Transcripts: Thursday Availability: Week 11 vs. Houston

Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale

Opening statement:“A quick overview of Cincinnati, first, as we always start off: Things started a little slow early. We were bang, bang, bang with scores. We thought it was going to be a normal football game where they were actually going to try to open it up. We said before the game they were going to protect the quarterback, and they did. They ran the ball in the first half, so at halftime, we made some adjustments. We came out in the second half, they ran 41 plays, and they averaged about 2.7 [yards] per play in that second half. So, we tightened up. Losing Michael [Pierce] early put an extra strain on ‘Big Baby’ [Brandon Williams], and I thought he played really well. He played 58 snaps. He really led the defense, as far as inside. And obviously, we had the big plays with Marcus [Peters], and Pat Ricard on the sack-fumble, and Tyus [Bowser] picked it up and scored. So, anytime you score twice in one game … You’re going to play more plays on defense when you score twice defensively. With that, we’ve turned all of our attention on the Texans game, and what a great challenge we have ahead of us.”

The way that you’re deep into scoring right now, how much do you see that kind of lighting a fire under the guys and giving them even more confidence than before? (Ryan Mink)“It’s our mentality. It’s our attacking-style mentality. We attack the football like we’re playing offense without a football. [We started that] way back in training camp, scoop-and-scores, all the different turnover drills we’ve done. We actually talk about returns – where to line up, get a block. I talked to you guys about the production game that we have. You get a block, that’s worth extra points on a return. So, the players have all bought in on it, and we believe in it. We know the record is 11, and I’m not scared to tell you that we’re going after the record.”

I think it’s easy to say that QB Deshaun Watson is among the best quarterbacks. What have the Texans done with their offense to accentuate his skills? (Aaron Kasinitz)“Like we talked about in the New England game, that was going to be an NFL history game because of [Bill] Belichick, [Tom] Brady. I think the same thing, this is going to be one of those NFL history games of which way the history of this league is going, with both quarterbacks. Coach [Bill] O’Brien has done a nice job with the run game. Obviously, they run the ball really well, and he’s part of that. So, you have to play good, sound football – assignment football, if you will – because they attack you every which way they can.”

How much harder are these dual-threat quarterbacks like a QB Deshaun Watson, like a QB Lamar Jackson? I know they’re not identical, but how much harder are they to prepare for as a defensive coordinator than a pocket passer? (Ryan Mink)“What happens in the game where you’re playing a mobile quarterback is, when you’re practicing, you see a guy go by and say, ‘I got him.’ In games, they don’t ‘got’ him. (laughter) They didn’t get him. So, I think that’s the biggest thing, is just adjusting to the speed of it, of the mobile quarterback. And each one of them has their own thing.”

What is it that makes you feel like this is kind of a history-type-of-changing game? (Garrett Downing) “It’s not just these two quarterbacks, but it’s the new era of quarterback. Going back to Russell Wilson, [Patrick] Mahomes, it seems like we talk more about that. The lazy question, ‘Does practicing against Lamar [Jackson] help you for this?’ We’re preparing for more mobile quarterbacks this year than the old school, stay-in-the-pocket-and-play quarterback from the pocket. So, that’s where I’m talking about the history of the game is changing. It should be a lot of fun.”

New defensive linemen, the additions, how do you see them … Are they contributing right away? (Pete Gilbert) “First of all, Eric [DeCosta] should get, like, Executive of the Year, with as much help as he’s given us. (laughter) I know ‘C.B.’ [late Ravens D-line coach Clarence Brooks] is looking down happy as heck for us, because we have two run-stoppers [DT Domata Peko Sr. and Justin Ellis] we just brought in here. As far as how fast we can put them in there right away, we’ll see. But that’s really going to be a good addition. I know ‘Big Baby’ [Brandon Williams] wishes that they were there for Cincinnati.”

Is DT Domata Peko Sr. a guy that, you weren’t preparing for him, but I’m sure he caught your eye when he was in Cincinnati all those years? (Garrett Downing) “No doubt. The way he plays, how fast he plays, how hard he plays. I don’t know if any of you have met him or not, but one of the coolest … ‘The Big Uso,’ he’s one of the best guys and characters of this league.”

How much did you weigh … DT Michael Pierce, obviously, barely playing at all, was that the determining factor and why Cincinnati had success running the ball? (Pete Gilbert) “No, I think we made adjustments. And part of it was my adjustments and my calls. I didn’t realize we were going to play a four-minute offense the whole time we were playing them.”

