Quotes from Bengals players and coaches as Cincinnati prepares to face Houston in Saturday's Wild Card playoff game.
HEAD COACH MARVIN LEWIS
Thoughts on the retirement of Ray Lewis:
ML: “He's had a tremendous career, tremendous impact. His mentorship to other players, his leadership, is hard to describe. I had a chance to visit with him briefly before (Sunday's) game. I said to myself, 'He doesn't look a day older than when we drafted him.’ “
Did you have an inkling Sunday?
ML: “No. I'm pretty sure it's a good decision for him. A decision hard for him to make, but one he feels good about. I'm happy for him. It's disappointing for the game after what he's done.”
Are there one or two qualities that separated him from other guys?
ML: “Probably two. His drive to be the best and to empower others to be better.”
You don't see many linebackers play 17 years:
ML: “No, it's a difficult position to play that long, never mind at such a high level.”
You guys looks pretty spry, running around indoors (at practice) this week:
ML: “We're doing fine. It (where practice is held) shouldn't be that big of a topic.”
Is the short week a factor?
ML: “We're used to it. We had to do it last year a couple of times, played a Saturday game (Dec. 24 vs. Arizona at home) and a Saturday playoff game. We played a Thursday game this year. Our guys adjusted to the schedule. They'll l be fine, they're young.”
We see that
ML: “We'll be fine. He'll continue to progress as the week goes on.”
LB REY MAUALUGA
What makes Houston RB Arian Foster so tough to play against?
RM: “He’s such a great reader. He can read within his four steps, whether he’s going to cut the ball or whether he’s going to stay front side. He has a lower center of gravity that can run you over. He can beat you to the side and can get that extra five or 10 yards after contact. In the passing game, he does a good job of being open, getting in the end zone in the red zone. By all means, there are a couple key guys in their offense that if we eliminate them and frustrate them throughout the game early on, we’ll have a chance.”
Do you feel like you guys have a good chance of winning if you shut down Foster and make their offense one-dimensional?
RM: “Definitely. We know that they’re going to come in with their bread and butter, which is try to run and get to the perimeter. We’ve just got to do our best to make sure not one just one person gets the ball, that we get all hats to him and stop him, and make sure to get him down. We’re going to a familiar territory. I believe this is a different group. This is a different team than we were last year going into the playoffs. We’re a lot more familiar with the situation, and we’re comfortable. We know how loud it’s going to be and we know that if we give them a couple plays here and there, big plays, the crowd is going to erupt, the stadium’s going to go crazy. So in order to stop that, we need to stop their big playmakers and do our best to be consistent at times and make plays.”
In last year’s regular-season game vs. Houston, you did a good job of slowing down Foster, but in the playoff game, he had a big game. What was the difference in those games?
RM: “In the first game, we were able to disrupt and get to him (and allow just) three, four-yard gains. In the first game, there were a couple runs where he and Tate took the ball for like 30, 40 yards; but, they also fumbled the ball twice in key situations for us. So we feel as if we can use those two game plans that we had last year and try to just improve on it.
“The second game, we felt as if we had them pretty good in the first half. That momentum changed with the interception touchdown before the half that put them up 17-10, and then they got the ball back in the second half. They feed off of that. The crowd feeds off of that, noise. They just executed. In the end they just played better than we did and they wanted it more. So like I said, I believe this is a different team going into this game than we were last year in the first playoff game. We’ll be ready. Everyone’s just got to be disciplined and do what they’re supposed to do.”
Does Houston’s play-action ability make its run game more dangerous?
RM: “Yeah, it’s going to be hard. They’ve got a lot of misdirections. At the same time, they show that misdirection, but they still hand the ball off. So we’ve got to be fundamentally sound in our gaps. When we see the ball out the belly, we’ve got to punch out and get to our progressions, get to where we need to get to, make sure to disrupt them. I think if we stop the feel of the crowd, we can be in the game. We can be in it. It’s all going to come down to the running game. One of our goals is to hold them to three yards a carry. I believe if we do that, we can obviously have something going.”
