THURSDAY MEDIA AVAILABILITY: WEEK 17 vs. BROWNS
Special Teams Coordinator/Associate Head Coach Jerry Rosburg
I asked John Harbaugh after the Chargers game about that late P Sam Koch punt and whether you guys talked about taking a safety automatically. Can you tell us whether that was discussed and what your thought process was on not doing it? Obviously, it worked out. (Jeff Zrebiec) "Yes, it worked out in the end, thanks to great play by our defense. It's something that it's probably bigger than a special teams coach's decision. That's a complete analytics decision. We have some great people working on that all before the game and during the game. So really, the decision would rest in John's hands and the people that are advising him. It's one of those situations that without much time left, and the score such as it was, there's probably an argument that could be made in either direction, and ultimately, the way it turns out is the best argument. Well, it worked for us, so we did exactly the right thing. Taking a safety is one of those situations that it can really work out well for you if you have the right circumstances. And without much time left, I'm not sure it wouldn't have been the best choice, but I'll leave that up to the guys that are crunching the numbers, so to speak."
What does it say about P Sam Koch's longevity that, I think, he's kicked now 1,002 punts? (Ed Lee) "Yes, isn't that great? I learned that postgame that he had his 1,000th punt. Yes, that's awesome. I think it's a testament to a number of things. I think it's a testament to the kind of condition that Sam keeps his body in and his mind. However old he is, his body is so strong and his mind is so strong. The other thing that I think is really ... As we've all witnessed, those of us that have been around here awhile, we've witnessed the evolution of Sam Koch, the punter, and the variety of different techniques that he uses to generate the kind of punts that he generates, and it's something that's ongoing. It hasn't slowed down at all. He's still working on things. And, the game has changed because of Sam's punts. I think as we talked about a few years ago when the Pro Bowl balloting came up, and Sam's impact on this game, there have been a number of things written and discussed since that time. The things that he instituted to the game in the National Football League, the way he punts the ball and the variety of different methods that he uses is now, as we discussed, working its way down into the high school ranks and summer camps. Coaches are coaching these things and watching Sam, and it's really a testament to his skill level, and as you said, his longevity, as well. He's been around long enough to do it, and do it at a high level, and he's still rolling."
Did K Justin Tucker have to make a case to try the 65-yarder, or was that something that you guys had worked out before the game? (Childs Walker) "It was an interesting situation. Justin makes a case for every kick, regardless of how long it is. He has this beautiful method of running right out in front of me and John [Harbaugh] and taking a practice swing; you've probably seen it. (laughter) It's the power of suggestion in a very strong way. But, it's something we typically discuss on the headsets as we get into those situations. 'Where is the line? Where is the line for the last play?' It gets fudged in some situations where you get right on the border, and you just have to make a decision, and coach 'Harbs' [John Harbaugh] decided to go for it. And, when you have a kicker like Justin, you're going to listen to him in more of those situations. It was an interesting scenario where the timeout was taken, and he actually had a kick before the kick. So, you kind of saw a preview to it, and then the second one, he hit it well; it just didn't have enough. A lot of you folks have asked me questions about, 'What's the line? What's his distance?' And, I've hesitated to answer that, because every one is different, and that particular situation, even though you're in Southern California and it never rains in Southern California, the field was such that it was really not a great plant area, and the footballs were different – let's leave it at that. So, it was one of those scenarios where, in a perfect world, Justin could make 65-yarders. We've all seen him do it in practice. We've seen him do it before games, but he gave it a great shot, and it wasn't to be."
CB/RS Cyrus Jones had another long punt return. Does he remind you of anyone you've coached in the past? (Ed Lee) "Cyrus, I have a hard time tagging him to anyone specifically, because everybody is a little bit unique, but he has some skills. I like the way he runs vertical. He's able to make some people miss. He's strong enough in the lower body to break tackles. He's been doing that well for us. I can't really think of one that comes to mind right now."
