Initial comments …
“OK, let’s get right to it. As you may have heard by now, we decided to make a switch at quarterback. I talked to Andy (QB Andy Dalton) this morning, and I let him know. I talked to Ryan Finley and let him know that he’ll be starting against Baltimore. It wasn’t an easy decision to make. It was very hard. Andy and I have had a lot of conversations over last couple weeks. Not about this, but just trying to make this offense get going, and this team get going. He’s put his heart and soul into getting this thing right. The hard thing now is when you’re 0-8 and you make a quarterback switch, people tend to look at the quarterback and say he was the problem. That’s the furthest thing from the truth. He’s done a lot of things to keep us going, and he has invested a lot of time, effort and energy into getting us a win. It hasn’t happened, and that’s unfortunate. He’s represented this franchise the right way over the past nine years, and he’s been everything you could have asked for in that regard. Again, not an easy day, and not an easy conversation, but it was my decision. We’re going to start Ryan and move forward with it. Our objective now is to go win this next game, and as many as we can after that.”
Will this quarterback change be permanent?
“Yes. You never want to put a time table on these type of things, but we need to see the rookie, and it takes more than one game to figure out what you have there. We’re going to give him a chance to prove that.”
What went into your decision to bench Andy Dalton?
“Well, it’s the bye week. Now we give Ryan a little more time to grasp it and get ready for the next opponent. I don’t think there’s ever a good time. We want to win the next eight games, and Andy would give us a chance to do that, but I just felt like now is the time. If we’re going to do it, let’s go ahead and make the switch, get behind Ryan and try to go win these next couple games.”
Is a change at quarterback the most logical way to spark a team?
“It’s just what happens. Everybody else plays that’s on our roster. It’s the only position where there’s a guy sitting on the bench. You don’t completely know what you have until you see it, and that’s where we are right now.”
What was your message to the veterans who’ve played multiple years with Andy Dalton?
“I went and addressed it by position group today to make sure. There are a lot of guys that have played a lot games, and have won a lot of games with Andy. They understand that this isn’t an easy decision, and that we’re not 0-8 because of Andy. Andy has worked harder than anyone else in this building to help us win football games. It’s just a decision I made, and I wanted to make sure everyone heard it from me before they heard it from anyone else. There really was no comment necessary. I just wanted them to hear it from me.”
Was there any negative reaction from players?
“No. It was me really making a statement. It’s hard for guys to hear because they are really close with Andy. Some guys have played with Andy for a long time, but I think they respected the decision. Guys support Andy, and Andy has been a great representative like I said. He’s been awesome in the locker room, and he’s still going to be great leader for us.”
What was the conversation like with WR A.J. Green in particular?
“I talked to A.J. one-on-one about it. He’s one of the few guys that I wanted to tell in person. He understands the position we’re in, and the decision we made. I didn’t ask necessarily if people agreed with it or not. I think they understand, and they respect my decision. They’re still there to support Andy, and they’re there to ride behind Ryan. Let’s go win as many games as we can.”
Do you think this decision affects his timeline to return?
“No, I don’t. I really don’t. I’ve had a lot of conversations with A.J., and he’s doing everything he can to get back sooner rather than later. We can’t wait to see where he’s at tomorrow and this next week. We’ll see if we can get him on the field against Baltimore. I know he’s progressing the right way, and he wants to get on the field as soon as he can.”
Do you think the change affects his desire to stay with the franchise long-term?
“I do not. He’s been motivated every single week since the injury occurred. Not for one second has anyone in this building doubted that there’s any other motivation there. He’s been hungry, and you can see it in his eyes. He’s one of the great people to be around. In this league, you’re fortunate to be around a pro like that, who is about the right things. A.J. is about the right things. He’s been doing everything he can to get back as quickly as possible. We’ll make sure that when he’s healthy, he’s back on the field.”
Did the team receive any trade calls on Andy Dalton?
“I don’t want to talk about any trade speculation today, to be quite honest with you. I won’t have any comment on that.”
Is the team fielding trade calls in general?
“I’m not going to have any comment on any trade speculation.”
How did the conversation with Andy Dalton go?
