On Thursday, Ravens Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale said he didn't want to discuss whether the arrival of pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue will alter his blitzing tactics.
"I'd like to answer that question, but I think [Steelers Head Coach] Mike [Tomlin] might read the transcripts to this press conference, too," Martindale said.
Well, that can be a two-way street. So here's what the Steelers have been saying this week:
Head Coach Mike Tomlin
"We're back in the kitchen, man. It's AFC North ball. You know we like that. We respect it. It's cool to be in what we believe is the game of the week for the third week in a row. We are humbly honored to be in that. We like to show that respect with how we prepare and then ultimately how we play. You know what the Ravens games are about, man. They are a top-notch organization and football team. They have talent across the board. They're familiar with us. We are familiar with them. There's continuity within schematics on both staffs and core players and things. I think that's what adds to the intrigue. You should anticipate it being a physical and rough and tumble game because history tells us that. I think how the two teams are playing this year also gives you that indication."
(on the Ravens defense)
"I can't say enough about the quality play of their defense. They're really getting after people. The new guy in the middle [Patrick] Queen is really an impressive draft pick out of LSU. Particularly for a young guy, he's really providing them quality ball. On the backend, [Marlon] Humphrey, I just really love and respect as a player. He's evolved into a real top-notch defender, and I say defender because he's not just the cover guy. He plays inside and the nickel. He's a quality blitzer. His ball awareness is on the ceiling. He might be the very best defender in football in terms of getting the ball and dislodging it, disrupting it. He got us in a very big way in the first game last year in overtime that lead to their victory in that game. They just have quality players at all levels through and through. Calais Campbell is a new addition up front that's a goon, man, that really gets after people. We're familiar with him over the course of his career and playing him a number of times. He has been an awesome addition to them. You just put that Philadelphia Eagles game on, and it speaks for itself."
(on the Ravens offense)
"On the offensive side of the ball, obviously, it starts with Lamar Jackson and his unbelievable talents not only as a runner but as a play-extender and as a thrower. They have some designed runs. He can also get you by scramble or improv. They have quality backs, man. We have to get ready for all three of those guys—[Mark] Ingram, [Gus] Edwards and the rookie [J. K. Dobbins], all three guys. They utilize all three. They utilize Lamar. I think Lamar has got 50 rushes. They're a tough nut to crack. We have to be really good versus the run in this game, but it's a very different challenge than maybe the Tennessee Titans or New York Football Giants because of the diversity in the run game and the multitude of people you have to contend with. In the passing game, it's Hollywood Brown, it's [Mark] Andrews and others. They just have a well-rounded group. That's one of the reasons they are 5-0, and it's one of the reasons we are preparing with an edge this week."
(Have some of the defensive additions in Baltimore changed what they do schematically or just enhanced what they have done in previous seasons?)
"They have a mode of operation, if that's what you speak of, and they probably acquire talent to fit that. But obviously, when you have a guy like Calais Campbell and his unique physical traits, he brings something, and you lean on that and you utilize that. I seem him disrupting passes and so forth, getting in passing lanes and things of that nature. I'd imagine that it is a little bit of both. They recruit players or acquire players that fit their mold and are capable of playing the style ball that they desire to play, but at the same time, they are smart guys. [Wink] Martindale and others I've known for a long time, they are going to do what their players can do and highlight those things as well."
(Is there anything you can glean from how you played Lamar Jackson last year or has he just grown so much as a quarterback?)
"They are probably better equipped to talk about his growth. We are just going to work to win this game and look at what he is doing right now and how he's utilizing his skills and talents and the people at his disposal in an effort to win. Each week is different. It may be the same guy. We might have different challenges the next time we play him. That's just how these things evolve and go over the course of the season. Sure, there's some lessons to be learned. There's some things to look back at, but we better be prepared for what he is doing and doing in the present."
(You guys were able to get to Jackson five times last year. What is sort of the key to keeping him in check?)
