WEDNESDAY MEDIA AVAILABILITY: TEXANS – WEEK 16
Head Coach John Harbaugh
Opening statement:"OK, [it's] good to see everybody. I appreciate you guys being here. [We] just had a good practice, and we're very deep into our preparations for an excellent Houston team – very, very talented on both sides of the ball and special teams. We're getting ready for a dogfight down there."
John, what kind of growth have you seen from T Rick Wagner, just week to week, [and what] makes him prepared for a challenge like he's going to face on Sunday? (Aaron Wilson) "I don't know how you prepare, exactly. We had Steven Means, [who] was wearing [J.J. Watt's] No. 99 today, and he did the best he could and really got after it. It was a very intense practice, and that's all you can do. We believe our guys are ready for that challenge, but it's going to be a great challenge."
John, is there any part of you that sort of relishes how competitive the AFC North has been this season?* (Michele Steele)* "We take pride in the division, for sure. It's a great division. We thought all season it was going to be a great division, and it's proven to be that way. So, we're just appreciative to be in the hunt at the end. [We'll] try to do our best to finish strong."
Do you keep the players sort of aware [of] how tightly-contested the division is right now, or that's not even factoring into [any conversation]? (Michele Steele) "No, they know. They know how tight it is. They know what they have to do. So, that's really not part of the conversation."
John, you talked about being in for a dogfight, [and] Houston, they've run the ball more than any team in the NFL. Is it just you know it's going to be a physical game every week, but because you know their mentality, is this going to be an even extra-physical game? (Jamison Hensley) "It seems like every week has been [an] extra-physical game, but every time we play Houston – their players – it's always extremely physical. They're always committed to running the football; they're still running the football; they have one of the best backs in football [in Arian Foster]. He's always giving us all kinds of trouble. Their offensive line is extremely good; it starts with their center [and] works their way out. They're still running the stretch-zone. They've added different schemes this year that are new that come from coach [Bill] O'Brien. So, it's just a very physical, tough, rough football team that we're playing."
You talked about the way they run, but they're going to have a quarterback or two that is not that experienced. You guys have had a great pass rush lately. How much of a factor has that been to your game, and how much do you think it'll play into [what] you do on Sunday? (Dave Ginsburg)"The pass rush is always really important. It's a strength of ours, obviously, and we have to play to that strength. Their offensive line is very good. They do a great job pass protecting – [Arian] Foster has always been good in protection – so I'm sure it's something that they feel that they can handle. But bringing our pass rush is going to be very important."
What about the receiving tandem they have with WRs Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins? How much of a challenge is that? Is that as tough as anything you've had this year? (Aaron Wilson) "Those two receivers are as good as anybody, and No. 13 [Damaris Johnson] in there looks really good in the slot, and you can't discount [No.] 23 [Arian Foster]. He's the second- or third-leading receiver on their team out of the backfield – has great hands. They line him up out there and run slants with him. So, he kind of does it all. They've always had good tight ends as well."
Now that you've had more time to watch on film, what do you see from Texans DE J.J. Watt? What does he do so well? (Ryan Mink) "Where do you start? He does everything well. He catches passes for touchdowns, so what doesn't he do? He's just a great player."
Have you made the team … Have you gone through different scenarios if he were to line up offensively, preparing for that possibility? (Jerry Coleman) "We have. It's pretty clear where he could possibly line up, where he might motion, how they might try to free him up for a route or something like that. That's something you might have to think about, but it has to fit into what you do defensively. So, we'll treat him like a tight end and just play him accordingly."
Can you talk about the job that TE Owen Daniels has done, especially with TE Dennis Pitta going down earlier this year? (Ryan Mink) "I had the chance to watch him last year when we played him on tape again, and then watch him this year, and [I'm] just amazed at how well he's done, as far as getting himself ready to play coming off the injury from last year – how fresh and young and how well he's running and how well he's doing. He's just doing a great job for us."
John, I know you had the fumble with FB Kyle Juszczyk, but overall for the season, have you been pretty happy with how you've protected the ball this year? (Jamison Hensley) "We have. I'm not sure where we rank exactly in give-aways – Top 10, maybe? All I ever think about usually are the ones that we gave away and thinking that we shouldn't have given them away. But that's the key in the games that we lost there that would've made a different for us – it ended up being the difference. And going forward, it just has to be something that we do better than anybody else. It's something that we talk about all the time, we emphasize it in practice and it has to be the main thing."