“It’s a hard thing. It’s hard to hear if you’re him. Again, he’s a professional, and he and I have a great relationship. We’ve met after games in my office, and he’s in more than anybody else. We’ve done everything we can to get on the same page throughout. He and I have had a lot of heart-to-heart conversations, and this one was hard. This is not easy, but he took it like a professional. It’s not easy to hear, but he’ll be back tomorrow, and we’ll be ready to practice. He’ll be the backup, and he’ll be helping Ryan in any way. He’ll still be a leader for us. He’s about the right stuff, so I know he’ll still help us win football games.”
Where does he stand with the franchise? Is this the end of the Andy Dalton era?
“I don’t want to speculate about the future right now. I just know we need to see what Ryan can do right now, and what he can provide for us. Since we drafted him, he’s shown well — in training camp, (and) his opportunities in the preseason games were very impressive. We feel like there’s talent there, but you don’t know what you have until you see it live. That’s where we’re at right now, and we’ll give him an opportunity to showcase what he can do. With any rookie quarterback, there are ups and downs. We understand that, but we’re going to give him an opportunity to show us what he can do.”
How did Ryan Finley take the news?
“Well, he’s a competitor. No.1, he feels bad for Andy because he understands what (Andy) has meant to this city and this franchise for a long time. They’re friends, and they’ve helped each other throughout this season. No. 1, he has that compassion. No. 2, he’s a competitor. He’s thankful that we trust him in this situation to give him an opportunity, and I trust that he’s going to make the most of it.”
Do you feel like there is enough talent on this roster to be competitive in 2020?
“I don’t want to speculate about 2020. We’re trying to win games right now, and we feel like we’ve had enough talent to win some of the games we’ve lost. For a number of reasons, we haven’t done that. I feel like this season could have gone differently to this point. That’s what makes this hard. I know that, and Andy knows that. It could have gone differently, and we could be fighting for more in the season right now, but we’re not. Our focus right now is winning the next game, and winning as many as we can after that. But, I don’t want to talk about next year.”
When did you reach the conclusion to make the quarterback change?
“After the game. I’ve spent a lot of time the last two days. We talked about it as a staff, but ultimately it’s my decision. I’m the one that brought it up, and I’m the one that felt like we needed a change.”
Does it make it tougher to make that decision since you played the position?
“It does. Again, you watch the guy, and he does really good things for us. It’s easy when you lose football games and everybody says you need to make a change at quarterback. That’s not always the case. Andy could have started the remainder of the season and won a lot of football games for us. We’re at the halfway point, it’s the bye week and we’re 0-8. We felt like we needed to see what Ryan Finley can do for us. Yeah, it’s hard having played the position, knowing that you’re always the guy that gets the finger pointed at you when it’s not always your fault. Again, he’s a professional and he takes ownership just like a captain would, and just like a leader would. Yeah, that part is hard.”
Do you have to tailor your offense to Ryan Finley? Is he ready mentally?
“Ryan has put in a lot of extra time in these first eight weeks like any backup quarterback should do at this point because you know you’re always one play away. Everything that I’ve seen from Ryan shows us that he’s capable. Again, you have to get into some games against some starting defenses to know what you have there, and that’s what we’ll find out. Everything that we’ve seen from him in the meeting rooms, in training camp and the offseason shows us what led us to draft him. In the pre-draft process, this was a guy that we really liked and identified as someone we needed in our program. He’s shown us everything that we’ve needed to trust that he can help us get going.”
Did you anticipate this being a rebuilding process when you took the job?
“No. I felt like we could go win, and that’s what I talked to Andy about. I didn’t envision being in this position in April when we started OTAs. I thought that we’d obviously be winning a lot more games right now, and be competitive. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been how it’s happened for a lot of reasons. We all have to take accountability for it. It’s not the coaches’ fault, or it’s not the players’ fault. It’s all of us, and we all have to be better. That’s what’s led us to this point.”
Do you feel like you’re in a rebuild?
“We need to win as many games as we can this season. There’s been no thought to, ‘Let’s build for next year.’ We need to win football games and create some momentum. That starts with (12) days from now, playing against Baltimore. We’ve got to put our best foot forward and do everything we can to win that football game.”
Do you want to win games even at the risk of losing draft positioning?
How much did the play of the offensive line factor into Andy Dalton’s efficiency?