During the 2009 playoffs you had a broken leg. Last year you played with an ankle injury during the playoffs. Do you feel energized this year now that you’re healthy entering the postseason?
RM: “No more so (than usual). Everyone talks about the grind and this is Week 17, 18 including the bye week. Obviously we’ve got to do our best to take care of our bodies. We know the situation and how it’s a privilege to be one of the 12 teams. We’ve got to take advantage of that. I’m as more excited as I’ve ever been to be able to play in a playoff game and to get the city of Cincinnati something to look forward to, as far as having that first win. With the Reds doing so good and going to the playoffs, it’s one of those things where the crowd was behind the Reds, and now we’ve just to give them a reason to be excited about this year.”
What are your thoughts on Baltimore Ravens LB Rey Lewis announcing his retirement at the end of the postseason?
RM: “I didn’t find out until we got on the bus. Obviously he’s a great player that achieved a lot in his 17-year career. He’s done it all. Anything that you could ask for in a middle linebacker, he’s done it and beyond.”
DE CARLOS DUNLAP
You and (defensive coordinator) Mike Zimmer clashed somewhat earlier in your career. You seem to have worked through that:
CD: “You have conversations where you put everything on the table so you know what you both want, and when you get to that table, everybody reaps the reward. That’s one of the things my dad told me, because me and my dad used to bump heads all the time, too. You need that. They can’t be sunny days all the time. After the rain is the rainbow. That’s what my mom would tell you. Right now, we’re on the better side of the rain. We want to keep that going and try to find that gold at the end of the rainbow.”
The defense really seems to play as a unit, not concerned about individual accomplishments:
CD: “Exactly. As Domata (Peko) would say, it’s like the Uso Brotherhood. We’re playing for one another. There’s no one guy you come out and say that he’s the face of the defense. We’re known as the Bengals defense and that’s because we’ve got a lot of guys who are in sync with one another and playing for one another. That’s the best thing we’ve got going right now, and we want to keep that going.”
Why do you think the Bengals have been so good on the road this season?
CD: “Heart. We know what it takes. Last year, we had a solid season and a lot of our playmakers were rookies. This year, they’ve got that extra year under their belts, and they know what it’s like to go on the road. Now we’re just going out there and taking advantage of the opportunities we have, where we may have let some of them slip last year. That’s the difference.”
What’s the key to shutting down the Texans’ rushing game?
CD: “What we’ve been doing the last eight weeks of the season -- playing great run defense. We’re going to have to go out there and do it against one of the best running systems in the game right now. I feel like it’s going to be fun seeing the best bump heads.”
T ANDREW WHITWORTH
A lot has been said about the similarities between this year’s playoff matchup and last year’s game at Houston. Do the players even think about that?
AW: “Not really, other than you know what it’s like being down there. We’ve been through that experience. Each game is its own game. You know how talented they are. You watch the films and see what they’re doing differently this year, and you go down there and try to play the best you can possibly play.”
As one of the leaders of this team and of the offensive line, are there things you can say to the younger players to help prepare them for this situation?
AW: “Yeah, little things, like preparing for different guys that I’ve played against since I have experience against them. Preparing each guy for what they’re going to be like – how fast a guy really is or how strong they are. It’s hard to see those things on film, so you can help with little things like that. Mainly, it’s just helping guys realize that the only thing they need to worry about is how they go play … and if each guy can go out there and win his one-on-one battle, we have a great chance of winning.”
Do players have to guard against getting too hyped for the game?
AW: “To some extent, but I think sometimes instead of worrying about how hyped you are, you need to just worry about executing. You don’t want to get caught up in how big the game is. Just get caught up in what you need to do personally. Win your one-on-one battle and worry about your assignment, and if all 11 guys do that, plays are going to work and we’re going to have success.”
