Initial comments ...
"When you watch the tape of the games since we played (Cleveland) last — in every single game, they've been ahead or winning, or been very close throughout (the game). That grabs the attention right away of the coaches and players. Defensively last time, (Browns DL) Danny Shelton and (Browns DL) Myles Garrett (didn't play). They're getting a couple of their players back, like Coleman (Browns WR Corey Coleman), and other guys that didn't play in our first meeting (in Cleveland). They're a much better football team than when we played. They have our attention. We have to play really well and have a good week of practice and preparation. We have to understand our plan, how it applies to them, and then be able to adjust — as we know we're going to have to do come Sunday — with things they present on offense, defense, and special teams."
What have you seen from Browns QB DeShone Kizer, after there was somewhat of a back-and-forth with the Browns' QB situation?
"He now realizes he's the quarterback. He was unsure and playing tentative (previously). He can be confident now, and he's being aggressive with things. The more they play, the team is behind him. It's his football team, and that makes a difference."
What kind of a difference does Corey Coleman make, now that he's healthy?
"Coming out of college, he was such a great vertical-stretch player at Baylor. He works well with the ball in his hands, so those kinds of things in the open field we have to be very conscious and aware of. He didn't get a lot of those opportunity last week, but as he becomes comfortable, they become more comfortable with the things they do with him. I'm sure that'll be part of the things they do.'"
With the Browns standing at 0-10, you would think that their opponents are running the ball a lot late in games. Yet, the Browns still come in with the No. 1 run defense in terms of yards per carry. They have to be doing a pretty good job with that, don't they?
"They do. They're going to try and make it a hard day for you to run the football. Conversely, on the other side of the ball, they're running the ball well. Their two runners, Crowell (Browns RB Isaiah Crowell) and (Browns RB) Duke Johnson Jr. — and a couple of quarterback runs in there — are being productive."
For you as a coach, as well as offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, what can you do to improve the run game from a creative standpoint?
"We just have to keep getting better at what we're doing. We had 26 (rushes) in that football game (against Denver), and 20 of them were not bad — or 18, 19 of them. We just have to keep doing what we're doing. We had six or seven that weren't what we wanted. Some of it gets to be at the end of the game, but some of them are in the scope of the game where we had negative plays. We have to eliminate those and keep doing what we're doing. The main thing is to win the football game. We have to keep being positive. We have to take care of the ball and win the football game — that's the No. 1 goal."
Do you have a favorite memory from when you were a kid on Thanksgiving?
"I don't really (laughs). A lot of the times when I was young, we spent Thanksgiving in Detroit. Once we went to the parade there (America's Thanksgiving Parade). I remember watching the Lions game on television at our cousins' house — my aunt and uncle's. Then at Idaho State, those aren't good … I probably shouldn't share those in here (laughs). As a grown-up, that's what I remember. In college, I spent just about every Thanksgiving at the Koetter's (Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter) house. So, I'll call Dirk's parents tomorrow and wish them a happy Thanksgiving, like I always have (laughs)."
What are some of your favorite foods on Thanksgiving?
"Stuffing is probably one of my favorites (laughs)."
It's been a while since you've been home on Thanksgiving week. Is it beneficial for the players to be home this week?
"It really is. I think we've been fairly lucky around holidays in recent times, but you're saying we haven't been (laughs). So, it doesn't change much. It's great we're playing at home this weekend. Whether we are playing home or away, the players have family come in and spend Thanksgiving with them. But, it's obviously better when you have a home game. We're going to be fortunate enough to have a home game around Christmas, too. (For the players), that's awesome. We have so many guys with young children, so it's good (for them to be home). Even last year, when we played on Christmas Eve. We play on Christmas Eve this year, and we played on Christmas Eve in 2011. So, four or five years in a row, we've been able to give everybody Christmas off, basically. It's a good thing for them to spend time with their families — this includes the coaches — around the holidays."
There is a fraternity of head coaches in this league, with all of you knowing each other and being friendly, for the most part. How much do you reach out to other coaches during the season? Is there a lot of checking in on other coaches?
"There's generally a lot of that. When I was first doing this, I got a call from Bill Parcells and Dick Vermeil — guys who I didn't really know. The reached out to me in 2003. Mike Shanahan, after we played Denver in my first game, (reached out). There's a lot of that, and I try to do that. I was able to talk to Vance (Broncos head coach and former Bengals assistant coach Vance Joseph) before the game last week, before anybody was even at the stadium. It was good. Hue (Browns head coach and former Bengals assistant coach Hue Jackson) and I talk every week, except for this week (laughs)."
