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Conference Call with Cincinnati Media
Nov. 28, 2012
How have practices and the mood been following the tough loss on Sunday?
“We got started this morning. Obviously when you have a dramatic loss like that, that’s one of your concerns – getting everybody’s attention and getting going. We just got off the field from our walk-through, and we’ll go back out and practice in about an hour. Our guys have done a great job of being resilient and bouncing back. We’ve been able to start games off fast and play well early in games, for the most part. I expect us to do the same thing.”
What teaching points can you take out of the fourth-and-29 play?
“When you break the play down, there’s reasons why he was able to make the run that he did. He made a great run. We had a couple guys that just lost leverage and took bad angles. We’ve been awfully good in those types of situations. We just didn’t get it done on that play.”
You’ve been hit hard by injuries at safety and offensive line...
“Yeah, we have. That’s more of late. The offensive line thing with Jared Gaither throughout the year has been a big deal to us. With (Atari) Bigby getting hurt this week, that’s going to take a toll. But it does provide some other guys opportunities to play.”
Chargers LS Mike Windt, a Cincinnati native and University of Cincinnati alum, was recently placed on IR. Seems like a tough break for someone who has been coming along for you...
“Yeah, he is. He’s come in and been a big part of our team and really done a nice job for us. We were fortunate we were able to find a guy who could handle it.”
Nobody is more competitive than Philip Rivers, and he has been very productive throughout his career, but he has struggled with INTs and fumbles this year. Is that a product of lack of supporting cast, lack of protection, or something else?
“You can spend a lot time trying to narrow it down and say it’s one thing. When you’re going good and rolling and having success, there’s a lot of reasons you’re having success. We played the game out here in 2009 and kicked the field goal late in the game (to win). I went back and looked at that tape and stat sheet, and Vincent Jackson had 100 yards receiving and (Darren) Sproles had key plays on third down in critical situations. Malcom (Floyd) contributed and had five catches. So there’s a lot of reasons you’re successful. That was a three-point game, where we kicked a field goal with five seconds left. We needed every contribution like what he had.
“Philip has covered for us a lot over the last three years. In 2010, he completed balls to 17 different receivers. Last year, we played 13 different offensive linemen. He’s held it together, and at some point it’s going to take a toll. There are some plays I know Philip would like to have back, like there’s some calls that I would like to have back from when you’re calling the game. You’re in the middle of a game and you’re trying to win it. There’s no question the pressure that he’s under, in terms of the rush. Then you’re in games that every single play adds up big. It does take a toll.”
How has Ryan Matthews’ development been?
“I think he’s been good. He missed the first couple of games, so he got off to a little bit of a slower start than you’d like. Some of it is like our season has gone. When you’re in a game and it’s a close game, when you’re in a game that you’re ahead, when you feel like you’re in pretty good shape, you can play it a little different than what we have. Again, you talk about Philip and the offensive line situations we’ve been in. Obviously, if you have changes in the offensive line and have situations like we’ve had, it’s going to take a toll on the running back also.”
All of the losses, like the loss of Jared Gaither, seem to add up, don’t they?
“I think so. It comes back to you, because I’ve watched those games (2009 and ’10 against Cincinnati), and we were pretty solid there on the left side with (Kris) Dielman and Marcus McNeil, particularly when they were both completely healthy in 2009. Protecting that blind side does help your quarterback be great.”
From what you’ve seen, how different is this Bengals team from the one you faced a couple years ago?
“The thing that jumps out at me is that they’re very athletic. Defensively, they play very fast. They’re obviously extremely well-coached and just solid in everything they do. Offensively, the biggest thing is they’re very, very explosive, and they’re capable of making big plays. They’ve got balance. I really like the quarterback (Andy Dalton), watching his development and what he’s doing. When you’ve got the great receiver on the outside, you just have to account for him, and it does open up a lot of other things.”
As an offensive-minded coach, how big of a factor is DT Geno Atkins?
