Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg
Where do you think the breakdown was in the Denver game with the special teams, especially on the punt return and then the kickoff return? (Bill West) "The punt return was a ball that we scouted out the winds prior to the game. We tried to punt it right, and the wind grabbed it and sent it to the left, and as a result to that, our coverage was headed in the wrong direction. We did a real poor job adjusting down the field. We missed tackles. We had one guy fall down. It is one of those situations, where as a coach, I take responsibility for the call, and then a series of other events happened. We got blocked; we had a guy fall down. With a returner like that, you just can't make that mistake. On the kickoff coverage, it was simply a situation where the ball wasn't exactly where we wanted it either, and we got out of our lanes, and the guy split us. He's a dynamic returner. He's shown that all year long. When you make a mistake like that, he makes you pay."
One week earlier you didn't give up a yard on special teams. Last week didn't go as well. Does that tell you how different things can be with one singular breakdown? (David Ginsburg) "I think it tells you a lot about the level of competition. When you're playing this time of year, you're playing against really good teams that are in the playoffs for a reason. They have good players. This last week they had an exceptionally good returner. That's why we have to be really mindful of our own responsibilities and doing our jobs at a very high level, because we are playing good teams."
Justin Tucker has been marvelous thus far. Does this guy just exude confidence, and have you seen this from the very first day he walked in here? (David Ginsburg) "He's got a very confident persona. He's a confident young man in a lot of things that he does. He's full of life and full of personality, and he enjoys those moments. You could tell when he bounced out there that it wasn't intimidating to him. He was ready to go seize the opportunity. He made a great kick after a great hold and a great snap. It was fun to watch."
Some of the guys on special teams said that they were upset with the way they played on Saturday night. Did you feel the same way? (Ed Lee) "I was certainly upset. When you give up two touchdowns, that's unacceptable in a season, let alone [in] one game. We are all very fortunate, those of us in the special teams room, that the rest of the team played as well as it did to still secure the victory. It's remarkable when you listen to our guys on our sidelines, not only our special teams players, but all of the players. They didn't let it bother them. They kept playing. It was our words on the sideline that we were trying to encourage our guys that you keep playing. There's still a lot of football left for us to make a play to help us win this game. The offense and defense – both –stepped up big to get us to where we could make a field goal and have an impact in that game."
For this game, is it a matter of making changes or doing the things you have been doing and not having the breakdowns? (Garrett Downing) "We've had a good season. We've had a good season in coverage, and we've had a good season in returns. So, I have a lot of confidence in our guys. When you have a game such as last week, it certainly grabs your attention, and you want to react and you want to do something to try to make things right. But at the same time, you can't overreact, because we've had consistent coverage all season, and I fully expect our guys to be really focused on the task at hand. I think we'll play really well and really smart. So as far as what we're going to change and not change, that really remains to be seen. But I think the one thing that I think really will change is that our performance will change."
Corey Graham obviously had a reputation for being a special teams player from college and in Chicago, but obviously has a desire to be a [defensive] back. As a coach, and working with a player, is that kind of hard to balance a player's desire to play one position and has a sort of natural knack to do another? (Julian Benbow) "When we got Corey [Graham] on this football team, we knew he was a really good football player, and he wanted an opportunity to do more than just be a special teams player. And this has happened with others, as those of us that have seen Brendon Ayanbadejo come in here and win a job as the nickel and still be a special teams player. So, Corey was given the opportunity to do the things that he does well, and he was, obviously, a dynamic special teams player. And then all the way through training camp, he kept making plays. This is a great athlete. Didn't take us long to figure out he's not only a good special teams player, he's a football player. And when he's covering our wide receivers in practice, it gives you the confidence that you can put him against the other team's best receivers. And then, a series of injuries gave him the opportunity to play on defense, and he's delivered. He's deserved the opportunity, and he's really been a great player for us on special teams and on our defense. We like football players, and he's certainly one of them."
Jerry, obviously Justin's [Tucker] preparation this year has been great, evidenced by his production. With the idea of icing kickers in the playoffs, how is he handling that situation? Does he just, when he's out on the field, does he go back to the sidelines? What's his preparation in case a situation comes up where they want to ice the kicker? (Mark Zinno) "There's different situations. If they ice him right at the end, we have a particular plan. If they ice him early, we have a particular plan. So not to avoid your question, but it just depends on how it happens. Yes, he's got a plan. We practice all those things frequently, and if they ice him, he'll do his thing, and he'll be back out there and treat the next kick like a completely separate kick. Start all over, basically. Kickers are creatures of habit, as they should be, because they want to get in a rhythm. They want to field the same kick each time, so he's going to go back and reset and start all over again."
