Initial Comments …
"We're right back to work, and we're getting ready for Arizona. I think our guys are still playing motivated, and they're excited to be back in the building. We took a day off yesterday, so today we get a chance to start game-planning and introducing the plan to these guys. The big news for today is that we're going to put John Ross on IR (Reserve/Injured). His injury is probably a six- to eight-week injury. It's hard to guarantee what the timeline is, so the best decision is to put him on IR. He's somebody that we would be able to bring back later in the season. It's tough news for him. He really worked hard to come back from injury in training camp, and he was playing well. It's tough to see a guy go through that when he's fought through this before. We'll be ready for him to get back when he heals up.
We're moving on to Arizona, and they bring some challenges on defense. They have two really good edge guys in Suggs (Terrell Suggs) and Chandler Jones. Those guys have been playing football for a long time, and they've been disruptive for a long time. Those are guys that we certainly have to incorporate into the plan. Offensively they have a dynamic, young quarterback. He's a guy that makes you stand on your toes for the entirety of the play. Larry Fitzgerald is still grinding through it, and he's one of the all-time greats. He's a true professional, and a guy that you respect a ton. They also have David Johnson in the backfield. They have some weapons, and they have some players on both sides of the ball, so we have to be ready for a good test this week."
Are CB Darius Phillips and WR John Ross both IR-recall candidates?
"They are the two that are eligible right now."
With John Ross out, is there a wide receiver on the roster that can take the top off of a defense?
"Yeah. We have to be creative with our schemes to make sure that (the defense) is accountable all the way down the field. Certainly we have guys that are ready to step up – Alex Erickson, Damion Willis. We'll promote WR Stanley Morgan Jr., and he will be active this week. We feel like we have a good core of guys who know what to do. They've gotten some reps, and we're going to be counting on them to step up."
What have teams done to take the quick passing game away?
"Last week, I didn't do a good enough job with the calls that would give us the best opportunity. Once they got the lead, they had some good (pass) rush, and they put some pressure on us. Ultimately, we didn't get the job done. The big thing for us is when we cross the 40 (yard line), we have to take advantage and capitalize. Overall, in the scope of our drives over the last four weeks – when we've gotten across that threshold – we haven't scored enough points. We've left too many on the field, and that's an area we have to improve on."
Did QB Andy Dalton check out of the play that resulted in the strip-sack in the second quarter against Pittsburgh?
"Yes. It was two play calls. He got us out of the first one like he was supposed to, and got us to the second one. Again, it's first-and-10, and I put us in a drop-back call. From my standpoint, that's something I could have been better at."
As a coach, how much of an adjustment period has it been for you through the first four weeks?
"We can continue to grow as a unit, and continue to identify what our strengths and weaknesses are. We have to play to the best of our abilities. We're better than what we've shown. That's where we're at through four weeks. It shows that we're 0-4, and we haven't capitalized on opportunities. We continue to identify the ways that we can improve. So far, we have a good plan for Arizona, and we're excited to put it to the test."
Has the rebuilding process been more difficult than you expected?
"No. Again, we haven't capitalized on the opportunities we've had. We're 0-4, but surely doesn't feel like we should be there. We all know that, we recognize that and we're accountable for it. Early in the (Pittsburgh) game, we felt like we had some opportunities that we should have jumped on. It's easy to say that it would have been a different game, but you don't know that for sure. We have to start stronger. That's what has really killed us. We haven't started fast, mainly on offense. If you look at the defense, they really held those guys down there. (Pittsburgh) scored a touchdown on a third-and-two that I would heavily dispute. Then they held (Pittsburgh) to a field goal on a third-and-goal at the end of half, so they gave up 10 points. They battled some tough field position all game. As an offense, we just have to start faster."
On the Pittsburgh TD you referenced, it looked like there was a Steelers offensive lineman illegally downfield, but there was no flag thrown. What is the rule on an ineligible offensive lineman downfield?
