MARVIN LEWIS (with Cincinnati media)
ML: “We’re in pretty good health.
“Looking at the Steelers, obviously they’re disappointed in the outcome of the last game. They lost some guys to injury in that game. The quarterback is playing at a very high level, as we can see. Their third-down percentage is impressive. He continues to avoid the rush. They have (Rashard) Mendenhall back. They’ve been getting good play out of the backfield anyway, with (Chris) Redman and the other guys that have been playing, but getting Mendenhall back is a real lift.
“Defensively, they haven’t had all of their pieces in place much this season, so they’ve got some younger guys they’re plugging in there, and they’re doing a good job. Statistically, they’re playing pretty well. One area they’re probably not as good as they generally are has been third down.
“In the kicking game, you’ve got (Chris) Rainey and Antonio Brown. They’re two very, very explosive guys. You really have to do a great job disengaging and not allowing them to make plays that way. So we have to stay alert in all phases of the kicking game and do a good job.”
“It’s a good place for us to be right now. We need to go play a complete football game against a good team, and this is certainly a good team.”
ML: “I’ve been really impressed with Dre Kirkpatrick in practice. More impressed than any time he’s been here; even more impressive than when he was here in rookie minicamp. He’s competing well, he’s practicing very hard, he’s getting his conditioning to where it needs to be to sustain playing in an NFL game, play after play after play.
“Having missed as much time as he’s missed, you can’t simulate it any other way than by going out there and doing it. As I said after practice last Friday, he’s taking a lot of reps. He’s taking all the reps versus our offense, and he’s getting the split reps with the defense in there. Zim (defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer) and Mark (defensive backs coach Mark Carrier) are doing a good job of getting him involved in the plan all the time.
“If I can ever get him up and dressed, I certainly will right away. And when we get him suited up, we’ll get him playing. But I’m really pleased with him. He’s feeling good about it, and that’s the best thing. He said this is the best he’s felt since 2010 at Alabama. He said the knee bothered him most of his last year there, last year. So he’s feeling good about it.”
Is it possible that you could activate him on Sunday, or is he still a couple of weeks away?
ML: “It’s possible. Like I said last week, I don’t want to close the door to it and look like I’m fibbing, but we’ll see what happens through the week.”
Troy Polamalu has been ruled out of Sunday’s game due to injury. What exactly do they lose with him out of the game?
ML: “He makes the conventional play, and he makes the unconventional play. He’s like a walking ‘tendency breakdown.’ He knows what you do so well, and he plays to it. He doesn’t just run around crazily, he knows what you do. When things unfold with the way it lines up and the ball is snapped and things start to go, he knows what’s happening. You really have to be creative when you go against him, to make things look the same, then make it not be that way. Try and get him out of position. And obviously his energy and what he brings that way is incredible.”
They have two receivers who can hurt you – Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown are both very explosive deep threats:
ML: “Yeah, you said it all. Wallace has such great top-end speed; Brown is probably not far off that. Brown is an excellent cutter – it’s full-speed out of his breaks and cuts. That’s what’s so impressive with him. They’re competitive with the football. There are so many fast guys who have been in the National Football League who couldn’t catch, but these guys can catch. That makes a huge difference. And they have a quarterback who can get it out there to them. Then he finds ways to extend the play to get it out there even further at times. We see it all the time, and we’ve been victimized by it – we have to stay in coverage and stay in leverage until we know the quarterback is down or he doesn’t have the ball any more.”
What has made Dick LeBeau such a great defensive coach?
ML: “He has great energy, and obviously has great passion to keep on coaching. They do what they do very well. They can add a wrinkle here and a wrinkle there. One guy is doing something different, but the other 10 guys are still doing their jobs the same way. So you can do it at a very high level and high speed. That’s the impressive part – how they continue to add and manipulate the gameplan week to week to week. He works hard to take away strengths for you and make you do things that he may not rate as your best strength.”
How big of a concern is the disparity on third-down conversions between the offenses, where the Steelers are one of the best?
