ML: “We came in this morning and watched the tape – actually, we watched it on the plane last night, which was kind of hard when you’re dozing on and off – and I thought we did a better job of running the football early on that I expected. We just had some negative plays that set us back and made me feel at the end of the day not as good as I’d like. I thought there’s some improvements we need to make, both with our guys up front and our receivers.
I think the noise affects it a little bit. But there were just some things we needed to really do better – stay on blocks, finish blocks a little better and finish runs better at times. I thought all-in-all, with the play on the outside, we can continue to improve and play better. We need to just get on the same page with everyone. We had some plays where we weren’t as exact as we’ve been. So we have to recognize that and make sure we get back to that.
“Defensively, we played very, very well up front. In the back end, we relaxed a little bit and didn’t play the ball in the air as well as we needed to. But we went into the game and took away the things we needed to take away, and that was to not allow them to run the football, not allow the boot game (bootleg) and some of the things they were doing to move the ball, and just not allow those to be an issue. But we had to the problems playing the ball in the air and just relaxing a little bit in coverage and leverage a couple of times. When we had a chance to really put it away, we didn’t. We’ve got to keep working hard at that.
“In special teams, there were a lot of positives. We’ve got to keep it up. We’re benefitting from having a lot of the same guys (playing on special teams) week after week after week. We have to keep that going. We have guys improving and getting better, and that’s fun to watch those guys game. They feel like they’re affecting the football game, and they really are. So they feel it, and it’s happening.”
The guys who returned punts and kicks yesterday with success – Adam Jones and Brandon Tate – both deferred postgame-praise to the other 10 players on the field, saying they were the ones responsible for the success. What did you see on film from the blocking during the returns?
ML: “We did some good things in the returns. We’ve been close in our blocking the last few weeks, and we were able to spring a couple free this week. We just have to stay after it. We had one penalty that we have to eliminate, or else the return average would even be greater. We just have to keep working at it and execute the things early on and do the things we want – try to create separation for our runners to use their athleticism and run.”
Donald Lee filled in for the injured Jermaine Gresham and was productive:
ML: “He did as expected. That’s why he’s here – to complement Jermaine (Gresham) and Colin (Cochart), do the (right) things and show the veteran experience that he has. He’s been a very productive player, and every opportunity he has, he produces. We’re really pleased in what we have in Donald and the flexibility he provides us.”
Brandon Johnson is an accountable guy, isn’t he?
ML: “Brandon, when called upon, no matter what the role or task, he jumps up and gets it done. He’s done a nice job the last couple of weeks of splitting things up between he and Dan Skuta. Brandon took a shot early on in the ribs. He couldn’t breathe much, but he kept playing.”
How much does it help that a lot of the guys playing on kick/punt returns coverages are returning from last year and have experience with this system?
ML: “We have a great core. That’s very helpful. The core of guys that we have is very, very helpful. You look over and there are guys who used to do it, but now aren’t doing it and they’re on the bench because we have other guys doing it. To me, that’s a good feeling as well. We have 14 or 15 guys that have experience playing in every phase, so that means there are 11 guys out there and three or four other guys who aren’t out there (but can play if needed). So we’re able to split the snaps and spread the wealth and snaps out a little bit. That’s helpful, too.”
You’ve mentioned how you have more than 22 ‘starters’ because there are a players who rotate in off the bench that you consider ‘starters.’ On defense alone, there are guys like Gibril Wilson, Adam Jones and Kelly Jennings who can rotate in regularly:
ML: “We do. We have a lot of options. I think that helps the insertion and it helps the gameplanning for the week. Their involvement, their enthusiasm, their intent, because they know they’re going to get an opportunity to go out and play.”
Adam Jones hadn’t played in a year, then made a play the very first time he touched the ball:
ML: “When the ball went in the air, I went, ‘Oh, shame on them’ (laughs). They out-kicked the coverage and I thought, ‘Oh geeze, here he goes now.’ That’s what happens – he gets a ball like that that he can handle and my gosh, he’s got a chance to return it.”
Did it surprise you because he’s been out of the game for a year?
ML: “Well, he’s worked hard. Obviously his body wasn’t up to the rest of it (on the return). Hopefully he won’t miss any time and he’ll be back and ready to go.”
It’s probably too early in the week to tell if he can practice and play, right?
Is there a player you’ve ever been around that is as explosive as Adam Jones? His acceleration is up there with anyone else in the league:
ML: “I’ve not been around anybody (like him). He’s really special. I said that last year. Obviously we did work on Adam when he was coming out (in the draft) – a little bit, not a whole lot, because some other things kept me away. But he is as fine an athlete as I’ve ever been around. We spent some time on Cam Newton (researching before the draft), and people say that other than Cam Newton, Adam Jones is the best athlete to come out of that area (Atlanta). He has special athleticism, special ball skills. He understands football and has an innateness about it. There are a lot of positives about him.”
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was saying Adam Jones was all-in yesterday and that he was the first guy to congratulate Brandon Tate after his punt return TD:
ML: “He’s very enthusiastic. He wants just to have an opportunity to go out and do what he loves to do, and that’s to play football.”
What did you see on tape on Andy Dalton’s two interceptions?
