HC Kevin Stefanski (11.20.23)
“Okay, starting on the injury front – Anthony Walker Jr. has a hamstring injury. That’ll be week to week, so we’ll work through that. Rodney McLeod Jr., has a biceps injury that’s going to require surgery. So that will end his season, unfortunately. And I think you guys know how I feel about Rodney. Unbelievable leader for this football team has played really well for us. He’s really a guy that I’ve gotten to know over this year and Coach (Jim) Schwartz had history with Rod and a bunch of guys knew Rod prior to this season, but just watching that guy work, watching him in the meeting room, on the practice field during the games, just amazing teammate. I feel for him. He’ll get fixed up and then he’ll be back out here helping his teammates. But really feel for Rod in this situation. On the game, obviously [a] hard fought win and it was hard and it was hard fought. I mean, it was physical. It’s AFC North football, so that’s kind of how we expected it would go. It wasn’t always pretty things that we can certainly clean up and we will, but really proud of the fight in this group. And then we’ll turn our attention to Denver after these meetings this morning. But with that, I’ll take any questions.”
We know that you guys went ahead and signed Joe Flacco to the practice squad. So just kind of wondering what you see as his role and will DTR (Dorian Thompson-Robinson) start for you in Denver on Sunday?
“Yeah, Dorian will start and Joe’s role is to support this team. Coming in here, we were able to add a guy with a ton of experience. He’ll be great for that room. He’ll be great for this team.”
How did Joe look in that workout on Friday and just what do you think his value is? You talked about how important that fit was, so why do you think he’s a good fit?
“Yeah, and the workout looked good. Kept himself in good shape. Fit, as you know, Scott (Petrak), different guys have different skill sets and those type of thing, but just a guy that has seen a lot, has played in different systems feel like he can bring value to that room.”
And then at safety, do you know if Juan (Thornhill) might be able to get back this week because obviously, you’re down, Rodney?
“Yeah, we’ll know more later in the week.”
Well, turning to the game, Kevin, you only have one penalty in that, I mean you’ve been middle of the pack in penalties all year. So how do you attribute what happened? Or just more emphasis?
“Yeah. Well, first of all, I’d tell you the defense had zero penalties coming off a game where we had a lot. So, I thought that was really well done by the coaches and players. And what we talk about when you’re on offense at home, your operation should be great. You should have an elite operation. And I thought the guys were locked in from that perspective. But we talk about playing clean. We want to play clean on all three sides of the ball, and clean is your technique, clean is your hand placement, clean is your assignment on a given play. So, I just felt like our team was playing clean throughout that game.”
And how important was that to keep DTR out of first and 15, second and 15 and so on, especially the offensive penalties? Your only penalty was on offense.
“Yeah. And I don’t know that we overcame it. We went backward. Yeah, it’s a tough place to be. First and 15, first and 20. You can overcome them, certainly, and we have, but you always want to play clean so that you give yourself a chance to move the football.”
On that offensive line, obviously had two lesser experienced tackles in there. How did you see them fare against the Steelers yesterday?
“Yeah, as you know, Cam (Justice), that’s a tough matchup with their edge players that they have. And I think we had one sack in whatever it was, 40-some attempts, and that one sack was really a coverage sack. So I thought those guys did a great job. I think the guys that were involved in the protection, the chips on the edges, did a nice job and then tried to play on time in the pass game because that’s a very good pass rush.”
You talked about Dorian as well and his performance yesterday, but I wanted to ask you, as the coach, seeing his teammates kind of come around and put their hand on his shoulders, lift him up when maybe he didn’t have a great drive, and then afterwards to support him in that final drive, what does that mean to you, to see that team come together around him like that?
“Yeah, not surprised. Cam, that’s who these guys are. They’re pulling for each other, they’re pushing each other, they’re fighting for each other. That’s what we do.”
Kevin, another question about DTR. We just went back and watched on film. A lot of people look at the final numbers, but just how much better would his day have been without a couple of the drop passes? And after the game, David Njoku specifically had mentioned himself that he felt his performance was unacceptable and he was going to hit the JUGS and things like that. Just what does that mean to you and the team when a player steps up and does take accountability when they don’t have a great afternoon?
“Yeah, I can confirm he hit the JUGS machine because he FaceTimed me from his house on the JUGS machine. Yeah, we have a ton of confidence in Dave. We’re going to continue to throw him the ball. He comes through for us. Obviously, he’s hard on himself. That was a pretty big 11-yard gain there at the end, so we’re always going to go to Dave.”
And then I think you guys have five wins now like in the last two minutes of football games. You’re known for having a very steady, even keel personality. Do you get the sense late in games that has rubbed off on this team? Because it’s easy when you’re in those tight situations as a player to get excited or lose focus and things like that.
“I just think that’s this football team. These guys lock in. When we have a job to do, we have great situational awareness and we just focus on our job.”
Hey, Kevin, what do you think was the biggest adjustment or whatever that DTR had made yesterday to improve so much from that first game?
“He played on time. He did his job. I thought he had a really good week of practice. We talked about that with you guys. I thought he prepared really well, but that’s just part of this thing, got to continue to do that week in and week out and then.”
So what would be the next step for him to be even better than he was yesterday?
“I don’t know. I think for us and him and our focus, Jeff (Schudel), is whatever it takes to get that win. That was what we needed to do yesterday. Got to get another one this week.”
