Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton
As far as onside kicks, the success rate percentage has gone way down just because of the rule changes. For onside kicks, do you guys practice that more, less or still about the same since the rule changes have decreased the success rate? (Jamison Hensley) "What we've done with onside kicks is we kind of go about it the same way. We practice it just as much as we've practiced it in the past, understanding that we're just trying to find a way to maximize our chances with the rules. There are certain things, obviously, not being able to go six-by-fours, and have the opportunity to have a running start, it makes it a little bit challenging, but we just kind of rely on our kicker to utilize his different weapons and things that he does to give us an opportunity to recover that onside kick. So, we do it about the same. There's not that much of a difference."
It seems like you guys have done a good job on special teams cutting down the penalties this year compared to last year. What's been the key for that from you guys, especially with so many young guys on special teams? (Todd Karpovich) "One of the key things is just communication – just making sure that every time we go out on that field … Last week, we had our first penalty in a while – it's interesting you bring that up. We had 12 guys on the field on the PAT [point after touchdown]. That shouldn't happen. Those things shouldn't happen, and first and foremost, that's on me. I have to make sure that the guys who are out there are getting that communication, we're running on the field, we're letting guys know, we're overcommunicating that so that it doesn't happen. And the other thing is just in practice, just practicing with the technique you're going to play with in the game. If you practice bad habits, then those bad habits will show up in the game. So, we just tell our guys, 'Hey, we want to be fundamentally sound and practice with good technique, and those penalties will not show up in the game.'"
How does all the movement with the players on the Reserve/COVID-19 list affect you and teams, if at all? (Kirk McEwen) "That's a great question. With our guys, obviously, a lot of the guys that are on the [Reserve/COVID-19] list are huge contributors for us, but like I tell the guys all the time, 'This is your job. This is not just to come in. [Just] because you're not playing from week to week, there are [still] going to be opportunities for you to play.' Given the situation we're in this year, we see that. So, the guys who are not up every week, you need to practice and prepare like you're going to play every week. And if you do that, when your opportunity comes, there won't be a letdown. You'll go out and you'll perform the way we want you to perform, and hopefully the way that they want to perform. It's all about being a pro, right? This is a job. So, they need to make sure that no matter what, you're always prepared, you're always ready to go for whatever situation arises."
When you have an experienced guy like DB/LB Anthony Levine Sr. – who's been in the league for so long and has probably seen everything you can see on special teams – how important has he been as far at the influence on some of the younger special teams players? (Jamison Hensley) "Anthony [Levine Sr.] has done a great job. You know that from just being around him. He's not only just a good player, but he's a coach. He's like having an extra coach out there, because he'll see things. He does a great job of helping those young guys. In the meetings, when they don't ask questions, he might know what they're thinking, but they don't want to ask the question, [and] he'll bring it up. A young guy might say, 'I was just thinking that,' and he'll tell them, 'You should have asked that question.' So, he does a great job out there, obviously, communicating to the young guys, making sure that they understand, and really just helping those guys study a little bit; how to prepare for special teams, what you should be looking at, and things like that."
Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale
I'm probably stating the obvious here, but how different has practice been without eight players on the defensive side? What kind of adjustments have you had to make? (Jamison Hensley) "I think we've talked about the series of events of 2020; it's all part of the series of events. The spring prepared us for this. It's a new way for peer tutoring, if you will. They're helping each other out. We've been having Zoom meetings with the guys that haven't been there. Our coaches, the assistants – [outside linebackers coach] Drew Wilkins, [linebackers coach] Mike [Macdonald], [pass defense coordinator] Chris [Hewitt] and [defensive backs coach] Jesse [Minter] have done a great job of working with the guys who haven't been there. So, like I said, I think the spring prepared us for that. You have to have different ways to teach them, and I think we did that, just like I said before, back when I was a high school teacher. You have to have the next man up mindset regardless of what the series of events is, and trust in your system that you can plug in guys and find a way to put the best 11 on the field. That's what we do every Sunday – whether it's practice or a game."