ML: “Both times, we’d like to have ball thrown a little better. Both times, we had opportunities for plays ourselves, and we have to get the ball where we have a chance to get it and come down with it. Particularly on the second one, both of our guys get tackled. A.J.’s (A.J. Green) shirt is off his jersey, and on the other side the same thing was true with Jerome (Simpson). The guy (referee) went to reach for his flag on Jerome but didn’t throw it because the ball went the other way, and I said, ‘Yeah, but that’s where the ball is supposed to go – over here’ (laughs). They guy is tackling him and he’s not getting the ball. Those are two big, physical guys who we expect to make big plays, and we’ve got to keep putting them out there and throwing the ball up there, and we expect them to come down with it.”
It looked like on the first interception, A.J. Green could not have made a play on the ball because it was too far underthrown. Is that what you saw?
ML: “We’ve just got to do it. I think there’s times when he will and he’ll make it. But again, it’s over.”
How much of a momentum shift was it at the end of the half when Seattle opted to go for the touchdown instead of kicking the field goal and getting the points heading into the second half, when they were to receive the opening kickoff?
ML: “People sit in this room and question those things all the time. You’re darned if you do and darned if you don’t. As Bill Cowher used to say, ‘Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you.’ You’ve got to just do what your guy feels. You don’t get a second opportunity at it. You feel like you have to go for it. I don’t quite think either team understood the situation as well as maybe the coaches did. If they ran it, that was going to be it. If they threw it and it was incomplete, that was going to be it. So I think in both cases it’s a great lesson to learn for both squads, particularly for our guys. They got the first down, and we have to be ready for them to get back on the ball and try to push it over (the goal line). Unfortunately for them, their guys tried to continue to push our guys, which ran out the clock. But it was a good job and a nice tackle by Reggie (Nelson), stopping him short of the goal line. It ended up being first down, which I don’t think Reggie quite realized. So there’s growth that needed to happen from both sides there. I don’t think our guys quite realized that they did gain the first down, but they weren’t able to get the play off. Fourteen seconds is really (not a lot of time) when you have to go that far. So that’s why they immediately have to get back on the ball. Your guys obviously wouldn’t be that far back in the endzone, so you can probably pull it off. But that’s what you’ve got to figure – to get a play run, then stopped, then to go again – 12 to 14 seconds.”
Reggie Nelson had one of the roller coaster days. He had a couple of bad plays and a couple good plays:
ML: “I don’t recall his bad plays, other than his penalty.”
He dropped an interception in the first quarter:
ML: “He dropped an interception. But he was in great position, he’s just got to come up with the ball. But there was a big stretch of bad plays, so I’m going to put that at the bottom of all the bad plays. But with the penalty, we can’t have penalties like that. That was the one thing that was disappointing from our guys early in the football game. We got caught up with their guys and all the talking. We have to play through that. We have to realize their backs are up against the wall a little bit and they’re playing at home. We just have to relax and play, because we were our own worst enemy the first half of the game.”
Marshawn Lynch is at his best when he gets his pads squared. But with the penetration that his defense got against the run, he was never able to get his pads square and get into what he does best:
ML: “We did a really good job in run fits all throughout, all 11 guys on defense. We made the ball spilled where we wanted the ball spilled, and we ran it down and tackled it. That was impressive. Until the final play of the game, it was an excellent game as far as rush defense. We missed the tackle and then the guy falls forward and gains 20-something yards. But throughout the game we played well.”
You mentioned last week how this was going to be a very physical game, especially with their defensive backs, and that it would be similar to what you will see against AFC North opponents. How much do you think the physicality will help you, particularly as you play more and more division games?
ML: “I think it’s good. We’re going to have to play through physical coverage all the time. We’re going to have to learn from it. We’re going to have the advantage most of the time on it when people get up and challenge us like that. We’ll have the advantage. So it’s a good step in their progression. It’s good for A.J. to get through (that experience). But you saw what happens when you jump up on A.J. – he’ll go right over top of you and make a play. So we just have to keep going.”
You play in some of the loudest stadiums in the league in places like Pittsburgh and Baltimore. How did this compare?
ML: “There aren’t places as loud as that. At all. It’s not even close.”
You have a lot of young players – particularly a rookie QB and rookie WR – that seemed to handle the crowd noise. That has to bode well for what they will face in the some of the AFC North stadiums:
ML: “We came out with at win. I wouldn’t say we handled it, but we won the football game and that’s what counts. I’d much prefer not to have any false starts. We were able to use the cadence to get them offsides a few times, and that was our plan going into it.”
You talk a lot about having short memories and looking forward, but is there any way to explain how this team can go winless in October of 2010 and undefeated in October the next season?
ML: “You make plays or you don’t. Plain and simple. That’s how you do it. That’s how win football games, you make plays. You end up in the right spots and you’re there at the point, you win the down. That’s all we talk about – you win your down and we’ll be fine. Guys are winning their downs. We had two turnovers yesterday and they happened to be down inside the other team’s 10-yard line, which makes a difference. It gives us an opportunity. We’re getting the ball, taking it away defensively. We’re doing a nice job. We’re doing a good job on third down, and I think that makes a big difference. We just have to keep going. It’s now Tennessee. We have to strap it on, load up and put in gear and get ready.”
Cedric Benson is now eligible to return to the roster after a one-game suspension. Where are you guys as far as roster moves and that process?
ML: “I don’t think any roster move needs to be made.”
You only have one fumble all year long and you’re plus-seven in fumble margin. That has to be very helpful:
ML: “(Laughs) Dave (Lapham), be quiet. Does he get a check from here now?”
Why don’t you have to make a roster move with the Cedric Benson return?
ML: “Because the NFL says we don’t (laughs).”
So there will be a roster exemption?
ML: “I guess. I don’t have to worry about that.”