Tuesday transcripts

Posted Jan 1, 2013


Opening comments:
ML: “It’s obviously an exciting week. All the things that have gone on over the last 20, 21, whatever it’s been weeks – being here right now is why you do what you do: To have these opportunities to be in the playoffs and continue to play for the world championship. So, it’s an exciting time for our team and our organization. We feel that, and we’re going to have a great week of preparation as we go play the Texans.”

How is (Bengals RB) Ben Jarvus (Green-Ellis)? How much will he be able to do today?
ML: “He’ll be all right. He’ll be fine at some point.”

You’re going up to the University of Cincinnati to practice inside today. Is that just for today or will you be up there all week?
ML: “We’ll see, you know? We’ll see – it’s supposed to be colder tomorrow, so chances are we’ll be there again. But we were supposed to have the bad weather today which we’re obviously not going to get. I think it’s good for our guys to get inside and have the opportunity to throw and catch and do the things you have to do. It was good last Wednesday, and it’ll be good this week.”

Just how much does that help in terms of going full speed?
ML: “Where you are right now in the year, it’s a good thing. We cut things back. You don’t have to worry about the temperature outside, and also we’re not going to have to deal with the elements. It kind of works hand-in-hand. So it’s a good opportunity for us to get great, full-speed work and get guys to concentrate fully on what their assignments are, listen and so forth. You have a good atmosphere, obviously, for your skill players.”

Was there anything you could take out of Sunday’s game against Baltimore that would serve as teaching points for improvement?
ML: “There were a lot of teaching points, I thought. I thought there were great teaching points in last week’s game that you don’t ever get to practice live.

“We had a one-minute situation for the offense – you don’t get to practice that that way full-speed. We got an opportunity defensively to play in those situations. We obviously had things in the kicking game that were just huge. We played against really the best (kick/punt) returner in the National Football League right now (in Jacoby Jones), so that was great live work. You can’t simulate that any other way. We had the two things come up with less than four and less than five (on fourth down), and the center hitched the ball and did the gyrations on the ball, and we weren’t mentally tough. We were offsides when it should have probably been a penalty on the center for the things he did. But we’ve got to do a better job.

“Secondly, on the fake (punt), we cover what we’re supposed to cover, but we’re not alert, and the guy runs around the outside (for a first down). So we can’t just go through the motions. You have a job to do; do your job. I thought there were a lot of great things (to take from the game). And then we get the onside kick; you don’t have the opportunity to practice that often. We had the chance to practice that live, (with) great execution by the guys and (Bengals WR Ryan) Whalen makes the catch, and the game’s over. So there were a lot of things. When I went home, I made a list, and when I was watching the tape, I said there were a lot of things you don’t get to practice any other time. I was able to point to those things with our players. It was a tough game to prepare for, but there’s always a positive that comes out of that.

“As I said even in the press conference (after the game), for (Bengals rookie WR) Marvin Jones to go out there and play another game like that, that’s big for him. He has to keep playing and keep coming all the time. And for the young guys in the interior of the line and (veteran C) Kyle Cook, another opportunity for him to play (coming back from injury).”

In the last few years, it seems you’re winning that battle of average drive-starting position, and giving the opponent a longer field to conquer:
ML: “We’ll keep working on it. I think it’s a huge factor, and certainly wouldn’t want to be on the reverse of it. It certainly makes for tough sledding all the time. We were able to flip the field back in the last game, and that’s important. With a background as a defensive coach, you love for them to start playing inside their own 20 as much as you can.”

Where do you see Andy Dalton being better at now as compared to this time last year, when he was a rookie going into the postseason?
ML: “The things he’s doing within our offense are much more (advanced), and I think he’s done a very good job. A very good job.”

J.J. Watt, besides getting sacks, looks involved at the line and able to disrupt a lot of things:
ML: “He’s got great length and great energy, and he understands offensively what’s going on. So you really have to account for him. He’s a special player, and he’s really been, as you said, very disruptive and really causes offenses issues. You have to be conscious and take care of him. They’ve got great players around him on the other side, so it causes a lot of isolation for people (blocking him).”

Is that one of things you try to make your team aware of going into the playoffs, that you can try and guard and protect things as long as you can, but special players make special plays this time of year?
ML: “Your players have to make plays. We set out on this back in November, that we needed to make plays. And if you make plays time after time when you’re at the point of attack, we have a great opportunity to win. So trust in each other to do your job and do your thing. When it’s your turn in the chamber, make sure you’re ready to go.”

How do you think (Bengals starting guards Kevin) Zeitler and (Clint) Boling are playing right now?
ML: “They’ve done a good job for us. But all that’s past now, because it’s ‘What have you done for me lately?’ This is a huge week for everybody – it’s a huge week for our offensive line, it’s a huge week for our defensive line, our perimeter guys; they’re all going to be in the fire. We’ve got to play very good football.”

Those two guards didn’t experience playing in that noise last year:
ML: “We’ve played in noisy environments all year. That’s not going to change anything. I think the impressive part about Reliant Stadium last year was the pre-game atmosphere. The game atmosphere is what it is. But to me  the pre-game atmosphere was one of the things that was impressive, and our guys have been through that now. It was not just like a regular Sunday afternoon game,  even though we’ve played these (crucial) games since November and we knew that every one of them meant that if you don’t win, chances are you make it hard to get to this point. But we’ve done a good job at just focusing in on the next play and the next play and the next play, and not worrying about the big picture, and it’s going to be no different as we move forward now.”

Is there any advantage to returning to the same place you started the playoffs at last year this time since is the playoff experience for many of your players?
ML: “Well, again, we’ll talk about it Sunday, whether or not it was an advantage or not!”

Do coaches feel the ‘what-have-you-done-for-me-lately’ thing that comes with the postseason, too?
ML: “They do. Nobody wants to fall off that cliff. It’s a fall, whenever it comes.”

