Toys for Tots announcement:** ML: "On Sunday here at the stadium, sponsored by the Bengals and the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, the Toys for Tots collection will take place. I want to remind the fans to bring the unwrapped toys as they enter the stadium for the game against the Colts. Also cash donations will be accepted, as always. Again, just want to remind the fans about the Toys for Tots collection to help out a lot of deserving children."
ML: "It's a big weekend for us, playing the Colts. They're leading their division, so we've got to play great football. They're doing a nice job on offense. They obviously throw the football effectively. The quarterback is playing very efficiently. He's a good athlete. He runs, keeps plays alive and gets the ball down the field, so we have to play very well on defense. Looking at their defense, Robert Mathis is having a great year. He's always been an effective rusher, and we've got to do a great job of taking care of him and winning up front across the board. It's a big day for our lines -- offensive line, defensive line, getting after it."
Why has Mathis been so much better this year?
ML: "I don't know that he's been so much better; he has always been an effective rusher. It's his second season playing in the defense, and he probably understands more of the things they're able to do, and that he's able to do as a rusher. I can't remember last year -- we didn't play them, so whether they were just keeping him on the side."
Is there a different comfort to being 5-0 at home?
ML: "I don't know that. We've got to play good. Our crowd has been great. You enjoy a home-field advantage in the National Football League, and that's a good thing. That's why people come out to the games. That's the thing the NFL tries to encourage as much as we can, that fan involvement. We do all these things to enhance game day so the fans have a great time coming out, regardless of whether it's December weather. It's going to be real football weather in Cincinnati on Sunday, so we have to be ready to take advantage of it, and get after it. It's been great with our fans, and the loud crowd makes a difference."
Kevin Huber was just announced as AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. Talk to his season thus far:
ML: "I thought Kevin did a really nice job for us a year ago, and we're different than some teams. We don't just allow him to bang the ball down the field. We want the ball put in certain spots all the time. Kevin has done an outstanding job of that. He's picked up and done even better than he did a year ago. We know his plus-50 punting is very, very good, and he's been able to get the ball down inside the 10-yard line many times for us. We have a lot of comfort with him and his ability -- everything about him. I think he's probably had one or two bad hits all year. But he's been pretty consistent. The thing we've found with Kevin is he keeps getting better.
How fortunate is it to have Dennis Roland available to you?
ML: "That's the balancing act of the 90-man roster going into training camp, of having enough veteran players to supplement your young guys, your draft picks, your emerging talent, but yet you've got some guys, some veteran players who have been there, part of your system. Dennis was here, not here, back here, and so if you have a guy that's still available, that can come in and be in a position that if you need him in a backup capacity at some point, he's ready to play. You can probably do things, play to his strengths and weaknesses probably more than guys you don't know. You know how the guy's going to react to the situations that come on Sundays. Dennis has done a lot of good things for us, he's a great man. It's good to have him back here."
Chris Crocker has changed roles this year into more of the slot-covering corner. How challenging is it for someone to change roles and how valuable has he been?
ML: "He's valuable because he's an extension, even though he doesn't want to be, and he gets mad if I call him a coach, but he's kind of an extension of us out there on the field, and in the huddle in every way. He brings great discipline to the group as a mentor. He sees the game the way you're supposed to see it, the way you'd like to see it, and he's able to pass that knowledge on to others. He's very helpful to guys like Dre (Kirkpatrick) as they get their careers started and going. He's a great role model for them on how to do things, and he's helped Reggie Nelson's career continue to flourish. And George Iloka now has two years with him. These young guys who are doing good things for us, a lot of the credit goes to Chris and his ability to be part of that room, and part of the defensive football team--the football team in general, and keep pushing us forward."
What makes Andrew Luck such a good quarterback?
ML: "Not a lot of guys get to play within their own system for the time that he's been able to do this, and this is good. He gets his college coordinator there, and I think Pep (Hamilton) has done a great job with their offense, and building the offense around him, which you want to do for a young quarterback. In his case, the verbiage and everything stays the same. The ins and outs of what they're doing, he understands. He has superior physical tools, and obviously great intellect, and he's blessed with a very accurate throwing arm."