"If they are down the field before the ball is thrown, then there's an ineligible receiver downfield. On a touchdown, you can't challenge whether it was OPI (offensive pass interference) down the field. So if they engage with a second-level defender, which they did... and they said that they missed it. That part is hard, because we can't challenge that because it was a scoring play. I made that mistake in the preseason. So that part was frustrating."
Did you check with the league on that call?
Are there similarities between your offensive scheme and Arizona's?
"There are certainly concepts that are carryover. I wouldn't say that they're that similar. They're a little bit unique in their approach. They're creative, and they're really going to test you. They'll make you be disciplined with your eyes, and they're going to have some wrinkles that catch you off guard. Just watching them, they have some dynamic players, so you have to be accountable with your eye discipline, know what your job is and execute it. They certainly have an offense that's capable of being explosive."
Has Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury modified the "air raid" offense that he ran at Texas Tech?
"I'll be honest, the 'air raid' isn't something I've really studied. I've always followed Kliff and seen the creativity that he's had, but I can't quite make that comparison to what Texas Tech's offensive looked like compared to Arizona."
How much does this team need a win on Sunday?
"We've worked hard. We've put in the work, and we always feel confident going into the game. Certainly you feel better after a win, but this is a resilient group. If you're present in the locker room after games, and if you're present in our team meetings, you still feel the same energy. But again, a win helps you continue in the right direction. Every week we've gone in and felt like, 'Alright, this is the one, and we're going to get this one.' It just hasn't quite gone our way. This is a resilient group. We all believe in each other, and we're excited for this next opportunity."
How do you adjust to the wide receiver room having little experience? Does that put more pressure on the other offensive players?
"I certainly believe we have players that we believe in on offense at all the skill positions – running back, tight end, and receiver. We have to continue to find ways to maximize their abilities and put them in position. We'll look at the full scope of it, and figure out how to put the best five eligible (players) out there that give us our best chance."
Has it been hard to get HB Giovani Bernard involved with the way the games have unfolded?
"The amount of rushes hasn't been where it needs to be. That'll carry over to the whole room. It's not just Joe (HB Joe Mixon), it's Gio and all of those guys. We need to do a better job of staying on track and getting runs going – the play-actions, the keepers, and all of that stuff is married together. We certainly want to involve our playmakers to the full extent, and Gio hasn't gotten a ton of touches yet."
Is there a reason for the small number of rushing attempts?
"You give up eight sacks and you say, 'We shouldn't have thrown the ball so much.' That's the easy thing for someone to say, and for myself to say. Again, this is a week for us to get back on track."
As a result of the eight sacks allowed against Pittsburgh, do jobs open up on the offensive line?
"We still believe in the guys we have, and we do feel like we have some depth behind them. Every week we evaluate our best five that we put out there. There are some guys that can always step up. Through the first three games, there were some moments where those guys were really challenged, and they stepped up and really did a good job. This is the first time where it felt like, 'All right, they beat us up up front a little bit.' It was for a variety of reasons. We can take the pressure off of them with the play calls and the things that we were doing. That was a one-off from what we'll see. That's not going to be the norm. That was a physical front. As the game went on, they wore us down a little bit, but I still feel confident in the guys that we have out there and that they're going to do a good job."
Is Michael Jordan still the starting left guard?
"Yeah, Michael is still the guy."
What did you see from Pittsburgh's defense that caused you to choose to throw the ball so much?
"In the second half, they came out and scored to start the half, so we were down 17-3. And then we were down 24-3 on the next drive. That's, unfortunately, the way it goes. A lot of the sacks came at that point. Down 21 points, you could run the ball I guess, but at that point we feel like we have a shot. We drove the ball down there and had fourth-and-goal on the 12. If you get a touchdown there, it's 24-10 and a two-possession game with 11 minutes left. I still feel confident that we have a shot. I'm not giving up on that. It's hard. At times you want to run the ball to take the pressure off, you want to call some screens to take the pressure off. But ultimately, when you're down like that, you need to drop back and throw it and give yourself a chance to win."
Is it difficult to handle the mental pressure that accompanies a slow start to the season, especially considering the team went 1-7 in the final eight games last year?