Jerry, injuries have sat the team everywhere and you've had to lose some guys when they'd become starters from offense or defense. Has that had any kind of impact on sort of the cohesiveness you're able to develop on special teams, particularly in coverage? (Ed Lee) "You go through the season and there's bound to be injuries – both to your special teams players and also the offense and defensive players, which in turn, brings special teams players to starting roles. This year was no different. We went through that during this season, and the depth and width of your team will really determine how successful you can be with that, and we were. We had a lot of new guys who were playing, and roles changed, and we were able to get through the season and have a playoff-caliber season. Now, as the playoffs came around, we seemed to get more guys back, and we probably resemble ourselves more than we did in Week 14 and 15. We resemble what we were earlier in the season, now."
Considering how explosive the Patriots are on offense, how critical is it to make sure that, not only just preventing returns for touchdowns, but even just limiting long-term returns with the Patriots? (Ed Lee) "It's very important to play a great field position game this week. So our job on special teams is to – with our coverage teams – is to give our defense as much green grass behind their backs as we possibly can, because they do move the ball. It's our jobs on a return game to try to set up our offense. So that's what we're going to do when we get there on Sunday."
Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell
Would you please talk about the changes of emphasis you have taken over, some of the things that you are doing now that maybe you weren't doing before?** (John Powers) "I'm not certain that we have changed that much. Obviously, when we started about a month ago, we had certainly been well into the season, and even to think about going in and making any major adjustments would be difficult. But, we maybe have done a wrinkle here and there. For the most part, we just found ways to execute better and more consistently."
What have you learned about Joe Flacco since you've been working with him? (Barry Svrluga) "Obviously, I knew quite a bit about him because of the fact that we competed against him every year and had an opportunity to see him play and certainly respected his talent and ability. Now, I've gotten a chance to get to know him on a personal level and a working relationship level, as well. I can see, obviously, he is a guy that has great passion and is determined and wants to be good at what he does. He's young and developing all the time. He just keeps getting a little bit better and better every single day."
Anything that has surprised you in particular about that you might not have guessed coming in? (Barry Svrluga) "No, not really. Every guy that plays that position in this league is a highly-competitive guy, so you anticipate that they have talent. Otherwise, they wouldn't be lining up behind the center in this league. Overall, he is a true professional. He is a guy that loves the game. He spends a lot of time studying his craft. He's getting better at what he does."
From your perspective, why does it seem that Joe [Flacco] gets better in the postseason? (Ed Lee) "This is my first time going through it. To be honest with you, I'm not certain I'd be a great judge on that, but John [Harbaugh] may be better in that sense. One of the things that I think you can see throughout the year is he gets better. You watch him just in terms of development, and he really starts to play better as time goes on. I think our entire offensive unit is probably going through something similar to that, because of the fact that they have a little bit better feel for maybe the things that we are doing. Some of them maybe it's taken a couple of years to get them in position to where they are really executing some fundamental things that we've done over the years –that have been here over the years, I should say. That would maybe my only thought considering that particular question."
Jim, you go back to the victory in Week 3 over the Patriots. Their roster has changed. Aqib Talib now is a part of their secondary. How has Aqib Talib made their secondary better? (Mark Zinno) "One of the things that you can see immediately is that he is a very, very talented and skilled performer. He runs extremely well. He's a very confident player. He challenges the best in the league, obviously. He will line up on them and cover them all over the field. He is a riverboat gambler. He'll take a chance here or there, but [he is] very, very effective. Obviously, anytime that you have a guy like that, you can sort of turn your attention away and really focus on the other eligibles, because he's done a pretty good job of locking the other guys down."
Does he like to take those chances? Do you want to go after him and get that target? (Ed Lee) "We go every ballgame and kind of look and think of the things that we do best. That's the thing that we are considered with probably more so than anything else. There are a lot of good players out there – a lot of guys that will challenge you. He's one of those guys, but he isn't the only on that team. They have a formidable front. They have an outstanding linebacking corps, and even the rest of the secondary [is filled with] good, quality men. We have a lot of folks to deal with."
Last week was, obviously, a high-scoring game. Do you see another shootout this week? (Garrett Downing) "Every game kind of takes on its own personality. It just depends. You know that their offense has been one that has been highly productive, and we have been fairly productive here over the last stretch – down the stretch, I should say – consistently. We will see what happens. Sometimes it takes on a little different flavor than what you think."