How much has the Texans offense changed this year? It seems that the running game has stagnated early in games this year:
ML: “The schematics of what they do and what they’ve done for as long as Gary (Kubiak) has been there haven’t changed. They just keep being able to do it with better and better players. That’s a credit to them, being able to find guys and plug them in and keep going. They’ve got some younger guys in this receiver corps than they’ve had, with having Jacoby (Jones) go to Baltimore (and adding DeVier) Posey and so forth.

“They just keep plugging guys in. (Former Bengals WR) Kevin Walter plays the same. Andre Johnson is the same great player. They’ve got a great back (in Arian Foster), and (backup RB Ben) Tate missed a little time this year, so that’s a little different compared to this time last year. (Tate) was looking at close to 1,000 yards as well. But he missed some time, so (Justin) Forsett has stepped in and played. But all in all, their totals are 370-plus yards a game offensively, which is very good. That’s a goal that you shoot for offensively. If you could average 250 (passing) and run for 120-something to be around that 370 mark, you’re doing a good job on offense.”

How much does previous experience help in taking this team to the playoffs?
ML: “Well, I think (it’s) the same thing I’ve said before – it just matters what happens Saturday. It’s great history to have, great experience we have, and we learned a great deal. They can trust in each other. They’ve been in the adverse situations and environments, and they’ve hung together and stayed with each other and fought their way through it and reached their goal. So that’s experience, but it’s like what you keep saying – back in November, I told them if we take care of our business, we’ll be where we need to be, and they continue to do that. We just have to keep going, keep pushing forward all the time.”

Do you like the approach of your team the last few weeks? Even after beating Pittsburgh, there was no celebrating. It was just an attitude of “There’s still more ahead of us”:
ML: “There’s more. This group understands there’s more to it, and I think much has been said about our re-composition of players over the last couple of years, and that’s been good. You’ve gotten guys who have played at a high level in college. They’ve been in large programs in college, they’re used to experiencing winning in college, and then you bring them in with a group of veteran players here that are no-nonsense guys. And they’ve always led them and pointed them in the right direction and that’s been good.

“It’s like what Andrew Whitworth said last Wednesday up at UC (University of Cincinnati). He said, ‘This is where it all began, right here (during the 2011 lockout). The Andy Dalton era began right here.’ Up on that field up at UC (during players-only workouts). That’s where the Andy Dalton era started, and those guys, without the help of us as coaches, helped shape that football team from that day when they began practicing up there on their own. They’ve never let of go of it, and (NT) Domata (Peko) and Andrew and the rest of them like (DE) Robert (Geathers). They’ve policed the group time and time again, and it’s been good.”

Do you feel like this is your freshest group going into the playoffs, because of the wins and being pretty good injury-wise?
ML: “Back in 2005, I thought we were in pretty good shape until one play (early knee injury suffered by QB Carson Palmer.) I can remember at the Thursday practice that week, I had to slow guys down because of how hard they were practicing. It goes back to Baltimore that year we won the Super Bowl. We were having to ride to the stadium every day to practice on a field that wasn’t frozen. I remember when we got to Tampa to actually play the game, our guys felt like it was summertime again. We had to slow practice down because we were afraid someone was going to hurt somebody, the way they were running and colliding into each other and so forth. I think we have that kind of energy and enthusiasm (with this team). We have it because of youth, and that keeps us driving and going.”

ANDY DALTON PRESS CONFERENCE (with Cincinnati media)

Talk about all of the experiences since facing the Texans in the playoffs 12 months ago:
AD: “It’s two different situations. The way we got to playoffs last year, we needed some stuff to happen that we couldn’t control. This year, we took control and made it to the playoffs with not having to worry about what other teams did. We’ve been on a pretty good roll recently. Personally, I’m a lot more confident. I’ve experienced it. I know the atmosphere I’m going in to. This team as a whole has gotten better from the experience we have now.”

Going home, do your friends and family know the balance you have to have, so as to not become a distraction?
AD: “I’ll make sure everybody’s not a distraction. There will be some people there for sure. It’s important to go out and not have that distraction. Go out and prepare like every other game I’ve played and not let anything like that affect me.”

What is the biggest thing you took from last season’s playoff game?
AD: “We had chances. We didn’t play well enough to win the game. We have to come out and start fast. We have to be aggressive. We have to do a lot of things better than we did last year. I think it’s good that we played there last year. It’s good to know the atmosphere, know what it’s like and how loud it is.”

Did the noise level surprise you last year?
AD: “Yes. I knew it was going to be a loud place, but it was definitely a great atmosphere for them last year. Their fans really got in to it. We’ve got to be ready for all of that. We have to communicate well. We have to make sure everyone is on the same page and communicating and hearing everything that is being called.”

Is there a noticeable difference in the game that as a rookie, caught you by surprise last year?
AD: “I wouldn’t say it’s a huge difference. There is a lot riding on these games. Win you move on. Lose and your season is over. From that aspect, things do pick up. There is a little more that goes on for these games.”

Talk a little about J.J. Watt:
AD: “He’s a great player. He leads the league in sacks. He does a lot of great things. We have to know where he is. We have to find ways to keep his hands down. Same for me, I have to get some high releases, so I don’t have balls batted down. We have to block him. There is nothing more we have to say. We have to find ways to block him.”

Are you conscious of mixing things up against a player like Watt?
AD: “Yes. You see when guys are putting arms up that you try to throw from different angles, whether it be to check-downs or different things. You have to adjust throughout games, depending on how the defense is playing.”

Is the scout team going to hold up paddles or tennis racquets to prepare for J.J. Watt?
AD: “I don’t know if we are going to do anything like that. We’ll definitely do whatever we can to prepare for him.”

