Adam Gase – January 6, 2017 Download PDF version

Friday, January 6, 2017

Head Coach Adam Gase

(Can you shed any light on the surprising DE Jason Jones move? Was there conduct detrimental to the team?) – “No, it was just an organizational decision. It’s what we thought was best for us moving forward, getting ready for this game.”

(Do you have somebody in mind to call up onto the 53-man roster?) – “We’re going to evaluate that. We still have time.”

(Obviously, you’ve got needs at linebacker and cornerback, is that the thought process or do you feel like maybe a defensive lineman can help you?) – “We’re going to be meeting here this afternoon and then make a decision tomorrow on what we want to do and what our steps are moving forward. We have some thoughts, but we just want to make sure everybody’s on the same page.”

(DE Mario Williams was inactive last week. Increased chance that he’d be up this game?) – “Yes.”

(What do you need to see from DE Mario Williams?) – “He’s had a good week of practice. We’ll just keep building off of what he’s been doing all week.”

(The decision for QB Ryan Tannehill to be limited today and at least do something, did he feel a lot better? Was there something you saw the last 24 hours?) – “I felt good about our decision to not play him this week and he’s been on me pretty good about getting back out there and doing some work. (I) talked to ‘Doc’ yesterday and he felt like we’re ready to at least take that next step to where he can get out there and do some scout team stuff and see how he’s moving and see how he feels. Today was a good opportunity for us to do that.”

(So he was out there throwing scout team?)  – “Yes.”

(Does he move much when he practices?) – “Yes.”

(Doing what he did today is obviously so much different from playing in a game. That said, I was curious, what feedback do you get from doctors about if he were to play in a game in the coming weeks, would he be at any more risk of injury to the MCL or ACL? I know people speculate about that. What’s the truth on that?) – “That’s a question I keep bringing up and that’s why we have to take these somewhat baby steps – to go through practice first, feedback, doctors. It’s an ongoing process to try to figure out the right thing to do and that’s really where we’re at right now with him. It’s kind of … We’ll ask him. We’ll sit down with him this afternoon. ‘Did anything feel awkward? Did we have any kind of issues the next day?’ That’s why we did it today to try and see. We have the next couple of days to kind of see what happened post-practice.”

(Did he look close to the QB Ryan Tannehill we’ve seen all year?) – “It’s going to look different. It’s really … He’s a little bit ahead of schedule if you really look at that injury and we just … I don’t know if he’s going to be 100 percent with the amount of time that’s left.”

(With the DJ at practice today, is that new? Or have I missed a DJ before?) – “No. We just felt like it was something that we wanted to do today and we called (President and Chief Executive Officer) Tom (Garfinkel) and asked him if he could get somebody here and give the guys something different. They’ve done a good job all week. They’ve worked really hard, going pads on Wednesday and they practiced really well yesterday. We felt like that was something that they would enjoy. It was great. It was a great vibe at practice and guys were fired up about that. We got a lot of requests already moving forward. (laughter)”

(Requests for DJs or songs?) – “DJs.”

(How likely or unlikely is CB Byron Maxwell based on…) – “We have him as doubtful so it just doesn’t look real good right now. I know he wants to be out there. It’s just a tough injury for him.”

(Can you elaborate? Is it a high ankle sprain or anything other than the ankle sprain?) – “It’s the ankle but it’s just affecting his movement pattern. It’s not as smooth as he wants it or just to see him be able to transition and burst. It’s just tough for him. When you play that position, your body gets torqued into so many different positions. It’s just a tough injury to come back from when that’s your job, when you have to move the way that he needs to move. When your movements are limited, it’s tough to overcome when you’re going against really good receivers.”

(Do you have enough depth at cornerback to make it through this Sunday’s game right now?) – “Yes, we do.”

(So that means CB Lafayette Pitts would be the next man up? And he’s ready to be…)– “Yes. Absolutely. If they’re on our roster, they’re ready to go.”

(How did LB Jelani Jenkins make it through the week?) – “He did good. He did good. I know he feels better than he did last time we tried to get him … Basically he wanted to go, it was just I think maybe we were a little early and he really pushed himself to try to get back. He knows how critical every game was there, especially at the end, when he was trying to come back. Looking back on it, I wish I would’ve pulled back on him a little bit; but sometimes you go with what the player is telling you and it’s usually … Sometimes it’s not the best thing; but I appreciate and admire the fact that he was trying to do everything he could to be on the field with his teammates.”

(Does LB Jelani Jenkins look like his old self?) – “He looks a lot better than he did last time, I know that. I don’t think anybody right now is really looking like they did in Week 1. I think that’s across the board around the NFL.”

(If you beat Pittsburgh, what’s the likelihood that QB Ryan Tannehill would have a helmet on the following week at practice and the next game after that, is there a probability that he will play?) – “Well, if we’re fortunate enough to find ourselves in that position, the chances of him actually practicing are better than what they were a couple of days ago and going past that, that’s hard for me to predict. For him to practice, that would be step one. We still have to evaluate where we are tomorrow (and) see how he feels. He might come in tomorrow … He might be stiff and not feel as good as he thought or we thought he was going to be. So we’re still going through that process.”

(How would you describe the sense you’ve gotten from two guys – DE Cameron Wake and DE Mario Williams – this week, neither of whom have ever played a playoff game?) – “I haven’t felt a difference with anybody in our team meetings, individual meetings, positional. I’ve really been impressed with the way that guys have come to work, trying to do more, find ways to get better. I think that’s the approach you want guys to have. They’ve done everything they can to prepare themselves for this game. We see a lot of guys hanging out late and guys getting here early. When you get here as a coach and you see the amount of cars that are in the parking lot, that’s a great sign as a coach. You know guys are invested. They’re doing it for each other. That’s what you want.”

(With Steelers TE Ladarius Green, he did not practice today. How much does his presence on the field sort of change how you have to play on defense?) – “He’s a tough guy to deal with. We’ll kind of see what happens on game day to find out really what’s going on there. If he’s on the field, he’s a guy that we have to account for – one of many. And if he’s not out there … I know they have a lot of good players, so they’ll figure out something.”

Kenny Stills – January 6, 2017 Download PDF version

Friday, January 6, 2017

Wide Receiver Kenny Stills

(Was there a motivating factor that [made you want] to do more and more community wise?) – “No. It was something that I was kind of taught when I was in New Orleans. The rookies all went to the community service events every Tuesday and so it was something for me, I couldn’t tell the rookies to go do something if I wasn’t doing it. So it started that way and it was bringing a lot of joy to me and to see the kids and doing all of the things we were doing and to get involved. So I just kept doing it every week.”

(The recognition, the accolades, it’s not necessarily your thing but how important is it for you to go about your business quietly and make an impact the way you have this year?) – “I think that’s just how I am. At the community service events, I don’t like to do interviews. I don’t like people to know. It’s not about that. It’s about the kids that are there at the event that we’re doing. I feel like it’s more genuine, it’s more fun that way and the kids don’t feel like I’m doing it for the cameras. So I try to keep it that way and that’s what I like.”

(What was a memorable event or interaction you’ve had with someone at one of these events this year?) – “At the police ride along we did, that was probably one of my favorites. Every week we had a good time with these kids but just being around with them and showing them the relationships that we have with the law enforcement. A lot of the kids, their parents are telling them that police officers are bad people. So just to show them that we have that relationship and show those kids that police officers are just doing their job and if you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.”

Adam Gase – January 5, 2017 Download PDF version

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Head Coach Adam Gase

(So what was the process with the QB Ryan Tannehill decision?) – “Yesterday, just watching him move around, it just felt like we were still – we still needed more time. It just felt it was the right thing to do just so we can move on in this week and not play this ‘What are we going to do?’ And just focus on what we’re doing right now with Matt (Moore) and the game plan to where guys can just focus on that and not worry about if there is a possibility of him coming back this week.”

