Good afternoon. As always, I’ll start with a quick synopsis of what transpired on Sunday and perspective relative to that. To me, Sunday’s performance is about growth and development things that we’ve been working on, and them coming together and coming to fruition within a stadium. We’ve been working hard at developing cohesion on our offensive front, and it manifested itself in terms of an efficient run game. We saw signs of that in Green Bay. I thought we took another step this past Sunday and were able to do some things in the running game that are desired personality. We need to continue to grow in those areas. Specifically, just the cohesion-based things: eliminate negativity in the run game that’s produced by unblocked people for a variety of reasons, minimize penalties in that area of play. Penalties are drive killers. Penalties put you behind the sticks and make you one dimensional. All are things that we’ve had issues with through the early portions of the season, so to take a step in that area, to be able to have a solid performance in that area, is significant. Now, how do we springboard that into consistency and to get better in that area?
We still need to minimize our penalties. We’re still, in my opinion, too highly penalized in that area or portion of our group. It’s very technical in nature. We’ve just got to continue to develop the techniques that allow us to play clean and to block effectively and minimize that component of play. We had a couple of pre-snap penalties, false start penalties, and really, that’s unacceptable at home. That puts us behind the sticks.
We’re really just focusing on who we are and what we’re doing and the manner and quality in which we’re doing it. I still think we’re developing an understanding in terms of the division of labor and who does what well and how we can highlight certain people in circumstances. I think that’s been a challenge because we’ve missed people here and there throughout the process. But that’s a component of it. It’s an issue for everyone so we’re not complaining about that, but it has been one of the variables has made the process challenging: the availability of people or the lack of availability of people in terms of slowing that progress.
On the defensive side of the ball, I thought it was significant that we were able to stand up and hold them to a field goal when we got put on a short field. I also thought it was significant that we were able to hold them to a field goal after James Pierre ran down [Javonte] Williams on the breakout run. Our ability to stand up and defend the short field and fight for those blades of grass on the short field in an effort to preserve those four point swings, I thought was and is significant. I still think we’re working to find our mix there, particularly situationally: possession downs in terms of how we divide the labor. That’s been strained because of player availability or lack thereof. Joe Haden has missed some work, Cam Sutton has missed some work, Devin Bush has missed some work. We’ve worked with a variety of people in our rush group. Both outside linebackers have missed some time and we’ve struggled with people playing opposite of Cam Heyward inside. I think we’re getting a sense of an understanding of our depth. Our depth is gaining in-game, in-stadium experience. We’re finding a way to win those possession downs and play with some of those guys, and that’s not going to do anything but benefit us as we move forward. I think those are the significant lessons learned from our last performance, and it is our hope that we build upon that as we get ready for this opportunity on Sunday night versus Seattle. That’s something that we take very seriously, having an opportunity to play this game, and to play this game on primetime in front of our peers and international audiences. It’s something that we covet and respect.
We’ve got a big week ahead of us from a preparation standpoint. Before I get into that and Seattle, I’ll talk about some injury things. In-game, as you guys know, JuJu [Smith-Schuster] sustained a shoulder injury that will require surgery tomorrow. He’ll be placed on IR, I’m sure, at some point. Sorry for JuJu. I’m appreciative of him, the spirit that he brings, the effort that he brings, the quality of his play, but that’s what makes football the ultimate team game. We’ll be calling on a number of people to bridge the gap in the short- and the long-term in terms of bringing what he provides. When you’re talking about losing a guy like JuJu and how he functions within the framework of our offense, usually you’re talking about multiple people assuming the role in some form or fashion, particularly in the short term. It’s really the same discussion that we were having last week when Cam Sutton missed some work and the things that he does, particularly in sub-package football for us on defense. That’s usually a number of people filling the role because they have other responsibilities: special teams and so forth. We’ll work at that division of labor and gain an understanding of who does what well, and position those guys to be positive contributors to our efforts so we get a JuJu-like production day from whoever’s occupying that space. Devin Bush had a groin injury. He’ll be evaluated and his practice availability and the quality of that practice participation will be our guide in terms of his availability. The same thing can be said for guys that have recently missed time but are probably in position to be on the strong consideration for play: Cam Sutton, James Washington, Carlos Davis all fall into that category. All will be working in some capacity, I imagine, tomorrow, and then we’ll progress, hopefully in a positive way, toward gametime. Some of the IR guys that have been working, guys like Zach Banner, guys like Anthony MacFarland, it’s good to have them back out there. We’re still within that 21-day window on those guys, so we’ll evaluate the quality of their play and make a determination whether or not they can be positive contributors to our effort if it’s appropriate. If it’s an opportunity there, then we’ll study those possibilities when we get into the week. But as we sit here right now, we’re really just focused on putting together a good plan, seeing who’s available for work tomorrow, and making sure that we position ourselves for good play on Sunday night by having a good practice tomorrow.
