Transcripts: Thursday Availability: Week 6 vs. Cincinnati

Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale

Opening statement: “We talked with the defensive staff and the players on Saturday before the Pittsburgh game. One of the biggest points, my friend sent this to me, is, ‘Adversity is just an experience. It’s never the final act.’ And what we do in handling the series of events is always that Sunday coming up. And I thought we did a fantastic job of handling series of events. What did we do? We played situational football. We took the ball away twice in plus-territory, which helped the offense. We tackled better. We leveraged the ball better. All of those things that we talked about last Thursday, we improved on. And the challenge is to improve on it again. I talked to Ozzie [Newsome, executive vice president] on the plane on the way home. He said, ‘Just keep getting better. Just keep getting better.’ And that’s true. That’s the way this National Football League is. ‘Harbs’ [John Harbaugh] hit it earlier in the week: ‘Any Given Sunday,’ if you will, the movie title. It’s how you play that Sunday. It determines where you go and the momentum you can obtain as a defense. We’re really looking forward to this challenge. Looking at the Bengals, I can tell you this: It’s not an 0-5 offense. They still have talent. They still have 14 [Andy Dalton] back there. They have two really good running backs: 28 [Joe Mixon] is getting downhill, and that’s going to be a great challenge for us. And we all know, 83 [Tyler Boyd], the nemesis that he’s been for us the last three times we’ve played them. So, it’s a great challenge, and we’re just the men to do it.”

CB Marlon Humphrey is getting a lot of buzz for obvious reasons. What is it that separates him from some of his peers at cornerback? (Ryan Mink)“Peers throughout the league?” (Reporter: “Yes.”) “His work ethic, No. 1. His desire to be great with that work ethic. And everything he does in practice, you see in games, especially all the good things. But there are some [bad] things that show up in practice, too, that do show up in the games. And when he fixes up that last three percent, then he’s really going to get buzz, which, everything he’s getting right now, he deserves, because he is playing fantastic for us.”

Speaking of CB Marlon Humphrey, the punch-out play that he did, he talked about how you guys work on that. Can you give us an idea of how much you work on a play like that and taking the ball away? (Jeff Zrebiec) “Two years ago, we started talking about, ‘We need to take the ball away more.’ And these guys are competitive. I mean, they’re really competitive. We talk about it throughout the week. We have charts on how many punch-outs … We call them ‘shots on goal.’ I don’t know if Marlon [Humphrey] talked to you all about that or not, but anytime that the ball carrier is close and we have him wrapped up, you’ll see a guy try to punch out the ball. And Marlon and ‘Peanut’ [Patrick Onwuasor] are the best at doing it. We joked around last year calling it ‘The Peanut Punch,’ and Marlon has taken that and run with it, which, obviously, as you saw, was really a game-winning play for us last week. But you see it all the time during practice. When I say we keep track of it, every defensive meeting we start off, we say, ‘OK, this guy is leading. This guy is leading. This guy is leading.’ This week, it’s DeShon Elliott leading right now, that I talked about this morning.” (Reporter: “And that’s in practices?”) “That’s in practices. That’s in practices, walk-throughs, everything. Anytime we see a guy, he goes and tries to punch out the ball, they get a point for it. These guys are so competitive, they’re in there arguing today about, ‘I had this, I had that.’ And it’s, really, it’s a contagious thing.”

Along those lines, CB Marlon Humphrey’s physicality seems like something that is rare for a corner, but he plays in such a physical way. Can you talk about how that is an added bonus and a key piece of his game? (Garrett Downing) “It sure is.  He’s a physical guy, and he’s a great tackler. That separates the great corners. That last thing of how physical he is is what sets him apart from others. That’s not only just in tackling and playing off blocks and things like that. It’s press [coverage] when he’s up there, and man. And the receivers, the opponents, they know they’re in for a long, hard day going against Marlon [Humphrey]. So, that’s just something to his game that other people don’t have. Some corners do, but they don’t have the other stuff that Marlon has. So, we’re real excited about that.”