(How important is it to have a decision and know for everybody?) – “I think it just … I mean it’s just little tiny things. There is just no gray area for anybody. I think this week is very important for us to focus on the task at hand and not have anything that could possibly distract our guys from the game.”

(Could you take us through the conversation you had with QB Matt Moore when you let him know that it’s him again?) – “I told him nothing’s changing. I’m just going to say Ryan’s (Tannehill) not going to play this week.”

(And he just…?) – “I mean, it’s the same. That’s just how he is. He just moves on and when he knows in his mind he’s going to tell me I’m playing, I’m playing. If you say different, then I’ll move on from there.”

(Did you feel like QB Ryan Tannehill could have practiced this week?) – “I think we’re close. I think we’re close but it’s still … Like I said yesterday, we’re still kind of in that gray area where we’ve got to keep talking to him and he needs to keep letting us know where he’s at and how he feels and keep talking to the doctors. We’re still in a lot of conversation and every day he starts moving around. We try to do different drills with him and just to try to figure out what he can articulate to us.”

(Some of the outside world is maybe just kind of zeroing in on this team for the first time this season and when they look at some of the numbers, the points scored against, yardage, they might do some head scratching. How would you describe what has gone on here this season and the way that this team has done what it’s done?) – “It’s about winning games. All the statistics really don’t matter at the end of the day. I think turnover margin is really key, and we’ve had some games … I think it’s the most, at least that I’ve ever been a part of, where we’ve had zero turnovers in games. That’s been critical for us because it puts us in position in the fourth quarter to give ourselves a chance. And really, that’s what this league’s about. Who’s going to be in it in the fourth quarter and then who can make a play, whether it be score a touchdown at the end in some capacity or stop a team from scoring a touchdown? We’ve been in that situation so many times this year and it’s gone in our favor quite a bit. Guys have stepped up and made plays at the right time.”

(Is that kind of what the idea is for Sunday? To survive into the fourth quarter and make a play or two?) – “I think for us, we’re trying to figure out a way to put three good phases together. We’re not going to sit there and hope we’re in the fourth quarter. We’re going in wanting to play well early. We want to get started faster. That’s been a point of emphasis. We’ve had a couple of games where it looks like we’re going to be all right and start a little quicker and then we’ll have one or two plays that just kind of set us back. If we can clean up a few things, we’ll put ourselves in better position earlier in the game. We have to have our minds right and make sure that we’re executing and calling the right plays offensively, defensively, making sure we’re executing on special teams. If we do those type of things then we’ll have a better start than what we’ve had a lot of the games.”

(You guys have the slowest start in the NFL in terms of first quarter but then one of the better third quarters. Have you thought about taking the ball first or what’s the thought process to…?) – “Yes, it was a discussion last week. It’s one of those things that every week that I start thinking about should we just do something like that; but then again, I think about us scoring a touchdown at the end of the half and then getting one at the beginning of the second half, then all of a sudden we’re 20-14 (against the Patriots). So we’ve had success doing that. I think our guys know what the formula for us is and they like what we do. It’s just if we can just do a couple of things better early, we put ourselves in better shape.”

(Have you looked at why the team is struggling so much in the first quarter? I mean is it penalties, is it…? – “Well, when we do play defense first, a lot of the games we’ve had less plays on offense. Really that’s what it’s come down to. We haven’t started as fast on offense. We’ve had a lot of games were like 9 plays, 12 plays max. If we could give ourselves a better chance instead of going three-and-out, three-and-out and then all of a sudden we kick it into gear, that would help us.”

(Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Darren Rizzi told us that you guys are freezing some footballs to try to harden them up. Are you going to get a chance to get on the field before Sunday? Is there any chance you’ll get a little walkthrough outside Saturday or anything like that?) – “No. I mean it’s not a big concern for me. It’s the NFL and you play in all kinds of weather. These guys are all over from different parts of the country. There’s nobody that hasn’t played in the cold at any point in their career.”

(Just to be clear, freezing the football and things like that, is that something that you’ve seen in other places as well?) – “Everybody has a different … I’ve been places where they froze the indoor (field), when we went up to Green Bay when I was in Detroit one time. That was a great experience, and they still drummed us. (laughter) At the end of the day, you just show up and you play.”

(Have you found in your experience that there has been any time that you had to maybe tweak your game plan because the weather was so frigid?) – “We go in every week. If we feel like it’s going to be rain, wind, snow, bad field conditions, we always have a thought process going in of how you need to play the game.”

(S Bacarri Rambo and LB Jelani Jenkins were out there. Did they look like themselves?) – “They looked good. Jelani has been out obviously for a little bit, so he’s feeling better than what he has in a long time. Rambo is doing everything he can to put himself in position to where he can go. We’re still going through his process to figure out how good he does feel. Is he going to be ready to go on Sunday? Things look positive right now. Hopefully we don’t have any setbacks, because I think we need all hands on deck right now.”

(And CB Byron Maxwell, too?) – “We haven’t had him out at practice yet, and we’re still trying to figure out where we’re at with him right now. We’re running out of time, if we have any shot for him to play. It has been a while since he has practiced, so we’re going to have to evaluate that.”

(Tackling is always a big deal week after week, but after last week’s performance has that been more of a point of emphasis this week?) – “The unfortunate thing is it’s a point of emphasis every week. Our guys keep working on it and really what it comes down to is we have to do a better job of pursing the ball, gang tackling, get a lot of guys around the ball. If we can do that, we’ll at least minimize gains. That’s really the key to this game. You see the teams that are very good tackling teams, it’s usually with more than one guy around the ball. In games we’ve been good at, we’ve had a lot of guys running to the ball. In the games that we haven’t done well, there’s a lot of one-on-ones. If we can pursue with a purpose and really bring a great energy, that’s going to give us our best chance.”

(With this receiving corps, obviously they kind of balance out the offense when teams start to stack the box. How important is their ability to space the field for RB Jay Ajayi’s success?) – “It’s really critical that we’re winning our one-on-ones. We’re getting some one-on-ones. Jarvis (Landry) does make it tough for some defenses to just solely say, ‘You have to cover this guy one-on-one.’ If he shakes free and there’s any kind of green grass – which we saw in the Jets game, which they were doing, they were stacking the box and we got some one-on-ones – he made some explosive plays. Kenny (Stills) made a big play in that game. DeVante (Parker) has done it in the past for us. Each guy is taking their turn. But the biggest thing for us is when we do get an opportunity and we get one-on-one matchups, if we create explosive plays it’s going to help pull a guy out of the box, because teams aren’t going to want to take a chance of us busting out a 60-yard touchdown. We have to win our one-on-one matchups, but we also – once we make that, we win on those routes – we have to make something happen afterwards, which our guys have done a good job of. We just have to continue doing it.”

(As a coach, would you rather have a team be able to run all over you or a team beat you with big plays?) – “You try to take away what the team does best. And that’s really what the goal is when you go into every game. Sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you want to and sometimes you play an offense that’s really, really good and you do everything you can to take that away. Sometimes there’s just nothing you can do about it.”

(With your defensive line, you mentioned them after the game, that’s such a strength for you guys. That’s your biggest financial commitment. Do you feel that group has given you good value this year?) – “I do. I’ve never been around a group that’s really produced like they have and been as impactful as an entire group. They really have done a good job. That’s a lot to put on them to entirely say, ‘You guys have to be the best in the league every week. We can’t have any errors.’ We still have some young players that are learning how to play together. When you have too many plays, I always go back to how we perform on offense can dictate what happens to those guys because once the play numbers start going up, it’s tough. You’re taking on double-teams for 80 plays, you’re going to get fatigued after a while. Our best games have come on defense when we do a good job on offense of occupying the ball, allowing those guys to be within 55 to 60 plays. When that has happened, our guys have been dominant. We need to do a better job on offense to make sure we’re possessing the ball. That has been our goal every week. We just haven’t really come through all the time.”

