Initial comments ...
"It's another great opportunity for us this week, and a really tough test with the Patriots coming into town. They have a great team. They're having a great year. They're really, really sound in all three phases and really experienced in all three phases. They have a lot of guys that have been there for a long time and have a great understanding of what they're trying to do. It's a great opportunity for our guys, and they're excited for the challenge as we start today with that preparation."
Have you heard from the NFL regarding the Patriots allegedly filming the Bengals' sideline from the press box during last week's game against Cleveland? Has anyone in the Patriots organization reached out to you to apologize?
"I don't have any comment on that. We've just, as coaches, spent our time game planning."
Do you change your preparation given these circumstances?
"We just prepare like we always prepare for our opponents."
What is the benefit of seeing another team's sideline and what they gesture?
"I really don't have any comment on anything in this area."
Does the situation leave you angry or disappointed?
"I have no comment."
Given the circumstances, do you need to do anything extra to make sure the players are locked-in?
"It's very easy for us to focus on what's important, because this is a great football team we're playing. We understand how detailed we all need to be with our game plan and how on top of everything we have to be. It is in no way, shape or form a distraction for us because, as you see, we're just down here in this dungeon. We get our work done, we get out on the field and do our work. It's very easy to isolate ourselves from any outside distractions."
What makes Patriots QB Tom Brady so good?
"His experience, No. 1. His accuracy. He has a great understanding of what the defense is trying to do and what his offense can do. He's played in the same offense for 20 years now. That's longer than most coaches have coached in an offense. He certainly has seen about everything you can throw at him and is prepared for it. He elevates the players around him – there's no question about it. Having played against him a lot (with previous teams), you can see that his players believe in him. He always puts them in great positions, along with the coaching staff. He always presents a great test for our guys."
You have previously talked about winning games this season and carrying momentum into next year. Would a win against New England mean more than a win against another team?
"Anytime you get an opportunity against a team that has been as successful as they have been this year, it certainly is something to be excited about. It's going to take a lot of work from our guys, and they understand that. It's a very, very sound, disciplined football team. They do all the little things very well. It's not just, 'OK, let's go out there and play hard and win the game.' It's, 'We have to be sound in all of our areas, and we need to be dialed in and detailed with the things we're asking our guys to do this week.'"
Is the experience of the Patriots' defense the biggest challenge to overcome?
"It is. It's something that they really excel in. They're all very versatile. They're great communicators. They play with sound technique. They do their job very well. It's an impressive defense to watch on tape."
Do you see this game as a coaching challenge, since you're going against one of the greatest coaches of all time?
"No, I really don't. The team itself – coaches, players – there's somebody you always have great respect for because of the way they prepare and the success they've had. We watch the tape. We try to give ourselves some advantages, and we have to go out there and execute the plan. It's not about the coach versus the coach, or anything like that. It's about our team versus their team, and we have to be very prepared for Sunday."
What is the biggest difference between last year's New England defense and this year's?
"Last year they were a great unit, and that's probably why they won the Super Bowl. From year to year, they've always been considered one of the top defenses in the league. It's because they're smart, they're sound, they all understand their role, they play it well, and they do a great job creating turnovers. As far back as I can remember, they're always at the top of the league in turnover margin, and this year I think they have around 30. They've done a great job in that area and we need to be really dialed in."
Year to year, has New England remained consistent in its ability to capitalize on turnovers?
"They do a really good job of capitalizing on your mistakes. That's a great way to put it. However many times they're plus-two in the turnover margin, and the success rate and wins in the NFL, it's an unbelievable indicator in winning and losing in the NFL. So many times, whether it's special teams, defense, or protecting the ball on offense, they're really outstanding in that area."
Do you feel like the linebacker play on your defense has improved over the last month?
"I do. Those guys are improving every week. Guys are starting to feel comfortable in the schemes. It's not that they weren't earlier, it's just that you're playing a lot of different players and now we've really dialed in on who's playing and what role you're playing. Guys are able to play side-by-side with the same guy over a long period of time. I certainly see that whole unit getting better. Specifically, like you said, I was very critical of the linebackers weeks ago, and I do think that they've responded well and have stepped up and are playing much better."
In particular, how would you evaluate LB Germaine Pratt?
