Initial comments:** ML: "Let me begin with this: Sunday at the game here, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Freestore Foodbank once again partner for the annual Meijer Canned Food Drive. They will be collecting the cans outside the gates, as well as any monetary donation. Gates open at 11:30 a.m. Last year almost 8,000 pounds of canned food, and almost $17,000 in cash was raised. That enables them to distribute almost 40,000 meals prior to Thanksgiving and Christmas. We're asking the fans, as you come to the game, to help the Freestore Foodbank in their collection.
"The Cleveland Browns are playing good football. They've won the last two times out. Jason Campbell has done a fine job for them at quarterback, being efficient with the football. He hasn't thrown an interception yet, and is leading them offensively. They're really doing a good job. They've got good skill guys, physical guys. The tight end, Jordan Cameron, continues to play very, very well, and we've got our work cut out for us defensively. On the other side, their defense is one of the best in the league, with sacking the quarterback 30 times already this year. They pressure, and play a lot of man-to-man, with one of the best secondaries going in football, one that doesn't get the attention that they probably should. But they're playing very well."
Is Joe Haden the best cornerback in the division right now?
ML: "He's playing very well. I hate to compare people, but he's very good. He's been that way, in my opinion, since he came here as a rookie. He's got great speed, length, he's not afraid. He just keeps playing. He has all the qualities of great cornerbacks."
Is he a shutdown guy?
ML: "I don't know what a shutdown corner is (laughs). He's pretty good."
It seems like they have a pretty good tandem of safeties too:
ML: "Yeah, I think T.J. Ward has done outstanding. Their guys play well. They're fun to watch on tape, very similar to what we faced a couple years ago with Seattle. Similar styles, with the athleticism they show throughout their group, and their ability to really get after you and make you work really hard."
Do you notice any improvement or difference in their run game since the first meeting?
ML: "They haven't been as productive, I'm sure, as they like in the run game, but you've got to be gap-sound against them. They have a good blocking offensive line, and they have physical wideouts. We've got to be gap-sound. We let one run get out up there in the first game. We've got to do a good job staying on our feet, and attacking and playing our gaps."
Does Jason Campbell present a different dimension than Brian Hoyer or Brandon Weeden?
ML: "Well, we didn't defend Hoyer very well. They beat us. With Jason Campbell, what has impressed me is his ability to move in the pocket and extend the play a bit, get the ball to the receiver and make the first down. That's what you want from your quarterback, like what Rich Gannon used to do. He's very impressive that way."
Cleveland leads the league on fourth-down attempts with 19:
ML: "Are we close? (laughs)
You are now:
ML: "I think we are even ahead of them in the percentage, but anyway, yeah, they have. At times weather conditions and things like that play into your fourth-down decisions, or make it times two. But they have, at least the game they were playing, when we were off. Another time was maybe the Thursday night game they (TV broadcast) were making note of that. But under Chud (Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski), they've been aggressive on fourth down."
What's it say about your defense that new guys come in, and the level of play doesn't fall off?
ML: "There's a high standard, and we just have to keep it up. For the most part, we've been able to put guys in that have been here, and they understand. They've been coached. They've taken to the coaching, and they're going out and performing. We've got to keep that up. That's important. You can never spit that bit. We've got to keep doing it, keep reinforcing it throughout. At the end of the day, the object is to win the football game. We've got to be able to close the game out. The last two weeks, we didn't close the game out. We had opportunities to win the game defensively, we've got to do that in the fourth quarter and in overtime. We've got to be able to get that done, and not have a mental lapse, or an error or breakdown that gives the other team an opportunity to score and beat us."
Are you happy with the production of your run game?
ML: "I'm probably never going to be completely satisfied with it, but I will tell you we've played some groups that are playing the run pretty well. I think we've run for almost 300 yards the last two weeks, which is good, but are we happy? No. We can do better. We can do more, and we keep pushing our guys in that. We keep pointing those things out, that if we take care of this and take care of that, it's going to give us more, and why more is important. We can't be satisfied with that. We can do better. We've got to keep pushing hard to do better."
