ML: “After going back through the tape, my feelings didn’t change much. Early in the football game, we didn’t do some of the things we had set out to do – work hard on controlling the line of scrimmage, keep them from running the football effectively and run it effectively ourselves, although we did have some good runs in the first half. It was important for us to get off to a fast start, and we didn’t do that. So the things I felt were critical in the game to begin with, to put us in better position for later, we didn’t do any of those.
“So we were behind (in the first half). The turnover prior to the half was also a big play, then allowing them to score basically on the last play. If you want to count that as a third down, they basically scored two third-down touchdowns yesterday, which was poor by the defense. There are things that need to be played better, done better, executed better on both sides of the football.
“On the bright side, we were able to effectively get some runs to hit up in there. We were able to go back on defense on third down in the second half, and play much better. We settled down and played the running lanes better. We allowed the one third-down scramble, which led to a field goal, in the third quarter. But other than that, we played much better on third down in the second half.”
ML: “Yeah. The guys covering kickoffs, particularly, did an outstanding job – Jeromy, Dan Skuta. They made a lot of plays, a lot of tackles. (Cedric) Peerman did as well. We were able to control their returner, Cribbs, in the punting game as well. That was huge. In both areas where they can be effective and flip field position, I thought our guys did a good job separating from blocks, getting downfield and making plays.”
You have chosen several times to defer at the coin toss. What is your reasoning behind it?
ML: “Because I can control the wind right then. I think Mike (Nugent) has been very effective at getting touchbacks for us throughout the year. Very effective.”
Is that one of the side effects of the new kickoff rules?
ML: “We would defer occasionally based on the wind, but with the additional five yards, it’s more prevalent now that teams are deferring. Particularly if you think you have the ability to get it there. I don’t think (Browns’ kicker Phil) Dawson had a touchback yesterday, but I think if you feel like your guys can get it there, then you’re probably going to use that to your advantage as much as you can because you can control it right then. A lot of the times, depending where you are, particularly if we’re on the road where we’re not sure about the wind and there’s a shift later in the day, it’s harder to control.”
After watching the film, what did you think about the performance of your defensive secondary?
ML: “We did some things a lot better in the back, particularly at the safety spots. Starting out, we gave up the throw down the middle for a touchdown, which wasn’t good enough.”
Browns RB Peyton Hillis had some nice runs in the first half on cut-backs, but you seemed to buckle down a little better in the second half. Was that a halftime adjustment?
ML: “I don’t know of many runs that aren’t designed to cut back in offensive football these days. That’s always the design, and it’s always the design defensively to make the ball wind back to the unblocked defender. I think they had one run that went up there for six (yards), but still their biggest run of the day was the quarterback scramble and the one crack toss (to WR Greg Little). Other than that, he fell forward for six yards one time off one edge. We’ve got to play that better and make a cleaner tackle, more importantly.”
You spoke yesterday about how you weren’t pleased with the tackling effort. Was that still the case after watching film?
ML: “Yeah. We’ve got to do a better job of tackling, no question about it.”
ML: “We’ll see.”
Are you more encouraged about
ML: “We’ll see. Everybody was a lot better today than they were yesterday.”
It’s not an ‘enthusiastic we’ll see’ this week (like last week)?
ML: “(Laughs) Carlos fooled me once. I can’t let him fool me again.”
You were right about your enthusiasm on
ML: “He did. He feels good. It was refreshing for him. He heard the cry that big players play in big games, and I think he understands where he belongs in that. I thought with his energy and the things he did yesterday, and even how he started out in the Pittsburgh game before he got hurt, that he’s in the right spot with the right frame of mind.”
As someone who has a background in defense, can you talk about the stress you’re able to put on defenses when you can spread out
ML: “It puts some stress on the defense. It also tells a tale once in awhile for the offense to know and gives the quarterback a little pre-look at things. But it does put stress on you defensively, with the problem of how the matchup is going to be made. I thought Jermaine made a couple of nice, athletic plays yesterday being flanked out. That’s something we’ve worked a lot on and will continue to do. The more that he can handle, the more we’ll do.”
You had a few defensive players battle injuries in the second half, shortening your rotations, but you still managed to be productive:
ML: “I think we continue to wear people down at the end of the football game. I think you can see it physically in the other teams’ eyes that they’re pretty drained. Our offensive front group, with how they play down after down, is wearing down the defenses; and conversely on the other side of the football. We’re playing with a lot of energy into the fourth quarter. We continue to play smarter and mentally tougher in the fourth quarter as well.”
There is always a fine line to walk with how hard to work the players because you need to keep them fresh. You seem to have found that balance:
ML: “Our guys know that we work and we work, so that hopefully on Sundays we’re ready for the speed and tempo. With the way we work on Wednesday and Thursday and even on Friday, it’s important that we’re diligent with it and that we’re not overworking them, but that we’re getting things done correctly and at the right tempo all of the time.
“We practice hard. We practice full speed, and that’s how we want it to be. We chase the ball in practice, and hopefully that carries over to chasing the ball all day long on Sundays, on offense and defense and special teams. When our guys walk off the practice field, they’ve had an hour and 50 minutes of good work.
