Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton
With the kick return, you had WR/RS Chris Moore back there doing a few of those this last game. What kind of goes into the decision-making of whether you're going to do Chris Moore or WR Devin Duvernay, any given return? (Jamison Hensley) "It's just one of those things, how we feel that week. There wasn't anything that really went into it. It just felt like let's give Chris [Moore] an opportunity to return this week, and that was pretty much it. But Devin [Duvernay] is … Obviously, Devin is still our guy. But when we get the luxury of having both those guys back there, it works out for us all."
I know you guys work regularly. How much of a concern would it be if P Sam Koch was to punt without, basically, practicing? Has he done it for so long and you have so much faith in him that that wouldn't concern you? Or are there some issues that can possibly bring up? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Concern? Not at all. We're talking about a 15-year 'vet' [veteran] here. We're talking about a guy who knows how to prepare for a game when called upon. So, I don't think there's any concern when you're talking about Sam [Koch], who I consider one of the truest pros in our game. We're just hopeful that he can make it back, and if he does, then great. If not, I thought Johnny [Townsend] punted well for us last week."
Mike Priefer, Cleveland Browns special teams coordinator, is going to be the acting head coach coming up on Sunday against Pittsburgh due to COVID- and Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski. Usually, the special teams coach knows everybody on the squad, due to his responsibilities. I'm wonder if there's a contingency plan where if, unfortunately, coach John Harbaugh got sick, would you be the acting head coach? Have you talked about that? (Kirk McEwen) "I haven't talked about that. 'Prief' [Browns special teams coordinator Mike Priefer] has been around for a long time. He's been in this league for quite a long time. I think it's a great opportunity for him to be put in that situation. We haven't talked about that. I'm sure there's a list of guys ahead of me if that ever came up. We've got guys that are certainly more qualified with years of experience for that opportunity right now. I'm just looking forward to coaching great special teams and getting after Tennessee."
Tennessee has their K Sam Sloman kicking for them, and I know he was released by the Rams because so many of his kicks were being blocked because of low trajectory. Do you adjust your line? Or do you guys just line up the way you always line up when a kicker is a person who has low trajectory on their kicks? (Kevin Richardson) "We just go out and we just try to execute our gameplan. Those are things that you end up seeing on the tape, but we just go out and we just try to execute our game calls and just work from there. We let our fundamentals and our technique kind of really handle that on its own."
Do you know if P Sam Koch is kicking just on his own to keep his leg kind of warm? (Ryan Mink) "I haven't had an opportunity to talk to him, but it's Sam [Koch]. Sam can't sit down. (laughter) Again, Sam is one of the truest pros I've ever been around. So, I'm sure he's doing whatever he can to make sure that if he gets back for this game, that he's ready to go."
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman
Opening statement: "Good to see everybody. Hope everybody is doing well. Happy New Year. We're certainly excited about the opportunity we've got. It's Thursday; last week's game seems like last year, even though it was this year . We're really deep into our process – a lot of situational stuff today. We're getting ready to play a very good defense and a very good team, but we're very excited about the opportunity. Any questions?"
When you look at being a run-oriented team, and you look at Tennessee's defense, which is ranked [30*th] in sacks and 32nd* in third-down efficiency, does it make you think about changing your gameplan, or are you just going to go with what got you there – run-oriented type of game, instead of passing? (Kevin Richardson) "When you really look at it, you're always, and we always, are going to try to do what gives us the best chance to win. And if teams are overcommitting to stop the run, like we saw a little bit last week, what happened? We hit them on some touchdown passes. So, that's kind of the trick of this whole thing; is it's not all about the running game, it's about the combination of the run and pass game. When you look at how many touchdown passes we've throw these past two years, relative to how many times we've actually dropped back to throw the football, you'll find that our stats are very heavy towards touchdowns. So, it's been said that you run to control the game, and you throw to win the game – score points. I don't believe that, necessarily, but there is some truth to it. So, if a team is going to be really stout against the run and weak against the pass and inconsistent against the pass, then we're certainly going to incorporate that into the gameplan. Over the course of the game, if something's working and something's not, you're going to lean heavier on what's working. There's not an exact science; it kind of changes sporadically. But I will predict that we will run the ball at least one time in this game." (laughter)
The last two playoff games, you guys fell behind by two scores. When you fell behind, did it sort of take you out of your gampelan? And if that should happen again, do you think you're better prepared to play from behind, and I don't want to say not get into "panic mode," but not start pressing to get points on the board? (Todd Karpovich) "Yes, you're definitely trying to get points on the board. And last year's playoff game was really … We did a great job with controlling the ball, extending drives. We just didn't finish drives; we turned the ball over, [and] we gave it over on downs. We just didn't get the points. I think we had like 530 yards. So, the plan was good, except for what? We didn't score points to back up all the yards. If we had converted some of those long drives into touchdowns, it would have been a whole different story; but that's the story every week. That's why our No. 1 goal on offense is to win the game. And how do you do that? You must first score points. So, whether you're ahead or behind, it's a little bit different, but it's just something you've got to gauge during the game. It comes down to execution."