Now on to Seattle. First, looking at their offense, obviously they’re playing without Russell Wilson. They probably have a better understanding of the impact of that than I do, but I’ll say this. Geno [Smith] is no pup. He’s been in this League for an extended period of time now. He’s got experience in this system. He’s been in Seattle a number of years. He was with the coordinator for the Chargers before he and the coordinator went to Seattle, and so he’s got some understanding about how that system of football is built. He’s 31 years old, he’s been in this League now a long time. I would imagine he’s in place there because he gives them an opportunity to function in a very similar manner, at least schematically, in terms of their personality. That’s what we’re anticipating. We’ve got a lot of respect for Geno. We’ve played against him in the past. We’ve got a lot of respect for their system of football and how they spread the ball around to a bunch of dangerous eligibles.
First and foremost, we have to try to work to minimize the impact of [DK] Metcalf and [Tyler] Lockett. I mentioned both guys because both guys are big-time significant. Both guys get yards in chunks: 15 yards per catch type guys. Splash playmakers. The guys that can really change an in-stadium climate in an instant. Got a lot of respect for those guys. We’ve competed against those guys in the past and it doesn’t lessen the challenge in terms of trying to deal with them. Couple that with the fact that they have a sound running game with two quality backs in [Chris] Carson and [Alex] Collins. We’re familiar with both. We’ve seen Carson before in the past. 2019, he started against us, and has been a quality runner for them for several years now. Collins, former Raven, we’ve seen him before as well. Much like last week, they’ve got two really capable runners and they’re going to feed both to you, so we can’t erode as the game wears on. We’ve got to be sound and stout against the run early, middle, and late if we want this game to unfold in a manner which we desire it to.
On the defensive side of the ball, looking at them, they’ve got some dynamic players. That strong safety, we’ve got our hands full in terms of trying to minimize him, not only in terms of in the box, in terms of what he does in the run game, but he’s just an outstanding blitzer. I spent some time this summer delving back into 2020 tape and just looking at some opponents and looking at some players. This guy is the most dynamic secondary blitzer in football. The rate in which he gets to the quarterback, that is something to be respected. He gets on backs. He consistently beats backs in the blitz game in the ways that linebackers beat backs. Our backs are going to be challenged from a pickup standpoint. Our wideouts are going to be challenged on the perimeter running plays trying to minimize his impact in that area.
Bobby Wagner, their man in the middle: all situations linebacker; has been that for them for over a decade. Got a lot of respect for his body of work and his business, his detail, his communication, his leadership. It’s all very evident when you watch their tape. So much of it goes through him. He provides great fluidity for those guys. Very rarely are they collectively out of place, and I think it starts with him. He’s familiarizing himself with some newer people. He doesn’t have KJ Wright playing beside him anymore but he has [Jordyn] Brooks, who’s a talented young linebacker out of Texas Tech. We really liked him when he came out in the Draft.
Big people up front. They play a lot of people. Al Woods is a familiar face. We’ve dealt with Al over the years. Al obviously got his start here a number of years ago. He’s dynamic and particularly against the run, he’s a load, he’s something to deal with. Carlos Dunlap as well, former AFC North foe doing similar things out there, wreaking havoc, being who he is, being long and disruptive. But more than what they’re capable of and the people that they work with, like I mentioned at the outset, when talking about them and dealing with them, it’s about things that we do. We’ve got to work to take care and preserve the ball. Pete Carroll defenses over the years have been historically good at hunting the ball and getting the ball. Ball possession is big for us.
But we’re just excited in general about getting back in a stadium, playing in primetime. But that excitement is only gonna take us so far. Preparation needs to be a component of it. So we’ve got a big week ahead of us.
