Initial comments ...
"Going back and reviewing the football game yesterday, the positives were that the offense took care of the football, which was a key element in the game. We didn't get any takeaways, but were able to control field position all but once, which was good. We did allow the 90-yard drive, but for the most part, we were able to maintain field position. We would like to score touchdowns there rather than the field goals early on. We need to continue to make sure we execute the plays that are called and get the ball in the end zone. Another positive was running the football in the fourth quarter when we needed to. Andy made good decisions for most of the day, as he has done. It's good that we keep protecting the football that way."
You were talking after the game yesterday about wanting to see the block-in-the-back call on the nullified punt return. After reviewing it, what did you think?
"What did you think?"
I thought it was questionable ...
"Yeah, I don't think it was a block in the back at all, unfortunately."
Should that make Adam Jones feel better?
"That's good. We need things to make Adam feel better (laughs)."
You have to be happy to come away with the win rather than that four-point swing make a difference ...
"Yeah. And it was a big day for Adam, and he made a big play. Cethan (Bengals H-back Cethan Carter) was so productive throughout the day on special teams, and it's a shame that that clouded it yesterday."
Is there anything you say to Carter after that?
"'You can't put your hands on a guy's back,' which, in this case he didn't."
Some of the defensive players were upset with themselves postgame. They were admitting either that their energy wasn't good or that they shouldn't have allowed certain drives. I would imagine, immediately after a win, you like that your guys are being a little self-critical, right?
"Yeah, there are things we needed to do differently. They are addressing those things right now. But, yes, there were things that they can do a better job of, consistently, together. That is important with the stretch of games we have, and obviously with the game we have this week."
You guys were able to run the football with regularity in the fourth quarter, don't you think?
"Yes, obviously it was Joe's (Bengals HB Joe Mixon) largest output of the season. There were a lot of good things from him. He just has to continue to grow as a young player. But, it was a good day. I thought the the interior of our offensive line did a nice job yesterday. It was tough sledding in there against those big guys they have, particularly Shelton (Browns DL Danny Shelton), but we did a good job."
The Browns were bringing more pressure, and you guys had blitz pickups ...
"Yeah, they had been doing that, and I thought Joe (Mixon) and Gio (Bengals HB Giovani Bernard) did an excellent job. It's really important to sort out (blitzes), get on the right people, and then block them. It was really a big day — a great day by Gio and that pack."
Vontaze Burfict had the personal foul call early in the game. What was your take on that?
"It was a legal play."
Is that another situation where a referee is just looking for stuff?
"I don't know that. It is unfortunate, though. That's perfectly (legal). The guy is running at four (yards beyond the line of scrimmage), sees Vontaze running, alters to three, Vontaze hits him with the shoulder on the shoulder. That's a legal football (play). The quarterback was in the pocket. Now, the quarterback then left the pocket — whether or not the referee deemed that (to be the reason), I don't know. It's unfortunate to have that penalty, because that led to the field (goal) position from there."
So, it would change to an illegal play if the ball was out or the quarterback was out of the pocket?
"Well, if the ball was out and it's on the other side of the field. That's all judgement, the other part. (The intention of) the rule is that the receiver has the protection not to be hit in the head or by a head in the shoulder area, which he (Burfict) doesn't do."
What do you tell the players then? How do you coach it?
"I'm not going to sit here and explain anything more, OK?"
Is there a way to address that after the season, since you're on the competition committee?
"That's not my role on the competition committee."
Right, but is there a way for coaches to address this type of thing rather than just sending film in?
"Yes, I think there is, probably. Likely (laughs)."
On that Jabrill Peppers play, where he was called for unnecessary roughness on a catch by WR Josh Malone, it seemed like such a bang-bang play. How hard was it for the officials to make that call, and what was your take on it?
"My take on it is that there were still pictures of it that showed the helmet being hit — helmet-to-helmet (contact) — which is unfortunately the rule. It used to be a good football play, but it's no longer a good football play. Jabrill has to come over and try to dislodge the ball from the receiver by keeping his hat out of it. That's the way the rules are intended now. That's part of playing defensive back in this era."
So you're almost telling the defender, 'Too Bad,' even when he hits him in the chest and his helmet ricochets up to the opposing player's helmet?
"The onus is on you (as a defender), as we well know."
It seemed like Josh Malone made a heck of a play…
"His other arm was being grabbed and pinned backwards, so he literally caught it with one arm and one hand. And then the hit came, which dislodged the ball when he hit the ground."
That play came on third down late in the fourth quarter, as you guys were protecting a lead. Does that say something about Josh Malone, and Andy Dalton's trust in him, that he would get the ball thrown to him in that situation?
"It does. We've had to, and we are, leaning on these young guys and getting positive plays from them, and we have to keep it up. They're important to us. They're big parts of (the offense), particularly with the vertical speed they have."
When the Browns cut the lead to seven points, you seemed to go on an attacking drive, rather than just running down the clock. Is there a message that comes with that?
"It was a football game where you want to keep the ball. That's the intent of the drive, to run out the last five minutes or whatever, which is what went through my mind. We've seen that happen, where we're able to drive the rest of the time off the clock, force them to call their time outs, and then send them in on fourth down where you don't even have to score. It was a great job by the offense, started by the screen, and then with moving the ball on the runs. And then the third down came, and we made the play down there and were able to run it from there.
In the run game, you've played a few games now with the same offensive line throughout — earlier in the year, there were rotations with that group — and Joe Mixon as the starting HB. Are you starting to see the cohesion with the offensive line and Mixon as they get more time together?
"That's the thing you want to have — and we need to continue to get better with this — but I've come in here too many times and told you, 'Well, it was one player here and one player there. It was a look. It was this, it was that. We have to continue to pair our things, tighten our focus, and eliminate those kind of 'what ifs,' or whatever is tripping us up. We've got to understand that and continue the identification together up front. You're always going to have a couple of those things, and we had a couple. Their timing of things was good a couple of times. Our guys did a nice job a couple times with it, and so did the quarterback. That's part of playing that cat-and-mouse part of the game. We have to continue to do it. When we're at home, we have an opportunity to use the cadence and things that way to our advantage."
After a slow start to the season, are you pleased with how your team has weathered the storm to still have a chance of making the playoffs?
"I am pleased. They continue to grow together. We play and work, and that's what their job is to do. The execution of it continues to stay on the uptick. We need to get all three phases to execute that way week in and week out. That's asking for a perfect world, but that's what we do as coaches all the time, which is that we want that perfect world. Otherwise, they don't need us."
It sets up for an exciting week this week, with a Monday night home game against Pittsburgh coming up…
"It's an exciting time. It's Monday Night Football, and obviously it's an important game. It's a division rival, they're leading the division, and they're on top of the AFC as well. So it's a big football game. As I said yesterday, we don't get those second chances. We've got to get it done."
When looking at the Steelers, are they playing as well now as they have all season?
"They're playing very well, yes. Their young guys and new guys have settled now as well. It seemed like it's been longer since we've played them, until I looked at the games between our first game against them and this game, which is not as many as expected."
You said there's only a few people who have made catches like what A.J. Green made yesterday. But Steelers WR Antonio Brown has made a couple that are close, right?
"His extension is not going to be quite as great, but his feet are just as good. But (Brown) is a great football player. The things that he does, and a couple of moves like he made last night — he's impressive. We know how good of a player he is week in and week out."