ML: “The defense is not, so maybe that will be good for us (laughs). You know what I mean. But, yeah, on both sides, you’re right, it’s going to be key. Their offense is clicking at such a high rate. We were playing pretty well. We didn’t play as well last week on defense, and on the other side of the ball, our offense hasn’t been as good and their defense hasn’t been as good as they expect. It’s going to be a key matchup in the game all the way through. We know we have to play better on third down on both sides.”
Through six games,
ML: “The first one, against Baltimore, was his responsibility. But the others aren’t necessarily his. We can’t quit ever on a route. We had two plays where we quit on routes and enabled the defense to make good plays. And any time you give up those kinds of points in a game, it puts you behind, and we’ve lost two of those three games.”
What are your thoughts on Dusty Baker’s extension? Although you coach different sports, you guys are in similar roles where you get second-guessed a lot:
ML: “Really? (laughs) I’m just glad (Mike) Nugent made the field goal last week (laughs). I’m very happy for Dusty, and I appreciate you reminding me because I meant to send him a text the other day when I heard it coming to work early in the morning. As I’ve said so many times about Dusty, he is such a coach’s coach. I know sometimes in baseball they don’t get labeled as coaches; it’s more as managers. But he’s a coach. He could be a football coach, I’m sure, if he wanted to. Just the way he is, he’s so hard on fundamentals and the things like that. And I think it’s a great credit to him and what he’s done. They get criticized all the time.
“I think early in the year it was his handling of the bullpen and handling of the pitchers, leaving the guy in too long or doing this or doing that. And then everybody forgets about it. You know what I mean? We kind of went through the same thing this last week, where you guys (media) beating us up on Monday, asking about this guy and that guy. Two weeks ago, those guys were the cat’s meow, and it was about what great plays you were getting from those guys. And all of a sudden now, ‘Are we going to change anybody?’ That comes with winning and losing, and we know we’re subject to it and it’s part of our business. It’s part of the job and it keeps people interested in it, and that’s why you guys (media) do what you do. It’s amazing the harmony we all have to have to work together.”
So did he keep Mat Latos in too long? (laughs)
ML: “(Laughs) I just laugh because people say, ‘Well, he should have started this guy in that game and that guy in this game.’ C’mon, man. You know? I mean, you’ve got one job, and when you’re sitting in that job, all you’re doing is trying to win. You’re doing everything you can in every fiber of your body to win. Nothing else matters. You don’t care who plays what, who pitches, who hits – you just want to win. And if you can get me a hit, you’re going to be in there. It’s the same thing here – if you can make a tackle, we’re going to get you in there, and if you can get a first down, we’re going to find a way to get you in there. So just keep doing it.”
Would you label this as a ‘gotta-have-it’ game?
ML: “It’s an exciting game. I told our players this is an exciting game. Man, this is what you want to have. You’ve got the opportunity. This is a big game, a big stage – huge stage. To me, it’s just such an exciting opportunity to have to go into this football game.
“But, no, based on where people are, it’s not that (a must win). It’s important, and it’ll put us 2-2 in the division and it gives you a springboard. The next week is an open week, so it’s an important part, you know? We’re here. We’re relatively healthy. That’s important. We know how important. This is a good football team we’re playing, with great history. We know they’ve dominated this division, and so it’s an important game for us to win.”
What’s the biggest key for you guys to get the running game going?
ML: “I think there were two backs who rushed for 100 yards last week in the NFL – something like that. So it tells you how hard things are. We’ll just keep trying to break some runs. We’ve got to finish things, whether it be up front, whether it be back, whether it be receivers – whatever it may be, just keep going and grinding at it. We started off the year and, same thing, you guys (media) were saying: ‘Wow, boy, you ran the ball so good up there.’
“We had 10 good running plays in the first half the other day, and we only had seven in the second half. So we’ve got to do a better job. But we can’t get behind by 14 points and continue to run the football like that. That’s part of it as well. We have to create some down-and-distance situations by running the football, because it makes everything else more effective. It takes some of the pressure off some of our outside skills spots all the time and our quarterback all the time.”
