THURSDAY AVAILABILITY: Week 14 at Bills
Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale
Opening statement: "Great game last week – championship football. Our fans were outstanding. The second half, it was unbelievable how much they helped, and that's definitely a home-field advantage. And they're part of this defense. We talk about it all the time – how this city is tough and resilient – and I thought the second half we did some really nice things to an offense that averages 30 points a game. We held them to three points in the second half. I loved how hard we played. I loved our execution in situational football. Right there before the half, we gave them some runs. We use analytics all the time, and with the weather and everything else, we knew the yard line we had to stop them at. And it worked out well for us."
You're the master of summing up the problems posed by each opposing quarterback. So, what about QB Josh Allen? (Childs Walker) "He's a big kid, man. He's like tackling a tight end scrambling, so it's going to be a great challenge. We'll see what happens on Sunday. He makes a lot of plays with his feet, and that's been their success the last five, six weeks. [Buffalo offensive coordinator] Brian Daboll does a great job with him moving him around and doing some different things. It's going to be a challenge for us."
I've heard the comparison this week a lot as QB Cam Newton to QB Josh Allen, the way he plays and runs and can run guys over but has a big arm. Do you see the similarities there? (Pete Gilbert) "If you want to [say that]. I think that Cam [Newton] is a special athlete, as well. So, I think, because of their size, I think that's a comparison that you can see that."
You know WR John Brown well. What do you see from him on tape with Buffalo this season? Is he the same exact guy? Is he doing more there? What do you see from him? (Ryan Mink) "His nickname is still 'Smoke,' and it's that for a reason. So, he's doing really well."
What were you seeing from the run defense on some of those outside runs? And what was the key to bottling that up in the final quarter? (Luke Jones) "We gave up the one 40-yard run. There were some edge issues that we had with Jaylon [Ferguson], and it was just a different look that a rookie hasn't seen. We worked on it, because we know how this league is. If they see a scab scratched, they're going to keep trying to attack it, and we've worked on it. That's been a point of emphasis for us going into this game. So, we just had too many missed tackles on that play, and like I said, what I liked is how we bounced back in the second half."
Since he's been here, almost every week DE Jihad Ward has played 50 percent of the defensive snaps. What has he done that's kind of elevated you guys since he arrived? (Aaron Kasinitz) "I just like the player. He is everything we thought he'd be coming out of the draft on the edge, and all he wants to do every week is win. And he's focused for every game. He's focused on every detail, and we trust him out there. He's a physical edge-setter that … Like I said, he plays hard, and the whole defense did. I was really pleased. Chuck Clark was all over the place again. You take a guy like that and plug him into the different places that we have in our defense, and he does it effortlessly. So, we were really pleased with that."
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman
Opening statement:"Thanks for coming out. We're getting ready to play a Buffalo Bills defense that's … Yes, here we go again. (laughter) They're ranked, I believe, third in the league in points given up, overall defense. They're really good at all three levels. The defensive line is playing at a very high level. They have some really good football players. The second level of the defense, the linebackers, they're very underrated when you really look at them play on tape. And the secondary, the safeties are very experienced, heady, instinctive players, and the corners are doing a great job in coverage. Really, overall, they play really good team defense. It's a big challenge, one that we're very excited for. We had a great Wednesday and are looking to have a great Thursday. We're halfway through it – so far, so good."
With QB Lamar Jackson getting the AFC Offensive Player of the Month, I think a lot of people solidified it as it wasn't the stats so much this past week, it was the toughness and the resilience. Watching that side of him as well, when it all comes easy, wasn't that the case this week? What does that mean? (Pete Gilbert)"Lamar [Jackson] is double-tough, and nothing surprises us with him. We're just looking to continue improving. He is, his teammates are … [They] just keep getting better every day. We knew going into that game it was probably going to be a different kind of game, and it was. Guys did a great job of doing what we had to do to win the game, and that's the most important thing. He was leading that charge. It's still a function of all 11 people. The great thing about Lamar is he's the first one that understands that. He has a great sense of offensive football and what makes it go."
Going back to Buffalo, does it have a significance for you? Was this game circled on the calendar for you, or is it just the next one up? (Bo Smolka) "Just the next one up. We have a lot of people here that are very serious about what we do, and all of our focus is dedicated to that. We know it will be a tough environment, and we're very excited about that."
Assistant head coach/pass coordinator/wide receivers coach David Culley was another guy who was on the Bills' staff, and you hired him away. When you were building the offense, what kind of influence did he have, and how have you seen that play out over the past 12 games?_ (Aaron Kasinitz)_"Dave [Culley] is a very experienced guy. Experience is a very valuable thing, and we're very lucky to have him on the staff. He's a very important part of what we do, as is every member of the staff. He's really brought a lot to us. So, we're very appreciative and thankful that he's here."