You said you'd have to change the identity of the offense when TE Nick Boyle went down. It took a while to get things going, but the offense is really humming now. There must be a satisfaction for you to have tweaked it to get this much production. And to see LG Bradley Bozeman and T Orlando Brown Jr. peel off, pull right and take out a safety or a linebacker, and for the offense to pop a big run on a precision play, how satisfying is that for you – when it all goes the way you plan it out to? (Kirk McEwen) "There's no feeling like it in the world when you get the high level of execution. It really is satisfying. You really feel good about the players experiencing that kind of success. That's really what kind of drives me and drives all of us as coaches – is to see our players experience success. And it comes down to them on the field doing it. So, yes, we've definitely tweaked some things, and we'll continue to do so, accordingly, but it really comes down to the players; their commitment, their attitude, and their ultimate execution on the field. One thing about it is when you play a game, or if I'm a fan watching a game, you see what plays we actually ran, but there's probably another 70% more of plays we weren't able to or didn't run – choose to run. So, there's a lot on our gameplan that we don't run every week, and we're ready with it when needed."
QB Lamar Jackson said yesterday that he would want to win no matter who the opponent was, but he is really motivated to change the narrative around his 0-2 playoff record. Are you also motivated by that? Do you find that other people – yourself and other people – in the organization are motivated by that aim? (Aaron Kasinitz) "We want to win, period. We want to win, and when you get to the playoffs, it's all about winning. Nobody really cares about the stats too much. All they remember is who moved on to the next round, so that's what it's all about. Every team in these playoffs is a really good team. If you want to win the ultimate prize, you're going to have to beat them all. Every week you're going to have to beat a good team. So, it doesn't matter, really, for us or anybody, really. It's about going out and playing your best football in January and February and getting 'W's'."
Last year you ran out of 11-personnel a lot, and that hasn't changed this year. But with you guys losing TE Nick Boyle, is there anything that you've learned just about how you guys can attack defenses with the speed that you have not only going up the middle, but laterally? You guys have really been running well when you seem to spread out, especially these past couple months? (Jonas Shaffer) "Yes, we've done a nice job of running it from condensed formations and spread-out formations. The execution has been high, and when that happens, everything looks shiny and new. So, that's just something we need to continue to do. I credit the guys on the field, getting that done. But it's definitely made us look to kind of expand our profile a little bit. 'Necessity is the mother of invention,' as they say. So, that's it."
After the Chiefs game this year, you mentioned that after you lose, you always go back and look at what worked and what didn't work, and you try to improve from that. When you go back and look at this Titans [playoff] game [from last season], I heard you just say, "We didn't finish. We didn't finish. We got the yards, but we didn't finish." Specifically, what didn't work? Why were you not able to finish, and what could improve there? (Bo Smolka) "Really, just details. Just details – very minute details that are very big things into the success of a play or situation. So, without getting into each play-by-play, that's really what it is, that's really what it comes down to. I think we had seven drops last year in that playoff game. I can't remember; it's a long time ago. But that's just one example of basics done well. That's what wins this time of year. So, it really comes down to taking care of the details and everybody finishing their job on every play."