(When you have a defense that’s kind of getting the best of both worlds as far as what the Patriots have, being able to keep two safeties deep, and also being able to stop the run with adding few players to the box there, can the short passing game, can that kind of serve as an extension of the run game for you to keep the sticks moving?) – “Yes, the hardest thing about the Patriots is with what they play, you just never know how many guys are actually coming. All of a sudden, you start working the short passing game, and there’s a three-man rush, and eight guys dropping. And now you’re trying to get to the next level. They do a great job of changing things up. They give you different looks off of the same look, as far as coverage. Their front looks the exact same, their back end looks the exact same, and it turns out to be completely different types of coverages. That’s what makes them tough. That’s why that’s a good coaching staff and the players are executing their defense about as well as anybody in the league right now.”

(Some of your better running performances has been against 3-4 defenses. Have you looked into that, are is that just a coincidence?) – “I think when we finally got healthy, we had a run of 3-4 teams, which I think is a little bit coincidence. I think our guys got used to how 3-4 teams fitted up. We’ve had a couple of games where we haven’t had the best games against 3-4 teams as well. But, when you start seeing the same thing over and over again, you get used to … It’s like reps in practice. You get used to how everything looks and you get used to it. You get used to fitting up how their defense is going to play. Coming out of training camp when you play a 4-3 team, it was … When we went to Seattle, we at least had an idea how our angles were going to be and things like that. I think it’s been a little bit of coincidence.”

(There are so few players who have been in the playoffs, who have been in the postseason much less played in a postseason game. Do you rely on them to kind of talk to the players about what this is like, and the speed of the game and the intensity?) – “Yes. You have a lot of … You have your guys that have been involved. Really, they do it on their own. They start grabbing guys and kind of explain to them how things will be and how things will pick up. You try to explain to them as coaches. But sometimes as coaches, when you’re not playing with these guys, they are like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ But, it’s real. The intensity is real, and really when it comes from other players, that’s really the best advice they can get. I think really its experience. You need to go through it, and they’ll feel it. Once we hit that stadium on Sunday, or even before the game, they’ll feel that it’s a different feel.”

(So you think there’s a different atmosphere?) – “(Yes). Absolutely.”

(The last time the Steelers faced a quarterback making his first postseason start was five years ago against the Denver Broncos. What do you remember about that game?) – “I remember it being an interesting week to say the least. That was, that was … They were really good coming into that game. I think they were either No. 1 or No. 2 in defense. We came out throwing the ball, which was … We hit on a couple of big plays and made some big plays on third down. Tim (Tebow) did a good job in that game. Guys were making plays. We felt we were in control for most of the game. We turned it over one time and they took advantage of it, and next thing you know, we’re going into overtime. It only took one play. The problem was, it was the first year we had the new overtime rules. So we scored a touchdown and half of our team was still sitting on the bench, even though we talked about it over 100 times.”

(What was the call in overtime?) – “We were doing something where we were bringing guys down in motion, and they were bringing both safeties in the box. We called a play-action off of it. We brought Eddie Royal all the way down. We had Demaryius (Thomas) running a pop pass on the back side. Both safeties came flying up and it was ‘DT’ (Demaryius Thomas) and I think Ike Taylor, one on one.”

(We see some of the things that a guy like WR Tyreek Hill is doing in Kansas City. He’s in the slot, he’s out wide, he’s in the backfield. Do you see that more as something that WR Jakeem Grant can bring to the table or RB Kenyan Drake?) – “Really both of them. We’ve experimented with Jakeem on a few things. But, for the most part we’ve tried to focus, keep his focus on the return game. Drake, we keep trying to do things with him. Sometimes we’ve had things in the game plan for both of those guys that haven’t got … (I) haven’t called it. We’ve worked on a lot of different things. We like the skill set that both of those guys bring. We feel like they’re dynamic with the ball in their hands. Sometimes it just doesn’t come up right in the game. The more plays you get within a game, the better chance you have of calling things like that. Lately, we’re leaning on Jay (Ajayi) and trying to get our three receivers rolling, and then Dion (Sims), he’ll have some game where he starts to making an impact, and ‘Q’ (MarQueis Gray) starts making … We just have a lot of guys that we’re trying to spread the ball around. Damien (Williams) makes a lot of plays for us. There are a lot of guys and one ball to go around, which is a good problem to have.”

Jay Ajayi – January 5, 2017 Download PDF version

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Running Back Jay Ajayi

(A lot of times when you have big runs, you get downfield blocking from the receivers. Can you tell me how receivers have done in that area this season?) – “They’re incredible. I think it kind of started earlier in midseason where we just made it a focus to finish all of our runs in practice, receivers finishing blocking down the field and it’s translated to during the game. I don’t see it during the game but when we go back on film and I get to watch those guys straining and blocking all the way down the field, it makes me feel good about what they’re doing and makes me want to continue to run hard for them.”

(Is any one of them a better blocker or better at any type of block than the other?) – “I think they’re all aggressive. I think ‘Juice’ (Jarvis Landry), he’s kind of shown his physicality this year in the blocking game. He’s shown how important he can be even when the ball is not in his hands.”

(How did the first Pittsburgh game impact your feelings about what was possible for you?) – “The Steelers game, it was kind of like my first time getting a good workload at running back. It was a good day for us; for me personally, as well. I have the confidence that I can have a game like that. It was just about being consistent after that.”

(How much do you cherish, if you ask many players they say that the running game is important, especially in the playoffs. How much do you cherish that?) – “I’m excited for the challenge this weekend – the opportunity that we have. (It’s) my first playoff game. It’s a big moment for big players to step up. I’m excited for our offense to really showcase what we can do and it’ll be fun.”

(How much have you learned patience-wise and how much does patience play, especially now when you want to do so much?) – “I think it’s all about reading the keys. For me personally, I feel like I have a good grasp of how I want to run the ball and how I want to play each game and I know what I need to do to be productive so it’s just about being consistent for me.”

(I know you get jacked up and you get real emotional. Are you going to try to mellow that a little bit and not do too much once this game starts?) – “I’m an emotional player. I’m going to play passionate, regardless; in the confines of the whistle, of course. But it’s the playoffs. I’m going to get up, get ready to play. I’m excited about it.”

(Offensive Coordinator Clyde Christensen was saying today that some of the biggest runs have come when the opponents play eight players near the line of scrimmage. What kind of opportunity does that present when the defense actually overloads on it?)   – “So this year for sure, we’ve seen a lot of different looks, different schemes that defenses have tried to do to stop our runs and sometimes when they pack the box, it creates a lot of people up at the line of scrimmage to where if you can get through that initial wave, then it’s just about beating the second level of defenders and making big runs. So we’ve had some good chances to do that this year and we hope if they decide to do that on Sunday, we’ll have a good time out there running the ball.”

(Does playing a defense a second time, is that harder because you’re not going to be a surprise to them anymore or easier because now you know them a little bit?) – “I don’t think it’s harder. I think at the same time, we kind of know what they were at the time. But it’s a whole new team. The playoffs, they’ve gotten some guys back, we’ve gotten some guys. It’s kind of like a whole new game for us, I would say. So it’s just about us reading our keys, sticking to our game plan, executing. It’s a common opponent of course; but if we just handle what we need to do, I think we’ll be alright.”

(Do you feel like you must have a good game, if not, a really good game, to give this team the maximum opportunity to come out a winner?) – “I understand that the run game and my productivity is going to play a crucial part in how successful we are on Sunday. At the same time though, I’m very confident in all of our players on offense. We have a 1,000 -yard receiver in ‘Juice’ (Jarvis Landry), a guy that scored nine touchdowns in Kenny (Stills), and DeVante (Parker) can take it to the house any play. I feel real comfortable that we can spread the ball out and run the ball on anyone. So I just think that if we just go into the game with that confidence and if we execute and we handle all the details, o-line keeps coming off the ball physically, tight ends making plays, I think we’re going to have a good day.”