John, I saw you gave Ravens secondary/assistant head coach Steve Spagnuolo the game ball after that last game. You've brought in two more corners – one on the practice squad, one on the active roster. How challenging has it been, week by week, with the amount of injuries that you've faced in the secondary? (Jeff Zrebiec) "It just seems like in this business – probably like any other business – there are just going to be challenges. There are going to be tough things that are going to come up. It's not a matter of 'if,' it's a matter of 'what' they're going to be specifically. This year, it's the corners. No, we've never lost this many corners before, but it's always something every year, and different teams have different amounts of injuries. We've been hit especially hard this year, but that's just the way it goes. We just have to deal with it. So, it's been challenging. But the more important thing is our guys have done a great job with it – coaches have done a great job, our players have done a great job. Our scouting department, who found some guys that can play, is just a huge plus for us. And we just need to go play."
On Sunday, it sounded like you almost spoke admirably about the chances Jacksonville was taking with the fake punt and onside kick and stuff. How does that color your decision-making to go for it pretty often on fourth down? (Jon Meoli) "We want to be aggressive. All the people out there that think we should be real conservative* *and close to the vest, we just try to do what we need to do to win a game. Sometimes you play it close to the vest, and sometimes you go for it. We're probably going to err on the side of attacking and giving our players a chance to make plays, because in the end, you have to make plays to win the game. You can't back your way into a victory very often. But you have to do that while not making critical mistakes, either. So, that balancing act is kind of what you … But we're not going to go into a shell, so I don't know if it colors our decision-making as much as we always want to play aggressively."
John, points are up for you guys, yardage on the ground [is] up [and] sacks [are] down. How pleased are you with the way Gary Kubiak has done for you in his first year as offensive coordinator? (Dave Ginsburg) "I've always had tremendous amounts of respect for Gary Kubiak and [quarterbacks coach] Rick Dennison and [tight ends coach] Brian Pariani – those three guys that were added. And we're also getting a great coaching job from our two young coaches – [running backs coach] Thomas Hammock and [wide receivers coach] Bobby Engram are doing a great job. [Offensive line coach] Juan [Castillo] is doing a great job. All of our guys have done well. Those guys have molded together as a team, as a union on the offensive side, and have coached together and done a great job. But it's really not time to assess all of that, really. It's time to just get ready for the next challenge, and that's really what we're all thinking about."
John, having lost RB Lorenzo Taliaferro for the year, can you talk about RB Bernard Pierce, as far as maybe being the guy who might pick up the slack? And might it be an advantage for a guy like Bernard – a physical back – who probably doesn't have a lot of wear and tear, at least for this time of the year? (Clifton Brown) "That's a good point. Bernard doesn't have a lot of carries. He's done really well, especially of late. At the end of games, he's probably – to your point – he's showing up at the end of the games, he's been strong [and] he's finished out a couple games for us. So yes, we want to keep building on that. But Bernard has a lot of talent, and he's very determined right now."
TE Owen Daniels
On his feelings going back to Houston where he played most of his career:"Honestly, I'm trying not to think about it too much right now. The little bit I have thought about it, I know it's going to be weird. It's going to be weird walking into that stadium. I've seen countless teams walk in there, walk along the sideline to go to visiting locker room. And it will be different being in there and coming out of a different tunnel, all that stuff – staying in a different hotel, everything that goes into that. But it will be good to see my old buddies that are still there. So, I'm excited about that."
On if there really is extra motivation when facing a team that released you:"I don't think you want it to overwhelm you. I don't think that should be the only reason that you're excited to go out there and play. Obviously, when you work somewhere for so long and then they say that you're not good enough to play there anymore and you get a chance to play them that following season, you definitely want to prove to them that they made a mistake. But I've been trying to do that all season with my play, not just in this one game. But it will be cool going back there, and hopefully I'll get a chance to make some plays, and obviously the biggest thing is ... I don't care if I don't get one catch [and] block it the whole game. As long as we come out there with a 'W,' that's the biggest [thing], the best thing that can happen."