Where do you see DE Jihad Ward fitting in? Is he an interior pass rush kind of guy? (Aaron Kasinitz) “He hasn’t even been fitted for pads yet. So, we’ll see where he fits at. I think he can be inside. I think he can be outside. I think he could be a matchup guy, in reality. But we’re really only into the second day with him practicing with us, so I’d rather talk about [Pernell] McPhee wrecking shop and getting a sack against Pittsburgh than I would Ward right now.” (laughter)

What about ILB Josh Bynes? You’ve known him for a long time. Were you pretty fired up to get him back? (Garrett Downing) “Yes, we were really excited. And the biggest thing Josh [Bynes] brought was a calmness to the middle of the defense, and it let ‘Peanut’ [Patrick Onwuasor] play faster. It just really brought a calmness to our group inside there, with the linebacker room.”

Was it the plan to play ILB Josh Bynes as much as you did, or was it one of those things where he started off well and you just played him? (Andrew Gillis) “No, we weren’t planning on playing him that long. But when he got the pick, he deserved at least 10 more plays.” (laughter) 

John Harbaugh said some nice things this week about OLB Jaylon Ferguson’s week-to-week improvement. Do you feel like he’s earned a bigger shot? (Childs Walker) “Without a doubt. I’ve been talking about him the last three weeks, really. And you can see that he’s really starting to grow, and the speed of the game is slowing down for him. So, I’m really excited.”

Given some of the health challenges you’ve had at cornerback, how pleased have you been with the progression CB Maurice Canady has made, going from being waived at the end of the preseason and now starting for you guys?_ (Luke Jones)_“Thank God he’s here. And the same thing with ‘Double A’ [Anthony Averett]. They both keep working, and they’ve done some nice things. And obviously, ‘Mo’ [Maurice Canady] did a lot of good things in the last two games, really. So, we have to just keep working.”

What will be the biggest challenges after losing S Tony Jefferson, and can you talk about what you’ve seen from S Chuck Clark, both in the film room and on the practice field?_ (Ryan Mink)_“Anytime you lose a starter, it’s a challenge. Obviously, we’re going to miss Tony [Jefferson]. We’re going to miss his leadership. We’re going to miss a lot of things that he brought to us. But also, when I say that, I’ve sat and told you guys that Chuck [Clark] and DeShon [Elliott], we were playing [them] more in that game, in the Pittsburgh game. I don’t know if anybody noticed, but we were playing them more anyway than what we have in the past. They’ll be ready to take over the reins, but we sure are going to miss Tony.”

The last couple of years, you’ve talked a lot about red zone defense. How much of an emphasis have you put on it this year? Particularly on Sunday, there seemed to be a play late in the half there where you pretty much dropped everyone in coverage in the red zone. Was that just trying to give new looks? (Jeff Zrebiec) “First of all, our head coach is one of the … With my experience, [he] is the best situational head coach – John [Harbaugh] is – that I’ve worked with. And what we do on Thursdays, we have ‘Win The Game Thursday’ as a defensive staff. We’ll go back … Pittsburgh, we went back to 2011 tape in every situation. The play you’re talking about was seven seconds left. We know they’re not going to run the ball, because it was going to take too much time off the clock where the ball was at. I believe it was, like, on the 13- or 12- [yard line], and that situation called for that defense. We’re not afraid to play any personnel. Our biggest thing on ‘Win The Game Thursday’ is, when we all came together last year, I said, ‘Look, I don’t want us having a meeting on Monday being mad about something that we called. So, let’s hash this out now in these types of situations, whatever that situation is.’ You could talk about the Cleveland situation a year ago, and that’s just another situation that we talk about on Thursday nights. And we’ve been working on it forever, because like I said, we’re always working situations with ‘Harbs’ [John Harbaugh]. And it makes you think as a coach, and it makes you think as a player. It was completely different personnel that we put out there for that specific play.”

With the changes in the coaching staff with the Bengals, in what ways is the Bengals’ offense now different than the ones you’ve played for 10 or 12 years? (Jamison Hensley) “I think that you’re seeing a combination of both. Obviously, Zac [Taylor] came from the Rams. You’re seeing a lot of fingerprints from the Rams’ offense on it, but yet, you also see some things of what Andy Dalton has done well, with the RPOs and things like that. And they ran RPOs with the Rams as well. So, it’s a combination platter, if you will. And you see that as a coach, and the players see it as well.”

