THURSDAY AVAILABILITY: Week 5 AT PITTSBURGH
Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale
Opening statement: “There's two things that we talked about this week: ‘Harbs’ [Head Coach John Harbaugh] talked about, 'You either win or you learn.' And, obviously, we reiterated that with the defense. From the last two games, we have a lot of things to learn. And the other thing is this – what I told the players in the meeting room – 90 percent of the people in this world, they don't care about your problems. It's the same thing in the NFL. The other 10 percent are glad you have them. Those numbers might be a little bit different as well, but we have a lot of things to work on, obviously. We're attacking that. We attacked that yesterday. And there's nothing better after a game like that than to play this historic rivalry, I think the best rivalry in sports, this week. We know how we feel about them, how they about us, and the greatest thing that I think makes this rivalry stand out compared to others is the respect that both organizations have for each other. And that's the same thing with the way the players are. It's going to be a little bit different. There aren’t the same players that have been here in the past, obviously, but the rivalry is the rivalry. And that's the exciting thing about it, and we're preparing for it because we know how well coached they are. We know their offense as far as how they attack us, how they have attacked us, the history of it. So, we're looking forward to that challenge, and that's what's great about this game. You have a game Sunday to wash the stink off of you, if you will, from the week prior.”
How does the way the Steelers have altered their offense affect your defensive approach? (Tom Pelissero) “I think that that is the talk of this past week. What [offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach] Randy [Fichtner] does and [head coach] Mike [Tomlin] with that offense is each week it changes. If you think back to when Ben [Roethlisberger] first started and they had Bus [Jerome Bettis] in the backfield, a lot of similarities to that, really, but it still comes down to playing against the shot, playing against the screen and playing against the check down in the passing game. And they still have those elements in that offense. He [Mason Rudolph] throws a very accurate deep ball, Rudolph does, so we just can't circle in on one thing. But we know what kind of game this is. They call it the Black and Blue Division for a reason. This is going to be a man-up game. They're going to try to run the football, as well as they should with the running back that they have.”
It appeared yesterday at practice that the defensive backs were putting more emphasis on the tackling sleds and the dummies. Is there more of an emphasis on tackling and being physical this week? And is that directly related to the last two weeks? (Bo Smolka) “Yes.”
When you look at the last two weeks and the big plays allowed in the run and pass game, do you shake your head trying to figure out where that's coming from? Is it still the new guys trying to figure out things? Or are guys trying to do too much? What do you attribute it to? (Pete Gilbert) “It's a little bit of everything, but it basically comes down to fundamentals, technique, angles to the football and tackling, which every Pop Warner coach says, what every high school coach says, what every college coach says and what every pro coach says. Fundamentals, technique, angles to the football and tackling. And that's what we've got to get done. Any time those big runs happen, you hate it. There's no other way I can explain it, but that's what it comes down to.”
Will S Tony Jefferson continue to wear the headset going forward? Or could that be determined on a game-by-game basis? (Garrett Downing) “Right now it's for Tony [Jefferson] to wear the headset, but that could be game-by-game. The communication was not a problem. We can try to find as many excuses that we want to find with that. Communication was not a problem. We just have to play better football.”
After the game on Sunday, CB Marlon Humphrey said the defense might have to have some heart-to-heart talks. What was the tone of the message and the meetings the past couple days? (Aaron Kasinitz) “I think that's between us, but what we do is we attack the problem. We confront the problem. We're honest with everything. So, I think that if he [Marlon Humphrey] termed it as 'heart-to-heart', that's fine, but I'm just honest with the players when we go over and watch the tape.”
How do you plan to utilize the two new inside linebackers ILB L.J. Fort and ILB Josh Bynes? Could they be used as edge setters as well? (Ryan Mink) “Not in the edge setting. They're not in the edge-setting world, but they can be used, yes.”
Last year's defense was so great at limiting big plays. That's been a problem area for you guys this year. As you're looking at tape, is there any difference in your teaching process compared to last year? (Jonas Shaffer) “No, I think any time there are big plays it's the same teaching progression, and it comes back to what I'm saying – the fundamentals, the technique, the angles to the football and tackling. And communication before, but like I said, communication was fine on Sunday. It's just the big plays just keep rearing its ugly head, so we have to play better. We have to coach better. We have to play better. It's simple. I know that's a boring answer, but that's what it is.”
“Like I said, we're excited about this one. They know we're coming.”
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman
Opening Statement: “Thanks for coming out. We’re getting ready to play a veteran, very good defense. We saw that on display Monday night, and they have some good players. Their front is extremely strong. They’ve kind of solidified their back end. They have some young linebackers in there that are real fast, but we’re excited about the challenge. We’re excited to go on to Pittsburgh, and we know what it’s going to take.”
The Steelers had 8.5 sacks on Monday night. What does that front do especially well? (Aaron Kasinitz) “There are some teams in the league that try to get on an edge and really work edges. These guys can do that, but they also are extremely good at power rushes. That’s kind of what they’re really good at, they’re built for. That was on full display Monday night. They have some really good, powerful players, heavy-handed players, and they were able to capitalize as the game went on.”