Cleveland's M.O. is loading the box and forcing you to throw:
ML: "They have really have done a lot of that over the last two, three weeks. They've really challenged you that they can get up there, and take the run away. You've got to battle against them. It's going to be a physical match again, a slugfest."
Since the last time you faced them, have they been more aggressive in rushing the passer?
ML: "I think it's been about the same throughout. I think (Barkevious) Mingo continues to come into his own, which is not good for us. He's been the prospect everyone, and we, thought he would be. The guys are settling in and understanding what they want to do defensively."
Jabaal Sheard and Quentin Groves didn't play first game. How big of a difference are they?
ML: "Well, Groves is out, but Sheard makes a difference. But they can only put 11 of them out there. For them, they've got a lot of depth. If Sheard is out there, that means Mingo isn't. There are so many spots for them to put these guys, but they've got some good quality there and depth, and Groves has given them great snaps, too."
What's it mean to this division that both you and the Browns are playing well, and that this late in the season there's something still on the line for both teams? It hasn't happened in a while.
ML: "Well, I don't want to help them. I've just got to worry about us. That's the important thing, that every time we come out here, it means something. Hopefully we've built to that, where every game means another opportunity down the line. That's what's important. That's what everybody strives for."
With the game Vinny Rey had, how much does that help other guys that are waiting for an opportunity?
ML: "More important is the coaching point of it: If you know what to do and how to do it, you have an opportunity to be productive. To the finer points of what Vinny Rey did on Sunday, he did things exactly the way he was coached to do it. He's been listening and intent as he is on fine points of things, and it pays off. That's what you want to have all the time for the production to come from that spot. He's playing where Vontaze (Burfict) normally plays, and so he gets the production and Vontaze doesn't get quite as much."
How would you gameplan against A.J.Green, and what makes him so good?
ML: "I think what makes A.J. good is the fact he's got a big radius, and his ability to adjust to the football in the air. He makes the unconventional type of play so often. Those are the things that make him special. And he lines up at different places. If you are looking from a defensive standpoint, that is a little harder. A guy that is always out here -- always weak side or always strong side -- at least you have an idea where he is and where he's going to be most of the time. The fact A.J. has been able to move to different spots makes that a little difficult, looking at it from the defensive point."
Is this as good a stretch as you've seen a receiver have?
ML: "He's got a lot more in him. We need him to keep playing better and better and better and better. He's, if not our best player, one of our best players. He's got to play great. We've got to keep pushing him to play great. When it is not his day, the other guys have got to play even better. If you go back to where we were when I sat in this room after the Cleveland game the first time, my point was that the other guys need to raise their level. And they did, and you started writing about all that (laughs). So, we need to get back to that. They need to raise their level.
When those guys took off, then he took off:
ML: "I told you, that's what happens. It's amazing how that happens. As Si (a character on Duck Dynasty) told me, I'm not as dumb as I look (laughs)."
So when conventional wisdom said Green was in a slump, everybody else elevated?
ML: "Exactly. Not elevated, just got to their spots. Vinny Rey. They were Vinny Rey. That's what you have to do. Literally, that's what you have to do. People talk about tight ends and receivers and everything. Well, there is only one football. So, we've got to get the ball where the ball should go, and we've got to get it there in timely fashion. When you are at that point, we've got to make the play. If you drop five balls, it takes away opportunity for others – whether it be for yourself, or for others down the line, because you are over there standing beside me, and the defense is out there."
What lessons were learned from the last matchup up in Cleveland that you can apply to this one?** AD: "We've got to start fast. That's something we really didn't do, and for this team it's not that we're not playing hard, it's just that a couple things didn't go our way. We've got to make some big plays, tough catches, make guys miss in the run game. They're a good defense, and we have to be at our best."
Is this a must win?
AD: "It's a big game for us just because of what has happened the past couple weeks. We're still in good position in the division, and it's a division game. We've got to do whatever we can to get a win."
Last time after you faced Cleveland, there was a lot of talk about run/pass ratio. Are you guys in a similar situation now?