How much better do you feel you need to play on offense to win on Saturday?
AD: “We definitely need to play better. We haven’t put our best games out there the last couple, but we’ve been getting wins. Most importantly, we have to do whatever it takes to win the game. We obviously need to step up a little bit more offensively. Whatever it takes to win the game. That’s all that matters going in to the playoffs.”

Last year, you were sick going in to the playoffs. How much did that affect your preparation last season?
AD: “I missed the whole Wednesday practice. I wouldn’t say I wasn’t prepared for the game. Obviously, you want to be here for all of that stuff.”

How much will you benefit from going to University of Cincinnati’s indoor facility to practice today and maybe later in the week:
AD: “The one good thing about playing at Houston is that it will be indoors, and not where we have to worry about the weather and all of that. I think it’s good for us to go over to UC and get these practices in and practice in a similar atmosphere to what game conditions will be like.”

You’ve mentioned that this team’s history doesn’t directly apply to you. But being around this city for almost two years, do you have a sense for what a playoff win for this town would be like?
AD: “It will be huge. I know everybody around here is excited. I haven’t been around here long enough to understand what it‘s been like around here. We want to get a win as much as the fans want us to get a win. It comes down to the guys on this team – the locker room, coaches and everybody preparing to play the game.”

Did Johnathan Joseph shadow A.J. Green all over the field last year?
AD: “Yes. He followed A.J. last year. So, we would guess he would do the same thing this year.”

Was it ever as loud for a high school game in Reliant Stadium as it was for the playoff game last year?
AD: “No it wasn’t as loud. Katy (High School) does have a pretty good following, but they were on my side at that point.”

Was that the loudest football game you recall playing?
AD: “It probably was. Either there or at Seattle last year, as well.”

What has changed since the playoff game for you last year?
AD: “I feel like I have more control over everything. There is a lot more stuff that they are asking me to do at the line. Checking plays and doing different things like that. That’s definitely an area where I have improved. I have a better understanding of what teams are trying to do and defenses we are facing.”

Have you watched replays of the J.J. Watt interception and 29-yard return for touchdown from last year’s playoff game?
AD: “Yes. He made a really good play. He got his hands up. He got his hands on the ball. He intercepted it. When you see him making plays like that, your offensive linemen try to get his hands down as much as they can. I have to find ways to get the ball over him and different things like that.”

There are so many young quarterbacks in the NFL. Do you find yourself keeping pace?
AD: “I think it’s fun to watch. There are a lot of young guys in the playoffs. It’s fun to see. I definitely try to follow all of those guys.”



You were two years old when the Bengals last won a playoff game:
AG: “I don’t worry about all that stuff. It’s a new year, and we’ve made the playoffs in back-to-back years. We just go out there and play our game and see what happens.”

Going up against Johnathan Joseph again this year:
AG: “It’s going to be another tough, big challenge for me. J-Jo is a great corner. He’s a real crafty guy. He’s been around a long time. He’s steady and he knows route patterns and a lot of stuff like that.”

Are you confident in the balance you guys have on offense to be able to spread it around?
AG: “Yeah. I feel like the young guys are stepping up, including myself. The running game, once we get that going again, we’ll be pretty balanced.”

Receiver to receiver, how much do you study a guy like Andre Johnson?
AG: “Big time. Andre is probably one of the best receivers of all time and one of my favorites of all time. He’s done a lot for this league. He’s a great person, too”

Why is he one of your favorites?
AG: “He’s big and he can go up and get the ball. He’s aggressive, he’s physical, a good guy on and off the field.”

He’s a lot like you, right?
AG: “Definitely. He’s quiet. He lets his play do all the talking.”

This year and last year, you haven’t had the numbers you want late in the year. Is there any reason for that?
AG: “I don’t know. It’s just happened like that. Late in the year, a lot of teams start taking you away more, but it just happens like that.”

What did you learn from going to the playoffs last year that you can take into the playoff this year?
AG: “Just more experience. Don’t get too over-hyped. It’s just another game. I just need to stay level-headed and play my game.”



You said following Sunday’s victory over the Ravens that this Bengals team found ways to win this year. What is that intangible ingredient?
AW: “We’re a young football team that’s learning how to fight and win games. The nature of the NFL is that every game is going to be close. You have to find those little things that put you over the top. I think this team has learned how to fight for those little things.”

Do you think this team has gotten hot at the right time?
AW: “We were moving in the right direction throughout the year. We were finding ways to win games at the end of the year. That’s really what being hot is all about. When they go back and look at it, they don’t know how you won or how many you won by or what the situation was, but you won. That’s what we’ve got to do. To be honest, you’ve got to be able to put everything behind us and realize that nothing matters beyond this point. All it is, is who can fight and win those little inches and win the game.”

How important would it be for this organization to get a playoff win?
AW: “This game means the utmost to us. For us to take our progression, and what this young team has been able to do in two years —developing and getting better – that’s the next step. It’s winning a playoff game and letting ourselves get some momentum in the playoffs. That’s the only goal and the only thing anyone cares about. If you have to eat, live and sleep at the stadium until we head to Houston, that’s what needs to get done.”

It’s been 22 years since the Bengals have won a playoff game. How do you not play with that burden on your shoulders?
AW: “It doesn’t have anything to do with us. What we did in 2006, ’07 or ’08 doesn’t have anything to do with this football team. What we did 20 years ago certainly doesn’t. This team is the last two years. Last year, we did what it took to get in to the playoffs when a lot of people predicted us to be 0-16. This year, we got back in to the playoffs when a lot of people didn’t think we could. We’re here. The next step is winning a playoff game. Hopefully, we can let that be a chip on our shoulder.”