The Bengals won seven of their last eight regular-season game, while the Texans were struggling at the end of the season. Does that even matter going into the playoffs?
AW: “I think you’re starting fresh, but things are in the back of your mind. We’ve won a lot of games out of the last eight, so that’s definitely a good thing. You have that winning mentality, that you’re going to find a way to win a game, somehow, and I think it’s a positive for us. But the truth is, in these games, everything counts – it doesn’t matter if you’ve won one or lost one. Whoever wins this one is all that matters, so that’s the only way you can go forward. You have to bring your best game.”
RB BENJARVUS GREEN-ELLIS
After missing last week’s game with your hamstring injury, are you feeling confident about being able to go on Saturday?
BGE: “I’m confident in the rehab process I’m going through. I’m taking it day-by-day, doing the things they have me lined up to do, and I’ll go out there and see how it goes. If my health is good enough to play, of course I’ll be out there. I want to be out there, and if everything lines up as it needs to, I’ll be out there.”
How anxious are you and the whole offense to get cranked back up, because there’s been a little bit of a lull here at the end of the season, where points have been tough to come by offensively:
BGE: “We just have to get out there and have some plays go our way. Just do the things we need to do, like converting third downs, rushing the ball, throwing the football. We just have to go out there and play good, sound football.”
Do you feel any extra adrenaline in the playoffs?
BGE: “Obviously the intensity level is up. The crowd is more into it and things like that. But when we go into the game, football has been the same since we were playing as little boys. You’ve got to go out there and make plays. You can’t let the moment make it bigger than what it really is. You’re out there just playing football. The lines are the same, the yards are the same. You just have to go out there and make plays.”
LB VONTAZE BURFICT
After your “clash” with Ray Rice last week, are you going to take that mean attitude into this week’s game?
VB: “I have to just play smart and put my team in the best position to win. I’ve got to play with that fiery edge, to make plays, just fly around and do what (Mike) Zimmer tells me to do.”
How has the season been for you? You come in as a rookie, then have to switch positions. It’s been kind of a whirlwind for you:
VB: “I’m truly blessed just to be in the position I’m in. Since day one, it’s been a very, very long road, a long process. Every day, I’m just trying to get better at whatever position I’m in. I just try to be a great team leader, a great defensive leader, and try to put my team in a position to win.”
What kind of issues do the Texans present for your defense?
VB: “They have a little bit of everything. It’s going to be all 11 tackling (Arian) Foster. He’s a great cutback runner, bounce runner. And he has a great backup. (QB Matt) Schaub is very good. He does a good job keeping his eyes downfield. It’s going to be our D-line getting to him, corners and safeties taking care of their responsibilities, and linebackers doing their jobs. It’s going to be a great game. At the end of the day, the best team wins.”
How much have you heard about the atmosphere down there and how loud the fans are?
VB: “This will be my first time in that dome. Our coach has been stressing that they’re going to be very loud, but I just have to use them as my energy. Every time they get loud, I have to feed off that. I can’t get too into it, because if you get too into it, you’re not doing your responsibility. For me, I just have to take some of that yelling that they’re doing and channel it onto the field.”
How much confidence does this team’s defense have?
VB: “We have a lot of confidence. We believe in each other. I believe in all 10 guys that I’m on the field with, and the backup guys. We all feel comfortable with each other and trust each other. We all communicate. That’s why I think our defense has been so good. We all understand each other.”
LB MANNY LAWSON
What’s the defense’s mentality going into the postseason after winning seven of its final eight games?
ML: “We feel amazing. We feel we can stop anybody. First of all, stop the run to make them one-dimensional and then let our front four rush the passer. Our cornerbacks and our DBs cover better than most.”
Houston lost three of its final four games, while you guys won seven of eight to end the regular season. Does momentum mean anything heading into the playoffs?
ML: “I think when you’re talking about momentum, it helps. When you have momentum, you want to keep on rolling with it. You don’t want to just all of a sudden have momentum, have it stop, and then hope you get it back again. Losing momentum is a key in winning. We have momentum going and I think it’s going to help us a lot.”