QB Philip Rivers has been really good against the blitz. What do you see from him handling pressure and how difficult is it to defend a quarterback like that who has such a quick release? (Gabi DiPaula) "I think Philip [Rivers] … I've gone against him a long time, even back when I was at Oakland and Denver. I think he's one of the all-time great football minds there is. He's a master communicator. He not only tells them what routes to run off of a different look, but he directs the protection. I think he and [Ryan] Kelly do a great job with the protection on which ways to go. I think he's one of the smartest quarterbacks in the run game, as well. He gets them in the right runs off of the looks that you give them. So, it's definitely going to be a difficult task for us to get any pressure on him. It's a chess match. I think that's why he gets so fired up during the games and throws out his, 'dadgummits,' and all of that stuff, because he knows it's a chess match against our defense."
You have two different challenges; you either play guys that aren't out there very often, or you play guys that haven't practiced all week. What is the strategy with both of those scenarios? (Kirk McEwen) "I think you just have to rely on your system, like I said. You know what guys do well and you have to try to put them in position where they can have success. We feel like we have more than just 11 starters on our roster. We see that with all the different guys that we play."
In that same frame, two young guys, CB Khalil Dorsey and CB Terrell Bonds, might get some reps. What have you seen from those guys this season? Are they ready to take that next step, I guess, in being contributors? (Todd Karpovich) "They've earned our trust, first of all. Terrell [Bonds], 'TB' has executed the defense well. I thought he played well [against Pittsburgh]. He had the pass interference call, which he was playing good coverage there, I thought. The other one was he thought he knocked the ball out of '85's' [Eric Ebron] hand. With both he and Khalil [Dorsey], they just need experience with playing on Sunday. What a better chance for them to do it than this Sunday?"
DE Yannick Ngakoue played around 34 snaps on Sunday. I wanted to get your thoughts on how he fit in and his progress learning the system? (Luke Jones) "I think he deserves a lot of credit. He knew the entire package, and he knew it quickly. I'm excited [for] what he brings. He won a lot of rushes, I thought, on Sunday. We already talked about how Ben [Roethlisberger] got the ball out quickly, but he won a lot of rushes. I thought he was pretty disruptive all day, but the best is yet to come with him. He gives us a lot of options."
Along those lines, DE Yannick Ngakoue's quickness is just as obvious when you look at it on tape, but the kind of pass rush games that you guys like to run, how much of an asset is that for when they're not really expecting a guy like that to move that quickly? (Jonas Shaffer) "I think that you see on tape what an asset it is. Like I said, the best is yet to come. He fits into our system well. He knows our system already, inside and out. He's a smart player, and we're excited to have him. I'm just as excited this week as I was last [week], because he plays like a Raven. He's tough and physical, and he wants to win."
I don't know what HIPAA laws are or anything, but has anybody talked to CB Marlon Humphrey or any of the other players? Do we know about symptoms or how anybody is doing? (Kirk McEwen) "I just hope that he's healthy and he's asymptomatic, but we trust in the NFL protocols and where they're at. It's just like one of those things that you're seeing, we talk about it all the time, people get this pandemic fatigue. We just have to keep talking about doing the right things, and wearing a mask, and social distancing, and be smart and all those things. But now you have me nervous talking about the HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] laws and all that, so I don't know how much furthermore I could comment."
Speaking of CB Marlon Humphrey, obviously, you miss physically what he can do for you on defense. What sort of leadership void, if you will, is there? Is there something that he brought to the field, other than just his physical skills, that might be absent on Sunday? (Mark Viviano) "We're still communicating, and he's still communicating on Zoom. He's rooting for the guys and trying to help the guys who are going to play his spot. So, we're going to miss the gameday, like you said, of just his productivity, and his experience, and how he plays, but we're still counting on him to lead, even though he's not there during the week. He's done a good job of that."