“He’s really impressive. He gets a lot of double-teams and he is still having an awful lot of success. People get caught up in the numbers of sacks. I look at the plays – the disruptive plays and the plays that he makes it very difficult on an offense. The front four, they’re playing at an extremely high level. Mike (defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer) does as good a job with those guys and presents problems for offenses.”
Over the past couple of games, the Bengals secondary has seemed to mesh. Is that more because of what the front-seven can do, or is it because they are so experienced?
“I think the latter. As you go through a season, you watch teams grow and get better and get comfortable and they’re all on the same page. You look over the last month, they’ve played awfully well.”
Your secondary is playing pretty well too – you’ve had a few pick-sixes. Is that more because of the number of tipped balls you’re getting, or does it have a lot to do with scheme?
“We’ve gotten some big plays and we have gotten some tipped balls. Guys are doing their preparation and they’re making plays. Some of that is, as I said, that ball bounces funny, and we’ve had some good bounces back there and have taken advantage of it.”
Eric Weddle is a big part of your defense, with 10 INTs in the last year and a half. With his concussion, is he day-to-day?
“I’m hopeful for Eric, and he feels good. The good news is I always want to get a reading the day after. And Monday he was outstanding – really had no symptoms. That’s a good sign there, and he’s doing fine. Hopefully he’ll be out there and doing what he does.”
How frustrating of year has it been?
“It’s been hard. It’s been hard on everybody. We go through stretches where we play awfully well, we just have a tough time sustaining it. You want to be able to find a way to play a complete game and eliminate the bad, negative plays, but we haven’t been able to do it.”
What has Takeo Spikes meant to your team?
“He’s awesome. You coach in this league and you get to be around some very unique individuals. He’s one of the tops for me. Fifteen-year vet that plays like he’s 25 and loves the game. He loves everything about it – the locker room, the preparation, the contact, the competition. He’s like I said, you start listing guys that you feel like you’re fortunate to have coached or been on the same team with, he’s right up there with some awfully good players within my mind.”
Conference Call with Cincinnati Media
Nov. 28, 2012
Marvin Lewis was saying that looking at you on tape, you seems to be playing well...
“It’s been good. Progressively, not only myself, but we’ve gotten better. Looking from last year, or even from week to week, defensively we’ve gotten better collectively.”
He said he regrets that he didn’t work harder to keep you here in Cincinnati. Do you have any regrets?
“No, I don’t have any regrets. It’s part of the process. I think what happened was supposed to happen, not only there, but continuing throughout my years. I will tell you this: When people ask me if I have any regrets from being in Cincinnati, I tell them ‘no,’ because I truly think that made me the player and the person that I am today. It taught me a lot of things – just camaraderie and understanding people at an early age. Understanding we’re all the same, but we’re all different. I’ve taken a lot of my life lessons on and off the field from Cincy and just kind of taken them everywhere I’ve been.”
Is there anybody in particular you learned those lessons from?
“Dick LeBeau in particular. I look at Mark Duffner. He was very instrumental in my growth period. Willie Anderson, Vaughn Booker. Back then, you had to take the good with the bad and the bad with the good. Unfortunately it was more bad than good. But I’m still tight with those guys.”
Did it ever get ugly?
“Yeah. What we went through last week was the ugly.”
What about that fourth-and-29 play?
“I’ve seen a lot of games. As long as you continue to have birthdays, you won’t be surprised. It was just guys taking poor angles to the ball carrier. That’s what I saw. You get a lot of people that want to ‘Monday morning quarterback,’ and I don’t even bother to talk to them because they don’t even matter anyway. One of the main questions I’ve had people ask me is, ‘Why didn’t you have anybody underneath?’ Well, it’s fourth-and-29, why would we? You have to be accountable and take responsibility. As you look back at it, I thought we had a good call, but we took some bad angles. And you can’t leave it in the officials’ hands. I learned to know that by playing in Cincy. When you don’t win a lot of games and you think a call could be questionable, you’re not going to get those calls. You’re not.”