Guys have talked a little bit about making the defense, when you rebuilt it two years ago, making it understandable and easy to teach. Have you seen that play out with these guys the way you envisioned? (Aaron Kasinitz) “I just look at their success and I think that it has played out. Elegant simplicity. We have great teachers, which I alluded to last week or the week before, that can get these guys caught up fast. We make the right decisions on how much each guy has done during the week and how much he can handle. So, I think it’s a cumulative effect. But let’s make no bones about it, this game always has been, always will be, about the players. And I continue to say it. Marcus Peters is smart, fast, all the positives, but he’s instinctive and he’s a playmaker. He studies the game like no other, and I think that he enjoys playing in this package.”

Back to the mobile quarterbacks and not being able to finish the play in practice, QB Deshaun Watson is slippery, and he’s strong, too. What do you do as you prepare for him? What do you do with these guys during the week? (Mike Garafolo)“No doubt. You just try to bring your feet to the tackle. I know that in weeks prior, people say, ‘Hey, we’re going to tackle him like a running back.’ For example, I think the Patriots were saying that about Lamar [Jackson]. [It’s] easier said than done; it just really is. So, it’s going to be a great challenge for us. It’s going to be an all-out effort game, there’s no doubt about it, for four quarters.”

Like you said, even preparing for a number of these quarterbacks this year, has QB Robert Griffin III helped you prepare over the course of the year? (Ryan Mink) “No doubt. He’s a stud. ‘R.G.’ [Robert Griffin III] is a stud. He tries to actually emulate each quarterback and does a great job doing it. He’s been outstanding for us.”

From your experience in the NFL, how unusual is it, what ILB Josh Bynes has done? He’s a guy that wasn’t in minicamp, wasn’t in training camp, and is doing what he’s doing for you guys. (Jamison Hensley)“We’ve had a long list of guys that have done that – not to the success that Josh [Bynes] has had, but usually, it’s defensive linemen in some of those years that we’ve brought in late that have come in and played. But Josh has done a great job for us.”

Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman

Opening statement:“Thanks for coming out. A really good team, the Houston Texans, are coming in this week. They’re really, really good up front. No. 98, D.J. Reader, is probably one of the most dominant run players we’ve seen this year. Their linebackers are probably very, I would call, underrated players – very good instincts, very physical. Their secondary is littered with first-round picks and high draft picks and free agents. So, they’re playing at a high level, and we’re working really hard. Guys are working really hard on studying this team and focusing on our improvement.”

John Harbaugh said yesterday that there’s no play that exists that isn’t in your playbook. Has that much from which to choose … How challenging is it to then really narrow it down? I can’t imagine going into a game, “Well, there are 1,000 plays we might run.” That’s not going to do it. What goes into the factors to figure out, “Here’s the subset we’re going to choose from.”? (Pete Gilbert) “That’s a very interesting question, because during training camp as we’re developing our identity, once we got through the first couple of weeks, that’s when you kind of lock yourself in the room and say, ‘Alright, here’s what we’re going to focus on. These are ancillary. These are change-ups. We have this in our back pocket if we so choose.’ But that’s an ongoing process. And during a week of game-planning, the entire staff is involved in the process, obviously, so we’ll kind of talk through where those boundaries lie. And there are some games where we’ll go in with a lot of options, some more than others. Really, tomorrow afternoon is when we sit down and really focus in on what to prioritize and kind of play the game in your head a little bit. It’s a process though, for sure.”

Was the “Heisman Package” one in the back pocket?_ (Pete Gilbert)“That just kind of was spawned by the players. I don’t want to say who recommended it _(coughs) – ‘RG3’ [Robert Griffin III] (laughter) – but it was a great idea, and it really came from the players. That play is certainly in our system, and then we just injected a little variation to it.”

Along those lines, the offense has had such great success scoring on these opening drives. You hear about offensive coordinators scripting out the first 10, 15 plays. What are the mechanics of that for you? Sometimes, you might have a play work and you move on to the next one. Sometimes, you might have one that puts you back or whatever. What is your versatility there in that position?_ (Jonas Shaffer)“It’s a pretty fluid thing. There’s definitely a priority of what we want to do, and it just kind of flows. It definitely does not go in any particular order. Every once in a while, it will be like, ‘Hey, I want to run these two plays back to back,’ that kind of thing. But very rarely does that happen.” _(Reporter: “Is it similar coming out of halftime?”)“Very similar. Very similar, yes.” 