(So it’s not all about you?) – “No. It’s not all about me. It’s a team thing. I know that when I’m productive, the team is going to be successful; but I feel that my play also allows a lot of guys to be able to make plays as well, and it’s shown. We hear a lot of talk about the other team and who they have and the players that they have, and it’s starting to get to me where you have to understand that we’ve got players too. We’ve had guys that are playing at a high level and are showcasing their abilities and I think it’s time that people need to respect the fact that we have players on our offense too, and we can get some stuff done when we’re on our game.”

Jarvis Landry – January 5, 2017 Download PDF version

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Wide Receiver Jarvis Landry

(There is more disrespect from the national media. A lot of the national guys don’t think you guys are going to win. Have you seen any of that?) – “That’s fine. That’s fine. It’s perfect. We don’t need (any) more motivation. We’ll take it, but we already know where we want to be and we know where the end goal is, so the only people that care about and know what it takes to get there are in this building and that’s all we care about.”

(What are some things that happened in the first Pittsburgh meeting that you would like to see replicate itself on Sunday?) – “Just continue to manage the game, play hard, make plays and score touchdowns. Points are going to matter the most.”

Darren Rizzi – January 5, 2017 Download PDF version

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Darren Rizzi

(At what point does the football become a rock when it’s 9 degrees outside, and does that really have an effect on the kicker?) – “We talked about the ‘K’ balls before. They’re hard to begin with, so those balls, they definitely become hard in the colder weather. There’s only so much you can do in this kind of weather to practice. We actually put balls in the freezer, believe it or not, and try to do some of those things. But you bring them out here and five minutes later they’ve thawed out. So, there’s really not much you can do in this weather. We actually had our K ball bag in the freezer yesterday, and we’ll do that today, and try to simulate as much as we can. But I think the pregames are really important for specialists in these cold weather games. They have to get out there real early and get as much operation time as possible. Even if you’re not kicking the ball, just handling the ball – obviously John Denney and the holder, Matt (Darr). All that is going to be really, really important any time you go into the cold weather and to the northeast this time of year.”

(Does that field have a reputation for being tough on kickers even in good weather? I’ve read things in the past that there’s something about Heinz Field that makes it more challenging.) – “That open end has been … If you look at percentages – this kind of stuff we do in the offseason. The special teams coach … we look at all this stuff – but that open end of that stadium has been traditionally one that has been tough to kick at regardless of the time of year, to be honest with you. You look at August, September, October even. That’s an open end. Obviously, the river is back there, and there’s a wind that always comes back through there. So, that particular end has been difficult. We had a wacky play the last time we played there, if you remember. We kicked a field goal before the half in the snow game and (Caleb) Sturgis kicked one up short, and they actually started running one back, if you remember that crazy play they had. We’ve had some experience at that end ourselves. Yes, that has been a tricky end. I know they’ve redone the field there in the last couple of weeks, so again, that pregame we’ll get out there and see what it’s like.”

(Will you be that much more cognizant of which direction – whenever you have the option – which direction?) – “It’s really going to depend on what’s going on the day of the game. You could end up getting a … Usually in that stadium there’s a particular direction of wind, but you have to get out there and see it, see whether it’s blowing through the open end or it’s blowing towards the open end; and that’s really every week. Even in our stadium, the wind can get a little tricky, believe it or not. I think a lot of people come down to our stadium and are surprised that in a warm weather climate that sometimes the wind can be tricky in ours. We’ll get out there early on and see where it’s going. Definitely that’ll factor into a lot of things – direction, defer. We’ll have to make all the decisions later in the week – what we do with the coin toss and what we do in terms of direction, which quarter we take the wind and all those things that come up every week.”

(With WR Leonte Caroo being scratched the last two weeks, I asked him about it and he said he needs to be better on special teams. What are some things that Carroo can do as his career progresses to be better, and how has WR Rashawn Scott done?) – “I think the one thing that has come out of this thing is we’ve created a culture here with some of the younger players that has created a really competitive environment. So, I’ll go back and talk about (Lafayette) Pitts for a second, because I think a lot of the younger players saw Pitts really – and I’ve mentioned this before – but his practice work ethic and the way he performed on a weekly basis got him moved up to the 53 and now the 46, and he’s active on game day, and he’s played well. I think guys like Rashawn Scott, guys like Carroo, these guys have created an environment – A.J. Hendy – some of these young guys are starting to see that this is a way I can get myself onto the field and become a factor for the team. Carroo got the chance out of the gate. He was active for a lot of weeks. He was mixed in with special teams. I’m not going to say he performed poorly, but we needed him to be a little bit better. And again, self-admittedly, I guess he said the same. Rashawn Scott had been really practicing well along the same lines as Pitts. We just felt like we’d give him an opportunity a couple of weeks ago. The last couple of weeks, we’ve given him some plays, some opportunities and he has actually done pretty well. We all got to get better, obviously every player, but he has actually performed pretty well. In terms of some of the things, there’s a bunch of … I can sit here and talk for 20 minutes about the individual little things he has to get better at. In every phase there’s going to be certain techniques and things like that; but Rashawn has given us a little bit of a lift at that spot. He has played the last two weeks, he has played well. We’ll see what we decide here again there. But what it has done is create a competitive environment in practice for those spots. It’s not given anymore (that), ‘You’re going to be active this week.’ It’s kind of, ‘Let’s see how the week goes. Let’s see how hard you guys practice. Let’s see who does the best.’ A lot of those guys play the same position, so at the end of the week, (Head Coach) Adam (Gase), myself we’ll of sit down and say, ‘Listen, these guys are going to give us the best chance to win this week.’ That might not be the same next week or the week before, whatever. I like it like that. I love the fact that you have a bunch of guys fighting for the 45th and 46th spot on game day, because it creates a competitive environment in practice. We practice harder, and it creates a better situation for the game so. I’m pleased with where we are right now. I know Carroo is disappointed that he has been inactive the last couple of weeks, but hopefully he continues to get better and practice harder and keep fighting for that spot.”

(I had a question for you in your role as assistant head coach. You guys are outscored 110-41 I believe it is in the first quarter. I’m wondering about the coin toss [and] if you guys discuss that, ‘Every time we win, we will take the ball,’ as opposed to deferring in an effort to score first? Do those discussions happen? Do you know stats on it?) – “We definitely talk about it every week. We’re not one of those that’s going to be, ‘We’re doing the same thing every week.’ I know there are other coaches that do that (and say), ‘No matter what, whatever game, we’re going to defer,’ for example. Some teams do that. We talk about it all week. We look at a lot of the percentages. We look at the first drive of the opponent. We look at our stats, how they relate to that; the wind factor, obviously. Sometimes the wind plays a big factor in whether you want to defer and have the choice in the second half. It’s really a week-to-week thing. It’s not one thing (where) we’re steadfast, feet in the ground, we’re doing this. It is a week-to-week type of thing. I think there are some ways we look at it and say, ‘If we win the toss, we’re going to take the ball.’ And there are some weeks we say, ‘We’re going to win the toss, we’re going to defer.’ I think there have been some weeks where we’ve lost the toss, and we’re going to take the ball, so it may come out on the statistics that the last few times we’ve won, we’ve done this; but it’s a little bit skewed, because we didn’t win the toss (and) we lost maybe that particular week. It’s an ongoing conversation. We’re always looking at stats on that. I think a lot of it has to do with how you feel about one side of the ball going in versus another, giving the other team another possession. I think one thing that gets lost is one of the things – and there are a few teams in the league that do it really well – is the end of the half, the last possession of the half, first possession of the second half. If you look at last week’s Patriots game, we were down, scored under a minute to go (in the first half). Unfortunately, we had a kickoff from 20. Obviously we weren’t trying to squib kick it there. Andrew Franks fell down. We weren’t trying to give them the field position. But we end up getting the ball back, second half, go down (and) score, make it a one-score game. That sometimes gets overlooked. I know we haven’t really played in the first quarter probably, collectively, as a football team, the way that we’ve wanted to, but a lot of times we’re trying … We’ve been pretty good at the end of the half on 2-minute drives and then getting the ball back for the second half. So, that plays into it sometimes as well. Some people call it the double whammy – there are all kinds of different names for it – but that kind of last possession of the first, first possession of the second, you can swing the game a lot of times that way.”