Have you talked to Brian Simmons at all?
“Yeah, I talk to Brian probably once a month. Just checking in on him. He’s working his way up in Jacksonville. I told him when he gets the GM job, I’ll be ready to be his assistant GM.”
Are you surprised what’s happened here in Cincinnati since you left?
“No. They’ve had their ups and downs. More recently, in the past two or three years, from what I’ve seen, Cincinnati has always had good players in there. I think you really have a good coaching staff that’s coming along. They’re developing the players and guys are taking ownership after Carson (Palmer) left.”
Where was the best stop for you, in terms of most things being in place?
“Looking at it on paper even before you play a snap, I would probably say Buffalo and here in San Diego.”
Why hasn’t it clicked in San Diego?
“I know when I got here, the year before I got here, they missed the playoffs. And I know people talked about (Darren) Sproles not being here and those things. It was the special teams where they had a lot of blocked punts. When I got here, they had been up and down. Every team goes through streaks where everybody's going through (tough) parts of the season. And that really tells how good of a football team you are, the faster that you're able to get out of it. As I look at your guys' record, I think you lost four in a row and now you've come back around and won the last (three). It's just ruts, man. It's ruts.”
How frustrating is it to have not played in the playoffs? Do you think about it much?
“Not now. I'm just trying to get a game. The goal around here is to just win one. After you get one, then you can worry about putting a streak together. It's frustrating. I can't say that's what we all play for. I know that's what I've been playing for ever since I came in – just to have a chance to play for the ring. That's been one of my biggest goals.”
Is that why you keep playing?
“Yeah. I'm addicted. I'm an addict.”
Are you afraid you might not ever make it?
“No. As crazy as it may sound to you, I'm going to make it. I don't know how, but I'm going to get there.”
If you don't and this was your last year for whatever reason, would you be content with your career?
“I'll tell you the biggest thing, I think you know me, I never even give a second thought in my mind to think if I don't make it. And I think that's what makes me so different than everybody else. I am Mr. Optimistic. So, I understand. In order for us to have a chance to play for a wild card, we have to win out. But we have to start with this one game right here. So that's my mindset. We have to go in and win this game. And that's what I'm preaching to the rest of the guys. Until we're mathematically out, that's another story.”
Marvin Lewis says maybe if you'd been here the Bengals would have gone farther in the playoffs...
“Yeah, but hey, if my aunt had a pair you know what she would be? My uncle. We can all look back and say ‘if.’”
Are you still doing Thanksgiving for your teammates?
“The last time I did it was in San Francisco. I haven’t done it out here. I tell you, the guy who has kind of taken over the reins for than is Aubrayo Franklin. His mom comes up and cooks a big dinner. But I haven’t done it. I don’t get the barbeque raccoon imported in. Now I get the chitlins. I’ve got to have those. My momma brought some chitlins out here so I was good.”
You were a team leader here in Cincinnati. Did you see what happened last Sunday here against the Raiders, where OT Andrew Whitworth got in a fight to protect his QB?
“No, I didn’t see it. I still haven’t seen it. When you’re not collecting too many wins, you’re not too quick to turn on SportsCenter or anything like that.”
Is Philip Rivers as competitive as he seems? He seems like the type of player who will fight to the final snap...
“Yeah, he will, man. When I look at Philip, I see the same similarities – a guy that just wants to win. He loves the opportunity just to compete. That’s what it’s all about. You want somebody on your team, whether they’ve got talent or not, that I know is going to go to bat and fight their ass off every time.”
What do you think of the Bengals offense?
“They’re a very good offense. When I look at them, they do a lot of things. I haven’t played them in so long. I remember Chad (Johnson), I remember T.J. (Houshmandzadeh), and then there was Chris Henry. It’s still a similar offense with the vertical passing game.