It looked like LS Morgan Cox ran down the field and made a pretty big hit on a punt. What goes through your mind when you see your long snapper do that? (Aaron Kasinitz) "Yes! That was a nice tackle Morgan had. That's kind of what we all said. And somebody said – it certainly wasn't me, but somebody said, 'It's about time!' (laughter) But, it wasn't me that said that. Morgan has had a great season; I know you've watched it. The tackling aspect of Morgan's job, hopefully, is the secondary part of his job description, because we don't want it to get that far, but he did. He made a fine play. He's made them before, and he'll keep making them."
On the broadcast, they were also talking about how LS Morgan Cox sprinted down the field and got the ball that K Justin Tucker kicked on the one where the timeout was called. Is that because the ball, after it's kicked so much, it can travel further? (Ryan Mink) "[Tucker] liked the ball, apparently, so he wanted to go get it back. Unfortunately, he didn't get that same ball back. They didn't put that ball back in play; they kicked a different one. 'Different,' in quotation marks." (laughter)
Defensive Coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale
Opening statement:"What a great experience that was out there in Los Angeles. It was a tough setting, tough environment, playing against an offense that was really playing well, probably a Hall of Fame quarterback who was playing well at the time, and to have the guys step up and play the way they did at all three levels of the defense [was important]. Obviously, the accolade goes to 'Peanut' [Patrick Onwuasor] for being the AFC Defensive Player of the Week, going back to L.A., his hometown, and playing the way that he did. I just told him, let's make sure we think we're in L.A. every weekend, if that's the way he's going to play going back home. But, everybody is really happy for him. You go back, and you look at that game, and like I said, at all three levels you saw special things during that game and the direction that we're heading. C.J. [Mosley] being the rock inside of calling the defense and getting people lined up and playing with the physical mentality that he has … Like I've alluded to in the past press conferences about [how] he sets the tempo of being physical as a MIKE linebacker in this league. And then, of course, up front, 'Big Baby' [Brandon Williams] and Michael Pierce, they still are the centerpieces of our defense. Statistically you didn't see it, but 'Sizz' [Terrell Suggs] played one of his best games. He had a bunch of hurries on the quarterback and quarterback hits. Obviously, 'Z' [Za'Darius Smith] played well and rushed well inside, and Matt Judon has just played fantastic for the last, really, eight weeks in a row.
"On the back end, you saw a bunch of people step up. I think that the corners played really well without saying. Brandon Carr, one of his goals before that game was 'get the ball,' and he did it the first play. I wanted to make sure he still wanted to play the rest of the game. (laughter) Tavon [Young], one of his goals before the game … We sit down and … On Saturdays, or in this case, it was Friday, we sit down and we talk about our goals as a defense, and then I have every player and coach stand up in that room and say, 'What's your goal for this game?' And, Tavon said, 'I'm going to score.' So, there's power to when you write your goals down and you see them and you believe them, they happen, and that's where we're at right now. They're just playing really well. We're just playing really well as a unit."
You talked about ILB C.J. Mosley calling the plays. Is he back wearing the communication system? (Ryan Mink) "Yes, we've been going in and out with that. That type of game, with the tempo that they play with, we decide during the week which way we're going to go with it, and that game, he was, to answer your question outright."
You mentioned ILB Patrick Onwuasor. You were here as the linebackers coach when he came as an undrafted free agent. He started in college as a wide receiver and then a free safety at Portland State. What did you see at the time to make you believe that he could transition to an NFL linebacker? (Jeff Zrebiec) "His toughness was the first thing that jumped off the charts to me, and his range as a free safety. Obviously, he would be a very big safety now, and a lot of that, that's just the trend of the way the league is going. There are a lot of safeties that are coming down and playing dime, starting out as dime, and now he plays dime, and he plays WILL in our base defense. Each year, you've just seen him progress and understand the linebacker position. That's not an easy transition going from free safety to linebacker, because you're taking out the time and distance for him to see things. He's really stepping up, and he's doing really well on special teams, too, which is a must."