(You’ve known obviously QB Matt Moore for years. He’s going to be the starter on Sunday. What’s one thing about him that we don’t know?) – “There are a few things about him you don’t know. (laughter) First of all, he has got a great sense of humor. I don’t know if that comes across. Matt and I came here … We’ve been a couple of guys who’ve been around here for a while. The thing about Matt is he’s a really – and this comes across probably to the people that watch the games – but he’s really just a competitor in everything. If you walked into the players’ lounge and played ping pong, he’s going to treat it like it’s the ping pong championship of the world. He’s just one of those guys. I think what has shown really for Matt is that for a guy that has been around here for a while – and he had a large window of time where he didn’t play – to come in and play after all this time where he was inactive, if you will, and not playing in games and to watch what he has done and step up like (that), he has picked up right where he left off. It seems to me (from) when he was the quarterback – whenever it was 2011 or 2012; I’m losing my years here, but you know what I mean. The other thing I love about him is off the field we talk about family a lot. He has got a lot of kids like I do, so we’re always talking about children and things like that. He’s, again, just a competitive guy. If we were out here picking whiffle ball teams, I’d probably pick him first. If we were playing anything, playing kickball. He’s one of those guys where he’s kind of a gym rat. He loves the competition. He’s one of those guys you want on your side.”

(Have you played pickup basketball or anything against QB Matt Moore or competed against him?) – “I’m too old. (laughter) I can’t be playing pickup (basketball). I play, I don’t play against him, though. No, I’ve done other little things. We’ll play around in the bubble. Him and I are usually two of the first guys out for practice every day. What’s he doing? He’s over here throwing the ball at the net. He’s over throwing the ball at the goal post. Like I said, they call him a gym rat kind of guy. He just loves to be around the game. I think one day when his career is over, he’s a guy that could be a fabulous coach, because of his personality and the way he loves the game. He’s passionate about it.”

(Is QB Matt Moore a trash talker?)  – “Is he a trash talker? Again, I think he’s one of those guys you want on your team, not the other team. I’ll leave it at that.” (laughter)

(How puzzled have you been by WR Jakeem Grant’s fumbles being an issue? They weren’t in September and October, obviously more so November, again last week. And how are his hands as a returner?)   – “You look you at him as a receiver, he has got good hands. I think I’ve said this a number of times, that punt return thing is probably one of the hardest things to do in football. I think it’s one of the things that gets overlooked the most, and it’s one of the most challenging things. Again, for a young guy, I’m not puzzled because he didn’t have … This is a guy that doesn’t have a boatload of experience doing it. This is his first time going through it. (There is) a lot of learning curve like anybody else that has done it for the first time. Again, I’ve thrown you guys out stats before about great players that have done it in the past and have had trouble – peaks and valleys – with the ball and the security and all that. Again, I know the head man has talked about this as well, but he’s a guy that gives us a chance to make a big play when he has the ball in his hands. It’s my job to make sure he secures it. He’s going to continue to get opportunities back there and continue to grow. I think I see you guys walk through there a lot of times. You guys, you see him out there. It’s not like he’s not working at it. He’s a guy that’s out there every day – pre-practice, post-practice – all the time getting the work in. Again, there’s nothing like game experience, so that’s why you’re going to continue to get it, because we feel like especially this time of year, those plays are going to be huge.”

(How much of it at this point is just confidence and WR Jakeem Grant not thinking about it, just catching the ball?)  – “That’s with everything though – the confidence level with every position – and that’s no different. No doubt. Again, you see what he did at the end of the game. At the end of the game last week, he got a plain one, he got a good play action. We were about one block away from making that a really big play if you go back and watch it. That’s what he brings to the table. I think it has been great to have Jarvis (Landry) with him as his sounding board all year, because Jarvis has had the same experience. I think we’ve been fortunate to have both guys to be able to do it, and we’ll continue to do that.”

Clyde Christensen – January 5, 2017 Download PDF version

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Offensive Coordinator Clyde Christensen

(With RB Jay Ajayi gashing these guys last time you played, what do you think the Steelers reaction will be both tactically and otherwise?) – “I think every week everyone goes in to try … Offenses want to run the ball and defenses want to stop the run. So it will be the same. There are only so many guys you can put up there. If we block well and run well, then we’ll have a chance; and if we don’t, then we won’t. This week we didn’t do as well. We didn’t run the ball well against New England and we’ve got to get that back going. Everything builds off of that. I don’t think they’ll do a whole bunch different. They are who they are and they do what they do. That’s kind of … At this point in the season, people aren’t going change a whole bunch. They’re going to get their extra guy in the box. I’m sure (Steelers Head) Coach (Mike) Tomlin’s stressing shedding blocks and tackle and we’re stressing finish blocks and break tackles. I do think it’s just more that than it is surprises or new fronts or, for us, new runs. There’s not going to be a whole bunch of that.”

(What is the challenge about going up against a guy like Steelers LB Ryan Shazier who has tremendous speed and versatility?) – “He’s really a good player and he’s kind of fun to watch. One of the challenges with him is that he’ll freelance and he’ll take some chances and you don’t know what they are or when they’re going to be. He’ll run through a gap and he’s hard to get to with your center. He’s hard to get to with linemen, because he runs so darn well. So you’ve just got to try and keep him off balance a little bit with your misdirection and your play action and some of those natural things. But he’s really a good player. He hits like a ton of bricks and he runs extremely well. So he’ll be a big challenge for us. He’ll be a big challenge to control. But he’s a little bit of a freelancer in the sense that he’s hard to predict. It’s hard to say, ‘He’s going to play this gap.’ That’s always a little bit of a challenge, and then you hope it’s also a two-edged sword that you hope you can get him out of position a little bit and do some things that way. (He’s a) fine football player and a big challenge for us.”

(We got the news today that QB Matt Moore will start on Sunday.) – “Yes.”

(What was the conversation you had with him when you let him know it would definitely be him. What was that like?) – “It was more really that he’s our starter and the other’s been going on kind of on the side, and I think it would have been more of a discussion if we felt like Ryan (Tannehill) was ready to go then we would have had to … He knows. He knows he’s our relief pitcher and we try to make the decision extremely early in the week because you get in a situation where it’s hard to get two guys prepared. But I think that more than the conversation for telling him that, it was more he assumed he was doing that and then if Ryan (Tannehill) all of a sudden had a miraculous recovery at the beginning of this week – which we all hoped for and hope is coming – then it would have been more talking to him about the reverse of that, that ‘It looks like Ryan’s (Tannehill) going to be ready. We’re going to try to get him ready in practice.’ But that wasn’t case. So I think he’s just continued to prepare as a starter as he has for this last three or four weeks, and there wasn’t a discussion like that.”

