ML: "First thing I really want to do is thank the fans for last weekend, coming out and being supportive of the Marine Corps and the Bengals with the Toys for Tots drive. They collected more than 2275 different toys and $24,472 in cash donations, so that's excellent. Special thanks to the Mobile Storage Depot for donating the collection units that were outside of the gates at the stadium.
"As we prepare for the Steelers this time, the one thing you can say is that they're different offensively, with (Le'Veon) Bell in there at running back, the draft pick. He's a good runner and receiver of the football, and he gives them another weapon. They've got Heath Miller back now, then (Antonio) Brown and the rest of the receivers continue to play very, very well: (Emmanuel) Sanders, (Jericho) Cotchery. They're effectively moving the football. Ben (Roethlisberger) is playing as Ben does, always very well. They've done a much better job protecting him over the last few weeks. We've got our work cut out for us this week. Defensively, they've had the same unit playing together for a little bit now, where they had some injuries on and off. (Troy) Polamalu plays, as he does, all over the field, so we've got our work cut out for us. On special teams, Brown is very, very dangerous to what they're doing. We need a good week of preparation to go out and play an important football game for us."
I hear that you're going in pads today. Is that part of getting the focus back, and part of a reaction to the second half from last Sunday with the tackling?
ML: "I don't know if what we practice in is really part of anything. I decide what we're going to practice in weeks ago when I set the schedule. Today is a shoulder pad day as a lot of Wednesdays have been throughout the season. It's not for me to react in any way to you publically."
You had this planned out well ahead of time?
ML: "Yes. I don't think it's any earth-shaking news that we practice in shoulder pads."
Well, it is the Steelers:
ML: "So you're making a story of it? The truth be known (laughs). Go ahead and tell me."
A couple of players were maybe a little bit surprised:
ML: "They're always surprised (laughs). They're surprised I make them go out on the field some days. You've got to be careful with your source (laughs)."
Any plans of practicing indoors this week?
ML: "We'll practice inside tomorrow up at University of Cincinnati."
Talk about the grind of the season. The ultimate grind here with two out of the last three games against division rivals that you know are going to be physical games:
ML: "I think that's the way the NFL has tried to set up the schedules. Two or three years ago, they tried to revise these to make sure games at the end of the year were against division teams. We seem to be locked with Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cleveland with those deals, and then to play another team that finished comparably with you, whether it be intraconference or across the conference, AFC-NFC. That's the way they like to do it, and I think it keeps the interest for everyone. It's worked, is what I'm saying."
As the season has gone on, what have you seen James Harrison's effect on this team be?
ML: "I sat here I don't know how many weeks ago, when there were weeks that James wasn't getting as many snaps, that every snap he got he was making an impact in the football game. That continues to be true. Obviously, he's played more and more now. With the loss of Geno (Atkins), we've kind of reconstructed and reconstituted some things we were doing. When the weather changes too, teams change a little offensively, and we see more of the personnels that put James on the field, some of our other defenses a little more. He's been consistent. For me as a coach, he's a good guy to have who really has helped the young group of linebackers continue to prepare and push forward like a pro, and not allow them to have the ups and downs that seem to creep in when you have young players too much. His eyes are on the target, and that's a good thing."
His playoff experience, and winning this time of year, can that be a big thing to help those young guys?
ML: "It helps others to prepare because of the seriousness of the moment."
Do you think his edge has become contagious?
ML: "I think we have guys with edges, and he fits right in."
He said his return to Pittsburgh will be no big deal:
ML: "I don't think in his mind that it is. It will be a big deal because he's James and what he's done. He's had an exceptional career. You can't take anything away from James Harrison's career. He's won, he's been a great player and he helped a team win championships. Guys like that eventually end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That's what he's done. You can't take away from that, and being a big bully along the way with it. A very respectful bully, and that's the best part of him. As you say, he has an edge. He has an edge in preparation, he's ready to play on Sundays, he knows how important practice is, and everything about it. To be a backup on special teams, he understands why he's on punt team and all those things, because he knows what it takes to win a game on Sunday. We can't script how it's going to unfold. He's going to be ready if he's at the point of attack and he's challenged."
What is a 'respectful bully'?
ML: "He's going to be gruff about everything he can be. That's his fun. We spend a lot of time together and guys have to have fun. That's his fun, to always be on edge, to keep people on edge."
Does he give this defense a little bit of that?
ML: "Well, we lost a little bit of if during the second half last week, so we've got to get it back. That's an important thing, to understand that when you have a game in control, keep control of it, and we need that. That needs to transcend the group, that when you have a game in control, let's keep it in control and not let loose of it."
When you have a guy like Harrison at the back end of his career and a guy like Vontaze Burfict at the front end of a possibly great career, is that like a 1 1 = 3 type synergy?