When you are playing a team that puts up as many points as they do, do you go into it feeling like we are going to have to score a lot or do you just wait to see how the game plays out? (Garrett Downing) "We go in with the same mindset no matter who we are facing. Obviously, we go in with a different script maybe in terms of the game plan, because they have different strengths and weaknesses and those kinds of things. Our job is to score points, regardless of who we are playing and try to score as many as we possibly can. That's the key. When you get into the playoffs, one of the things you know is that you are facing a team that can put points on the board, that can play defense, that has good special teams. They have very, very few weaknesses. That's why out of the four teams left, they are pretty strong teams."
The big play in the Denver game was Torrey Smith's touchdown catch right before the half. How difficult of a play was that for a receiver and how does he change the offense, his ability? (Barry Svrluga) "He's made some great catches for us; that was one of them. [It was] a very, very difficult ball to adjust to, it had some heat on it. It was high, and obviously, Joe [Flacco], when he lets them lose, they role pretty fast. He was able to adjust and catch that ball on his fingertips. The defender actually had his momentum going forward. It is very difficult for a receiver to stop and make that kind of catch with that kind of momentum on the ball. Torrey [Smith] has made some great catches for us. He does a tremendous job for us, not only stretching the field, but he has also done a nice job with intermediate routes, as well. He does, obviously, bring a little attention with him when he takes off and runs a route, which has been helpful for us."
In that same vein, the big play the last two weeks has really aided you guys and made Ray Rice a better option in the run game in a single-back set. How is the fact that you're spreading things out helped the running game? (Mark Zinno) "I really do think that they've complemented one another. For the most part, I think our offensive line has done a tremendous job blocking. Ray [Rice] has done a tremendous job running the ball, and that's kind of where it all starts. Usually, it's the other way around. Typically, for the most part, you establish a pretty good running game, and then, obviously, things help to open up a little bit, because you can't do anything all the time in this league. You have to be able to balance the run and the pass. You can't throw deep all the time. You have to go intermediate and short. You have to mix it up as much as you possibly can, and that's what we have been trying to do."
How integral has Matt Birk been to the offense? (Ed Lee) "Matt [Birk] is, obviously, a veteran that has been around a bit. [He is a] very, very smart guy that does a great job of setting our schemes up inside – both in the run and the pass. He is vital. Sometimes we have had a couple of young guys lined up next to him, and he does a great job of communicating and making sure everyone is on the same page."
You were talking about Torrey Smith, but he did that damage against Champ Bailey, who is typically a guy that many offenses stay away from. What did you see, and what did you guys see in the film as far as being aggressive and going after him? (Luke Jones) "I think a lot of times things come from practice – when we are out on the practice field and we work at what we do and try to play as well as we possibly can and go into the ball game. Obviously, there are going to be some matchups that are going to be difficult matchups. That was a difficult matchup. In that particular case, Torrey [Smith] was able to make some very, very fine plays against a great corner. You don't always go into a ball game in mind that you are going to go after this guy or that guy. You try to spread it around and look at what they do from a schematic standpoint and see where you can attack what best suits your offense. That's kind of how we look at it more so than anything else."
The play that tied up the game, Joe [Flacco] to Jacoby Jones, is that how you drew it up that it was going to go down the field 71 yards? (Bill West) "No, not at all. There was a lot going on in that play. Very, very good pass protection, Joe [Flacco] making just a heck of an effort trying to buy a little time, and obviously, a great throw down the field and Jacoby [Jones] getting in position to make the catch. They improvised a little bit. That's what great players do. These guys are getting better all the time. This is the time of year that you are going to have to make plays like this, because it's very, very difficult to win consistently in this league."
On the day when you took over, you said that you are looking for the offense to get this much better. What has been your role in allowing that to happen in the last few weeks? (Luke Jones) "Overall, and I think often times guys – and at least in my particular case – our offensive coaches have done a tremendous job. I'm really in position to be able to utilize their knowledge. They basically help me put the format together in terms of the game plan. They have a very, very strong sort of a foundation in this offense. [Wide receivers coach] Jim Hostler and [offensive line coach] Andy Moeller and [running backs coach] Wilbert Montgomery and [tight ends coach] Wade Harman, [senior offensive assistant Craig] Ver Steeg, those guys do a tremendous job. You have to give them a lot of credit. The other thing is just in terms of our players – those guys are making plays. So, it doesn't all rest on one guy and one guy making a difference in the system. These guys are mature and fought and worked over the years to get where they are. I just see everybody getting a little bit better at what they do and I'm happy to be a part of it."
Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees
You played the Patriots earlier this year. Is there something a little more special every time you go against these guys for you? (Garrett Downing) "Yeah, it's the AFC Championship. I'd say that's about as special as you could get – except for one more. That's what, to me, it's all about. It's not New England. It's [that] we're playing in the AFC Championship game. This is what we've fought hard [for] and worked hard to get here. Now, it's a matter of we have to go out and execute."
