ML: “I wish I had something much better to say. After watching video (of the loss at Cleveland), I’m disappointed. There were a lot of really good things, but obviously not enough – good enough, long enough – around the board.
“Special teams-wise, we didn’t do a great job of returning kickoffs; we did a good job in returning punts. We allowed the two big returns – one of the kickoff, one on the punt. Those obviously ended up being huge factors in the football game. I thought our guys handled the conditions out there – our specialists for the most part did very well. We fielded the ball as best we could when we had the opportunity, which was positive. In the kicking game, it ended up being two plays. Now, we set up some field position plays as well with our return game. But there ended up being two critical plays that they got field position on and got the ball out further than they needed to.
“Offensively, you look at where we were in the first half – I’ve been harping on it – it’s about running the football. In the first half, we had 10 carries and averaged about four-and-a-half yards per carry. It was a good start. Not all of them were perfect, but we did some good things. In the second half, we weren’t as good, and particularly in the third quarter. Then the situation got to what it was early in the fourth quarter, which took us out of the run somewhat. But we need to be better. We’ve got to be better at running the football throughout the game, particularly in the third quarter. We’re not playing very well in the third quarter – we’ve scored 10 points in the third quarter this year.
“Defensively, even though we had more explosive plays on the day (on offense), you can’t give up the explosive touchdown. The three other explosive plays we gave up on the day – they all ended up being very significant in the game. Then third down – we didn’t play as well on third down. We go for an interception on one play and don’t get the ball, and they convert. Things like that. We’ve got to be smarter, we’ve got to understand the situation and get ourselves off the field. When we can control field position with kicking and defense, we have more opportunities to score points.
“In a nutshell, after looking at it, it’s hard for me to judge much after the game. But those are the things I look at all the time. Turnovers – it’s four to one. Third down, red zone, rushing the football, explosive plays. We did a good job defending the run, but all in all we lost the game. So have to coach better, and we have to do a better job preparing our guys. We have to put our guys in situations where they can just relax and do it the way they practiced it. Not press in any of those situations. That’s important.”
You are minus-seven in turnover differential, yet you’re 3-3:
ML: “The first thing that comes to mind is that we’ve gotten two interceptions in 192 throws. That’s thing we have to keep going on. As far as positives, Mike (defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer) has been stressing creating tipped balls and getting in the quarterback’s face to make him get rid of it quickly. But get some tipped balls, and we got three or four of those yesterday, and one turned into an interception. So those were some positives. We need to just keep doing these things. Get around the quarterback, be tighter in coverage and have some interception opportunities.”
Why have you guys struggled so much in the third quarter this year?
ML: “If I knew, I’d turn it on and fix it quickly. I can look at years past, particularly last year, and it was a strength of ours. It was a strength of ours in the preseason. But right now, it’s not. And it’s not that the defense has been dreadful, it’s just that we’ve been dreadful on offense in the third quarter.”
Was there any hesitation at the end of the first half in trying to figure out whether or not to go ahead with the two-minute drill?
ML: “Yeah. I told Jay (offensive coordinator Jay Gruden) that they had three timeouts left, so let’s be smart with it. Let’s not give them field position and a score, because it should be hard for them to earn scores on the day. So yeah, we started out kind of conservatively. We hit the big play on the screen, and once we got that we were able to go. But from looking at the video from our guys and the reaction to that last play, we were set and should have had an opportunity. We were set, our guys were ready to go and the official was standing over the football. So mechanically, I don’t think that’s the way it should work.”
Why isn’t that – a spike to stop the clock at the end of a half as time was running down – a reviewable play?
ML: “The hardest thing is – and this is me trying to remember – if there’s an egregious error, it can be fixed. But I think because of digital television, and on the field making a call like that – that’s the difference. Obviously, digitally on television, it’s so much clearer these days. Obviously the official on the field is not making a digital ruling, so he’s got to ask for help from the side guys. But I think, too, that it ends up involving the mechanics of the (officiating) group. Our guys were all set. We have a great shot of the video of nine seconds left, so obviously our video guy had time to go up and get a shot of the field clock and come back to our guys, so that’s obviously time enough to have the ball snapped, and our guys are all ready.”
ML: “He did give the ball to the official. He (the official) ran it in (to spot the ball).”
Could it have saved a couple seconds there?