"I wish I had the answer to that. I wish the National Football League had the answer to that. In check is a strong term, one that I choose not to use. We're just going to play to the best of our abilities, we are going to play within our personality, and we need to be on the details. We need to play fast and play collectively together and hopefully that is enough."
(Is there any other team in the League that utilizes the tight end as much as Baltimore?)
"Yeah, there's a lot. Those guys out in [San Francisco] and others, there's some teams that really feature the tight end, but I can't say enough about the commitment and the relationship that Baltimore has between their quarterback and Andrews and what they are able to do with him. I think he has five touchdowns on the year, ridiculous red zone target, but all situations, red zone, third down, two-minute. They are a formidable tandem, one that we respect, and one we better be prepared to work to minimize."
(What kind of challenge do your receivers have this week with Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey?)
"They are quality players, but I can't say enough about Jimmy Smith as well who also plays in their sub-package at corner who has been a long-time corner for them in the AFC North. We've had experience and competition with them as well. They have a rock-solid group at the cornerback position that allows them to be aggressive. I would imagine that it will be a significant component of play in this football game."
(What kind of challenge does Lamar Jackson put on your pass defense from the standpoint of having guys both watching their guy and paying attention to him coming out of the backfield?)
"If we have a guy, we better have our full attention on the guy. We can't divide our eyes like you suggest. When we are responsible for people, we have to be responsible for those guys because at the same time, there are others responsible for Lamar Jackson and together we eat, or we don't and that's what makes collective defense so important and football the ultimate team game."
(What are your impressions of the new players in Baltimore, Yannick Ngakoue and J.K. Dobbins?)
"Again, I can't speak to their intended use of the runner, but they have utilized three runners to this point in the season, and it doesn't appear to be any schematic differences in the play selection of anything of that nature. I just think they have three backs that they like, and they're utilizing all of them. I would imagine that they are getting to know their young one without preseason and so forth. It is a process. I know we are going through a similar process in terms of getting to know Anthony McFarland and our utilization of him, and on the other side, they're just adding another quality rusher to a mix of quality rushers. I think they have 22 sacks as a football team, but it is spread out over a wide variety of people, and you have to be prepared for that. They just put somebody else in the hopper that you have to be prepared for, but such is life in the NFL. We look forward to competing and competing against them this weekend."
QB Ben Roethlisberger
(What are you most concerned about when 10 guys are across the line and the team is blitzing everywhere? What is most exploitable?)
"That's another thing we are talking about is a defense that brings guys from everywhere. They'll show that all up. They will drop. They'll show all up to the left, make you slide your protection that way, then they will drop. They will bring guys to the right. It's going to be one of those games where we are going to have to be able to keep everybody in at times. Just because you're keeping everybody in still doesn't mean you have all day to throw it. The ball still has to get out of your hand in a timely manner. It's not an easy thing to do. Sometimes you have to get lucky. You have to have the right protection called even into a blitz. Sometimes you can pick it up, you get the ball out of your hands, and it's one-on-one on the outside with no help. We like those matchups too because we have some slippery guys at receiver that can make guys miss. Every once in a while, you take that shot over the top, knowing that there may not be a safety back there. There are some things you can try to exploit. The key is always to protect long enough to do that."
(Could you guys try the same tactic you used in Tennessee in Baltimore to keep Lamar Jackson off of the field?)
"When you have an offense as good as Baltimore's with a player as dynamic as him and a lot of guys on offense, you have to try and keep them on the sideline. We were able to do that early in the game last week. We will have to do everything we can because this is a good football team, one of the best in the league."
(With the secondary they have, how important is it for the receivers to do what they do? Is this their biggest challenge to date?)
