Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton
It seemed like earlier in this year, teams were going through kicker after kicker after kicker, just trying to find some stability there. Are those the times when you think it's such a luxury to have a guy like K Justin Tucker who has been there and been so consistent over so many years? (Jamison Hensley) "It's good to see everyone, first of all. I think the stability of that position is huge. So, when you don't have to go through a bunch of guys, maybe on a year-to-year basis, or in some cases a week-to-week basis, it really helps your team. What our 'Wolfpack' has done and for how long those guys have been together, I'll tell you one thing; I'm glad to have them. I know our team appreciates them. Again, it's huge not to have to do that year to year."
Steelers WR Ray-Ray McCloud has been pretty solid in the return game for kickoffs and punt returns. What kind of challenge does he pose to you guys? What have you seen from him this year? (Todd Karpovich) "Hats off to what Ray-Ray [McCloud] has done this year; he's definitely helped Pittsburgh in that return game. But for us, we're just going to go out and we're going to play our game. Again, we have ways in which we can handle Ray-Ray. It's never about, really, so much about what they do; it's more about what we do and how we cover. As long as we stay true to our fundamentals and our technique, I think we'll be fine. But again, he's done a great job."
We know when K Justin Tucker is out there on the field, he's locked in. I'm curious, you've been around him for more than a couple of years now, what is he like before kickoff in just the hours leading up to that? How can you tell that he is locked in? And I guess, how does he get locked in from your perspective? (Jonas Shaffer) "When you look at Justin [Tucker] and kind of what he's done throughout the league, he's a veteran guy and he really approaches it the same way all the time. Practice and games, they really are no different. When he lines up and he's ready to kick, you know he's locked in. He takes every rep just like a game rep. So, I don't really think there's much of a difference, but you know [when] he has this look in his eye on gameday, you know he's ready to roll."
Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale
First, I guess the obvious question is can you just tell us your reaction when you were told that you guys were acquiring DE Yannick Ngakoue? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Pleased. Excited. It reminds me of a similar situation when we got Elvis [Dumervil]. To bring in that caliber of a rusher, especially where we're at in the season; I think my favorite person in the world is [executive vice president and general manager] Eric DeCosta – I told him that personally. The whole defensive staff gave him a standing ovation when he was able to come down and tell us that we got it done. So, everybody, the teammates, all of his teammates, the guys on defense were all fired up and happy that we got him."
QB Ben Roethlisberger at 38 years old, watching him closely a week ago, he's still able to just shrug guys off and make plays when it looks like he shouldn't be able to. Do you recall a guy, physically, to be able to do so many of the same things he's been able to do since he was a rookie at this point of his career? (Pete Gilbert) "I was talking to one of my buddies ... It surprises me – maybe it's because of the Steelers/Ravens rivalry – it surprises me that he is left out, I think, of the conversation when people are talking about the ageless wonders like Drew Brees and Tom Brady, because of the success that he's had. I don't know what the extent of his elbow injury was. I don't know anything of that. I'm not a doctor, I didn't stay at the Holiday Inn Express [and] all that stuff. He reminds me of one of those guys that had the Tommy John surgery or whatever, and he's coming back and throwing the ball more accurate and faster than what he was before he was injured. He's playing at a high level right now. He's playing at a really high level."
The Steelers are very good at third down, I think they're over 51%. What are you seeing from them? What makes them so effective at extending drives that way? (Todd Karpovich) "I think it starts with Ben [Roethlisberger] and the offensive line, then the playmakers he gets the ball to. He's doing a nice job of spreading the ball around. So, it's definitely going to be a challenge to get off the field on third down."
They added quarterbacks coach Matt Canada to their staff this offseason. He was a guy who was in college for a long time and was kind of an innovator with some of the fly sweeps and jet motions and that kind of thing. How, if at all, when you break them down, do you see his influence on their offense with what they do? (Adam Kilgore) "I think that first and foremost, this is the Steelers offense as far as it's still Ben's [Roethlisberger] offense. It's Ben's passing game. I have the utmost respect for what they do offensively, what [offensive coordinator] Randy [Fichtner] does and you can see [head coach] Mike Tomlin's influence with that offense as well. To [quarterbacks coach] Matt Canada's part of it, there's bits and splashes of it. I think it might get overstated at times, but you can definitely see a couple different things than what you've seen in the past."
