S JUSTIN REID
How do you feel the defense has developed and what are you expecting from the defense against the Steelers?
"Just continue the growth that we've had. I think the defense, we took a big jump Week 1 to Week 2. Obviously it wasn't enough. Just continuing that trend of getting better each week and just becoming more tightknit, making the windows smaller, playing tougher on the run. Just continue to do that and make sure we play the whole game. It's going to be a good challenge for us against an experienced quarterback, a talented offense. We're up to the challenge for it. It's going to be fun for us."
What's is like to practice against TE Jordan Akins?
"Akins has grown throughout his three years here. We came in the same draft class and just seeing him continuously get better. I think he's playing a big role in the offense now. Getting a lot more snaps. Been dynamic in the pass game and getting also a lot better in the run game. He had a couple really good catches today at practice. Just seeing him continue to get better and bring that to the game field has been fun to watch."
Can you weigh in on the Breonna Taylor situation?
"I'm just going to leave it where it is. I'm going to keep my feelings reserved on it. I want to say I'm not really happy about it. A lot of people are really upset about it. I will just leave it there, though."
What are the challenges Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger presents?
"Yeah, Big Ben naturally is just such a big guy. That's really one of the tough things about bringing him down is just his size. It's going to be important to have – once one guy gets wrapped up on him to have the rest of the cavalry come and be sure to get in there too. Naturally with his height he has a large field of vision. He has some weapons around him in (Vance) McDonald, (Eric) Ebron from the Colts and (Diontae) Johnson and then (JuJu) Smith-Schuster. We also got a good game plan for them too though and what they're doing and matching up our guys against them. I'm walking into the game feeling very confident."
What have you done to be so effective limiting deep passes so far and are you worried about Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger pushing the ball down the field?
"Excellent coaching. I mean, Anthony Weaver's come in and the plays he's installed and him just as a play caller has been phenomenal for us. I feel like he's done a hell of a job every week and he's going to continue to do that. We're all excited to have him. As well as also having D (D'Anton) Lynn coming in and doing a great job with the secondary, just coaching up offensive concepts, what teams are trying to attack us with every week and really taking away those X-plays. Especially in the pass game we've been successful the last two weeks but we can even still do more. Do more not only in the pass game but also bring that to the run game and truly be a dominant defense. Big Ben, he's also just a talented quarterback. He's seen a lot of looks. He's played a long time. I'm sure they're going to try and have some answers for us too. We're just going to continue to play that chess match back and forth and respond. I'm not too worried about it. I've got full confidence and trust in the game plan that we have and the guys and what we're going to bring to the table against them."
Is there something different about gamedays in 2020 that stands out to you?
"It's just been a little bit different. Definitely a whole lot more trash talking going on the field. I feel like that's a way for all of us to try to keep the juice going on both sides of the ball. It's very strange, last week going into the first game, you walk into it with a lot of juice just for the love of the game and it's still a little bit eerie just seeing that there was nobody there. It's just kind of quiet. Games typically are like – especially the homes games here in Houston, where we have such a great fan base that always bring a lot of energy. It's just a little bit different. We're going to go up there, it's going to be, I'm sure, pretty nice for our offense this week, going up to Pittsburgh and being able to be on a cadence and everything like that. It's just a little bit different. Everybody's going through it."
How important is it for the defense to not go three games without getting a turnover?
"Well, turnovers are the difference in the game. We've got to find ways to get to the ball. We've got to get the ball out, whether it be interceptions, picks, fumbles or fourth-down turnovers. Whatever it's got to be, we've got to start figuring out ways to get the ball out more and that's how we'll help the team win. That's been a very strong point of emphasis this week in practice and it's been showing up for us, so we need to take that with us to Sunday."
What is it like to be able to hear the quarterback's calls due to no fans in the stands?
"Just a little bit more. You can hear things a lot clearer. Teams across the league change their signals up a little bit more often and their calls up a little bit more often just because it's so easy to hear it now. But at the end of the day, it's still just football. Maybe just there's a little bit extra maybe one or two plays you might be able to hear something different but at the end of the day, it's just about going out there and performing."