"He kind of goes along with a lot of the young players we have, in that the more game experience they're getting, the more it slows down. They're becoming better communicators. That's important to see as the season progresses. We still have a few weeks left, but you have seen from week to week his development progress."
How would you assess LB Nick Vigil this season?
"Nick has gotten better as well. That unit has started to play a lot more consistent these last couple of weeks. There are things they can continue to improve on. It's not that it's perfect at this point, but they've been giving us a good chance to be successful on defense."
Have you thought about finding a larger role for LB Jordan Evans, taking his recent performances into consideration?
"That's the best way to put it – we find a role for each of those guys. Sometimes, going into a game, it could be more plays than they end up playing. It just depends on how we react as the game goes. Same goes on offense. There are plenty of guys on offense that could play anywhere from 15 to 35 snaps, depending on how the game goes. He's one of those guys that fits that category."
How close is WR A.J. Green to practicing and playing?
"He won't practice today."
Will Green practice this week?
"We're just taking it day-to-day right now, but he won't practice today."
How optimistic are you that Green will be able to play this season?
"It's hard for me to say. We continue to have daily conversations about it, and he's not ready to practice today. He wants to play this year, so we want to continue to give him that opportunity and leave that open."
Your linebacker and offensive line groups have both seen improvement in recent weeks. Is that attributed to personnel consistency, scheme comfortability or both?
"I think it's both. It's a combination of both. You're starting to make the same calls with the same guys next to you. That matters. Everyone is starting to get into a flow as coaches and players because of what we're doing well and what we're asking our guys to do. That's not to be unexpected. We wish it was that way Week 1 and that we had played better, but all we can control is what's right in front of us, so that's what we're working to do today."
Is it easy to "put a player in a box" to try to keep them safe until next season, particularly regarding Green?
"He's a player that we're always counting on. He wants to play. He's trying to put himself in a position to play. We're giving him that opportunity."
Have you seen anything from HB Joe Mixon in recent weeks that could carry over to next season?
"He's approached every week the right way. It's easy to be frustrated early in the year when things aren't going your way as a running back. I've seen plenty of guys handle it different ways over the last decade. I've been proud of guys like that. It could be very frustrating, but they haven't let that show through and they've approached their job the right way. Sure enough, things turn the corner and we get in phase with each other. He certainly had a great game last week, and we continue to look forward to good things to come from him."
How much of Mixon's success can be attributed to offensive line consistency?
"That's critical to protection and the run game — that consistency on the offensive line of guys playing next to each other, and investing time in the reps and things we're trying to achieve. It's not surprising. It took a little bit of time. Now, we've found a good rhythm there. That can change over the course of one game. It's not just, 'Hey, we had a great rushing performance last week. It's going to happen again.' That's not the case. Every structure that we face is different the next week and presents different challenges. Our guys have to be really dialed in, and that's something we've been preaching these last couple weeks. It takes all 11. It's not just the linemen or the running backs. It's easy to look at them, but we're really hard on our receivers as well. They need to do a great job to help our run game."
Will WR John Ross' role be the same this week as it was last week, or will it expand?
"We always try to put ourselves in the best position to win with the personnel. Some games it's a bunch of (11 personnel), some games it's (12 and 13 personnel). We just try to put the best plan in place each week. Guys' snap counts can vary based on what we're doing."
Did Ross change the defense, or the way the defensive back lined up, given his speed?
"They played similarly to what we thought they would, or what they've shown on tape over the course of the season. I wouldn't say that there was any clear difference."
Mixon said that he was happy you sat him down after his personal foul against Cleveland. How often does a player say that they're happy you did that to them (laughs)?
"He certainly knew that he had made a mistake. That was very clear. We made the decision to sit him for some snaps, but we knew that he knew he made a mistake and that he wouldn't do it again. We had that trust factor there. At the same time, he hurt the team, so it's time to sit down for a few snaps."
Was that decision a statement by you, or more of a cool-down period for Mixon?
"We're in the flow of things. That's the decision we make, and we move on. There's not a lot of time to talk too much about it."
Given your impression of Mixon and having worked with him to this point, what is your impression of him?