ML: “I know A.J., we got the ball to A.J. because Andrew (Hawkins) picked A.J. up and got the ball there. Andy (Dalton) got the linemen up there. It is what it is. Hopefully, like you said, it will help us in the future."
Is there any word on
ML: “He'll be probably day-to-day. Today is ‘partly cloudy’ right now (laughs). He'll probably be day-to-day. We'll see how he feels Wednesday.”
What has the feedback been from the team since you mentioned they were being ‘too nice’?
ML: “I don't know if I need feedback. I have told them that, so it’s not like I only told you – I told them, too. You’ve got to be able to stomp on the back of somebody's neck and go. That's what this is all about. We don't get mulligans. We are playing for lunch tickets, and we are playing for keeps. You’ve got to go when it is time to go, and you’ve got to put them away in every way.”
The opponent you’ll have this Sunday seems to have that attitude – the Steelers:
ML: “They’re very seasoned that way. They have a very mature group that way, particularly on the defense. Throughout the football team, really. Their quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger) is that way. Their guys are that way. They play for keeps.”
ML: “He got a series in there. I thought he did a good job. He's coming along. That's what you hope to see form a young player. He has practiced well, he's doing good things. So it was a good opportunity, and he got a few snaps in.”
There seems to be a lot of parity in the AFC this season. Only three teams have winning records, and it could be two teams after tonight’s game:
ML: “We know we have a lot of football left to play, and a lot of ups and downs with it. We have to just focus on ourselves. That's important. It's probably a good week for that. We have to go and just focus on ourselves and better ourselves internally, both coaches and players. We have to do a better job coaching. I have to do a better job coaching – a better job coaching the coaches and coaching the players. We have to eliminate any gray area for our guys so we can just get after it and pin our ears back and go throughout.”
The long TD pass to Josh Gordon yesterday is the type of play you hate. That had to make you want to tear your hair out, right?
ML: “Was that Gordon? I don't know who caught it, I just know it's a touchdown. It's a very poor play by the defense, and it's one you should never – there's no reason to give up.”
With the struggles in the run game, were there a lot of the same mistakes yesterday that occurred the previous few weeks?
ML: “We had a couple of errors. We had a couple times falling off the block, a couple movement things where they reacted a little differently and we didn’t adjust. We have to eliminate a lot of the gray area for our guys. We can be as creative as we can, but we have to understand that they are coaching the other guys, too, and that there are certain things and ways they are going to react to what we’re doing as well.
“We had a good plan, but we have to understand they are going to react, and we have to go back and adjust. We roared up in there right before halftime with a 20-yard and four-yard run, and then we came out in the third quarter and didn’t run it as well. But in the fourth quarter, we had a couple good runs. We have to continue that, and when they zig and zag and hit one for no gain, it can’t scare us out of it.”
ML: “I thought Ced did some good things. He was able to catch the football and get up vertically. He made a really nice play on the first screen. He did some things before halftime.”
Will you consider changing kickoff returners?
ML: “No. We’ll continue to use (
A.J. Green continues to make a lot of incredible plays. Everyone seems to expect the unexpected with him:
ML: “He’s creative. He makes some big plays, but we have to get some consistent plays around him to go with the big plays. Consistent plays lead to more big plays. We dropped the ball and had a chance for a first down. Those are big plays because they keep drives alive. We get some penalties and a couple of those phantom OPIs (offensive pass interference). We’re not fortunate to get those calls our way.”
How close are rookie WRs
ML: “They get time every game.”
Are they close to getting more time?
ML: “We’ll see.”
Jabaal Sheard seemed like he was grabbing
ML: “That’s defensive holding, and sometimes you see it called. But that’s yesterday’s story. We have to move on to today’s stuff, and figure out in the future how to get off clean and not grabbed.”
You often talk about playing to the final whistle. Josh Cribbs’ long punt return yesterday was controversial, because it looked like he called for a fair catch. Is that an example of playing to the whistle?
ML: “It is. It’s a good lesson for our guys to understand. Jeromy (Miles) did as he’s coached on a fair catch, the only thing is it wasn’t a fair catch. You can see their guys stop running as well. It’s unfortunate, but you have to learn from it. When you’re doing those plus-50 punts, you are going to get a guy behind the returner trying to down the football, and everyone else has to front up the returner. We were ready, but we missed some tackles. But it was good hustle by Miles.”