“It falls on everybody on offense. We’re all accountable — linemen, tight ends, running backs and receivers. We’re all in it together. When we’re not playing up to par, not scoring as many points and we’re not as explosive as we need to be, it’s hard to just point at one person, or one group. It’s everybody in it together. When you look back at that game, you can look at every position and say, ‘Hey, you guys should have done this better, you should have done that better and you should have called better plays.’ It’s everybody. Obviously there’s frustration when you’re not winning, but ultimately we all have to take accountability for it.”
The offensive line has struggled this year. Do you think that has gradually gotten to Dalton?
“That’s hard to say, because we just faced a really good defensive line and I thought our offensive line did some good things. There were some times when John Jerry was matched up with (Rams DT) Aaron Donald one-on-one and did a heck of a job. That defensive line has made some offensive lines look really bad in the first seven weeks. Our guys did a good job in the run game. Yeah, they got a couple sacks, but there were also some instances where our guys fought like crazy and did a nice job in giving Andy some protection. But again, it all works together there.”
Was there any thought to accumulating draft picks at the trade deadline?
“To be honest with you, I’m just going to leave no comment on the trade stuff and the draft picks right now.”
Over the weekend, a report surfaced in which an NFC GM said that teams shouldn’t waste their time calling the Bengals before the trading deadline because you guys aren’t interested in making trades. What is your reaction to that?
“I don’t believe that, but I don’t have much to comment on that.”
Did you contemplate making this change before now?
“No. Our focus is on using every second of every week to get ready for your opponent. From an offensive standpoint, we’ve been facing some pretty good defenses lately, so you’re just trying to focus on winning that game. Especially this last week, because it was kind of an awkward week. You’re trying to play catch up all week to make sure you have a plan in place. There was no thought at any point in time that we were going to switch quarterbacks. We had the flight home and the chance to reflect on where the season is going at this point, and what we need to do to be successful. This is the decision that I reached.”
What does Ryan Finley give you at the quarterback position?
“Sometimes you’re not entirely sure. Sometimes it’s just a spark. Again, we’re playing everybody on offense, and everybody has played in the games except Ryan Finley, to be honest with you. You hate to use the word ‘spark,’ because Andy does some great things to put in position to score points and win games. It’s just going to be a different guy back there. We’ll see what he provides to us, and we’ll find out next Sunday when we’re playing against Baltimore. We saw in the preseason that he had some really good drives, and some really good games. That lets you know that we have a really good player there. But again, he’s playing against backups for the most part, so until you see him live against starters, you really don’t know what you have. Everything that led us to draft him — watching his college tape, meeting with him, being in meetings with him and then watching him in preseason — leads us to believe that we got a good player. Now we just have to see him against some starting defenses.”
Are there any specific attributes that you’ve seen from him?
“He has great touch on the ball and can anticipate where it needs to go. He does a good job climbing in the pocket and buying some time. We’ll see how it translates to playing ‘real life’ football in the NFL.”
Does the recent success of young quarterbacks around the league make this change more intriguing?
“I wouldn’t say that we look around at the other young quarterbacks that are playing. Obviously there are some guys having success, but that really didn’t factor into anything that we’re doing here. We just felt like it was time to make a change, and we have faith in what Ryan can do for us.”
What’s the organization’s philosophy on evaluating outside talent? Does that happen only during the offseason?
“Our personnel department does an outstanding job. We discuss things with them daily, and I’ve got a lot of faith in that department. They leave no stone unturned in making us a better football team. So, I wouldn’t agree with that.”
Do you worry that this quarterback change will erode some of the culture you worked to create?
“I think the players will respect the decision I made. They know that this doesn’t come easily. They know how our relationship is with Andy and that we’ve done everything we can to win football games, but it just hasn’t happened. We just felt like a change was needed. Andy has been here nine years. There are several players here that have been here several years with Andy, and I would expect them to have some support for him. At the same time, I know that we have the right people in this locker room to rally behind Ryan and give him the support and do everything they can to win the rest of these games. At the same time, understand that Andy is still there to support us and be a captain and do things to help us win football games. That’s what speaks to the culture – that we have the right people in here. It’s not going to fall apart because of one decision, because we have the right guys in the locker room that will understand and keep fighting and try to make things head in the right direction.”