Did you go into last week’s game thinking you wanted to hit WR Marquise Brown on the deep play? (Garrett Downing)“Oh yes, for sure. Lamar [Jackson] and ‘Hollywood’ [Marquise Brown] actually came up[stairs]. We meet with Lamar every week, and ‘Hollywood’ was in there, too, which was pretty good because we got to talk through that play and what we were expecting and what we were looking to do. So, that kind of worked out. Those guys made it work. And scoring on the first drive is all about players being ready to go and executing. It’s a credit to them. It’s something we need to keep building on.”

When you meet with QB Lamar Jackson now versus when you met with him previously this year, how much better is what he’s providing for you? (Mike Garafolo)“It’s just a natural progression of where you would expect him to be. You wish everybody could watch Lamar [Jackson] and how he prepares every day – meetings, really everything, just his leadership. You wish you could make a little documentary of him preparing for a game and kids could watch it and they could see how much work goes into it. It’s not just, ‘Hey, let’s just show up and play football.’ It’s a lot of work that goes into it, and he’s doing a great job of that and leading us. He’s exactly where you would want him to be, in terms of where he is in his development.” (Reporter: “You could volunteer for ‘Hard Knocks’ next year, maybe, if you want to do that.”) “I don’t want to do that. _(laughter) I’m talking about a documentary here. You know, like we control what goes out.” (laughter)

Along those lines, what stood out to you about QB Lamar Jackson, about his mind, the way he processes the game? He’s not a typical pocket passer, but he’s still obviously making a lot of reads, as far as where to run, where to pass._ (Adam Kilgore)_“Oh gosh, yes. Lamar [Jackson] is playing the quarterback position brilliantly. Whatever that word is to describe it, I call it just really good quarterback play. He has a great feel for the game. As the game moves on, he’s totally engaged in what’s going on. He’s very realistic, I would say, in terms of what’s actually happening in the game, and did he do ‘this’ the way he wanted to or not, as much or more so than anybody I’ve been around. He’s doing a great job of playing the quarterback position and being our leader, and that entails a lot. It’s a tough position to be great at, and we just have to keep building, keep getting better every day.”

Just to circle back, if there’s not a play that’s not in your playbook, about how many plays are in your playbook? (Ryan Mink) “There’s no telling. I have no idea. We try to teach concepts, so one concept could look 100 different ways. We have the capabilities to do quite a bit though. That’s a credit to the players.”

There’s been a lot of attention the last couple of days about the Colin Kaepernick workout that the league scheduled this weekend. Just as someone who’s worked with him in the past, have you always rooted for him from afar? (Childs Walker) “Yes, you always root for players you’ve coached in the past. Everybody has their own path and whatnot, but today is Thursday, and it’s third-down and short-yardage and goal-line [preparation] for the Texans. That’s really what I’m focused on.” (Reporter: “Knowing the player as a person, though, do you think he could help a team?”) “His body of work speaks for itself.”

All the tight ends talk about how much you love tight ends. How important are tight ends to your offense, and how much does the versatility that you have in there now allow you to get to a lot of the things you want to get to? (Cliff Brown) “They like to get that out there, don’t they? (laughter) Our three tight ends are playing well. They’re all young guys, relatively speaking, and we look forward to them continuing to improve and make an impact. We’re going to always utilize our personnel, however that is. They give us some flexibility that other teams might not have. But really, every position falls in the same category. Everybody is important, and we will utilize everybody in varying degrees week to week throughout the course of the season. They’re doing a nice job, and we have to keep getting better.” 

Are there any battles in the wide receiver rooms coming to you versus the tight ends? (Pete Gilbert)“No, no. Everybody is dialed in to doing their job. It’s a beautiful thing. You have to have that to be successful.”

Do you see opposing defenses having a tough time deciding what kind of personnel groupings they want to use, whether they want to go heavy when you have three tight ends on the field? Do you see them gambling and trying different things?_ (Ryan Mink)_“Yes, you see some variety. And really, we’ve seen variety in all of our personnel groups, probably more so than anybody. It definitely kind of forces them to make a decision of sorts: ‘What are we going to defend?’ And that’s definitely one of the things that really gives you an advantage.”

You hear a lot of people talk about building around young quarterbacks, as opposed to these teams in this game, obviously, who have done well with that. For you, what was the first step when you knew QB Lamar Jackson was going to be the guy? What’s that first step? (Aaron Kasinitz)“Really, we stripped back everything and started from scratch. And we were fortunate to have half a year’s experience with him last year. We’ve kind of gone through that, but we really just started from scratch and just thought our way through it, that kind of thing. It was all-encompassing. I don’t think there was any one specific thing.”

