Initial comments ...
“The film confirmed a lot of the things we thought. We challenged our guys at halftime that we have to win our one-on-ones, and we didn’t do a great job of that in the second half. That’s really what the game came down to on both sides of the ball. You look at the defense, anytime the ball was in the air and there was a 50-50 opportunity, for the most part Baltimore made the play. Credit to them. They’re playing with a lot of confidence right now. There were some tackling issues that we faced on some of those big runs and big passes that they had. Those are some things that are very frustrating. One area where we need to step up is at linebacker. Someone needs to step up and be a leader there. We’ve been waiting on that and shuffling the lineup around waiting on someone to step up and be consistent and be a leader in that room. We’re still waiting on that. That’s the challenge for those guys in that room right now.
Offensively, (Baltimore’s defense) is really going to challenge you. They’ll blitz you on all downs and try to put you in some tough spots. For the most part, our young quarterback (Ryan Finley) did a good job handling a lot of the things that they threw at him. I’ve seen them give a lot of veteran quarterbacks issues in these last couple weeks. I thought he was able to get us out of some plays and extend some plays to give us a chance. To finish the day with two sacks with all the pressure that (Baltimore) brings, our guys did a good job handling a lot of the stuff that they did. Those defensive backs throttle you pretty well. We need to work to be more consistent and detailed on some of the stuff that our young receivers are doing. They need to be able to get off the ‘bump’ and create some separation and give us an opportunity to throw the ball. Those are things that we’re going to continue to work on with those guys at that position. We’re going to keep working on getting better and start to focus on Oakland.”
Do you have an update on TE Drew Sample?
“Drew is going to get looked at a little further today. We’ll see. No guess on if he’ll go this week. We’ll wait to see what the news is today.”
What was the philosophy behind involving Sample early in the game?
“He’s been making progress every week. Really, it’s a shame that he went down because there were really good things he was doing on tape. (Baltimore has a) physical front and physical ends, and the play he got hurt on was really a great block on the back side of a run. He was really making progress, so that was frustrating to see him go down because I felt it was really ‘arrow-up’ with him over these last couple weeks. We’ve seen enough good things from him, and he was playing well in that game.”
How would you evaluate Finley’s debut?
“There were a lot of unknowns going into that game against that defense. They were second in the league against the rush, so you were pretty certain they were going to be hell-bent on stopping that and making us one-dimensional and making the young quarterback go play. A lot of the checks we asked (Finley) to do, he did a nice job. The interception for a touchdown, he got us to a ‘zero check’ and was just a tick late and a tick behind. (Baltimore CB) Marcus Peters is going to make you pay for that. The mechanics of it, he handled well. It was a matter of the fundamentals of getting the ball out of your hand and getting the ball outside to the sidelines and letting Alex (WR Alex Erickson) make a play. He did a lot of positive things. The keys for him are to learn from the negatives he had — the pick-six and the fumble. He needs to be better with the ball in the pocket. There were some instances where he was running around with a loose ball. He needs to do a better job there, but I saw a lot of positives from him and some things he can continue to grow from.”
Did you like what you saw from LB Germaine Pratt?
“With all of these young players, you’re going to see some positives and some things they need to improve on. He had a good tackle early in the game when he ran a play down on the Baltimore sidelines. It’s the consistency from these young guys that needs to take place over the course of the game.”
You mentioned the need for leadership at linebacker. Are you referring to that in terms of a voice or a performer?
Consistency. From the consistency, you can become a leader. It’s not one or the other. You can’t say things and then not do them. You need to be able to do them, and then guys will respect that and follow you. We just need some consistency from those guys at that position.
Was Pratt to blame for Ravens QB Lamar Jackson’s long touchdown run?
“There were a couple people with some negatives on that play. That play, in our eyes, should have been shut down immediately if we would have fit it correctly, and we didn’t. We had a lot of people miss tackles, but the play never should have happened. It should have been done very quickly, and it wasn’t. We just need to come out of the half and do our job. It should have been a one-to-three-yard gain, but instead it was a touchdown.”
Were defensive fits the problem?
Did the fit issues come from the linebackers specifically?
“Yeah. Everybody just needs to do a better job. Linebackers, and everybody needs to fit their gaps and do their job.”
Why is momentum more important than securing a high draft pick?
“Because we prepare for this 2019 season. We don’t prepare to lose a bunch of games to go get a good draft pick. The reason we have all these people in this building is to win as many games as possible. It helps the morale to have some momentum in this last stretch of the season. We go into every game believing that we’re going to get it done. We have a good plan and the players are executing it in practice. Things happen over the course of the game that are frustrating. We just need to do a better job in a lot of different areas. We’re all accountable for it. It’s the players and the coaches. We all need to do a better job. It’s hard for us to put in the work and look beyond the week that’s coming up. We follow this seven-day schedule to prepare to go win a game and there’s no other way to attack it in our eyes.”
How bad does this team need WR A.J. Green back?
“Any time you’re missing a Pro Bowl player, you want him back as quickly as possible. He draws a lot of attention from the defense. He’s a playmaker and a great leader. He brings energy to the offense when he’s out there. Those are all things from A.J. — or any player that has the track record of the success that he has — that you look forward to getting back. That’s just where we are right now, so we have to make do without him.”
Will Green run in practice this week?
“It is day-to-day with him right now. I don’t want to make any predictions. I think it’s well-documented what happened last week. We’ll take it day-to-day and see where he’s at on Wednesday.”
