Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg
John Harbaugh talked earlier in the week about how much you guys practiced the "sky" return that you were able to carry out in the Minnesota game. When you prepare that much just to get the opportunity and then to execute it the way you did, how rewarding was that? (Luke Jones)"It was very rewarding. The reason we practiced it so much is because we weren't doing it properly, so we had to keep practicing until we got it figured out, and I think the players appreciate it, too. They're the ones that put the practice time in, they're the ones that are running down field and getting the reps [with] the [scout] team as well. And when a play like that happens, everybody feels good."
**What kind of a challenge does Jeremy Ross present in the return game? *(Aaron Wilson) *"He's made a huge difference in their special teams [in] the three weeks since he's been there. He ignited their return game. You can just look at the stats, and they're really a different team on special teams now with him back there. He's done a great job."
Have you ever coached anyone who's had a kickoff and a punt return touchdown in the same game? (Matt Vensel)"I don't believe I have. I wish I had – I wish I could tell you a couple stories like that – but I don't believe I have. This week would be good. If it happens, I'm all for it."
Can you take anything away from Detroit's special teams game last week in Philadelphia with the weather conditions they had? (Kevin Richardson)"The lesson that I've seen in those games before is go north and south. Make it a simple game; try not to make it too fancy. The returns that Detroit ran back were exactly that. Both of them were very similar, even though they're different phases. They went straight down the field. It's tough to change directions, it's tough to get off blocks and run at angles, and the return teams for Detroit did a really good job of covering guys up, and the returner then made a difference because he ran through it."
Jerry, last year, Anthony Allen was kind of that lead blocker for Jacoby Jones. Now Kyle Juszczyk has taken over that role this year and it seems like he's kind of come on strong lately there. (Garrett Downing)"Yes, Kyle has had a couple key blocks in that regard. And his block in this last game was very important to that return, as you saw. We use Ed [Dickson] in much the same way. Kyle's returns … You probably see Kyle more on film that way, and I can understand that. Kyle is a very versatile player. I think one of the things – if you watch all the special teams – Kyle does a lot for us. He's a very good blocker in the punt return phase, he's a good kickoff-cover player for us, he's one of our better punt protectors, as well, and he's a well-rounded young player."
The kicking game has held up really well in some of the weather you've had. Are you looking forward to a climate controlled indoor game? (Luke Jones)"It's been interesting. I gave the players the weather report this morning in the meeting, and I said it's going to be 72 and calm. And there was a long pause. They weren't sure they understood … 'Oh, yeah. That's right!!' *(laughter) *So, yes, we don't have to deal with that. I think the people that are most happy about that are the specialists."
Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell
What's the challenge of their defensive tackles? We know what they can do with the run, but how much of a challenge is it for the quarterback, when there is pressure up the middle like that with the defensive tackles? How does that disrupt the quarterback? (Matt Vensel) *"One of the things that you notice about them is the fact that they can push the pocket. They can keep you from stepping up in it, and therefore you aren't able to get the ball down the field with the kind of precision that you like. They do that quite often to quarterbacks. They get free. [Nick] Fairley is a big man that also has pass-rush abilities – same as [Ndamukong] Suh. They also can give you pressure on the edges, as well. Ziggy Ansah is a guy that's big, strong, physical and does a great job of getting on the edge and collapsing the pocket. But he also has enough finesse moves inside. Willie Young is the same way. It's a formidable front. Plus, they have about three other guys that they rotate in there like a hockey line that can give you some problems." *
As a play-caller, when you have Dennis Pitta back in the lineup, what does that free you up to do? What more options does that give you when you are going through you're play calls? (Garrett Downing) "He's a matchup problem that he presents, just by how you decide to defend him. I think he really just kind of opens it up for everybody else as well. He is a guy that you have to pay attention to. He can get open. He does a nice job of running the routes. He has very good spatial awareness. He's a big target. Joe [Flacco] has a real good feel for him as well. I think we try to utilize him as much as we can."
