Labriola On

Tomlin on running angry, Cam's style, Ravens D

Q. What are the characteristics of December football in the NFL?
A. High floor. It's that time of year where if you're trending in the right direction, you as an individual or you as a collective, mental assignments are at a minimum with people on top of their assignments from a technical standpoint relative to their positions, and so plays are more competitive, it's varsity vs. varsity. And so, the things that determine the outcome of plays are competitive spirit, minutia, things of that nature, and so it's just a more entertaining brand of football because of fewer penalties, cleaner play, and guys knowing what it is you're doing, not only from an assignment standpoint, but in the bigger scheme of things what you're trying to do as a collective.

Q. With the win over the Falcons last Sunday, your team won its second in a row, the first time this season it has been able to stack wins. What are some of the specific components that go into the making of a winning streak?
A. Consistent play. And that's what I mean when I was talking about December football. Regardless of circumstance, game location, opponents, and other things, there are certain variables that have to continually be on the rise and gain an acceptable level of consistency. And I think that those are the things that allow you to put together win streaks and be the type of team that's on the rise as the road gets narrow.

Q. Once a team wins two in a row, does it become easier to win three in a row, or more difficult?
A. I think it becomes easier. I think a lot of things are habitual. Winning is habitual, and losing is habitual, and so that rhythm that is putting together successful performance after successful performance is something that I crave.

Q. The Falcons are one of the top rushing teams in the NFL, and the Ravens actually rank higher. Is there anything about the experience against Atlanta's running game that you can take and apply today to the Ravens' running game?
A. It's probably the exact opposite for us. We took experiences from defending the Ravens and applied it to Atlanta. And so, from that perspective, we've had an opportunity to really focus on the style of ball that we desire to play vs. this style of offense for consecutive weeks. But if I had to describe it, I think it's probably the opposite. We're very familiar with the Ravens and how it is they play football, and we were able to apply some of those familiar lessons to a less familiar opponent last week.

Q. Another aspect in which the Ravens and Falcons seem to be similar is in the ability to return punts and kickoffs. Last week before the game in Atlanta, you talked about needing guys beating blocks and making tackles, and unblocked guys making tackles. Did you see that against the Falcons?
A. I did. First of all, before we get to all of that, I gotta compliment Matt Wright on ball placement in the kickoff game. We minimized a lot of the challenges associated with that aspect of the game because he did a really good job of ball placement in the kickoff game. But yes, the first tackle made on kickoff was by Derek Watt. He shed the block and made a tackle. The next one was Benny Snell, and he came off a block and made a tackle. And that's football. You have a lot of open space in the special teams' game. They've got 11; we've got 11. They've got a ballcarrier; we've got a kicker, and you can't necessarily count him as a tackler. And so whipping blocks and making tackles is a component of quality play in that phase.

Q. Devin Duvernay is their primary returner of both punts and kickoffs for the Ravens, and usually those jobs require different skill-sets. What makes him special as a returner?
A. Top-end speed. He's one of those guys who's capable of getting the edge and the corner on you, and his speed is legitimate. It's 4.3-like, and they're a sideline return team. You've got to have some speed to get to the sideline. If the kicker puts the ball in the middle of the field, and you start running across coverage lanes like they do and he does, it's a speed-oriented game. They've got a speed-oriented return game, and he has the skills to match.

Q. During the broadcast of the game in Atlanta, the cameras caught Cam Heyward going over to where George Pickens was sitting on the bench and taking time to talk one-on-one with him. Was that just an example of the kind of leader Cam Heyward is?
A. Every day of the week. And it's not only with defenders, as you mentioned it's also with offensive players, it's with special teams guys, it's with specialists. He's a real captain. He embraces the responsibility that comes with leading. He's got experience that others don't. He understands the emotions of the game, and he's just a calming force for young players on our football team.

Q. Based on your experiences with Cam, do you imagine he took more of a calming, soothing approach with Pickens, or more of an almost parental knock-it-off tone?
A. Just depends on what kind of mood he was in. (Laughs) But both are effective to be quite honest with you, and you know why both are effective? Because it's not about what he says or the method in which he delivers his message. It's about what he does. The things that he says carry weight because the guys see what he does day to day. It doesn't matter what method he chooses, because his actions day to day prove that he cares about winning and this football team. And so, guys absorb whatever he says in the right spirit. He may have slapped him on the back of the neck, or he may have hugged him around the neck. But I would imagine regardless of what method he chose, it was received in the right spirit because the guys know Cam Heyward.

Q. One of the statistics CBS used during the broadcast was that 40 of Najee Harris' 86 yards rushing came after contact. Would it be accurate to describe him as "running angry?"
A. It would be very accurate. That's his game. That's always been his game. It was his game in Tuscaloosa. I can imagine it was his game at Antioch High School as well. He's a big guy. He knows it. He has a certain skill-set. He weaponizes it, he attacks defensive backs particularly. He's just got a good football mentality and the skill-set to boot.

