BENGALS LOCKER ROOM QUOTES – MONDAY, DECEMBER 29, 2014
You are returning to Indianapolis, where the team was shut out 27-0 earlier this season. What do you need to do as a defense to shut down Andrew Luck and the Colts this time around?
"Last time they came out with good energy. They came out real intense – the fans were behind them. For us and any team, when you play on the road, you want to come out early with energy to get their fans out of it. After that, it just turns into a football game and it's kind of the best team wins most of the time. Obviously, we're going to have to try to come out there and stop the run first and foremost and then limit the big throws so hopefully we put our team in a good position to come out with a big victory."
In past years, the team – either on offense, defense or special teams – would give up a big play and then struggle to recover. This year, the team has not had that problem, at least on defense. What will be the key in doing that should it happen against the Colts?
"(The key will be) positive reinforcement -- guys bonding, staying together, having each other's backs, because if things hit the fan, we can't guard each others' necks. We've already got the other team going at our necks and we can't have teammates going at each others' necks. I think we've done a good job this year, especially late in the season, of when things don't go the way we want, we just rally behind each other and go out there together as a team and stick together. It's made things a lot better."
As one of the younger players being thrust into a larger role on defense, how would you say the team has matured?
"We have a lot of the same guys back and we have a few rookies, but the core of our guys has been here for 2-3 years in this system so it's gotten to the point where (Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther) can put in variations of our defense every week, or even in a day, and guys can pick it up. Guys just have great chemistry out there. We're in the same system as (former Defensive Coordinator and current Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Mike) Zimmer ran and we've probably picked up the same terminology for the most part. Being able to be in the system for 2-3 years, we have veterans – we have young guys that have been in it for quite some time, too – and that's helped their learning curve."
What is the main thing you are concentrating on as you approach this game?
"This week in practice, I have to focus in on the little things. In the playoffs, it's the little things that separate you, maybe a step here, or tackling – things like that will be important. For me, personally, I obviously just have to focus on the fundamentals, the things that got us to this point. We have to focus on those things from training camp to now in practice, so when we come out for the game, we can be sharp and crisp because late in the season, some of those fundamentals can start to dissipate. Guys are out there just playing on talent alone and we've got to get back to the fundamentals. That's how you win football games."
What unique challenges do Colts quarterback Andrew Luck present this defense?
"You have to play all four quarters with him. He's one of the best quarterbacks when it comes to that. He's a gunslinger, good, bad or whatever – he's always capable of making big plays. We're going to have our hands full as we know. I'm excited for the challenge."
What will be the key to suppressing Andrew Luck on Sunday?
"Suppressing Andrew Luck is going to be kind of hard. He always starts off kind of slow and the scary thing is, he can always get his team going. The key for us as a secondary is not giving up deep balls and we've given up a couple of those the last couple of games. So we've really got to focus on staying deep and not letting things get behind us."
As a veteran leader in the secondary, what have you shared with the younger guys like Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard to help them in handling giving up those big plays, so they can refocus and get ready for the next snap?
"You just have to have a short-term memory. I think they know that. I think they've played cornerback their entire life, so as a corner you have to have a short-term memory because if you keep letting a big play linger in your mind, it isn't going to work out for you the next couple of plays. I think they've already got that part built inside them and we've just got to keep communicating with the young guys because at any moment, as you can see, we need everyone. Dre started this week and Darqueze played a little nickel, so we're going to need everybody. I think they've been doing a good job communicating with us when they get in the game and I think that's the key."
What were some of the problems you identified in the first meeting with Indianapolis that, as a team, you are looking to fix this time around?
"Man, there were a lot of problems (laughs)." We got beat and they got the best of us, so it's always good going back to a stadium, back to the scene of the crime. We just have to come out and play hard-nosed football. It's going to start with our defensive line and trickle on down to the linebackers and the secondary. As long as our D-line comes to play, it's going to be a good game."
A lot has been made of this team's struggles in the playoffs and games on a national stage in general … What would a win mean to you this weekend?
"It would mean a lot. It would mean a lot to this organization and everybody. Of course, we want to bring something back to this city. The city wants to finally see us win a playoff game. I mean, it's been three years under this current (regime) and people say it doesn't bother them, but you've got to think about that. We just have to put that chip on our shoulder and go out there like 'We're not going to be denied this game' and play hard-nosed ball."