There was a time earlier this year when it looked like ILB Kenny Young was going to wrestle that job full-time away from him. I know they're both still playing, but do you feel like – and you guys talk about competition – do you feel like, in this case, that really has brought the best out of ILB Patrick Onwuasor? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Out of both of them. Yes, out of both of them, and I think that 'Peanut' [Patrick Onwuasor] alluded to that in the press conference, that they have a trio of linebackers. He knows the strain, physically, on playing special teams like they both do – they're full-time special teams players – that it's good to have that backup that, 'Hey, get me this series.' Just quite honestly, what you've seen the last three weeks is 'Peanut' has really been playing [well]. He's been more productive in executing the defense and making plays, and obviously, that really jumped out Saturday night."
One of ILB Patrick Onwuasor's strengths is as a blitzer. Is that one of his greatest assets right now? (Ryan Mink) "I don't want to label anything 'greatest' yet, because I still think he's a work in progress. But he's a physical, fast player, and when he sees it, he goes and gets it. That's one of his qualities. That's one of his traits, yes."
Speaking of people rushing the passer, obviously there are a lot of outside linebackers with the kind of speed that OLB Za'Darius Smith has, but is it just his strength that gives you guys the flexibility to start him from that three-technique? (Jonas Shaffer) "Yes. He's just a big, strong guy, and that's what's great about him, is his flexibility to go either inside or outside. First and second down, he's been outside a lot of the time, obviously, and that's one of his best traits, is that you can do both with him, and he excels at both."
When you look at film of QB Baker Mayfield from the last four or five weeks, has he jumped a few levels from the guy you saw in Week 5? (Childs Walker) "I thought he was good when we played him the first time. I really did. He's a confident quarterback, just like most quarterbacks are in this league."
Do you get the sense that QB Baker Mayfield and the Browns overall will kind of throw everything at you? Obviously, this is their playoffs; they've already said that – that they'll go for it on fourth down, trick plays, that you guys will sort of going to get the kitchen sink in that regard? (Garret Downing) "I think that every game plays out differently. That wouldn't surprise us, though. That wouldn't surprise us at all. But, I'm worried about us more than how we're worried about them right now, and just how we're executing, which we're executing right now at a really high level, and this game is going to be about us."
Do you feel like the defense as a whole, you haven't reached your peak, necessarily, but it is peaking at the right time? And, why do you feel like they're playing so well at this point in the season? (Ryan Mink) "I think we're playing really well. I think we can play better, and I think it's just coming down to execution and communication has gotten better over the last six weeks, and confidence. I think when you put all three of those together, I think good things happen.
"Who I didn't mention [in his opening statement], and I forgot to mention before, was [Eric] Weddle totally messed with Philip Rivers that entire game. He did an outstanding job. It's crazy how a guy, when you say, I don't want to say 'doesn't make a play,' because that's a negative connotation, because he is what is making other people make plays by how he is messing with quarterbacks on not knowing coverages. And, he's orchestrating that back there on the back end with it, and it's just an invaluable piece to the defense that he gives and he brings. I think that that's … You're seeing that the past six weeks as well."
S Eric Weddle mentioned yesterday coming out of the bye week, defensive players and coaches all got together, kind of almost resetting what you guys needed to do to finish as the No. 1 defense. What do you remember about that meeting, and what were the things that everybody identified about what they had to do? (Adam Kilgore) "I'm big into goals. We're big into goals, and we sat down and said, 'OK, here's where we're at. Here's what we see. Here's what we need to improve on. Here's what we're good at. OK, as a defense –' because we talk all the time. It's open forum in the defensive meeting – 'What kind of goals do we need to have here? How do you see this?' And I share some of the game goals that we have, but we have some high expectations in that room. But, what you're seeing, and the cool thing for me to see, is when guys are coming in that meeting room – because I just have them written up on the board – we have our season goals. We already covered that way back in OTAs, in training camp. We have those, and we're going to go over those after this last game. But, the goals that we wrote there at the bye week, you can see the guys going by the grease board and looking at them. And when I see them doing that, we're in the right place. We're in the right place, because we're checking some of those off as we speak. Some of them are lofty, as well, like I said before. The standard is high here, to play defense with this organization for this city, and we all know that, and we all accept that responsibility. We're excited about where we're going with it." (Reporter: "Can you share some of those goals that you've checked off?") "No, I won't do that." (laughter)
This defense has allowed the fewest fourth quarter points this year. You scored touchdowns in the fourth quarter three of the past five games. Has there been a different approach to the fourth quarter this year? Or, what do you think has been the key for the fourth quarter for you guys? (Jamison Hensley) "That's a good question. I think that, as I've said to you before, [turnovers] come in bunches. I think you're starting to see them come in bunches. I really do. I think sometimes it's just the easy answer of, 'How does the ball bounce?' And, we're starting to get that. Obviously, we're attacking quarterbacks and … That play 'Peanut' [Patrick Onwuasor] had to get the ball off of [Antonio] Gates? Unbelievable. You know what? It's what we've been emphasizing since the bye week: shots on goal. So, in practice, guys that would try to punch the ball out, those are shots on goal. We've been emphasizing that, and you get what you emphasize."
