ML: “Taking a look at the Bills, they are making the change at quarterback this week to (Thad) Lewis. He had an opportunity to start last year, last game of the year with Cleveland against Pittsburgh, and was with Detroit in the preseason this year, and then to Buffalo. Doug (Marrone) has made the decision that he was their best option there at this point. They don’t have to change a lot of what they do. Maybe that’s what their thinking is. They’ve got two really good backs with (C.J.) Spiller and (Fred) Jackson, with quickness and the ability to get the football outside, so we’ve got to be really conscious about leverage throughout the day on defense. Their receiver core is very quick, with Stevie Johnson from down the road at UK, who’s been really productive as an inside player. We have to be conscious of him and (Robert) Woods and some of the other guys to go along with him. Defensively, they are very, very stout up front. They’ve got big guys. They’ve done a nice job this year rushing the passer. They’ve converted those pressures into quite a few sacks already for the young season, so we’ve got to do a very good job of protection, we’ve got to make hay in the running game as much as we can, and go forward. This is a very physical group we’re going to play up front, similar to the groups we’ve been playing all year.”
Is this the best duo of backs you’ve faced in a while?
ML: “I think they’re good. I don’t know about the best, I don’t know.”
It seems like aside from running the ball they do a good job catching the ball out of the backfield:
ML: “They’re going to try and get them the ball in situations. They do a good job. Spiller’s been a productive guy since he came in, and obviously Jackson has always been.”
What kind of quarterback is Thad Lewis?
ML: “From what I’ve been told, he’s very smart, has good intellect and understands football very well. He’s going to get the ball out of his hand (quickly). Against Pittsburgh last year he was able to complete some deep out throws, both to his left and his right. That was impressive. He’s had quite a few naked boots, and things which I’m sure we’ll see some of. We’re going to need to knock the heck out of him every chance we get.”
He’s been tutored a little bit by David Cutcliffe, whose star pupils are the Manning brothers. It seems like he has a decent foundation there in terms of football intellect:
ML: “Yeah, I would imagine he’s got a good intellect for football.”
What kind of linebacker is Kiko Alonso? It seems like he’s gotten off to a good start:
ML: “He has, and very productive. He’s got good instincts and he’s made some nice plays on the football.”
Is it too early to worry about being 0-2 on the road? Is it too small of a sample size for it to be a problem?
ML: “It’s only a problem if we don’t win this week.”
How big of a deal is it to get that first road win when you have four out of the next five on the road?
ML: “It’s going to be important that we do well on the road coming up. As you said, we have four of the next five on the road. I sat here and told you guys that’s the way the season broke down. We had five games that were going to be physical and mentally testing, and then we had four out of five on the road. We’ve got to put our road warrior hats on and go to work. Last year you were blowing smoke up our butts telling us how good we were on the road, so I’m waiting for you to do that. (Laughs).”
They brought a veteran punter back, Brian Moorman. He’s a big hang time guy, isn’t he?
ML: “Yeah, they decided to go with the younger guy they had there last year, who competed with Moorman last training camp. So I think Moorman was with Pittsburgh in camp, was getting the ball out a little ways and making it a little difficult, so they actually released the linebacker today, who I guess was fingered as the culprit at least in the coverage part (of two long punt returns by Cleveland). It’s an area that I’m sure they wanted to go back and take a look at and get better with.”
Is it more of a challenge with a quarterback making his second start, a head coach and offensive coordinator who were in college last year?. It doesn’t seem like there’s a bunch of tape out there to scout:
ML: “Well, they’re not going to create new plays. They’re going to do what they do, and we’ve got a pretty good handle on that. We’ve got to go do what we do, be disciplined on defense and get after it, and the same thing offensively. Doug’s done a great job there. Nathaniel (Hackett) who I knew as a young, young man, has done a good job starting the season there as the offensive coordinator. He’s been around football a long time and he knows what he’s doing. They’ve got a very good coaching staff. We’re going to have to worry about us. That’s what matters most of the time.”
What was your connection to Nathaniel Hackett?
ML: “I coached for his dad at Pitt.”
He was hanging around, ball boy kind of thing?
ML: “Yeah. It’s amazing. (Laughs) I’m old (laughs).”
What are the key things of stopping the zone read?
ML: “Discipline and tackling.”
The fact that you haven’t seen it much:
ML: “We see it every day.”
Is discipline the main word for this week?
ML: “I think we’ve just got to be ourselves. We’ve got to be us.”
You touched on their running backs. That would suggest that their offensive line is pretty good. How much does that begin with their center, Eric Wood?
ML: “Eric’s a really good player. He’s been a good player. He was a good player down the road at Louisville. He’s been great since he’s been in the NFL. They’ve got the big line that’s strong. They don’t have to get them all blocked or knock them all down for these backs to get yards. Again, we have to get 11 guys to the football and be good tacklers.
Your offense has shown the ability to put together 12- and 14-play drives. How important is it to get back to those explosive plays?
ML: “We will have more opportunity by not having turnovers, so that’s going to be important. That’s the most important focus for us, is to not turn the football over. And each and every third down, let’s be positive and win every third down, and that gives you more opportunity to make explosive plays. You can’t be very explosive when you’re not on the field.”