On whether watching WR Steve Smith Sr. play against Carolina made him think what it was going to be like facing the Texans:"I did pay attention to Steve, and he was super, super focused all week. Not that he isn't on normal weeks, but there's just something different about it. And for his situation, it's even a little different than mine since he played there for even longer than I [played in Houston]. I'm trying to make it as normal a game as possible in terms of preparation and everything. When you get going in the game, everything is going to shake itself out. Once you get one play in, it's just like a normal game. But I think [in] the lead-up to it and warm-ups and pregame and all that stuff, there will probably be some emotions."
On what he thinks it will mean for Gary Kubiak to win in Houston:"I think it will mean everything. That's all we want. Obviously, for this team to go in there and take care of business – to keep our playoff hopes on track – that's the biggest thing. And then it's just a little icing on top for [Gary Kubiak] probably to go back into a place [where he was the head coach]. He did so much to turn that organization around from where it was, from where he walked in Day One to where it was when he left. We didn't leave there on a great note. Last season wasn't what we wanted when we were there, but he sure changed the culture around there in terms of everyone in that building being focused on winning. He deserves a lot of credit for that. For him to go back – and hopefully we can take care of business – that will be huge."
On having a "win one for the Gipper" mentality this week:"You could say that. There's definitely hints of that in there. It's not all about myself and 'Kub' [Gary Kubiak] and Justin [Forsett] and Jacoby [Jones] – all those guys were part of [the] team down there. It's not about us going back. It's about the team going down there and getting a win. But between [the former Texans coaches and players], it's definitely going to mean something for sure."
On if the Texans' 2013 season tarnished fans' perception of what Gary Kubiak built as the head coach:"Yes, probably. They're going to let you know how they feel. The fans down there let you know how they feel. They're very honest about how they feel about their team, whether it's a positive thing or a negative thing, and you have to respect that. Anytime you have a season like that, it doesn't reflect well on anything that was going on. No matter if we had won 12 games the year before and won playoff games the two previous years – which had never happened before – none of that matters really. That's the way the NFL is. It's, 'What have you done for me lately?' And it wasn't good last year. I could see how people can be a little bit blinded by that."
On his feelings toward the Houston organization believing that he could no longer play at a high level:"That's what they said to me. That was the reason for the release. They give us a release sheet, and it has all the check marks. 'Why did you get released?' 'Yeah, you weren't good enough.' *(laughter) *Basically that's what it says. Players like myself and others on this team that have been released by other teams keep those sheets and remember it. But that organization gave me a chance to play in the NFL for the first time, and I can't be more thankful to Mr. [Bob] McNair and that organization for giving me that opportunity. They had to do what they had to do, business-wise, last year, and I'm still trying to be the best player I can be here. I have no ill will toward them at all. I love Houston, and it's my home. I'll go back there every offseason – it's been one offseason since I've been released – but that's my home now, and I will always go back there."
On where he keeps his release sheet:"I have it with me at the house. I don't have it up in my locker. (laughter) I can see it. I have a decent memory. I can see that white piece of paper with the check mark there."
On head coach John Harbaugh commenting on how fresh he has looked compared to last year, and how he feels physically after having minor knee surgery earlier this season:"I feel pretty good considering it's Week 16. I feel like I've been playing a lot the last few months and playing a lot of plays. But I've been trying to take care of myself during the week. He actually mentioned that to me this week, too. He asked, 'Did you watch any film of yourself from last year compared to this year?' I was telling him about how I was watching our game against Seattle since their coach is in Jacksonville now. He said, 'You are moving a lot better than you were last year.' And I'm not sure why. The knee feels good this year, especially since getting it cleaned out. It hasn't been an issue, and hopefully it won't be. But as you get older, you have to do a little bit more to take care of yourself and make sure you're prepared to go. And they do an awesome job here of making sure I'm fresh and giving me some time off – like every Thursday like we've been doing – just to make sure my legs are good for the game."
On if his chemistry with QB Joe Flacco is getting better each week:"For sure. Like I've said all along, that's just something that takes time. We've put in a lot of time since OTAs and even previous to that up until this point. So, with the way we work around here, you can only get better and get more on the same page and get a better feel for each other. And that's still a work in progress. I've been here since April, so it's [been] six, seven, eight months of this stuff, so there's still a lot to build on."