“You’ve got A.J. (Green) – he’s a beast. God, he’s a beast. Then there’s Andy (Dalton). That’s what sticks out to me. My entire career, even when I was in Cincy, we never had a quarterback. If I look at Cincy, I always see who’s the guy with the ball in his hands the most, and to see what he’s been able to come in there and do it speaks volumes. You can tell he works at it. He really leads that offense. Whether it’s a check-with-me at the line of scrimmage or him reading coverages, he gets it, and lot of players don’t get it.”
Your offensive line has been banged up ...
“That’s a fair assessment. I’ve been going through that for the past two years. I don’t say it as a knock to the guys that we have, but I think we all know it’s hard to have stability, it’s hard for 17 (Rivers) to be able to do what he does when you don’t have that mainstay, that core, right in front of you. It’s just hard. It’s equivalent to a linebacker. I felt like I went through that last year with our d-line.”
Marvin Lewis says he has gotten to know you better over the years ...
“We kind of run into each other at different functions and stuff and we always talk. We always have the talks ‘what if?’ The “if” talks are always good, now. They’re always good. I’ve never had an “if” talk that was bad.”
Head Coach Marvin Lewis
Do you use the fact that the Chargers are a team that can’t seem to get it together as motivation for your team this week?
“No, I don’t really ever reference that type of thing because in my opinion, last week was last week. This is a new week and a new game and it generally has no bearing on the next game when it has a big bearing. Our job is to know that each and every week we’re going to go out there and have a 60-minute battle. Regardless of the situation, up or down, we have to have to keep playing and making plays.”
What turned your team around?
“We’ve made some improvements. We did some things over the four games that we lost, and frankly the first eight games, that we weren’t doing, and that’s making plays at critical moments. We weren’t doing it well enough or long enough but we’re doing a better job of it right now. We have to continue on that. It’s led by what we do on both sides of the football and that’s important to us. It’s probably my fault that everyone gets all enamored with throwing the football around and all those things. But it’s really not what I believe and how we’re going to be real successful week in and week out.”
Did you say that you needed to run the ball a little more?
“I said that we needed to go back to what our mentality is, and that’s playing tough, physical football. If we played football that way, and that’s how our division is put together, we’re going to be okay most of the time. We have an opportunity to win games when it counts in the fourth quarter. We have to get back to our mentality and that’s what got us to where we were last year. All we did was change over another 12 guys this year and they’re younger. And the bye came at a good time for us.”
What’s the difference between being a head coach and a defensive coordinator?
“I think that the first thing is this: Tuesday. You never know what Tuesday is going to bring. It brings injuries that you didn’t know you had Sunday, it brings personnel changes, it brings your game-planning on all three phases, your involvement in that and how involved in it you are. For me, it’s a unique situation because I have one boss. My owner is the same as the general manager so we talk every day. Every morning we spend time together. If a decision needs to be made, I need to explain to him what I think is the best way to go. I spend a lot of time doing that. And it’s coaching our guys. I want every one of our players to know, whether it’s the left guard or right cornerback, I know what they’re supposed to be doing on that particular play. And that’s the kind of involvement that I’ve had. I didn’t necessarily have all of that as a defensive coordinator. I didn’t know what the left guard was supposed to do. To me, that’s the difference.”
What do you miss about being a defensive coordinator?
“What I miss about it is the coaching part. I loved the challenges of the game-plan, to go in there and get ready to play against Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates and Ryan Mathews. That’s fun to see your guys and envision how you’re supposed to do things and how it’s going to go. I do miss that part, but probably more is the day-to-day coaching of guys. I have to be careful that I don’t over-coach, that I don’t coach over our other position coaches at times because the players hear my voice more often and everyone always wants me to go to the other end of the field to leave their guys alone.”
Why do you think that the Chargers’ offensive line is not as dynamic as it once was?