What’s the biggest key in trying to containing RB Arian Foster?
ML: “Really, it’s just trying to corner him and get guys around him. He’s a perimeter runner, and sort of a down-hill, cut-back runner. You can’t just hope that he cuts it back. You have to surround someone like Foster.”
Was that the key to Houston’s success in last year’s playoff game, when it broke off more runs to the perimeter?
ML: “I think they really just made great plays at the right time. In the running game overall it wasn’t our best day. They just beat our defense and beat us, and that’s why they were the victors in that game last year.”
Is stopping the run the biggest factor for your defense to have a successful game? It seems like their offense flows of their running game:
ML: “Yes, it does. I think once you make a team one-dimensional, it’s easier to play. It’s easier for Coach Zimmer to call plays when you start making them one-dimensional.”
What’s been the biggest improvement in the Bengals run defense, especially in the second half of the season?
ML: “I think really just understanding what we do as individuals, and then understanding what the guys around us, in front of us, behind us, beside us do. Understanding everybody’s job and where everybody fits. If you know where the guy next to you, or the guy behind you, is going to fit; that gives you a lot more confidence to do what you’re supposed to do, and you know that the guy behind you is going to do what he’s supposed to do. Therefore, the plays get stopped or a play gets made (defensively).”
Is it about getting back to fundamentals after some of the starters played sparingly last week in the regular-season finale vs. Baltimore?
ML: “That it is, that it is. (It’s all about) getting back to fundamentals, getting back to what we were set out to do, which is playing football and make plays.”
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR MIKE ZIMMER
What do you personally try to accomplish when coaching your defense?
MZ: “I don’t know, try to teach them technique and the way we want it done and be demanding they do it all the time, I guess. Play hard.”
Some people say you will not let your players be average. What does that mean to you?
MZ: “I’m demanding. If they want to get lazy, I’m not going to let them. I want to make sure they’re doing it right every single time. I think it’s more about making them do it each and every play.”
Out of defensive linemen
MZ: “Who needed it the most? Carlos. Michael had a reputation. Geno’s never been a guy that you kind of had to ride.”
How have you worked your magic on Carlos Dunlap?
MZ: “Well I figured one of us was going to lose the fight and it wasn’t going to be me. They’re much easier to mold the way you want them molded when they’re young rookies; so both of those two guys, and Michael (Johnson) was not as bad as Carlos. Carlos was a guy that had to be pushed, confronted, threatened at times, not let play at times. Either they figure it out or they don’t figure it out, one way or the other. Both those two guys are smart guys. They understand that you’re trying to help them instead of trying to ridicule them, or something like that, and that it’ll work out.”
Carlos has seen increased playing time this year, so he must be receiving what you’re sending:
MZ: “Carlos has turned the corner for the most part. I hardly have to get on him anymore. For the most part, he tries to do things right. He’ll ask if he can do this or do that and I’ll say, ‘No,’ and that’s the end of the question. In the same token, he was struggling there at the beginning of the year and I allowed him to do a few things we don’t normally do because he was struggling. Just like I would if a corner was struggling with the technique we’re using; I might try to change it or do something like that. So we did change it a little bit with him.”
Where did the term ‘salty’ arise from when you happily describe your defensive players when they perform well?
MZ: “I don’t know. It’s probably just one of those words I got one day. I don’t know where it came from, but our guys typically play real hard and do things right. We seem to be pretty competitive.”
What do you teach a veteran like CB
MZ: “He’s pretty smart as understanding what’s going on. Where he was lacking was confidence when he came here. He lacked the technical aspect of playing the position, maybe clarity about what he’s supposed to do and how he’s supposed to do it. So those are the things I helped him with.”
Is it fair to say Atkins, Dunlap and Johnson all had first-round ability when they entered the NFL draft?
