Q:** What defines the 2014 Ravens to you?
BB: As usual, the Ravens are a solid football team in all three phases of the game. They're well coached, they're physical, they do a good job on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. They have explosive skill players on offense, in the return game and on defense. I think Coach [John] Harbaugh has, as always, put those type of teams out there with Ozzie [Newsome] and their respective staffs. I think that's what they have again. That's what they are. They're tough: they're physically and mentally tough. They can play in tough situations and they're talented. They keep coming at you.
Q: Offensively, what do you see from them in terms of the groupings they tend to favor? It's a different offense under [offensive coordinator] Gary Kubiak than what we've seen in the past. I remember a lot of two-tight ends in Houston, I don't know if it's similar in Baltimore.
BB:** There's certainly a good amount of two-tight ends, but I think what they did in Houston and what they did in Denver when Gary was in Denver with Mike [Shanahan] and even now in Baltimore is you see different personnel groupings. They try to get the matchups that they want, or based on the looks that you give them against certain groupings, whether it's a fullback in the game or tight ends or one tight end and three receivers or some type of three-open formation, however they get to it. If they get the looks that they want, that they feel like they can attack, then they try to put you in those formations that you're going to use and attack them. I'd say they're multiple. You have to be ready for however they're going to personnel and formation you and what you do, which might be different than what they've done with somebody else. But at the core, they still are a very good running team, a very good play-action team. They hit a lot of big plays and they're a very good vertical passing team. They make a lot of big plays down the field. They make a lot of big plays in the running game too. It's not just long passes and a lot of their passes that are big plays come off play-action, which of course draws the defense's attention to the running game and then that opens up other areas. They're well balanced: it's a well balanced offense that attacks the edges of the defense. It attacks vertically on the defense and it attacks all the intermediate areas as well. They do a good job.
Q: How different is the offense with Gary Kubiak compared to what the Ravens used to run? Do you see them using a lot of the boot-action stuff with Joe Flacco that he used with Matt Schaub down in Houston?
BB:** Yeah, there's a lot of boots. Absolutely, yeah, there's a lot of boots. I think you see an offense very similar to what you saw in Houston, but I'd say Flacco being one of the best deep ball passers in the league with good deep receivers, especially [Torrey] Smith, but [Jacoby] Jones, they've got a bunch of them – Steve Smith – they can get the ball down there to several different guys. I think that's an element of it that I'd say is – they did it in Houston too. Obviously they had Andre Johnson and receivers they could get the ball downfield to, but they do a good job of stretching the defense. They still have their running game and a lot of boots and other play-actions as well. It's not all boots, but there's certainly a good amount of those.
Q: Can you review the contributions that specials teams have had this season for you guys? Can you give us a synopsis on Baltimore's special teams?
Team photographer, Keith Nordstrom, offers up his best from the Baltimore Ravens game on Sunday, December 22, 2013.
BB:** I think our special teams units have certainly given us some positive plays this year in different areas: the return game, the coverage game and we've put some pressure on the specialists. You know, it's very individualized. It changes week to week based on what the strengths and kind of what the scheme is of your opponent. I don't think there's any necessarily common thread there. The Ravens are very good in the kicking game, as they always are. Both their kickers are big legs. They can really change field position or maintain field position, particularly as it relates to the kickoffs, or change field position in the punting game. [They're] very explosive in the return game with [Jacoby] Jones. They're a good coverage team. They have a lot of fast guys with good size: linebackers, DBs, safeties and they use their receivers as well and a couple offensive players – the fullback and tight ends. They're well coached. They give you enough scheme problems that you know you have to defend those and they have good personnel. They're a tough, tough team to match up against in the kicking game because of the level of skill that they have and the amount of physicality that they bring with their core guys. It will be a big challenge for us, but that's what our guys do. They meet those challenges every week and this will be another one.
Q: What is your assessment of how Dan [Connolly] played this year and how did he handle the leadership role that he had on the offensive line as a captain for the first time?
