Offensive Coordinator Alex Van Pelt (1.10.24)

You expect to see something – I’m sure the Texans won’t change drastically, but considering the game that Amari (Cooper) had against them a couple of weeks ago, do you think you’ll see a lot different look from them? 

“It’s hard to say, but I would expect so with the success that he had during that game that they would have to try something a little bit different. But who knows? That’s a defense that believes in who they are and what they do. So, we’ll see. But we’re ready to adjust and we’re ready for anything that shows up Saturday.”


On either side of the ball, if you’ve done something all year long do you made not try to change something just for a playoff game or a specific matchup?

“It’s always hard. I mean, you are who you are to your core. You have your core beliefs in your system and you hang your hat on those. So, we’ll see.”


Alex, they had so many key defensive guys for them out last game. So how much of an impact is that like knowing you’re going to have to see (Will) Anderson or (Jonathan) Greenard more this time around? 

“Yeah, definitely. I mean, those are great players for them. We didn’t see Greenard last time. He left early in that game, but we know what he brings. His productivity has been outstanding this year. And Anderson’s an extremely talented pass rusher as well, their strength is upfront in their D line. We feel that’s a good challenge. So, I hope they’re healthy. We hope we get them at their best.”


What’s going on at the backup quarterback position? Is there audition still continuing? 

“No, not as right now. Jeff (Driskel) is our as our backup moving forward. Thought he did a good job last week, put in a tough spot, come in and just go after a week of being around. It wasn’t always perfect, but he did some really good things.”


In terms of after that game, DeMeco Ryan’s kind of lamented the fact that they gave Joe (Flacco) all day to throw. So I’m sure you’re expecting that they’re going to dial it up and bring way more heat. And how are you guys ready to adjust to that?

“The same way we prepare every week, Mary Kay (Cabot), to be honest with you. We go through our blitz meetings and our blitz pickup responsibilities and then we walk through it. So, nothing will change for us in our process.”


And I know Elijah Moore got on the field in Cincinnati a little bit, but how’s he looking, back to normal? 

“Yeah, he looks good. He looks really good. I thought yesterday, even in a walk-through, he’s twitchy and he’s coming out of breaks and we had to slow him down a little bit, so expect excited to see a healthy Elijah out there.”


Elijah went through a lot of the season not struggling but just not producing. Did you guys have to talk at any time or did you just feel confident that when the right time came he would be able to go? 

“Oh, he’ll definitely help us. He has all year. Doesn’t always get a ton of throws throughout the course of a game, but he’s definitely on the guys that we try to get the ball to, there’s no doubt about that’s just the way it’s gone. Doesn’t always get a ton of throws throughout the course of a game, but he’s definitely on the guys that we try to get the ball to, there’s no doubt about that that’s just the way it’s gone. He’s going to make big plays for us all the way through. He’s been a true professional all the way through. He works as hard as anybody in the classroom and on the field, so he’s deserving for sure.”


How much has Joe Flacco’s ability to throw downfield allowed you to adjust your game planning to take advantage of that? 

“Oh, yeah. Well, we’ll try to push it at all three levels of the field. There’s no question. We’ve got to make him defend the whole field and his ability to throw accurately down the field helps us in that regard.”


The run game, but it’s kind of been up and down since Nick (Chubb) went down. Just where’s your confidence level with that? What are you hoping to get? 

“No, I feel good about our run game. It hasn’t been as productive as the past run games, but at the same time, it’s just playoff football. You have to run the ball to win in these games, and I think we’re healthier up front than we have been in a while thanks to last week, and we didn’t run it as well as we wanted to last time against this group. So, it’s a big challenge for us and we’ve addressed it.”


How have you seen Geron (Christian) and James (Hudson) get better in the last month or so when they’ve been in there and just how you think they’ve played? 

“No, I think they’ve been great. I really do. I’m really proud of those guys. James played really well the last few weeks. Geron’s playing well. Those guys just to come in and play, I think it’s really helped us. It’s saved our bacon, so to speak, a little bit to have two guys that can hold up on the edge and proud of those guys for their effort.”


Alex, most teams, when you lose your starting quarterback to a fractured shoulder, don’t have the opportunity to go pluck a former Super Bowl MVP off the couch and plug them in there and have it go like this and stand up in front of the team and talk about what it’s like to win a Super Bowl and things like that. How cool is it for you guys to be able to go into these playoffs with obviously everything at stake with a guy like Joe? 

“Yeah, Joe Cool. I mean, he is. He’s been there. He’s done that. There’s nothing too big. He’s experienced a lot of football in his day and it definitely gives us a level of confidence and comfort going into the game knowing that he’s at the helm.”


There are some guys that are approaching this as going 1-0 and there’s some guys that have talked about feeling the weight of this game and it being the playoffs, especially ones that have been there, haven’t been there before. For you as a coach, how do you value the different kinds of approaches to this week and how much do those mix in as they’re talking to each other? 

