SPECIAL TEAMS COORDINATOR CHRIS HORTON
Opening Statement: "[It's] good to everyone today. It's going to be short, but it's Pittsburgh week. And that's the thing that we're trying to convey to our players. It's like, 'Hey man, this one here speaks for itself.' So, we're just out here working hard getting ready to go play again, try to put another sound game together and try to play our best football up in Pittsburgh. Questions?"
In Sunday's game against Cleveland, WR Devin Duvernay caught the ball on the punt return and it seemed like there was some room for him to move? Was that something you guys just went with or are there certain instances where he needs to be a little more aggressive? (Jamison Hensley) "I know those two instances that you're talking about. The first one, let's go back to the first one where the ball was punted, and it came down – it should have been going to our right, but it kind of cut back to the middle of the field. I think in his mind he was thinking, 'You know what, this is one I can return.' But at the last second, he saw the gunner, so he called a fair catch. On the next one, he got the similar ball, and it happened right away, so he just assumed, 'Hey that gunner's right there again, I better catch this ball.' So, in that instance, he has to make the decision because we're not out there, and I think we saw the frustration from him literally on the field. He's like, 'That was my opportunity, I could have had that one.' But what our No. 1 priority is to get the ball back and give it back to our offense, and everything after that is a positive for us."
Did you think Sunday's game against Cleveland was P Jordan Stout's best game from start to finish? (Ryan Mink) "I thought that was Jordan [Stout's] best game by far. Obviously, consistency [is] one of those things that we talk about. He had seven punts in the game. Those first two, obviously he would have wanted to have back, but after that, those next five, they were spot on. And with Jordan, that's what we're trying to get him to do consistently. With [special teams coach] Randy [Brown] and [special teams consultant] Sam [Koch] working on every day ... Let's just find that consistency in those punts, and we see when he does that, this guy can flip the field. And that's why he's here."
We've talked in the past few weeks about the challenges of injuries. Were there too many men in the case of Sunday's game against Cleveland where it was tough having the personnel together where a couple guys went down in the game and not everyone knew if they were supposed to be on the field? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Not to make any excuses, because that's our job as coaches to make sure we handle the substitutions, but that was kind of part of it, right? We thought we made a sub with a guy. One guy stayed on the field, and they were trying to get guys off and, on the field, but those are easy fixes if we just communicate throughout the course of the game. So, I don't think we should be having that happening again."
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR MIKE MACDONALD
Opening Statement: [It's] good to see everybody. [I] appreciate you waiting. What [questions] do you have?"
For the past three weeks when facing opponents, there have been injuries to the starting quarterback. How much does that affect the gameplan when there is some uncertainty on who will be the starting quarterback on game day? (Jamison Hensley) "Probably not as much as you'd expect. It's hard with path dependence. Offensive systems probably taking a 90-degree right or left turn. I'd say the timing of how news comes out does affect how you gameplan – last week was a little bit of a unique situation. This one is a little [of the] same idea, kind of, but a little bit different. So, I'm definitely expecting Kenny [Pickett] and we'll be ready for [Mitch Trubisky] if he happens to be out there, as well."
What have you seen from your defensive backs coaches with the way they tag team, the way they present information whether it's in games or in practice?_ (Giana Han)_ "I'm really glad you asked that. Both [pass game coordinator/secondary] Chris Hewitt, [defensive backs coach] Dennard Wilson, [coaching research fellow] Brendan Clark and all those guys in that room have done an amazing job. [They have] a little bit of different styles of how they go about it. [They have] big personalities [and] strong personalities. Both [are] great football coaches in their own right, and they just have a great connection with our guys, and then the players deserve a lot of credit to – guys like Kevon Seymour coming in and playing nickel and grading really highly over the course of the game and didn't [bat an eyelash] when he went in there. So, a lot of credit should be going around to all those people, but definitely a shoutout to them."