(Have you seen your receivers grow as a unit this season and do you consider them a game-changing unit?) – “Yes I do. I consider them a game-changing unit. I consider them growing. I think I’ve said to you several times, we need them all hitting on all cylinders every week. It’s a hard position to play because you don’t know when your reward is coming, and I think I talked to you about that last week. The great ones can do that. The great ones can just keep going and run through stretches – un through stretches of games, run through stretches of plays and still keep humming and keep winning, and then all of a sudden the ball starts coming their way and there comes their little streak of several catches in a row and big plays in a row. So yes, I do think … I think all of the above; but I still think we’ve got to get a little more consistency, a little more attention to detail. It showed in the game last weekend. We got outplayed at home by a team that was more detailed and on their stuff more than us and protected the ball better than we did, which is, as of right now, they’re the standard in the league. They’re playing at a high level and we have at times; but it has to be every single week, and it will be the same thing this week, that if we don’t, you’re not going to go into Heinz Field and play the Pittsburgh Steelers and all their Terrible Towels and all the traditions and all the ghosts that roam around there. If you don’t play good football, you’re not going to come out of there with a win. So we know that. We have to go in there with great effort but great attention to detail also. Effort won’t carry you once you hit the playoffs. Too many teams are playing too good of football. It has to be the details to go along with the effort. I think we’re learning that slowly but surely as a team; but we’re not there yet. We have a lot of guys who haven’t been in playoff games and a lot of guys who probably don’t understand fully yet what it’s like to go to Pittsburgh and play a playoff game. That’s as good as the AFC has to offer for an environment for a playoff game and tradition and tradition of great playoff games and playoff teams up there. So it will be a great challenge for us and it will be a really, really good test for us – more than a test – to see where we are and see if we can rise to that level and play that kind of detailed football and be on all the details and cross our T’s and dot our I’s and give ourselves a chance to win that thing in the fourth quarter.”

(You’ve coached in a lot of playoff games. What words of wisdom can you impart on the younger players who haven’t experienced what you’ve experienced?) – “Yes. It’s hard. It’s kind of like raising your kids. Some things you try to tell them, but they have to learn on their own. I think the biggest thing is that you have this misperception that you have to do something different in the playoffs. You really don’t have to do something different. You just have to – as I said – you just have to do what you do to win a football game. Don’t turn the ball over. All the clichés, they still apply. It’s not all of a sudden you start running faster and jumping higher; but the margins get extremely tiny. You’re playing the teams that have played extremely good football so every time you don’t take care of business it’s more likely to cost you and it’s less likely to give you a chance to win the game, the more mistakes you make. That’s the only thing. We’ve been trying to sell that the whole year that it’s about us. It’s not about the opponent, and that part of it doesn’t change for a coach. But I do think you do hit it with … your off that skill. Let’s just keep improving every week and we’ve got to win this football game. Now it is a do or die situation. I think our emphasis has been ‘Study, rehab, practice, catch, throw, run, like it is do or die.’ Because that’s what it is. But you still win them the same way. You still win them the same way and we’ve had some where we’ve gone into games with great momentum and laid an egg in the playoffs and we’ve gone in where, the year we won the Super Bowl, I think we went 1-3 in December and weren’t playing very good football and then all of sudden started playing good football. So it’s just kind of new season and you wash it clean and you’ve got to go; but the way you win it, the formula stays the same. The keys for winning, we like to say around here, stay the same. Makes sense?”

(If you’re not grading on a rookie curve, how do you assess G/T Laremy Tunsil’s first season? Do you think his pass blocking is ahead of his blocking?) – “Yes. And you’re just saying just compared to the other 32 left guards in the league? Yes. I think he’s kept improving and I think he’s playing at a good, solid starter level. I really do. I think there wouldn’t be anyone that doesn’t say – and again keeping in mind that he’s probably out of position, play the position he hasn’t played – but I think he’s held his own in there. He’s had his moments, but he keeps improving and I think we kind of say the same thing every single week that he really played well and then there might be three plays that jump out at you where there was a surprise or something. But I think he’s playing really good, solid starting guard football right now for us and probably better than that pass protection-wise. If you just isolated it into pass protection, he’s obviously a very gifted pass protector. But he’s been good. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to. He keeps improving. We haven’t been talking about him. That’s probably a good thing that he hasn’t done things where it’s a story, and that’s good. Sometimes a non-story with offensive linemen is the best story and I think that would be case with him, that his story is that he hasn’t been a story and it hasn’t shown up in … So we’ve been really, really pleased with him.”

(When you see a guy like Tyreek Hill and what he’s doing in Kansas City, do you see that as more of something that a guy like WR Jakeem Grant can do or a guy like Kenyan Drake?) – “Both. I think both. They have a little different skill set, but I think both of them. Darrius Heyward-Bey last time when they came in here, all of a sudden he runs the reverse and hits a 60-yard touchdown on us. I see those kind of guys – those specialists – that you look for little roles for them and then you say, ‘Give us a big play every third week.’ That’s kind of Darrius. All of a sudden you’re rolling, you say, ‘He’s not a huge part of the offense,’ and then all of a sudden there’s two gigantic plays. I think that’s what those two guys are in their relief role, in their limited role. Hopefully that increases, increases, increases as time goes, because they’re both … It’s hard to get big plays in this league. It’s really hard, and those are two guys who have a natural ability to do that. They make big plays. You look for little situations where you can get them in and give them a chance. We ran a reverse to Jakeem. They played it well last week. The more times you can do that and then if all of a sudden, bang, here comes a 50 yarder. They’ve been on special teams more than offense probably so far this season, but I see that continuing to increase. I see it as really important for us and even in the playoffs. It’s hard to make big plays, and those two guys have an electricity to them that you hope pops out and shows up, so you try to give them as many opportunities as you can within the framework. You’re still going to give Jay (Ajayi) his carries, so it’s not easy, but those guys, they’re a big part of this thing. You see it every week on the highlights. There’s a play that jumps out at you and it’s a part-time player or a role player, and all of a sudden he gives you a big lift with a shot – gets shot out of a cannon – and makes a big play.”

(How would you evaluate C/G Kraig Urbik’s work at center?) – “He has been solid. I think he has stabilized us a little bit in there. He has been good. He has been solid. I characterize it as good, solid play. (We) would absolutely love to have (Mike) Pouncey like we played them the first time (and) played extremely well against these guys. There’s a uniqueness to how fast Pouncey can run. Urbik can try hard, but he’s probably never going to run quite as fast as Pouncey, nor am I. (laughter) We can want to all we want to, but it’s not going to happen. You miss his speed on some of those things, but ‘Urb’ (Kraig Urbik) has done a great job filling in. (It is) not easy. It’s a hard position. It’s a quarterback-ish position. You have to communicate. He’ll be big here going up to Pittsburgh in that kind of atmosphere. The communication, the veteran presence is really big I think – especially with how many new, young guys we have playing – and helping Matt Moore, frankly. That helps him also.”

(Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Darren Rizzi said they’re putting the K balls in the freezer this week. Are you guys doing anything on offense?) – “We mess with the wet balls periodically all the way through the thing. No, we’re not doing anything out of the ordinary. We’ll get our wet ball work in every couple weeks and make sure we’re ready for whatever comes that way. You’ve kind of seen it all at this point. It’s a little bit hard to simulate Pittsburgh weather down here. Same thing – these guys … I used to think more so you had to simulate … But it’s amazing, these guys just play. They’re pros. That’s why they are pros; they just can play. They jump out there and play. It’s amazing to me. I remember when I first got in you always felt like you had to go to the (home) team’s stadium so you can get on their field and get the feel of this and that. I think it has probably gone the other way that these cats are special. They just go play. We do try to give them all the scenarios, obviously, that you covered everything. But once you do, they take it and go.”

(I’ve seen the reverses and things of that nature, but is it also possible to see WR Jakeem Grant in the backfield on your normal stretch plays and things of that nature?) – “Down the road I think as we go. Learning curve-wise, there are only so many things you can rep him at, and there are so few reps at this time of year that you have to be a little bit careful. But he would be a guy, I think, that down the road, when you have an offseason … Keep in mind those guys are rookies. They’ve got their hands full. He has had his hands full with the responsibilities we’ve given him. I don’t see anything really out of the ordinary showing up for him apart from what he has been doing. But I do future-wise think that you look at a guy who’s really, really fast and anything that we can find for him that gets him into the open field would be fair game, sure. That’s a fun offseason project: how are people using guys like Jakeem? How can we fit in into some of those things? Those are the fun offseason projects that you’re always looking for (like), ‘Let’s find some way to get him in a little 10×10 of space and that thing can turn into an explosive play.’ Sure.”