“Yeah. The biggest thing in these games is don’t do anything that you haven’t done all year. For these guys, just a little bit more time. The importance is there? Yes. Is it the most important game of the year? Yes, it is. Because for us, it’s our next game and that’s our motto going in. So we’re just going to heighten our awareness and laser focus and really focus in on the little things of the game plan and that’ll just allow us to go out and play free and fast. The last thing we want is a tight group out there on Saturday. So just being who we are I think is important. It’s been good enough to get us where we are right now, and I’d hate for guys to feel like they need to change and do more or less than they have at this point. So that’s going to be the message going through the week is trusting the process, really emphasizing the preparation so you have [the] freedom to go play loose on Saturday.”


Do you leave alone the notion of for the most part of interceptions so that it doesn’t become staying inside anybody’s head or do you have to send some messaging about not throwing picks? 

“We do every week, really. Every week when we talk to the team in front of a Saturday night meeting, it’s all about ball security first and foremost. And it ends with ball security. Like I said before, sometimes you don’t mention it and you don’t get it – you do, you don’t. And that’s just what we got to take care of the football. We’re last in the league in turnovers and they’re first in the league at not giving it away. So, we got to play better there.”


Alex, you’ve been with Kevin (Stefanski) from the start here. How has he evolved as a coach in your mean? 

“He’s awesome. I’ve enjoyed every second with him. His ability to adjust and adapt with the coolness. It’s just a consistency that he brings every day. He’s coached a lot of football, different schemes. His ability to again, to change on a dime based on who this player, his starter is at quarterback I thought has been really remarkable. But the message, the culture he’s built here over the last four years, I’m really proud to be on his staff.”


How do you guys reconcile your giveaways and it hasn’t affected the success of the season? Is this just a weird – I mean you have to have a whole analytics crew that is studying this and what’s the explanation?

“Not looking into it that deep right now, Tony (Grossi), just try not to turn the ball over. The more I talk about it, the more I start sweating. So, we’ll just stop there.”


Is it difficult to – you’ve been preaching just do your job. Is it difficult, though for guys to not get caught up in this being a playoff game and trying to do too much? 

“The good news is we have a fair amount of guys that have been in playoff games before, including our two in 2020. So hopefully, we’ve learned some lessons from that. I know we went to Kansas City, the first series and a half. The first two series, I didn’t know what football team was out there that wasn’t us. We got a little tight and a little nervous. So hopefully the guys in that game have learned from that. Again, we’re preaching the process. We’re preaching preparation. These guys should go to bed on Friday night feeling like, ‘Okay, I feel really good about my week’s work and we’ll go from there.’ But there’s no need to be tight in these games. Again, it’s the most important game of the year because it’s our next game.”


Joe giving you confidence and how he’s Joe Cool out there. What’s his impact behind the scenes because he’s been there, he’s won? This is nothing new to him. What’s that like being behind the scenes as far as the calming influence and also on the sidelines in games? 

“Yeah, that’s who he is. That’s one of his strengths that he brings to us is his ability to talk to guys on the field, off the field, after practice, reps, after meetings, his ability to communicate, make sure everybody’s on the same page. Those are the types of things that veteran quarterbacks do behind the scenes. But he’s been doing that since he got here.”


That first Houston game, they just didn’t apply any pressure on Flacco at all. And they really haven’t gotten those two guys back. So have you seen the DeMeco Ryans adjust to that or is it just plugging in (Derek) Barnett and Jerry Hughes? 

“Yeah, I mean, we’re ready for it. Don’t know, to be honest with you, not quite sure. But it’s – you know, you hit the checklist of things that you have to be ready for. That’s on the list, but we’re ready.”


How about your uncertainty at the receiver position a little bit with Ced (Cedric Tillman) and maybe Marquise (Goodwin) and how do you feel just about heading In…?

“You know, hopefully we get some guys back regardless of who’s out there. Feel confident about who’s out there, Mary Kay. I mean, David Bell last week, all he does is catch two touchdown passes, does his job every time. Feel very comfortable if he’s out there, he’ll do a great job for us. Elijah coming back. Amari (Cooper) with a week’s rest, feeling better. I’m excited about that group.”


When you came here in 2020 the focus was obviously on sort of just changing the culture and establishing a winning culture and all that. And you make the playoffs that first year, you go two years without it. Just how much more does it feel like that culture change and the message has just kind of gotten through to get you to the point now where you’re making it the second time in four years?

“Yeah, I think that’s a big part of who we are in this building. That locker room is a really tight, connected locker room. The great teams that I’ve been fortunate enough to be around or on, that’s the same feeling I get from this group. They love to play for each other. They really love to play for the man to the right and the left of them. That’s all that matters. The trust that they have in each other. That culture has been built here now for four years. Really, you can feel it this year. You talk about David Njoku, I think I read one of his articles where he said, ‘As soon as I put the team in front of me, I became a better player.’ And I see that through a lot of players on this team. And I love the way that these guys fight and scratch and claw for each other every week.”


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