BB:** I think Dan's given us great leadership for several years as he's been a regular player for us and he's played different positions over the last five, six years. The captain thing maybe took on a little bit of a different twist, but he's always given us good leadership. He's got a great work ethic and toughness. He's really a guy that competes every day on the practice field and in games. He's played all three of the inside positions. He's given us that and I'd say it's been to a higher degree this year, but it's always been there. His versatility, his experience are great assets for us.
Q: They used a lot of traps against Pittsburgh with Justin Forsett and used Owen Daniels more frequently as well. Is that in contrast to Baltimore with their vertical game? Defensively, with the all the injuries they had in the defensive backfield, and I know Le'Veon Bell out was a huge loss for Pittsburgh, but were they dropping their linebackers more into coverage to compensate for all the injuries they've had? Is that more of an overall trend or is that something they were doing against Pittsburgh specifically?
BB:** I'd say defensively they really haven't – I wouldn't say they've really changed too much over the course of the year. They pretty much do the things that they like to do. They have a variety of schemes and their outside linebackers or defensive ends, whatever you want to call them, they play both depending on… But the guys that are on the end of the line: [Courtney] Upshaw, [Elvis] Dumervil, [Terrell] Suggs and [Pernell] McPhee, those guys move around a lot. Sometimes they're inside, usually they're outside. They create flexibility for them in the defense by their pass rush ability and their coverage ability. [C.J.] Mosley and [Daryl] Smith do most of the covering, but not all of it. They mix those guys around. But I wouldn't say that they dropped more guys into coverage against Pittsburgh than they normally do. They give you a mixture: sometimes they drop, sometimes they come, sometimes one guy comes and the other guy drops. They've used different combinations of people in the secondary, but they've, as you said, had a couple guys banged up. [Lardarius] Webb has been steady for them and [Matt] Elam has played a lot of the nickel position for them. Will Hill has come in there and given them good snaps at safety. [Darian] Stewart at the other safety and then [Rashaan] Melvin has played well for them the last three, four weeks, starting with Jacksonville, but the last couple regular-season games and against Pittsburgh opposite of Webb when they leave Webb on the outside. Sometimes Webb plays in the slot, like he did against us a couple years ago. He has the flexibility to do both. He's a very experienced guy that's obviously an excellent coverage player with good ball skills. I would say overall defensively they kind of have their scheme. They fine tune it depending on who they're playing, but it's kind of not that often that you look at a game and say, 'We've never seen them do that before.' Sometimes on third down they give a team a little different look – a third down pressure or package or personnel even, but overall they do a good job. [Defensive coordinator] Dean [Pees] does a good job mixing up the coverage of single high safety, split safety, pressure, man zone, combination, using different rushers, using different guys in coverage. It's pretty extensive, but they kind of keep rolling through it and you know you're going to have to block several different looks over the course of the game.
PATRIOTS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR/QUARTERBACKS COACH JOSH MCDANIELS
Q:** How advantageous or disadvantageous is it for you to face Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees, someone who you're familiar with and has had good game plans against you in the past?
JM: I don't know how much of an advantage it is from one year to the next because Dean is obviously a very good coach. This unit we're playing is very talented. But they don't really stay the same in terms of the things that they use or do in each game that we've played them. There are always some levels of adjustments that are going to be required during the course of the game because Dean is going to put pressure on you in different ways. He's going to really force you to handle some new problems that he'll create. He's obviously got a tremendous defense that plays well and forces you to go the long, hard route without giving up many big plays. It's a challenge at every level, whether you're talking about the early-down game plan, third down, red zone – they're one of the best in the league. They sack the quarterback; they stop the run. So, there's experience against this team. Yeah, we know a lot of their players and some of their schemes, but I think each time we've played them our team has been different, their team has been different, and ultimately the game on Saturday night I would assume would take on its own form.
Q: How did your opportunities to talk with San Francisco and Atlanta go over the weekend?