This week, today or yesterday, is the 10th anniversary of your foundation. What does that milestone mean to you?
ML: “The work that the foundation has been able to do, all the people involved, the staff and the commitment of the community, all the community leaders, sponsors and partners we’ve had … we’re very blessed to put the young people through college that we’ve been able to put through college, to basically give over one million dollars away in college scholarships, and to promote the “Learning is Cool” program, to see it flourish and prosper to where other school districts are trying to incorporate it into their school. It has really been something, with the effect it’s had on young people. As it says, ‘It’s cool to get good grades, it’s cool to be an A student, it’s cool to be on the honor roll.’ We’re blessed with that.”
Ten years ago when you started it, did you imagine it:
ML: “There’s no way. I had no idea. I get too much of the credit for what the staff and everybody does. They do a great job of making it very turn-key for me, as you know.”
AD: “They do. They've got a bunch of guys that are playing really hard. The defensive line, they're stacked with guys. So it’s going to be a good test for us. We feel like we've got a good plan in, and it just comes down to execution, and we'll be ready to go.”
Are they schematically similar to what you’ve seen this year?
AD: “Yeah, there are some similarities with what those teams do. It's a little bit different than what we've seen so far. We’ve just got to be prepared for all the different personnel groups that they have in. It seems like they have a lot of different stuff they do with the personnel. So we've just got to be ready for all of it.”
They have a lot of different personnel groups, right?
AD: “Yeah, they have a bunch of different guys in different spots. You've just got to know who's in the game at what time and what to expect.”
Do you think you learned something in Cleveland about coming off a big win?
AD: “Yeah. We didn't come out and play our best. It just comes down to the guys on this team sticking together. Like I've said many times, we've got a lot of great guys on this team, a lot of great guys in the locker room, and on the staff here. As long as we stick together, a lot's going to go our way, and good things will happen for us.”
Was last week’s offense against New England more encouraging?
AD: “Yeah, we had a bunch of long drives. It just comes down to finishing. That's one thing we couldn't do at Cleveland, we couldn't finish any of the drives and it hurt us. We were able to finish enough against New England to get the win.
What’s been the key to the long drives this season?
AD: “I think it's just being consistent and not putting ourselves in a tough situation, or if we do put ourselves in a tough situation, we've been able to overcome it, and get a big first down. Kind of like last week: We were in third-and-15, and we picked up the first down that kept the drive going. When we do that, when we put several good plays back-to-back-to-back, we drive down and have been able to score. Hopefully we can have more drives that aren't that long and score points with it, but we have been pretty good in those long drive situations.”
Can you put your finger on what’s been the inconsistency in the passing game?
AD: “It's not one thing. We've just got to come out and execute better than we have been. It's not one thing that we're doing wrong. But we're working to improve, we're working to get better each week.”
Was it a matter of being committed to the running game last week that made it so successful, or did you see some sort of weakness in the defense?
AD: “We felt like we had some good looks to run the ball, and so I think that's one thing. When we had those looks, we were going to try to take advantage of them. I thought we did a pretty good job of that in the game. The more looks we get to run it, I'm sure we'll take advantage of it.”
Do you get the sense from your linemen that they like running the ball and grinding it out?
AD: “Yeah, obviously we'd like to run the ball, but as balanced as we can be, I think that's what we're shooting for. Whatever's called, it doesn't matter. It comes down to the execution of it. It comes down to the guys believing it's going to work and us making it work.”
Do you feel like you could have even had more rushing yards if guys had made a certain block? Is there room for improvement in the running game?
AD: “Yeah, there's some potential for some bigger runs that just didn't happen. But we've got to come out and be physical. We've got to stay on our blocks, and we can hit some of these big runs.”
Is this one of the better front sevens you’ve seen?
AD: “Yeah, they do a lot of good things. The rookie linebacker's done a really good job. He plays the pass really well, has really good instincts. And we've got to come out and be physical. We've got to match the intensity this week, and we've got to bring it on the road.”
What is the best thing they do defensively?
AD: “With all the different looks they do, the personnels and stuff, they try to disguise things and also with their front. They've got a good pass rush. That's kind of what they pride themselves on.”
They lead the NFL with nine interceptions, and the rookie linebacker has four. It's kind of unusual for a linebacker to be that instinctive, isn't it?
AD: “Yeah, like I said, he's got really good instincts. So you've got to be sharp. And we can't turn the ball over.”
You and A.J. haven't been able to complete many deep throws since the opener, is that something that's going on with the offense or more about what other teams are doing?
AD: “I think teams are playing him differently, and so we've got to find different ways. A lot of teams have been trying to take away some of the deeper throws with him. But we've got to take our chances with some of these other guys. He's not the only guy who can go deep for us. We've got other guys who can make plays. Teams are going to play him differently just because he's so good at what he does. It's just finding different ways to get him the ball.”
Teams are taking away the deep ball and making you go on longer drives. How tough is that?
AD: “It does make it a little bit tougher. But we've got to find more ways to get some of these drives that aren't taking long plays, a huge amount of plays to score. We've got to find ways to get some explosive plays, big plays, big chunks that will get us down there. And we're trying to find those.”