Is there still a hope that LT Jonah Williams can play this season?
“He has some more doctors’ appointments in the next coming weeks. I’m really not in a position to answer that right now. (He has done) everything you hope for in the building. And work ethic, and trying to do extra — he’s done a great job.”
The offensive line has improved in the last two games. What has changed?
“No one wanted to hear it, but we were close. Every played it seemed like, ‘Man, if one thing was a little better by one person, we were going to get there.’ I feel like the last two weeks, we were starting to hit our stride. That comes with the consistency of the lineup at offensive line. It’s the same people in the game, and that helps, because they’re starting to work all of these combinations together and starting to sink in a little bit (such) that, ‘OK, this is how we work together, and this is how all of this stuff is supposed to work.’ That’s been encouraging. With the protections, there were a couple protection errors yesterday. (Baltimore) presents a lot of challenging looks to you. They pressure you like crazy. If you look at the (QB) hits over the last three weeks against Seattle, New England and us, we’re on the lower end of that, to be quite honest with you. Our guys did a nice job for the most part. It wasn’t all perfect, but they gave us a chance.”
According to certain metrics, Cincinnati is near the bottom of the league in both pass blocking and pass rushing. Is that accurate?
“To be honest, I don’t know what that means. Pass rushing and pass blocking?”
ESPN tracks both. Cincinnati’s pass blocking is the worst in the league and its pass rushing is near the bottom. Is that the way you see it?
“The points we put up every game are due to a lack of rushing yards. We have given up pressures this year, there’s no question about it. I don’t know anything that goes into how anyone would rank that. We know what our issues are, based on who has what assignment and how they’re working together. For example, there was probably one against the Rams where John Jerry looked really bad because it looked like a pass protection when really it was a version of an RPO, but if someone was just watching the game, they would think, ‘Oh, that’s a play-action and he didn’t even block his guy,’ when in reality, it was a run play where he was throwing a pass block. He got rushed by the extra rusher that was blitzing off the edge. I don’t know what factors into any (of those metrics). I know that we see improvement from our guys and how they’re working together. They’re giving us a chance to move the ball. We just need to find ways to get more explosive plays down the field. That’s really what’s killing us, is it has to be more methodical. Marching down the field, we’re lacking those big plays — those one-play drives or those four-play drives. That’s really what we’ve been missing this year.”
Finley played as advertised. However, it didn’t seem he was accurate with his passes. Do you agree?
“I wouldn’t put a general lack-of-accuracy stamp on him in that game. I thought there were some decisions he would certainly like to have back. (Baltimore) has a talented secondary. Four of those guys that they roll out there are, to me, Pro Bowl-level players. That’s a tough test in your first matchup. There were times where he extended plays and gave guys a chance. We didn’t make it work, so the completion percentage is going to drop a little bit. For the most part, he gave us a chance and did some really positive things.”
Given that another loss would match the longest winless streak (in a single season) in franchise history, is there any added pressure for the game against Oakland?
“It’s always going to feel bad when you’ve lost as much as we have. We just need to approach this game as a new game. It’s a new opportunity for us. Like I said, our guys still believe we can win and get this thing turned around. I don’t feel any differently when I’m in front of the team talking to them. We’re going to travel West this week and (experience) all the things that travel brings with it. We’re excited to go play Oakland. It’s another opportunity for our guys to put the past behind us, get a win, get the season jumpstarted and try to finish it the right way.”
Does the winless streak take a shot at your pride?
“Yes. When you know your approach is right, and you’re trying to build a foundation for championships to come, and the wins haven’t been there to this point in the season, that is frustrating. You can’t have a big ego in this. This league is hard. It’s very unforgiving sometimes, and we’re facing that right now. What we do know is that this is the toughest stretch we’re going to go through in our next 20 years here. This is going to be the toughest one. We find out a lot about the character of the people in this building and what the approach is going to be so we can look back on this and say that it made us stronger, because we faced the hardest it was ever going to be — the most adversity we ever face. These people stuck through it and did it the right way, and we’ll build on that. There’ll be a time — I can’t wait to look back on it — and say, ‘Remember when all that stuff happened?’ You guys will laugh with me, I promise (laughter). We’ll get there. This is one of the things we have to go through right now, unfortunately. We’re going to fight through it, and there are going to be some positive things as this season comes to an end.”
If the team wins toward the end of the season, do you think that momentum can carry over to next season?
“I do. I really do. All the things you preach, work toward and emphasize — and we see a lot of examples of it happening on the field and off the field — you want to be rewarded for that. You’ve put in all this work, starting from when I sat up here for my press conference (when I was hired). That’s when the work started. For that hard work not to pay off with wins, that’s the easiest way to see it pay off ... We know that there are a lot of things going on that we feel like we’re improving, but the wins certainly put a stamp on that. We want that. We want as many wins as we can to close out this year.”
How tough is it to go home at night knowing there are still issues to correct?
“One person told me that you can’t make an elephant out of a mouse. You have to figure out what’s big, what’s small, what you can correct in the short term, and fix the things that we know can propel us toward more wins. There are a lot of things that we need to fix on the field. ‘What are the things we can identify each game that we can continue to make progress in this area?’ And over the course of the season, and this eight-game stretch, we show that we’re making great progress in these areas. The wins are going to come. The championships are going to come, because of the foundation that we’re building right now. That’s why it’s important that we close out this season the right way — it shows that all of the things we’re emphasizing that we need to fix, that we’re fixing them and we’re making progress, and the wins are coming because of it.”