Does it help that you have been in the playoffs in the past? Is there anything different about playing in the playoff atmosphere?
AW: “I think the experience of being there helps. Guys know the excitement level, the energy level. There’s a step up from the preseason to the regular season. When the playoffs kick off, there is another launch, because you are playing against the best teams. The 12 best teams are in. Those are the best teams that performed this year. The energy is going to be there, and you’re going to be playing against excellent players. Every week, you’re going to be playing against somebody that’s really good. You have to bring your best game. The teams that bring their best games are going to win. You have to be able to do that.”

How good is J.J. Watt?
AW: “He’s an extremely good player. He’s a big, powerful man. He’s very agile. He does a lot of unorthodox things, like getting in and out of gaps and different stuff. He doesn’t play exactly like what you would think he would play like. We have good players, too. It’s going to be one of those things about who rises to the occasion. He’s been able to, week-in and week-out, rise up to make good plays. We have to be able to stop him from doing that.”

Where is the Bengals running game, heading in to the playoffs?
AW: “We’ve made strides throughout the year to make it better. We’ve had ups and downs with it. I think that’s the nature of the NFL. I think every team has ups and downs with it. The key in the playoffs is to score points. I don’t care if it’s the running game, passing game, or running the ball backwards, if we score points, that’s what I want to do to win. We’re going to do what it takes to win. That’s the ultimate goal.”

How do you feel about facing the Texans?
AW: “They are a great football team. They have a great scheme. They are known for their schemes and different ways they get after you on offense and defense. They play with a lot of effort. It’s going to be an exciting game. You know it’s going to be a game that football people love to watch. Because of the way they compete. What else do you compete in athletics for, but to take on a huge challenge in their place?”

How does Andy Dalton compare now as to a year ago?
AW: “He’s a guy who has grown and matured. I think he’s ready for his opportunity. We are going to be behind him. He’s going to lead us. Like Marvin (Lewis) said earlier in the year about him and Rey (Maualuga), ‘Where they take us is where we will go.’ Those guys continue to elevate their play and lead us. We’ll go where they take us.”

How much is it about playmaking in the playoffs?
AW: “The big shot plays: The balls that are thrown up in the air, the runs for the extra five, six yards, or busting it for 40, all of those things. Now more than ever, it’s the huge plays that win the playoffs. You go back to Super Bowls from the past, it’s time for guys to make huge plays. That’s the bottom line. You’ve got to do something special to win in the playoffs. You’ve got the 12 best teams. Statistically, everybody is very good at something. So, all of those things are going to hit each other, and somebody has to make big plays.”

Does it help that you are returning to Houston for the Wild Card weekend?
AW: “To be honest, once it’s the playoffs, it didn’t matter where we were going to go. It’s going to take the same thing anywhere we go. It helps that we are familiar with it. We have guys that are comfortable in the situation and can explain it to guys who haven’t been there what it’s going to be like. It helps. The game itself is going to be played out how it’s going to be played out. That has nothing to do with games past. It’s about executing and making big plays to win the game.”

Talk about how loud Reliant Stadium was last year:
AW: “I really thought early in the game, we were able to move the ball a little bit. We just weren’t able to convert. It’s one of those situations where you wished you scored touchdowns, instead of field goals. Some situations where we were right there, about to punch it in to the red zone, or an area where we were going to have a field goal opportunity, we  just missed it. We were right there. The key about those experiences is it’s loud, but this team has won in Seattle. We’ve won in hard places to play. That’s not going to be anything new. The key is going to be who is going to make great plays. Offense, defense, special teams, everybody has to make special plays to win games.”

If you don’t win a playoff game, has it not been a good year?
AW: “My goal is to make it as far as we can. Last year, we made the playoffs. This year, we made the playoffs again. Even though people didn’t expect us to do it again, we did. To us, this is what we expected. Now, let’s do something special. We expect to go get a win. That’s got to be our goal.”


Talk about what it means to return to the playoffs:
NC: “It was a hard run this entire season. Things worked in our favor and paid off. We did a great job  of fighting this entire season. We put ourselves in the position where we are right now.”

As a veteran, how much does it help the young guys to have the playoff experience from a year ago?
NC: “Success breeds confidence. Winning games on the road, guys are excited about that.”

Talk about the Texans weapons on offense:
NC: “They are a very talented team overall. When you get to this level, every game is going to be a challenge. We are excited and anxious about the opportunity.”

How important is it for the defensive front to get pressure on Matt Schaub?
NC: “We all work hand-in-hand. We have a great feel for each others’ responsibilities. We know how important everybody’s role is on this team.”

Winners of seven of your last eight, does momentum play a role in this team’s playoffs aspirations?
NC: “We’ve been taking it one game at a time. When you look back at it, you say ‘Wow, we won seven of eight’. Our approach is to take it one game at a time and keep moving forward.”


How is the playoffs different from the regular season?
KC: “Just like Coach (Lewis) said, ‘Our record is 0-0 now. It’s the start of our second season.’ Obviously, things get cranked up again. It’s like Game One. It’s an advantage to move on. Twenty teams ended their seasons on Sunday. We’re fortunate. Hopefully, we can keep this thing rolling.”

How good is the Houston defensive line?
KC: “They are very good across the board. That’s why some of their guys excel. If they just had one player, you could key on that guy. When they have four or five good pass rushers, you can’t key on that one guy. That’s something we are going to watch on film. We played them twice last year and have a little feel for how those guys play.”

How important are playoff wins to a player’s career?
KC: “That’s what we are here for. Your first goal is to make the playoffs. That’s one of the hardest things to do. Then you want to keep this thing going. We all have one goal. That’s to win a Super Bowl.”


How do you feel about playing the Texans?
LH: “I didn’t play in either of those games last year. Their scheme will be the same, but with a different quarterback— a Pro Bowl quarterback at that. As far as scheme, it’s probably the same, but with a different caliber of player back there.”