In the offseason, did you think to yourself about how you were going to use ILBs Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen because they can do things that most other inside linebackers can't do in terms of their speed and physicality. Seeing that in lots of different pressures and encounters, is this what you knew you'd be able to do with both?_ (Pete Gilbert) "[I] didn't think we were able to do this much, honestly. We're putting a lot on their plate on a per-game basis. [Inside linebackers coach] Zach [Orr] and I were joking this week, and he goes, 'They love it. They're asking for it.' It shows our trust in them and what we can trust them to do on a per-week basis. So, definitely a lot of credit to Zach and 'Ro' [Roquan Smith] and 'PQ' [Patrick Queen] to take on the weekly gameplan – what we want them and ask them to do – and execute at a high level like you guys are seeing on Sundays. And the way that happens is just an everyday approach that they knock out on the practice field. It makes you feel good about calling things when those situations come up in a game." _(Reporter: Due to the injuries on the defense, have you had to put a lot more on their plate?)"You might be able to say that. I don't think I've thought that specifically, but I think that's a fair assessment."
How much has ILB Roquan Smith improved in pass coverage? (Ryan Mink) "I think he's always been a really good cover guy. How he wants to play the routes versus how he's done it in the past has been a little bit of an evolution, and that's definitely, probably, crystallized over time now. But I wouldn't say it's improved. I'd say it's steadily been really, really good."
What's it been like to point to and lean on guys like OLBs Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy when particularly you lose a couple of guys on the outside? (Brian Wacker) _"Well, I would say it's made a big impact on us because we ran out of guys. So, they're able to come in there and obviously do a great job, but I just think it's a credit to Eric [DeCosta] and personnel folks to get them in the building and then our coaches getting them ready to go. That's not easy to come in and play 20-something-odd plays … We did it with [former Ravens linebacker] Josh Bynes in 2019, and trust me, that was a … And [also with former Ravens linebacker] L.J. Fort, it was the same week. It was against the Steelers in Pittsburgh." _(Laughter) "So, I understand what that feels like, and it's not an easy task. So, just credit to everyone around getting ready to go and obviously being productive on gameday."
When you think of Pittsburgh, what do you think of? (Pete Gilbert) "A lot of thoughts. This organization ... How you are as a Raven is defined by this game. I'll leave it at that."
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR TODD MONKEN
People have been wondering where the chunk plays have been for the offense. Is your philosophy to take what the defense gives you in order for them to happen more often? (Pete Gilbert) "Not really. I don't think that's sustainable. In order – turnovers, explosive plays, touchdowns in the red zone, lost-yardage plays, third-down conversions – that's how you win on both sides of the ball. Don't turn it over. Be explosive. If you're not explosive, you better be [dang] good on third downs, because you have to keep drives ... Or fourth downs – conversion downs. We've been explosive in the run game. Where we have to get more explosive is the pass game. We have to find ways to create. Some of that's been a byproduct of the defense. Some of it's been a byproduct of play calling. Some of it's been a byproduct of we've been ahead in the fourth quarter. We really haven't ... We've tried to take the air a little bit out of the game – sometimes successfully, sometimes not. [Of all] the 32 teams across the league, everyone's going to say, 'We have to find a way to be more explosive.'"
Have you seen defenses evolve to take away the big pass play since air yards per pass attempt are down throughout the NFL? _(Ryan Mink) _"I think there's more of that. I think schematically, you're seeing more and more teams play in a certain style than there were a few years ago probably. At the end of the day, it's still within a given game – maybe not statistically over a year – but within a given game against the opponent you're playing. Whether your goal is to get 'X' amount of explosive [plays] within that given game, you're trying not to turn [it] over and be more explosive than your opponent."