It seemed like you got tired of answering the green dot questions this summer. That’s become a topic again. How do you proceed with that decision? (Jeff Zrebiec) “Here’s what we’re doing right now: It’s crazy – you guys ask me about injuries and everything else … Right now, we have five guys out at practice that have the green dot, that have the speaker in their helmet. We’re going to decide Friday or Saturday who we think is the most comfortable doing it with it. We, obviously, have some candidates, and we’ll see personnel that we’re playing – because we have to move personnel around, different kinds of personnel that you guys haven’t seen, yet. And hopefully, the Bengals haven’t seen it. (laughter) But we’ll decide that on Saturday.”

How excited are you to see S DeShon Elliott get more snaps on defense and really get more of a feel for what he can do out there? (Ryan Mink)“It’s going to be fun to watch to see him grow and play defense, instead of just special teams. I’m looking forward to it. We all are.”

Talking about Cincinnati’s two good backs, where do you see your run defense? Do you feel like that’s something that’s coming together? (Cliff Brown)“Based off of one game, the Pittsburgh game, we improved. It’s the same thing that I talked about, that we need to play with pad level. We need to stay square. We need to knock people back. We need to tackle well, which we improved drastically in our tackling in the Pittsburgh game. But it’s a challenge every week in the National Football League. I know it’s a passing league, but you have to stop the run. To me, there’s not a sicker feeling than seeing big runs. And that usually comes from bad angles and guys being too high in their pad level. Having ‘Big Baby’ [Brandon Williams] back helped us in Pittsburgh, without a doubt. Some of the other role players didn’t have to play as much as they did when he was out, so I thought that was a benefit to us.”

Everyone talks about S Chuck Clark’s smarts. Where does that manifest itself? Do you see it on the field more, in the film room? Where does that show up? (Aaron Kasinitz) “All of the above. He’s just a good football player that loves to study the game. And you can see it out there. You could see it in practice yesterday. He loves the game of football, and he loves our defense. He knows all the checks, and it’s like that for him.”

Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman

Opening statement: "Thanks for coming out. Obviously, offensively, we're thrilled with the victory last week. I think we overcame a lot as the game unfolded. We had to go down and get points at the end. I thought it was a great drive. [We have] a lot of things to clean up, but it was a great win. Getting ready for this week, we've got some really good players on this defense. We know this personnel pretty darn well. The scheme has changed, so we're really studying. The guys are preparing hard and looking to see everybody out at M&T Bank Stadium this week.”

What have you seen from T Ronnie Stanley, in terms of his growth? He was really, really good last year and the year before, but this year it seems like he's taken another step. How has he done that? (Ryan Mink)“I think Ronnie [Stanley] has taken a gigantic step this year. I've had the good fortune of being around some really, really highly-regarded offensive lineman over the years – Jonathan Ogden at the top of the list – and there's a certain characteristic of each one of them. Marshal Yanda, every day with Marshal is a blessing, by the way, every day we have Marshal. But I think Ronnie is really starting to encapsulate a lot of those characteristics in how he goes about his business day-to-day, and I really think it's just a function of him really seeing what was possible in his career, in his life and going about that in a day-to-day fashion. What does that mean? It means really everything he does: run blocking, pass blocking, studying, preparing, understanding the defense, communication. Go right down the list. All that becomes enhanced, and when you enhance everything, you're doing pretty good. So, I really love the trajectory that he's on, and he's playing at a very high level.”

I know it's still early, but it sounds like you think he could play at a Jonathan Ogden kind of level ultimately. I know that's high praise, but ... (Ryan Mink)“I'm not going to say that in fairness to the legacy of Jonathan [Ogden], but Ronnie [Stanley] can be as good as anybody that's playing the game. J.O. [Jonathan Ogden] might have been the best to ever play, so that's something we want to chase every day. I'm really pleased with how he's doing.”