On what it will be like to go up against Texans DE J. J. Watt:"He's a heck of a player. I don't know how much I'll have to deal with him, but I'm sure it will be some. But he continues to get better. He's an extremely hard worker – one of the hardest workers I've ever been around – and a very talented player. When you have a guy like that and a guy like that who is playing well and everything is kind of clicking for him like it has been this year, he is kind of like in the zone a little bit. He's going to be a tough guy to handle, and we'll have a game-plan for him and make sure we are paying attention to him. But he's a game-changer, that's for sure."**
OLB Elvis Dumervil**
On if he admires what Texans DE J.J. Watt has done this season:"I won't say 'admire,' but I have a lot of respect for him. I think he's a guy who's very dominant. He can do it all – inside, outside. He's a rare talent, so give him credit on that. It'll be a good challenge for our guys."
On how the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award may come down to him and Texans DE J.J. Watt:"Man, he's having a really great year – you can't take that from him. From pass deflections, from sacks – he's a very disruptive player, for sure."
On if Sunday's game will be like two premier defensive players facing off:"It'll be a good challenge for both offensive lines. We have guys who get after the quarterback, and [J.J. Watt] is a guy who can get after the quarterback. So, I'm sure whoever's defense plays the best wins the game, for sure."
On if the Ravens are preparing for QB Case Keenum right now:"We don't know who we're going to play. All we can do is just kind of gather up film and try to prepare for everything, because they obviously have two choices to go with. So, it's difficult. As difficult as it may seem for them, it's difficult for us, too."
On if the defense prepares for the quarterbacks or the system in such a situation:"You have to prepare for the system, [but] at the same time, you have to know your personnel. With that being said, we just have a lot of studying to do this week."
On facing an inexperienced quarterback being an advantage:"Either way [it's a challenge]. But at the same time, [Houston is a] well-coached team. You have to give them credit. [They have] a really explosive running back [in Arian Foster], let's not forget about that. So, we expect that they're going to go out and try to establish the run and get No. 23 going, so we'll all be ready for him."
On if offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak has spoken with him about the Texans' offense:"No, we haven't really talked about it, but I know this is a meaningful game. I've been in an experience like that going back to Denver, so hopefully we can do something better than what happened to me in Denver." (laughter)
On how important stopping the run will be knowing Houston will have a young quarterback behind center:"I agree, because you have to think the best player on that offense is No. 23 [Arian Foster]. With that being said, if I'm a coach – which I'm not – I'll definitely try to get that guy going. He's been a great player all year. That's our No. 1 emphasis every week – [stopping] the run. But more importantly, like you mentioned, this week is very important."
QB Joe Flacco
On what it means to play Houston, where several Ravens coached and played:"It means a little something if you ask me right now, but it's tough to really think about that as myself. When you go take the field, it definitely is one of those things that's probably in their head. [I] can't really imagine at this level what that's like, but you can always imagine what it's like to go against people that you're close to or have been close to at some point. So, I would say that's more so with them, but you definitely can tell how much it means, and you want to go out there and make sure you capitalize as a unit."
On the biggest impact Gary Kubiak has had on the offense: "I think the biggest thing is the way our offensive line has been playing, and I think that has a lot to do with the way these guys coach it and the way their system runs. It allows them to play aggressively and play fast and really use their best assets to the fullest. They don't have any tentativeness when they're playing. They're just going full-throttle and really attacking people, and I think that is why it serves us the best."
On how Gary Kubiak has helped him as a quarterback:"I think the biggest thing with [Gary Kubiak] is – obviously I'm with Rick [Dennison] a lot – but the biggest thing with Gary is the confidence he gives to the unit. Like I said, I'm with Rick a lot, and we talk with Rick a lot, but he's relaying Gary's message, and then getting out there and taking the game plan that we built all week and applying it on Sunday. I think Gary does a great job of doing that and seeing what they're giving us out there and making adjustments and making calls on the fly."
On wanting to win the Houston game for Gary Kubiak: "We haven't really talked about it too much. I saw [Gary Kubiak's wife, Rhonda], and you definitely know that it means a lot. Like I said, I think he'll probably have it in his mind, or Owen [Daniels] or whoever, but it'll definitely be there in the back of some of our minds also just to make sure that we can do it."