Have you had an opportunity to talk to DT Ross Blacklock about getting ejected against the Ravens?
"It was – we're just going to chalk it up to it being a dumb rookie mistake. He's learned from it and we're going to move on from it. Guys have already told him about it. He knows what he did wasn't the right decision to make and we're just going to move forward and him not make that decision again."
What do you see from Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster?
"Physical guy, definitely at the bottom and top of the route. He loves to get handsy. Not afraid of a fist fight at the bottom or top of the route. Good hands, catchability. Will, on the QB scrambles, still fight to get open. Nothing that I don't think that we can handle, but give credit where credit is due. He's definitely stepped up his game, especially with the departure of Antonio Brown from last season. I feel like he's stepped into that number one role a lot better starting off this year than he did last year."
Is there a sense of pride amongst the defense to be better than how you have played so far this season?
"Yeah. It's kind of – I don't want to talk about two years or three years ago back in 2018 when we started off 0-3. I definitely don't want to do that again but it is about pride. That's what we said at the end of the game and even in the course of the game in the first two games. This is about pride. We're not a defense that's going to turn over and roll on our belly, be belly up, give up, play soft. We're going to fight tooth and nail regardless of what the situation is. Especially going into this game, I feel like as we've gotten those more snaps on the field, it's just made us all more aggressive. The defense has gotten tighter. Guys have learned the system a lot better with the new plays we've installed so the coverages are getting even tighter, especially in the run game too. That's just what it is. It's time to drop your weight and make sure we get a win."
TE JORDAN AKINS
How much are yards after the catch something you can work on compared to an attitude?
"It's a big part of my game. I think that's what I specialize in. When I get the ball in my hands, I'm just trying to get some positive yards and just fall forward whether there's contact or if I'm free. Just using my body to pick up a few yards.
What are some things you've learned from TE Darren Fells to become a more consistent player this season?
"I would say just how to read coverage and fronts. Defensive fronts tell you a lot. Just breaking it down and picking his brain of how he goes about things and adding it to my game has been successful for me. I'm going to continue to pick his brain and learn as much as I can from him to be progressive."
What was it like playing baseball in the minor leagues and how does it compare to your success in football?
"Baseball is a game of failure. You can't really control baseball. You can hit the ball as hard as you can and go right to someone. Football is more – I can control more of what I do. That's how I would separate the two. Baseball is just like you can't really control it. In football you control what you do. I can create separation. I can get my hands on you. I can shed blocks. I can do whatever I have to do to get open and bring the ball in, making catches."
What does it mean to you to have the trust of QB Deshaun Watson and the coaching staff?
"It means a lot. That's the reason why I came here. I'm here to make plays. I'm here to create separation in matchups. Having that trust in Deshaun is an honor. I'm just here just trying to make plays down the field, whether if it's just catching it two yards and picking up YAC yards and just doing everything I can to keep Deshaun on his feet, just moving the ball down the field."
What is the biggest improvement you've made from the beginning of your career until now?
"I would just say learning, man. It's a different speed from college. Everyone's fast. Everyone's smart. You have to know how to read coverage. You have to know how to make adjustments. The more years I've put in, the more I'm comfortable. The more the game slows down. For now, I'm just living in the moment and now that I have everything mentally, the game's slowing up. Deshaun (Watson) can trust me more. I can get open more. He can pick a spot and throw it to it, and he knows I'll be there. It's just slowing down for me. Being able to bring other teammates along, younger teammates, I think that's a big deal as well."
Did you view this season as an opportunity for a breakout season?
"Every year I view it as a breakout season. Every year it seems like I get a little more trust within the staff and within Deshaun (Watson). I'm looking to make that big play, looking to make that big block. When the opportunity presents itself, I'm trying to capitalize in each and every way."
What's something about travel that is very different this year compared to in year's past?
"I would say just the meals. The meals are like individually packed. It's not like you can sit there and say I want a chicken salad, or I want this, or I want that. It's like pre-ordered. You sit down and you write down what you want. They have everything set up for you. It's kind of more isolated and it's not just out for the open. I think that's the biggest difference in traveling this year."