ML: "We've been talking about this all year – it's been great for Vontaze to watch how a great pro works. It's great for (Rey) Maualuga. All of these guys, they've learned a lot from him. The whole group. That's great. It's funny, but you've only got two drafted guys in the room, so it's an amazing group, and Rey (Maualuga) was drafted way after people thought he would be, so they all got here about the same way."
How dangerous are Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio working together?
ML: "There's a quickness about them very much like Indy had back in the day with (Marvin) Harrison and Reggie Wayne and the kid that's over in Washington now (Pierre Garcon).That's my opinion. That's how dynamic this group can be. That's the style of receiver I think they are. They're great catchers, they run well after the catch, they're explosive, they can catch deep balls, they can catch crossing routes. To me, they're one of the better receiving groups, probably underrated receiving groups, in the league, because they all can run, and they're all threats with the ball in their hands."
You guys face 1-2-3 with the top punt returners in the league the next three weeks:
ML: "That's what Darrin (Simmons) told me."
This thing could come down to a punt in the next three weeks:
ML: "We've got to be good on special teams, no doubt about it. We play with (Antonio) Brown this week, (Cordarrelle) Patterson I believe the following week and, obviously, Jacoby (Jones) and Baltimore, so we're playing the best returners in the NFL over the next three weeks. We know how important the things Brandon Tate did last week for us and being consistent with that, how important that's been for us all season that we have guys here that are capable of making big plays in returns. It's an important area for us. Our specialists have to be excellent. We've got to put the ball where we want the ball all of the time. We've got to separate, cover and tackle."
How good is Ben Roethlisberger at extending plays?
ML: "Ben has obviously always had a great knack for keeping plays alive in the pocket and out of the pocket, so we've got to continue to rush soundly. We've got to plaster him when he moves. You can't sleep on him because he's got a big arm, and can get the ball way down the field when you don't expect it to if he breaks free when trapped."
Is the running game one of the more important factors in this rivalry?
ML: "I don't know about rivalry, but in us playing them, I think in my mind it's important. Being able to stop the run is going to be paramount for us, and our ability to run the football is going to be important."
Andy Dalton was just named AFC Offensive Player of the Week. The offense seems to be clicking at the right time:
ML: "For Andy, it's a great honor, but it's just doing what you're supposed to do, and everybody else do it better all of the time. Our message doesn't change. And the same with us as coaches: let's not overburden our quarterback, let's allow him to play freely and make sure everybody else gets to the right spots. That means we've got to keep coaching what we do better and better, and the quarterback has to keep understanding what we want him to do, and everybody else just do their thing around him, and he'll be efficient and he'll continue to win awards. He gets the accolades, which have come a lot this year. If he doesn't throw for three touchdowns, then something's wrong all of the time. The main thing is you be efficient with the ball. He has to put the ball in the right spot, and we can't ever have our guys leaving him hanging out there, either."
He was in here before, and you couldn't tell if he'd thrown for 93 yards or 300. It seems he doesn't change who he is no matter how he plays:
ML: "I think that's part of his thing. He can't change publicly to you guys, that's for sure, and he's got to be just as consistent with his teammates and as a player out there on the field. He continues to grow within these walls, and that's a good thing, because he's riding the wave of an NFL quarterback."
But he doesn't show it:
ML: "That's a good thing. I don't know if it's in his DNA to ever show it, but yet he's obviously riding the wave of what it takes to play quarterback in the NFL. It's a difficult job. It's like playing cornerback on the other side. You've got to have some toughness to you, and some thick skin in order to do it week in and week out and just keep doing your thing."
Are these prime time games a chance to gain more respect on the national stage?
ML: "We'll earn respect if we continue to play well, and earn ourselves into the playoffs and go from there. That's how you earn respect. That's all we can worry about. It's an exciting time for the players. This is the deal. It's Sunday night, everybody's watching and we go. Monday night, some people are working, so Sunday night we've got to go. It's a big game, it's on the road, it's in Pittsburgh, it's a big game. The crowd will be jacked up. A lot of Cincinnati people headed that way. So, it'll be big."
Congrats on being AFC Offensive Player of the Week:** AD: "I was a little surprised by this one. There were some guys who had bigger weeks. Just goes to show what we were able to do. It was a big week for us offensively and we have to keep that going."
Do you have more to prove this week with it being a prime time game?
AD: "There's going to be more people watching. We have to put our best foot forward and be playing our best. Show everyone what this team is, and what we're made of. Prime time games give people an opportunity to watch, and we want to be playing our best."
You've had some tremendous performances and some not-so-good ones. Is there a common denominator in both?