There were a lot of “oohs” and “aahs” in the press box when QB Lamar Jackson made that long run. What was it like in the coaches’ box? (Jeff Zrebiec) “That was a great run. I don’t know how else to put it. Big smile, maybe a fist pump. But that was something. That was something. I was like, ‘Wow.’ But he threw the ball pretty darn good last week, too.”

You didn’t have him scripted for a spin move on that play? (Ryan Mink)“No. That’s definitely not coaching there.” (laughter)

Special Teams Coach Chris Horton

Opening statement: “Good morning. Good to see everyone, as always. A little different scenery; I prefer doing it here [in the fieldhouse] like you guys. But just to recap the game: Really, [there were] not a lot of opportunities for us in the game. We had one punt return and one punt. [One] punt – that's a good thing. That just means our offense is scoring points, so we appreciate that. The kickoff coverage – I thought our guys went out there ... I think we had eight kickoffs, three of them were in play. We covered two of them pretty well, and then one kind of got out on us. Again, [it was] just a little technique thing, something we can get cleaned up moving forward. I felt De'Anthony [Thomas] came out and showed some good things. On the kickoff team, he was where he needed to be. As a punt returner, on his one punt return, he got eight yards. Obviously, we'll do a much better job of really helping him get free. On the kickoff return, again, we had that one opportunity. He got some yards for us, and again, we're close. I keep saying that, but pretty soon, hopefully, we'll pop some big ones. Moving forward to Houston, this is a good team. It's another good special teams unit that we're going to face. I think they have the best kickoff cover team in the league, so they like to put the ball in play. Like I said, I think our return game is coming along. It's getting there, and I think we might have an opportunity for some opportunities. And if we get them, we look forward to it. But again, our guys, they've been out, they've been practicing well. Iman [Marshall] – Iman is out there. He's practicing for us, and we're just trying to get him up to speed. We're trying to get him going. He can do some good things for us. Obviously, we'll see how he progresses today and tomorrow, but I thought yesterday he did come on. He showed some good things. So, whenever he's ready, I'd like to get him out there. I just found out that Brynden [Trawick] is back. He'll get to practice, so, obviously, I'm fired up about that because he makes us better. We've taken a hit over the past couple weeks, but just getting some guys back … A player like him and his style – he makes us better. So, I'm pretty fired up about that.”

When you're kicking [off], what are the factors that you weigh when you decide whether to go end zone for K Justin Tucker or to try to kick it to the 1- (yard line) and have them return it? What are the deciding factors in that? (Pete Gilbert) “Really, the deciding factor – it's wind. It's really based on, ‘OK, can we get the ball in the end zone going this way?’ And if we can, we try to do that. So, it's all based on wind. And we'd like for the ball to be deeper, but sometimes he [Justin Tucker] can't get it there. And that's OK. It's our job – like I said before – it's our job to go out and cover.”

There were two more penalties before kickoffs [in the game vs. Cincinnati]. What are you seeing? Is it just a matter of guys being undisciplined? (Daniel Oyefusi) “I wouldn't really even say it's a matter of guys being undisciplined. We sat down, and we watched those two penalties. OK, the offsides penalty – that's unacceptable. And it's just a guy [Anthony Levine Sr.], he's coming out of halftime trying to get himself going, trying to give our kickoff team a spark. He's a veteran guy. He understands that. But the other one, for a guy being six inches behind the 34-yard line, to me, I think that's a little bit ticky-tack based on what's going on across the league. The guys are there. They're trying to do the right things. That's probably the first time that that penalty has been called. We've been good at it all year, and all of a sudden it was kind of an issue. So, we'll hone – we have kickoff coverage practice today – we'll hone in on that. I'll make sure the details are right. Hey, if it has to be on the 34-yard line, it has to be on the 34-yard line.”

You mentioned that WR/RS De'Anthony Thomas didn't have a ton of opportunity on Sunday. Can it be difficult with guys at that position to feel like you have enough information to make a change like you guys made? Or is there enough built up over the years that you feel secure with it, I guess? (Childs Walker) “Looking at it, when you look at De'Anthony's [Thomas] history over the years, he has a lot of punt returns in this league, so it wasn't like we were going out and bringing in a new guy, an inexperienced guy. He's an experienced guy. He's had a lot of opportunities in this league. So, when that happened, a guy of his caliber, I thought, ‘Let's bring him in and give him an opportunity.’”

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