There's a lot of talk this week about OLB Terrell Suggs. Everyone knows his contract status. Everyone knows where he is in his career. Have you noticed anything different about him, whether it's a sense of urgency? I know he's always focused on details and stuff coming down the stretch here. (Jeff Zrebiec) "I know – and he or I haven't spoken about this, or we haven't spoken about this as a defense – I know he breaks Ray's [Lewis] record [of 228 games] starting in this game, which I think is cool, cool for him. Sense of urgency? No. I think the thing that keeps jumping out that I keep telling everybody here is, you all – and I don't know if you hear me – you all know the character of 'Sizz' [Terrell Suggs], and we know the leader. That's what jumps out to me, is in a situation like the game that we're going into right now, his calmness, his leadership, his saying the right things, his perfect timing to the players, because you can't always do it. We can't always do it as coaches. But, when he says something, I think the Matt Judons and the Za'Darius Smiths and everybody else listens, And, he, and 'E-Dub' [Eric Weddle] have been great with it. I know everybody thinks he's the quietest guy in the world, but C.J. [Mosley] is an unbelievable leader."
Before the game last Friday, the team announced that John Harbaugh was coming back next year. This has been a season with some ups and downs. What has impressed you about the job that John has done as head coach? (Jonas Shaffer) "He's our leader, and I've been with him for seven years now, and I've learned a heck of a lot about being a leader. We have all just followed his plan and advanced his plan and his vision, and we know where it's taking us. And, the thing that impresses me the most is, and what he's taught us all is, if you don't care who gets the credit, there will be plenty credit around if you do it as a team. He talks to the players about that. He talks to the staff about that. And, you see a lot of good things start happening. But, he's been a rock. I don't know if that answers your question or not?."
Back to 'the way the ball bounces" for a second. Historically in the NFL, it's extremely rare for a defense to be No. 1 in so many categories, but you have so far down the list in turnovers forced. What kind of a testament is it to the defense and how you've been able to pull that off? (Randy Moss) "I think that that would be up to you guys to say what kind of testament it is. I think we just try to play good defense. It's the power of 'we.' Maybe teams aren't taking as many chances? I don't know about that. And the season is not over with yet, exactly where we'll be at. So, I think that we've been playing good defense and trying to help the team win the best way we can, and that's all we can do. That's all we can ask for with it."
We've asked you about 10 different players. What about your defense allows a different guy to step up every week, schematically, your personnel? _(Aaron Kasinitz) _"It gets back to the power of 'we.' Everybody knows their role, has their role. Their role increases when they're more productive. Different guys get different opportunities in different situations, and obviously, 'Peanut' [Patrick Onwuasor] took advantage of the situations that he was in there, for example, just talking about him. But, there are others that have been doing it as well. Like you said, it was a good question. I wish I had a better answer for you, but that's the best I have."
