Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg
You talked earlier in the year about the way Tandon Doss fields punts, and you were a little apprehensive about it, saying it was a unique way to go up and grab it like that. After watching the muffed punt, do you work with him on trying to change that, or is that just the way he does it? (Pete Gilbert)"We certainly work on that. We work on all things. And the game that you saw, he caught that one long ball that was hit by their bench, he did catch it over his head with his hands, and he made a very good catch. What we'd like to have is him get underneath that ball and catch it in the conventional way. The same thing goes for the last catch that he dropped – or the second to last catch that he dropped – where he was basically not using good fundamentals. We continue to stress it. I think that the message has been delivered more strongly than any method by him dropping the ball, because we all understand that when you're back there and you have the privilege of carrying the ball for your team, that is on you. I was happy to see him go back out there the next time and deliver with a really good return. We express confidence in him by putting him out there, and he delivered. Hopefully, down the road, the catches will be more standard."* *
In terms of Sam Koch, what did you see from the one punt that appeared to be a mishit? (Aaron Wilson)"What I saw on that punt was a ball that got struck well, but at a bad angle. He hit it well; it didn't turn over. That hurt, because it just kept carrying to the left. I thought he got the ball right where he wanted it in terms of his drop, and his footwork was good. He just got it a little bit inside, and it never turned over and it stayed on the sideline at a very inopportune time."
Your thoughts on Sam Koch's performance overall this year? (Luke Jones)"I think Sam would be the first one to tell you that he's been inconsistent. There have been situations in games where we need a better ball; that was an example of it. You've also seen him in games where he can hit exactly what we want. We put a lot on Sam. We ask him to do things that other punters in this league aren't asked to do in terms of direction and so forth. He has demonstrated in practice, time and time and time again, that he can do all of that. We just need to do that same kind of performance in the game. Last week he had a fabulous week of practice, one of the best I've ever seen, real frankly. And then we had the inconsistencies during the game that we need to clean up."
John Harbaugh talked about being involved in close games and finding a way to win, and kickers can be very important in close games. How quickly did Justin Tucker put the two-miss game in Week 2 against Cleveland behind him? It must have been pretty quick. (Joe Platania)"When people ask about kickers, they commonly ask about their characteristics, and one of the things that everybody is curious about is, 'What is he like, mentally?' And I think the question that you asked speaks to Justin's mentality when it comes to his performance, is that the most important play is the next play. Just making that next kick is the most important thing, because I think if you looked at whatever game that was where he last missed – and I'm not really keeping track – but he probably said something to the effect of, 'I've got to go make the next one, and then subsequently, that one.' And then it strings together. And that's really what he's trying to do, is just make the next kick, and I think that's a really good approach for any football player. Just play good on the next play. And he's been able to do that, and I think because, mentally, he's a strong young man. He's got a good head on his shoulders, he prepares well, and that's the reason why he's performing like he's performing."
Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell
Cincinnati has had some high-profile injuries to their front seven. What's the challenge in knowing who it is that you have to block and where they're going to line up? (Joe Platania) "It's the unique thing about this league – whoever it is can play. They certainly have a lot of depth up front, and they just keep running them in there at you. They're doing a very fine job. I think you can see from a statistical standpoint, they are one of the top teams in the league in a number of defensive categories, and a lot of it has to do with that front seven. They do a tremendous job up front."* *
Jim, what are some of the differences with Joe [Flacco] from the first half to second half? Last week, it looked like his accuracy picked up after halftime? (Aaron Wilson) "He got off to a tough start, but then after that, I think he settled down and was able to make some things happen. It's one of the things that I think you find with him – he just keeps battling until he starts moving in the right direction. The thing that we've got to do is make sure that we get off to a great start."* *
The slow starts happen. I'm sure you guys script [plays] and do all of those things, but what is it about the starts that has plagued you guys?* (Aaron Wilson) "It's not a one-person thing; it's across the board. We just haven't been clicking on all cylinders right at the onset, and that's something John [Harbaugh] keeps pounding home. You try and make certain that when we go out to practice, we try to start the practice fast, start it with intent and minimize mistakes – all those things. We have to keep working on it. But it's not good right now – it hasn't been."* **
As far as the struggle to not take advantage of the fact that they were in run-stop formations and you guys should be able to pass against that – in theory – and not having success so much against that… (Pete Gilbert) *"Well, there's a myriad of things; it's not just one thing. We missed a couple, just in terms of putting it in the right spot and maybe guys not getting open when they had the opportunity to in some one-on-one opportunities – that all falls in line. Protection falls in there as well. There are some issues there; all it takes is just one thing. There are so many intricacies involved in this game that one guy can be a little bit off and it can wreck the whole play for the most part, particularly in dealing with the pass game." *