In the years when you saw this team's defense from the other side, what was your perception of it then? Do you understand how they play defense here a little differently now that you're here? (John Powers) "The perception of Baltimore's offense when I was the coordinator up there? (Powers: "No. Looking at how they play defense in Baltimore, how they looked when you were on the other side, opposed to how they look from the inside now.") I'm not sure I've exactly got this question down. I never really paid a whole lot of attention to Baltimore's defense, to be honest with you, when I was up there because I was worried about Baltimore's offense. So, I can't really answer that one, I guess."
What makes the up-tempo offense that they use so effective? Is that something you can simulate in practice when you guys are trying to get your own things ready, too? (Matt Vensel) "You can try your best to simulate it. It's like anything. It's like Washington and all those other teams that are now running the option and that stuff. You can try to simulate it the best you can. The up-tempo is maybe a little easier than that. The key thing about them is they've done it so much, and they've done it for so long that if you watch teams, just like in this last game, if you don't get lined up right and right way, you've got no chance. On defense, there is always adjustment, there are always checks, there is always some kind of communication. It's hard to communicate, it's hard to make a check, it's hard to make an adjustment if you aren't lined up right the first time. So, that, to me, a little bit of their up-tempo is to try to get you off guard. They know what they're doing; they've got it called. They have plenty of ways to signal and do all that stuff. The key, to me, on defense is that you have to play fundamentally sound. The No. 1 priority, first of all, is just to get lined up and be ready to play. Don't be looking around, don't be talking back to somebody else and then the ball is being snapped and then you have to try to react to what's going on. You have to be out, you have to be set, you better be ready to go. A little bit of that is on me making the calls, and a lot is on the players getting ready. If they make a call, an official makes a call, and you don't agree with it, you have to let it go and go get lined up, because while you're sitting there and griping at them, they are lining up. So, it's just things like that that you can't necessarily simulate in practice, but you can sure show them on film and talk in the classroom and just keep beating it into their heads. That's what we have to do."
They've been running the ball a lot more this year, and you guys have certainly turned around your unit as well in terms of run defense. What has it been that has allowed you guys to play better run defense over the past couple of months opposed to the first half? (Dean Pees) "We did a couple of things with the people that we had, the personnel that we had earlier in the year. Like anything, you try to keep a lot of things the game, and the carryover … If you have three coordinators in three years and you try to keep everything kind of the same, you don't want go in and make any drastic wholesale changes or anything like that. Obviously, it's been successful here for a long, long time. After the bye week, we sat back and said, 'Are we asking some guys to do some things they just, physically, can't do.' It's just not the best thing for them. Those situations we've changed. We didn't change the whole structure of the defense, but we have changed some techniques and some things that those guys do that may have helped us."
With Rob Gronkowski out, how is that going to change what the Patriots may do, and will it change anything that you guys do defensively? (Mark Zinno) "I don't think it will change a thing with them, other than the fact that they have a very talented guy that is not playing. There are other games that he didn't play in, and when you go back and you watch those games, [formation-wise], running the ball, the types of runs, the types of passes, the formations, all that stuff, none of it changed. Just another guy comes in. They've got the same kind of philosophy: next man up. So, it's going to be another tight end filling that spot or a wide receiver. That's the thing about them is they can form all their formations and everything out of so many personnel groups with so many different guys doing it. They can put a running back outside, [Shane] Vereen, [Danny] Woodhead and those guys. They can put those guys out there, and they're like wide receivers. So, when they had [Julian] Edelman, you didn't know if it was him or [Wes] Welker, sometimes on film you couldn't even tell who all these guys are. I don't think it's going to change a whole lot other than … Obviously, he is a very talented, talented tight end."
Coach, being able to be in the AFC Championship game and struggle all the way through the year with guys being hurt, now it seems like last week and this week you are probably as healthy as you were all year. That's got to be a good feeling going into this game. (Bill West) "It absolutely is. It was kind of like every week we were kind of designing things and drawing things up in the dirt to try to make sure that we were giving our guys the best chance to succeed and had guys kind of playing a little bit of everywhere. So, it's kind of nice having guys back and actually having guys line up where maybe they ought to be lined up and not have to – I don't want to use the word gimmick – but try to draw things up to get a particular pressure, maybe, on third down to get it run to try to maybe move guys around. Whereas now, I feel like this is as healthy as we've probably been all year."