How much of a challenge is it to match up against Andre Johnson?
LH: “It really starts with the Texans run game. That opens up their playbook. It sets up a lot of the play-action passes that they have. He alone is very talented. He’s been doing it for a long time at a high level. It’s definitely a challenge any time you go up against one of the top receivers in the league.”

What kind of player is Arian Foster?
LH: “He’s perfect for that scheme. For a few years now, he’s been putting up good numbers. We were talking this morning about how strong he is. He sees a cut and makes that cut fast. He makes it quick and hits it pretty hard.”

Is it easier to prepare for this team, instead of one you are less-familiar with in the playoffs?
LH: “It will be a little easier this time around. It’s a totally different year with a different quarterback, but it’s something you can look back on. You can compare it to Pittsburgh or Baltimore. We’re a little bit more familiar with Houston than compared to last year.”

What would it mean for this franchise to win a playoff game?
LH: “It would mean a lot. It’ll mean the world to this locker room. It would mean a lot to this city, since it’s been so long. We try to not look at it too big. Obviously, it’s a playoff game. It’s a big game. If we do what we’ve been doing, we should be all right.”

Does momentum matter heading in to the playoffs?
LH: “Going into the game, you may feel a little better. But, we’re all the same at this point. We have to win one game at a time and take it week-to-week.”

Talk about the offensive weapons that Matt Schaub has at his disposal:
LH: “They have three or four guys who have been playmakers in this league for a while. It starts with (Arian) Foster. Obviously, they have (Andre) Johnson outside. It starts with knowing that we have to stop the run. If you don’t stop the run, you’re on your heels for the rest of the game.”

How important are playoff wins to a player’s legacy, after you are done playing?
LH: “It’s big. Essentially, you can count your playoff wins and losses and think about if you went to the Super Bowl. Think about if you won or lost. Look back at your career, and you know how many times you went to playoffs and how many times you won.”

Although you did not play in the game last year, how much does the playoff loss at Houston last year motivate the team?
LH: “I don’t think we looked at it as a loss to Houston. We didn’t reach our goal last year. We got to the playoffs. We lost. That’s a motivator in itself.”

As difficult as rehabilitation from a season-ending injury was for you, was the playoff loss the most difficult point for you?
LH: “Throughout the whole season, it was hard to watch. Especially, the home games, in-person. The playoff game was a little bit harder. You sit there and think and watch. Especially, how things turned out it was hard. That was a long time ago. I don’t think about that now.”

Is this the best you have felt in the last 13-14 months?
LH: “I definitely feel better now than I did at the beginning of the season. It was a process throughout the year. Health-wise, I feel fine and I’m getting back in to the swing of things.”

Do you think the defense has improved over a gradual climb ,or was there a single moment for the unit?
LH: “Around the bye week, the previous couple of games before it, we had some bad games. Zim (Mike Zimmer) let us know. He told us he had a vision for how he wants this defense to be played. That bye week, guys focused in. That extra time helped. We were able to tighten it up from there.”


Did you know Texans defensive end J.J. Watt growing up in Wisconsin?
KZ: “When I was a junior, I lived right across the bridge from him, probably less than a mile apart and never knew it. I met him when I was a junior (in high school) because we trained at the same gym in Wisconsin and I met him there at a gym called Next Level.”

Do you still keep in touch with him?
KZ: “Not really. During the bye week, we trained at the same gym again and we talked and caught up.”

You guys seem like the same guy, which explains why you were at the same gym during the bye week.
KZ: “Yeah, we try to take advantage of the week, get away from the game, but you want to get your body recovered and ready to go.”

Talk a little bit about going up against him in a playoff game and what you’ve seen him do.
KZ: “He’s just an outstanding player. (He’s) long, athletic, strong – he does it all. You watch him on film, it’s just insane the things he can do. It’s going to be a very tough challenge. We’re going to have to put a lot of effort towards stopping him.”

What has he improved since you first met him?
KZ: “Just from when we were in college together, it’s light years ahead (of where he was then). It’s outstanding to see what he can do.”

What’s the most dangerous thing he does that a lineman has to be aware of?
KZ: “He has really long arms and he takes advantage of them. He can swim over you, he can pull, he can rip you. Just he has very few weaknesses if any.”

What did you think of that play he made last year in the playoffs against the Bengals?
KZ: “I remember that because I was in Arizona watching it. But he was just showing his athleticism. Even at Wisconsin he was able to do it all and just make plays to affect his team somehow and he just did it again (on that play).”

As a lineman, they say the big thing with him is you have to engage him and stay on him a little longer than most guys. Do you agree?
KZ: “The biggest thing is because he jumps, he swats so many balls down and you’ve got to hold him down and you can’t let him jump.”

Have you gone up against anybody who’s as good at what he does as he is?
KZ: “I’d say he’s the best at judging the quarterback and jumping at the right time and having an effect.”


What is the defense’s goal coming into this game?
MJ: “To be the best defense on the field and this week is no different. We’re going to try to be our best and when we’re our best, we’re the best because we feel we have a top 10 defense in the league. We’re going to have a big-time showcase Saturday with a lot of people watching.”

Andre Johnson is a big part of their offense. How important is getting a good pass rush on (Texans QB Matt) Schaub to prevent Johnson from being a factor?
MJ: “Stopping Andre Johnson starts with stopping Arian Foster. (It’s) the same thing every week. You’ve got to stop the run first, then you can get after the quarterback. If you don’t stop the run first, you’re not going to have the opportunities you would like to get after the quarterback.”

Is that what happened last year in the playoff game?
MJ: “It was even until that momentum swing. Then they had a couple big plays on third down but we’ve got to get off the field, that’s it. Stop the run, get off the field on third down. Everything else will take care of itself.”