Do you have any issue with how some people tried to imply you made a less-than-legal tackle on Le'Veon Bell in last night's game at Pittsburgh -- in regard to your reputation?
"Everybody who knows Reggie Nelson knows Reggie Nelson. It just seemed more than what it was, but it's not. I have nothing but respect for Steelers (Head) Coach Mike Tomlin and that's it.
Was it surreal to be caught in that situation after the game with Coach Tomlin?
"There really wasn't a situation. I just asked a question and that was pretty much it. That's the end of that. I have nothing but respect for Coach Tomlin. The Steelers have a great organization over there and a great head coach, and I just wish them the best in the postseason."
What will be the key to getting the offense back on track after the previous struggle against the Colts?
"I think offensively, we are a different team right now than we were when we played them the first time. We've been doing some good things running the ball that hopefully we can carry into this week."
There have been injuries along the offensive line with guys shuffling around and, as is the case with any quarterback, when Andy Dalton is well-protected, he tends to make better plays. What will be key in stopping the pass rush that had him under seemingly constant pressure in the previous meeting with the Colts?
"You know, we did have some issues when we were there last time keeping Andy upright. That's going to be a huge emphasis this week. I know we let some pressures through last night against Pittsburgh. They've got some good rushers and we've just got to give Andy the time he needs."
As a lineman, how does the pace of the game dictate how the plays are called?
"All offensive linemen tend to think the same: They just want to do their job and that's kind of how we're coached. We don't worry about what the receivers or quarterback are doing. We just do our best. We have to get our guy blocked so the next guy can do his job and that's what we try to do every play."
This is the fourth straight year of making the playoffs and the team has not won a playoff game in many years. How do you guys keep any concern from creeping into the locker room that the team will falter as it has in previous years?
"Winning would be getting a huge monkey off this team's back for every year that they've been to the playoffs. I was fortunate enough to go to the Super Bowl with the Colts, so I know what it feels like to win in the postseason, so I've just been trying to echo that throughout the team. You've just got to get through this first week – that's the biggest hump and then you get that taste in your mouth (of success) and it snowballs from there."
You've been a member of the Colts organization – what insight about them do you have that you can share with your team in preparation this week?
"The organization is completely different from when I was there. Really the only person that is still there is the owner (Jim Irsay), and a couple of players. But the Colts do it their way. They're a very professional organization. They're not going to make too many mistakes and to beat them, you have to be on your Ps and Qs, and you can't make mistakes like we did last night."
What unique challenges do the Colts present that you have to be prepared for as a team to be successful Sunday?
"They give you a lot of different looks up front and they challenge you to run the ball. That kind of hindered us the last time we played them, but like I said, we're a different running team now and I think we're up to that challenge."
How do you see your role fitting into the team's success this Sunday given the injuries at the tight end position?
" I don't really know – I just try to go out and do what the coach says. Obviously, we've got a shortage of tight ends right now with a couple of guys being hurt and Jermaine (Gresham) having some nicks and bruises. I just try to step up when they ask me to."
The offense has had great success followed by some less-than-stellar showings … What is leading to the up –and-down nature? Is that something you have talked about?
"It's something we know about, but I don't know why it's been that way. If I knew, I think we'd have an answer for it. I don't think anyone necessarily knows why we sometimes can't seem to get things going, but it's something we've been able to get rid of lately and we need to maintain that. We've got to be able to get clicking and firing on all cylinders as these playoffs games get going."
Have you guys talked about working on keeping Andy away from so much pressure as he was under in the previous meeting against the Colts and as he was against the Steelers this past game?
"Absolutely, a point of emphasis for the offense is keeping the quarterback clean -- when he's able to go through his reads and progressions and hit the open receiver, and step up and make throws. So it's absolutely a point of emphasis and it's something we aspire to do: Keeping him clean every game."
How do you guys avoid having a change in the team's focus after a turnover is committed that has seemingly been a problem at times?
"Just don't turn the ball over."
You played with Andrew Luck in college at Stanford … What makes him such a good quarterback?
"We're just going to have to pressure him. We're going to have to get after him. Just like any other quarterback, he does a lot better when there's not guys in his face, so we're going to have to get after him.