How helpful was that stuff for you when you were a younger coach?
"(As a younger coach), you're trying to get the mountain off of you (laughs). But, you realize that everyone has a mountain on them. It really doesn't change, whether you're in Philadelphia right now or in Cleveland, everyone feels the same during the week — all of the coaches. People are supposedly at the top or the bottom, but we're all grinding the same way with our staff in our approach. I think that's what people don't really understand — (coaches') demeanors don't change. They can't. (The players) are taking everything they get from us, so we really can't change. We have to stay the way we are and continue to push forward."
In conversations with Hue, what do you say to help him?
"When you get a chance to watch the tape, it's just (offering) your opinion on how things are going. (I can see) how hard they're playing. They were flying around last week against Jacksonville — I mean flying around. Then they make a stop on Jacksonville, and you see the guys running onto the field. The excitement in their football team, you can see that in watching the tape. You're building upon that — that's what they're building upon."
Did you feel a sense of validation when guys like Parcells and Vermeil would reach out to you as a young coach?
"You do. In their minds, they've been there too. They think (the new coaches) are somewhat lonely. I remember leaving Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh and going to Baltimore as the defensive coordinator. We had played Jacksonville, and then we played the Steelers for the second time that year. Before the game, Bill says to me, 'Yeah, I watched the Jacksonville game. The first time, you sat back and tried to play coverage and they went in and scored, and you lost. The same thing happened the second game, this time you tried to pressure them, and you came in lost again. Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you' (laughs). 'That makes me feel really good, Bill' (laughs). You need that from your friends, and it was great. I'll never forget that (laughs). That's what happens — you put yourself in that situation of how you're handling it or how it's being handled. You make them understand. The first text I got after the Denver game was from Dirk Koetter — I have no clue how their game ended up. One score I saw said they were losing. I talked to Zimmer — and I didn't know how their game had ended up (laughs)."
What do they say when they text you?
"They just say, 'Congrats.' I'm not very good at being able keep track of other things (scores). Sorry (laughs)."
Do you remember what Mike Shanahan said to you after your first game?
"He said, 'Your football team is better than they know they are.' Or, 'You have a better team than they know.' Something like that."
Did he call you?
"No, he said it after the game at midfield."
How do you think Andy Dalton has played amidst the struggles of the running game?
"Andy has done a good job of taking care of the football and managing our game. (The media) looks at running numbers, but we look at the efficiency of things. A lot of these throws are run plays, and he's doing a great job with that. Those are the things that we have to continue to build upon. He's done a nice job, and we have to keep pressure off of Andy and let him do his thing. He has to run the offense — it comes through his eyes all the time. That's something that Bill (offensive coordinator Bill Lazor) has done a good job being conscious of. Andy is confident with that — he's done it for so many years that he knows that as we take care of the football, our opportunity to win games (increases)."
Have you noticed a change in mentality with the team after the win this past weekend?
"No. They've been grinding, and they know we have another grind coming up. The preparation and to keep working like this — and the spirit of having some of their family in town today and tomorrow — that's been good. It's a good thing for them. They'll be able to get out of here a little bit earlier tomorrow, then come back in a little refreshed for Friday, which is good for us."
Three straight road games is a grind, and now you're rewarded with four of your last six being at home. That has to feel good, right?
"It's good. I had already planned two weeks ago to give them this past Monday off — to give the coaches a day away from them, more importantly (laughs). They came and got their training and lifting done, which is important for them to get the soreness out. But it gave the coaches time to move forward and not have to spend time with the players on Monday. It was good, and they liked that. In their mind, they're getting thrown a bone. But, I had to decide that before the game was over. That was a good lift and surprise to them."
Do three straight road trips take a toll?
"I don't know (laughs) … We're traveling high-cotton, so that's been good (laughs). All of our guys have a sleeper bed. These planes Mr. Brickner (Bengals Director of Operations Jeff Brickner) has had us on this year have been good (laughs). Literally everybody can stretch out — I slept for an hour and a half (on the way back from Denver). I started watching the tape of the game and I kept dozing off. So I said, 'Why am I doing this? I'll go in early and do it tomorrow.' I think we've been able to travel — pretty much — without issue in these three road trips, which is good. We got home at 12:30 or 1 a.m., which is later, but it's good. Guys did a good job in preparation. The guys talked about the things we had to do altitude-wise, with hydration and the carbs and everything. Our guys did a good job of handling it."
With Randy Bullock missing extra points in the last two weeks, coupled with what you went through with Mike Nugent last year, does it affect your patience level with Randy?
"It does affect our patience level."
Are you guys committed to Randy for the rest of the season?