Over the past couple of years, a lot of the faces in that starting lineup defensively have changed over a lot. Why has this group clicked so well, so fast, do you think? (Jamison Hensley) "I think going back to 'Yan' [Yannick Ngakoue], he came into this … I think we started talking to him on Friday, [that's when] we were allowed to Zoom with him. I'm not sure on the exact date, so don't quote me on that. I think that you get a lot of players who are smart players, and our system is easy to teach. After we got done meeting with him, we felt he'd be ready in two days. He's a smart guy. That's one of the things we look for; smart and tough players who are able to adapt and get ready and play. That's what you're seeing with the guys that we've taken and the guys that we've added."
Continuing to talk about DE Yannick Ngakoue, do you think he will fundamentally change what you do tactically at all? Or do you think he'll more fit in to what you already want to do at a high level? (Childs Walker) "Yes. (laughter) I think that he's able to execute the defense. So, it's one of those things that I'd like to answer that question, but I think [head coach] Mike [Tomlin] might read the transcripts to this press conference, too. He just gives us an added dimension that's going to make us better."
Obviously, you've been around some great players and you've watched a lot more football than any of us. The level that CB Marlon Humphrey is playing at right now, can you describe it? From your perspective, how good is he right now? (Jamison Hensley) "I've said it week-in and week-out; he's a football player who can play in any era. This rivalry game, this is going to be a game that's going to be a [ESPN documentary] '30 for 30' when they talk about this rivalry. You can post whatever rivalry you want with it. He's definitely going to be a guy that stands out in this rivalry that they'll do a feature piece on – that's how well he's playing. Each game, he does something that just makes you say, 'Wow.' Those players with that kind of production … In his own way, he's a once in a lifetime-type player who, like I said, can play in any era. I know [pass defense coordinator] Chris Hewitt was talking about it, and I've said it many times – he could be a linebacker. You could put him anywhere and he'd have success, because of the way he loves this game of football and respects this game of football – that's what's so cool to see about it. He's worked his tail off. There are some other guys who are on that edge, too, that have worked their tail off. You're going to start seeing them have some good things come their way, because of how hard they've worked and how selfless they are."
We've talked a lot about DE Calais Campbell, but knowing that QB Ben Roethlisberger gets the ball out quick and quicker than ever this year, how much do you love having Calais up front being able to put those big hands up in passing lanes? (Luke Jones) "I think that's the same thing with Derek Wolfe, too – it's good to have those type of players. It's going to be fun for them. You always get excited … This is my ninth year here; you get excited for the rookies who haven't played in this game, the first-year players who haven't played in this game and the free agents who haven't played in this game, because they've heard about it, they've read about it [and] they've watched them, but they haven't played in it yet. And then after they play in it, that's when you go to them and say, 'See what I was talking about?' Just because of the respect that both organizations have for each other. I know 'Harbs' and Mike [Tomlin] are going to set a record … They're going to break the record this weekend, and I think that says it all right there; both organizations and how stable they've been and the success that they've had. I think that's one of the biggest reasons, which I've told you before, how much respect we have for them and they have for us – that's why it's such a great rivalry."
Since we last talked to you, you guys lost CB Anthony Averett for a little while. The team waived S Marcus Gilchrist, who played over 40 snaps. We've seen a couple of DBs on the injury report this week. How challenging is it … I know how you like to have a lot of DBs on the field. You're playing a team with a lot of receivers and weapons in the passing game, how challenging is it with the secondary and some of the turnover there? (Jeff Zrebiec) "It's definitely a challenge, but it gets back to our system. We're able to plug people in and do different things, and we're able to do it quickly. The challenge is … I talked to Johnny [Shelton], our chaplain, and that's a challenge that we need help from up above to make sure that we can get all these people back as soon as we can. Coming off the Bye Week, we're fairly healthy, and we're just getting ready to go for this game."
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman
Opening statement: "We're getting ready to play the Steelers. They're at the top, or near the top, of the league in just about every [defensive] category. They're playing really well. They have really good players starting with their front five, I would say. Their linebackers at the second level are playing very well. And the secondary, they have some really good, heady players, instinctive players back there, and they're playing well. So, we're excited for the challenge and looking forward to Sunday. But we have a couple days of preparation left, so we're working hard through it. Any questions?"
The only game QB Lamar Jackson has played against the Steelers, they sacked him five times. In going over the film, what do you think will be one main adjustment heading into this game? (Jamison Hensley) "The Steelers pass rush, when you're preparing for them, it really starts there when you're throwing the football. They'll blitz, they'll rush five, and they have really good pass rushers, and they have guys who really push the pocket well inside. So, we have to take that into account certainly every time we pass. But they're very good players, and we've got to get ready for that challenge. There are a lot of different ways schematically you can help that out, but the bottom line is we have to execute, understand who we're playing and get ready to roll."