"I don't feel that. I feel like it's all new and fresh. We are 0-4, we're not 1-7. I don't get that sense from anybody. I wasn't here (last year), so I don't feel it. I don't get that sense from the players. We're 0-4, and that's where we are right now."
How much do you worry about your message resonating with players after a slow start?
"You worry about it if you don't have the right character that's going to respond to it – the character of the guys in the locker room. That's something we challenge them about every week. What are we about? What are we about as men? What are we about as football players? They've responded to that challenge every week. I understand that at 0-4, the message gets a little stale, but I haven't seen that from those guys. They've responded at every turn. I believe in those guys right now, and I believe we can get it turned around quickly."
Do players feel like they can communicate freely with you?
"That's what's been good, really. When communication is poor, it's when guys are afraid to accept responsibility for something that happened. Sometimes it's harder to see as it happens live. Now, we do get the pictures on the sidelines and all of that stuff. But I've certainly been around players throughout the course of my career that don't accept that responsibility. When you watch the tape the next day, you're like, 'Dude, come on. Tell me so we can fix it.' That hasn't been the case with these guys. These guys are open about it. If they make a mistake, they admit to it and we correct it quickly."
What have you seen so far from WRs Stanley Morgan Jr. and Damion Willis?
"Competitors. They are as competitive as they come. They're natural football players. They make the play when you put (the ball) in their vicinity. They love to compete. They love to practice. You watch Stanley on the practice field, and he's dead tired from taking a thousand snaps on both sides of the ball. The guy competes his tail off. Those are just guys that impress you. You like the energy that they bring to the whole team. Yeah, they're undrafted rookie free agents that we went out and got, but I've really been impressed with them since the first couple of weeks they were here — enough that they're both active right now. You can always have the conversation, 'Do you want to go get somebody else that you've seen on tape, maybe that's played more in the league?' No. These are guys we believe in, and if we didn't, we wouldn't bring them up – we'd go get somebody else. But we believe in both of those guys."
Four games into the season, how much of your playbook is still available?
"The core of what we want to do is always there. Each week, as the team you're playing changes, it needs to evolve and you need to look for ways to be creative and unique. That doesn't mean that the concepts you're running change, it just means the window dressing changes. A lot of teams would say that the nuts and bolts that you practice in the spring and during training camp continue to evolve –the first quarter, the second quarter, the third quarter of the season as it goes. We need to look for ways to be fresh, and that's part of what we're trying to do right now."
What are your initial impressions of Arizona QB Kyler Murray?
"Creative. The play is always alive. He's stronger than you think. He's harder to bring down than you think, because he's not 6-5, 240 (pounds). You see the power in his arm, that's the first thing. When you go to the pro days and you see him in person, the power he generates (is evident). He's a pro baseball player – he obviously has power for all the things he's been able to do. You see that in person, and it's good to see in person because otherwise, you think he's not a big guy and it's more of a controlled passing game. That's not the case. He has the power in his arm to drive down the field. He's the No. 1 pick for a reason. You see it on tape."
Do you expect OT Cordy Glenn to play this week?
There was a report recently that WR A.J. Green will be out a few more weeks. Can you speak to that?
"I don't know where that came from, to be quite honest with you. We talk every day with our trainers. There has been no deadline or set number of weeks. He's continuing to rehab right now. That didn't come from me."
Do you have an estimate for when Green will return?
"No. It's still week-to-week at this point. He's not going to play in this game."
Pittsburgh utilized a lot of shovel passes and screens on Monday night. Is that something you'll look to do in your offense?
"That depends on the scheme you're facing. They felt like that was something they hadn't shown a lot of, and they got us on it a couple times. That was their rushing game, to an extent, because we did a good job against the run. So they felt like they had to get the ball on the perimeter. I think they were eight-for-eight when they did it — you should be eight-for-eight, unless you're fumbling the exchange. They had some success. Overall, despite that, our defense wasn't giving away the chunk plays. They were giving away some of that stuff, and it gets frustrating at times, but overall we need to score more points to take the pressure off of them. That's the biggest key."