AD: "We've done some good things and put ourselves in good position. Our goal is to keep winning, whatever it takes to win. We have to be consistent and be able to run and throw the ball. I have to make quick decisions and get the ball to our guys. When we do that, we've been successful."
When the line is playing well and you're not pressured, things have gone well:
AD: "I think any quarterback throws the ball better when there's not a lot of people around him. Our line has done a good job, and we have to keep that going. It starts up front with those guys. Even though we've been shuffling them around, they have played well."
Have you ever gone three straight games anywhere without being sacked?
AD: "I'm sure I did. I don't think I ever got sacked in high school (laughs). Not too many times in college. It's just a little different."
Have you been making better decisions and learning to go to the next play instead of taking risks?
AD: "There have been too many turnovers on my part. I've been conscious about when to throw the ball away and when not to try something that could make a play worse. That's the goal going in the rest of the way – not turning the ball over. It definitely helped us last week, and if you win the turnover battle, you have a better chance of winning the game."
Is that something you have to learn over time?
AD: "You want to be smart with the ball. A punt is not always a bad play."
You cut down on turnovers last December:
AD: "This is the time of the year where a lot is decided. You want to be smart with it."
Ben Roethlisberger is on a run with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in his past five games, but the Steelers haven't been winning. That shows it's not all on the quarterback:
AD: "A lot does get put on the quarterback, but it's a team game. As the quarterback, you are the leader of the team and sometimes you get more praise than you should, and sometimes more scrutiny. It is part of the game."
When you think about the Steelers defense, what is the first thing that comes to mind?
AD: "They're really good up front. You have to know where Troy (Polamalu) is. He plays a lot on instincts. It's not only safety, but sometimes he has been playing some dime linebacker."
When he's lined up at LB, is that better instead of him rolling in space?
AD: "He still kind of does his thing. He's in a spot where he plays more in the box, but you know where he is at a little bit. He plays off his preparation and feel."
You're known as being an unflappable guy, but has that been tested over the past month?
AD: "To play this game, you have to have thick skin, especially at the quarterback position, unless you have proven yourself and won a lot of Super Bowls. You never know what you are going to get if you a lose a game. It comes with the position, and I'm not worried about it. We're 9-4 and in a good position right now. Hopefully with better games and plays, it won't be so dramatic when nothing goes our way. I'm going to be me regardless of what anyone says."
Are there times when you play well that you just want people to get off your back for a day or two?
AD: "I feel like there are times when it can be extreme. With social media, anyone can say what they want. I don't feel like if they saw me on the street they would say it right directly to me, but they can hide behind a computer or social media. That's part of what it is today, but I'm not worried about it."
I would imagine Texas High School football is its own pressure cooker:
AD: "Especially being at Katy High School, you are expected to win state every year. It's not pressure, but there are some high expectations."
How much does it help having multiple running back options?
AD: "It's been big for both of those guys (BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard). They are different type of backs, but both big parts of the offense. It's good that we can flip them in and out. They've done a good job. It's good to have different styles of guys. We have Benny for the tough yards, and we can do a little more in the passing game with Gio."
How helpful is it also to have Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert, who can not only catch passes but block well also?
AD: "Both of those guys have done a good job not only in the passing game, but in the run game. We get matchups with those guys with different looks and personnel."
Do you feel more intensity when you play the Steelers, as opposed to any other team?
AD: "There's definitely a rivalry that you feel. The Steelers have been a good team for a long time. You can feel it, especially with the proximity of both teams."
What makes the Ike Taylor-A.J. Green matchup difficult for you?
AD: "Ike has done well, but we're still going to take our chances with A.J., who is one of the best in the NFL. Regardless of who they put out there, we feel like we match up. Ike has played well and done well against A.J. It will be a fun matchup."
What do you remember about last year's battle in Pittsburgh?
AD: "It was a big one for us. There was a lot riding on the game and a lot of emotions. Pittsburgh is a tough place to play. To get a win out of there was big. We're in a good position right now and have to take care of business to get where we want to go."
The other day, you went to the hospital and gave back with your foundation. It seems a lot of the players have been doing a lot in the community this season:
AD: "It's one thing that's really cool about this team and about playing in the NFL. You've got a platform where you can really make an impact on different people. What this team has done is found ways to give back to kids, or go to the hospital, whatever it is. It's been great to see all the guys that are willing to give their time to give back to these kids and go hang around with them. That's what we're trying to do with our foundation. We went over to Shriners Hospital and partnered up with Walmart. They gave us gift bags for kids and gift cards for families for Christmas shopping. It was a good time. We played bingo and did different things just to get them out of their rooms and get them out of their normal routine. That's what this time of the year is for, and it's great that guys in the NFL have that platform and have the opportunity to go and make an impact on these kids."