He's very new to you, but do you get a sense that WR Dez Bryant could be ready to contribute quickly? Or is it hard to know at this point? (Pete Gilbert) "Yesterday was his first practice out there. It was good to get him out there working. He's played a lot of football. I thought he had a really good workout the other day [and] did a nice job yesterday. So, we're getting him up to speed with our offense and getting his feet underneath him on the field. So, we'll kind of take that day to day. But it's good to have him aboard."
Some of the Steelers' underlying numbers when you look at their defense would suggest that they're really good at eliminating some of the underneath passing game. From what you see on the tape, is that a fair observation? And if so, how do you think they accomplish that, whether it's personnel or scheme? (Adam Kilgore) "Yes, they're really defending a lot of the field very well right now, or up until this point. They're very well coordinated in their coverages. You rarely see any confusion or mistakes and guys get to the … When you watch them on film, they're always in the right spot. So, I don't know if there's anything more than that, really. They're just playing good football, good team defense, and they have good players, and they're playing well. But we'll see how the game unfolds."
A lot is made about how important tight ends are in your offense and how much you like tight ends. How hard is it to find players with TE Nick Boyle-type skillsets? And how crucial is he to everything you guys do offensively? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Really, whatever players you have, you kind of mold your offense around them. So, we happen to have a couple good tight ends, so the illusion can be made that this is a tight end-driven offense. Well, not really; it's just really applying the players that you have. Yes, Nick [Boyle] has a very unique skillset, and we try to tap into that like we do with all our players. Nick's a bit of a 'throwback' tight end. I feel like he's getting better every year in all areas; understanding of defense, technique, run game, pass game. So, we're fortunate to have him. And yes, when you look around the league, he's very unique. And really and truly, because he's here on the team, we get to do certain things that we probably wouldn't do if he wasn't here. So, it's a credit to him and his skillset and his approach to things."
Both the Ravens' and the Steelers' defense are pretty often among the league leaders in blitzes and blitz rate. What are some of the keys when you're playing against a team that blitzes that much? And why do you think both defensive coordinators utilize that strategy so much? (Aaron Kasinitz) "I'm not going to give away any of [defensive coordinator Don] 'Wink's' [Martindale] general thoughts. I'll let him lay those out as he sees fit. But yes, they used to call it 'Blitzburgh.' But these guys get a lot done with a five-man rush right now, and they're just utilizing their players [and] their strengths. That's really what it starts with. But yes, you have to be prepared for pressures against Pittsburgh. I've been coaching against this team for a lot of years, and every year they're a little bit different, so there's a little bit of a different 'flavor' every year. But they're very effective when they pressure, and they're very aggressive, so it behooves us to be on it – bring the 'A-game.'
There's so much talk about where you guys are as an offense compared to last year – what's gone right, what's gone wrong. I imagine the Bye Week gives you an opportunity to do a bunch of self-studying and all that. What do you see in terms of progress? What kind of concerns you? Where do you feel you need to get better? (Jeff Zrebiec) "We're really trying to improve in all areas. And while you spend time on the Bye Week evaluating yourself, you're really evaluating yourself every step of the way, so you really have a keen sense of where you're at the whole way through the first half of the season. But it did give us a really good chance to look at some of the things we've done. The bottom line is we're trying to improve in every area; blocking, run game, pass game – all of it. That's our goal every day no matter what. And ultimately, we want to try to win the football game, and that might look a lot of different ways. But offensive football has always been and always will be about execution, and that's what we're working to improve. We'll probably evolve as the season goes on. We've been in some unique games up until this point. The name of the game is getting better. It's a race to get better, and that's what we're trying to do every day in all areas, really."
Is it any different getting ready for Pittsburgh when you're a part of the Ravens versus doing it as a coach with other teams? Does it feel like you're going into something a little bit different? (Pete Gilbert) "Yes, I definitely think this is a unique and special type of rivalry game. That word probably gets thrown around a lot, but this is legit, and back when I was here in the early 2000's, it [was] the same. It's the same feeling. Different rosters and whatnot, but the personality and the presence of both organizations matching up against one another, it's very unique, very special. It's something that's stood the test of time. So, it's definitely a physical game, and it's a unique game. It's got its own style."