"Arguably. I think there was an article this morning or yesterday at some point talking about the best tandems in the League, and these guys were at the top of the list. Jimmy Smith, I don't even think was considered in the tandem as the third guy. Just some really good football players, ballhawks, guys that know how to play that can strip it. There's just a lot of challenges facing us this week in the pass game. That's also saying that you have time to just sit and throw it. Our guys are all going to have to be involved. That's going to be the key I think. We're going to have to try and find the best matchup and see where it goes from there. I'm going to have to be smart, make good decisions, and our guys are going to have to run good routes in order to have a chance."
(How would you define this rivalry?)
"It's tough. It's a physical one, it can be nasty at times. But I've always felt—as much as my nose has been broken, we've had injuries, a close game—it's always been football in its truest form in the sense that it's never been dirty, it's never been nasty. It's just been hard-nosed football. This is one you always want your bye week to be after."
(Does this game have a different vibe than the last two games because of the history? Does it feel proper that you are seeing each other now at the top of your games?)
"Well, I think this is what football fans want. This is what the NFL wants. I didn't get to play them last year, and I missed this. As much as this game hurts in terms of physically, at the end of the day, you miss this rivalry because it is fun. Like I said, it is football in its purest form. It should be a good matchup. We will have our hands full."
(Do you know Calais Campbell at all, and do you have any thoughts on facing him or him as a person?)
"I don't know him personally, I only know him from playing against him for many years. He is an enormous man, a very, very good football player, a guy that's hard to block, and he can get after the quarterback. He has hit me quite a few times that were very painful, so hopefully it doesn't happen this week. Just a tremendous football player. A lot of respect for him."
Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler
(Where do you put Lamar Jackson in terms of difficulty in the NFL because of everything he can do?)
"There's a lot of things he can do. He's fast, he's quick. He's hard to get on the ground. He's extremely athletic. He can throw the ball just as good as he runs the ball. He's going to be a hard time for us to defend and trying to win this ball game."
(Do you spend time watching other good defense's film around the League? What do you see from the Ravens defense?)
"Don Martindale does a good job for them over there. He's the coordinator over there. He's been over there for quite a while. Ozzie [Newsome] does a good job of getting the guys that he needs to get. It makes it tough. Do we see them sometimes? Sure we do because we play within the division, and so we get a chance to see what they do. We are aggressive, but they are probably a little more aggressive than we are if you think about what they do. They probably play a little bit more zero [coverage]. Zero coverage to me is when you don't have a safety in the middle of the field. They do that a little bit more than we do. They have been successful in doing it. I think they are the best team in the league in terms of the score, holding the score down. That's probably the most important thing. We have to make sure we do the same thing and increase our turnover ratio a little bit."
Offensive Coordinator Randy Fichtner
(What do your receivers have to do differently this week based on what the Ravens do with their corners?)
"You're going to have to match their intensity. They're strong. They're physical. They like to play press. They like to play man. Those aren't the only coverages they play, but I think if they had their wish, they would play it every down and think that they can stop you. There comes a detail of release techniques and fundamentals, separation techniques and fundamentals, being aggressive when the ball is in the air. If you lack in any one of those areas, it could mean a lost play. What it does present is it presents somewhat clear pictures of times for the quarterback. You just have to have winners. I feel really good about where we are at with our wide receivers. I think Coach [Ike] Hilliard has done a great job of keeping developing and working the fine details to man, zone release techniques, fundamentals of playing the game because you know that's still a pretty young group."
(How complicated are the Ravens' rush schemes? How difficult is if to prepare knowing they are adding a guy you haven't seen play for them yet?)
"It'll be interesting to see the usage. We got to see him a couple of years ago when we got to coach at the Pro Bowl, a talented young man as there is in the game. They have a lot of talent across the board defensively. It's always interesting to kind of see maybe they have a note that they would take when they play us and when they play us with Ben. If you're playing a younger quarterback sometimes, maybe, it's get after them and keep the pressure on them. Maybe veteran quarterbacks, maybe it's a little less of that, maybe a little more multiple in coverage schemes and/or your pressure schemes. It'll be interesting to see in terms kind of how they've kind of evolved and how they would think they would play us that would be to their advantage."