Continuing with the playoff game last year, there's a lot of talk about what the Titans did to you guys in terms of gameplan. But when you look back at it, did they really do anything that unusual, especially early in the game, or did they really just kind of play well along the line of scrimmage and in coverage? (Childs Walker) "Yes, they did some nice things schematically, but nothing we hadn't seen before, quite frankly. Yes, they played well. Two good teams going at it; the one that plays better is going to win. We just turned the ball over three times in that game and gave it over on downs a couple times. So, it's really pretty simple when you look at it. But, yes, that's ancient history to us. It really doesn't matter. It's irrelevant. We're excited about this game coming up. We had a great Wednesday, we're in the midst of a great Thursday, and we're going to keep preparing, rolling through our process, and then on Sunday, let it rip."
Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale
You've obviously faced RB Derrick Henry a few times here, and you've faced some really good running backs in your time here. What kind of a challenge does slowing down RB Derrick Henry kind of present you? (Jamison Hensley) "It's the greatest challenge every play. Let's make no mistake about it – he's the best running back in football. He's gone for over 2,000 yards, two years in a row. We know it. He knows it. We're just getting ready to go for the challenge ahead on Sunday."
Obviously, their wide receivers are two very productive guys this season. How much do you stress the tackling, since they are yards-after-catch guys? (Ryan Mink) "Well, there's no doubt, but that's with everything. That's with Derrick Henry … They have a great skillset at every position. Their receiving corps, like you just said, is ... They're catch-after-run guys, and they can also try to go by you, too. With their quarterback, with their running back, with their tight ends and with their wide receivers, it's a great challenge. But isn't that what it's supposed to be in the playoffs? I think so."
They seem to have a knack for getting big plays in the passing game. What is it about their offense, even though everybody talks about RB Derrick Henry, that they seem to be able to get big plays in the passing game? (Cliff Brown) "I think that their passing game marries well with their run game, and play-action, analytically, is the best way to go in our league. Play-action passes are where you get most of those chunk plays. The biggest thing is, I've been talking about it all week with our guys, is just go play the next play. Play the next play. The most important play is that play. They're going to make plays – you know that going into it. We know that going into it, OK? We also know they're going to give the ball to [No.] '22' [Derrick Henry], OK? But tackling is at a premium, like somebody else said earlier. It's a great challenge for us. I like the fact that we're back to full strength up front. We were missing a couple last time we played them, and we'll just see where it goes. The whole mission of this thing is to go to Game Two – we know that. The way we've been practicing this week, we've had a good week … We had a good practice yesterday and plan on having another good practice today."
You kind of mentioned it, but do you get the sense that DE Calais Campbell and DT Brandon Williams can be the difference a little bit against RB Derrick Henry? They didn't play last time, and that's your big beef up front. DE Calais Campbell seemed like he relished the role yesterday. So, those guys are chomping and ready to go to try to shut down No. 22 [Derrick Henry]. Do you get that sense? (Kirk McEwen) "Right, I think so. I think everybody up front, that's their main mission. And it's not like anybody they play, that's not their main mission as well. I'm looking forward to the fact [we're] going in there [at] full strength, without a doubt, and keeping guys fresh throughout the four quarters of play, or five quarters – however long it takes."
We all know Ravens-Titans has some history behind it. You've been around the NFL for so long. What makes a good, healthy rivalry between teams? In your mind, does Ravens-Titans on Sunday fit that definition? (Shawn Stepner) "First of all, to answer that question – yes. I think a good rivalry is two teams that respect each other. As the fan, I think that any game that's a physical game is a game that people like to watch – the gladiators in the arena. So, I think those are the type of games that you're talking about when you're talking about rivalry games. It's going to be a tough, hard-fought game. I remember the hit – Ray Lewis on Eddie George, on the one pass play where he stole the ball from him. You remember all those different things, and that's the way these games are."