OLB Matthew Judon
What has it been like getting to know DE Yannick Ngakoue the past few days? With another standout pass rusher on the team, what do you think he can do for not only you, but the rest of the defense? (Daniel Oyefusi) "We're going to see, aren't we? Talk is cheap. We can talk about it as long as we want, but we're going to see. And it's probably our biggest game so far [with Pittsburgh] coming here 6-0. It's Steelers versus Ravens. But he [Yannick Ngakoue] is a pretty cool dude. [He] knows the game of football. He's just trying to learn our system as fast as he can, and kind of get in where he fits in. But I think he's going to do very well for us and what we do. He's going to come in here and bring his style of play, but also adapt to the way we play football. And I think that's how everybody comes in midseason or – whenever they come in – beginning of the season, and that's how they form to this defense."
I looked back at your rookie year, and you got QB Ben Roethlisberger on a sack in your first game against him. What's it like trying to bring him down? He's one of the more challenging guys. He's so big and relentless, and he just doesn't like to go down. (Pete Gilbert) "Yes, I have a couple sacks against 'Big Ben,' [Ben Roethlisberger] but they don't call him 'Big Ben' for no reason. So, he's a fierce competitor. He doesn't like to take hits – no quarterback does. But he's just a tough tackle, because when you get him in your grasp, he still throws the ball, [and] he still finds a way to get the ball out and get it to his playmakers. He's getting the ball out pretty fast this year, and he's been in this league and seen a lot of defenses. [He's] played against a lot of great edge rushers and competitors, and he's still standing. So, all credit to Ben for what he's done so far, but we're just going to get after him and continue to get after him until there are zeros on the clock."
You swept the Steelers last year. In this type of rivalry, do you think there's some measure of revenge they want to have on you guys, or is this just a new year? (Todd Karpovich) "I don't know. You have to ask somebody from Pittsburgh – do they want to get their get-back? But I think they just want to continue to win games; it doesn't matter who the next opponent is. It just so happens that we're the next opponent. So, that's what I think they think, but you have to ask them."
You guys have some new pieces. Why do you think it's clicked so well, so early? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I just think the way we play football; it allows players to be themselves. So, whatever your brand of football is, we just want it to be physical. If you're a pass rusher, just pass rush physical and execute at a high level. And then, we have a bunch of people who have been here for a long time that can make stuff work. So, I think this organization is different than a lot of different organizations, and they bring in guys who fit the system. The scheme changes and the player changes, but the mindset and the physicality doesn't change."
How about a rookie like ILB Patrick Queen? He's six game into his first season. What have you seen from him? (Mark Vivianio) "Patrick [Queen] has been playing well, and he's been playing fast. Actually, if you look from the first three games to the last three games we've played, there's some stuff that he was doing in the first three games that he, 'threw out the window.' He changed his game to an NFL game. Obviously, preseason is a big thing, but they [rookies] weren't able to get those reps. So, as the season's going along, he's progressing, and he's getting better. He's activating faster. He's seeing different schemes faster. He should have had a 99-yard pick-sick, and we would have seen how fast he is. But I think he's playing very well, and he's brought a different edge to the middle of the field that we haven't had in a couple of years."
How much have you been able to help ILB Patrick Queen? Do you let rookies learn on their own, or have you been there for them when needed? (Mark Vivianio) "I've been there for him [Patrick Queen] just as support and as kind of like an older brother. But as far as playing middle linebacker, I don't know how to play middle linebacker. More credit goes out to [linebackers coach] Mike [Macdonald] and [coaching analyst – defense] Zach Orr. They're grooming him, and then also the people in his [linebackers] room. L.J. Fort; he's the most senior guy in that room, and then Chris Board. We just say how we see things on film. So, if he sees it this way, and Calais [Campbell] says he can hit this gap if he wanted to, because he'll have his backstop or something like that, and we're just all talking ball – it's a workshop. He's just getting better and better every week, and he's going to be a really good player in this league for a long time."
A couple of your teammates have talked about QB Ben Roethlisberger getting the ball out quicker this year than he's ever done before. What do you think is your defense's best counter to that? (Childs Walker) "Intercept the ball? I don't really know. If he wants to throw it fast, pick it faster? Like, I don't know. We play tight coverage, and we're in receivers' faces, so if he gets it to his receivers faster – which is usually not deeper routes – either deflections, get our hands up as defensive linemen or catch-tackles. And then, it becomes first-and-10, to second-and-8, to third-and-six. So, I believe just catch-tackles or get your hands up as a defensive lineman."
Do you have a favorite moment or game against the Steelers? (Pete Gilbert) "Every time we play them there [in Pittsburgh]. It's a rivalry game, and I like going to play them at Heinz Field more than playing them [here]. I know we have our fan support, but it's different. It's a different feel. I think all you guys have been there when we played them there, and it's just a different feeling. You know you hate it when you walk in there. You know that you're disliked. You know that your back is against the wall. And then, when you beat them at Heinz Field, it feels that much better."