"We're committed to Randy for this week. We're only committed to everyone (on this team) for this week. You know that (laughs).'"
What kind of impact do you think Hue Jackson had on Dalton, when he was here?
"No. 1, in making the transition from Jay (former Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden) to Hue ... Hue had the chance to observe Andy from the defensive point-of-view (as assistant special teams/assistant defensive backs coach), then as an offensive coach (running backs coach) in the offensive room, and then as the offensive coordinator. He was able to see Andy in three different viewpoints. He really empowered Andy to grow, which was great."
To grow as a player? A leader?
"In every avenue of what your quarterback needs to be."
That play in Denver, when Andy ran on third-and-three, he had so many options of what to do there. He could've run it, passed it or handed the ball off …
"Is that right (laughs)?"
He seemed to make the right call though, right? He doesn't seem to get rattled ...
"He's composed. Sometimes people think that's a negative, but it's a positive — the fact that he stays composed all the time. He stays within the moment."
You're playing the Browns for the second time this year. What has changed about them since the first game?
"They do a lot of different things on defense, and that's their style of how they play. There's a couple different guys that will be playing in there that didn't play us last time. They play really hard on defense. They do a good job."
Is your schedule a little different this week with it being Thanksgiving?
"It's a little shorter. We don't have meetings (after practice on Thursday) like we normally do. We'll be in early on Friday. So it's a little different because it is Thanksgiving, but nothing big."
Does a win like last week change your mind set at all or do you see it the same every week?
"We prepare every week to win, so I wouldn't say our approach changes. Any time there's a win, there's a better feeling around the building. We want to keep feeling that way."
Cleveland will have some defenders on the field this Sunday that didn't play in the first game against you guys. One of those guys is DT Danny Shelton. How big of a factor is he against the run, and just in general?
"He's really big, talented and strong, and you can see that. We didn't play him the last time, but we'll be going against him this time. But we played against him last year. He's definitely one of their better players."
What does Myles Garrett look like on tape?
"He's got all the talent. He's physically gifted. I don't know how many games he's played, but I think he has four sacks. The production is there. We've got to stop them."
With the way your run game has struggled, does that change the way you approach the game?
"The approach doesn't change. We're calling the runs, and we're expecting production out of them. When we don't get that, it means you've got to make up more on second or third or whatever down it is. We're calling it, and we're expecting to get big gains out of what's being called out there."
Do you expect the Browns' defense to do something a little more different than what they did in that last game?
"You see it on tape — it's like every week they're doing something different. We wouldn't expect them to stay the same, but who knows? It's one of those things. They do a lot on defense, and you just have to be prepared for it."
Is that something Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams does with having different tools now on his defense?
"He's got a lot. It's just the style of the way they play and his way of calling the defense."
What growth have you seen from the offensive line?
"They played well last week. It's just one of those things that, as time goes on, you're getting better as the season goes on. And our guys have done that."
Last week's road win at Denver is now followed by three straight home games. Is that the kind of thing that can help you get back on track?
"Yeah, it will be nice to be back home. I feel like we've been traveling for a long time. But it's nice to be back here at home and familiar territory."
What do you remember most about your game earlier this season against the Browns?
"We were just distributing the ball, and getting it to our guys' hands. We made the plays that we needed to make in that game. It was a solid day for us."
What is the mindset of the team, now that you're one game outside of the playoff picture? Are you guys aware of that?
"Yeah. But at the end of the day, you've just got to keep winning. That's our goal: Win this week. And if we can keep a string of these together, we'll put ourselves in a position where we'll have a chance. That's what you play for. You want to get to the playoffs. That's our goal."
Marvin Lewis had some pointed comments last week about a mistake John Ross made in the game against Tennessee. How is Ross' confidence?
"I think John will be just fine. We've got confidence in him. For him, he's got to keep proving (himself) every day. He's working really hard in practice, and he's doing everything the right way you want him to. I'm not worried about him, he's going to be just fine."
What is your favorite Thanksgiving food?
"I like ham more than turkey, I know that's a little different. Cream corn is a staple at the Dalton house. Obviously desserts are always good too. I say cream corn is probably my favorite thing to have on Thanksgiving."
What are you most thankful for?
"There's a lot to be thankful for. I'm thankful for my family, for my kids, our health. There's a lot to be thankful for."
Are you aware of the social backlash for liking ham more than turkey?
"I'm sure there's people out there (who disagree). I'm sure (laughs). It's personal preference, I guess. And I'm sure there will be some people who back me (laughs). Ham vs. Turkey — go ahead and set up a poll (laughs)."