THURSDAY MEDIA AVAILABILITY: FALCONS – WEEK 7
Special Teams Coordinator/Associate Head Coach Jerry Rosburg
I want to ask about game-planning for WR/RS Devin Hester and what challenges he presents. (Jeff Zrebiec) "He has the perfect combination of skills for a returner. He's fast, and he has incredible change-of-direction skills. He can run up and smell somebody's breath and then disappear. The other thing he can do, which people aren't really that aware of, is he can break tackles. He's a strong runner. So, he really has the three-way combination to be the outstanding returner he is. The threat he presents is one he presents to every team. Every time you give him the ball, he's a threat to take it to the house, and that's his goal. When you watch him play, he's trying to score touchdowns. If you're his coach, you love that about him."
Do you have to do things differently – practice different kicks – knowing that you're facing him? (Jeff Zrebiec) "We have faced a lot of good returners this year already. When we play Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, we face very good punt returners – of that caliber and of that type. We have a lot of confidence in our punt game. We have good gunners, we have a good punter, and we have good inside core guys, so we are going to do all we can to try to contain him with what we do. On kickoff coverage, there's only so much you can do. You have to kick the ball in bounds. [If] you kick the ball out of bounds, that doesn't help you. The fact that Justin [Tucker] has a very high touchback ratio helps us. I don't know how many we're going to have to cover, but we're going to have to cover kicks. It's up to our guys; they relish a challenge. And playing against the best returner – touchdown-wise that there's ever been – that's a great challenge for our guys. They look forward to that challenge, but they also have a great deal of respect for whom we are playing."
Speaking of returners, it seems like WR/RS Jacoby Jones – coming up and getting the ball – was more aggressive and he played with a little more confidence last week. Would you agree with that, and were you pleased with how he handled that? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Jacoby had a really hidden good game. It didn't really show in the statistics, other than the breakout kick return that he had, but as a punt returner, I thought he made some excellent decisions. He was square under the ball. He raced up and got a couple short punts right by our sideline and got positive yards out of both of them. They had another pooch punt that was short – we got pressure on it – and he got right in front of the ball and he waived everybody off, and it took a negative bounce against the punt team. Those are a lot of good little plays that veteran returners do, and they are sometimes overlooked. He executed every one of those plays very, very well."
The field goal block – John [Harbaugh] suggested on Monday that K Justin Tucker didn't get kick his normal swing or didn't get a good enough swing at the ball. Is that what you saw? Was the ball too low? (Jeff Zrebiec) "The ball was too low. It was spot-on. The protection has been good all year; it was good in that situation. The ball just came off his foot too low, the guy put his hand up, and it hit his hand."
Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak
RB Justin Forsett was talking about how much it meant to him that you vouched for him. What have you seen from Justin, and what kind of made you want to recommend him to the guys here? (Aaron Wilson)"I've seen from him exactly what he's done as a pro. He's played in a few places, and sometimes guys like these, they don't get many opportunities. But when they get them, they take advantage of them. He did that with me in that past. But I think the biggest compliment I can pay Justin and John [Harbaugh] after being here, being around the organization for a while, [is] knowing he was the type of guy John wanted on his team. And I knew what Justin would give to this football team, and that's everything he has – and special teams as well. [I'm] very proud of him. He's fit in very well, and [we are] very happy to have him around. He's doing a great job."
As a runner, it seems like he's so decisive. (Aaron Wilson) "He is. He gets the most out of his ability. He's not the biggest guy in the world, but he does a great job in pass protection. He's a three-down player, so he's a guy that you can keep on the field all the time in what you're doing. The thing he's doing right now [is] he's finding a way to make a big play every week. So I think that's the key and that Thomas [Hammock] is doing a really good job of keeping the carries mixed up between the guys keeping them all fresh. But, Justin is kind of leading the way."
Obviously, you don't expect to throw five touchdowns in the first 16 minutes every week, but how do you kind of try to maintain what you did last week? (Garrett Downing) "We have to stay aggressive offensively. We talked about balance last week, and actually, we're really not balanced. We're throwing the ball more than we ran it last week when you're looking at it. Now at the end of the day, we ran it just as much, but heck, we've got a fine quarterback [in Joe Flacco], and he's learning more and more about our system and what to do with the ball and where he wants to go with the ball. So, I'm just very pleased with how he's coming along. But we need to stay aggressive [with] whatever our team needs to do to win. But at the end of the day, if we're pretty balanced, we're usually playing the way we want to play."