Even though JuJu Smith-Schuster is only 24, he’s still kind of the elder statesman in the locker room among that receiving group. How do you replace that type of person in that group? (Gerry Dulac, Post-Gazette)
We’re not trying to replace JuJu. We’re just trying to provide additional opportunity for those that get expanded roles, and many of those guys, we have a lot of confidence in. James Washington. You guys asked a lot about James Washington during the course of team development and his role and things of that nature We’ve got a lot of confidence in James. So however unfortunate the injury is for JuJu, it does provide an opportunity for James to expand his role and to do some things that we all know he’s capable of doing. It provides an opportunity for Ray-Ray McCloud to expand his role and continue to develop as a receiver and get more opportunities in that space. Ray-Ray carved out a niche for himself as a return man, but that’s his day job. He’s been working to develop as a receiver and has done a great job of doing so. These opportunities are big opportunities for men like those two that I mentioned. They’re big opportunities for a guy like Cody White, who’s been fighting and scrapping for an opportunity to lay a foundation for what hopes to be a good career for him. He’s had a window because of lack of availability of others over the course of the last several weeks. Chase Claypool’s lack of availability gave him an opportunity. James Washington’s lack of availability gave him opportunity. Now JuJu’s lack of availability gives him an opportunity. My heart aches for JuJu, but I’m equally as excited for guys like the guys that I’ve mentioned. I know their preparedness, I know their desire to be positive contributors to our efforts, and so I’m excited about watching them first, prepare, but then, ultimately, perform. They know that quality performance is going to be required.
Zack Banner was telling us last week that he was ready, and you just talked about the cohesion that you saw with your five guys on Sunday. What’s the line there between Zach being ready to play but you’re finally seeing those five guys playing the way that you want them to play? (Will Graves, AP)
Ready is not a problem. I’m not gonna make a negative out of him perceiving that he’s ready or him being ready. There’s nothing wrong with having more than five capable, ready men. Those are the type of problems that you want to have, and I look forward to the day that we’re managing that.
Who steps up off the field to fill in for the energy that JuJu brings, some of those intangibles, the leadership? Who among that group can fill that? (Brooke Pryor, ESPN)
That’s team. That’s easy. Guys do that by simply being themselves, the same way that JuJu developed that persona and that ability to be that for us by simply being himself. I’m not going to ask anybody to be anything other than themselves and it happens organically.
When does a decision have to be made regarding Banner? (Jim Colony, 93.7 The Fan)
21 days from the day of activation. I don’t have the exact date.
Ben Roethlisberger talked about challenging the offensive line as a group, and yet they’re all individuals and some guys need to be treated differently. How do you go about challenging an offensive line group? (Jim Colony, 93.7 The Fan)
The same way that you go about challenging a unit, or a secondary group, or a football team, for that matter. I think that’s the art and the science of what we do vocationally as coaches. You’ve got to have intimate relationships where the individual man knows that you’re challenging him, or holding him accountable, or encouraging him, or congratulating him. But at the same time, you have to have that same approach in intimacy with a collection of men, and so that’s just what we do as coaches.
In some position groups, you just play the best player, and that works. How do you position where the cohesion and the chemistry matters on the offensive line? How do you weigh that against who are the five best athletes? (Aditi Kinkhabwala, NFL Network)
There’s no cookie cutter answer to the question that you asked. I’m not gonna make it a negative to have more than five capable men who are ready and capable of playing winning football for us. It’s not a negative. It’s just not. We’ll manage it. It’ll be a pleasure to manage, to be quite honest with you. I’d rather have six than to have four. We’re excited about getting him back in the fold and having that be a viable option for us, whatever that may mean in terms of management of the group individually and collectively.
Aside from the obvious need to stop the losing streak and get a victory, is there an importance when it comes to a buy-in, both from you guys as a coaching staff to see the players coming along in the way that they did so you can trust them further, and similarly, for the players in the game plan itself? (Tim Benz, Tribune-Review)
I know what you mean but that wasn’t and is not our focus. I proceed with the assumption that there is buy-in because that’s what we build culturally and those are our values. More than anything, we’re just working week to week to secure victory.
There’s been an uptick around the League of teams going for it on fourth down. Do you see that becoming more of a trend? And how much do you use your analytics team to help the coaching staff with little things like that? (Tom Reed, DK)
Analytics is a tool, but it’s not the tool because all circumstances are different. There’s an uptick in fourth down attempts in the National Football League because there’s probably more quarterback mobility than ever before in the National Football League. What analytics may tell us as it pertains to that might speak to that quarterback mobility, but that’s not a component of play for us, and so we don’t make decisions exclusively based on analytics. It’s simply a tool. We acknowledge that more people are going for it than ever before. Quarterback mobility has a lot to do with it. But obviously, that’s not how we’re built.