Check out photos from access to players and coaches during the bye week as the Patriots prepare for the playoffs.
JM:** They were fine. It's part of the process and [you're] always obviously privileged that anybody wants to speak with you about anything like that. At this point I've moved on and hopefully [I] can help us put together a great plan for our guys heading into this week.
Q: How do you think Brian Tyms has developed this year, and can he continue to be a factor for you going forward this season?
JM: I've really been impressed and encouraged with Brian throughout the course of the year. He's a young guy that obviously is trying to create more and more opportunities for himself. [He] practices extremely hard – one of the hardest workers we have. He's in the building early; he's in the building late at night studying film, working at his craft to become a better player. Brian has contributed off and on, but also in other ways. He's played more than what his production may lead on, and he has also contributed in the kicking game as well. So, he's an unselfish guy, and obviously he's a guy that we think can continue to help us. [He] carves out a role for himself each week and it's exciting to see what he may be able to do this week.
Q: The Ravens appear to have a strong rushing defense once again. How do you balance trying to stick with the run while also not running into a brick wall?
JM:** Each game you certainly want to maintain your balance, and we're hard at work to try to make sure that we give our guys an opportunity to be productive in every area of the game plan. They are a good defense in a lot of areas that we're going to have to challenge and test as well. I think you put together the best plan you can. We have great trust and faith in our players to execute in all those situations, and we'll go out there and do what we feel is best right from the beginning of the game and then adjust as we need to adjust. I think each game and each game against this unit takes on its own form. It really does. Sometimes they force you into other issues, and sometimes they want to try to force you to play a certain way and really control the game and how it goes. And then how the game is ultimately going to unfold we'll all find out on Saturday.
Q: As a follow up to the question about your interviews, is that something that you will keep as an option going forward or are you taking your name out of consideration?
JM:** Honestly, I just had an initial meeting with them and it hasn't really gone any farther in any direction. Again, I'm back to focusing on the next task at hand for us, which is the Ravens. I'm sure they'll do what they need to do on their end, and I'm sure those things will take care of themselves in the future.
Q: How important is Dan Connolly to the cohesion on the offensive line this season? He's also a captain this season, so I wanted to see how you've seen him display that leadership on a day-to-day basis?
JM: Dan is a good representative as a captain for our unit and our team. He's very unselfish. He works extremely hard and he's prepared every single week. He's tough. He's dedicated. He'll do whatever we ask him to do in terms of his role in the game, including some of the things he's done to help some of our younger players when he hasn't been playing due to injury. He's obviously a very smart player that understands what we want to do each week and how we want to play. [He's] a critical piece in terms of our overall communication up front and our ability to work together with the offensive line. He's obviously played a lot of different spots for us. I think he's done a great job, a tremendous job of taking on the leadership role that he was asked to take on at the beginning of this season. He's really done a nice job for our offense and for our offensive line.
Q: What has Tim Wright added to the offense this season?
JM:** Tim is a guy that we got at the very beginning, so he was learning a lot of our system as we started the season but has really digested it more and more as the year has gone on. He's a guy that embraces his role each week, however big or small that may be. He's made some critical plays in the passing game for us, whether it be on third down, red zone or first or second down. He's an unselfish guy that works hard to be prepared and ready for his opportunity. We've got a lot of faith and trust in him and expect him to go out there and really help us this week.
Q: The Ravens did a good job against Antonio Brown. Do you anticipate them focusing on Rob Gronkowski in a similar fashion?
JM: They seem to do a good job each week of forcing the offense to do some things that maybe the offense didn't want to do. They have the ability to try to take somebody out of the game with different things that they can do in their scheme. They also have good players that they can just cover and match up with the guys they have without doing anything special. They've played a lot of good players this year, and really they don't do a lot of exotic things to take them out of the game. They play good team defense. It's one of the best units in the league for a reason. They're well coached, as I mentioned before. They play hard. It's 11 guys playing the same call and executing their assignment on every snap, which makes this a tremendous challenge for us.