“One of the guys, ironically, really has been one of the guys I’ve looked up to in coaching, and that is Norv (Turner). I’ve spent a lot of time when I first became the head coach here asking him different questions about offense and everything and his theory on making big explosive plays. That was always a part of what he wanted to do and felt like was an important part of the offense. I’ve spent a lot of time studying how they do things back to when he was the head coach of Washington and in San Diego and so forth. I think that they have an outstanding quarterback. Obviously when you lose a great wide-receiver you have to have other guys step up and fill those voids. They have a talented backfield. They’ve had some things occur on the offensive line that are unforeseen and you’re always hoping that those guys fit back in there the right way. We had the same thing. We lost our center in the third preseason game. Things like that occur. We lost an offensive guard who got hurt the very first practice. We all have those unforeseen things and you just hope that you can fit the right guys in the right places to give you the depth and opportunity to move on.”
Why has your team not done well in California?
“In 2002 we actually beat the Chargers there. We lost to them in 2009, we lost to Oakland in 2009, in 2003 and to San Francisco in 2006. We won in Seattle last year and we’re not going to be concerned with where we’re playing because the grass there in Qualcomm is going to look just like the grass we’re going to see here in 20 minutes. Whether we’re playing in the parking lot or wherever, we’ve got a job to do and it’s going to be a tough, physical football game. And we know that. We’ll be ready to play come Sunday.”
What did you see in Vontaze Burfict that made you want to give him a chance?
“We went back and saw what he had done as a real good player at Arizona State. You saw a lighter guy, a guy who had more athleticism and who moved better. I saw what I thought were great linebacker characteristics. Even though I felt like he was a real knucklehead from my visit to Arizona State workouts, he didn’t listen and was too bull-headed, I didn’t know that there was necessarily a downside of giving him an opportunity if he wasn’t drafted.”
How did Gino Atkins last through the fourth-round?
“Because of his height. He was the best inside rusher behind the other guys. We had him targeted and felt that he would be a guy who could help us and fit into what we needed here. He hasn’t disappointed us. He’s got high-motor, high-energy and we’ve had a great relationship with the people at Georgia. If you’re going to draw together an NFL defensive tackle, you’re probably going to make him six-three and a half or so, not six-two. But Gino has great leverage, great arm and his dad played pro football so he has great understanding of the game. He’s got a great motor and he just keeps getting better and better.”
On the Bengals’ four-man rush:
“We pressure, and our young guys up there are doing a heck of a job. They all got here in historic ways. They all had some nicks on them, and we found a way to keep kicking them in the butt and getting them to play together and to play hard. And that’s what you want. That’s one of the things that since Mike Zimmer got here as coordinator, he felt was important. He’s done a great job of helping to identify those guys and being the guy who puts his foot up their butt getting them to move in the right direction so I don’t have to do it all the time. So it’s been good and they’ve responded. They’re doing a good job and they take pride in it. In order for us to have the kind of season we want to have, they have to keep doing more.”
Is there a common thread between teams in the AFC North?
“I really think that when the football teams were put together, they all had big strong backs and big wide receivers. Defensively, they all play the running game very sound. Pittsburgh and Baltimore are more 3-4-based while Cleveland and us are more 4-3-based. But I think that all the teams want to pressure the quarterback defensively. Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cleveland, they have some remnants of that and the special teams are very good because you have more linebacker-type bodies. We have some young athletic linebackers who do it, but I think that they’re all put together that way. Now what’s happened is the great speed that’s come into this division with (Mike) Wallace and (Torrey) Smith over there in Baltimore and the wide-out front. The stature of the backs has gotten smaller and shorter. It’s been a little bit of a change. The quarterbacks, (Joe) Flacco and Ben (Roethlisberger), are tremendous players. And I think that our quarterback is going to be a great young prospect.”
Have you found that your division games are taking more of a physical toll?