With CB Marlon Humphrey's positive test, is this an opportunity for you, and something you've already done kind of along the lines of what you're talking about, to remind the guys once again how important it is to wear a mask and all those things and what kind of position it can put the team in if you do catch it? (Ryan Mink) "It's one of those things that we talk about every day. Sometimes, you can get it and do all the things right. You know what I mean? You can still get the virus. We talk about it daily, about the importance of wearing a mask, and social distancing, and everything else. So, I feel bad for the player that he caught it, but it's a series of events. We're still going to play Sunday. We just know that everybody needs to be careful and vigilant on everything that they've said to help keep you from getting it. I'm not just talking about players; I'm talking about everybody."
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman
When you look at the film from last week and you look at QB Lamar Jackson's four turnovers – we're not used to seeing that, especially the interceptions – was there a common denominator with how those plays unfolded? And with this week of practice, what are you working on with Lamar? (Daniel Oyefusi) "Lamar [Jackson] has been so good at protecting the ball, and a few got away from us last week. There are definitely some things that could be more precise from other players on those plays, but we have to protect the ball and play winning football, and that's really one of the things we emphasized from Day One the most. So, [we'd] love to have a couple of those back. [We] just have to really – one play at a time – play winning football, and that's really at every position. But [there's] a lot to learn from there, and that's what this is all about. It's about trying, competing to have success, and when things don't work out or a bad play happens, learn from it, put it in the bank and move on. We have a tough opponent this week [Indianapolis Colts]. They have a very different style than the team we played last week [Pittsburgh Steelers]. They're much more predicated on one-gap, speed-, run-to-the-ball defense. They've had a lot of success this year so far, and they're playing really well at every level of their defense. So, everybody has got the chance to learn from what happened last week, but once we examine that, we file it, [and] we move on. We're excited about the challenge this week."
Has RB J.K. Dobbins earned the right to have a role where he's consistently getting the ball 15-plus times a game? (Jamison Hensley) "J.K. [Dobbins] is doing a really good job. We like all our [running] backs, and every week it'll be a little bit different. But J.K., as was the plan, and as we outlined earlier on, his role will evolve as the year goes on. That's not to say our other backs won't be heavily involved, as well. But I thought those guys did a really nice job of complimenting each other last week, and we were able to stay fresh. Those guys ran the ball really effectively against a really good defense."
WR Marquise Brown expressed some frustration last week about not having a bigger role in the offense. What's it going to take to get him more involved? He seems to be running good routes, but what's it going to take to get Marquise back into the flow with QB Lamar Jackson? (Todd Karpovich) "Yes, Marquise [Brown] is an excellent player. He's got a great attitude. He's a very good teammate and a very team-oriented person. It's really on us as coaches. Some of it is just how that game unfolded, but we definitely want Marquise involved, and have him continue to improve in practice and get him involved in the games. That's just something that … Play-calling can be a little bit different at times. There's a lot of factors that go into where the defense decides to really emphasize their coverage and who ends up being open. So, some weeks you get a lot, some weeks you don't, but we're always striving to keep Marquise involved and developing in our offense."
As we sit at the midway point of the 2020 season and you look back at the TE Hayden Hurst trade, do you think you underestimated that three-headed attack that you had with TE's Hayden Hurst, Nick Boyle and Mark Andrews? And did you do enough to fill the void when he left? (Kirk McEwen) "Yes, we have a lot of really good players. Hayden [Hurst] was an excellent player, but we really like the players we have. And really for us, a lot of it boils down to, really, execution. That's really, really the common theme for us. We're doing an outstanding job at times; we'd just like to be a little bit more consistent, and that's what we're working towards. I think everybody is well aware of that, and I definitely think last week's game is a great example. We controlled the entire game; we just had some plays where we just gave them the ball. But things are trending in the right direction, and we really like the players we're playing with, and it's on us to continue to improve every week."