As the season comes to a close, it seems like all year teams on offense, they're more and more willing to run trick plays, gadget plays. Has that struck you as a trend? And, if so, why do you think it's happening? (Adam Kilgore) "This entire year is just a crazy trend, offensively. The numbers were … I think they're starting to come back now, but starting out the first eight-to-10 games, it was crazy, and that's just the way it took off. So, I think that it all depends who you're playing and what they have to play for on how many trick plays you get and everything else with it. Some teams want to leave it in their quarterback's hand. Some teams don't. But, if you play the right technique and the right fundamentals and stick with your assignments, trick plays shouldn't affect you. When someone gains five yards on a reverse, that's not a big play in my eyes. That's a toss that gained five yards at second-and-five. I understand what you're saying, the double-passes and all that stuff. We all know [Jarvis] Landry is left-handed." (laughter)
Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg
Opening statement: "Let's wrap the last ball game up: That was a heck of a deal by our players, I'll tell you what. Short week, cross-country [travel], the preparation – the guys did a heck of a job. Big O-line played well, the backs played well, Mark Andrews – nice job, Lamar [Jackson] – really good job, receivers doing a great job. Now, there are some things that we did really well, and there are a few things that we can do just a little bit better – so that's what we're working on. Then, we have a big ball game coming up Sunday, so what a great opportunity for the guys. They're right in the middle of preparation and [will] be juiced up on Sunday. The fans – huh? Big, big, always big at home! Appreciate the fans. Let's open it up to questions."
From Week 11 to last week, how many changes have you seen in the way defenses are scheming your offense? (Randy Moss) "It's different every week. We've been through it before, so you just … You don't quite know. You think you might now, but you don't quite know until you get in the game, how your opponent is going to play, because they will all play you just a little bit differently. Typically, it's within their system. Sometimes it's a whole new little plan. There may be several things within the game that they do that's out of character for them because of what we do. It's certainly different that way."
Rookies talk about how it's a long year for them, going through the Combine and then the season. But a lot of your guys, who are rookie starters, haven't started until midway through the season. How do you think they're feeling physically and mentally coming down the stretch? _(Aaron Kasinitz) _"Fantastic. I don't buy into that. Our rookies have done a heck of a job. Their coaches have done a heck of a job. They're juiced up, fired up. I see none of that type of thing."
When you and assistant head coach/tight ends Greg Roman sit down and plan for the running game, what's your driving philosophy as to how to create complexity and creativity in some of those runs? (Adam Kilgore)"Greg has done an outstanding job. Greg is fantastic. Joe 'D' [D'Alessandris, offensive line coach] has done a great job, Thomas [Hammock, running backs coach] has done a great job, and there are other that are involved there as well. Thomas and Joe 'D' do a great job in the protection part of it as well. But yes, you try to make it fit, you try to do some things off of what you've done in the past, what'll be good against what you've seen your opponent do. Yes, yes, good point."
More broadly related to that question, it seems like on the outside, people associate offensive creativity with a lot of passing. How much complexity is there in the blocking schemes, different runs? Is there more than we give you credit for? (Adam Kilgore) "Creativity and aggressiveness usually is correlated to the passing game. But you know, everything we do we want to be aggressive – whether it's studying, we want to be aggressive; whether we're walking through practice or game time; if it's a deceptive-type play, we want to be aggressive within that. So yes, that's a good point. So what was your question? I missed the question."(Reporter: "How much unseen or unrecognized complex creativity is there in an offense like yours now, where a lot is happening in the running game?") "Oh yes. There's quite a bit. It all goes back to the players with the preparation. There's one thing I learned a long, long time ago when I was young: Let's not underestimate how much an NFL player can do. They can do a lot, if you ask them to do it. We do quite a little bit that way. So, we rely on the players and their preparation. We rely on walk-throughs, film study, and certainly, practice."
Do you get a sense that the unfamiliarity with your style of offense is giving defenses a challenge? (Garrett Downing)"Yes, there are some teams that do some things. It's not near as often now, regarding how we do it. So, you can kind of get glimpses as to how they would play something. But yes, that's the good thing – what you said. That's the good thing, and then the other thing is what you [another reporter] said: You don't quite know how they're going to game-plan you. If you're a normal-type offense, you have a pretty good idea of what's coming."