How can you help alleviate some of the hits QB Deshaun Watson has taken so far this season?
"As a tight end standpoint, just getting a block, helping out in the passing protection. Anything that we can do to protect Deshaun. I feel like everyone has to do [better]. It's just not on Deshaun. It's the entire offense as a whole. We're working on it and we're looking forward to how we progress in the future."
Do you take it personally when QB Deshaun Watson gets hit?
"I take it very personal. That's why when I get the ball in my hands, I try to run through anything I can."
What makes the Steelers pass rush so unique and effective?
"They have beasts. They have great up-front guys. They have great rushers. They have a nose for the football. So, we have to come with our A-game and match that intensity they have and protect Deshaun (Watson) and make plays when they're available."
Do you see a long-term future with the Texans?
"I love Houston. I love the city. I love the staff. I love playing here. I do see myself playing here long-term. Hopefully, one day I will be able to."
What was your reaction to the grand jury decision on the death of Breonna Taylor?
"There's a lot of people that are not satisfied with the decision. I feel the same. But as of right now, we're talking about it as a team and we're taking it – I really don't have nothing to say for that. As far as like for their agreement, the verdict they came to, I don't agree with it. That's all I have to say about that."
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR / QUARTERBACKS COACH TIM KELLY
You have led the league is in early down pass frequency. Is that something you believe in or more relative to the game plan?
"With that, that's more so kind of how the games have unfolded. Obviously we don't want to be pass heavy. We'd like to be more balanced and I've got to do a better job making sure we're more balanced on Sunday."
What is your vision for what you'd like the offense to ideally be like?
"We want to put out a unit that can go out there and threaten people in different ways. Not be one dimensional. Not just do one thing that teams can kind of key on and really focus on taking away. We want to be able to threaten teams in a variety of ways. We need to do a better job of doing that."
How do you think the adjustments to new receivers has gone so far?
"Yes, every time those guys step on the field together we continue to see that chemistry grow, really between all of them. We're encouraged obviously for the connections we saw on Sunday between Deshaun (Watson) and Brandin (Cooks). We're looking forward to that relationship to grow along with him continuing to foster his relationship with Will (Fuller V) and Kenny (Stills) and develop along with Randall (Cobb) and you saw that on Sunday. Randall came up with some really big plays for us. At the end of the half he caught a big bow route for us. They're all doing good things and continuing to work on that."
Do you feel like the receivers are doing a good enough job of getting enough separation?
"Yes. Yeah, I think the route running we saw here on Sunday here against a really good secondary. I mean, you look at the secondary with Jimmy Smith, Marcus Peters, obviously they moved (Marlon) Humphrey inside. Those are some good players and our guys were doing a good job of creating separation and getting open. Now, we've got to do a better job of being more consistent with that. We've got to do a better job of finding ways to get them open. In terms of creating separation, I feel like our guys have been doing a really good job at that, especially last week."
Have you felt a need to simplify anything due to the new receivers?
"No. We brought in really good pros that are smart and have played a lot of football. Picking up the offense has not been an issue as far as why we haven't scored the amount of points we've wanted to score. We can look at turnovers, we can look at different things but it's not because it's overcomplicated. Those guys have done a great job of working really hard with Deshaun (Watson) and coming in here and getting on the same page and learning everything we've done. We're really pleased with how they've come in and learned the offense and we're looking forward to going out and playing better on Sunday."
How has playing in a quiet stadium effected your communication during a game?
"It's made it easier. You're not dealing with 70,000 screaming people. Obviously the game at Arrowhead (Stadium) was a lot easier than the two we played last year in terms of just being able to communicate with one another. So, it's been – not having to deal with the crowd noise has been something that has helped us, being able to communicate more clearly and more efficiently on the sideline."
What are some things you can do to manage how much QB Deshaun Watson has gotten hit?