What have you seen from Arian Foster on film? Is he much different than he was last year?
MJ: "Good player, patient runner. They have a good scheme and they use him well in it. He’s a great player for them.”


What’s the feeling/emotion for this team going into Houston for the second year in a row in the playoffs?
AH: “I think it’s real businesslike. You know, we have an objective and it starts this week in Houston and I think the guys are approaching it (well). We’re excited to be in the playoffs but no one is satisfied. That’s the approach you need to take and guys are putting their work in and doing what they have to do to get ready.”

Do you think there’s a different feeling with this team going into the playoffs this year?
AH: “Yeah, from the standpoint the guys that were here last year that are here this year are a year older. We know what to expect. We’re going down to a hostile Houston environment. It’s loud. The fans are into it. It’s hot. It’s a lot of different things that as a young team last year – not to say we weren’t ready for it – but we weren’t used to. So now that we know what to expect, it’s a different feeling. We need to go down there businesslike and we know what it’s going to be, so we can take care of business.”

Is that atmosphere surprising?
AH: “I don’t think it was surprising, but it was new. That’s just what it is. We had a lot of young guys. The quarterback was a rookie, three of the four receivers that played in the game were rookies. I think as a whole, the team, we’ll be more prepared this year and like I said, we know what we have to go down there and do.”

How good is it going to be to get up to UC and practice in a noisy simulated environment?
AH: “That’s what it’s going to be like. It was the loudest place we’ve played at in the last two years, easily. That’s good practice for us because it’s going to be hard to hear yourself think. You have to be able to be poised in the noise, as coach always says, and that’s what we’ll work for.”

Some of the guys around here, yourself included, have said the burden of the two decade playoff win drought isn’t on this team’s players. Living in the city, do you have a feeling of what a playoff win would do for the fan base?
AH: “Yeah. I definitely do. We’re here representing the city of Cincinnati. We understand that. But like A.J. always puts it, we’ve been here and we’re young. We only know one way to do things and hopefully we can carry that into this game. We’re going in there to try and get a ‘W.’ That is the game plan, that is our only focus. It would mean a lot to the city, (but) it would (also) mean a lot to us as individuals (if we won). As long as we go out there and play with everything we have, I think we’ll be in good shape.”


How have the last few weeks helped you in terms of becoming an NFL wide receiver?
MJ: “As my snaps increase -- I’m out there getting experience and catches -- it’s obviously giving me experience and confidence between Andy and I and the group of the offense. For it to continue would be great.”

How important will balance be along with having enough weapons -- in this game and the playoffs as a whole?
MJ: “Balance is the key to all offenses. For us to go and come in with a solid game plan and hit on all cylinders, that’s vital to our success as an offense, so balance is always important.”

How much do you think this game is going to come down to who pressures best and who best handles the pressure (offensively)?
MJ: “That’s how it is. There’s two great defenses and you’ve obviously seen what our defensive line can do with pressure. They have some big stars over there on their defensive line, too. So our ability to take care of our opportunities and handle what they have will determine who comes out with (the win).”

Are playoff wins important to guys’ careers?
MJ: “Definitely. I haven’t been in the playoffs, but just having been around and getting a glimpse of it, everything’s enhanced. It’s not 32 teams playing, so the microscope is on (you) and to get wins and get on the roll just like we did (during the regular season) is going to be important to reaching our ultimate goal.”

How comfortable are you with the offense?
MJ: “I’m very comfortable. It’s an offense that I came into in mini-camp. Running the plays and (through) repetition, obviously, I was comfortable coming in and then even more comfortable as I got the snap counts and just continued to get out there and do what I’m supposed to do.”


A lot of guys have talked about how the key to slowing down the pass is being able to stop the running game:
AJ: “Of course we’ve got to stop the run. Last year was last year. Ain’t nobody thinking about what happened last year. (We need to) just get in here, going over the game plan and let the game come to us and not trying to do anything out of the ordinary.”

What are your thoughts on Schaub?
AJ: “Good quarterback. Got to get the pressure around him.”

You’re pretty outspoken that the playoffs, in order to get to them this season, needed to start (mentally) earlier this year. What does having this turnaround mean to the team?
AJ: “Oh, it’s great for the team and the organization. We’ve got a lot of guys in here that have worked hard to get to where we’re at. I think it’s big. Now we’ve made it twice and we’re trying to win one now – not just one. We’ll see how it goes.”

How much do you want to break a punt return for a TD?
AJ: “Of course, it’s what I want. I want to break one every game. We’ll have some good chances this week and hopefully I can get through there, see the hole and take one through there. During this time of the season, those are the kind of plays that win games or make a difference in winning or losing. I’m just going to play my game, let the game come to me and see if I can answer when my name is called.”


Is this game going to be decided by who pressures best and who best handles pressure?
AS: “I think the game is going to be based on who can execute best on every single play. It’s going to be 11 guys competing against 11 guys on the field at one time, so it’ll come down to who can compete the hardest.”

What makes J.J. Watt such a load to handle?
AS: “He’s just a really good football player. He does a lot of great things (and) plays with great leverage. He’s real slippery, just a really good football player.”

He does a lot of his damage in the air:
AS: “Yeah he does. He likes to jump a lot.”

How big is this game for the guys in this locker room who talk about taking that next step?
AS: “I think it’s a pretty big game for us. Whatever (Bengals offensive coordinator) Jay (Gruden) and the coaches call, we’re just going to go out there and compete and have a great time.”

You’ve played in some big venues in the SEC in college.  How loud was that game in Houston in the playoffs last year?
AS: “It was pretty loud; I think it was much louder than Seattle last year. It was pretty intense. They had the crowd rocking before the game even started, so it was really fun.”

Can noise be mentally draining having that the whole game?
AS: “Not really. You just have to be disciplined through that situation through practice. You know what to do.”