Q. When you see him running like that, is that a signal that he's comfortable and feeling good? What do you take from it when he's playing that way?
A. I don't know that I'm focusing the energy on him. I just know what it does for others, and that's what he and I talk about a lot. His style of play is inspirational. The big guys get fired up for working for a guy who plays like that. You can take the energy out of an arena on the road when you do some of the things he does. That stadium (in Atlanta) was quiet for about 5 minutes when he stiff-armed that guy to the ground and made that run he made. It's a component of football. He's an atmosphere changer with how he plays the game. Good for us, bad for others, and so you respect it. It's not something that stats indicate the impact of it, and I just think that's one of the components of football. The physical component of the game that isn't necessarily measured by stats, but we all know is a factor in terms of how games unfold. The style in which he runs the ball, the manner in which Cam Heyward plays defensive line, stats don't always tell the story, but you need men like that in this game.

Q. In speaking about the Ravens defense, you mentioned the change at coordinator from Don Martindale to Mike McDonald, and then you said, "I just think they've got a mode of operation or a business model in terms of how they play." What is Baltimore's mode of operation or business model when it comes to defense?
A. They're an attacking group. You're not running the ball on them. They're gonna be in multiple fronts on the lines of scrimmage. On possession downs, situational play, they want to come get you. They die with their boots on, as we say in this business. When in doubt, when there's a decision to be made, they're gonna move forward. That's how they've always been. (John Harbaugh) has been there 15 years. His first defensive coordinator was Rex Ryan, and that mentality has prevailed over the years. They are a continuity-based group. Most of the time when you ascend to the coordinator position within that organization, you've already been a part of the organization. Much like us. And so, although the guys who are calling it may change, they've been a part of their culture before. Even in the case of McDonald, he comes from Michigan, but he went to Michigan from the Baltimore Ravens. And so, there are certain things that are going to be them. Obviously, he's going to bring his own spin and perspective on it, but they've got a mode of operation in it. And (Harbaugh) dictates that, and that's why there's a consistency throughout their schematics, whether it's Rex Ryan, Dean Pees, Don Martindale, Mike McDonald – over the years it's "Ravens D."

Q. The Ravens defense has been described as "ball searchers?" What does that mean?
A. They lead the league in forced fumbles. Since 2020, and they've got 44 forced fumbles. They ball search, they chase, they rake, they punch. They aggressively seek possession of the football. And it's not just an endorsement, they've got the statistics and the tape to back it up. Forty-four forced fumbles since the beginning of 2020 is a remarkable number. And that's why they're No. 1 in the league in that area.

Q. Today will be the first exposure for many of your players to this rivalry. How is Steelers vs. Ravens different than other games on the schedule? How is that information passed on to the new guys – by you or by their veteran teammates?
A. I don't try to shape it too much for them. Their perception is their perception. I'll tell you this, almost everybody at this level has something to relate it to, and so it makes the conversations brief and succinct. If I'm talking to Mason Cole, I just say, "It's Ohio State-Michigan." If I'm talking to Levi Wallace, I say, "Get ready, you're in the Iron Bowl this week." I try to relate it to things that I know that they can relate to based on their football journeys. And when you do it that way, they go "Oh, I know what this is." Levi Wallace, you tell them it's the Iron Bowl, he knows what it is. Mason Cole is new to us, but you tell them it's Ohio State-Michigan, he knows what it is. I use analogies in that way, and I let them absorb it. But during the process, I give them something that they can relate it to from their past, and most guys have that.

Q. Your starting quarterback today is a rookie, and this is also his first exposure to the Ravens. What are you telling Kenny Pickett about what's coming today?
A. Make quick decisions. Man, don't get toted out of there. (Laughs) It's Steelers-Ravens, man. The quarterback position in this matchup is what it is. There have been some tough men who played under center in this game, and kudos to Big Ben and Joe Flacco – two guys who absorbed a lot and were major components of making this rivalry what it is. You don't need to look any further than those two big-time competitors and the toughness they displayed over the years, if you're a young quarterback. If you're Tyler Huntley or if you're Kenny Pickett, you're trying to figure out how this game is played. Watch Ben. Watch Joe Flacco. Watch how they competed, watch some of the adversity that they faced over the years in this matchup.

Q. What kind of player is linebacker Roquan Smith, and what has his addition done for the Ravens defense?
A. He's "see ball, get ball." What I mean by that is there's not a play that he can't make, sideline to sideline or vertically. You see the impact of him instantly. He's one of those second level guys you put in the middle of defenses, and they're instinctual, and fast, and combative. They get to a lot of things in the way that Ryan Shazier did with that straight-line speed and that instinctual component of play that allowed him to get to a lot of things. Smith is very similar, and it's no secret why they were attracted to him. I imagine anybody would be interested in putting a guy like that in the middle of their defense.

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