"We can continue to try to do things in the protections to help some people out or put him in a position where he can get the ball out of his hands faster. Like coach is saying, we're looking, basically, at every area we can improve with our blitz pickups, with our route running. We talked about that being better. Just every area that kind of goes into that because obviously we need to do a better job of keeping Deshaun clean."
Are you having to adjust play calls to make sure QB Deshaun Watson doesn't get hit or can you not let that seep into it?
"I think that's something we take into account every week, so I don't see it being any different."
Was the first time you met TE Jordan Akins at the Senior Bowl?
"Yeah, it was in the Senior Bowl. Obviously we were fortunate enough to have Jordan on our team and so being able to kind of get to know him for those couple days there and down in Alabama was really good. Being able to see really the type of person he is. Always willing to work, willing to learn, asking questions. He obviously made a good impression because he ended up here a few months later."
How encouraged are you from what you have seen from TE Jordan Akins?
"He needs to continue to do that. He's doing a really good job. Jordan's a strong player. When the ball's in his hands, he's a strong runner. He's doing a great job catching the football and creating some separation and getting open. He's worked hard at that. He's worked hard at mastering his craft and now being able to go out there and produce at the level that want him to produce at on Sundays."
The fourth down play early in the game, it was mentioned it was similar to the third down play right before it. Is that a play you guys like a lot if you can get a hat on the defensive back that's coming inside?
"Any time you have a defensive back blitzing, your play's got a better chance to be successful if you're able to block him. That was a play we thought we'd be able to go out there and execute and get the yard and we were wrong. I've got to do a better job of giving us a better play call there."
What makes TE Jordan Akins so good after the catch?
"He's got really good playing strength. He runs well. He's hard to tackle, so when the ball gets in his hands, a lot of times he's able to make the first guy miss and then he's able to run away from some others. The thing that constantly shows out with him is really just his play strength. He plays really strong with the ball in his hands."
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR / DEFENSIVE LINE COACH ANTHONY WEAVER
Did you think the tackling improved from Week 1 to Week 2?
"I do think it was better, particularly against that opponent. With their scheme they force you to make a lot of one-on-one tackles and I think for the most part our guys did a good job of that. Was there improvement? Absolutely. Is it good enough yet? No. But there was certainly improvement."
Do you believe the defense was tired in the fourth quarter after the Ravens were able to run the ball successfully?
"That was unfortunate. To that point I think we had done a good job as a defense of limiting their rushing yardage. I think there was a lesson to be learned in that game, though. What happens is you have so many competitive guys and when they see the game kind of slipping away, everybody wants to be the guy to make that play. When you come out of structure on defense, big plays happen and that happened a little bit. But it's better to learn the lesson now rather than in January and February."
Have any of your defensive conversations this week started with 'when I was chasing Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger?'
"No, because back then, Ben was a much a better athlete. Now he kind of moves like me a little bit. I say that in jest. I still remember, I think it was 2004, I was with the Baltimore Ravens. We were playing the Pittsburgh Steelers and we sent a corner blitz and we hit Tommy Maddox and we're like, 'Yes! Put the rookie in!' And I don't know if they ever lost a game after that that year. So, be careful what you wish for. Ben's obviously a tremendous player. He's got a ton of experience in this league. He's seen every coverage. So, we're going to have to go out there and obviously play excellent defense, and we've got to win the mental battle against a guy like that as well."
What do you like about occasionally moving DE J.J. Watt inside when he rushes?
"We want to put him everywhere so the offense can't schematically try to take him away. So, sometimes it's a matchup thing. Sometimes we're just trying to put him in different spots for the exact reason I just said. If he's always in that left end position, which we know primarily he's going to be at, offenses can chip him with a running back. They can chip him with a tight end. When you're able to move him around and you don't know where he's going to be, that makes it a lot harder on an offense, and obviously you're going to give him an opportunity to have more success as well."
Through the first two weeks of the season offensive penalties have decreased significantly this season. What can you do on defense to try to counteract that?
"There's not a whole lot I can about that. The officials, they have a job to do and it's a very difficult one. But if they want to help the defense out a little bit more, I'd appreciate it."