You've worked with a lot of quarterbacks and have seen a lot over the course of your career. As a football coach, a fan, is there something exciting about two rookie quarterbacks in the same division going head-to-head with so much on the line? _(Luke Jones) _"I'll tell you what, I have not thought about that at all, because we're trying to score some points here. So that kind of gets lost with my viewpoint, that part of it. I know that [Baker Mayfield has] done a heck of a job, heck of a player coming out [of college], heck of a quarterback already. He's done some brilliant things. Lamar [Jackson] has as well. He's done some just great, great things. So yes, I'm thinking about it right now – might be a pretty good tussle right there."
What advancements have you seen from QB Lamar Jackson in passing the ball since he's become the starter? (Ryan Mink) "He has worked very, very hard. First of all, he's a natural type of player, he's really sharp, talented of course. So, you put all those things together with the hard work that he's in and the preparation that he puts in every day, and good things tend to happen. So that's where we're at."
He's been making a number of accurate throws. It seems like his accuracy has improved now as a starter versus the beginning of the season. What has improved that accuracy do you feel like?"_ (Ryan Mink) _"That's my point – his hard work that he puts in. We've talked about this before, 20-30 minutes after virtually every practice, offseason, training camp, as long as it was within the rule there. In fact, John [Harbaugh] shortened practice down just a little bit in the offseason. You know, we're under all these crazy rules; you have to be off the field at a certain time. [He] left a block of time just for that individual work with the quarterbacks. When there are no rules during the season, after every practice, they put in a lot of hard work the quarterbacks, and certainly Lamar has put in a lot of hard work. That's the most part of [how I'm] trying to answer your question is Lamar's hard work. James [Urban, quarterbacks coach] has done a brilliant job with that."
With QB Lamar Jackson's unique skill set, do you think he has a chance – as he progresses – to give teams more of a perception of the quarterback position?_ (Jamison Hensley) "Whose perception?" _(Reporter: "It used to be the classical dropback, now you can still see a little bit more like the Russell Wilsons. Do you think Lamar can take it even further, breaking the mold a little bit, of what people just naturally perceive that position to be?")"Yes, there's no question about that. Do you want something else?" (laughter) (Reporter: "If you could, yes. How do you think he could change that by his unique skill set?")"We'll get into that in the offseason. I'll tell you, he's done a great job. I think he's already changed it just a little bit. I keep my eye on certain things, certainly throughout the game and after the game on how we want to operate because of some other things. But yes, there's no question about it. I said a lot there without saying much on purpose, kind of."
A lot of people when they're talking about QB Lamar Jackson, they compare him to Michael Vick. You've coached Michael Vick. Is that comparison fair or unfair? (Jamison Hensley) "I've been really, really fortunate. I've coached some of the greatest quarterbacks to walk on Earth – Steve Young, Brett Favre, Mike Vick, Donovan McNabb, [Jeff] Garcia, on and on and on, Joe Flacco, Super Bowl MVP. Yes, Lamar Jackson is Lamar Jackson. They are all different from each other. They're all different from each other on the field. They're all different from each other off the field, how they go about their business, how they lead a team. They're all different, and that's great. That's a good thing! He'll make his own sort of little deal there. It's very difficult to compare quarterbacks, because they're all so different. Even if they're sort of the same mold, they're so different from each other that it's very difficult to do that. So anyways, there you have it. That was a better answer to your question." (laughter)
Every week you know opposing defensive coordinators have to have the same strategy: Stop the run, force QB Lamar Jackson to beat us through the air. But yet, every week, they're unable to do that. What makes it so difficult to accomplish? (Randy Moss) "I think we've got enough to attack people different ways. I think that's one thing. We certainly have some skill and ability. We have some talented guys. I think that's the most part of it, those two things. Look, we did a lot of great things last week. There were a couple things we didn't do as well as I expected, and [the Chargers] did a nice job. They did a nice job on a couple things. You learn every week and you try to get better at some of those things, and you may do it just a little bit differently. So that's where we're at."