In years past, the Ravens' offense would talk about opposing defensive coordinators throwing them gameplans that they didn't expect based on tendencies. Have you seen any of that this year? How do you counter base defenses that throw curveballs at the offense? (Jonas Shaffer) "Some of that might be true, but not really yet. [I] have not seen that. Some of the teams that we've played ... We played three of the four teams have been structured similarly, and they're married to really what they do. Some other teams are a little bit different in terms of how they schematically go up against Lamar [Jackson]. Some of that has to do with formations and who's on the field. That does have something structurally. I think a lot of that comes from – not coverage structure – but how big do you get in terms of your personnel. How many tight ends? How many big people? That's where a team has to get a little creative in terms of fit and gaps."
Is there any extra excitement involved in preparation this week since the Ravens are playing a divisional rival in the Pittsburgh Steelers? (Luke Jones) "I think a divisional game ... It felt like that the week before [at Cleveland], it felt like that going to Cincinnati. I would think anyone – I don't want to speak for Coach [John Harbaugh] – but when you're No. 1 goal is to win your division. That's what you set out to do is win your division. And obviously, it's huge – it's an AFC game; it's a divisional game; it's a rivalry game. Obviously, the two head coaches [John Harbaugh and Mike Tomlin] have been in place for a long, long time in terms of number of games. We're excited to continue to grow as an offense, continue to execute each week at a higher level. That's our goal."
What has specifically been working for the offense in the red zone this season? (Valerie Preactor) "It's players. I shouldn't say [it's] all players. It's all collectively. I think we've done a good job as a staff scheming it. We've had players make plays. You think of all the different ... We had a couple of third-down conversion touchdowns against Cincinnati that were huge in terms of a three-point win. Obviously, Lamar [Jackson] adds a different element. Other teams, at times, down there to give themselves a chance to run the ball will go Wildcat [formation]. Well, we don't have to go Wildcat. That doesn't mean we want to do that all the time, but he adds a different element that allows for a defense to have to play four [downs]. You're seeing that in terms of coverage structure. Coaches have done a good job of scheming it – the staff has. The players have done a great job executing it."
The last time the Pittsburgh Steelers have been blown out in their previous game, they have won their next game. Do you think you will have to deal with a little extra motivation from them this week? (Pete Gilbert) "It's a credit to them, but that has nothing to do with this year. We'll see. We'll be ready to go, and I'm sure they'll be ready to go."
After four games, do you think you have enough information on your opponents' tendencies? Do you think opponents have enough information on the offense? How do you incorporate tendency breakers into the offense? (Kyle Barber) "It's a good balance. I think every team has tendencies. I think it's knowing what those tendencies are – how do you play off that, because you're going to have strengths, and you have to play to those strengths – be it personnel-wise or schematically. Because, you can't be recreating the wheel each week. The key is, 'What do we do well? What do they do well? How can we attack them?' They're thinking the same things. We have to do a good job of masking that but still staying within the confines of what we want to be and what we want to continue to be moving forward."
Does it help that you had to defend two very good pass rushers against the Cleveland Browns in DE Myles Garrett and DE Za'Darius Smith since you are going up against the Pittsburgh Steelers' excellent pass rushers in OLB T.J. Watt and OLB Alex Highsmith? (Ryan Mink) "Well first off, I'd prefer nobody have great pass rushers. It's a lot more fun that way." (laughter) "When you talk about scheming stuff up, that's a lot more fun than when you're trying to figure out chip [block] help and those kinds of things. Myles Garrett's a handful, and the other guys [the Browns] have. These guys [on the Steelers] are really good players. We'll have our work cut out for us. We have to do a great job of staying ahead of the chains and getting the ball out."
Do you have a philosophy on how this offense uses motions, and how do you decide when it helps or hurts? (Jonas Shaffer) "Some of it's the price of doing business. I think when you face defenses, too, that really get off the ball on a snap count, they would say, 'False starts or illegal procedures is the price of doing business.' I think there's part of that when you motion and shift. There's always give and take. The defense is moving – run game, protections, where your 'I.D.s' are. There's a cost benefit analysis in terms of getting them to move [and] rotate – those kind of things – where it benefits you without ... Too often times, it has hurt us. Early on in the first game [against the Houston Texans], we hadn't all played together. Some of the motions and shifts are different than when you're in practice and what you see and when bullets are flying. It's still a work in progress to eliminate the drag at times in terms of 'I.D.s' –where they're at. It certainly is in terms of a benefit; it can be. I'll just say that."