Hey, Kevin, I know you touched on Rodney, obviously, but just the overall safety depth, know younger guys like D’Anthony Bell and Ronnie Hickman that are still here, what kind of opportunities they might have, and especially Ronnie, being the undrafted rookie, how he’s handled when you guys have thrown him in there in spurts so far?
“Yeah, we trust those guys, Ashley (Bastock). They’ve played for us. They’ve come in big moments and played for us. So, we’ll see how it all shakes out, but no different than any position. We trust our backups that when they get in there, they have their job to do.”
Can you talk about the impact Ogbo (Okoronkowo) has had this season? And yesterday, I think besides the sack, he had four tackles for loss. He’s all over. And then second, Jordan Kunasyk. You said a while ago he was close and with Anthony, can you talk about where he’s at?
“Yeah, obviously he continues to rehab and we’ll see where that shakes out this week. Ogbo played great. He was really good. Had the new dad strength going I think, but made plays in the run game and in the pass game. He was all over the field.”
What do you hope Dorian takes from this experience of overcoming the adversity of an important game, that rough third quarter, and then overcoming that, obviously can build his momentum and build his emotion? But what do you think he can take from that he can apply in Denver and then just throughout the rest of the season?
“I think every young player, every young person, every – coaches, you name it, you learn from every opportunity. Whether it’s in-game, in practice, these are all reps for us to continue to improve. I think that’s what this is for him. Everything…that’s getting the first one under the belt and then it’s on to the next one.”
Kevin, with Deshaun (Watson) going to LA to have his surgery, and then it’s my understanding that he’s going to be probably out there for a while rehabbing, can you maybe just talk about how Joe Flacco might be very helpful just in terms of just that veteran presence in the room and sort of a little bit of a mentor to DTR through some of these tough times that are about to hit?
“Yeah, I just think that’s all of our guys, Mary Kay (Cabot). When it comes to being a great teammate, sharing wisdom with your teammates, pushing your teammates, helping your teammates, that’s kind of what we do. Obviously, Joe has a wealth of experience and I know our quarterbacks, myself – everybody will draw on that.”
Hey, Kevin, I thought your footwork was better on your second challenge throw.
Just a quick clarification, were you just unsure whether or not you could challenge the safety?
“Yeah, there was a little conversation with the officials, I guess, and just the conversation wasn’t clear on that moment. Obviously not sure if we would have or would not have gotten that one but it is what it is.”
And back to Flacco for a second. Have you guys crossed paths at any point in your career? Do you know Joe at all?
“Yeah, I don’t. We were just talking about it. He’s a Jersey Shore guy, I’m a Jersey Shore guy. We’re like 30 blocks away from each other, but I don’t think we ever bumped into each other. No, but I know a lot of people who have coached Joe, so we have a lot of mutual people in this business.”
Okay, Kevin, not only have you won games with three different quarterbacks this year, but each of them has had a last second field goal drive to win the game. And I don’t know if it’s your previous three years, those were just hard to come by. Maybe the situations weren’t there as plentiful and maybe it’s just one of these years, but can you attribute anything coming through those three guys coming through at the end?
“Yeah, I look at it as an offensive unit coming through. It’s never about one person. Obviously, that quarterback is the driver in those situations, but I just think those guys understand what we’re doing in terms of all eleven guys understand what we are doing and what we need to do.”
Kevin, it looked like DTR – maybe just the whole passing offense was struggling in the second half until that final drive. Did you notice anything specific and how did you think he handled it? He said he was kind of hard on himself after the pick.
“You know, we obviously need to better there in that second half, that third quarter. Need to come through on a couple of those. It’s never one thing. There’s always a couple of things that we can do differently, I can do differently. But as a quarterback, you can’t ride that roller coaster. You just got to stay true to it, stay true to your reads, your feet and keep making great decisions.”
And I’m just curious, at the end, when you decide to run the play and then spike it, is that just to move the ball where you want it for, Dustin (Hopkins)? Or you could have let it run down, right?
“Yeah, I think every yard matters there. Felt really comfortable with the amount of time left that we could do that. I think inside of 16, maybe you wouldn’t do that, but felt confident. And it goes back, Scott, to shared situational awareness. Our guys know the situation. They knew exactly what to do.”
Kevin, kind of what Tony (Grossi) was talking about. You guys have won five games with a game winning score in the last two minutes. Jerome Ford talked about it after the game yesterday about how you guys emphasized those two-minute drills in practice so heavily. Has that been something that you have just kind of instilled as your philosophy, knowing the importance, or have you kind of ramped that up as this season has gone on and you’ve been in those situations so many times?
“No, we always do that, Cam. Every week, Friday, we work our two-minute drill. We do it competitively, our offense versus our defense. Again, it’s something we talk about on Friday morning. We watch a lot of tape together as a team about when it comes to two-minute drives and different things that happen around the league. So, I just go back to, I say it all the time to the team, shared situational awareness. It’s not good enough for me to know the situation. I need all of us, I need our players to know it. I need the coaches to know it. Everybody has to understand what we’re doing in those situations and why we’re doing them.”
Do you think that can you get Joe Flacco up to speed in time to possibly be your number two in Denver? And will his vast experience maybe perhaps accelerate the onboarding plan?
“Yeah, we’re just going to continue to bring Joe along like we do all of our players. It’s really, you look up and down our roster, there are a lot of guys that got here after training camp and after the season started, so that’s what we do. He’s going to meet extra with our coaches and get them up to speed.”
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