kind of let them know the importance of not peaking too early. I feel like that was something I kind of dealt with as a younger player, was peaking too early throughout the week or throughout gameday. My words to them are literally just try to keep calm. You want to peak at 8:30 [p.m.] at kickoff on Monday night. Throughout the week, focus on your preparation. Do what you got to do to, I guess you can say, stay sane and just maintain your composure."
When you have two great, young quarterbacks in Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, you see one wins the MVP, the other wins it the next year. And [Patrick] Mahomes wins the Super Bowl and Lamar [Jackson] talks about how he wants to win a Super Bowl. And this can be a rivalry … Do you think they kind of feed off of each other? (Jamison Hensley) "I do, I do – it's just kind of something that just comes with the competitiveness of it. I guess you can say the same thing for [Mark] Andrews and Travis Kelce. Or Ronnie [Stanley] and Eric Fisher. Or Frank Clark and [Matthew] Judon. It's only natural that when you're playing against a team like this on a primetime game, I guess you naturally compete with that other person on that team at that position that's a superstar as well. Is it something that I've heard Lamar [Jackson] talk about? No. Is it something you'll probably hear Patrick Mahomes talk about? No. I just think it's something only natural in this profession that you kind of feel and understand."
Kind of piggybacking off the earlier question – do you and T Ronnie Stanley ever get into any friendly debates about who sees the toughest pass rushers? (Ryan Mink) "No, man, we don't. (laughter) In today's NFL, the way it normally works is your best rusher rushes over the right tackle. Typically, it's the weaker tackle. (laughing) So, it's one of those deals where I expect to kind of see the best rushers week-in and week-out. Not to say he faces nothing but slouches, but he faces a lot of top tier talent, too."