Did you sleep well knowing that this quarterback change was coming?
“No. It’s hard. It’s not an easy decision when a guy has given his all for nine years. He hasn’t had one misstep this entire year. He’s represented this team the right way. It’s very easy when things aren’t going well for people to turn on their quarterback, but I’ve been the opposite. I’ll still be his biggest fan. I’m glad we have him. He’s done everything the right way. He’s called me in the middle of the night. He’s come up to my office after games. I respect the hell out of the guy. He represents himself and the organization the right way. I’ve followed him for a really long time. I’ve always had all the respect in the world for him and (his wife) J.J. He’s done it the right way. It’s unfortunate that it’s gone this way, because he certainly deserves better. That’s the hard part. You wanted to win games with him. We plan on getting that next win. We’re hoping it’s with Ryan Finley back there. You do wish that we had done better with him.”
Is there a reason for announcing the news today, in particular?
“We have practice tomorrow. I wanted to make sure Ryan got those reps. If we’re going to make this decision, let’s go ahead and make it. Let’s not wait. Let’s not go through meetings knowing that this is likely going to happen. There’s certainly that thought as we talked about it as coaches, and ultimately our decision was just to go ahead and get it done with. People will lead to speculation with the trade deadline and all that stuff, but it was a matter of having the players in the building today. We were going to having meetings. We’re going to have practice tomorrow. I wanted to make sure everyone knew before we got going.”
When did you first bring it up to the staff?
How much of this decision is due to the team’s 0-8 record?
“A lot of it, quite frankly. If we had won more games, if we were in position to do things with Andy leading us, then he’d continue leading us. But at 0-8, it’s a chance to see what we have in our backup quarterback. Again, we still intend to go win every single football game. That’s what we’re planning on doing. That doesn’t change our approach in any way. It’s just the change that we decided to make this week.”
Would it have been difficult to keep this information in-house until from Baltimore for two weeks?
“Yeah, but I also know that they’re not thinking about us this week. They have bigger problems on their hands this week with the Patriots. That part of it, there’s the gamesmanship that’s involved, but we need to be true to our players and our team. They need to know where we stand with everything. It’s most important to address it in our locker room. If (Baltimore) finds out about it, so be it.”
Is it a hard sell to players that you still want to win games, even though you’re playing with a rookie quarterback?
“We all know that we’ve been in these games, but we haven’t made the play that wins it for us. There’s been plays to be made. They believe in all the players on our football team regardless of who the quarterback is. They’ve seen Ryan Finley perform. They know we have a good player there. Again, they know as much as I do because we’ve never seen him in person against a No. 1 defense. The players all believe that we can win and we’ll rally behind Ryan. They’ve seen him perform well over the last six months. I don’t think that’ll be an issue at all.”
How much is Finley’s maturity a factor in this decision?
“That was a factor in drafting him. With his playing experience, he’s done it for a long time. He’s gotten a lot of reps against good defenses, and that does carry over in a positive way to his time in the NFL because he is an experienced quarterback in that sense. We’re confident he’ll be able to play well for us moving forward.”
Are you still listening to trades?
“I really don’t have any more comments on the trade deadline.”
Do you see merit in accumulating draft picks?
“Our focus right now is getting healthier after this bye. We have some players that are coming back. We need momentum as the season continues to go. We have four divisional games left, so there are a lot of ways we can create some momentum and get going. It starts with Baltimore in two weeks. That’s our focus right now.”
What have conversations with director of player personnel Duke Tobin been like, with regard to the direction of the franchise?
“We talk, but I’ll keep those conversations private.”
You referenced an effort to try and create momentum. What are you creating momentum toward?
“We came here to win football games this season in 2019. I’m not giving up on this season. I have no idea what our potential playoff scenarios are. I don’t really care at this point. We want to get that first win and create some momentum. That goes a long way in this culture we’re building. There are a lot of guys in this locker room that are going to be here for years to come. We need to make that progress so they see that all this hard work that we’re putting in is going toward something. It’s not just going toward 2020. It’s going toward winning as many games this year as we can. That’s why we play. That’s why we’re here. We’re here to win games now. Not in the future. We came here to win now. That’s what we’re putting all of our hard work and effort into – winning as many games as we can in 2019.”