On whether facing the Texans often within the past five years makes game-planning easier:"I don't know. It's tough to tell with all that. Teams change so often year to year, and even the teams that we play twice in our division, you have to game-plan each week differently to some extent. The good thing is we've played down there a good amount. I've played down there a good amount. So, it's not going to be a new scene. We've played against most of those guys. How much that really matters I don't know, because we have a lot of new guys on our team, too. I think each week is always different, and you have to prepare as that's the case."
On how he is preparing mentally and physically for DE J.J. Watt: "What are you going to do? I'm going to pick myself up off the ground. I don't know who hits me. I hope it's not [J.J. Watt]. I hope it's not any of them. I hope I'm not picking myself up at all. Our guys have done a great job of doing [protecting me]. It really doesn't matter to me. Like I said, somebody is either going to be hitting me, or they're not. We'll have a plan for him, and we're going to have to make sure that we attack him in certain ways. He's a good player, but that's not necessarily on my mind or in my thoughts. I'm going out there to execute the play, and just always having confidence that my guys are going to do the same thing – execute the play and take care of their job. Other than that, [I] can't really worry about it too much."
On whether there is something he has done to consciously limit turnovers this season: "No, just playing. I'm just playing, and that's the way it goes. If you go out there and you play the way you're supposed to and you make the reads you're supposed to and your team is playing well and all that, then you shouldn't make that many mistakes as a quarterback. [We] have to make sure that we keep that going."
On how TE Owen Daniels has stepped in after losing TE Dennis Pitta to injury: "Owen [Daniels] has been great. Obviously, from Day One he came in here and had a very good understanding of the offense, so it was somebody that you could plug in right away, and he could help guys out. I think he came out in the beginning of the year and was catching the ball a lot. Obviously, if he did have Dennis [Pitta], I think it would've helped Owen out even more, just like he would help Dennis out, and they would both help us out. I think he has been doing a great job, but [I would like] to get him even more involved, more catches. We had some opportunities in the game on Sunday to make some more plays, and we were just a little bit off. Each week is getting better and better, but like I said, I want to get him more involved, because he is a good player, and I think he makes us go when we get him involved."
RB Justin Forsett
On whether there is a revenge factor facing the Texans: "First of all, it's playoff time for us. We have to win this game. It's a playoff-type game for us, so we want to handle that business. But as far as revenge, for me personally, I've been on so many teams, I would be going crazy thinking about getting revenge on everybody. (laughter) So, that's out of the question for me."
On the difference between the slow run game against Jacksonville and the rest of the running game this season: "Just execution. We have to be consistent on the ground, and we have been most of the year, but they gave us a challenge. They did some things. They had a great front seven. They had some guys in the box on us, and they did a good job. Give credit to them; they did a good job."
On preparing to face DE J.J. Watt: "He is a factor. He's one of the best players in this league, and we have our work cut out for us. I think we're up for the challenge. If I have to go out and help out on J.J., I'll do it."
On how he feels health-wise: "I feel good. This is actually one of the best Wednesdays that I've had in a while. So, my body is feeling good, maintaining, feeling ready to go."
DT Timmy Jernigan
On whether his play is improving as the season goes along:"I definitely feel like my game is coming along as the weeks go by. I've been put in a good situation from the time I got here. [I am] blessed to be able to play with guys like Haloti [Ngata] and learn from coach [Clarence] Brooks. I feel good with where I am and where I'm going."
On getting two sacks against Jacksonville:"It felt good to be able to go out and help and contribute not just to the defense, but to the team. To be able to win, that felt good. But to be honest, I felt like I probably played a little bit better, technique-wise, the week before against Miami. So, there's always room for improvement."
On whether this week is one of the biggest challenges for the run defense:"Definitely. They do a great job, not just with [Arian] Foster, but their scheme and how they call things. It's going to be a good task for us, and this game is very important. We have to win out to be able to get to where we want to be, so this game is very important."
On how the run defense has held up without DT Haloti Ngata:"I think we've done a good job – not just with me, but there are a whole bunch of other guys who have been doing a great job, too – [Chris] Canty and [Brandon] Williams. I feel like everybody has been doing a good job just contributing. It hasn't been just me. There isn't [any] way I could do it [alone]."