You’ve got a new interior of the offensive line - two young guards, a new center and a new running back. That has to figure into it, too, right?
ML: “In our opinion, most of that we felt were upgrades, and that’s where we are where we are.”
Is it tough to get the timing down?
ML: “The tackles have to have timing, too. We really have revamped the things we have been doing in the running game through this season. That’s part of the focus as well. When you look at what you want to do improving-wise in the offseason, that’s part of it. So it’s a whole revamp of the running game. You’ve got to include everybody on the offensive football team, because it’s all new for them and you’re having to apply it each and every week against new opponents – three-man front, four-man front. You all have to see it through the same eyes, and you continually go through it and through it until you get better at it. That’s the best way. I don’t know any other way to get better at anything but to continually do it.”
ANDY DALTON (with Cincinnati media)
Is the Pittsburgh defense any different with changes in personnel because of injuries?
AD: “The only difference is there's different guys playing the spots. They're still doing all the same stuff that they do. They move around a lot. They try to confuse you with twists and stunts up front, and backers blitzing and all that kind of stuff. Really, there's just different guys in those same spots.”
Despite the injuries, are they still putting in as many new wrinkles for each game to try to confuse offenses?
AD: “They still try to find some ways to confuse the offense, but it's how we respond on the sideline. ‘What's the new thing they're doing?’ so we can pick up on it and know how to counter it.”
On the pick-six from last week, was it a case where you had to throw it and the defender just jumped the route?
AD: “That was part of it; he did jump the route. But we could have done a little bit better with the route and everything. For me, I probably shouldn't have thrown it. So I think it was just him jumping the route, that's what it came down to.”
Is there a common thread to the interceptions you’ve thrown this season?
AD: “Yeah, there definitely is a lot. There have been some decisions to throw the ball when I probably shouldn't have, but others have been tipped balls and things like that too. So I know when I can take my chances, I know when to take my shots. Hopefully the interceptions will go down.”
You’ve thrown three pick-sixes this season. How disconcerting is that?
AD: “You definitely don't want that. That's the worst part of an interception, when it gets returned for a touchdown. So, I’ve got to eliminate it.”
How do you do that?
AD: “It comes down to making better decisions, guys getting their blocks up front, running good routes on the back end. It all starts with me, but it's an effort by everyone on the offense.”
The Steelers defense is known for getting turnovers:
AD: “Yeah, it's what they thrive on. They thrive on mistakes by the offense, so we can't have that this week.”
What would it mean to go into the bye week with a win in this game?
AD: “It would be huge, especially for this game, going against Pittsburgh, a great team – they’ve been a great team for a long time. Just for us to get this taste out of our mouth of the two unfortunate losses for us. Especially with having the bye week next week, we need to come out and we need to play well and we need to get a win in this one.”
You're 0-5 against the Steelers and Ravens, the two perennial powers in this division. How much would it mean to beat them?
AD: “It's big. For us to get to where we want to be, we've got to beat teams like that. Hopefully it starts this Sunday. We feel like we've got a good attitude going in. Yeah, we've had the losses, but we're confident in our abilities. For us now, it's just going out and playing and executing.”
Why has the offense struggled so much in the third quarter? Is there a specific reason? Is that fixable?
AD: “We've got to come out stronger after halftime. It's easy to get in a lull after that because you're coming in, getting a little break. But we've got to find ways to get things going and be better in the third quarter. Whatever that is, we've got to find ways to get guys going. And I've got to do a better job of it.”
For you and
AD: “Yeah it is. That's what it comes down to. Yeah, you can throw for a bunch of yards. Yeah, you can do whatever. But if you're not winning games, it doesn't really matter. So we've got to beat teams like the Steelers and the Ravens and the other good teams. It's definitely a good test for us.”
How's the team attitude and psyche right now?
AD: “I think we've got the right attitude. Like I said, we're confident in what we can do. We haven't put it all together and we've got to find a way to play a full game. We understand that. After losing two games we feel we should have won, we have to have this attitude. We have to come out and play our best. There's not a better stage than to do it on Sunday night.”