“We’ll continue to trim that back as we go forward here so that we continue to stay fresh and ready to go. It’s time to put a hammer down and go. We’re turning the clock to December here pretty quickly. You’ve got to play great in December if you want to continue to play (into the postseason).”
Your offensive and defensive numbers in the second half are much better than in years past. Is it conditioning? Is it talent? Is it halftime adjustments?
ML: “I think it’s ability. Condition-wise, we’ve always been a good, conditioned group. I don’t think we’ve done anything considerably different that way. I think this group approaches it very professionally. They know what it means and they know that’s part of who we are, and we can’t neglect that. I think their approach to it has been consistent and good. I think Chip (strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton) and (assistant strength and conditioning coach) Jeff Friday do a great job of stressing to the guys that ‘right now this is part of your winning edge.’ Let’s not forget about it.”
Do you think it’s mindset, too?
ML: “Well I think it’s tougher-minded people that are more talented. That’s a pretty good combination.”
This team showed in the first game that it is tough-minded in the second half, and that has shown through in most other games throughout the season. It seems like this team really built on that game. Was that helpful?
ML: “I think it keeps ratifying it. It keeps stomping it home and nailing it down that this is what counts and this is really what matters at the end of the day, so let's keep it up. If we've got breath left, let's keep using it.”
Does your message change heading into December for the stretch run?
ML: “I change it up a little bit once in a while. I think you do. I think every week's a little different message. This is a big football game for us, no doubt about it. If we want to have an opportunity to win the AFC North, this is an important game for us. We can't fall another game behind at this point. The Steelers are one up on us, and we get a chance to go play them at their place this week.”
Regarding the new changes and limitations in the practice rules, has it had an effect on your approach to practice? Will it change your approach as you head down the final stretch of the season?
ML: “It hasn't changed us one bit, with how we practice this season. Well, maybe a little bit – we might have worn shoulder pads a little more on Thursday, but it really hasn't been a big effect on us. I think it's been calming for our guys, because I think there's a tendency to look around and they hear about – and I want to use the word ‘hear about’ – extremes one way or another (with other teams.).
“I think it's now been noted that we were pretty much right down the middle, if not a little bit less than most. We were in pretty good shape because we haven't had to change, just like there wasn't a lot of change for us in training camp. It's been a good message because we've jettisoned off a lot of the older players and the naysayers on that were too worried about that kind of stuff. But for this group that's returning, that's been good for them to understand that, ‘You know what? Things were pretty good already. Now let's just build on it and do the mental part of it, which is what counts, and not worry about how long or how little we do this. Let's do the things that are important to winning football games.’ ”
This is the week where you have to make a decision on whether or not to activate
ML: “I think so.”
Is he physically ready to play?
ML: “We'll determine that when we have to.”
When you do have to?
ML: “Might be 4:00 tomorrow.”
What do you remember most about first Pittsburgh game?
ML: “That we were down 14-0.”
That’s a tough deficit overcome:
ML: “Yeah. We went three-and-out, three-and-out. We’ve got to do a better job. We’ve got to come out of the blocks. We have to defend them. We’ve got to make first downs on offense and we’ve got to improve our field position and do some things that way.
“I know that we just played them. They’ve played one football game since we played them. We’ve played two. It’s not been that long. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen this type of quick turnaround in playing an opponent, other than when we played the Jets in the playoffs. That’s the only time I’ve ever experienced anything this quick. Once when I was in Pittsburgh, we may have played the Browns in (a few) weeks like that or something in the playoffs. It’s a quick turnaround and there is not a lot of change. We have to just look at us and get better at doing things that we do. That is going to be important.”
What is it about middle of games that has caused this team to struggle? You’ve been outscored by 60 in the second quarter this season:
ML: “I don’t know. We have to do a better job defending them and getting some points going out for some long ones. More than even in past years, I feel like we have been more aggressive at the end of the second quarter. I’ve got to pull Jay (offensive coordinator Jay Gruden) back if we get the ball in the last two, three minutes of the first half now. We are ready to go.
“We have a lot of confidence in Andy (Dalton), for him to be able to handle those situations. That’s kind of a change. It’s a change for me sometimes the way I would think about it. Until yesterday, we’ve been pretty good at it. We’ve fared well. You just want to make sure you don’t lose the football game right at that point as well. That’s important. If you do look around the league, that’s one of the things everybody says: ‘Do you watch football?’ You watch strategy and you watch how teams will continue to attack when they get the ball back, with 1:45 left on their own 20 (-yard line). You see a lot of teams attacking. Sometimes it bites them in the butt a little bit. That got us yesterday.”
In 2009 and 2010, you were able to get a lot of field goals at the end of the half:
ML: “We were very good at that. We were really good.”
You didn’t give up many points at the end of the half, either:
ML: “In ’09, we did a lot more scoring. Maybe in 2010 we might have got scored on. I used to feel like that. We had a time where we were getting the ball, we were scoring, even getting the ball back a second time because of the other team, then feel like they had to do something. We were getting some turnovers. That is what we are not getting defensively right now. We’ve still got to keep plugging away at that. We are not getting the turnovers that make a big difference in the football game. That is one of the things – we’ve got to get tighter in coverage. We’ve got to get some balls batted in the air, we’ve got to make some plays on the ball.”