AD: "I don't think so. We're going to try to do whatever we can to be successful. If we get some good looks to run the ball, we're going to run it. If we get some good looks to throw the ball, we're going to throw it. It depends on the flow of the game and what looks we're getting."
In last game against Baltimore, they put seven in the box. Do you anticipate the same type of thing this week?
AD: "That's kind of how they've been the whole year. They've been dropping safeties in the box and putting more than you have to block. They're making the run game tough. That's why you have to win some of these one-on-one battles. There are a lot out there. We've got to win these matchups."
Any reason why you're getting off to such slow starts?
AD: "There's not one thing. We have to come out and be consistent, and make some plays early in the game. There hasn't been one reason why we haven't."
Can you put your finger on why your numbers have slipped from such a strong October?
AD: "I don't think there's one thing that's stopped what we've been doing. We just have to make more plays. I have to be better, and make more accurate throws and give our guys more of a chance to make plays."
Looking back at the tape of the Baltimore game and your interceptions, was it bad decisions, the wind?
AD: "There's a couple of them where I saw something different than the way it was run. I have to make better throws."
Is Joe Haden toughest corner you have faced in the division?
AD: "He's really good and does good things. He sits on some routes. He's a guy that has been playing really well."
Does the way he plays A.J. dictate how the other guys are covered?
AD: "The way they play, there are a lot of one-on-ones. We have to win those matchups. We have to get our right depths on routes and be in the right spots."
Did you target him so much in the first game because of the one-on-one coverage?
AD: "Yeah, for A.J., we try to find different ways to get him the ball, and when we have chances, we're going to try to get it to him. You've got to make a decision when you have everybody one-on-one who you're going to throw to, and it comes down to our game plan and what we're going to try to do."
Against the Dolphins you converted a lot of third-and-longs, against the Ravens you had a lot of third-and-longs and failed to convert. You'd like to stay away from those as much as you can:
AD: "Right. When you're in third-and-long, it makes it tough. That's when you can get a lot of different looks. Like you said, against the Dolphins, we were able to convert quite a bit of them, and last week we weren't. So, if you can be in a third-and-short situation, it makes picking up first downs a lot easier."
Have you seen a lot of growth and expansion in what Cleveland is doing defensively?
AD: "They're obviously doing a lot of the same stuff. You can see some of the different looks that they're trying to show. They're a team that plays hard. We've got to come out, and we've got to be at our best, and match the intensity and come out and be physical. This is a big game for us at home."
Are they more aggressive blitzing since the first time you played them?
AD: "They're not a huge blitz team. It's just they get pressure with the guys up front, and they put a lot of guys in the box and try to do things to disrupt."
This was the first time you had thrown three interceptions in back-to-back games. Where do you think you are in terms of ball protection?
AD: "I've got to do a better job of not turning the ball over, and that's what it comes down to. You've got to understand when you can take your chances and when you can't. That's something I've got to do a better job of."
Ray Horton comes from the Dick LeBeau tree. Do you see similarities between the two of them?
AD: "There are some similarities. He kind of has his way of doing things. There is some stuff that's the same but he's kind of doing his own thing."
Is this one of the best tandems of safeties you've seen this year?
AD: "They're pretty good in the back end. They do some stuff with the positioning, putting them in good spots to make plays, and they've done a good job of it."
With a Hail Mary, is there more to it for the quarterback than just waiting for the scrum to form and aiming for it?
AD: "You try to buy as much time as you can, because guys have got to get down the field. You get as much time as you can back there, and throw it up and try to get it in the right spot where guys can at least make a play on it. Fortunately for us, we were able to do that on Sunday."
The Ravens only rushed three on that play. Did you feel you had a pretty good chance on your end?
AD: "Yeah. At that point, you just want as much protection, as much time as you can get. For them, it wasn't a heavy rush with what they were doing. I had enough time to get enough into it."
Are you surprised more teams don't rush more guys on a Hail Mary so there's not enough time for the scrum to form?
AD: "I don't know. It's all different. You need guys down there to make a play, and just in case you do make one of the guys miss there, and you've got a chance to throw it, you've got more guys down the field to make a play on it. So it just kind of depends."