What is something that was on your mind from the playoff game from last year that you will do differently this time? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "First of all, there's nothing on my mind that [is] different [than] there was before any time that we've played them. There are no subplots to this; it's the first round of the playoffs, and the goal is to get to the second round. So, we know what we have to do. We know how we have to play up front. We know how we have to play in the back end. We know we need to tackle. Like I said, with the skillset they have, there are going to be plays – it's how we react to those plays and just go to the next play and play. I mean, it's playoff football. And in playoff football, you have to play well on third down. In playoff football, you're going to have more third-and-2 to [third-and-] 6s than you will [third-and-] 7-plus. As a defense, do you want to get them behind the sticks? Of course, you do. But just in playoff football, you're going to have a lot more third-and-2 to [third-and-] 6, those 50/50 third downs, if you will. How well you play during that, that determines the success that you have. You have to have great communication and play penalty free in the red zone, OK? The red zone comes up big. This is one of the best red zone teams, offensively, that we've faced, and that's because of Ryan Tannehill and what he brings to that offense. You're talking about a quarterback who [has] guys that can play, probably, three different positions on offense. He's a talent, and he's athletic. Not only is it [No.] '22' [Derrick Henry], it's [No.] 17 [Ryan Tannehill]. Then you say, 'What about the receivers?' Yes, it's [No.] '11' [A.J. Brown]. It's [No.] '84' [Corey Davis]. And then you say, 'OK, what about the tight ends?' You see what I'm saying? The list goes on and on; the hit list goes on and on. I would like to give you some kind of subplot, but this is the first round of the playoffs and our goal is to get to the second round – that's where it's at. That's what it is."
I know you mentioned the play-action aspect of this all. When an offense like Tennessee is so good at running the ball, and then so much of their passing offense is premised off of that, how difficult and what are actually the steps to developing a pass rush that can knock QB Ryan Tannehill off rhythm? (Jonas Shaffer) "I think that it's real difficult on first and second down – that's a good question. You need to be disciplined when you're rushing the passer, and you need to be violent when you're rushing the passer. There are going to be times that if he does get out, that you have to staple people to the ground if they do catch it, and you have to plaster him while he's scrambling. That's a tough task, but there are going to be those plays that the effort by us to get him down is going to be paramount in this game."
I think it was the game before the playoff game last year, you said that QB Ryan Tannehill was really thriving in the system and it's worked really well for him. When you see him now versus seeing him early in his career, how has he prospered? What about this system has let him be so good? (Bo Smolka) "It's the play-action pass. He's in a rhythm now, and the years slowed the game down for him. He's mastered this offense, and he's playing really confident. I'd play confident, too, with the skillset he has around him. That's the difference that I see with it."
CB Marcus Peters
You had a quote after the game talking about how you guys have overcome some of the hard times [and that] they don't break you; they make you. Was there a point during all of this adversity where when you guys all came back that you kind of were like, "OK, now we're back. We know what we have gone through and what it takes to get back to that point?" (Jamison Hensley) "Yes, it was tough with us going through all the tough times that we had this year. We had to deal with COVID [-19], and then we had to deal with some tough losses back-to-back. But I think the biggest thing was that everybody just came to work, and we handled the series of events as they occurred. We stayed focused on the ultimate goal, and that's just to come to work, handle what we can handle and just do our part. I think everybody was doing that to the best of their ability. We got everybody back, and we just kept at it. We kept focusing on our goals. We knew if we got one [win], we just needed to pile on another one. We just kept fighting, and ultimately, we ended up here."
Obviously, everybody talks about RB Derrick Henry for good reason, but their passing game has been really effective, too. What makes them so difficult to defend as a whole? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Ultimately, it starts with Derrick Henry. With a [running] back like him, what he's been doing over these past years is amazing, man. He's rushed for 2,000 yards, and only a few backs have done that in the league. So, you put him up there and it stands by itself, and then you just add on to everything else that they do with the dynamic plays they have with the receivers. We just have to just do our part and we'll be alright."
I hate to bring it up, but I haven't talked to you. The spitting thing is behind you now, were you worried that that might stick? You got fined more for jumping in the stands and drinking a beer than you did for spitting. Where are you on that? (Kirk McEwen) "It was something that we addressed, and we moved passed it. I just fought the appeal the other day, so we're just waiting to get the statement back on that. Situations like that, you hate to see something like that happen, but control what you can control. If the internet is going to put it out there, then it is what it is. If we're going to roll with something like that, I am who I am, and I stand by what I said. We just keep moving forward. We deal with it as we come with it."