What has been working well in the run game? How much does it benefit the fact that this is a team that is used to running the football? (Cliff Brown) "I think that's a great point. I still don't believe you can control a game if you can't effectively run the football. It's hard to control a game. It is what it is. It's hard to stay ahead of the chains. We wanted to when we came in [to Baltimore in 2023] – trying to blend, in terms of the physicality, some assemblances of the same run game that you could carry over and still be able to do some things schematically to help that. I think our staff's done a great job of that, and I think there's a comfort level with the players in terms of some of the things that we're doing."
T RONNIE STANLEY
On if he's excited to potentially play against the Steelers knowing what the game means:"Yes. We know what this game means to us as a franchise [and] as a team. No one takes it lightly, and we're trying to get as much firepower out there as possible."
On if he feels like he's going to play on Sunday:"There's a strong possibility."
On what he makes of how OL Patrick Mekari and T Daniel Faalele have played: "They've done a great job. Credit to Pat [Mekari] for his commitment to his technique and everything [that] he's done. There's [been] a lot of times [when] he's played at an All-Pro level. I'm just proud of everything he's done."
On how difficult it was to miss games because of his injury: "Definitely after the past couple of years, it's always [been] difficult to miss games, but it could always be worse. I'm just happy I'm still here, able to come back this season and continue our Super Bowl run."
On if his injury was scary because the guy rolled onto his leg:"Yes. You really don't see it coming. A lot of it is from missed tackles, and that's just part of the game."
On when he thought it was a possibility he could get back to playing:"Every day, [I] was just getting a little bit better, and we're just taking it day by day. We were trying for it last week, but it just wasn't there yet. Like I said, we're just taking it day by day."
S GENO STONE
On the first thing that comes to his mind when he thinks of going to Pittsburgh:"A lot of memories. It's home, basically, to me. I played my last-ever high school football game in [Acrisure Stadium]. My first-ever NFL game I went to [was the 2008] Ravens-Steelers AFC Championship. Just a lot of things go through my mind. I have a lot of memories there. So, going back home … It's always good to go back and play."
On if it feels different to hear Renegade now:"No, not really. It's still the same feeling. It's still energizing. Even in here, I feel like we get hyped whenever that song comes on, because you know, at that point, they're trying to get the best out of the team. So, at that point, who is going to respond? That's why I feel like we all get hyped when that song comes on."
On if he expects a lot out of the Steelers, despite their recent struggles:"Yes, any AFC North division game is going to be a tough game. We thought the same thing last week. They have one of the best defenses – the Browns did – and this week is the same thing. It's one of the best rivalries in football. You know you're getting the best out of [the Steelers], and [they] want to get the best out of us. So, no matter what the situation is … Whatever happened last week happened last week, but this is a new week. Everyone has a new page and has go out there and play."
On his comfort level in the secondary and his takeaway prowess going forward:"I feel like we're all just on the same page right now. We're all communicating [and] playing off [of] each other. We had a guy go down … We had a couple guys go down, and guys stepped up. Me, Brandon [Stephens] – a few other guys – 'Dar' [Ronald Darby], Rock [Ya-Sin], we all sort of come in and play. I feel like Kyle [Hamilton] had one of his best games a couple games ago. So, I feel like we're all starting to hit our best strides, and it's still early in the season. But the secondary … It's funny, our thing was, 'We're going to be the best secondary in the NFL at taking takeaways,' and that's what we're trying to do right now. For myself, I try to be the best I can at taking the ball away. So, I just try to be in the right spots at the right time."