You've been played some other quarterbacks: Jay Cutler, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers. Is he the biggest threat to tuck the ball and go?
ML: "He's like Aaron Rodgers. Those other guys you mention aren't quite as fast, but this guy is fast like Aaron Rodgers is. Cutler can run a little bit, but this guy, legitimately like Aaron, can run."
You guys have had a pretty good run of playing some high-caliber quarterbacks this season:
ML: "I said that when the schedule came out. You knew that. I think the only guy we're not playing this year is Drew Brees. There's a lot of guys that have done very well in the NFL, and we've had to face them all this year."
You said Monday that you expect Kevin Zeitler this week. Is he going to practice today?
ML: "I didn't say I expect him to play. I never say I expect anything (laughs). He has a chance to be ready."
Is he going to practice?
ML: "I don't know. We'll see."
Regardless of where Andrew Whitworth plays, it's a pretty good luxury to have Anthony Collins and Mike Pollak coming off the bench. It speaks to your depth, right?
ML: "That's the thing you're always looking for. It's great to have some guys like that. We have some young guys, and we've got some guys with some skins on the wall that are a little more mature than the other guys, but they do have some skins on the wall, and they're second contract guys, and that's good. Playing is important to them, and they know how to play. They can adjust to the game, which is important. Mike Pollak has done a great job. Every chance A.C. gets, he does good for us."
Is Pollak one of these guys that fits right in and is smart?
ML: "He does. He fits right in. I think he was a little shocked when he was injured early on at the last cut down, and he was still here. In his other stops, he had felt like he'd been moved on in some way. I think he was taken by surprise. You're able to get a little more comfortable. Unfortunately in this game, guys get injured, but if we can, we try to be patient with it, and let the playing ability come out. That's why we signed him--for his playing ability. We were able to wait it out for him to get healthy, and it's worked out for us."
How valuable has Tyler Eifert been as a blocker? He's become somewhat of a blocking force for this team:
ML: "That's what we expected. He's not disappointed us and does nothing but keep getting better at it. We know the type of receiver he can be. Jermaine (Gresham) is such a tremendous blocker and has such physical tools. We just don't have enough footballs to make everybody pleased and happy all the time, but our offensive style is different than most. They're not going to get as many opportunities as you look on SportsCenter all the time. We're just different than that. We have some good outside receivers that we get the ball vertically in those situations."
Are you preparing for the final four games in this AFC North type of weather?
ML: "That's how we practiced all of last week (laughs). It's going to be a good Bengal day on Sunday. We're going to get after it in Bengal weather."
You guys seem to rally around it:
ML: "That's part of us. That's part of our toughness. It's just the way we're put together. We say it all the time, when you walk in here, you know you've got to work hard. If you don't work hard, you stand out like a sore thumb. You're going to get cast to the side because you can't hang here. Either get with us or get on. That's the way it's going to be."
You guys are 5-0 at home. Has there been a difference this year?** AD: "Obviously it's easier to play at home. You're not having to worry about crowd noise and things like that. We've got to keep that up. The fans have done a really good job. They've given us that advantage. We really need to use that to our advantage. We've got three of the next four at home. One of our goals going into the season was to win every game at home."
Is there a confidence that comes from winning every game at home, a feeling of invincibility?
AD: "We want to be playing our best, so whatever it takes to do that. Any little thing we can do to help that. The thing with playing at home is you know all the surroundings, you know the timing of everything, and it just comes down to coming out and playing well. We've done that so far, and we've just got to keep it up."
Have you watched Andrew Luck's development at all?
AD: "Yeah, I have. It's fun to follow him. He's done a lot of really good things. He's a guy that's come into a situation where he's following Peyton Manning, and he's done a really good job of making it his own. He's a guy that I knew him a little bit in high school because he's kind of from the same area as me. It's fun to watch his career throughout college and now in the NFL."
Do you get caught up in individual quarterback matchups?
AD: "You want to win regardless of who you're going against. It's fun to get to play against quarterbacks you've watched. So you don't get caught up in it, but it's fun to go against guys, and especially guys that are playing really well."