What's your outlook on you guys going more spread formation, shotgun, three wide [receivers], because obviously the run game hasn't been working as well this season? What's your outlook on how well an offense can function when the run game isn't really having success? (Ryan Mink)"I still believe. I don't think there's any question that the running game is extremely important. We're going to continue to work on it and continue to try and get it better. Once you get the running game going, it helps the rest of your scheme from a passing standpoint. Then, you're also able to control the clock and control the line of scrimmage. We have not been able to do that, and that's my responsibility. We've got to keep working until we're able to get it."* *
Jim, your team has had success with zone-blocking in the past, and Ray Rice went to two Prow Bowls the past two years when you guys were using a lot of zone schemes. What has been the difference this year? Why, not just last week but looking at the whole season, have things been different and you haven't seen the same success with the schemes as you've had in the past? (Matt Vensel)"Those schemes certainly aren't new to us. We've certainly been using those – zone and man schemes, periodically – depending upon who we play. It's just a number of different things. Technique, just in terms of fundamentals, there are a lot of factors involved in it. They just seem to pop up every once in a while at the wrong time. It really gets us off to the slow starts that we're talking about. Once we get things under control, we usually move the ball fairly well, but we've just been so sporadic. We've been inconsistent. We have to be better."* *
Jim, what can you do to prevent penetration? I know that everyone moves in a line and everyone has to move in unison as they move and then move off blocks. But, what can you do to prevent penetration?* (Matt Vensel) "Guys have to work intricately together, not only just the guys that are up front, but the tight ends are involved in that as well. If you do have a blocking back – front side to back side – he's involved. All across the board, I just think you have to keep working on it. You work on placement in terms of where you place your head. You work on how you're coming off the ball at the same time. They have to be in unison, in sync, and we haven't always done it in sync all the way across the board."* **
How much of a priority is it to maybe get more touches for Torrey Smith, whatever way you kind of have to do that? He had eight targets and five catches [at Cleveland]. But, would you guys ideally like him to touch the football even more? (Aaron Wilson) "Obviously, he's an explosive player for us. Anytime that he gets the ball, he's bound to do something good for us – that's always in the back of our mind. We've been throwing it enough, but we spread it around quite a bit. I think you're going to continue that way. Those guys will keep working at it, and you'll continue to see guys that continue to develop, get a little better and get a little bit more yardage. Torrey [Smith] is a big part of that."
Jim, you guys used the pistol formation for just a few snaps on Sunday. What do you feel is the biggest benefit for that and the rationale that goes into trying to use that formation? (Luke Jones) "There are a lot of different things, particularly when you've been throwing the ball as much as we have. That, particularly, gives us a chance to run the ball from our deep-playing position and not necessarily from our offset position. That's probably the biggest benefit, and you can do a number of different things out of it. You don't have to run it, but you can throw it as well. It just gives us an opportunity to improve our angles."
Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees
**What have you seen from Andy Dalton in terms of his growth as an NFL quarterback? Do you believe he is playing some of his best football you've seen from him? *(Aaron Wilson) *"He's doing a real good job of managing the game, and he is really, very accurate. The guy has always had a ton of talent as far as throwing the ball. There's never been any doubt, coming out of college when he was first drafted, that he was a talented quarterback. I think the thing that has really helped him even more so this year is that besides A.J. Green and [Jermaine] Gresham, they've added a few other weapons in there, which makes it a little harder. If you're going to double [No.] 18 [A.J. Green], then somebody else is not going to get doubled. And then [No.] 85 [Tyler Eifert], the tight end from Notre Dame, is a very, very talented guy. [Andrew] Hawkins, at [No.] 16, [Mohamed] Sanu at [No. 12], and then [No.] 25, [Giovani] Bernard, the back … They've added a lot of weapons, which has helped him, too. And they've always had a good running game. They've always been sound there. BenJarvus [Green-Ellis] is … They've got a lot of a talent, and it's a good offensive line. It's not only Andy who has developed as a quarterback. I think they've just developed as an offense."
Can you talk about the progress your defense has made this season? In a lot of areas, the defense is performing very well, but there are a few areas, like getting off the field late it games, where you want to improve. (Ryan Mink)"Absolutely. When we look back, it's funny, we talked about this last year at this time; after eight games we were 6-2 and statistically terrible. And now we are in the Top 10 in about every category, but we're 3-5. I'd rather take the 6-2 and be crappy. *(laughter) *But not really. I'd like to be 6-2 and good in stats – both. But we've worked hard to get in the Top 10 in almost all the stats, except the three areas that we have really got to improve in. We've got to improve in getting off the field in two-minute [situations]. And it's not always necessarily a fast two-minute – like they're behind – it's tied or they're ahead and we've got to get the ball back for the offense to have an opportunity. We haven't done that, and we've got to get better in that area. Number two, we've got to get better in the turnover area. And the third area is just not giving up big plays. We still are giving up [big plays]. We had some missed tackles in the last game and then gave up a couple big plays. So, I'm proud of the progress that we've made in those other areas. I like being ranked in the Top 10 in all those areas, but also to win games, you've got to finish. And we haven't done as good a job as we need to do in that area. And turnovers would be a big part of that, too."