CB Marlon Humphrey has talked a lot about what he's learned from you and kind of the rapport that you guys have. How impressed have you been with the season that Marlon's put together this year? (Garrett Downing) "Man, with a guy who works his tail off like he does, who comes to work with the right attitude, with energy every day [and] is always about the team, it's always a blessing to work with somebody like that. Like I said, it's just the hard work – it's showing up in his play. He plays his tail off. He loves the game. He brings that energy to the whole team. [He's] just providing the leadership that we need."
RB Derrick Henry has put some defensive backs on his highlight reel with his stiff arm. As a defender, how do you approach tackling a guy like that? (Ryan Mink) "It's football. You approach it the same way; you have to get him on the ground. It doesn't matter how ugly it is, [or] how beautiful it is, but you have to get him on the ground. That's the biggest thing – we get him on the ground, we slow him down [and] we fight for the next play."
Six years in the league, six trips to the playoffs for you. Not a lot of guys can say that. That experience you've built up, what would you say about what this time of year is like, if it is different from the games you've played up until now? (Mark Viviano) "It's just going to come down to focus and execution, who wants it more, who can stay focused the longest, and who can execute more. It's always with the small details; it's tacking, it's blocking, it's catching, and it's whoever can have less penalties and who can control the football."
I hope you get a nice birthday present this week, and happy birthday to you, on Saturday, and QB Lamar Jackson, today. So, I guess that would be a really nice birthday present on Sunday – a win – right? (Donna Jean Rumbley) "Thank you, I appreciate it. Yes, I know. That would be wonderful. Happy birthday to all Capricorns out there." (laughter) [Reporter: "Good luck."] "Thank you."
Is there a feeling that this is kind of the game that you guys have been waiting 12 months to play? (Childs Walker) "Yes, we've thought about this playoff game from last year. And I think the situation … It didn't matter what team we were playing, we wanted to be in this situation, so we can go fight for a Super Bowl. That's always the ultimate goal. As a team, you just want to give yourself a shot to fight for the 'dance,' and we put ourselves in a position to where we can fight. And we've got the team that we played last year, so it is what it is. We know what time it is."
As you know from being around the league, quarterbacks can be "lightning rods" for praise, criticism or whatever, especially a guy as skilled as QB Lamar Jackson. How do you feel when you see people comment on Lamar that he hasn't won a playoff game or question that sort of thing? (Aaron Kasinitz) "I just laugh at it. They try to criticize him, and then they also compare him to the greats who … Like, Peyton Manning didn't win a playoff game [at first]; he was 0-3 at first. So, things like that. But my whole thing is just watch the young man grow, watch the young man continue to lead this team, continue to lead this offense and be the wonderful person that he is off the field. How he holds and carries himself in a day-to-day manner, it's out of this world. You can't be Lamar Jackson and hold yourself to that standard like he does. Every time that he may have a bad game, he holds up, he stands on his 10 toes, and he owns up to everything, and he comes back the next week ready to work. So, you've got to appreciate those things."
You didn't miss a game in 2018, you didn't miss a game in 2019, but you had to miss a couple this year because of injuries. What was that time on the sideline like, and just how are you feeling now? (Jonas Shaffer) "I'm just ready to keep everything rolling. It sucks to miss a couple of weeks out there with the guys, but they held up. We [had] a big task, and the task was we needed to win all the way through so we can get it. And the guys who were out there, we had veteran leadership out there. Tramon [Williams] stepped up – a guy who has playoff experience, who has won a Super Bowl, and who gets the game, who understands the game. Then you've got a young dude like 'Double-A' [Anthony Averett], whose been working his tail off all year. He played with us throughout the first parts of the season, got injured, but then he fought his way back. To see the standard that – like I said – we hold our team [to] … It's next guy up. It doesn't matter if we've got to deal with what we've got to deal with. But we bust our tails off during training camp and offseason so we can be at this point, right here, because we all trust and believe that everybody on this team will get the job done."