Opening comments ...
"Minnesota started the season 2-2 and then won eight games, until last week's game. Over that time, the quarterback has really done a great job of taking care of the ball. He's running the offense well, and they're pretty balanced. (Vikings WR) Adam Thielen has had a very fine season, and when Diggs (Vikings WR Stefon Diggs) was out, he kind of picked up the slack. Rudolph (Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph) has had a strong season, and they're doing a good job of moving guys in and out. They're being very productive offensively. They're great at third down, which is keeping drives alive. With the execution and the quarterback, they've done a nice job.
"Conversely, you flip to the other side (of the ball), they're doing a nice job, particularly on third down, which is really keeping the opponents from having the opportunity to drive the field to score. Throughout the football games, as you look at it, they have given up very few explosive plays. Occasionally (they do), but there are very few of them. They're really making you earn everything. They do a great job out there in coverage. Rhodes (Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes) is having a fine season out there at corner. Their safeties are experienced guys — they're really good football players. They're getting a lot of mileage. (Eric Kendricks) inside, the linebacker, is playing really good football."
Defensively, the Vikings are built similarly to the defense here, where their front four gets pressure on the QB. And their two defensive ends — Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter — are playing at a high level this year. What have you seen from them?
"Hunter is big and long. And Everson has power, strength and quickness — he's a fine talent."
When you signed Terence Newman here in 2012, some people thought his age was becoming a factor and that he didn't have many more good years in him. But he played well here, and he's still playing very well up in Minnesota. Are you amazed by that?
"Going back to 2003, when you consider that we were considering Terence with the first pick in the draft — or maybe we move back a little bit — he was that kind of athlete coming out of Kansas State. We were considering him at that spot. It tells you the athleticism, and then the character of the man is so strong, with how he does things. And now, he's moved inside and is playing a little bit of a different role for them. He's doing a nice job."
How much does his character add to his value as a player, particularly when there are younger players in the secondary, like there were when he was here? It seems like he mentored them here, and it sounds like he's done the same up in Minnesota ...
"He's done a nice job of that throughout his career. He's been one of those kinds of guys. He was one of those guys early on, when Dre (Kirkpatrick) was a rookie, to kind of help Dre through the rough spots of getting an opportunity to play. He was really able to relate to that."
With that said, do you think he has a future in coaching?
"I think Terence is smarter than that (laughs). He's been a coach on the field. Obviously he and Mike (Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer) have had a great relationship, so that's great. They brought him back again this year, so it was great for Terence. Terence is great for the building — that was one thing that was so impressive. Obviously he visited here in 2003 (during the pre-draft process), but when he came back in (2012), I was the one who spent the time with him when he came in to visit. And then we signed him. That was a good opportunity to re-connect. It was a good opportunity to get to know him again. And then, to watch him carry himself around here, he was friends with the guy that was the No. 1 draft pick, all the way to the last college free agent that we signed. You would see Terence with his arm around him, mentoring those guys all the time. It was impressive."
Mike Zimmer isn't known for being warm and fuzzy, but players seem to love him. What is it about him that draws players to him like that?
"He's warm and fuzzy to those that are warm and fuzzy to him (laughs). And that means doing what he asks. That's important. He had Terence as a young player, so when Dallas was going a different direction, he raised his name to me. I looked at Terence and thought he still could play, and we were able to work it out."
What do you best remember about Mike Zimmer being here?
"Mike and I have been friends since 1982 or '83. So we've spent a lot of time together — a lot of good times, and a little bit of tough times. I got a chance to spend some time with him a few weeks ago. He's such a great football coach, but he's also been a friend forever. I can remember us being in Hawaii at the Pro Bowl, and Adam (Vikings linebackers coach Adam Zimmer) was a young boy, and we're riding on the bus together to practice for the game. I can't remember which year it was. But Adam was sitting there with us. So we go back, and we have a lot of memories together from a long time ago, let alone the recent ones."
In a league where, when things don't go well, fans want to see change, Zimmer has said that it would be "a tremendous loss" if you weren't with this organization next year. How do you receive that message and hearing him say something like that?
"I guess I owe him a check (laughs). We all realize that when you sign up for these jobs, the thing is it's not forever. I think we all accept that. But that's great. I appreciate that support from Mike. We have a lot of good talks. A few weeks ago, when (the Vikings) were on a bye, I drove down the road (to Zimmer's house in Kentucky) and we spent some time together. But we've spent a lot of time together when we're not doing football. I appreciate his friendship that way. When things don't go well for us, that's all we have is each other — we spend more time (together), we don't spend less time. That's the thing that we all relate to well. I think everybody knows that — any coach that coaches now."