I imagine the offense is going to continue to evolve and add stuff. One thing we haven't really seen is screens and short stuff to WR Marquise Brown. Is there a reason for that? Is that something you'd like to do a little more going forward? (Jeff Zrebiec)“Yes, I think we'd like to definitely deploy Marquise [Brown] in a variety of ways, and I think if you do them all at once, that's one way to do it. But you kind of like to evolve and add things as you go rather than just kind of throw it all out there in one game or two games. It's a long season, so it'll continue to evolve, his role. But that's definitely something that we can build into.”

Going back to the Pittsburgh game, from your perspective, what happened on the final drive at the end of the first half? It seemed like you guys were kind of caught in between as far as whether you're running clock or running the two-minute drill, understanding that you were backed up pretty good there. (Luke Jones)"I think you hit it on the head with your last sentence there. We were backed up, and we were able to get a first down. So, once we did that, we weren't backed up, and now we were going to be aggressive and go for it. But there's a lot of different ways you can handle it. But yes, at that point in the game, I kind of wanted to get us a little bit more breathing room from the field position standpoint.”

The big plays came in bunches early in the season. The last couple weeks the long throw hasn’t quite been there. What do you see as the reason behind that? (Aaron Kasinitz)“I think a lot of it has to do with how people are playing us, really. However, on the flip side of that, our ability to control the clock and maintain possession of the football has been really where we want it to be. It's never perfect, and you're always chasing it, but I think we've been able to sustain drives for the most part in a really good fashion. But we're always looking for those big plays. Very simply put though, if you're killing people deep one week, the next week most people are going to do what?” (Reporter: “Back up.”) “They're probably going to back up and be a little bit more conscious of it, and that's generally what we've seen. Not all the time, but you always want to attack the defense at its weakest part, and I think we've been doing a good job of that. That's something we can certainly improve on as we move forward which is exciting.”

C Matt Skura has also seemed to take another step forward. When you guys redesigned the offense as you did this offseason, did the responsibilities of the center change at all? (Jonas Shaffer)“Well, the center position assumes so much responsibility of getting things lined up, whether it's run game, protection, whatever it might be, and Matt [Skura] does an outstanding job with that. And we definitely put a lot on him. So, yes, things were tweaked a little bit, but he's always had a lot on his plate and does a great job with it.”

QB Lamar Jackson's first start last year was against the Bengals, so it seems like a good week to check in on his progress. Just in general, where have you seen his biggest strides just through these five games? (Jeff Zrebiec)“Really just overall. I think you prepare for the first couple games throughout the offseason, and then week-to-week there's always different defensive challenges. You're playing against a 3-4 [defense], you're playing against a 4-3 [defense], you're playing against bump-and-run man [coverage], you're playing against all-out blitz, you're playing against Cover 1 press with a safety in the middle of the field, Cover 2, etc., etc. So, just working through the multiplicity of what he's seeing week-to-week is definitely an experience, and I think he's definitely working through that. And really, when you look at him, he hasn't played a full season yet as a starter, so it's great experience for him, just all the different looks you get to see and whatever the defense might present you.”

So you're seeing, rather than each team following a script, pretty much everything? You're seeing a little of everything each week? (Jeff Zrebiec) “Oh, there's no question. When you go through the five games, you're looking at, for the most part, four completely different things, and one team kind of copycatted. It's great experience for him though. He has a lot on his plate, and he's doing a really good job with it.”

Has that surprised you, the different approaches that teams have taken defensively? (Garrett Downing) “Nothing surprises me anymore. There's no telling. There are 11 guys, and you never know what they're going to do with it. So, we try to be ready for anything.”

Is time of possession important? Is that something you value? (Garrett Downing) “Yes, time of possession is great, but it's not the ultimate concern. Our ultimate concern is scoring points. That's the No. 1 thing. Not giving the other team field position is also very important to the team. But yes, time of possession [is important]. But you have to look deeper beyond that. How is that manifesting itself? What are the end results? And really everything comes down to winning and scoring points, and then there are other things to prioritize from there. But yes, time of possession lets your defense sit over there, get Gatorade, rest and get ready to go. So yes, it's very valuable.”