Gary, how do you kind of eliminate the cold spells, you know what I mean? The offense has clicked a lot, but then it's had a couple cold spells. (Ryan Mink)"I think that's the NFL. Everybody has good players, and it's a tough, tough league, so you better understand that. But you are searching for consistency – that's something we've been talking about all week. We've had two really big games in the last three weeks and then really struggled at Indy. We just have to stay focused on us. That's what I told the guys: 'Let's not get too consumed with who we're playing,' or those types of things. If we play the way we're capable of playing and do our job, we're probably going to move the football. We just have to stay focused on that. It's a long grind, and we know we're capable of doing some really good things. But when we're not doing them, we have to find a way to stop it real quick. So, hopefully we get more consistent."
Turnovers and penalties, that seems like, especially early in games, has been … (Ryan Mink)"Yes, no doubt. If you start road games or any game turning the ball over and [having] issues, that's a problem. But this game is about making plays. Last week, the first play of the game we jump off sides, so that's not very good, but we come back [and] make a 20-yard play the next play. I always tease with the guys they have those shows for a reason, that [they] show those highlights for a reason. You have to go make plays, and we obviously made a bunch last week."
Gary, not asking about how he's doing or how he's coming along, but were you pleased just to see T Eugene Monroe back on the practice field? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Yes, he and 'K.O.' [Kelechi Osemele]. We're trying to get them back on the field. Obviously, K.O. is a little further along than [Monroe] is right now, but we have to get those guys back healthy. This will be Eugene's fourth week since he started to miss some time. It'll take [an effort from] everybody. I'll tell you guys, that's what I'm excited about offensively right now is just how many people are contributing to what we're doing – Kamar [Aiken] [and] Michael [Campanaro] last week, two rookies [in James Hurst and John Urschel] on the left side. One thing in this league [is] those things are going to happen to you, and how you respond to them and how guys step up usually has a lot to do with what you end up being. [I've] been very proud of these young players thus far."
How difficult are these decisions becoming, especially with the wide receivers, on who is up on game day? (Jeff Zrebiec) "It is very tough, because usually you suit five, and it gets down to special teams and those types of things and returners. But we have six very capable [wide receivers] right now. Actually, we have seven on the roster, am I right? No, six. But they're all capable of helping us, and the young guys are really getting better with what we're doing. It's a great opportunity for us to keep Steve [Smith Sr.] and Torrey [Smith] fresh, and yet these young guys are making plays. We just let them keep coming. They compete every day – [Ravens wide receivers coach] Bobby [Engram] does a great job with them – and hopefully we keep coming."
Gary, during your time as a head coach and offensive coordinator in the NFL, do you remember a time having two rookies start on one side of your [offensive line]? (Jamison Hensley) "No, [I've] never been around that. [I've] never been around a [rookie] free agent left [tackle] and then a rookie … What [round pick] was John [Urschel]? I don't know what round John was in, but that was something else. But boy, you have to be proud of them. They worked really hard, and I think the guys around them played hard. Usually when you have a young guy step in, it's about everybody else playing a little bit better, and so you have to give the whole group credit to the way they stepped up."
Gary, the Falcons have given up a lot of rushing touchdowns this year. Is that something you look to attack this week? (Adam Vorce) "We're going to go do what we do. We just have to get to the end zone somehow, some way. But they've been in some interesting games. [Against] Cincinnati, [it was] a 3-3 game late in the first half. Chicago is a tough game. I think they're extremely well-coached with coach [Mike] Nolan and coach [Mike] Smith, and they present a lot of problems for you. We have to stay focused on what we do and just make sure we're executing the things we do."
Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees
Dean, when the Falcons … John [Harbaugh] mentioned yesterday they do a lot of protections, a lot of max protections, things like that. How does that differ with … Do you still sometimes – not getting into too much strategy – but does that affect your game plan and how you attack that quarterback a lot, or do you still have to stick to what you guys do best? (Jamison Hensley) "[It's] a combination of both. I think what you have to do is you have to look, and see … First of all, you always look and see what they do and how they're going to protect and how they're going to formation you and all this kind of stuff. Now that doesn't mean they they're not going to change when you see them. Most teams don't line up and do the exact same thing they did before. But you have to see how your matchups are and all that kind of stuff from their perspective. Then you have to take ours, and say, 'OK, if we run this, is this going to be good versus that? Are we going to get caught in that? Is this too much communication? Are we going to have a tough time with that?' You kind of take all that stuff into account. But the first thing you always look at is you look at what they do best, and then you put yourself in a position [to say], 'OK, how can we match that? What's the best way we can match it?' That's the best thing I can tell you without telling you what we're doing."