MZ: “I think the thing that held back Geno was his height. He didn’t quite have as good a (senior) year. But the other two guys had measurables coming out everywhere. Their lack of effort, I guess would be the best word to say, was the reason why they dropped down.”
Where did you and Carlos butt heads the most?
MZ: “It was about every day for a while. (On) effort, doing it the way I wanted it done. Michael was a little similar too. Michael tried. Michael just tried to outthink himself too much. But with Carlos, I had to be a lot more demanding of him.”
Do you think Michael Johnson was misread by scouts coming out of college?
MZ: “I do, yeah. He had a reputation of not finishing plays and not making plays and just looking pretty. That’s not really his mentality. He probably just didn’t know what he wasn’t doing. I pointed it out.”
He seems to be pretty tough:
MZ: “Yeah he’s tough. I like Mike, he’s a good kid. I’m glad he’s having the year he’s having.”
What do you like most about your defensive unit this year compared to years past?
MZ: “I like the mix of the veterans that we have. I think that’s helped a little bit because we’ve got some younger guys in there. Guys like Newman and (Nate) Clements, (Robert) Geathers and some of the new guys we brought in there have helped. And they do a good job with communicating. The DBs, honestly, they do a great job of communicating how they’re playing this. Leon (Hall) sits right next to Terence in the meeting when I’m in there. They’re talking to each other all the time, in between plays, ‘Hey, we got this,’ he tells Adam (Jones). Adam’s made a tremendous transition, in my opinion, this year. But the biggest thing I like about them, and this has been like for a few years now, is they’ll do whatever I ask them to do. They never question anything. They try as hard as they can do it and they seem to have fun playing.”
Your No. 1 tenet has always been to stop the run:
MZ: “Well that’s the beginning of the defense. You build everything to get the run stopped. There are some games we go into saying, ‘We’ve got to hit the quarterback. They’re not going to run the ball very well.’ At the beginning of the year, that’s the number one thing. I don’t think for every single week that’s the number one goal. Earlier in the year when we were playing (Peyton) Manning, I don’t think that was the number one goal. There are different things each week.”
Houston Texans RB Arian Foster presents a big challenge this week:
MZ: “Oh yeah, we’ve got to stop the run this week. They do a great job in the run blocking. The scheme that they run is great. We’ve got to tackle. If we’re undisciplined in the run game, we’re going to get pounded, and then off of that comes the play-action pass. So if you can try to get this team to be one dimensional, it helps us. Saying that, any time you can stop the run with a seven-man front you’ll have an advantage on defense.”
Does it appeal to you that your defense is not nationally well known?
MZ: “I don’t know that our guys really care that much about it. It’s like when I first got into this division, all I heard about was Pittsburgh and Baltimore and how great their defenses were. For the last, I don’t know, two years, we’ve been right up there with them. Now a year ago, I thought defensively, our schedule was a little softer than it was, but this year we’ve played some great quarterbacks and some terrific offenses and we’ve hung in there pretty good. But as far as (publicity), I don’t know that that matters. I think football people know what kind of job we’re doing here.”
How big of an asset is it to have former Texan
MZ: “Well he’s been talking to the guys a lot about formations and plays. We ask him, ‘If we see this, is this correct?’ and so on and so forth.”
Has Houston’s offense changed much with RB Ben Tate and some linemen injured?
MZ: “No, they’re going to do what they do and do what they always do. They’ve beaten us four straight, so I don’t think they’re going to change a lot.”
What’s different for Houston’s offense when QB Matt Schaub is playing compared to T.J. Yates?
MZ: “Schaub’s a good player. Pro Bowl guy, smart, gets the ball out quick. He doesn’t move around quite like Yates did, but obviously he’s got more experience and a lot more skins on the wall.”
Is play-action Schaub’s best asset?
MZ: “They always are great in their play-action game. They’ve got a great play-action game. They’ve got a quick (pass) game. Their shots come off the play-action and, obviously, off the running game, if they get the running game going. And the screens; they’re a terrific screen team.”