Do you tell any of the young players about the environment at all going into that stadium? It’s QB Lamar Jackson’s first start in that stadium. (Garrett Downing) “Oh, yeah, that’s a special place. I remember coaching back in Three Rivers Stadium, and they had the towels waiving there, too. I think Coach [John] Harbaugh and all of us understand and communicate that because it’s such a strong rivalry. It’s very representative of the AFC North.”
Are you sensing that teams are blitzing more? Without giving up the gameplan, what are the keys to combatting that a little bit more aggressively? (Jeff Zrebiec) “We’re really not getting a higher percentage of blitz. As a matter of fact, we’re getting a lower percentage of blitz. But when teams blitz you, you have to make sure your protection is set up. Then, it just comes down to the fundamentals of the game. We got blitzed quite a bit, really, true blitz, in our first game more so than any. But it’s a cat and mouse game. They’re going to not blitz; they’re going to blitz. But everything in your playbook is really designed to have answers for that, and you might have to make some adjustments at the line sometimes. There are a variety of ways to do that. We always encourage our players to appreciate the blitz because it creates opportunity. It really creates opportunity for us. So, that’s what we’re focused on.”
The corners are playing so far off, specifically off WR Marquise Brown. How can you get him more involved when they’re trying to take away passes? (Jamison Hensley) “That’s a pretty good question. There are some teams that just say, ‘You’re not throwing this over our head, and you guys have to work your way down the field.’ Clearly, if they’re all way back there, somehow we have to throw it to him here. But he was open quite a bit last week. He’s just going to continue improving and taking advantage of his opportunities when they come his way. If teams take that approach, you just have to be able to take what the defense gives you.”
Are there still times when, even though they’re playing that, you’re kind of like, ‘Let’s just test them anyway,’ even if they’re trying to take that away? (Jamison Hensley) “Yes, you’ve seen some of that. That can work out well, or not so much. I think [in] an effective passing game, you have to be able to, if it’s a deep to short read, you have to be able to go deep and then get down to your outlet throws. If they’re giving you opportunities over the top, one-on-one situations, then we have to make the most of those, and we will.”
Along those lines, WR Miles Boykin bounced back with a touchdown on Sunday. He hasn’t had the big yardage game that WR Marquise Brown has, but as far as this tandem and those complementary skillsets, what’s encouraging to you about what you see in those two guys? (Jonas Shaffer) “They’re young players that are only going to continue to ascend in this league. The biggest thing for a young receiver is it’s such a different style of football than they’re used to in college. There is much more physical coverage, for the most part, so that’s a learning curve there. But they have the work ethic, the mental toughness, and the attitude to become extremely productive players in this league. And a lot of it is opportunities, too. There’s one ball and there are five eligible receivers, so that ball is going to get thrown, hopefully, to the open guy. And if teams are doubling a guy, then somebody else has to get open, that kind of thing. So, you have to look beyond the stat sheet a little bit on that. Miles [Boykin] took advantage of his opportunities last week. It was great to see.”
There was a lot of talk this offseason about your new scheme and how teams are going to adjust to that. A quarter of the way through the season, how are you seeing opponents adjust to the system this year? (Ryan Mink) “Every team is different; every defense is different. Some teams are going to kind of do what they do. Some teams are gameplan defenses. You have to just be ready for whatever you get. There are 11 guys out there, and they have to go somewhere. There are no real adjustments made by everybody. It’s week-to-week, it’s scheme-to-scheme and whatnot, but it all comes down to the players, really, on the field, that the defense has and that we have, and they get it done on the field.”
Last week, I imagine it was kind of frustrating, you moved the ball well and the decisions you made were good, but there were some drops. There was a fumble. It seemed like there were just a few mistakes that kept you from having a really big day. (Pete Gilbert) “That was the frustrating part about it, and we learned from that. We got a chance to look at it, learn from it, take from it what is valuable, and we can grow from that. We shot ourselves in the foot on some things and got ourselves off the field. Those are things you have to work through. It’s going to happen every once in a while, but you don’t want it to become a habit or a theme. The important thing is, from the good and bad, to learn, add that and move on.”
Are you proud of the way the offensive line has come together as a stable unit of the team? (Childs Walker) “I’m really proud of all the guys, really. Their work ethic, their commitment day in and day out. Our offensive line is leading that charge. They come in, they work extremely hard, and on Sundays, they come ready to play. And every week it’s a different challenge, it seems like, for those guys. We had the edge guys one week, then next week you have the big guys inside, that type of thing. So, every week they have to kind of tweak their preparation a little bit. Our whole offense is really rooted in fundamentals, but that being said, we ask a lot of the linemen, too, from a scheme standpoint. So, there’s a lot of mental preparation that goes in every week for them as well.”
How’s TE Hayden Hurst looking out at practice? TE Mark Andrews is playing so well and TE Nick Boyle is doing what he does, how tough is it for you to say, ‘Even if he’s practicing really well, it’s hard to get him as much action as he might like’? (Ryan Mink) “Hayden [Hurst] is doing a great job. He’s shown up big for us in games. He practices well, and some weeks will be bigger than others for each guy, depending on how the defense plays us. He’s doing a great job. He’s a very valuable member of our offense.”