(When you think back on the three times this year the team rushed for 200 or more yards, what are some of the common denominators?) – “Getting started early. Sometimes your bigger plays come with the eight-man fronts. I think, same thing, sometimes you think the eight-man front, but eight-man front is probably harder to run against, but once you pop through the front, you get bigger plays, whereas Cover 2 might be easier – double safety stuff may be easier to pop the line of scrimmage – but it’s harder to get a big play, because you have two safety valves back there to get you on the ground. I think probably some of the common denominators are we’ve popped through eight-man fronts and gotten some big plays. Jay (Ajayi) breaking tackles has been a common denominator. It’s like everything … It ends up being your day. It ends up being a day where you get hot doing it. A lot of them were scores. All of a sudden the game again this weekend, we’re down 14-0 after three plays – after three offensive plays – and it’s harder to call your runs. Sometimes the score and being able to call your number of runs is really, really important. Having the lead in the fourth quarter and all of a sudden you’ve worn them down. Now you’ve got a quantity of runs called, so you’ve delivered some body blows, and then all of a sudden you’re ahead in the game, so you can keep calling them in the fourth quarter and that combination can lead to some big yards in the fourth quarter. All of them have a little different personality, but those will be some things that when you see that happen it’s usually because you got a lead you can keep or you’re right in the game – you’ve got the lead or you’re within a score of the lead – and you can keep calling those runs. You’ve got enough runs called in the first half where you’ve delivered enough body blows that you’ve got a chance for one of those things popping through. Those would be a couple things. The bottom line is those are freaky and the outlier. Jay messed us all up with a couple of them in a row there where the expectations got a little … The 200-yard games, they’re rare. They’re outliers. They are outliers.”

(For those that haven’t been watching as closely over the course of the season, where has the most progress been in the offense?) – “I’m thinking in just protecting the ball. If you said, ‘What turned this thing around?’ At 1-4, we were not playing very good football. We weren’t a very good team. I think probably Jay Ajayi and his physicalness – his physicality – and then the protection of the football and being careful with it. Those first games we were 32nd in the league in giveaways. Those get you out of a game real fast. It happened this weekend again. It popped its head up there, and we put ourselves in a bad situation early. I think those two things. I think getting the (offensive) line together at that stretch in the middle was a big thing that got us jumpstarted. And then all of a sudden you have a little bit of confidence. You learn how to win. You believe you’re going to win those games, and then it carries from there. But I think those would be things that jump started us and gave us a feel for learning how to win a football game, having the belief that, ‘We’ll win this football game.’ That will carry a long way. That’s really important.”

(Was there a key offensive line decision along the way looking back?) – “I don’t think so. We had that stretch where they all stayed together, which I think started at the Pittsburgh game, having ‘Pounce’ (Mike Pouncey) in there and having all the guys in their spots where we had planned for them to play. There really hasn’t been that for long stretches. That more than anything I think, sure. I think it has been a progression coaching staff-wise. We learned (a little bit) what guys do well and some of those things also. Getting on a little stretch was really important for us to learn, ‘We’re going to win these close games.’ I think I heard a stat that (we) set an NFL record for winning a game in the last drive five different ways – a return, an interception. Those kind of things are big, because you start believing, ‘We’re going to win these close games.’ Sometimes that’s hard to develop, and we got and accelerated course in it this year, and that was big. That was big. Sometimes it was defense, sometimes it was Kenyan (Drake) on that kick return. It has been all kinds of different things on that. It has been a run that popped. It has been all those different things. That has been really good for us.”

Vance Joseph – January 5, 2017 Download PDF version

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph

(Two things on cornerback. One: Do you expect to have CB Byron Maxwell this week? And also on CB Xavien Howard, obviously you are very high on his skill set. But that aside … Obviously he was very good in the N.Y. Jets game, but how do you think overall he’s played in the seven or eight games he has played this year and where he needs to improve?) – “First with Maxwell, he’s day-to-day. He’s rehabbing hard. He wants to be out there. He’s trying. We’re not sure; but he is trying to play this week. Xavien, he’s a young corner. He missed training camp. He’s missed most of the season. As a young corner, every week is different for him. He’s kind of figuring it out as he goes. He’s made some errors but from a skill-set perspective, he’s what you want. He’s going to make some errors but physically he’s what you want. I’m okay with ‘X’ (Xavien Howard). The more he plays, the better he will play.”

(CB Xavien Howard seemed to struggle a bit with Bills WR Sammy Watkins and the speed. Is that a consideration with Steelers WR Antonio Brown?) – “It wasn’t speed with Watkins. It was more leverage, it was more eye placement, it was more assignments. It was not speed. The one he beat him on vertically, he was in a bad spot with his eyes and kind of got back in the play with his speed versus Sammy’s speed; so that wasn’t an issue. His issue is experience. His issue is ‘know-how.’ Once he gets that, he’s going to be a fine player.”

(So if CB Byron Maxwell can’t go – we saw him a lot on Steelers WR Antonio Brown last time – would it be CB Xavien Howard who would get the bulk of the looks?) – “Well, no. We didn’t match corners last time versus the Steelers. We played left and right. Whoever plays, it’s going to be left and right, whether it’s ‘Max’ (Byron Maxwell) or ‘X’ (Xavien Howard).”

(Your name has been mentioned in association with a couple of jobs. Do you find that flattering? Do you find that distracting? How do you handle that and what do you think?) – “It’s flattering. It’s flattering when teams have interest in you; but for me, I’ve got one focus this week and that’s the Pittsburgh Steelers. That’s my sole focus. My thought process has not gone there. It won’t go there. My job now is to beat Pittsburgh, so that’s my focus.”

(Would you like to be a head coach some day in the NFL?) – “Would I like to be? Absolutely. But right now, again, I’m focused on Pittsburgh. That’s my mindset; that’s my time right now. I haven’t spent one moment on the future. The future for me is Sunday at 1(p.m.)”

(You have not scheduled any interviews with any teams?) – “I have not. I have not. I can’t.”

(Do any of the three – Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Antonio Brown and RB Le’Veon Bell – scare you the most, concern you the most? Or is it equal opportunity) – “It’s kind of like this: all three guys together, it’s a task. But it starts with Bell, because if you can’t contain Bell, you can’t contain ‘AB’ (Antonio Brown). Obviously Ben is the trigger-puller, and that’s important also, but Bell is getting the average of like 27 opportunities a game – in the run and pass game alike – so that’s where it starts. If you can’t contain Bell, you can’t contain ‘AB,’ so it’s a matter of having a game plan where you can kind of bend, don’t break, in some areas; but also having enough scheme to keep ‘84’ (Antonio Brown) in front of you. It’s a tough task, but I’ve played these guys seven times in three years, so I’ve seen their good and bad.”

(How did you do against RB Le’Veon Bell last game? I think he had 108 total from scrimmage – 53 rushing and 55 receiving.) – “You can live with that. When you’re defending great players, sometimes you have to just bend, don’t break a little bit; but keep the big plays to a minimum. We have to make them earn (it) and not give up big plays. That’s the key with playing Pittsburgh. They want the big play, obviously. That’s ‘Big Ben’s’ (Ben Roethlisberger) mindset. So we’ve got to make them earn (it). Obviously Bell is a halfback, so they can give them the ball anytime they want. We can’t deter that, but we have to adjust as we go.”

(How is S Bacarri Rambo? Do you anticipate having him this week?) – “He’s sore, but he should go (practice) today and he should be fine to play in the game. He’s definitely sore.”