In addition to that, has the flu taken an effect with you guys? It's going across the country. How have you guys been dealing with it? (Lamont Williams) "Not that I've noticed. Not that I've seen. I don't have any wood or I'd knock on it."
How can you make life uncomfortable for Tom Brady? (Ed Lee) "Hire Tonya Harding. (laughter) If they were getting off the bus, I'd spray water outside the bus and hope it freezes. (laughing) He is who he is. I went against him up there in practice for six years. He's as competitive of a person as I've ever been around. He can give you this little boyish look on TV, but he is a very, very, very competitive guy. He didn't even like losing in practice. The more we rode him on defense – because I had a couple trash-talkers – the harder he played. He is who he is. He's going to play well. You expect him to play. We have to do the best job we can, fundamentally, to disrupt him and do some things to him. I have a lot of respect for him. He is a Hall of Fame quarterback."
Because of your experience with him, do you have an inside information? (Ed Lee) "If I did, you would not know it."
Do you have something you could use and share with your players? (Ed Lee) "Like I said, I don't know. I don't know if I have any information or not."
In that same area, every coach in this league has some sort of tendencies, especially successful ones – that's what makes them successful. You've coached with Bill Belichick and now coached against him. Is there anything about his game that he's developed over the years that you've recognized? Is there anything you know about Bill that he may tip his hand a little bit? (Mark Zinno) "I don't know if he'll tip his hand. I think the thing that you know about Bill, if you've ever worked for him, is the fact that when he looks at another team, whatever you've done in the past, if there has been a weakness, you better shore that one up, because that's what he's going to go after. There are some guys that are going to go out there and they're going to run Power O no matter who the heck lines up, no matter what your front is. Well, Bill might not run a certain play against us at all that he has shown for the last three weeks, but he is going to run a play or a pass or whatever based on something that they have seen on film that they think is a weakness for us. He's going to try to exploit either a person or whatever, a scheme that we have on defense, and he is going to do the same thing on offense – on both sides of the ball. Being on the other side of it, I've heard him stand up in front of the team and say, 'Here's the three things that you've got to do on offense. This is how you have to attack these guys. This is who you have to attack.' Maybe he might even be specific with a player. That's the thing about him – he's going to do whatever he has to do. There were games that we played 4-3 and then there are games we never played 4-3 and played 3-4. The 2004 Super Bowl, we played a defense with five linebackers on the field that we hadn't played, ever. So, it was a matter because of [Eagles QB Donovan] McNabb and how we were going to take him and [Brian] Westbrook out of the game. So, it was more specific to things like that. That's what Belichick does and is phenomenal about."
Dean, when you're facing an athletic tight end like Aaron Hernandez, how much more of a challenge is that for you when you're trying to decide on a coverage where he's lined up against a linebacker as opposed to say a strong safety? (Luke Jones) "The key is to try to make him find out which one you're going to do. You can't go in there and say, 'The whole game, OK, I'm going to put a strong safety on this guy.' That's not going to take [Tom] Brady very long to figure that one out, nor is it going to be the same if we end up putting a linebacker on him all the time. The key is to let them have to figure it out after the ball is snapped, who's on him, and then you just can't keep doing the same thing over and over with Tom, or he'll gash you."
This is a team that you play at least once a year now. Is this almost like a divisional rivalry, almost like what the Patriots have with the Jets for example (John Powers) "I don't know if it's a divisional rivalry as much as a game that's always an important game. It always means a lot. Sometimes you're playing somebody outside the division, but even maybe in the AFC … Yeah, it's a [division-type] game, but you're right, it seems like we play them every year. It seemed like when I was at New England we played the Colts every year, and it became that kind of a game. You still have your rival games, whether it be the Steelers, the Browns and the Bengals, but we play them more than probably any other AFC team. And the other thing is you become so familiar with them, because you play them so much – and they do us, too."
Dean, so much has been made, the defense has been on the field for 87 snaps in each of the last two games. How much of a factor is that for you in maybe just weighing fatigue and maybe rotating guys through a bit more, or is it something where you just have to wait and see how they respond in the game? (Luke Jones) "I think it's more of the latter of the two. You kind of wait and see. We've been rotating guys, so I know we're playing 87 snaps – and there are some guys that are playing all 87 – but there are also some guys that aren't. In all honesty, I thought we were as fresh in the overtime game the other day as we looked at any time during the year. I think at this point in time during the year, too, everybody is a little fatigued. But at the same time, your adrenaline is pumping, and the emotion is a lot different now than it is if you're playing the seventh ballgame of the season playing 87 plays. It's just different. You've got to find a way to pull a little more out of you, and I think the guys do. I think everybody does that – both teams."