ML: “After the flight home and having an opportunity to watch the game, the things that continue to be the important parts of winning games in the NFL – turnovers, explosive plays, rushing, third down and special teams – all played such an important part in the game. You have to win those areas. Yesterday, obviously in the turnover margin we weren’t very good, but we got back into it in the fourth quarter and made some plays that mattered. But that was not a strength yesterday – we gave away the ball. Our turnovers on offense were critical. They can hurt us.
“Running the football, we continue to do a better job. We’ve got to keep working hard at it, keep creating space and movement, have better perimeter blocking, and have better opportunities all the way around. On third down, we have to keep working hard at it. It’s become a strength, but we have to stay after it and keep the execution level up.
“Then, on special teams, not ever have a hiccup or relax. We were pretty good there yesterday. On kickoff return, we have a lot of work to do. We can do better at that. Then we have to eliminate any penalties whatsoever in the kicking game.
“Going back and summing it up, that about how we did things yesterday.”
Is there any update on
ML: “Right away, with the ankle sprain, they put him in a boot. So we’ll see. I don’t know any other things, beyond this morning at 10. That was my last update.”
ML: “I think Mo is having surgery as we speak.”
How would you assess the performance of the other receivers that had to step up in Sanu’s absence?
ML: “We have to continue to do better in every way. We have the ball go off our hands for an interception – can’t have that. We have to make sure we play with great energy all the way through. We have to do a better job, and our passing game has to continue to improve. Regardless, not having any relationship toward Mo or anything, I just think that all the way around we need to continue to do better.”
Your red-zone defense again was very strong. For the third straight game, your defense allowed no touchdowns in the red zone:
ML: “We were fortunate to keep them off the board, from a touchdown standpoint. But as coaches, we’re still not happy with some of the things. Our execution of things wasn’t as good as it needed to be. We have to work hard at that. Really, we’re at a good point, because we have to finish this season. We’ve got four games to go, and we have an opportunity to continue on toward what our goals are. But we have to play a lot better in all three areas. We were able to kind of shake the cobwebs a little bit and break up the glee club, because we’ve got to do better. It wasn’t good enough yesterday – in a lot of areas. We have to play better. We have to rush the quarterback better. We have to be better in tackling on defense. On offense, we can’t have turnovers, we have to have better execution and we can’t have the untimely penalties. On special teams, same thing: we have to be more consistent and not have penalties that set us back. We know if we get opportunities to return balls that we’re going to make positive plays, so don’t take that play away from us.”
What do you mean by ‘breaking up the glee club?’
ML: “Everybody is patting them on their backs about what they’re doing. Well, we haven’t done anything. We just got back to even, and now we have to move forward. These last four are what counts.”
You guys managed to win the game despite having the mistakes that you mentioned. Does that speak to what you said after the game about having a team ‘on the rise?’
ML: “You look and there’s still a lot of young players playing a lot of football. Three rookies started on offense yesterday – that’s a lot. That tells you where you are with things. You have to realize that. Three rookies and three second-year players in your first 12 or 13 (players) on offense. Then, you’ve got three third-year players. That’s a group that’s still learning to play together, learning to play the game – learning to consistently play the game. On defense, you’ve got a little bit of the same with new guys in different spots or guys who haven’t been (playing regularly). So we just have to play better.”
You used the term ‘breaking up the glee club’ in reference to the players. Do you think they’re getting that message from you and understanding it?
ML: “My message never changes. There just becomes a perception around. There’s more asked of their time, and things like that. We don’t want to change. We’re still where we were; we haven’t done anything. We have to continue on this march.”
You started off 3-1, then fell back down with four straight losses. Does having that experience help hammer that very point home about not resting on your laurels?
ML: “You have to continue to make plays – that’s the key point. You’ve got to make plays. You’ve got to make sack-fumbles in the fourth quarter or an interception to close the game out. We drive and get the touchdown that puts us ahead, instead of kicking the field to tie. There are some things that way that are real positives that are important to keep doing. Those are the positives from yesterday, when you talk about the critical moments of the game. We overcame a couple of turnovers, giving them the ball. We were able to move the ball. When we had to punt it, we were able to punt it down inside the 10-yard line, then hold them and get the ball back at midfield. Even though we weren’t necessarily doing what we wanted, we were at least controlling and winning that field position battle, which was continuing to give us opportunities at points.”
Does it help that you can point to that experience of losing four straight, just so they see that it can all be lost just as quickly as it started?
ML: “We had a lot of deficiencies in those first three weeks of wins (Games 2-4). We’ve kind of matured through that now. Now we’re in these four games. This coming game obviously is another huge game. We’ve been on this trend each week. They understand it, and they have to get themselves ready to go again.”
All four of your sacks had a pivotal role of some sort, including the last one that forced the turnover. That had to please you:
ML: “We had some production that way, but we can do a lot better. We need to do a lot better at rushing the quarterback than we did yesterday. That’s going to be important this week, next week and on through the next four weeks.”
Did you address the Jovan Belcher situation with your team at all?
ML: “I spoke to the team about it Saturday morning, yes.”
What was your message to them?
ML: “Any time anything happens to another NFL club involving an NFL player or coach, it touches on someone on your current team, or other various people. You have players who played with that player in college or on the NFL level, so there’s a closeness that way. It’s also looked at as, ‘This is one of our guys.’ He’s playing for another club, but he’s one of a very small, select group of people. My point is that there’s a lot of pressures on these players that go unseen and unknown. When your buddy has certain things weighing on him, if you feel like you as a player need to share, don’t forget where we are. We’re here to help you. If you as a teammate see somebody else that seems overburdened, let’s not let it go unnoticed and let’s make sure we bring it to light. Let’s see if we can resolve the issue before something like that happens.”
Did it hit a little closer to home for you guys, considering this team dealt with the death of Chris Henry in 2009?
ML: “Chris’s unfortunate death was different circumstances. I’m one of, what, 15 guys maybe, other than some of the coaches, that were here for that. Most of the football team was not here, so they really don’t have a perspective on that.”
Moeller High School won the state championship in football this weekend. Have you had a chance since then to catch up with former Bengals director of football operations and current Moeller defensive coordinator Jim Lippincott?
ML: “I did. I texted him yesterday morning and told him congratulations. (Defensive line coach) Jay Hayes told me about it Saturday evening. It’s great for Jim. He’ll never quit coaching now – he’ll be coaching forever (laughs). But it’s awesome. It’s awesome for the city, it’s awesome for Moeller. They were such a storied program for so long, and to build the program back up to win a state championship is awesome.”