Going back to C/G Patrick Mekari and making his first start in that situation, how do you think he's done? (Daniel Oyefusi) "There are some things to clean up, like everybody. But he did a very, very good job. Pat [Mekari] is the kind of guy that he's only going to get better. It's how he's made up; it's how he's wired. But that was no – what is it? – no easy task. That's a really good defensive front. I wouldn't call it a monsoon. What's a category lower than a monsoon?"(laughter) (Reporter: "Driving rain.") "It was a driving rain. The center handles the ball on every play, and it's very important, very important, that he's an expert at his job, and he was."
When we talk to QB Lamar Jackson after games, we'll say, "On this play," and he'll come back and be like, "Oh, that coverage …" Is that kind of his way with you, just the instant recall on certain plays and just remembering? (Jamison Hensley) "Yes, yes. He sees things on the field and he can spit it right back out at you, without question. Yes, he has the kind of mind." (Reporter: "How valuable is that, and how does that help a quarterback to have that process?") "It's very valuable. It's incredibly valuable. I don't think you can quantify it. In those experiences when they happen, some people can file them. And that's where you want to get. So, when that feels like it again on the field, he makes the correct or a specific adjustment because he can recall that. [It's] very important, very important. [It is] hard to quantify that, too."
When you were in San Francisco, a lot of people talked about you meeting with the Nevada coaching staff, or your staff meeting with the Nevada coaching staff, with the pistol [formation] and all of that. When you were forming the Ravens' offense this year, how much did you go back to those notes? Was it something you thought about a lot? What kind of influence was that, and what influence did what they did at Nevada have on what you guys are doing? (Jeff Zrebiec) "It's really a personal journey-type of thing. I went after the 2009 season at Stanford and jumped on a plane, flew over the mountain, and spent two days there. By the time I got on the plane, or by the time the plane landed, I had the whole system mapped out. I was so excited about just having that club in the bag, so to speak, and we worked on it there at Stanford. We were playing USC in 2010, and I pulled it out for a few plays, [then] put it back in the drawer for a little bit. But yes, those things are all filed up here. I do a lot of notetaking, don't get me wrong, but over the years it just kind of gets filed up there."
I think you guys have used the pistol formation more than every team in the NFL combined in total. What do you like about that formation?_ (Jeff Zrebiec)_"It allows you to run the ball either direction. When you're in the shotgun, it's pretty easy to titrate down to, 'Alright, here's what they do with gun-near, gun-far,' so people can kind of make some calls, some line stunts, etcetera. I like the shotgun, too, don't get me wrong, but the pistol formation allows you to run your whole offense, essentially. They don't know which way you're going, and that's good, good for the offense."
Do you think the NFL is going to use more pistol moving forward, that it's going to shade that way? (Ryan Mink) "You always ask me these hypothetical questions. (laughter)I don't know, and we're going to do what we do and keep trying to get better at that. We'll see."
Special Teams Coach Chris Horton
Opening statement: "Thank you guys for coming out. A look at what we did as a special teams unit [last Sunday]: I'm very, very, very proud of our guys. I thought we went out, we played hard, and we executed the gameplan like we prepared to do."
The challenges in a game like that ... You can only prepare ... Making the balls wet didn't seem to even matter. It didn't even help. And for your guys to be called upon and be ready like that, how satisfying is that? (Pete Gilbert) "It's very impressive. I stood up here last week, and I told you that our guys would be ready for that. That's why they are the best, because they know what it takes, and they know how to prepare themselves for those situations. That was a tough kick, and it was good everywhere: good protection, good snap, good hold. And the kick was great."
With WR/RS Chris Moore now, do you have that film to show everybody, "This is the perfect way to knock the ball back."?**(Jamison Hensley)** "Yes, that was another great play. When you look at that game, there were three game-changing plays that we had as a special teams unit, and every week that's our goal, is just [to] try to impact the game some kind of way. We haven't punted the ball very much, and when we did punt the ball, we go out ... I talk about our Wednesday practice and how we prepare. We have to be prepared for everything. So, that play that Chris [Moore] made – first, it started with the punt, just driving that ball down there in those conditions, the protection – those guys came after it. And then Chris really making the play for us really set the tone for the game."
We saw after CB Marlon Humphrey deflected that kick, he embraced you. You jumped on the sideline. What was that moment like for you? (Aaron Kasinitz)(laughter) "It was Marlon's [Humphrey] first blocked kick. Again, we prepared, we talked about it. We said, 'We have an opportunity,' if we got in that situation. And then I was really excited for him. It was our first blocked kick as a staff, so it was just a really exciting moment. And I think it was deserving of a big hug." (laughter)
WR/RS De'Anthony Thomas went a little under the radar, though, just because of some of the other big plays made by special teams and elsewhere, but the ability to consistently get 10, 15 yards even has certainly been an improvement over what was done before. (Pete Gilbert) "That's why he's here. We talk about efficient yards and getting efficient yards, and I think the week before he had one [punt return] for 20 [yards]. This week he had another one for 18. Those are huge plays. Those are positive yards. We're not getting negative plays in the punt return game, which is encouraging. Obviously, again, from a kickoff return standpoint, we are working, and we are trying to hone in on the little details. At some point, we'll get one [big return], and he'll give us a spark there."
