Initial comments ...
"The Titans have done a good job throughout the season, obviously (they won) their last three (games) and played very well a week ago against Baltimore — the game was back and forth a little bit. (The Titans) were able to gain control of the game, and Baltimore fought back into the game. We know going down (to Nashville), it's always going to be a task — you have to play error-free and make sure we handle our business a lot better than we did a week ago. Offensively, they are big and strong with their guys. They have a strong running game. (DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry) both do a good job of keeping their pads low. They're very similar that way. Delanie Walker, who leads them in receptions, is probably one of the most impressive tight ends in the league, as far as receiving the football. And they do a great job of mixing-and-matching their personnel — they are well-put together. Mike (Titans head coach Mike Mularkey) and Terry (Titans offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie) and the offensive guys have done a great job offensively — they give you different looks and personnel throughout the game.
"To sum them up defensively, it's very similar to the zone-blitz style with a 3-4 base. They have physical guys as outside rushers. Casey (Titans DT Jurrell Casey) is very explosive, one of the most impressive interior guys in the league. They have athletic guys at linebacker. In the secondary, other than Logan Ryan, who came over (from New England), the rest of the guys are young guys that are doing a good job. They are very opportunistic and have done a nice job with the takeaways in the last three games. And, their specialists are as good as they come. They have two or three very good guys who have made their NFL experience by how they play on special teams. So, they're well-put together."
How do you shore up the middle of the field defensively this week? Delanie Walker has done a good job for them in that area.
"He's done a great job, and we have to do a good job of keeping leverage on him."
With Jake Fisher's illness, is it something that could potentially impact his career?
"I don't think so. Again, the procedure that he needs to have sounds worse than it likely is. I think the things that happen around it … from now on, I should say 'we will see.'"
Were there a few more tests that needed to be run a few days ago that you just didn't have a full scope of?
"When he saw another physician yesterday, the recommendation didn't change. But after the procedure and medication and so forth, he needs to not be playing a contact sport for a period of time."
Is it beneficial that Eric Winston is coming back and is already familiar with the system?
"Yes. He comes in being able to line up and understand what to do and how to do it right away."
Are the Titans harder to scout this season with QB Marcus Mariota not being 100 percent physically?
"I don't think so. He's a really good athlete, and that's the impressive thing with him as a quarterback — his athleticism. He can leave the pocket, which he may have been a bit limited in early on (in the season), like in the Indianapolis game when he came back in and played. But, over the last couple of weeks, he's been able to move better."
How close have you stayed with Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau since your time in Pittsburgh?
"Every opportunity I have to spend time with him, I (try to). He's not a big pre-game speaker — he stays in the locker room — but when I see him in different places, we spend time together."
Was he helpful when you replaced him in Cincinnati?
"His only help was his impression of being here from the first time we coached together. He had a positive feel for the organization."
Could you imagine still coaching at 80 years old, like him?
What exactly is Jake Fisher dealing with?
"That's personal to Jake, and it's really nothing that you need to worry about."
When you came into the league under Dick LeBeau, is what he was doing then similar to what he is doing now?
"Yes. Very similar."
Some of the guys in the locker room were talking about how the last few weeks of practices have been good, but there seems to be a disconnect on Sundays. How do you fix that?
"As you apply what we do to the opponents, there are obviously 11 moving parts, and we have to be as together as we can. Offensively, though it didn't seem like it, we progressed in some of things we thought were important. We have to do better, as we were still obviously 'off' and not all together exactly the way we would like to see it. We didn't convert the third downs, we miss a ball downfield, we have penalty the next drive out, and we set ourselves back. Those are things we have to correct and overcome. The way to overcome it is to — when you have an opportunity — make a good catch, make a good run, make a good play or whatever it may be. Same thing on defense — we weren't together on defense and we didn't play very well. When you don't settle down, get them into third downs or allow them to convert third downs, you're going to spend a lot of time on the field. It's going to be a long day. We took care of the ball on offense, but we didn't take care of getting off the field on defense. The goal of the defense is to get the ball back for the offense as quickly as possible, either by taking it away or stopping them on third down. The goal on offense is to never have a third down and to score points. In those two things, we weren't very good."
You always say that you see better than you hear. Do you see a disconnect at times with the players checking out or getting frustrated?
"No, I don't see that at all. Our guys grind through it. They grinded until the end last week. They kept playing. We got backed up on offense, and unfortunately we had to punt the ball two or three teams. The defense went out there and bowed their necks and played — which is part of it — and got the ball back. Unfortunately, we didn't do anything with (the ball) when we kept getting it back in the fourth quarter. We have to do better. We have to stay the course, but we have to do better on the course. We will continue to adjust what we do and how we do it, and be better."
How challenging is it to up the physicality in practice at this point in the season?
"It's a challenge, but (the players) are professionals and that's part of it. It's not like we're out there doing it for that long. When we're (practicing) we have to do it well, understand it, and then come in and look at it and say, 'OK, this is good,' and continue to build upon this every time. But, we only really get one day a week to do that."
What is the biggest reason for wanting to up the physicality in practice?
"I think you lose some of (the physicality) as you go (throughout the season). The communication part of (the game), the physicality part of it … when you're thinking too much, it's hard to be as physical as you need to be."