**Are you seeing opportunities for turnovers that the defense just isn't getting, or is it just not there? *(Jim Corbett) *"In the fumble situation, we've caused 13, but we've only gotten six. So, there have been some opportunities there, we just haven't gotten them. As far as the picks and interceptions, we've gotten a lot of sacks, but we just haven't made as many good plays on the ball as we should. And a little bit of that is we've played a little bit more man coverage. You're not going to have as many interceptions when you play man as you are when you play zone. And part of the reason we've played man is if you hold the ball a little longer, we have some pretty good pass rushers. So, there's both. We need to do better when we are in zone and when we do get our hands on the ball. And sometimes we're just a little tentative. I think that's a little bit of our problem at the end of the game. And we've talked about it a lot this week. [We've told the players that] you've just got to go for it. You've got to go. You've got to feel good enough about yourself that you don't worry about making a mistake. You guys have heard me tell you the analogy before – and that's what I told them this week – you practice that way out here and you go 100 miles an hour, because there's really not a lot on the line. Somehow, mentally, you've got to make yourself play it the same way in a game. I know it's on the line, we all know it's on the line, but you've got to go. And you've just got to make a play. Sometimes – just like last week – we had a blitz on and we let the back slip out on us on a very critical down, and he catches the ball. The guys got him, the guy is right there, but all of a sudden he decides to just play it a little bit safe instead of going and getting him, and the guy slips out on us. The same way on the fourth down where [No.] 17 [Jason Campbell] made a nice throw and [No.] 15 [Davone Bess] made a diving catch, but we shouldn't have let him out. We had him, but we've just got to keep making those plays. We've just got to keep stressing it, and that's our job as coaches to do that."
**What are Jimmy Smith's chances for coming back on Sunday? If not, how do you feel about Corey Graham starting in that spot? *(Aaron Wilson) *"I always feel good about Corey. I feel good about all my guys. I'm never going to say I don't feel good. I feel good about whoever we put out there. I'm confident in whoever we put out there. As far as [Jimmy Smith], I really can't answer. I'm never going to answer an injury question, because I don't know. That's what 'Smitty' [head athletic trainer Mark Smith] is here for and that's what Coach Harbaugh is here for, and I don't answer injury questions, because I can't."
**What progress have you seen from Chykie Brown? It looked like he took some big steps last game. *(Ryan Mink) *"He has, and if you remember last year he did, too. It's the same way [this season]. I think Chykie is a confident guy, until sometimes the ball is in the air in man coverage, and that's where as a defensive back you can't panic. You can't panic. You've just got to turn and you've just got to make the play and don't get yourself out of sorts and stuff like that. I've seen him sometimes just be in great position and then panic just a little bit when the ball is in the air, and all of a sudden the guy makes the catch and doesn't need to. He's got a lot of ability, long arms, is fast – all the things you look for in a defensive back. He's tough. I feel confident. Like I said, I don't care who we put in there; I'll feel good about them."
*Do you consider A. J. Green to be the prototype for wide receivers in the NFL? What are the challenges in preparing to play him? *(Aaron Wilson) *"There seems to be a lot of those around the league, though, as I watch TV. *(laughter) Detroit has got one; Chicago has got one; everybody has got one. He is. He's got all the tools. The guy can go up and get the ball. He's strong, physical, fast, can build speed. There's a lot of big receivers – used to be – sometimes there were big receivers that couldn't get off the line. [Willie] Gault was one of the fastest guys I've ever seen in my life, but if you jam him, that took care of that. These guys aren't like that anymore. This guy is a great receiver. He's a great receiver; that's the only way I can put it."
**Do you feel it is important for the defense to come up with more turnovers to help the offense get going? *(Jim Corbett) *"I don't feel it more; I just feel that's our job. It's our job to go in, and if something happens in the game and there's a sudden change, it's our job to go in and stop them no matter where the ball is. We just need to create turnovers. It's not geared towards giving the offense more opportunities – that certainly would – it's just more geared towards that's what we're paid to do, and we just need to get it done."
Can you talk about Arthur Jones' performance this season and, in general, the type of person he is? (Michelle Gordon)"He's one of our boys. He's a great, great person. He's a very good pro, too. He studies, he works hard, he is very, very serious about his job. I can't say enough complimentary things about him as a person and as a pro. As far as a player, I think he's one of the most improved guys that we have on our football team. From where he's come to where he is now, he's just vastly, vastly improved, and we feel good about him every week. There's really not a time when we come out of a game saying, 'Boy, I don't know about that game.' He's had great performances every week."
**With Asa Jackson returning from suspension, how confident are you in what he can bring to the defense? *(Adam Vorce) *"We'll just have to wait and see where we are at the end of this week. We'll see who is inactive and who we have. We liked Asa when he was here, so we like him now that he is back. He just needs to get back into the groove of it."