People on the outside sometimes view losing as becoming a part of the way things are now. But, in reality, you as a coach hate losing ...
"We do. You detest losing — it's more than hate. 'Hate' is too easy (laughs)."
How hard have these last couple years been then, since you've lost more than you would've liked?
"It is (hard). That's why you relish it for 10 minutes when you win, and then you move on. But that part feels good (when you win), and it's good a little bit the next day, and then you move on. That's why coaches do it. But we don't remember wins, we remember losses, unfortunately."
Your slogan for the team this year was, 'Run on your own gas.' Is that even more appropriate now, given the circumstances of this season?
"I think it's still very important. It's important for them as professionals and what they do. We've got to go win a game, and we're going to have to play our tails off to win the game. We've got to have great preparation and great focus this week to do it."
Initial comments ...
When looking at the tape of the Vikings defense, is it like looking in a mirror?
"Yeah (laughs). It's similar — it's just Zim (Mike Zimmer) instead of Paulie (Paul Guenther). I feel like it's same kind of stuff we have seen before."
What makes Mike Zimmer's defenses so difficult to play against?
"They play really hard. They've got good players too, and they are really sound at what they do. They have guys that contest a lot of the balls in the pass game, and they have guys that are physical up front in the run game."
It seems like we talk a lot about former coaches. What does that say about the coaches that have come through this system?
"There have been a lot of them top come in here and have success, and then get opportunities in other places. It says a lot of about the type of coaches that we've had here. With the success they we have had, those guys have gotten other opportunities."
Zimmer's team usually play pretty sound with their techniques and very fundamentally sound, right?
"I think that's the big thing that they do. They've had guys that have been around that defense for a while. They know what they're doing, and they're good at it."
What do they do best?
"I think they're physical all over. Even on the back end, they're physical. There's a lot of tight coverage. You have to make those contested catches."
I guess it looks like it's looking at a practice when looking at the tape ...
"It's similar. It's similar to the same style that Paulie (Paul Guenther) does with our defense."
With seeing Vikings DB Terence Newman still out there, what does that look like to you?
"If you look at how long everybody (on the Vikings roster) has been in the league — it's three (years), four, five, and then 15 (laughs). He's been around for a long time. For him to be playing and playing pretty well, that says a lot about the type of guy he is, and how hard he works. Even when he was here, you could tell that he was a guy who could play for as long as he wanted to. Really smart. It doesn't surprise me that he's still going."
After the game on Monday, you guys talked about energy. Is that something as a veteran player to be aware of this week?
"Especially on the road, you got to bring your own energy. For us, it's the expectation. We can't have another game like we had last week. I don't think we should have any problem with that this week."
There's been games where you have been off or A.J. Green has been off. It never has seemed like you both were off at the same time like last week. Did it strike you that way?
"There were just different things that happened in the game. I expect to make more plays and he expects to make more plays, and it didn't happen (last week)."
The double-A gap scheme, something that Mike Zimmer and Paul Guenther pretty much introduced into the league, have you seen enough of it now that it's not as surprising as it once was?
"There's a lot they can do out of it. He's a big reason why that kind of spread around the league. Seeing it so much throughout practice, training camp and OTAs, it definitely makes you more familiar with the different things that can happen."
When you come off a bad game, is there a difference in practice the next week?
"Any time you lose you want to come back that next week and have that extra little bit of motivation focus because you want to turn it around and win the next week. That's where we're at."
Going back to Terence Newman, is that something as players you think about — how long you want to play this game?
"It's part of what you have to think about. How do you know when the time is up, if you can choose when the time is up? That's one of those things where you would like to be in the position where you're the one that makes the decision — (whether) you want to keep playing or not. You definitely think about it. Maybe not early in your career, but as time goes on, you start to think about how long you want to play. Obviously your body can tell you one thing, but as long as you're still into it ..."
What kind of challenges does Zimmer present on third downs?
"The way they play tight coverage, plus some of their blitz schemes that they have — maybe it's some of the double-A stuff that they do — they try to get you off (balance) a little bit and try to confuse you with what they are doing. I think that's a big reason why they've been really successful on third downs."
The Bengals haven't beaten a team with a really good record this year. Is that something you want to do?
"Yeah. For us, you want to win every time you play the game, so you prepare that way. You want to beat good teams. This is going to be a good challenge for us because they're a really good team, and they've been playing at a really high level."