"What makes him special? It's just his work ethic. Obviously, he's got all the physical tools. When you add his work ethic to his physical tools, I think that's what makes him so special."
What unique challenges does Andrew Luck present for this defense?
"He's an elite quarterback. He can make all the throws and he can read defenses pretty well, so we have to do a good job of executing and not allowing him to have the big plays."
The Colts have been trying incorporate the run into their offense more as of late … Will focusing on that be a key versus stopping Luck from going deep – what is the key?
"Andrew Luck is obviously the key of the offense. We can't let him get going or let him get in rhythm."
This year, it seems as if the Bengals defense has set the tone in certain games buy recovering after a bad series, bending but not breaking. What have you, as a defense, talked about that's led to so much success?
"Keeping control. Just take care of our business and letting everything else take care of itself. If they don't score on us, they can't win … If they get in field goal range, all they get is a field goal."
You're starting to get more double and triple-teamed at times this season. How have you fought through to remain productive?
"Studying tape, knowing the situation and trying to be an impact player that my teammates need."
What would a playoff win mean to you?
"A lot more than the (AFC North division championship) that we lost yesterday."
If you had to put a finger on why this team has trouble in prime-time games, what would it be?
"We didn't show up to play. We didn't play good enough to win. That's the reason we didn't win those games. It's not because of the time. We didn't perform like we were supposed to perform. When we perform like we can, all on the same page, we can beat teams like Denver. You see the flipside of it (when we don't); we've just got to make sure we come to play on Sunday."
What has to change on offense for you to have success this time vs. the Colts that did not happen against them earlier this season?
"Honestly, I think the greatest part about this time of year is none of that matters; them beating us last time and as good as they were, it doesn't get them a win this time and it doesn't give us a loss. We have a clean slate with an opportunity to go up there and make it right. We felt like it was a bad week for us and we feel like we have a new identity in running the ball and being a physical football team and that's what it's going to take to go up there and win."
How do you put the past years' playoff woes aside to stay focused on the current task at hand?
"You know, honestly, I think it's a great opportunity for us – we've had a heck of a month with a lot of challenging games and a lot of pressure. The biggest difference is this year, I think we've ended the season with the four biggest games we could play in, and two of the teams being in the playoffs – playing one of them twice and playing Denver and Cleveland – I think we're much more battle-tested right now. We've kind of been through it, whereas in past years, we had it wrapped with maybe only one game (of note) to win. This month, we really had to buckle down and make our way in. I think this team's ready for that. We've played in big games and played two night games in a row, so I think this team is ready for that big stage. I think we're much more prepared this year than we have been in years past."
What challenges does Indianapolis present that you need to correct this time out?
"One thing I think is that their defense has been good all year on third downs. If you get in third-and-long against them, they bring a lot of exotic, different looks with twists and packages, and that was really the key that day. We didn't run the football, we threw it a whole lot and didn't seem to make much ground with it and we kept getting ourselves in third-and-eight or more. Anytime you do that against any NFL defense, you're going to have a long day, but that one especially."
Some people have said this team has a hard time recovering from a turnover or a missed opportunity during games … How hard is it to keep those types of thoughts from creeping into the locker room and becoming distractions?
"It's just to encourage guys to continue to be confident. It's really about finding guys in the locker room who you think may or may not be struggling with that, and reminding them how good they are and what they can do and what we can do as a group together. We all have to be in on the same page and that's why you don't ever want to make it about one guy. Truth is, it's a group thing and we succeed or fail as a group no matter what, and at the end of the day, it doesn't matter who makes the play or what they do, somebody else helped them be in that situation. Don't just put it all on you and the pressure that's being put on you – the truth is, it's all of us. We all have to play."
How do you make sure that the offense stays on task this week and doesn't suffer the letdowns that have been known to happen in the past?
"It's really about encouraging everyone, especially this time of year, about 'What are you willing to invest?' Time after practice, time before, in the film room – find what it is you need to clean up and find what it is that you're doing well and can do even better. Encourage guys to be their own best self-critics, to really take this time of year and say (individually) 'What am I willing to give to play another week of football?' That's what the playoffs are. It's not 'Oh, I'm going to win this one game and go to the Super Bowl.' It's a journey. You have to be willing to take the next step every week."