PATRIOTS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR MATT PATRICIA
Q:** What has Steve Smith, Sr. brought to the Raven's offense as a complement to Torrey Smith?
MP: Well I think obviously you are talking about an extremely good player, a very smart, savvy vet. [He's] a guy that brings in a huge element of toughness out on to the field, a strong competitor. [He's] a guy that really does a great job of finding the open zone, or seeing the man-to-man coverage. [He] really does a great job of getting open for the quarterback, whether it's the intermediate routes, the tough catch-and-run plays, also the vertical plays downfield. The guy really has the ability to kind of hit all three levels. I think being as dependent as a receiver and a reliable target for the quarterback in the passing game, obviously then for Torrey Smith a lot of the vertical element is then really opened up for him when your attention really goes towards Steve Smith. I think the guy is just a tremendously tough competitor, very energetic, brings a lot of life to the offense; will go out and block. He'll do the tough duty: blocking and the route running and coming through the middle and catch-and-run type plays. I think he's just added a whole other element to their offense in the passing game and the run game.
Q:** What makes Joe Flacco a good fit in Gary Kubiak's system?
MP: I think he's a done a great job. I think it's really a great system fit for him from his ability to get the ball downfield. Obviously Joe Flacco has an extremely strong arm. [He] can really make those hard throws downfield, the deep throws downfield. Along with his mobility, this guy is a very athletic quarterback. He's very fast, does a good job of moving in the pocket and then also out of the pocket, which would incorporate some of the boot and the rollout-type passes that they have in that offensive system. So certainly that mixed with a smart quarterback, a seasoned vet, who does a great job of taking care of the ball. I think it's a really good fit for him and for the system and for what they are trying to get done offensively. I think he's done a great job.
Q: As a defensive coordinator, what are the benefits when you can have cornerbacks play man coverage?
MP: I think in general when you've got to be in situations where you need to play man, you can play man and when you've got to be in situations where you play zone, you play zone. Certainly there's no one coverage that handles everything, otherwise that's all anyone would play. I think the idea is for us to have multiple different looks and guys that can do multiple different things from a coverage standpoint, whether it's the corners, the linebackers, the safeties. Offenses have to be defended in a lot of different ways and being able to use different coverages to handle certain situations is going to be to your benefit out there as a defense. I think our guys are doing a good job of trying to play the defense that we put out there every week. Whether it's a situation where they are playing man or zone or whatever the case may be, we're trying to put them in the right call for that particular situation.
Q: But what are the benefits?
MP: I think again the benefit depends on the situation. Certainly if you have guys that can play man-to-man coverage in theory you'd like to say you can get on the receivers and cover them with tight coverage, but there's obviously going to be situations that the offense is going to get in where man-to-man coverage isn't the best thing to be in so you have to have that flexibility to play both.
Q:** Is the Ravens offense featuring Owen Daniels and Crockett Gillmore more extensively?
MP: I would definitely say it's a huge part of this offense, is the ability to use both their tight ends and the fullback also. He'll be mixed in there as the tight end/fullback in the backfield split out into single back-type of sets also. It's a combination of different personnel and fronts that they can put you in and try to put you in a bind from a formationing standpoint and also a personnel matchup standpoint. Certainly Owen Daniels is a guy that is familiar with this system, played under Coach [Gary] Kubiak at Houston and really does a great job in the system and understanding the valuable asset that they can be. I think Gillmore, obviously his first year in the system, has done a great job in both the run and the pass game being able to provide them the ability to get to the edge with the stretch-run game that they like to run. [He's] really a good complement to Owen Daniels. I think they do a great job using their tight ends, which obviously then puts stress in the middle of the defense, and on the defense in the general, having to defend the tight ends who can also push the ball vertical and are good in the play-action and boot-pass game which then obviously puts your wide receivers in a better position to make plays downfield outside.