Does having all these guys back help Joe [Flacco] spread it around more? It doesn't seem like he's the kind of guy that plays favorites. He's going to throw it to the open guy and having as many options as possible is probably a good thing, right? (Matt Vensel) "That is a good thing. The fact of the matter is it certainly affords you an opportunity to stretch the field in a number of different ways with a number of different guys that can really do something with the ball in their hands. In the flanks on the outside, we have speed, guys that can stretch it vertically. Also, we have guys that, inside, can do a nice job of stretching it horizontally, as well. Being able to catch the ball once you do get it in your hands and be able to get vertical quickly is something that a lot of our inside guys do. Ray [Rice] does it well. Dennis [Pitta] does it well. You'll see Dallas [Clark] when he's in there. He does it, as well as Ed [Dickson]. All of those guys help us out, and then when you throw Marlon [Brown] inside and Tandon [Doss] inside, they give you a whole different flavor."* *
Are you surprised by how many snaps Dennis [Pitta] played in his first game back? (Ryan Mink) "When the doctors release him, they don't give you constraints. You have to anticipate that he's going to be able to play quite a bit – as much as needed. The game was such that we ended up throwing the ball a bit more – 50 times – in the ball game. It afforded him a few more opportunities than maybe we had anticipated. Nevertheless, we're glad he was there with us."* *
Just your thoughts on his effectiveness in those snaps? (Ryan Mink)"For the first time out, he obviously did well. He caught the ball. He made some things happen – made some big plays for us. I think you're just going to continue to see him get better and better."* *
Knowing what [Dennis Pitta] does as far as being an option in the middle of the field, how does that help the running game? I know you guys have faced a lot of single-high, lots of times eight men are in the box. Does that help to loosen things up for the run game? (Luke Jones) "We have been putting him in a number of different places. Anytime you become more effective in the pass game, it's going to make teams focus in on some of those aspects, whether you're threat is inside or outside. [If it's] outside, you're going to end up pushing guys away from the ball a little bit more, which gives you some opportunities to run, maybe find some seams, and that's what we're working on. We just have to continue to get better in that area; our timing has to get better. We have to be able to catch the ball and run with it. [We] have to be a real force in the pass game, but I think our guys are really heading in the right direction."* *
With Dennis [Pitta] back, do you think there's a chance you could use more two tight end sets? I know we haven't really seen them the last eight games or so.* (Matt Vensel)*"If we were, I probably wouldn't tell you, only because of where we are going into the ball game. Nevertheless, it is an option for us, because of the fact that we do have few guys that can get in there and help us out. Obviously, Dallas [Clark], Ed [Dickson] and Dennis [Pitta] create a pretty formidable group in two tight ends. Every game is different; we look at each game and make a determination on what we can do best, where we can use our strengths and how we match up. Our personnel issues, we try and take a look at and see where we're best suited. That changes on a weekly basis."
Based on watching him on a regular basis, how do you explain Joe Flacco being so much better, or really excelling, in the fourth quarter? (Luke Jones)"He's a highly-competitive guy, obviously. And one of the things that I think, overall, gets completely overlooked when you're talking about him is the fact that … You look at how many games he's won, and it's not by mistake. It doesn't just happen. He hasn't been lucky. I think what you see is a real highly-competitive guy that has the ability when things are on the line, to get focused. The game doesn't ever get too big for him, and he certainly knows how to move the ball down the field under some very, very difficult circumstances. So, I think that's just a knack that he has, to be honest with you."
Are you glad you're not going to be calling a game in a couple inches of snow this week? (Garrett Downing)"Even the snow game was a lot of fun. It's just one of those things; it's the great thing about our game. It's an outdoor game; it's a game that has to be played in all of the elements, and whatever comes, comes. We try to prepare for everything, and I think that's part of the challenge of playing football in itself. It's not like you're in a controlled environment every single night, or every single week when you play. So probably, the challenge is also making certain your guys are durable, can function within those elements, and to be able to overcome. So, that's the fun part of it."
Coach, how do you slow down a pass rush like Detroit has? (Kevin Richardson)"You have to do a little bit of everything with these guys. It's not a normal group. There are a number of first-round draft picks over there that play extremely well. And they're not one-dimensional. It'd be a little bit different if they were a team that just had strictly pass rushers that got up the field, and obviously, you could craft a plan of attack to sort of deal with that. It's also not a group that is just finesse all the way across the board. These are powerful men that can flat get after you, that not only can rush the passer, but they can disrupt and destroy. So, you really have to put together a plan that does a little bit of everything. But first and foremost, you better block them. You better be technically sound, because they will take advantage of every single weakness you have."
Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees
Dean, in terms of the fourth quarter, defensively, you've had some struggles recently. What is kind of the key to getting back on track? (Aaron Wilson)"Well, the biggest problem that we've had on fourth quarter is really just some mental mistakes late in the game when the pressure is on and they're going no huddle [and] everything gets hurried up. Sometimes our communication hasn't been as good as it should be – passing it all the way along. We've got to make sure that everybody gets the call and everybody knows the call and that we're ready and getting lined up. We've had a couple of situations that guys weren't on the same page, and you end up giving up a play late in the game you shouldn't give up."
There are circumstances the past two games that you could say contributed to not getting any sacks, with the snow and with Ben Roethlisberger. But, are you happy with the amount of pressure you've been able to get, even though the sacks aren't there? (Jamison Hensley)"No, obviously we'd like to get sacks. I think you'd be surprised, though, how many times we actually hit the quarterback. When you watch the film, we may not be getting a sack if the ball is coming out quick, and there's no way a guy can do that. If he can't get there in time, he can't get there in time if the ball is coming out quick. But you're also getting what you want by the ball coming out quick. We're getting quite a few hits. It's like anything else: If you are on defense and a guy kept catching a lot of footballs, you would probably say you're going to do something in the game to slow that down, whatever that might be. Well, on the reverse side, all of a sudden we have 37 sacks in 10 games or 12 games, and pretty soon if you're an offensive coordinator, I'm not going to let them sit there and pass rush the quarterback. I'm going to do some things; I'm going to chip them, I'm going to put guys on the edge. Elvis [Dumervil] has been out, and that's been a little bit of a factor, but the truth is the ball is coming out a lot quicker in these last two games. That's smart football by their part."