With the same first-round playoff matchup from a year ago, how much can you go off of last year’s meeting?
GK: “It’s interesting. One year later, we’re right back here again. It doesn’t affect much. The fact that we played a couple of times last year, we probably know each other pretty darn good for teams that aren’t in the same division. It’s a little unusual from that standpoint. We have tremendous respect for the Bengals. Obviously, there are things we’re trying to correct and play a lot better football right now, and it’s a quick turnaround. We both just played Sunday. We found out late Sunday that we have to turn right around and play Saturday. So, we both have challenges to get our football teams ready to go on Saturday.”

We read you were talking about Geno (Atkins) on the flight home from Indianapolis. What do you think about Atkins?
GK: “He’s exceptional. Defensively, talking about (the Bengals), they have been exceptional all year. I think Zim (defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer) does one of the top jobs in football. Obviously, Marv (Marvin Lewis) has been a defensive guy his whole life. They have been exceptional at making big plays. Their back end has played very well. The young linebacker (Vontaze Burfict) has played very well for them. They are second or third in sacks in the league. Pressure and those types of things, we have our work cut out for us. We’re going to have to play better than we have the past few weeks.”

What has been the difference the last few weeks for the Texans?
GK: “Obviously, no one likes to play from behind in this league. We got down in a couple of games. We’ve struggled running the ball. Especially, early in a couple of games, which has put us behind, so we’ve played catch-up. We’ve hurt ourselves. I don’t think we’ve won a turnover battle in the last three weeks. Maybe we did in one (game) out the last month. All of the things that go with us winning and things that made us successful throughout the first three quarters of the season, we haven’t done in the last month. We need to focus on getting back to our kind of football.”

Last year, you entered the playoffs on a three-game losing streak. This year you’re entering the playoffs in a similar situation, What did you learn from last year and past experiences, as to whether confidence or momentum matters in terms of the playoffs?
GK: “I really think it matters how you play now. I’ve been on teams with a ton of momentum, so to speak. I’ve been on a 13-3 team with a ton of momentum that got beat by an 8-8 team at home. I’ve been a part of that. I’ve been a part of a team that lost its last two (regular season) games and won a Super Bowl. It boils down to how you’re going to play this month and how you can get it rolling as a football team. We’ve had our moments where we’ve played pretty darn good. We’ve had our moments where we have struggled, like everybody else. The fact that we’re here this month and playing, we’re excited about that. We need to raise our level of play and we understand that.”

How much did the 29-yard interception return for a touchdown by J.J. Watt with 52 seconds to go in the first half change last year’s playoff game?
GK: “It was a big momentum boost. It was right before the half. It really got our stadium rocking. It was a close ballgame. (The Bengals) had us down 7-0, it was 10-10 when (Watt) makes that play. You know, you’re going to play in close games in playoffs. One or two plays are going to be the difference. He was the difference-maker that day. He really got us going. I’m sure this game is going to be no different. This game is going to be a close football game. You know whoever steps up and makes a couple of plays here or there that are big, big plays in the game is going to have the best chance to win. It’s that time of year in the NFL.”

J.J. Watt has been a difference maker for your team this year, too. What has been the biggest improvement in his performance thus far?
GK: “He’s been really consistent. He was a damn good rookie. During the playoffs last year, he raised his level of play. He found another gear as a player. It’s continued through this season. He’s been very consistent in what he does.”

As a former quarterback, what were your impressions of Andy Dalton after spending the week at last season’s Pro Bowl?
GK: “I was very impressed. When you’re a rookie, you go to that game and go around all of those veterans and guys who have been doing that for a long, long time. He fit right away. We talked to his coaches right away about how confident he was, his athletic ability, he makes all of the throws and can do that stuff. I think his confidence as a player and as a person, it shows as a player. To take his team to two straight playoff appearances as a young, young player, that’s special. Obviously, we know a lot about him being from here (Houston area). There are a lot of people proud of him.”

Did he show you how competitive he was as a player at the Pro Bowl?
GK: “I think they were all trying to make their plane, so we ran the ball a little bit and found a way to win. He was kind of a victim of that one. He’s going to go to many more. He’ll have a chance to throw it a bunch.”

How much did the crowd at Reliant Stadium affect the atmosphere and game last year?
GK: “It was exceptional. It goes with success with this league. Our first game, a few years ago, we tried to get this thing going and get the stadium like that. When you start playing big games, the fans respond. I think it’s playoff time. Everybody needs to pick it up, players, coaches, and I think the fans do too. We think our (fans) do a great job. That’s just part of playoff atmosphere.”

You’ve played in front of loud crowds at Mile High Stadium; was it louder than Reliant Stadium?
GK: “I don’t know how to gauge that. It’s funny. When you’re at home, you’re so focused on what you are doing. In this league, you have to battle the crowd noise. You have to battle getting off the ball late on cadence and those kinds of things. We faced that last week in Indianapolis, in a very emotional place. That’s part of this game. You have to go in and handle those situations. When you are at home, hopefully, you can take advantage of the fact that you are at home and have good noise going on.”

What’s been the difference in the Texans pass defense yielding more yards and points this year?
GK: “Well, we've had a couple of issues. We lost Brice McCain, our nickel back, I’m going to go back and say maybe five weeks ago – somewhere in that area – so we had a change. We've got a young player playing in there who’s very talented and has done a good job. But there’s been a growth period in there with Brandon (Harris). I think that has something to do with it. We’ve had some injuries. Our third safety spot, the guy that plays a lot for us, we’ve had some issues there. So we’ve had some mix and match issues from that standpoint. But we have given up too many big plays, and if anything on third down here lately we’ve really struggled to get off the field. For a team that’s been excellent on third downs throughout this season, this past month has been tough on us. The best thing we can do to help those guys is get to the quarterback. That's the best thing for the back end.”