What has to be different this time vs. Indianapolis that didn't happen earlier this season?
"It's a fresh start this time. We have to go in there – it's going to be an outstanding environment. It's going to be tough, it's going to be loud and it's going to be quite an experience. But we have to make sure we execute our game plan this time, come with a physical approach and let the cards lay where they lay … I'm not going to underestimate them in any shape or form. We've got to have a good week of practice and we've got to be ready for a fight."
Do you feel going back to Indianapolis could be advantageous in any way, given what happened earlier this season?
"A home playoff game is what you always want. It's great to get another game in your stadium, but it is what it is. We're going into a hostile environment and in no way do I think it's an advantage. Indy's a very tough place to play."
What has keyed the running game's success as of late and how will you keep it going against the Colts?
"I think we just always wanted that to be our identity and we just started sticking with it … I definitely don't mind. I'd like to stay with that."
How do you guys keep the naysayers from affecting you guys as you prepare for another big game on the national stage?
"I think it all comes down to realizing that in all the past playoff games we've gone against good teams with good players and big plays have happened here and there, and you can't get down from that. This is a new year and a new team and you have to cancel out the noise and it's like every other answer I've given: We've got to take care of our business and get ready to go. We can't think about the past or the what-ifs and mistakes; that's just going to drag you down. We just have to go and do what we need to do."
You're a veteran who's played against a lot of great quarterbacks … What is the key to keeping Andrew Luck from having a big day Sunday?
"Obviously, if you get pressure on the quarterback, it helps. But we have to be tight in coverage and defend their receivers. From the wide receiver standpoint to the tight ends to the backs, everybody in that offense pretty much touches the ball. We've got to be diligent with coverage and in getting after the quarterback."
The Colts throw a lot. Knowing that, how do you prepare as a secondary? Is there any change in the approach?
"I don't know if they're going to throw it as much as everyone thinks; they run the ball, too. I believe the last time we played them, they had over 150 yards rushing, so it's not like it's a game where you can just say 'Hey, they're (only) going to throw the ball.' You've got to make them one dimensional and use that to your advantage. We know that they are going to try to run the ball as well because that's what helped them have success and win the game last time.
"If you can control the run game, you can control the passing game, and they set that up with play action. We've got to defend the whole football field."
What have you tried to share with the younger players about stepping up on a bigger stage in the playoffs and how does this team stay focused and not let outside naysayers' doubts affect you come Sunday?
"It's no different than any other game. You can't really try to give too much information because that's when guys try to do too much. They understand the magnitude of the game. You win, you're in, you stay in; you lose, you go home – that's basically all you need to know. There's been a lot of people who've made it to the playoffs, but not a lot that can say they've gotten a playoff win.
"I think a lot of people understand the magnitude of it. Whitworth talked last night after the game and basically, what he said was 'Records don't matter. What you've done to this point doesn't matter; from here forward, what you do matters.' I don't think I could put it any better way than that. A lot of people have been in the position where they made it to the playoffs, but they've been one-and-done. We've got the chance to do what we want to do and it's up to us.
"You can go up and down the list of teams in this league – there's been a streak where a team hasn't won a playoff game. I came from Dallas and their streak … It's a simple question to answer."
How, if at all, will losing the AFC North division title last night against Pittsburgh affect the team's preparation for Indianapolis?
"Last game is last game. The players know what we have in front of us, and we're just focused on getting that victory."
Your role is increasing in the offense, given the injuries at the tight end position … What do you feel is key for you to focus on to contribute to the team's success against Indianapolis?
"I just have to continue to be a person that the team can count on. There are some needs that need to be filled and they've asked me to do some things. I just have to continue to prepare and know what I have to do when the time comes."
How does this team keep its focus to remember what it has done in its landmark victories this weekend as opposed to the team that lost to the Colts earlier this season?
"We've just got to do the things that made us successful. We've got numerous accounts of that on tape and we have to continue to get better and continue to keep working on the things to get better."
What has to be different this time around for you to win?
"We have to sustain some drives. I don't think the last time we played them that we sustained any drives throughout the course of the game and we really couldn't get ourselves off the ground. Converting plays on third down and putting ourselves in third-and-manageable is key. I think any time you try to re-invent the wheel, you get yourself in trouble. We have a pretty good idea of what we need to get better on."