How has QB Lamar Jackson responded to two consecutive losses? (Tom Pelissero) “Lamar [Jackson] is responding extremely well. He’s not happy about it, and he knows we all need to do a little bit better. He’s taken the right approach. One of the most beautiful things about him is he’s going to be his own harshest critic. And it doesn’t matter what happened; he’s always going to ask himself, ‘What can I do better to make that play more successful or that situation more successful?’ And that’s encouraging and exciting, and it bodes well for the future.”
What do you feel that QB Lamar Jackson can do better? (Tom Peliserro) “It’s a play-by-play thing. There are some plays he’d like to have back, just like everybody. Maybe he could make a decision a little bit differently or see things a little bit differently in a given situation. For a player at his stage of development, it’s a constant day-to-day, week-to-week learning curve. He’s on that curve, and he’s attacking it really well.”
Special Teams Coach Chris Horton
Opening Statement: “Good morning. The recap on the Cleveland game last week: We had some guys that were doing some great things for us out on that field. It was really good to see. We didn’t come out with that win, but our players are playing hard. They’re getting after it, and the tape is really encouraging. Our guys are playing hard. Every week, we come out here, we go back, we look at that tape, and we continue to see some good things happening. Moving forward to Pittsburgh, we understand it’s Pittsburgh week. Our players understand what that means, what type of game it’s going to be. It’s really what we preach, week in and week out – we have to be physical. We’re going to play with toughness. That’s really what needs to be done at the end of the day. It’s all about us looking forward to this week.”
Do you stress, in a week like this, how many of these games between the Ravens and the Steelers have been decided by three points, and how special teams has factored into a lot of them? (Jeff Zrebiec) “We really do, because that’s what it comes down to. Our job, as a special teams unit, is to create some big momentum plays throughout the game. That’s what we try to do every week. This game in particular, it really does [matter]. It comes down to a game that’s going to be decided on three points or less, or one drive.”
WR/RS Chris Moore replaced RB Justice Hill after Hill had a second botched kickoff return. Do you expect to put Justice back there or replace him with Chris? (Daniel Oyefusi) “I stood up here after the last time that happened, and I said, ‘We trust Justice [Hill]. We believe in him.’ And we still do. At that point in the game, it just felt like we needed to make a decision so we could try to create some momentum. I can guarantee you guys, you will see Justice again. The guy, he’s doing everything he possibly can. He’s going to come out here, he’s going to work. He’s going to get better. He knows there’s no one that’s more disappointed than him, because he probably feels like he’s letting his teammates down. We trust him. We love him. At times, we’re a little bit discouraged that that’s happened twice, but he understands the magnitude of being a returner. You have to catch the football. You will see him again.”
When you go to WR/RS Chris Moore, the fact that he’s had so much experience, is he able to step in without any issues or do you have to get him back up to speed in that role? (Aaron Kasinitz) “He takes reps every day when he’s out there. Chris [Moore] goes out there, he prepares like a pro. That’s what we expect from our guys that we don’t expect to get the reps in the game. He goes out there and practices, he takes reps, and he has had valuable reps back there. So, when you go to a guy like Chris, you expect him to come in and execute the gameplan just like we practiced.”
S Earl Thomas III
On what he expects from his first Ravens-Steelers game: “I keep hearing it’s hard-nosed, two good defenses. You always hear about the low-scoring games. I’m not really familiar with it, but I know it’s going to be a hard-fought game. It’s going to be a dog fight.”
On the tough conversations the defense has had to have over the past couple days: “We just broke down play-by-play. We took all our mistakes. We got it out in the open in front of everybody, and we've been working on fixing those mistakes."
On what the key is to getting this defense back on track: "Execution, communication, tackling. Always communication."
On if tackling has been an emphasis this week: "It is. There were a lot of situations where we were trying to shed and get off blocks and make the tackle. Coaches wanted to go back to Day 1 fundamentals, getting on the sled, seeing yourself actually engaging and ricocheting off the block to get to the tackle."
On how S Tony Jefferson wearing the headset was and how that affected communication: "Really well. He did a great job. He did a great job. It's always easy for me, because I'm always next to him, too. I'm not sure how the front guys feel about it, but I thought he did great."
On the reported altercation between him and DT Brandon Williams after the game last Sunday: "We're on the same page. We talked about it. I just want him out there. He's a Pro Bowler. We're better when he's out there, so I was a little frustrated. I just wanted to see what was going on with him, because I knew he had practiced earlier in the week. I didn't know. It just kind of hit me out of the blindside, but hopefully he'll play this week. We'll get it fixed."
On how much he's itching to get his second interception as a Raven: "I've been in great spots. The QB just chose not to throw it there at that time, so I'm just going to keep doing my job, keep trying to put myself in position. I'm always looking for ways to get my hands on the ball."
On how QB Mason Rudolph's throws that are at or behind the line of scrimmage will affect the defense this week: "We just have to adjust to it. We understand that he's going to take what we give him. We're preparing for the Wildcat as well, the running back [James Conner] in the passing game as well. We'll see how that affects the game."