Third down has been a problem for your offense, but the Steelers are good on third down. How important do you think that will be?
AD: “Third down is huge. It's keeping drives alive, and keep moving the chains. It's what you have to do. It's what I've been saying: we've got to be better on first and second down to make it easier on third down. When you get in third-and-long a lot, it's just tough to convert. We've got to be able to get positive yards on first and second down to make it easier for us. And they've done a good job. I think I saw a stat that they're over 50 percent on third down, which is pretty good. We've obviously got to get better. It just comes down to little things.”
The middle of the offensive line seems like it has been a little more of a work in progress because of the injuries:
AD: “The big thing with the offensive line is camaraderie up front and making sure everybody's on the same page. But I think they've done a good job. To lose Kyle (Cook) early on and have Jeff (Faine) come in and step up right away, sign him and not miss a beat, was huge. For Clint (Boling), he's been playing well. They all understand what we're doing. We've got to keep getting better each week.”
The Steelers have had a lot of success in this stadium. How important is it to be able to defend your home field against a division rival like the Steelers?
AD: “Yeah, there's been a lot that's gone on before I got here. But for me, it's like I've been saying: For us to get to where we want to be, we've got to beat opponents like this. So for us, we've got to come out and play our best game that we've played so far this year. They're a good team, and it's going to take our best effort to beat a team like this. So we need to get a win, and that's what it comes down to.”
Do the players get a sense of how much the fans here are into this rivalry?
AD: “You definitely hear it just being around town. Everybody's wanting us to beat Pittsburgh. So you definitely can feel the rivalry that it is.”
Is there even more incentive this week because of the way you played in your first national TV game, at Baltimore in the season opener?
AD: “Yeah, we want to play well on national TV. We want to play better, just because we got out of the game and it kind of got out of hand. We don't want that to happen. So for us, we've got to stay in this one the whole time and do whatever it takes to win.”
You have more options this year, with a wider array of receivers. Are you more comfortable going into this game than last year?
AD: “Yeah, I'm confident with every guy we have out there. We have a lot of talent at receiver. We can spread the ball around, and lots of guys make big plays for us. It is different for us going into this year than last year, just because it's my second year and I’ve got a better understanding of everything.”
STEELERS HEAD COACH MIKE TOMLIN (with Cincinnati media)
Do you have any injury updates?
MT: “There are really no updates to this point. We haven’t done anything other than meet and walk through. Some of the guys that are day-to-day, we’ll see what their level of participation is.”
Ben Roethlisberger has made a lot of great plays for you, and he’s not had a lot of interceptions yet this year. Is there anything different that he’s doing?
MT: “He’s playing well. It starts there. He strives to be the best that he can be every year and improve. He’s in the midst of doing that. He’s had the natural maturation process of a guy who has a strong desire to improve.”
Where is your running game at right now?
MT: “We’re piecing it together right now. We’ve had some lineup changes in the backfield and on the offensive line, but from our perspective we’re capable of playing better.”
What is the biggest area of improvement with Antonio Brown?
MT: “He’s got a desire to improve in all areas. His maturity level has improved. Largely, Antonio is a guy who has a desire to have a complete overall game, and his work on a day-to-day basis proves that.”
What are your thoughts on the Bengals?
MT: “The continued emergence of quality young people. With the quarterback, (Andy) Dalton, and A.J. Green, I like the development of them. And (Jermaine) Gresham. Last week was obvious in terms of explosion plays. I like their personality, in terms of the gadget-like things they do with Hawkins. On defense, it’s about the havoc the rush creates. They have talented young people up front in (Michael) Johnson, (Geno) Atkins and (Carlos) Dunlap and others. They do a nice job of breaking pockets down and rushing in waves, as opposed to popcorn, meaning one guy winning. Usually when you look at their tape it is multiple guys winning and there are very few escape lanes for the quarterbacks.”
Why have you had so much success in Cincinnati?
MT: “I don’t have an answer to be honest with you. Right now we’re 2-3 and we haven’t won one on the road. That’s our focus.”
With the large amount of Steelers fans that come to the games every year in Cincinnati, it’s been sort of a home field for you, right?