Other than the number of sacks – you guys had five of them last Sunday – what impressed you the most when watching the film and the way you were able to get pressure?* (Jamison Hensley)* "I just thought we were very, very aggressive, especially in that first half. The pressures were getting home for the most part, but even when we didn't pressure, we had good, tight coverage early on and made them hold the ball maybe just a little bit longer, which allowed those guys to get home, which is something in the earlier weeks, the ball was getting out so quick that we had guys free and couldn't get there. That's like when we played the Colts, when you hit [Andrew] Luck – I don't know, 17 times – the problem is you're always just that step away. Well, last week we were that one step closer, and that helped us. And a lot of that was coverage, and a lot of it I just thought we were very aggressive, especially in the first half."
**Dean, your thoughts on the progress DT Brandon Williams has made? *(Aaron Wilson) *"He played a great game. He really played a solid game. The thing that has really helped us with him right now is it has really been hard for people to single-block him with a center. So, all of a sudden, if you have to devote a guard and a center to him, that's going to help the linebackers a whole lot. Anytime you have a nose tackle, and if he can block one-on-one in almost any scheme like we play, that's not going to be a good situation. So, he really had, I thought, his best game of the season."
**Dean, when you look at Atlanta's offense, there's so many variables there. Is it as potent an offense as you've seen? And it all starts of course with QB Matt Ryan, but he has so many weapons. *(Jerry Coleman) *"I rarely have really seen a team offensively … Everybody is going to talk about Julio [Jones] and all the receivers and Roddy White and [Devin] Hester – all of the speed that they have on the perimeter. They have four running backs that can start for anybody in the league. I've never seen a team that … I'm sitting there looking at numbers going, 'Is this preseason? Who the heck are all these guys? [Are] they all active?' And they are. I mean, it's like, goddang. And every one of them has a little different kind of talent, whether it [is] speed or just even downhill, a big back. And No. 35 [Antone Smith], he can fly. It's just that each one of them has a little something different. To me, [Matt Ryan is] just surrounded by talent. But yes, it all starts with No. 2 [Ryan]. But I've rarely seen anybody that had four backs active on game day that all could play – that weren't just special teams guys – that can actually play, and win the game. And what that does is, it makes No. 39 [Steven Jackson] a better back, because he doesn't have to tote the ball 30 times a game. He can tote it 15 to 16 [times], and all of a sudden he's fresh, and when they get to the end of the game – no matter who the back is – he's is fresh, because he probably only carried it 10 times. So to me, you get kind of caught up in their outside perimeter people, because they're so good and fast that you forget they have four really talented backs."
S Will Hill, how has he looked his first couple of days back, and what do you expect whenever he's able to play? (Garrett Downing) "Well, obviously, we expect [Will Hill] to be a very, very good player back there. I think he's very smart. He has really kept up on everything. It was great to see him back. I think he has done a good job here in the few days that we've been back practicing. So, it'll be interesting to see how he progresses. But we think he's the real deal."
Dean, you've been around some good corners in your career. Do you think CB Jimmy Smith is elevated to the point where he needs to be talked about among kind of the top corners, and where has he made the most progress? (Jeff Zrebiec) "[Jimmy Smith] likes to get up and press, and we love him to get up and press. And he's a big corner, and he's very fluid. He has good ball skills. The problem of it is sometimes when you play a lot of man coverage, you may not get a lot of picks, because your eyes aren't always just on the ball like it is in zone. But I've been impressed with the way … We've moved him all around. Some games we've had him matched up to a receiver, some games we haven't. So, he has done a good job as far as the classroom and knowing the scheme and knowing what we want to get out of him. But I think he has just played well in general, overall. I think he has played really well, and I absolutely agree with you. I think he ought to be talked about as one of the better corners in the league." Dean, the Falcons obviously have big-play potential. Do you feel like your guys are cutting out big plays and are improving to the point where you're feeling better about it? (Clifton Brown) "Yes, it felt really good until the third quarter of the last game. I don't know what it is. We can't get in the Top 10, because as long as we keep giving up yards … I mean I guess I don't care, as long as we keep winning like we're winning. But I do care. (laughter) I hate to say that, because it's really not indicative of how good I think we are and can be. And we get a little lax at times when we give up a couple plays in the third quarter. And I get kind of tired of talking about four or five plays each week. Now, we didn't give up a 70-yarder or 50-yarder or anything like that, but still, we have to cut down on the 25s and 30s. But at least that's progress. The first game we lost to Cincinnati, because we gave up at 78-yarder. So, I think we're making progress in that area. The guys know we emphasize it. Steve [Spagnuolo] emphasizes it, Chris Hewitt – all the coaches do. I think we're getting better at it."