How much do you enjoy watching TE Nick Boyle in film sessions on Mondays? Just some of the stuff he does and how much he seems to enjoy the physicality and how hard he plays. Is it a real highlight for you to be able to watch him on film on Mondays to see his blocking and all that? (Jeff Zrebiec) “Yes, Nick [Boyle] is a very unique tight end in this day and age, and he does a great job. He really enhances what we do at the line of scrimmage. I think everybody, really, in the league that goes against him probably has a really good respect and appreciation for what he does. It's done at a high level. All of us are trying to improve all the time, but Nick is playing at a real high level.”

Do you encourage or discourage the tight end hurdles? (Garrett Downing) “Each one is a little bit unique, but if a guy is just going to cut your knees out, sure; I enjoy that. He goes low, I go high, I get six more yards. That's good, but predetermining it, I don't like. No.” (laughter)

Special Teams Coach Chris Horton

Opening statement: “I'd just to start by saying what a great team win for our guys last week to go up there in that environment and really just gut it out for 60-plus minutes. Our guys played really well. I'd like to congratulate Justin Tucker on his performance. He's receiving some national attention for his performance and what he's done. He had a really nice game along with the rest of ‘The Wolf Pack.’ Those guys are playing well. Sam [Koch] is punting the ball well. Morgan [Cox] is snapping. It's been impressive to see what those guys have done the last six weeks. For our core guys, it's just like we talked about: Those guys get an opportunity to go out and play. They're excited. Whenever we say, 'OK, we're going to put this ball in play; we're going to kick it off; we're going to cover kicks,' they really set the standard for what we've talked about all year. Moving forward to Cincinnati, we understand what kind of game it's going to be. Another division game, it's going to be a physical game just like last week. We understand that. This team on special teams is really good. The coach has been around for awhile. He's a really good coach. Those guys are going to come ready to play, and I'll make sure our guys are ready to roll.”

With guys like S Chuck Clark and S DeShon Elliott likely taking on a bigger role on defense, do you anticipate having to scale back some of their workload on special teams? (Daniel Oyefusi) “With the injuries and things like that, there's going to be some things that I'm going to have to do to adjust to make sure I take care of those guys. But those guys, you'll still see them out there playing for us. They're a really big part of what we do, so I'll find ways to kind of take care of them. But you will see them out there.”

RB Justice Hill almost broke that one kickoff. How close do you guys feel you are to breaking a big one? (Ryan Mink) “Just like every week, we're really close. If we get an opportunity, we think we can score on every play. Teams aren't putting the ball in play like they used to, so we've got to take advantage of every opportunity. And he [Justice Hill] was close. He understands we can't let the kicker tackle us. So, he's probably a little bit disappointed in that, but hey, we got a chance to see him. With him putting the ball on the ground a couple weeks ago, I told you guys, 'You'll see him again.' And he had some success, so he's building some confidence.”

What went into the decision to go with the split returners back there? (Jamison Hensley) “It was just one of those things. Coach [Randy] Brown and I, we kind of sat down and we kind of discussed, 'OK, what's the best decision for us? What's the best opportunity?' And it really just came to, 'OK, we've got two guys. Let's see whichever one of those guys gets the ball, we're just going to roll.' So, it just really kind of played out to really what Pittsburgh did.”

How much confidence do you have to have in K Justin Tucker for those kickoffs? Mike Tomlin admitted that that factored prominently in not taking the ball for overtime. What kind of weapon is that when your kicker can put it that close to the end zone and high, too? (Jeff Zrebiec) “It's a huge weapon. He's the best kicker in the game. There's a lot of things we can do with him to utilize his skill set. Then it just comes down to when he puts that ball down, we still need the other 10 guys to go cover like they did, and it was really fun to watch that tape and see those guys go down there and cover. So, when you've got a guy like Justin [Tucker] and you've got a cover team like the guys that are out there covering, you're OK probably putting the ball in play and letting those guys go down there and really set the tone for the game for you.”

Is that the ultimate compliment for a special teams coordinator when the opposing coach basically didn't have any confidence that they could get good field position, so they opted to start on defense in overtime? (Jeff Zrebiec) “It's really the standard. I think every coach feels that way when he puts his kickoff team out there to start the game. Are you going to start it on kickoff? Or are you going to start it on kickoff return? So, when we start the game on kickoff, it's really the standard. It's the standard we set from the beginning. When we cover kicks, we're going to cover like Ravens. And I appreciate it, and we'll continue to make sure we set the standard.”