On OLB Elvis Dumervil and OLB Terrell Suggs' reaction to his sack contributions:"It's definitely exciting for them to see me come in and be able to play at a high level. But at the same time, I feel like it's more of an honor for me just to be able to play with those guys and learn from them. Since the day I got in, they've taught me a lot."
On how much classroom time is spent communicating with the defense's back end in coordinating coverages and the pass rush:"We work together every day, day-in and day-out. It isn't a once-a-week thing or anything like that. We're a team, we're a defense. We have great chemistry with each other."
On whether he is hitting his stride late in the season following his knee injury:"Definitely. Even before I got hurt, it was getting tough right around that time, and then I ended up getting hurt. Everything happens for a reason. I never question God or anything like that. I believe in him and what he has planned for me, so I feel good with my situation."
On how the defense's streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher in 24 games was introduced to him by veterans:"It's amazing that I just learned about it today, actually, that we haven't allowed 100-yard rushing in so long. But that just goes to show how much pride guys have in this program. Dominating is natural; that's the standard around here. It isn't something that happens every now and then. No, it's expected week-in and week-out, year-in and year-out. It's just what we live by."
On his favorite part about playing with this defense:"Playing in that stadium, man. There is something about M&T [Bank Stadium]. I actually noticed it last night, [that] every sack I've ever had was in that stadium. So, there's a good luck factor about it."
OLB Terrell Suggs
On whether he is ready to face the Texans: "Yes, I'm ready. That's why the games aren't played until Sunday. We have until Sunday to prepare, so we'll be as ready as we can be come Sunday."
On the year OLB Elvis Dumervil and DE J.J. Watt are having: "[Elvis Dumervil and J.J. Watt] are having legendary years. They're having really good years. I have never had a guy line up on the other side of me and have that many sacks. You see what I'm saying? You see guys with a lot of sacks throughout the NFL, [and] it's pretty good to have one guy on your team that has so many. J.J. Watt, the name speaks for [itself]. They put the sacks up on TV the other day – excuse me his stats – and there had to be some misprints. I've never seen numbers like that with the touchdowns and the forced fumbles and the fumble recoveries and all of that. It's really impressive. It's really impressive, and it's good to see a defensive guy get that recognition being that this is a touchdown-, quarterback-driven league. So, it is really good."
On DE J.J. Watt possibly lining up against the Ravens' defense as a tight end: "It should be interesting. It should be interesting, but we'll just have to see. I never thought of that. *(laughter) *I never thought of that. You see another defensive guy [and] you never think you're going actually go up against him, but he does line up on [the] goal line at tight end, so it could be interesting."
On how much of the game plan is centered on stopping RB Arian Foster and the run game: "Whenever you're going up against a premier running back, that's a pretty big part of it. [Arian Foster is] definitely showing with his numbers. His numbers do the talking for him. He's definitely a force to be reckoned with. He's very smooth. He's very crafty. He knows how to pick holes, and he's a really good runner. More dangerously so, he has had success against us. So, we're definitely going to have to tend to him."
On whether he and OLB Elvis Dumervil make each other better: "It's always going to be a competition. When you have guys on the same defense like that, you can't do anything but get better. [You] better raise your game, otherwise they're going to start to pull away from you. [Elvis Dumervil] has been playing phenomenal, but that goes to say how our front seven has been playing all year. We all [have] been getting after it, and it's pretty good. But like you said, it's always a competition. I'm always going to catch his ass." (laughter)
On preparing for two Houston quarterbacks: "You're a little busy this week; we have to prepare for two quarterbacks. We don't really know which one we're going to see, so you have to prepare for them both. You kind of have to have two game plans, and that's what we're going to do. It depends on which one we get, [and] that's when we'll apply it to the game."
On whether the defense is preparing more for Houston's offensive system as opposed to their quarterback: "No, it's more preparing for the guy – what the guy's strengths are and what their weaknesses are. We'll prepare for them both."
On how important sacks have been to the defense because of the secondary's injuries: "You want to play good team defense as a whole. Yes, we've had some injuries, but the show must go on. We can't let that stop us from doing what we want to do. So, it's more attention to detail for the whole defense and not just in one area."