MT: “We’re blessed to have good fans wherever we go on the road.”
So why have you struggled on the road?
MT: “We’re not making enough of the necessary plays, particularly at critical moments. Oftentimes in the NFL, that is the difference between success and failure. We have to continue turning stones over and be on the details and give the type of effort necessary.”
What is the key to being over 50 percent on third down?
MT: “We’ve been in manageable third downs for the most part. We’ve minimized negative plays.”
The Bengals have a new look in running game this season, with RB
MT: “I don’t know if there is a dramatic difference as far as schematically.”
How do you prevent guys from pressing?
MT: “We’re five games in. We realize the opportunities to prove your worth are precious, but we also realize we have a lot of ball ahead of us.”
Your team is 2-3. Is there a confidence that you can overcome this?
MT: “There needs to be. That’s the more critical perspective, that there needs to be a sense of confidence and belief, because we have guys who are capable.”
STEELERS WR ANTONIO BROWN (with Cincinnati media)
Your college coach, Butch Jones, who now coaches at the University of Cincinnati, speaks very highly of you. What was it like playing for him at Central Michigan?
AB: “It was a good deal. He’s a great coach. I learned a lot. He gave me a lot of perspective about the league, and just was always challenging me to do better. I’m just thankful he has a new opportunity, a new job. To be able broadcast his skills on another team is really good for him.”
Do you still talk to him with consistently?
AB: “Definitely. I (saw) him this offseason down in Miami. We always talk. Always encouragement. He’s always challenging me to be the best. We always keep in touch.”
What do you make of
AB: “He's big. He's physical. He's going to try to get his hands on me. He does a good job in disrupting routes and playing off in cover-two and being aggressive.”
What is the mood of the team like at 2-3?
AB: “We’ve still got solid confidence knowing we’ve got to get better, knowing we’ve got to do some things better and play better and finish ballgames. This is where it starts, with a division opponent. We know if we want to do anything and go to the playoffs, it starts in our division. This week, we have an opportunity to start (winning) in our division and get some things cleaned up.”
When you look at the Bengals defense, are there any differences from when you’ve faced them before, considering they’ve had changes at corner and safety?
AB: “(Nate) Clements is playing safety now. They have added a veteran cornerback in (Terence) Newman. They are doing a great job of disguising some things and making some plays with their front four. We’ve got a great challenge for us this weekend.”
Ben Roethlisberger is doing a good job of not throwing interceptions this season. Have you noticed a difference in anything he's doing, or that you might be doing?
AB: “I couldn't really figure it out. It's still so early, we haven't even really caught fire yet and started to play to the level we are required and that we can play. We’ve definitely got to get better. What we need to do is start finishing and winning football games.”
You guys have struggled in the running game. Is there more pressure on the passing game because it’s been more of a one-dimensional offense?
AB: “We don't want to put an emphasis on anything we are doing or want to get better at. We just want to provide and put forth our best effort. That's from every guy who is in a helmet to give his best effort – that's all that is required. We want to win ballgames. Because we win ballgames, we are not putting emphasis on what we did good and what we did not. We are focusing on winning.”
Are teams playing you any different?
AB: “A little bit. I am starting to get a little ‘B-2 slot,’ with the safety a little deep walling me off inside and the corner taking off deep. I got a lot of that last week. I’ve got to be alert for the coverages. When I get those types of coverages, other guys have got to step up and make a play.
With Butch Jones being your college coach, do you ever follow the University of Cincinnati’s football team?
AB: “Definitely. Two of my cousins play at UC – Kenbrell Thompkins and John Williams. Two of my lifetime, growing-up cousins from Miami. I follow those guys closely. I keep in touch with those guys to see how they are doing, and I definitely keep in touch with my coach.
Did you recommended them to Butch Jones?
AB: “Yeah. My cousin prior to his junior college, I recommended him to Coach Jones, because Coach Jones knows what type of player that I am and knows how to deal with guys of that background. And he takes care of his players. I definitely recommended my cousin to go there, and he seems to be doing very well thus far.”