“It’s a physical division and I’ve coached in all four spots in this division for a bit. It’s a physical division and physical grind. I think that the players know that, and when we play the teams in our division, we know what we’re in for all the time. They take great pride in it. Each game is its own game. We have to get ready to go play because I think the Chargers are built like an AFC North team. They have a fine back, big strong running backs and their quarterback is a Ben Roethlisberger-type guy. They play great defense, they have explosive rushers up front. You’ve got Jarret (Johnson) over there now and (Shaun) Phillips, who’s been a great player. You’ve got (Antwan) Barnes who just does things. It’s a very talented defensive group and it’s a physical, well put-together group.”
What are your thoughts on the difficulty that some teams have had selling tickets?
“It’s funny, but I think about that. I can’t wait to come to the stadium and see what our guys are going to do. I think that unfortunately, on television, we’ve beat up the preseason, we’ve beat up the experience of these things and people prefer to sit at home. But I can’t wait to come and see what Andy Dalton is going to do, or Mohamed Sanu, or Mike Johnson and whoever it may be. I wouldn’t miss it for the life of me. Last year on the competition committee we gave replay into the stadium so people in the seats could see exactly what the guy under the hood was looking for. I thought that was a big step and giving the people coming to the game something that they can’t see at home. I think that as time goes on we’re going to have to try more and more things like that to make the in-game experience unique, because it’s a great thing. I can remember the first time I went to an NFL game and what an incredible experience it was. I told our guys the other day, ‘When we get in that end-zone and the speakers are blaring, the time-outs and everything, be able to focus in because that’s what happens.’ You can’t get that at home.”
Wide receiver AJ Green
How do you think the Georgia Alabama game is going to play out?
“I think that Georgia is going to take it 21-17.”
Do you think that the Georgia quarterback is an NFL guy?
“Yeah, definitely. He’s a smart guy and a hard worker.”
Are you seeing more doubles this year?
“Definitely, but I just have to stay focused and keep working.”
Has the coverage changed on you?
“Yeah, more and more they’re dropping the linebacker out in front of me, stuff like that.”
Does Jay Gruden do more to get you open this year?
“He makes me more comfortable with the offense and puts me in multiple spots.”
When you were growing up, you developed your pass-catching by catching pieces of wood from one of your relatives. What was going on there?
“I used to chop wood and I would go out in the woods and chop down trees. I did a lot of stuff with my hands and helped my dad out around the yard.”
Who’s idea was it for you to catch pieces of wood and who was doing the throwing?
“My granddad would toss pieces of blocks at me. I was ten or eleven in South Carolina.”
When players go out on injured reserve, does that change the way that you prepare not knowing what you’re going to face?
“Yeah, but we can’t worry about that. We just worry about what we can worry about, which is on the offensive side of the ball and look at the defense.”
Do you go out in Cincinnati much?
“No, not really. I’m a home-body, so I stay home a lot.”
Are you pretty well recognized there?
“Yeah, right now I am. Most of the time it’s a good thing.”
Do you set a goal for yourself in terms of where you want to be at after 16 games?
“No, I just go out there and play. My goal is to get over 1,000 (yards) every year and I’ve already reached that. I just go out there and I think that my individual goals will come as team goals.”
Have you been out to California much?
“I’ve been out there a couple of times. I definitely liked it.”
What do you think of your chances of making the playoffs?
“We’re just going to keep our heads down and keep grinding. We have to give ourselves a chance to win games and that’s what we’re focusing on.”
What do you think turned your team around?
“I think that we just started doing little things and then the big things just took care of themselves.”
What do you think of the Chargers’ defense?
“They’re a highly-motivated group and they’re really playing a strong defense. They’ve got (Takeo) Spikes, one of the best linebackers who’s ever played and you have an all-pro corner and safety. They’re a real strong defense.”
Number 18 is an unusual number for a receiver. Are you a Peyton Manning fan?
“No, they just gave me a number and I just rolled with it. I didn’t think of anything, I just took the number.”