How much longer hang time is one of those kind of lofted kicks that they take at the 1-yard line than just a normal run-of-the-mill kickoff? (Jonas Shaffer) “It all just depends. It's weather-related. Sometimes we can't get a ball down there that's going to hang for 4.3 seconds or something like that, and if it doesn't, that's OK. If we say we're going to put the ball in play, we're going to put the ball in play. We're going to cover it as if the ball was a 3.9- [second hang time] or if it's a 4.3- [second] hang time.”

S DeShon Elliott

On what this week has been like preparing for more playing time after missing his rookie season: "Like every other week, I prepare the same. Like every other week, I just go out here and work. I'm getting extra reps in practice this week. I just keep doing me and just ball, get to the game and focus on doing what we do all week. [I want to] keep it up, make sure there's no slack when ‘T.J.’ [Tony Jefferson] got hurt. We're trying to get this win."

On S Tony Jefferson being around the team despite his injury: "That's my brother, so I'm going to see him and talk to him every day, regardless. Nothing has changed. He's come in – even with his torn ACL – he comes in, sits in meetings with us. He'll try and crutch himself out through the walk-through with us. He's a leader of the defense, regardless of whether he's playing or not. And I don't think that's ever going to change."

On what he said to CB Marlon Humphrey about knocking a ball out without securing the tackle first in Pittsburgh: “It was more of like a, if you’re going to do that, we practice … You can’t try to knock the ball out if you’re not going to secure the tackle first. And he knows that, which he went and did it the second time. And he did it the right way the second time, and he won the game for us. So, that’s the game. But he knows what he’s doing.”

On what he said to CB Marlon Humphrey the second time Humphrey tried to punch the ball out in Pittsburgh: “Shoot, ‘Good job, Marlon. Do you. Keep making your plays.’ (laughter) That boy is a baller. He’s going to keep doing him, always.”

On how eager he has been to have more playing time: “I’m always ready at all times. So, the fact that it happened this early, it’s a positive and a negative. A negative that ‘T.J.’ [Tony Jefferson] went down, but next man up. I take advantage of my opportunities. I say I’m a ball player. I’m going to keep balling. I’m going to make my plays, and just do me.”

On his injury last year and how difficult it has been to be patient for the last two years: “It’s been tough, because I know what I can do. I know what I can bring to the table, and I can help this defense. So, it was hard for me for a while, but I’m good. We’re going to go out here and just do us. We’re good together.”

On if he idolized S Earl Thomas III because of their Texas connection: “Truly, when I was in school, I didn’t really know Earl [Thomas] like that. So, I started talking to Earl more when I left Texas. When I left Texas, I started watching more of his film, because his game doesn’t translate to the college game. But when I got here, I knew that would translate easily. So, that’s kind of more when I came here, that’s when I started realizing how great of a player he was. When I was at Texas, it was more of like a ‘DB U’ Texas – like, ‘Earl Thomas, he went to Texas.’ Now, it’s more of like a, ‘Earl Thomas, Hall of Fame.’”

On ILB Josh Bynes: “Yesterday was my first day of practice where I could actually get reps, and him being out there, he communicated well. He knows where to go. He runs to the ball. [He is a] great effort guy. That’s what I love. If you can run to the ball, I can play with you any day.”

On where his Joker nickname came from: “When I was in college, one of my college coaches … We got a new head coach, and my position coach, he kind of started it, and I just kind of took it off that first game against Maryland. And then [in the] USC [game], I scored a touchdown, and I did [the impression] during that. That’s when it really blew up. After that, that’s a wrap.”

On if he has seen the new “Joker” movie: “I’ve seen it, like, twice already. (laughter) It’s a really good movie. It’s more realistic, like with the persona they tried to bring into it. In the comics, there are a bunch of different Jokers. But that one was more of like a real-life Joker, which I understand why people were kind of, like, ‘Don’t go out here acting a fool after seeing the movie.’ But it’s just a movie, just like ‘The Purge’ was. You don’t see people going out there killing people. It’s just a movie for your enjoyment. But it was a really good movie.”

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