You’ve discussed with the offensive line the time and cohesion needed to take the steps forward. How about the defensive line? Is it a similar process where they need time, and how do you feel their progression is going? (Jeff Hathhorn, 93.7 The Fan)
It’s not a cohesion thing based on the newness of the collection of people. It’s a cohesion thing because of the moving parts because of lack of availability. The people that are playing have been here. They’re just getting increased opportunities. Their roles are emerging. I don’t want to put it in the same discussion because it’s a little bit different from that perspective. We’re not getting to know them. We’re just getting to know them as guys that get an increased opportunity and roles. Guys like Hank [Henry Mondeaux], for example, that had a nice play or two for us in this past game. That’s our focus. It’s about the development of depth and feeling comfortable with the quality of play, or having a certain anticipation with the quality of play of some of the backups in that space. That’s probably the discussion there.
Ben’s highest passer rating right now is when targeting Diontae Johnson. Can you talk a little bit about the growth you’ve seen out of him, the work that he’s put in, and why you think that pair is working well together? (Aditi Kinkhabwala, NFL Network)
Diontae is just going through the natural maturation process that we expect guys to go through. He’s no longer a rookie. He’s been in some circumstances and situations. He is understanding the game better. I think it’s allowing him to play faster. He’s finding his rhythm as a professional. I just had a conversation with him in there. He was laying on the training table getting his body taken care of. I see him every Tuesday before I come in here and visit with you all. I think he’s finding the rhythm in his professional preparation process, whether it’s formally, like in practice settings, or whether it’s informally, like what he does with a Tuesday. It’s reasonable to expect guys to grow and make more plays and develop better consistency as they find a steadiness in life, and I think that’s just where he is.
James Washington’s in a crowded position room looking for a niche and a role. Have you had conversations with him about that and searching for his opportunity to stand out? (Chris Carter, Locked On)
Not specifically, and particularly not specifically of late. We’ve been talking about what it is we need to do to win games and players’ individual roles in it. But obviously, over the course of a 12-month calendar, we do have an opportunity to sit down and talk about the trajectory of his career and his goals and desires, and that’s something that we do quite often.
Was Devin Bush’s groin injury a reaggravation of what he was dealing with before or something new? (Alan Saunders, Pittsburgh Sports Now)
I don’t know, to be honest with you.
Does the number of soft tissue injuries you’ve had cause enough concern to cause a reevaluation of processes? (Alan Saunders, Pittsburgh Sports Now)
Not at this juncture, no.
You’ve worked with Jon Gruden before, and you talked about your relationship earlier this season. What’s your reaction to the emails that came out over the last couple of days and his resignation last night? (Brooke Pryor, ESPN)
I’m just saddened by it. I’m saddened for the Raiders organization. I’m saddened for the people that were offended by it. I’m saddened for Coach Gruden. It’s a sad commentary. And that’s really the only opinion that I care to share at this juncture.
You’ve watched Ben build rapport with a lot of different receivers. Is there any connective tissue? Are all of these relationships totally different? (Aditi Kinkhabwala, NFL Network)
Not anything to wrap a neat bow around it. I think anytime you’re working to have success in the passing game, it’s steeped in in cohesion and understanding between passer and receiver, no matter who it is. That’s born out of, first and foremost, individual talents from all parties involved. And secondly, collective work. We spend a lot of time together, those guys do formally and informally. Ben has been here a long time, and over the course of that time, he’s seen receivers come and go and he’s taken a personal responsibility to be a component of their growth and development. I just think it is a very natural thing. I think you could point to those discussions regarding any well-tenured quarterback. You could say the same thing about Aaron Rodgers from Donald Driver to 17 [Davante Adams], who he’s working with now, etc., etc. Say the same thing about Drew Brees when he was playing in New Orleans for a length of time. I think that’s what the elite quarterback does. He develops a rapport and a relationship and an understanding with those that he targets. And when you’re on a job for the length of years that Ben has been, it’s gonna be a collection of guys that you can point to.
Does one remind you of a previous one though, or do they all seem distinct? (Aditi Kinkhabwala, NFL Network)
I don’t even digest it in that way. I’m not looking at it in that way, to be quite honest with you. We look at general skillsets. We want somebody to stretch the field. Okay, Mike Wallace was a guy that stretched the field. Martavis Bryant was a guy that stretched the field. Chase Claypool is a guy that stretches the field. We like route runners. Santonio [Holmes] was a route runner. Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders are route runners. Diontae Johnson is a route runner. But nothing any more detailed in that global perspective than I just gave you.