You've had a lot to draw upon during your time in Cincinnati, but these struggles offensively aren't typical for your time here. How do you respond to that?
"It wasn't much different on defense at this point last year. We have to grind out of it — put our head down and get better. (We have to) get better each and every week."
Is there a team you've coached before that you can look back upon for guidance on this?
"I can't remember what we've had before. It doesn't really matter."
What's also uncharacteristic is the play of the special teams, with the fake punt in Pittsburgh and blocked field goal…
"Well, it wasn't a fake; we promoted a fake (laughs). We have to execute that. If we're going to put them in that situation, we have to understand the other side of it. It's the same thing with the (Jacksonville game) — we were down in position and have to make the play. We have to get the returner on the ground and punt where we want to punt. It all has to fit together. It comes back to execution and doing it correctly. Kevin (Bengals P Kevin Huber) had a game (against Indianapolis) that was just an incredible game. He didn't have that (against Jacksonville). When we need a punt, we need it up in the air and where we want it. We can't jack the ball down the middle like we did. Then, we put pressure on the coverage group. That's the thing we have to have. We forced (Jacksonville's punter) to re-kick to us the other day, and then we get a penalty and move ball back to the 10-yard line — we can't have that stuff. And again, it was a guy that's been a stalwart for us on special teams. It's not a lack of effort or lack of understanding, we just have to do it right all the time and keep doing it. He'll fight out of it."
In 2012, you guys were in this exact spot at 3-5, before going on a run and making the playoffs. Can you draw on that experience at all?
"It's like you said — it's history. It's been done, and it's been done in this building. But doing it this game is what matters."
Was there anything specific that kind of turned it around in 2012?
"I told you guys I can't remember (laughs) … What turns it around is winning each game. That's all the matters."
Assuming that you don't rotate the offensive tackles this week, after losing OT Jake Fisher for the season, will there be an added stability at that position that could help this group?
"I think there are more opportunities to be in the right spot and the line being able to communicate better. But that had little effect on what we're speaking of. We were trying to urge a guy to take hold (of the position). We were trying to promote that. That was the goal — promoting someone with, 'Here's the opportunity, now you go win the job.'"
Do you think you saw any of that?
"I thought Jake had progressed. But again, now it's different."
You always talk about how 'football shape' is different than 'regular shape.' With that considered, could Eric Winston play this weekend?
"We will see."
How different from Jacksonville is Tennessee's defensive scheme?
"It's different — a little bit different of a scheme. It's not the same type of defense."
What do they do well?
"They've been opportunistic. They've got one of their safeties, No. 31 (Kevin Byard), I think he leads the league in interceptions. You see him tip balls and different things. He's finding different ways to make plays. They've been playing well."
With Dick LeBeau running the defense, is it similar to Pittsburgh's?
"There's some stuff that is similar to what we saw. We're looking at this as his 59th year in the NFL. That's a long time to be doing it. He's obviously been a part of a lot of successful defenses. There's some similarities to what he was doing when he was in Pittsburgh."
Has Jurrell Casey been one of the more disruptive inside guys you have faced this year?
"Yeah. He's talented. He's really good. It's going to be a good test for us, right there in the middle. He's not only good against the run, he's good at rushing the passer too."
Did you breath a huge sigh of relief when you found out A.J. Green was not going to be suspended?
"I'm glad he's still going to be here this week. You don't want to lose a guy like that."
You guys had the same 3-5 record in 2012 as you do now, and that year you went on that run to make the playoffs. Do you draw from that experience at all?
"You can look at what's happened before. The biggest thing we have to worry about is just worrying about this week. And that's the mentality you have to take. You can't do anything unless you win this week. This is an important game for us. That's the goal."
Was there anything that you remember from that year that can help you out for the rest of this season?
"You stack games on top of each other. You get a win, you get another win, you get that momentum going, you play well, and that's what it comes down to. This is the time of the year that you have to be at your best."
Besides yourself and A.J. Green, who else from that team is still here?
"Clint Boling was on that team. Obviously there were some defensive guys, Vontaze Burfict, (Adam Jones), Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins. There's a good amount of people that were part of that one."
How have you received some of A.J. Green's frustration?
"When we go and look at what we need to do better, I feel like we need to spread the ball around. We need to get our guys involved, and A.J. is a big part of that. It's not like we don't want to throw it to him."
In wanting to spread the ball around more, and also having the fewest plays in the Marvin Lewis era last week, do you feel like you have enough time to make those plays?
"Yeah. It's getting different guys involved and doing different things. Whatever it takes to win is what we are trying to do. Obviously, last week, when you're going three-and-out, four-and-out, or whatever it may be, then they're having long drives and it's going to limit the amount of plays you're going to have. We have to be effective early on in our early-down situations. That will allow us to do more and get more people involved."
Are you considering altering the play calling to take pressure off the offensive line?
"There's different things that we can do. At the end of the day, we need to execute. That's what it comes down to."
It must be tough to see Jake Fisher go down ...
"Yeah, it's a tough situation. I don't know the full details of everything that he's dealing with. At the end of the day, you have to get healthy. You have to worry about that in the long run. He's doing everything he can to do that."