Talk about the performance of DeVier Posey and how he has seemed to come on this season:
GK: “He missed a whole year of football last year (at Ohio State), and it showed when he came to camp. He had some catching up to do. He battled it. He worked at it. The NFL game plans, the loads you get every week, it was a struggle for him early this season, but about Week 7 or 8 things started clicking. It started making sense to him. He’s come on. He’s played special teams for us. He’s made some plays for us, offensively. I think he’s got a bright, bright future. I think it would have happened earlier, had he played last year. It’s tough to sit and jump back in there and go right back to work. It took some time.”

Are the Texans trying to find a second option to reduce the defense’s focus on top receiver Andre Johnson?
GK: “Andre makes his plays. He’s been exceptional all year long. Part your success in this league is when everybody is stepping up and making plays. You can’t sit there and wait on one or two guys. Everybody has to pitch in and that won’t be any more important than starting this week.”

Does Matt Schaub need to play better or need better pass protection from the Texans offensive line?
GK: “It’s a combination of things. To me, he’s played very well with this team. He led them to 12 victories. This past month hasn’t been the most productive month offensively or individually for Matt. It’s a group thing. There are a lot of things we can do better to help him. He has to do some things better. I have to do a better job for him. I think Matt has done a hell of a job. He’s ready to go. He’s made it through the season healthy. That’s been an issue in the past, but we’ve got to step up and help him. It’s going to come down to how this football team plays and not one player.”

How has Arian Foster been able to roll along as a consistent player?
GK: “He’s played well. We’ve probably not had the big plays that we’ve had in the past from Arian. But, he’s been consistent. He’s rushed for 1400 yards. He’s had a great year. He’s carried the ball 300-plus times. He’s the work horse for us. He’s very consistent in what he does. We’re always trying to get him involved as much as we can. He’s turned out to be one hell of a player.”

Can you go back over the play from last year at the end of the first half where you picked off Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton which seemed to rally your team?
JW: “It was obviously a big play for us last year, but that was last year. I’m ready for this year.”

You seem to have a habit of doing that – how do you time that so you can be in position to make a play when a guy goes back to pass?
JW: “I’ve been working on it since college. It’s something that my college defensive line coach started working with me on, and now we work on it a lot here with the Texans. It’s a lot of practice, timing, getting a quarterback’s rhythm down throughout the course of the game, understanding the passing lanes and things like that and just trying to affect the game in as many ways as possible. You’re not going to get a sack every play, so you have to do whatever you can to try and affect the play.”

Gary Kubiak said last year that once the playoffs start, you try to up your game and find another gear:
JW: “I don’t know about another gear, but I’ve definitely learned a lot throughout the course of the year and I’ve started to put it all together. Moving from outside defensive end in college to more of an inside, three-technique player in the NFL, I had to learn a little bit of a different style pass rushing inside (and) playing the run a little bit differently. So once I started to figure that out and put everything together, that’s when I started having everything click.”

How does the Bengals offense look to you this year as compared to last year? Is it pretty similar?
JW: “I think it’s a little bit similar. Obviously, they’ve had a couple changes,but you still have Andy Dalton back there.  A.J. Green is a great receiver,and they’re a very good football team. It’s going to be a great challenge for us.”

One of the biggest things that affects you is they have those young guards (in Kevin Zeitler and Clint Boling). How  are they different than the guys you played against last year?
JW: “Obviously, I know Kevin Zeitler very well, playing against him every day at Wisconsin in practice. He’s a very good football player. Those two guys are playing well for them and obviously, we’re excited about that and excited to go up against Kevin. He’s a very tough, physical player and he’s going to be a good challenge.”

How much did you go up against him in practice in college?
JW: “I was matched up against Kevin every now and then, but I was more on the edge. I was more on the outside, so we didn’t go directly at each other very much. But we did have our times where we got to go up against each other. He’s a heck of a player. I have a lot of respect for him and the way he approaches everything. I love Kevin – he’s a great guy.”

Zeitler seems to be a lot like you as a no-nonsense, no frills type of player:
JW: “Yeah – I would definitely say that is true. A guy that’s going to come to work every day with his hard hat and his lunch pail and give you everything he’s go. I think that’s why I like him so much. We’re similar players and people in that we’re going to give you everything we have and it’s not about the money, it’s not about the fame or anything. It’s about just doing what we do best and trying to be great.”

Last year you guys went into the playoffs having lost three straight (games) and this year, you’ve lost three of your last four. What did you take away from last year’s experience in terms of being able to put losses or bad stretches behind you?
JW: “I think coming out in that first playoff game last year after those three straight losses, we were able to put it all together and win. Coming out in front of our home crowd, I think that makes a big difference. We’re very excited to play in front of our home fans; they give us a great edge. The attitude around our building right now is great. Everyone is ready to go, everybody’s revved up and focused and ready to practice. You can just feel the energy – it’s playoff time. Everyone starts 0-0 in the playoffs and we’re ready to go make a run.”

It seems like the last three, four weeks the one thing that you guys have struggled with (on defense) is getting off the field on third down:
JW: “It’s definitely something we need to get corrected. We want to eliminate as many third-and-shorts as possible. But when we give up a third-and-23 like we did last week, we just need to execute. We’re ready to go. We watched the film. We’re focused. We got it corrected and we’re going to come out this week ready to roll.”

Do you watch tape of other defensive linemen, maybe (Bengals DT) Geno Atkins?
JW: “Yeah, I’ve seen Geno play this year. He’s a heck of a football player. Great inside pass rusher; he can also play the run well. He’s a great player and he’s fun to watch. We’re always watching other teams play and when we watch the defensive pass rush film, he’s a guy that’s always a joy to watch.”

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