Najee said that the cramps that he had at the end of the game were something that he dealt with at Alabama. Were you guys aware of that when you were evaluating him, and is there any way to manage that other than just hope that that doesn’t happen with four minutes left in the fourth quarter? (Will Graves, AP)
We were aware of it, and it starts with hydration. We’ve got professionals. He’s a professional. We have certified athletic trainers and nutritionists and so forth. We’re continually managing that. We’ve just got to do it a little bit better, but I will acknowledge that he had a little bit more work in that game that he had in others, and so we’ll continue to adjust and find our footing there. But it’s really no big deal, to be quite honest with you.
In terms of replacing JuJu, does that extend beyond just wide receivers? Might that extend to a little bit more to two tight ends or Najee going out in patterns from being split out on occasion? (Tim Benz, Tribune-Review)
Is the challenge with a young offensive line this week kind of driving that point home this week that they have to do it again? (Dale Lolley, DK)
I think that was the discussion we were having a week ago. I know you guys didn’t believe me. I felt that way a week ago. Last week was kind of that discussion. This week is a continuation of last week’s discussion.
How have you evaluated guys like Tre Norwood and other guys that are filling in in the middle of the defense to make up for guys who are injured? (Chris Carter, Locked On)
First of all, we’re appreciative of their efforts and their willingness to compete and play and expand their roles. Particularly for the young guys, the guys that hadn’t had an opportunity to be around here a long time and really get that component of it and understand what those opportunities are for them: young guys like Trey Norwood, who have proven that it’s not too big for them. It’s exciting because they have a lot of growth in front of them, but they’re doing some good things now, they’re doing some positive things now to help secure victory. Karl Joseph is new to us. Arthur Maulet is new to us. Those are exciting things. We’re appreciative of their efforts. We realize that, usually, it’s a multiple man job when you’re talking about dealing with new and young people, and that’s why we spread responsibilities around. But at the same time, it is really encouraging.
Last week was the first game since 2019 that you had both a 100-yard rusher and a 100-yard receiver in the same game. How important is that type of balance, and how do you look to build on that as you progress here through the next couple weeks? (Jenna Harner, WPXI)
I’ve been having the conversations in roundabout ways with you guys in this setting and in previous settings. It’s about eliminating negativity in our run game so we don’t get behind the chains. It’s about not having unblocked people, schematically, and gaining cohesion to make sure that we can block any look. And we’re getting better there, improving in terms of our individual techniques, keeping our hands aside, being able to work and finish, but also doing it in a legal manner. We’re developing skills associated with that day-to-day with our young guys, particularly in our individual work and the runner getting used to NFL football. I think staying on schedule is a big component of it. It keeps drives alive. It allows you to ring the scoreboard up. It allows the game to remain within striking distance or puts you ahead so you can thoughtfully maintain that balance that you look for, not only in place selection, but in personality. It all kind of runs together. We’ve been continually talking about it. It’s not like some magical formula got met last week. It’s not. The result of the game was the result of the game. We’ve been focused on those variables for some time, and we’ve identified those variables for some time. We’ve been working in those areas. Hopefully, the fruit of that labor continues to show itself.
James Washington probably wasn’t the first player you’ve ever had on a team that may have requested a trade. He probably won’t be your last. How do you get a player like that, when they have some offseason concerns, back to where he is in the fold now? (Tom Reed, DK)
I don’t know that I ever acknowledged that he requested a trade.
Did you ever have any conversations with him, whether he did or not, and how did you get him back to where he is now? (Tom Reed, DK)
No, I did not. James is a professional and a quality dude and teammate. He’s always ready. He is always working. He’s low to no maintenance. I’ve just got a lot of respect for him as a player and as a man.
Will you look outside to find an extra wide receiver, whether a veteran with experience or just a regular try-out for a guy? Are you planning to for JuJu? (Gerry Dulac, Post-Gazette)
Obviously, we’re going to need some depth there, and I’m sure that we’ll have those discussions. Who or what that looks like depends on what the field looks like. Oftentimes, we’re looking for the best available professional, as opposed to a guy with a particular skillset. Those discussions will be had. We’ll go through that process, and you guys will know when we come to a decision.
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