"It's the same as I expected when I got here. He loves football. It's important to him. Wining is important. His teammates like him. His approach is the right way. He's dialed in. He's one of the most wide-eyed guys. When you sit in the (meeting room) and install plays early in the morning on Wednesdays and Thursdays, he's one of the guys that I can say, every single day I've been here presenting in front of a group, he's very wide-eyed and paying attention to everything you say. As a presenter, as a coach, when you're up there in front of the room, you appreciate that. That's something I've seen from him over the course of the season."
What is Mixon's best physical attribute?
"He's a big back. He's physical. He has a lot of great traits that you look for in your backs. He punishes guys when they come up to hit him. I could imagine that defenders don't love that. He has a lot of positive traits to him."
Your offense has struggled in the red zone this season, and it especially struggled last week at Cleveland. Do you have to spend more time on that area in practice?
"We always try to find our best ways to be successful and where we should devote our time. It is frustrating when you leave points on the field like we did, but we have new opportunities this week. Our guys need to get after it."
Is New England head coach Bill Belichick as creative in the red zone as he is regularly, or does he get more creative has the field shrinks?
"It's pretty consistent throughout the field with what you see from them, in terms of being pretty dialed in to the offense they're facing. Their guys understand the schemes. You rarely see them bust. Once or twice over the course of the game, you see a lot of defenses where a guy made a mistake. That's just something you don't see on tape with them. You look at the safeties, and they've been there a long time. Their linebackers have been there a long time. You have guys that have been in the system for a long time, so that's what you expect."
How much do you want Mixon to reach 1000 rushing yards on the season?
"That's not something I concern myself with. We just try to put ourselves in a position to win every game we play, and let that stuff take care of itself as it falls."
Do you reflect on which areas of the team you've seen progress in?
"It's something you make time to look back on. I write notes every day throughout the course of the season, and oftentimes, as the weekend approaches, I look back and make sure there are some things that I wanted corrected in September, October, to make sure that we're making progress in those areas. That's the key with a season like this – it hasn't gone the way we've hoped in a lot of areas, so we have to make sure that we're not just letting things slip. We have to continue to raise the standard, make sure we're making corrections to all the errors we've made and the things that have not gone our way that we could have controlled. That's the key in a season like this – you make sure we learn from all this and improve those areas. We still have three weeks to do that, starting with this week. That's all we can control. It is important to look back as much as you can. You don't always have a lot of free time, but you make sure to look back and make sure you're not losing track of something you wanted to focus on four or five weeks ago."
What's the biggest thing you've learned this season?
"You need to trust your staff. You brought in good people for a reason – because you trust them. You know that they do a good job. You don't have to do it all yourself. There's not enough time in the day, and it's not the smart thing to do. You brought these people in for a reason, so you need to empower them and trust them to make smart decisions and to help you. That's what I've seen from this staff. We have really good coordinators all the way down to the assistants. Again, it hasn't shown up in the wins, but I do think that everyone is making good progress."
What makes the Patriots' defense so good?
"They're just sound in everything they do. Guys are always in the right spot. Guys play with great leverage. They're very opportunistic. When they see a tipped ball that's up in the air, they're coming down with interceptions. They're great at forcing fumbles, and all that stuff. They're just really sound all across the board."
Do the Patriots, more so than any other team, throw things at you that they haven't put on tape?
"There's some of that. They have different ways of playing, and you may not know what you're going to get until you get into the game. There is the element of, 'OK, what are they going to be once they get here?'"
What kind of growth have you seen from WR Tyler Boyd since he's gotten here?
"He's been great. He's a guy that we rely on a lot. As he's had more production, as he's had more opportunities, and just with the type of guy he is, he's definitely grown into a leader on this team."
In the absence of WR A.J. Green, has Boyd stepped into a more vocal role?
"Yeah, for sure. That's his personality, too. He likes to have a lot of fun, but when it's time to work and time to focus, he's ready for it. It's a guy that we rely on. He has stepped up with A.J. being out."
What impresses you about New England QB Tom Brady?
"His consistency – that's the biggest thing. He's been so efficient throughout his whole career. Regardless of what's gone on, he's found ways to win and found ways to be part of some really good offenses."
You've played against Brady a few times. What have your postgame conversations been like?
"It's been brief. I don't really know him."
What have the reactions in the locker room been like regarding the Patriots allegedly filming the Bengals' sideline from the press box on Sunday in Cleveland?
"We don't have any comment on it."
Is the incident a topic of discussion in the locker room?
"We haven't talked about it."