Is there anything you can do to use quieter stadiums to the defense's advantage?
"You can hear some of the offensive communication. It is strange though. The thing I think I miss the most, particularly as a defensive guy, is when you have a situation like we did against Baltimore when you're having a string of sacks, when J.J. Watt gets a sack and Charles Omenihu and Zach Cunningham, when those things happen, typically that ignites the stadium and the defense feeds off that energy. Now we've got to make sure we bring all that energy and juice within ourselves. We've got to create it. So, it's not necessarily the plays that are created, we need to feel that from the sideline. The guys that are on the bench are just as important as the guys on the field because that stadium is empty. I don't necessarily know that we gain a huge advantage because of the some of the things that you can hear from an offensive standpoint, but I know we certainly miss out on our fans and the energy we get from them."
What are you seeing from the outside linebackers as a whole and is there anything you can do for them to make more plays?
"I think Coach (Chris) Rumph does an excellent job with those guys. Right now, these last two opponents we've played, they were very good teams. I think if you really study the Kansas City tape, there's times where Whitney Mercilus was getting there. Obviously, Jacob Martin was getting there. Brennan Scarlett was having a good day, but (Patrick) Mahomes was getting the ball out. This past week, we focused all week on stopping the run, stopping the run, stopping the run. When we had our opportunities, again, I think there were times when we were close and we could've had some more sacks. Even though we had four, we could've had a couple more. I don't think the lack of production is anything those guys aren't doing. I just think production kind of comes in bunches. When it happens, hopefully it's an avalanche and continues to roll over."
You have shifted your secondary a lot. What is your thinking about the outside cornerback spot opposite of CB Bradley Roby?
"I think we're fortunate that we have a bunch of really good players that can go out there and compete and play solid ball for us. In rotating those guys, I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. Particularly this year, early in the season without a preseason, we're still trying to work guys back into shape and things of that nature. We're confident in so many different players. It's a good problem to have as a coach when you're shuffling those guys in and out. They all have continuity with one another. It doesn't matter what combination we've put in there through these first two games, they've had a lot of success and they've been on the same page. We feel confident in anybody that goes out there in our secondary right now."
Do you expect CB Gareon Conley to return from the Reserve/Injured list soon?
"I'd love to tell you, but that's probably a better question for our medical staff. But I know he's working. What I do know is that he's working every day and champing at the bit to get back."
Are you confident in the defensive scheme that you have implemented so far? Also, have you seen improvements from Week 1 to Week 2 that you may have typically seen in a preseason?
"I do feel that way. I think we've been sound in what we're trying to do. I think are guys are gaining confidence in the scheme every single day. There's still a lot of pages left to be written in this book. I told the guys like, 'listen, if my wife judged me after our first two dates, we probably wouldn't be married. But we have a great relationship and I love her to death.' We have 14 guaranteed dates left and hopefully by the end of this, this ends up with a happy ending."
How have you prepared differently for Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger than Ravens QB Lamar Jackson and Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes?
"They're obviously, all three of them are incredible quarterbacks. They're just different in play style. Ben, unlike the other two, you don't have got to worry about him moving as much. Now he still will in 'got to have it' situations but for the most part, you know where he's going to be. So up front, those guys love that, right? You can pin your ears back, you can try to win. You don't have to worry about quarterback extension and guys leaving the pocket and gaining 15 yards rushing. But he's obviously seen every coverage imaginable. So, you have to do a great job pre-snap of trying to fool a guy that essentially has seen it all and then we've got to make sure we try to get heat there because we know where he's going to be. The challenge is obviously a big one, but we're ready for it."
DE J.J. Watt is 2.0 sacks shy of being the fourth player in NFL history with 100.0 sacks in 115 career games or less. What do you think about that?
"The guy never ceases to amaze me. To accomplish the things he's done in this league, and then to do what he's done since the injuries that he's had are truly remarkable. I know to a man, we want to do everything we can, not only to help him get those sacks, but to help him get a ring because guys like that, that do everything right and mean so much to this game, you want him to achieve the highest accolades possible."