Do you have in the back of your mind, 'I have to put up this many points,' or 'I have to generate this much offense,' when you're going against a guy that can put up big numbers?
AD: "You obviously know when a team has a good quarterback that any point something can happen where they can score points. You always have to have that in the back of your mind. You have to take advantage of drives, take advantage of field position, take advantage of all the little things that help you score points and win the game. You do have that in the back of your mind that you've got to do those little things."
If you were going to play Mike Zimmer's defense, how would you break it down?
AD: "They've got so many different blitz packages. We're strong up front, not only with our blitzes, but just the guys we have are big, physical guys that can rush the passer really well. They're doing a lot of good things, and I'm glad to have that defense on our side."
What do you think is the best thing they do?
AD: "I don't know if there's one thing that's the best. They stop the run really well, and they get pressure on the quarterback. Those are the two big things you see with our defense."
Indianapolis is not a rival, but they're only an hour and a half away, and you play them every year in the preseason. Does that change the mindset when you play them for real?
AD: "It's a little different playing them in the preseason. It's been the last preseason game for however long. It obviously is a different mindset. It's a big game for us. It's a big game for them as well. I don't think being close in proximity has a huge factor on it. From where we are, the standings and all, I think it's a big game for both teams."
Because of the standings and you guys being undefeated at home, do you start paying a little more attention to what's going on elsewhere in the AFC as you try to get a first-round bye and playoff home game?
AD: "The only possible way that happens is for us to take care of our business and handle what we can control. You can think about what's going to happen in four weeks, but the only way things can go that way is if we take care of our business. You really have to focus each week. You can't look ahead. You have to focus on the task at hand. And for us, that's Indianapolis this week."
You talked about Andrew Luck coming in and making it his own. When you came in, how did you make it your own?
AD: "You don't try to be the other guy. That's one of the big things that you have to do. You have to be yourself. You put in the time, you put in the work and let everybody know they can trust you. From there on, it turns into how you're doing things, rather than how the other guy was doing things. I think that's part of it. I don't think that he was coming in trying to be Peyton. I didn't come in trying to be Carson (Palmer). I came in being myself."
Because you have that past relationship, and he came in started right away like you did, did he reach out to you at all when he came into the league?
AD: "I may have talked to him a little bit, but he didn't specifically call me to ask how the transition is."
In high school did he have the look of a guy that would be the No. 1 pick in the draft?
AD: "My senior year, I think he was a sophomore. I knew about him. There was a lot of talk about him. I knew he was going to be a highly recruited guy. But it's hard to say 'This guy's going to be the No. 1 pick in the draft' when he's in high school. But he's done a lot of really good things in his career throughout high school, college and now in the NFL."
Andrew Hawkins was more involved this past week. How does he help open up versatility and things you can do when he's out there?
AD: "Hawk's a guy that's so quick, so fast. Getting him the ball in space is one of his big things. He catches a little screen, and he takes another one where he beats man coverage and he's taking it a long way. For us, it's just trying to find different ways to get him in space, get him the ball. He's done a really good job of that. Last week you saw what he's capable of doing."
Besides following quarterbacks in your draft class, do you follow guys from the year after like Luck and Russell Wilson?
AD: "You watch those guys. You try to follow their careers as much as you can. It's just part of it. It's not just them. You follow guys that are older than us, too. It just comes with playing the position of quarterback. You want to see what other quarterbacks are doing and how well they're playing."
But with your draft class and the guys after, do you try to measure your game against theirs?
AD: "You're always going to know your draft class well because you're playing college at the same time with them, and you come in together. You want to do well when you're putting yourself up against those guys. You might follow those guys a little more closely than some of the other ones, but it's not just about the draft class, it's about what you're doing throughout the league."
When you look at the Indianapolis defense, what concerns do you have?
AD: "From the start, you see what (Robert) Mathis has done, all the sacks that he has. He's a guy that can really disrupt things. You've got to know where he is at all times. That's one of their strong points of their defense. They do a lot of man-to-man, one-on-one stuff, so it comes down to beating man-to-man and winning against their guy. I think you'll see a lot of that during the game. We've just got to be at our best. We've got to go play like we're capable of playing and good things will happen."