(From a standpoint of linebacker play, you looked at LB Mike Hull for eight snaps with LB Kiko Alonso. Was that something you liked? Might you do it again? And snap distribution at linebacker, obviously you’ll only have two linebackers on the field some of the time, but who has been the best of that group beyond Alonso?) – “Beyond Kiko, it’s probably two-fold. It’s base and sub. In base, Neville Hewitt has been really good at the Will ‘backer spot. He’s been consistent. He’s been productive, so he’s been really good at that spot. Donald Butler has been our Sam (linebacker) for the last two months and he’s been solid. In sub downs, it’s been a work in progress, obviously, with (Jelani) Jenkins being hurt most of the time. (Spencer) Paysinger has played at a high level some and not some. Mike Hull is a guy that hadn’t repped a bunch of sub downs until last week’s game. He’ll be in the mix also, but it’s a work in progress. It’s a committee job right now and we’re working through it.”

(You mentioned LB Jelani Jenkins. Are you anticipating having him on Sunday? And what difference does he make?) – “Hopefully, yes. He practiced yesterday and he practiced well. In the last ball game against (Le’Veon) Bell, he was the guy that covered Bell. He did a fine job. Obviously that’s a big role this week, getting Bell covered in the pass game, because he is also potent in the pass game as a check-down guy and as a called option-route guy out of the back field, split out as an ‘X’ or a ‘Z’ (wide out). He’s a chore to cover in the pass game, so you have to have a ‘backer who can do it.”

(Are you optimistic about the chances of getting to QB Ben Roethlisberger this week as opposed to Patriots QB Tom Brady who gets rid of it quickly. Are you optimistic on the pass rush?) – “Yes, we are. We are because Ben does hold the ball longer than Tom. It’s a different offense. Obviously we have to make him hold it with coverage. It’s always about coverage first. If the coverage is not there, he won’t hold it. But if we can cover up early and make him hold the ball, that allows (Ndamukong) Suh and Cam (Wake) to rush and hopefully get home. But it starts with the coverage being effective first.”

(I have to ask one more question on the coaching search, if that’s all right. There have been reports that you are linked to Denver closely. Are those reports at all true? Is that something that you’ve heard as well? I just want to get to the bottom of that.) – “Well, I interviewed there two years ago. That’s all I can say about that. I can’t talk to Denver. I haven’t talked to Denver. Again, my focus is on Pittsburgh. I can’t say if it’s true or not. I haven’t read anything about that; but I interviewed there two years ago and that may be where it’s coming from. But right now, I’m solely on Pittsburgh. I’m sorry.”

(I want to say something nice about DT Jordan Phillips. I noticed him for nine snaps at the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth quarter. I’m wondering what you noticed there.) – “Jordan played really well last week, first of all. Jordan is a player that, if you can take his explosive or flash plays, you can make a tape and it’s special. But you can take his bad plays also and make a lowlight tape. So he’s a young player that’s inconsistent. He’s obviously a big man with talent. If he’s on and doing it right, he can be a special help to us this weekend; but he’s got to put the bad plays to rest. That’s Jordan’s call of duty this week.”

(Earlier in the season, we talked about CB Xavien Howard and t-stepping, and how it’s not necessarily a negative, but is there any concern with Steelers WR Antonio Brown and how quickly he gets in and out of breaks and DBs t-stepping?) – “Absolutely. Absolutely, you’re concerned about that; but that’s versus every NFL corner. ‘AB’ (Antonio Brown) is a special player. It won’t be one man’s job to stop ‘AB.’ It’s going to be the team’s job, it’s going to be the coverage package’s job to contain ‘AB,’ so that won’t be one man’s job. Now obviously it’s going to be (Tony) Lippett and ‘X’ (Xavien Howard) or ‘Max’ (Byron Maxwell) – if he plays – one-on-one from time to time. But overall, it’s going to be a team concept to get ‘AB’ stopped.”

(I think last game you guys had a goal line defense with no cornerbacks. Was that the one TE Martellus Bennett might have scored the touchdown? I might have asked you this before, refresh my memory if I have, what is the thinking on not having cornerbacks out there?) – “It’s goal line with no receivers. You want a safety to fit the run game. Obviously we put a safety out there. He’s called the ‘Z’ corner. Obviously he’s a safety by position, but a ‘Z’ corner. His job is pass game and if it’s a certain blocking scheme, he has to fit in the C-gap. Nobody really plays with corners unless it’s a big, physical corner, on goal line, because (there are) big people out there and it’s mostly run. That’s a personal preference of mine. I’ve played with corners before on goal line, but here it was safeties.”

(What kind of sense have you gotten from DE Cameron Wake this week since this is the first time he’s going to have a chance to do this [play in a playoff game]?) – “He’s excited, obviously. It’s his first playoff game. Cam is a natural underdog, in his mind. Being the underdog as a team, that kind of motivates Cam; and Cam could be a difference in this game because he can rush. Defensively, if we rush the passer, we can force takeaways, and that’s the key to our game. So Cam is going to be a big part of that. But he is awfully excited. This is his first time out, so I’m expecting some big things from Cam.”

(As you look back at these 16 games and try to determine why you are 30th against the run, have you just not set the edge well enough with the ends? Has it been defensive tackle play aside from DT Ndamukong Suh, obviously? Has it been linebacker play? What has been the biggest culprit?) – “I think a combination of a lot of things. I think playing a lot of snaps early on in the season. I think the defensive end play. It was inconsistent early on. I think part of it is me. I’ve got to go into spring and kind of reboot some things that we’re doing. There were a couple of things that I didn’t think were going to happen, as far as the scheme up front. So that’s partly my issue that I’ve got to fix in the spring. Again, numbers are sometimes misleading. Our yards per game wasn’t very good but yards per play was okay. It was good enough to win 10 games so far. Numbers are misleading and again, we track four or five major stats. Rushing yards per game wasn’t one of them. That’s a stat that it can come from a lot of different places – plays per game, matchups or whatever. Again, that being said, in the spring I’ve got to fix some things that will make us better in the run game. No excuses.”

(For those who haven’t watched as closely this season, where has been the most progress?) – “The most progress is probably (Tony) Lippett. That kid was a receiver two years ago and he’s playing NFL corner, he has four interceptions and he’s been really solid. He has had some up and down moments, but for the most part, he’s growing as an NFL corner. I would say Kiko Alonso, being a guy who hadn’t played well or consistent for two years, had a hell of a year for us. (Byron) Maxwell came back and had a hell of a year. He was playing at a high level before he got hurt. There are a lot of bright spots I think, in the past season. I think (Ndamukong) Suh getting back to the Pro Bowl, Cam (Wake) coming back to being Cam. There are a lot of spots that we are proud of with this defense. Just being resilient. Having Reshad (Jones) out, having Koa (Misi) out, losing ‘X’ (Xavien Howard) for most of the season, it’s been a group that has stepped up when it has been tough moments. So that has been a treat.”

(DE Mario Williams has never played a playoff game. How seriously do you think you all would consider playing him and if he were to play, what might he be able to offer?) – “It’s in consideration. We want all healthy bodies up. You’re in Week 18. Lots of guys are beat up. The healthier bodies that have been ready to go, they have to go and help us win. Obviously Mario has never been in a playoff game. I was in Houston with Mario and he was hurt for that game, but obviously he’s like Cam. You get one shot at this thing. It may not happen again. So Mario has to, if he’s up, play well and play hard for us; and he wants to.”

(As you guys have patched a bunch of things in the linebacker corps and secondary, your defensive line has been mostly healthy all year and effective, and that’s where you guys have made a big financial commitment. Has that group kind of covered for and made it easier for all of the different pieces you’re moving around behind him?) – “Absolutely. When those guys played well, we won games. When the offense did a great job of kind of – not putting them out of the game plan but just throwing the ball quickly and certain running schemes – those guys … If they can’t affect the game, we don’t play well on defense, so you’re absolutely right. That front four, that guides our success on defense. If they’re playing well, we’re playing well. If they don’t play well, it’s a bad day for our defense. But absolutely, that’s where the money is and that’s where our veteran, great players were all year; and they were healthy for most of the year, so you’re right about that. When they played well, we played well. When they didn’t play well or the offense did a great job of game planning versus those guys, we didn’t play well. That’s the bottom line.”

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