Initial comments ...
"The Broncos got off to a really good start. They started out 2-0, then lost (to Buffalo), came back in the fourth quarter (two win vs. Oakland), and then have dropped the last five (games). The thing you see offensively that hurt them a little bit in some of those games was the turnovers and things like that. They've had some plays on special teams that put them in bad field-position spots. Defensively, they continue to do the things they do well — press up at the line, bring pressure as much as they can, and be athletic in coverage. Not much has changed in looking at the variations that we've played with these guys over the past three or four seasons. It's about the same, when you look at them defensively."
How impressed have you been with Domata Peko since he joined Denver?
"He's done a nice job. He's playing in their base (defense) and getting some snaps in their bigger nickel group that they play occasionally. He's done a really good job. He's done a nice job of playing strong in the middle, and staying on his feet. He's doing the things he did well (while with the Bengals)."
How tough is it to watch a guy that meant so much to this team walk away in free agency?
"Professional football players have choices and decisions they have to make. They have to do what they feel is best. Obviously, he meant a lot to this place. His family grew up here — he raised his family here. I'm sure it was a difficult thing on him. But, he went somewhere he knew, and it's been good for him.'"
What do you remember about Broncos head coach Vance Joseph from when he was an assistant for you here in Cincinnati?
"Vance is a very detail-oriented coach. He has a great ability to communicate with the players. He has a tremendous knowledge of football overall. He played quarterback in college at Colorado, so he's very well-rounded. Very good (coach)."
Is there a benefit to giving AJ McCarron playing time at the end of the year?
"I don't think so. Not if Andy (Bengals QB Andy Dalton) continues to play (well) and do things right, like taking care of the ball and running the offense the way we expect him to run it."
What have you thought of John Ross' progression over the past few weeks?
"John had a play last week that we weren't really thrilled with. He has to keep progressing."
On that play, it appeared Ross stopped running his route before realizing the ball was coming his way. Is it as simple as, "Just keep running?"
"It's as simple as that. We've had a couple of those that make a difference."
How much of that comes down to the fact that he just hasn't played that much?
"You guys ask for the 'John Ross update' each day. If you count the number of weeks — it's been four now — he's had three or four practices during those week to get acclimated. The thing that I told him — and it was great, because Andy was with him in the hallway — is that for Andy to throw him the football in that coverage, he should understand how the QB feels about him. The QB expects him to understand where he needs him to be. (Ross) let his teammates down, he let me down and he let Andy down. Because, maybe that ball isn't supposed to go there in that coverage, but if you do it right and run like he can run, that ball can go there and be a big play for us. That's what you have to tell the receiver — he can't dictate where the ball goes. The QB has to make the read, do what he does, and throw the ball based on the coverage and his progression. In that case, he chose John. He made a nice throw and put the ball where it needed to be, and it ended up (not very far) away. If he kept running, he likely catches it."
It might have been six points ...
"I would hope it would have been a touchdown. But, that's the margin of error for where we are right now — we're a little thin with that."
You guys pride yourselves on having a lot of self-motivated guys. What's the biggest challenge of keeping guys into it when you're 3-6?
"We're not out of it."
But is there a difference with a 3-6 team versus a 6-3 team, as far as motivation?
"Like I told the guys this morning, they have to act like they're 9-0. That's the thing. There's no difference — we wouldn't be doing things any differently. We have to push just as hard. We have to pull teeth out there today and put feet in the back of rears all day. It really wouldn't be any different (if we had a different record), and we have to understand that. We have a game that matters on Sunday, and the records aren't going to matter. The team that goes out and makes the most plays is going to win the game."
Is it a particularly important message with the young guys who come from winning programs and may not be used to a situation like this?
"You're trying to evaluate psyche now (laughs)."
How does the thin margin for error impact decision making?
"You always make decisions based on winning the football game. I don't know what particular decisions you're pointing to …"
Whether or not to go for it on fourth down, or to go for a two-point conversion …
"That's a game-to-game decision. That's about what the game is, and where it is. The ramifications, on the other side of it, are positive and negative. I can't judge overall (decision-making) that way. With the work that the players in coaches put in, the ultimate reward is to win the football game. Every decision I make is based off of that. I'm not rolling the dice to see what happens — my job is to get (the team) in position to win the football game. I didn't do a very good job last week because we didn't win, or the week before. I have to do a better job."
You signed a running back, Brian Hill, off of the Atlanta Falcons' practice squad yesterday. Was he a guy that was on your radar during the draft process?
"Every guy is evaluated — yes. He's a player that was evaluated by the scouting staff and Kyle (Bengals RB coach Kyle Caskey)."
Is college tape more of what you rely on, since there is very little film of him in Atlanta?
"Well, we watched what he did in the preseason. I sat in a meeting last week, and the personnel guys were looking at practice squad running backs."
He didn't play much special teams in college, being that he was the star running back, but can he contribute on special teams here?
