Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh addresses the New England media during his conference call on Wednesday, January 6, 2010.
Q: What have you seen from the Patriots on tape? How do you gauge the way the Patriots have played over the last month?
JH: I just kind of look at the whole body of work, the whole season. Then, you have to take into account their history. They are an elite team in this league, a premier team. I think they've played at a very high level all year [with] tons of weapons across the board and a huge challenge.
Q: Your team has had narrow losses against good teams. Have you learned from that and moved forward from it?
JH: Every week is a new week, you know? So to me, it remains to be seen for every team from a week-to-week basis. And obviously, if you can pull off some of those wins it gives you some confidence, but at the same token, it doesn't guarantee you anything. Yeah, it's something we want to learn from and improve upon and just see how it goes.
Q: Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren have been mostly absent the last three games. Has it been difficult to gauge what their defense has been like recently since those guys have been out?
JH: Well, what you have to do is put them in there, in your planning. You put them in there. You understand a little bit what their skills are, a little bit what they like to do with them and guess I guess - [the] best guesstimate you can make, in terms of how they are going to apply it. You know what they're running lately, but they are going to be hot there. So we're counting on them being there. We're planning for them.
Q: Does their absence make film study of the defense difficult?
JH: We'll look at all the games. We know we're going to get an NFL defense and we're getting NFL fronts and NFL coverages. The Patriots make that tough anyway. That's something they've done a great job of over the years. They're kind of week-to-week in their approach, so you can never really predict what you're going to get exactly with those guys. I think in the Super Bowl - we played them in Philly - they came out with a whole new defense they hadn't done all year. I just think that's something they do well.
Q: How valuable is the experience of having gone through all this last year in the three playoff games you had there?
JH: Experience is always good, right? Obviously, it's a new week, new challenge, new year. Everything is new. But having been in that environment is a big thing. [Joe Flacco] is a competitive guy and he's excited to play in games that are meaningful. I guess because of those close losses, we've had a lot of meaningful games down the stretch here. So it's kind of a fresh experience for him in that way too.
Q: It seems Joe Flacco has been through some growing pains this year. Is that an accurate assessment?
JH: Yeah, I mean we all go through growing pains, don't we? You try to get better and people are trying to win, you know? So they attack what you do and he's had the benefit of experience on that.
Q: [On the difficulty in preparing for the Patriots offense without Wes Welker]
JH: Yeah, I'd say that makes a good point, but I think they're hard to prepare for anyway because all those balls are going to Welker. But all those balls are going to Welker. If they were that easy to prepare for and defend, then people wouldn't have allowed that to happen. So [Tom] Brady does a good of putting the ball in places based on the coverages, based on who's open and that kind of thing. That's not going to change. Plus, they have a very good replacement. It's a real credit to their personnel and what Bill [Belichick]'s done and with the draft and things that they would bring a guy in that has similar abilities to Wes and they developed him in that way. It's a credit to what they've done.
Q: Has your secondary made some strides since the point where it was having some difficulties early in the season?
JH: Yeah, I think we have. We haven't given up big plays like we did early. The Minnesota game and the San Diego game were two games where we just gave up some really bad big plays that cost you games. It cost us the Minnesota game. We've done better with that, but we've also had some injuries back there. We've lost three corners back there who are now on IR, which is obviously tough. But I think the guys who have stepped in have done a good job. [Secondary Coach] Chuck Pagano has done a good job of working with those guys.
Q: Did losing Lardarius Webb and Fabian Washington in December force you guys to redraw some things?
JH: I don't think we've really changed our structure too much as far as what we're playing defensively. But it's two more really good players out there with really good skills that you don't have. So, it makes you thinner.
Q: What do you schematically to pass the ball to Ray Rice as much as you do?
JH: We've lined him up on the outside like the Patriots do. You've seen that stuff - empty sets, like they do with Kevin Faulk. He catches some of those balls. Obviously, Ray is nowhere near as accomplished as a guy like Kevin Faulk has been over the course of his career at this stage. But check-downs, things like that, pretty much the standard ways.
Q: Are you designing plays to pass to Ray Rice or is it mostly check-downs and blitzes?
JH: Guys get the ball based on who gets covered. Sometimes you design it properly and sometimes it's a function of checking out or screens or whatever. We'd like to be like the Patriots in the sense that we'd like to spread it out across the board [and] throw to the guy they're not covering as well. But that's something that's challenging.
Q: It seems like Ray Rice's touches have gone way up since the last time you played the Patriots. Is that just volume or are you doing a lot of different things with him now?
JH: Well, we get the ball to him in a lot of different ways. You are kind of alluding to that, which is certainly true. But it's a good player. When a good player makes plays, obviously, he gets yards. And then you want to go back to him, and people gain confidence in him, and he makes another play. And he's done that for us. He's gotten us back in some games and he's helped us pull away in some games. He's just done a nice job. I think it's a credit to him. Wilbert Montgomery, our running backs coach who you know, obviously had a great career. So I think it's a good player making plays.
Q: What does it speak to Michael Oher's versatility that he was so seamlessly able to switch sides?
JH: I don't know how often that happens in this league. I'd like to see a stat or history on that. For a rookie to come in and start, play really well, and then go to the other side and play really well. He really made a seamless transition from the right side to the left side. I think it says a lot about obviously his talent. But more than that, I think it talks to his work ethic because its double the reps if you think about it footwork wise, also understanding the mental part of it. He's really a smart guy and he really works hard at it.
Q: Do you see a similar versatility in Sebastian Vollmer?
JH: Yeah, we really liked Sebastian coming out. He was really high on our draft board and then we ended up getting Michael [Oher]. So that kind of pre-empted that and the Patriots drafted him pretty high. He's a very smart guy, a very hard worker. He's huge.
Q: How key is what Haloti Ngata does for your defense and how many different things are you able to do with him?
JH: We are able to move him around a little bit and he's just a great player. He's a guy that's capable of controlling the inside part of that defense at times. He's a physical guy, similar to the types of guys the Patriots have in there. He's really important to us. He's been productive. He's just hard to handle, especially if you try to just block him with one guy.
Q: For a guy his size, is it unique how he gets after the quarterback, too?
JH: Well, he's an athlete and he's really, really explosive. I don't think I've seen a guy with more lower body explosiveness up close, certainly nobody on a team I've coached. He has great athleticism and great lower body explosiveness, which is probably pretty unusual for a guy his size.