ML:“After reviewing the tape, a lot of the things are consistent to what I felt yesterday after the game. Defensively, in the first half, our issue was not getting the ball leveraged well enough. We missed tackles. We failed to get off the field on third down. We didn’t play as well as we needed to. Particularly the tackling thing, because those are the things that you continually have to do better. You’re in position, you’ve got to make tackles and make plays. Obviously giving up the score there before halftime – the touchdown – was a huge play, one that you wish you could get back.
“Offensively, in the first half, we did some good things running the football, but we weren’t consistent enough. We kind of had the one-guy thing, where we didn’t get the guy quite blocked on the perimeter. We ran a play into a pressure once. So there were some things in that way that guy us off-kilter. With the precision a couple times in the routes, we didn’t get the ball up and down where we wanted, so that made a little bit of a difference. In the second half, we settled down and did a better job of getting leverage on the football. I thought we played better on third down offensively throughout the football game. We had some third-down conversions that we didn’t make that we had opportunities to and really should have throughout the game. I thought that was the biggest difference throughout the game – we were 50 percent on third down, and that’s huge in the football game. That’s obviously going to be important for the next eight weeks of the season.
“In the kicking game, I thought Mike Nugent had a very, very strong outing. He just had the one whack at the field goal and did a great job there. It obviously was a big field goal there at the end. We get sometimes where, with these review plays now, where you almost freeze the kicker all the time, so I always worry about that. But Mike handled it well. And his kickoffs were excellent.”
You have had eight straight games now where you have won the average starting field position. How much of an impact has that had?
ML: “It’s a key, defensively, to back them up. And offensively we want to give ourselves as short of a field as we can. We were able to swing that over in the third quarter (against Tennessee), and that was helpful.”
Halfway through your season, have you noticed tendencies with how returners are handling kickoffs, in regard to the new rule and when they decide they will bring it out?
ML: “There’s a couple of ways people are doing it. People are telling their returners a certain distance (into the end zone). If he has to back up, then they are setting it down (taking a knee), unless there’s some other circumstance where they feel like they’re better served to try and take a run at it. On the other side, we’ve seen where people are literally trying to have the returner make a count in their mind. If you get to that number, set it down (take a knee) regardless of where it is, because the coverage unit will be right on top of you.
“I think it’s accomplishing a lot of the things (the league wanted) when it was installed, and that’s to help in player safety. I think it’s accomplishing that goal so far.”
You’ve talked over the years about wanting your players to be tough-minded and smart. It seems like this team has a lot of players who have both of those qualities:
ML: “We’re really having guys, most of the time, making good, smart decisions. They continue to play smart on Sundays with their techniques and responsibilities. Again, that’s really important. Obviously it’s important as you go through the course of the game because some things become evident. It’s not like there are new plays and new things installed during the football game that often. It’s a matter of, at some point, the repetitiveness of something is going to come back around, and let’s make sure we are in better or as good a position as we were the first time, the second time around.”
Throughout the first half of the season, you guys were under the radar, which you have said you preferred. Now, at 6-2 and heading into a chunk of division games, you are no longer under the radar. How do you handle that?
ML: “We’re still the same team, nothing has changed. For all of our internal things, we still have the same things in front of us that we had at the start of the year. None of that has changed where we are as a football team. They have some confidence (now), but they know they have to go out and make more plays than the other team, regardless of where they are in other people’s minds.”
Considering where you guys stand, do you think this team is prepared for the second half of its season?
ML: “Yeah. We didn’t put the schedule together. It’s where we are now. This is what we’re put together for.”
All three of Andy Dalton’s TD passes yesterday were on third down and in the red-zone. Seven of his total 12 TD passes are on third down. That has to say something about him:
ML: “I would say more importantly, let’s continue to do good things, let’s not put the ball at risk. I think he’s done a nice job of that. I think that speaks even larger volumes to what you’re referring to than anything. Let’s keep the ball possessed by ourselves, particularly in the red-zone on third downs, and let’s make sure we come away with something. We’re doing a good job of the execution of the players, the offensive skill guys, the protection and so forth, giving us an opportunity to score those touchdowns.”
You still have no fumbles lost through eight games:
ML: “(Laughs) What’s for lunch today? (laughs).”
Were you somewhat pleased with the running game against Tennessee?
ML: “I was. We still have to do a better job of blocking on the perimeter more consistently. We had the penalty there, and we had some penalties that I don’t necessarily agree with (on the calls). They took away yardage from some big gains – we had the ball across midfield a couple of times and had to come back (to the other side of the 50-yard line). We did overcome the two penalties in the one drive and ended up getting a touchdown. We have to keep that up and stay on top of it. We had the alignment penalty that took away yardage. But that was a start.
“We have a big one ahead of us this week and next week. We know the next two teams, the Steelers and Ravens, defend the running game as well as anyone in the National Football League, year after year after year. So a big part of our ability to have some success is to run the football against these two teams.”
Is there any indication whether Rey Maualuga, Jermaine Gresham and Adam Jones will be able to practice this week?
ML: “Yes, yes and yes.”
You had a few guys run into some injuries yesterday. How do you stand today?
ML: “We seemed to come out of it pretty good. We’ll see, but we may have some guys that have to rest a little bit Wednesday. But today I stand here better than I did after the game, so that’s good.”
Are you a little more optimistic on Brian Leonard?
ML: “Yes. It probably was a little bit more of an overreaction yesterday. We’ll see as we go through, but today everyone seemed to be a lot better than what they were. That’s where we are, and that’s a good thing.”