"He's going to have to. He got to play (special teams) in Atlanta in all four phases."
You talked about wide receivers getting separation last week. How tough is that going to be against the Denver secondary?
"It will be very challenging — these guys do a great job. Roby (Broncos CB Bradley Roby) is as good of a player that there is in the league, and he doesn't start. (Broncos CB) Chris Harris has quickness and is a very smart player. Talib (Broncos CB Aqib Talib) has done a great job for a long time — he does a nice job with things. Their safeties are both athletic and do a good job in coverage. So yes, it's going to be important (to get separation). And, it's a race against the pass rush. It's going to be important."
Andre Smith has been a stable force this year. Is that something to hang your hat on?
"He played a good football game (against the Titans). He'll need to play a better one this week."
How good is Broncos LB Von Miller?
"He's exceptional — both against the run and pass. Everyone wants to talk about him as a pass rusher, but he's an excellent player in the run game and makes a lot of unscripted plays."
Back to Andre Smtih — he played every snap this past Sunday. Do you think he's getting back to where he was?
"He played well on Sunday, and he has to play better this week.'"
When you say that Von Miller makes a lot of unscripted plays, is that within their scheme?
"Sometimes (offensive linemen) can over-reach, and he ends up underneath (the block). We have to be conscious of that. But, when you're as explosive as he is, you can do that and get back on point. That's what he has. Obviously he's a very smart player as well, and he's very talented. It seems like we've faced him every year since he and A.J. (Bengals WR A.J. Green) came into the league."
We've been talking a lot about third downs the past few weeks, is Tyler Boyd a guy that can give you a lift in those situations?
"Possibly. He just has to get back to where we feel comfortable with him doing it like that — when he's 100 percent physically and he feels confident in the knee and everything that way. Last week, he wasn't quite there, and he has to keep showing me that he's back."
You guys haven't had a lot of snaps the last couple of weeks, how does that change the dynamic of the offense?
"It comes down to the production that we haven't been able to have on third downs and keeping drives alive. That's why our number of snaps has been down. It's something we need to get fixed."
Is it hard to get into a rhythm when you don't have enough snaps to get what plays you want to run?
"You have to convert on third downs — that allows you to have more plays to get more opportunities. That's where we need to improve and get better."
With taking more deep shots on first and second downs — that's when your big plays have come — does that hurt your rhythm and not being able to be successful on third downs?
"There's a give or take. Like you said, we've had those two big plays on first down. It's one of those things — if you're not hitting those (long plays), you're setting yourself back, and then you're second-and-10, or longer situations. It's about deciding when to take those (deep) shots, and when you want to just get completions and go on longer drives."
You've been on both sides of success throughout your time in this league. How much has this side, with the team losing more this year, tested you mentally?
"It's one of those things where — and we've been on the other side of it too — you just have to keep going. Eventually, these games are going to turn around, and eventually you're going to make these plays. You've got to keep having that focus at the end of the game. We were close last week, but you never know what it takes this week to score at the end to win. It's one of those things where you just need to keep your head down and keep working."
Does the altitude in Denver play as much of a factor as it's made out to be?
"I've only played a couple times in Colorado. I think there's something to it, but if it changes the way that you play or changes the way you do things, I don't know if really has that big of an effect on it. Like I said, I've only played there a couple of times."
Vance Joseph was on Cincinnati's defensive coaching staff just a few years ago, and now he's Denver's head coach. Are there some elements from his defense in Denver that look similar to what the defense does here?
"They've had some stuff they've been doing for years now that has been working for them. Maybe there are some things that are similar, but I think they have their style of the way they play."
Is it a continuation of Wade Phillips' defense?
"I think so. If you look at what their base is, it's more like Wade than it is than what is what we do here."
Denver's new defensive coordinator, Joe Woods, who was promoted from being a secondary coach, has a 'Tampa-Two' defensive scheme background. Do you see any of that in their defense?
"I don't feel like that's one of their styles. They have good corners and guys that can play man-to-man. It's what they do."
In terms of focusing out there, when you have a guy like Von Miller on the other side of the ball, do you take an extra second to become aware of where he is?
"You've got to know where he's at, since he's so good and so disruptive. He's also really good at rushing the passer. At the end of the day, we've got to play our game. That's what it comes down to."
Do you feel like he's one of the most disruptive players you've come across?
"Yeah, he's been doing it ever since he got into the NFL: He's special with his ability to have the speed and strength that he has."
Denver's defense has been known to have a lot of speed. When looking at the tape, is their speed what jumps out at you?
"Yeah. They've been playing well. That's the style of defense that they play."
With being under pressure so much on the pass rush, how hard is it to not speed things up when you are under that constant pressure?
"It's one of those things where you can't let that play before affect the next play. Just because they got pressure on one play, that doesn't mean they're going to get it on the next one. You've got to put that in your head, because what happened last time doesn't mean it's going to happen the next time."