If I could go back to that fourth-and-3 play inside the 10-yard line ... You guys went empty backfield, and it looked like a designed run by QB Lamar Jackson. When you look at that play, what broke down, and why didn't it work? (Bo Smolka) "Without going into too many specifics, there were a lot of options that could have happened on that play. It could have been a run; it could have been a pass. Several things could have happened. We just weren't able to get that thing executed. The timing wasn't perfect, but it was just one of those things where [we were] close, but not close enough. As a play caller, you always go back if things don't work, and you just say, basically, 'Alright, it didn't work. Here's why it didn't work, and what other options can we really look into in this situation?' So, when plays don't work, I blame myself first, really. As far as the execution, there could have been a few things tighter on that play. But it's just something we need to learn from."
Can you explain why when T Ronnie Stanley comes out of the game, you guys flip T Orlando Brown Jr. to the left side and have G D.J. Fluker play on the right side? And then, what did you see out of those two guys, and what do you expect from them moving forward? (Aaron Kasinitz) "If you remember, that's what we did in the Washington game, and we just feel like based on what we see in practice, that's our best lineup. And we feel like Orlando [Brown Jr.] can do a good job over there on the left side, and we feel like – all things considered – 'Fluke' [D.J. Fluker] can do an excellent job on the right side. So, we feel really comfortable with that. When that happens midstream, I have to really tip the cap to Orlando. That was a great job by him – being able to flip like that – and he really doesn't blink when stuff like that happens. So, it's really a credit to he and D.J. It ultimately comes down to, really, that's the best combination for us."
Along those lines, just how disappointing and challenging is it to lose someone like T Ronnie Stanley, who the organization just made a major commitment to? But on the flip side, how encouraging was it that you played three quarters without him, and you were still able to run the ball the way you did? (Luke Jones) "Yes, I definitely think that losing Ronnie [Stanley], there's no silver lining there. He's a really good player, [and] he's a really good part of our team. But at the same time, these things happen, and you better not blink; you better adjust. It's an opportunity for D.J. [Fluker] to step into the lineup, [and] for Orlando [Brown Jr.] to kind of expand what he does as an NFL offensive lineman. And I really like how the guys are rallying around each other. As far as their performance in the game, there was a lot of really good things done, and we have full confidence in those guys, to say the least."
DT DeForest Buckner is good at creating pressure from the inside. How do you prepare for him this week? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "He's an excellent player. We've got some experience with him last year against the 49ers. They [Indianapolis Colts] plugged him into their system, and he's been extremely disruptive [in the] run and pass. Our players recognized this immediately; it jumps off the film. He's got excellent length as an inside player, and they're kind of letting him just have at it. They're really playing pretty aggressive defense with their style. So, he's a big challenge for us – that whole group is, and they all fit well together. But he's a very talented player, and we've definitely got to keep him from impacting the game."
When you're playing defenses – with their style of play and how they're using leverages – that are asking QB Lamar Jackson to hit passes outside the numbers, what can you do as a coordinator with Lamar to take advantage of that kind of strategy? (Jonas Shaffer) "If they're going to really crowd the middle of the field, you want to throw the ball where they're not. There are different ways to do it; certainly, throwing it outside the numbers, you could build high-lows inside, horizontal stretches. There are a lot of different ways, really, but definitely, the premise is, 'Throw the ball to the open guy.' So, if they're really crowding one area or a player, you have to be able to throw it to an open guy. There are times when we throw the ball to the fullback because he's wide open, and they don't cover him. So, you keep doing it, and you keep making first downs. Strategically, a team could come out and show you that, and then the next play they do something completely different, and then the next play they do something completely different. So, very rarely do you see the same thing down in and down out, so you have to be able to react. That's one of the challenges of playing quarterback in this league; you have to be able to process quicky, understand your offense, where your guys are, so you can watch the defense and see where they are."