What does S Brynden Trawick bring to the table on the heels of your special teams playing so well? (Luke Jones) "Another great player just kind of added back to the little pieces that we felt like we were missing. Having him back out at practice, he's going to be ready to go. If his number is called, he'll be for sure ready to go."
What do you see from K Justin Tucker, in terms of his nerves at this point of his career – he's hit so many game-winners and whatnot – when he goes out for another game-winner in that situation? (Ryan Mink) "I wouldn't call it 'nerves.' Those guys practice those situations every day in practice. Again, they prepare themselves for those situations. Now, I don't know if he's nervous. He doesn't show any nerves when he's out there. He lines up. He says, 'OK, I need to make this field goal. Let's go.' So, I don't think there are any nerves. He's really, really good at what he does. So, I think he's focused, and when he gets those opportunities, it's his job to go out there and make those kicks."
John Harbaugh said on that fourth-and-5, he thought it was too far for a field goal in that rain and muck but also probably too short to punt. He thought it would be tough to pin a punt inside the 10. How much are you involved in the dialogue in that decision-making process? If you're at the 35-, 36-yard line and it's a fourth-and-5, is that John's [decision]? To what extent are you involved in that decision-making? (Bo Smolka) "I'm on the headsets. I'm kind of listening to what's going on. Obviously, the head coach is going to make that decision, and [assistant special teams coach] Randy [Brown], he knows Justin [Tucker] very well. And he knows the conditions that if there's a situation where we could kick, I think we would kick. If there's not, there's not a situation where we can punt, then that's OK. If the head coach says, 'We're going to go for it,' then we're going to go for it. Then our guys stay off to the side."
S Earl Thomas III
On the Christmas lights hanging up around his locker: "So, the equipment guys, they took care of me. I've been doing this since I've been in the league, and they kept it alive. If you walk in the equipment room, you'll see they have it lit up in there. I wanted some of that, so they got me right." (Reporter: "So you put in the request?") "I put in the request, and they did it."
On if he's impressed by Bills QB Josh Allen: "Yes, what's impressed me the most about him is his patience in the pocket. He never seems in a hurry. Hopefully, that's not the case against us. He has a very strong arm. He can throw from the opposite hash. He's making all the throws all over the field. So yes, credit to him."
On how he approaches playing a young quarterback as a veteran defender: "You try to use that against him. We'll try to make him uncomfortable as much as possible, try to make him make quick decisions and see where that leads us."
On how important S Chuck Clark has been to the defense's improvements since Week 4: "Chuck Clark, he's made a lot of money for himself this year. [He's] one of our best communicators. He's getting people lined up. We ask him to do a lot of different positions, whatever we're bringing in. We ask him to do a lot, and he's handling it very well."
On if S Chuck Clark is always quiet and serious: "No, he's a fun guy to be around. He has fun, but he has his demeanor, as well. I guess that's his professional demeanor that he's giving you guys, but we get the real Chuck [Clark]."
On if S Chuck Clark reminds him of himself at all: "I guess so. I can see why people would [say], 'Oh, this guy is always serious,' but that's not the case. He has fun just like everybody else."
On how much fun the win over the 49ers was and on how much fun he's having with how well the team is playing: "I'm having fun with the team. We're doing some great stuff. I feel like we're playing championship-level football every time we step out [on the field], but it's always good to beat 'Sherm' [Richard Sherman]. (laughter)_I know it's not all about me; it's not all about me. We have great players, but in my mind, I was like, 'I've got that one-up.' _(laughter)So, that was cool."
On if he saw CB Richard Sherman and John Harbaugh having words on the sideline: "With 'Sherm' [Richard Sherman]? I didn't see that. I wasn't paying attention."
On how remarkable QB Lamar Jackson's maturity has been this season as such a young leader: "Yes, and the way he's handled all the success is cool to see. And the 49ers really kind of made it hard on him, especially with the weather conditions, and they kind of restricted the running lanes on him. They tried to nail the running lanes, and he still was able to sneak through and crease them. But he's handled everything really well."
On if it felt like a playoff atmosphere on Sunday and if he expects that type of environment again in Buffalo: "Yes, I expect another playoff-type game this week. I think they're going to bring a lot of energy, especially their fans. They have a lot to cheer for in Buffalo. They want to see their team have success. But we're going to do what we do, and we'll see how it ends at the end of the game."
On defending WR John Brown and his speed: "You have to understand the scouting report. If the guy is fast, you have to know where he's at, and if it's your responsibility to take care of the deep part of the field, you have to do that. Also, if they want to throw him crosses, catch and run – him and 16 [Robert Foster] – we have to understand that, as well."