Did you see a lot of max protection, also, in these last two games? (Jamison Hensley)"We saw more. If you notice, whenever they put two or three people back in the backfield, you're getting seven-man protection. So on a four-man rush, you've got seven blocking four. It's the same thing [when] you go in and you're not a very good pass rush team, then you're going to sit there and you're going to get everybody out, get five guys out on the route, and that's what you're going to do. I think we've made people close it in a little bit. If you try to protect a little more, maybe not get as many guys out but do a little protection … At the same time, we need to do a better job. There are a couple of things we could have done in that game. We had some opportunities, and we just didn't quite get there. We need to improve on that."
What are the physical traits that Jimmy Smith possesses that have allowed him to play good press coverage this year? (Matt Vensel)"He's big, long, strong and fast. That's what I can tell you. Physically, he has all the physical traits. How many corners are 6-2 [with] long arms, a physical guy, a strong guy and the guy can run? Those are all the things you look for in a corner. Besides that, I think his confidence is growing. That's the other side of it, not the physical side of it, his confidence is growing. And the more it grows, the better you become."
Given how well he's played, and also his size – I know you guys don't move your corners around – but is this a week where maybe you consider all alternatives to covering a guy like Calvin Johnson? (Matt Vensel) "What time is the game on Monday? Then, you'll find out at 8:40 on Monday."
What are the pros and cons of that? Because some teams in the league have taken their best corner to match up with a guy like Calvin Johnson. What are the pros and cons of doing that as opposed to playing it straight? (Luke Jones)"It's not the *[main cover] *guy, it's the rest of the guys that really have to do a good job. If you call a zone coverage and you're rotating down a certain way, and that guy is used to playing over on the left side and now he's on the right side, the safeties have to know [what they are doing]. It really involves more than just the guy. It's easy if I've got No. 81; I can go find him and go over and get him. And that's easy when you're playing man coverage. You can't go into a game, and every time I walk over with 81, they know you're in man coverage, so a red flag is going to go up. You've got to be able to play all of your coverages if you are going to play it that way. Well, there's a lot more involved in playing that, and all of a sudden the guy is in the slot, and he's not an outside receiver, and you're in sub defense, and Jimmy [Smith] is in a nickel, or your guy is not a nickel. There's a lot more involved when you try to play matchup coverage. It's easy when you play man; go get your guy. But I wouldn't want to be a coordinator in this league that tells the offensive coordinator every time I'm in man coverage. So, there's a lot more to it than just lining a guy up like that. And teams that are predominantly 'man' teams, it's easier for them than teams that aren't."
Can you take advantage of Matthew Stafford, who's just a free thrower? He just zips it out there with all the confidence in the world. (Jim Forner) "The guy is [great]. The other thing about him is I think he feels very confident in his targets. I think you've got to be 6-5 or bigger to even play for the Lions. So, you take out No. 18 [Kris Durham], who is 6-5, down on the goal line and they put in No. 80 [Joseph Fauria], who is 6-7. There's a big difference. (laughter) They're big. And I think he feels real confident that he can throw it up to them. The other thing about him is that he is very accurate when he does do that. I've seen him off his back foot going backwards throw the ball 30 yards down the field zipping a sidearm. The guy has a real strong arm. He's got strong hands, he's got a great touch and a ton of confidence in the guys catching the ball."
Dean, it's a strange stat: I think you guys are like 20th in 20 yard receptions allowed, but your last in 40 allowed. I know they've happened in different ways; there have been long passes and the one the other day it was a pass behind the line of scrimmage, but why do you think there have been more of these plays that have busted out, where you've done a good job of eliminating the 20 , but then these big gains for whatever reason happen? (Matt Vensel) "Just mistakes. I don't think there's any particular coverage or any particular one thing that you'd say: 'That's been it.' We've given up some big plays. I really don't think … I'd like to give you a real sound explanation, but it's just, 'Hey, we gave up a play,' and it happened to be a big one. A guy made a mistake and … You can play soft, you can play really soft and give up a bunch of 20-yarders and then tackle a guy for 20 yards, or you can play a little more aggressive. And sometimes when you do that, you can miss a tackle and it goes for 40. I don't really think I could give you a really solid answer on why."
Red zone defense is always important. Is it maybe even a little more so when you're playing a team that moves the ball as well as the Lions have? (Garrett Downing)"It's just important all the time. They're going to get some yards; they always do. It's hard to say you're ever going to shut somebody down. You'd like to, and that's what your goal is. I don't think it's any more important this week than it is in other weeks. We can't let them score if they do get down there. We've got to hold them to field goals or not let them score at all. And that's just kind of an every-game thing."